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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Actors' Contributions

Interesting. I was getting ready to start tweaking my blogroll, adding a few links and removing one or two. Andy Coughlan's Blog was one that I was set to remove, not because I didn't like it at all, but rather just that he'd been dwelling on his process as a filmmaker, engaged in producing a short film, not his work as a screenwriter. I figured when he got back to talking about screenwriting, I might put it back on.

Then this morning I read this post, in which he discussed an interesting new insight he received while editing a scene from his short film:

I tried several edits, not hard when I only had four takes and a couple of cutaways to play with, but even so, it just wasn't making sense in my head. Midnight rolled past and I was getting more and more agitated and unhappy.

Then it struck me. The way I had Dr Crabtree in my mind was a little selfish and perhaps a little bit of a coward. The way Ben plays it he becomes much more selfless. He obviously already knows that Jess has been sent the book and perhaps already been torn off a strip by Mr Widdershins, both of which actually make more sense in the flow of the story.

Now his words and actions start to become more selfless. Despite knowing he's in the sh*t, he still tries to protect her the best he can, making his character, in my mind anyway, richer and deeper.

What Andy discovered, to his pleasant surprise, was that the actors "are going to come to the script with the same lack of preconception that the audience will have when they see the final film. They will often see the real truth in what you write, even if your confused and befuddled brain has twisted it into something else."

A less confident storyteller might be worried by this prospect. Novice screenwriters often put too much direction in their screenplays, both via the ultimate no-no of indicating camera angles, and also by overusing parentheticals to practically direct the line readings of the actors. Usually they do this because they think, "How else can I ensure that the movie that is produced will be the movie in my head?"

Well, I got news for ya: It won't be! So let it go. Learn to trust the directors and actors. More importantly, you might be surprised. You can actually learn from them.

Which brings me to my final point. Andy opened his posting by saying, "I've heard people say that all screenwriters should at least attempt to make a short movie." And while certainly good advice, it's not always going to be feasible. But what should be possible for nearly every screenwriter is to organize a reading of your screenplay. Get together with some actors, and at the very least, have a table reading. Don't give them any direction; let them develop their own take on things. Even better, find a location and have the actors read it in front of a small audience. This will not only give you the actors' fresh take on your material, but will also allow you to gauge the audience's reaction as well. Ideally, you'll discover new insights into what is and is not working in your script, what still needs clarification, and perhaps some new directions in which you can take your characters.

Best of luck on the short, Andy! Looking forward to hearing of your progress as both a filmmaker and a screenwriter.

(P.S. I think this is my first 3-post day!)

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