In the fourth part of his series on How to Make a Film, experienced Norwich based filmmaker Matthew Stogdon from Cheesemint Productions takes us through the script writing process.
Pre-Production preparation and scheduling is something you can’t really be taught, you simply have to feel your way through. A written scene can be read out in a minute or two but usually takes hours to film. Make sure you allot a decent amount of time to accommodate all the things you need out of the shoot (making room for potential problems and delays). I’ve directed five short films and co-directed two seasons of a webseries and it’s something I’ve only just mastered – and I’m using ‘mastered’ in the loosest sense of the word. Foresight and being able to make creative snap decisions are the mark of truly great filmmakers and half of that is mountains of prep work.
Once you have your script, rehearse it as many times as necessary. Certain cast members will pick it up on the day, some will read it once, nail it and retain that freshness for the shoot, others will need nursing and coddling from the first read through to the final take but once everything’s complete, you won’t be able to tell which is which. Same goes for your crew. Once you’ve figured out who is taking on what responsibility, talk them through the script from a technical point of view. The shots you want, how close, where the camera will be placed, if the actors will move around the set or stay static, etc. Chances are, your cameraman, audio operator, et al will have suggestions, issues or concerns. By all means take them on board, they could strengthen your film but there’s no need to please everyone and at the end of the day, it’s the director’s film, so they need to have final say (and suffer the consequences if they were wrong).
I find the best thing to do is completely rearrange the script according to location. From here, you can get a loose sense of how many hours/days you’ll need in one place. Next make a calendar with the days you’ll be filming, detailing the sections of the story you’ll be shooting and all the cast, crew and equipment you’ll need on the day. Remember to make room for breaks – something I’m notorious for avoiding. I can get so preoccupied with getting things done that I forget to eat and when you’re shooting thirteen hour days, six days in a row, it starts to really cripple you. And if the people around you are expected to keep up with your absurd fasting, they’re not going to be in peak condition.
Next thing to do is try to formulate backup plans. Think of all the terrible things that could go wrong and draw up potential contingencies. These won’t always help and you may not need them but you’ll be one step ahead if something suddenly flops. Most importantly, work the film through your head over and over. Know every aspect of it off by heart. If an actor or crew member comes to you with a question such as “Why’s my character acting this way?” or “What do you want to do if it rains?” you need to have an answer. So make sure you’ve considered as many angles as possible.