Hey, guys, long time no talk. What’s up? Oh, right, I’m the one who’s supposed to be talking here. All right.
Today’s post was spurred (as usual) by a situation I’ve seen a few times, and which as a result has been festering in the back of my mind for a while. As some of you probably know, there’s a fantastic filmmakers’ group I attend called We Make Movies. My favorite thing they do is their script workshop, where you can submit your 15-page script, they assign actors to it, and a live reading is done for the entire group. The group then gives the writer critiques on the script, either general advice or on specific issues if requested. The whole damn thing is free! Totally awesome, right?
Well, there’s this crappy little thing that sometimes happens at these workshops that just annoys the flaming piss out of me.
Sometimes, after their script has been read, the writer will be up on stage receiving their critiques when they come out with this line: “Well, it really didn’t come out the way it was read, but what I was trying to do was…”
Okay, hold up. So the script YOU wrote didn’t get the reaction you intended, and you’re blaming the actor? Or the narrator?
Now, don’t get me wrong, not everybody who reads is solid gold every single time. But they get the words out. The criticism the writer is receiving isn’t “Oh, that character read that line too aggressively”. It’s “That character’s dialogue is too aggressive.” But some writers, upon receiving a critique, immediately blame the people who volunteered their own time and artistic talent to do a read for them.
And believe me, the critiques people give at We Make Movies are some of the gentlest, easy to accept, but still insightful and helpful, that I’ve ever seen in any scenario, ever. I long to hear feedback from people at We Make Movies. It’s not a stroke fest, it’s just helpful and encouraging. So naturally, it irks me when writers throw the group under the bus.
Okay, so this is a specific example. But it does apply in a broader sense, to a lot of different jobs in the film industry. (Heck, I think it applies throughout life, but let’s limit the scope of this article somewhat).
People in the crew have responsibilities. As you move up the chain of command, your responsibility broadens.
As a writer, what is your responsibility? It is the script. You are supposed to write a script that communicates your exact intention to the reader. If you’re writing the movie, directing the movie, and already have the money to make it, you have full permission to write the script however you want. It could just be a series of notes about how you want to shoot everything. You can include no character descriptions and no parentheticals in your dialogue because you’ve “got that all in your head”.
Unfortunately, very, very few people are in that heady position. None that I know of. So if you’re writing a script to sell to a production company, or if you’re writing it to be read before an audience for critique, it is your responsibility, and no one else’s, to communicate in that script. If a character is a big, dumb, lumbering ox, you’ve got to indicate that somehow. And the best way, especially for a reading, is to include in the action: “This is JOE. He’s a big, dumb, lumbering ox.” You can, of course, figure out more artful ways of expressing it. But those more artful ways might fly straight over the reader’s head. And when the actor gets on stage to preform that character, he might go in a completely different direction if you fail to spell it out for him.
My point is this: take full responsibility. Never say, “Oh, that was a bad read,” say, “Oh, I guess I didn’t communicate what I wanted clearly enough.” You’ll get better readings in the future, and who knows? You might actually sell a script. How do you know that your current script(s) aren’t selling right now simply because the producer couldn’t understand what you were trying to say?
On a more general note, this extends to directors – not in relation to reading, but to filmmaking itself. My own opinion is that a director is responsible for the quality of the film. (There are counterarguments to this which I am prepared to defend against, but it will have to be in a future blog post). That means everything about the quality of the film is his purview.
As a director, you can’t speak of your finished work later and say, “Yeah, well, the acting’s terrible but I didn’t have great people to work with.” YOU are responsible for casting. I don’t care if your movie deal “allows” you to be involved in casting or not, you’d damn well better grab the producer by the lapels and say, “This actor blows. This movie will absolutely not work with her/him in it, and that will be on YOUR head, not just mine,” and keep saying it until the producer believes you.
What about, “Well, the special effects in my last movie were pretty terrible, it’s true, but then we couldn’t afford to hire a good special effects team.” Again, this is nobody’s responsibility but your own. Your solutions boil down to:
1. Search harder and find a team that will do it well, for cheap, even if it will take longer.
2. Change the movie so that there are fewer or less complicated special effects shots.
3. Buy a copy of After Effects and do it your damn self, then shame your current FX team into doing their damn jobs, saying “Listen, assholes! If I can make an explosion look this good, you sure as hell better be able to roto out the pedestrian walking behind our car crash shot!”
In the final analysis, no one is going to be judged for the quality of your film, except you. In the holy triad of quality/time/money, the only one that’s truly important is quality. If you’ve got money, you can get good quality fast; if you can’t spend money, it’s going to take longer; but you can’t let your quality suffer. And you CANNOT, repeat, CANNOT blame anyone else for a lack of quality in your film, your script, or whatever it’s your job to produce.
So whatever you do on a film set, realize that you have a responsibility to the final product, from your own job as well as the jobs of everyone working under you. Own that fact.