I wanted to find out how a screenplay can change during production, so I asked the lovely Shiphrah Meditz, an up and coming writer/producer/director from the US of A, to write a guest post on the subject. And she duly obliged. Enjoy.
A Gunshot'S POV: How I Saved My Script through Sound
A week to production, and I was worried. A two minute gun battle that read really well on Final Draft was fighting every step of the way to be translated on film. It was for a 15 minute narrative short called "Where Snakes Roam" that I produced and directed in January 2012. My story follows two young girls who discover that their father is an assassin. For the final, all-is-revealed fight scene, I needed loads of fake guns, blood and guts, special effects, combat choreographers, stunt crew, and lots of time to pull it off successfully. Also, we were shooting in a 1950s mansion in Austin, Texas. I was dealing with location logistics that included four stories and multiple porches which had to support eight actors, a chase scene, and two final shoot-outs. Furthermore, the budget was already allotted, and the crew and actors were working around their jobs and family time to be on set for four days. The scene would have severely eaten into the time required for other takes. While I'm a firm supporter of pushing beyond boundaries, I knew that filming this scene would most likely be a huge mistake since we lacked the proper resources and time to make the action work.
For those that are new to film, shooting great action is one of the hardest magic tricks to pull off on camera. I'll explain why. I like to compare an action scene to a video game. A video game engages the player in a series of true or false choices that incrementally lead them to their goal. The success of achievement and the reward factor drives the player through the video game. For example, players rarely question how striving to win at a game makes them feel. In an action scene, you have the same scenario. Thus, the key element is to build emotion into the viewer beforehand and give them all the reasons why they need to cheer on the hero before the blows begin to fly and attention is riveted on the ACTIONS of the characters. This way the action becomes equal to "enacted emotions," and every take must be carefully planned to convey the proper effect. Of course the repercussion if that, if the emotions aren't properly stacked in the script, the actions may come across as "hollow" and predictable.
Thus any action requires well-rehearsed choreography with thought given to the 180 degree rule, actors who have had fighting experience to avoid amateurish reactions, on-set special effects sewn into the sequence to help the VFX artists in post production, stunt people with accompanying insurance and proper protection for the more dangerous moves, quibs to show a bullet's impact, and among other things, absolutely precise editing. To help the editor, I'd further have to plan how much action to show on screen, and how to have the viewer "imagine" the next reaction by keeping an actor's movement off-screen for as long as it occurs, and have it "enter" the screen just in time so the viewer isn't startled, but expecting it. This management of the viewers' expectations brings them into the action and rewards them with the actor's achievement (hearkening back to the concept of the video game). Thus, as you can see, the list for requirements for an action scene can go on and on, and monetary expenditures only exponentially increase!
I drew and re-drew story-boards, and discussed them with my DOP, Gary Huff, and special effects artist, Jason Zentner. I concluded that, given our time and resources restrictions, obtaining success was going to be questionable at best. Furthermore, my script was taking a huge chance shifting the POV from the two girls in the final moment onto the father's fight with the gunmen. I risked losing the emotional climax in a plethora of fighting extras.
I cut the scene.
So, here I was, about to shoot a film that had a team of 25 people attached to it, and the crucial scene was gone. So, what did I do?
A movie plays upon the visual and auditory senses. I look forward to the day when filmmakers will have commercially viable technology to expand the cinematic experience to further sensory experiences, but, for now I turned to sound as the answer. I rewrote the scene as follows.
The story sticks to the POV of the two girls. They are discovered by three men come to kill them, manage to outrun them and are momentarily rescued by their father. He tells them to hurry into a nearby forest and hide while he takes care of their pursuers. As they run through the trees, a carefully-planned "conversation" of gun-shots blast the air, along with fading organ chords, atmospheric effects, and a heightened audio of the girls' feet. Suddenly, they realise their father hasn't followed them and so they rush back. In dead silence, they discover the house and lawn strewn with dead, bloody bodies, including that of their father.
Thus, I managed to preserve the important plot elements of the chase and shoot-out, but only filmed the crescendo and the aftermath of the gun fight. We shot the film, wrapped on time, and now "WSR" is competing for entry into several international festivals.
I love the film industry because of the organised creativity that it demands. There are always finite amounts of time, resources, and money...even on the biggest productions in Hollywood. The artistic challenge to work with these factors and still try to make a film to the very best of my ability is one of the many reasons why I love producing and directing films.
Speaking of which, I'm currently about to start my debut feature film, "The Dying Eye," in Edinburgh, Scotland. Production begins October 12, 2012. It's about a brilliant, young computer hacker who fights crime in the streets of Edinburgh while navigating love, political conspiracies, and hallucinations.
I'm currently holding an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the production. To read further and donate, go HERE.
Be a part of my team! I'd love to have you on board!
You can also view her website HERE and her blog HERE.
Thank you, Shiphrah.