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Friday, January 11, 2008

Writer? - or director?

By Andrew Zinnes

A friend of mine took a major plunge recently. He crossed the line from writer to - wait for it - writer/director! The film he made was in the vein of a CLERKS or SWINGERS and focused more on character than action or big plot devices. A good thing because he spent under $4,000 on it. God bless the digital era.

But what was interesting to see was that it was clear the screenplay was so much better than the film created. The story and characters were OK and the dialogue was actually pretty good, but it didn't look like a film. It looked like someone basically shot the script verbatim and it turned out looking like a stageplay. It was flat and uninteresting and it didn't have to be even at that microbudget.

Now clearly this is writing blog and not a directing forum, but many of us do have desires to get into the chair and yell "action." Or at the very least we often wonder what a director will do with our babies. What my friend never thought of when writing his script was how to make the scenes seem kinetic. He didn't think in pictures. Certainly not in moving pictures. He didn't think about ways that a director might interpret it so that the camera moves or that different lenses might be used or how little internal moments might be captured visually.

Some might say this is not the job of a screenwriter. And they would have a valid argument. But think about the montage in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY where Harry and Sally walk through Central Park and other parts of Manhattan as they are becoming friends. One portion of this is when Sally tells Harry about the dream when all her clothes fall off. Nora Ephron for sure wrote that they were WALKING along while they were talking. Writing that they are moving means that a director knows the camera will likely be moving with them and they love that. Another thing you sometimes see is the "ON," as in "ON INDIANA JONES as he..." That conveys a potential close up on a long lens so that the character looks cut out from the out of focus background. And putting things in like "tapping fingers" or "fiddling with a zipper" means the possibilities of cut ins or extreme close ups to convey tension. We could go on forever here.

So while camera directions and the like are generally taboo in your screenplay, there is a lot you can do to help your director out. Or you if you decides to become an, dare I say, arteur. A good tip - the next time you are at the bookstore or surfing Amazon you might want to pick up a directing tome or one on general filmmaking. May I suggest - get ready - shameless self-promotion coming - The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook by Genevieve Jolliffe and Chris Jones (I edited it and Gen's my wife, hee hee!) It will give you tons of tips such as a myriad of ways to move the camera without renting expensive track and dollies. Hell, maybe even for free!

ShowHype: hype it up!

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