Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing for Production

So, most of my life is spent writing, obviously.  I toil away in small, cramped spaces, devoid of life and light.  I come up for air long enough to deliver a draft and get copious notes.  Then, I crawl back in my hole and do it again.  However, every once and a while, I get attached as a producer and/or director to a project, have to dust off my goin' out pants, brush up on my producin' knowledge, and pound the pavement trying to get a project off the ground.  And it got me thinking about how different writing for sale and writing for production really are and I thought I'd share a couple of difference with you. 


When I was a noob writer, I thought about everything in terms of production.  Mainly because I came from a production background and wanted everything to be shootable.  Then, as time wore on, I realized that producers want to read cool, not manageable.  So, I started adding a lot of pizazz to the script which was usually wholly unnecessary, but much more fun to imagine.

But, here's the sticky wicket, when a project actually gets the green light, all of that fun, cool, interesting bs you added in is quickly yanked out to cries of "what were you thinking", "we can't afford that", and "you don't know the budget".  It's sad but true.  So, as a producer and writer, you have to scale back your writing and think about what can be produced.  That car chase ain't gonna work on this budget, maybe a run through the streets.  Oops, can't pull of 30 second flyover of Los Angeles.  All of those cool moments you added in as a writer immediately pop out of your head.  Even if you could afford the 30 second flyover, is there a better way to use that money?


Writing for the page and writing to be spoken are two very different things.  Things that sound good on the page and sound good in people's heads sounds terrible when spoken out loud.  Unless you're Tarrentino, maybe Kevin Smith, that dialog you love is gonna have to change.  Sometimes, you might have to make scripts much more dependent on dialog because you're locations fall through, or because the action can only take up 10% of the overall structure.  Other times, you realize too far into prep that the writer you cast can't act quite as well as you thought, and you have to start gutting dialog because it's too late to recast them.  Still at other times, maybe you wrote your script for a nerdy white rich teenager and you end up casting a street smart African American in his 30s.  Well, that's a big change in the script you have to deal with. 

In addition, you might have 50 speaking role in the project, but the budget can only support 10, so parts have to be hacked, melded, swapped, combined, and generally mutated to the confines of the budget.  


You're script calls for 20 locations, all of them with equal screen time.  However, your budget can only support 5 locations and only 2 main locations which have to encompass 85% of the script.  That's an issue.  What are you going to do as a writer and/or producer?  You gotta significantly change the script or scrap the project and chances are next to nothing you're going to scrap a greenlit project, unless you're either really well off or really principled. 

Why does it matter how many location you use?  Here's an non-exhaustive list: 

1) If you have 20 scenes in the same location, you can bang out a lot more in a day than if you have 1. 
2) Every time one changes locations in a day, the entire cast and crew has to move, called a company move, but that time, better spent shooting, is instead used to pack and unpack gear.
3) You can often store gear in a space overnight if you're shooting in the same location the next day, which cuts down on your tear down at the end of the night. 
4)  Locations are expensive, and the longer you can keep a location, the more of a deal you get on it.  A location could cost 10k for the day, or 20k for the week.  If you're trying to find a free location, it's a lot easier to find 1 free location than 20.  Trust me. 

For all those reasons and more, less locations are more cost effective.  A small scale project in my eyes (and many others) is seen as under 8 actors and under 5 locations. 

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