Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Writing vs Shooting

I said I wouldn’t blog again until I had completed the new script I’ve been working on.  Well, I almost made it.  I’ve finished the first draft and am now in the mandatory stick-it-in-a-drawer-for-a-few-days period, to let it settle before I go back to it for a week or so before delivering to the producers.  In the meantime I can read a few books for some future projects I’m discussing, take a couple of meetings up in London this afternoon and, of course, file a cheeky blog.

It occurred to me in the shower just now that the stage I am at with this new script is a bit like finishing the shoot of a movie.  And in fact the analogy stretches quite nicely.  So I thought I’d share.

In the film production process, you start with a strong script and then spend a lengthy, measured amount of time in pre-production, pulling together all your elements and meticulously planning the shoot.  So in the writing process, you may start with a strong idea, but then you must research, prepare and sort through the component parts of that idea, until you have a clear idea of where you are heading.  Just as you wouldn’t start shooting a movie until all the locations and cast were in place (at least, you’d try not to), so you wouldn’t kick off the writing of a script until you knew very specifically what it is you wanted to write.

Then the shoot itself kicks off, a month or more of long days, ignoring the family and becoming totally obsessed with your movie.  So with writing: boil the kettle, shut the door, and do what needs to be done.  In the movie shoot, things might – will – change.  Great pieces of improv – stick it in.  A location has to be moved – move it.  An actor doesn’t understand why their character is behaving in a certain way – take a look at it and, if necessary, adapt.  So in the writing of the first draft.  You have your map, you know where you are going, but some roads may be closed when you get to them, and some interesting scenic diversions might prove with a visit.  But don’t forget the ultimate destination, don’t stop moving forwards, don’t stop till you reach the end.  And while the writing of a first draft might not be as tightly scheduled as a movie shoot (each day divided up into 1/8 pages and so on), you should at least give yourself targets to work towards.  Week one, act one etc.  Works for me, at any rate.

So the shoot ends, the crew collapses with exhaustion and the rushes are delivered to the editing suite.  And then the real work begins.  Because you don’t know what you have got until you see what you have shot, until you first loosely assemble the rushes, and the film within is revealed.  The first draft screenplay is your rushes.  Great job, well done, you got through it.  Now let’s go to work.  Now let’s see what the script is really saying, and let’s make that as clear and powerful and effective as possible.  Post-production can take six months or more, and involve various stages – picture, sound, colour etc.  So with the rewriting process – structure, dialogue, character.

Picking up on the old palaeontology metaphor, it could be said that the digging process involves various stages, with different types of machinery.  The first part, the heavy lifting of the research process, needs the big diggers, to prepare the ground.  Then you stake out the area to be excavated and, in the shoot, send in the men with shovels.  And in the third process of post-production, once the rough shape of the find has been revealed, you get out your brushes and gentle air hoses to finish the job.  Attentive readers might spot that I have never been on a palaeontological or archaeological dig, but hopefully you get the idea.

And then, at a certain point, it is done.  The film is sent off to the distributors, the script is sent off to the producers.  There the similarities end.  Unless you’re Harvey Weinstein, most distributors will take the film as delivered and make what they can of it.  Of course, in script development, the notes start to come back, and the process – in a hopefully condensed timeframe – starts to repeat itself.  The point is that, having experienced the twelve months it took Chalet Girl to go from prep to shoot to post to finished, and while I’m feeling good about having finished the first draft of this new script, I’m under no illusions about the amount of work that remains to be done.

Once I’ve delivered, with luck in a week or two (depending on what I discover when I go back to the script) I’ll be back to some more regular posts.  And an exciting time it promises to be.  I’ll fill you in on the inside story behind the Chalet Girl world premiere on 8th February, talk you through the German and Austrian premieres on 4/5 March, and of course the UK and European releases mid March.  Tell your friends.  Seriously.


  1. i love your blog tom! how did you first make the career transition into screen writing? i imagine it is a hard career to break into.


  2. ps SO excited about Chalet girl x

  3. Thanks for the comments TM. It has taken me ten years to make 'the career transition' so no easy answer I'm afraid! Read a lot, write a lot, the usual advice. Read trade mags, go to seminars / networking events etc. And don't give up - fortune favours the persistent. Best of luck.

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