Saturday 27 November 2010

On Writing and Directing

A good question to ask me would be, why did you decide to make this film?

It's a good question because you'd probably expect me to say that I had a passion for film or to make money or raise a profile. The profile thing, partially. Money, nope. Passion, maybe.

I mean I am an absolute die hard horror fan - I can talk to you about Saw and Scream but also about Blood Car, Bad Biology and Flesh Eating Mothers. I like Orca as much as Jaws and also think The Last Shark is nearly a contender for its brazenness (if you're interested - read up on it. It's a film that's banned not because of content but because it came out alongside Jaws 2 (I think) and was deemed a carbon copy of Jaws to the extent that Universal managed to get an injunction against it). I watch it all - good, bad and ugly. And there's usually something that I can take away from each experience.

So an element of that obviously informed the decision to jump into scAIRcrows but I have to say, it wasn't the ultimate decider.

The driving reason to get scAIRcrows made was my writing. Writing's always been my love and talent (if I have one). My creative writing was always awarded top marks at school and also in external exams. All my English teachers said the same thing about it. And I loved doing it so it worked out.

I have pages and pages of short stories written but there's nowhere to really go with them. I considered pursuing small press and fiction magazines and maybe if I was fully committed to it, I would have done that. But that side of it, the 'business' side, just wasn't interesting to me. Whilst it might have been a necessary evil, I really had no desire to scour books on publishers and send out millions of submissions. I could've done it and still could I suppose but I feel the need to create more than I desire going through the arduous process of getting it out there. And weirdly, it doesn't really bother me that hardly anyone will ever read this stuff. For me, the second I'd finished the last draft, I was satisfied and moved on.

Also, I did research this and getting short stuff published is a lot harder than full length work. I guess much in the same way as film is.

You may see where I'm going with this. Making scAIRcrows was effectively a way of self publishing my writing. scAIRcrows was a new story - not based on any of the short stories I've already written (though I have considered resurrecting some of them for future projects). Making it into a film myself ensured that I didn't have to endure countless rejection letters from publishers etc.

Also, the allure of being able to make something my way obviously factored into it but primarily, it's about the writing. It always has been. For example, amongst other things, I'm about halfway through a feature length script of scAIRcrows that takes place the second after the short finishes. I am not writing this to make it, I have no desire to make another scAIRcrows film independently (if someone wanted to fund it - sure) but whilst I really have no immediate urge to produce another scAIRcrows film - I had this niggle at the back of my head that was telling me that I weren't finished with the story. And so, again, I'm writing something simply for the love of it. It's there if people want to read it and, again, put money into doing it justice but right now - I'm just writing it because I want to bring a definitive resolution to the storyline. And I'm just having a great time putting it together - it takes place in several locales and primarily deals with how people who have survived the scAIRcrow attacks (it's established that whatever happened in the short isn't an isolated incident) cope with the aftermath. It's a completely different beast to the short and that is what is, creatively, keeping me interested.

The thing about writing for me is that once you find that seed of an idea, you put it on the page and let it grow. I can honestly say that when I'm writing something, once I get past the fifth or so page, the thing starts writing itself. I'll bring the scAIRcrows feature back as an example here. For a few months I've had this idea as to how a feature would play out and it isn't what I'm currently writing. Once I'd written the first two scenes I realised that there were much more interesting things going on so I gave the blank page over to the characters and just let them speak. And they're taking me on a much different journey than the one I'd planned but it's absolutely the right way for this story to go.

Which brings me to directing. Directing is the anti thesis to the above. Maybe it's because it's a craft that I'm less familiar with but I find in film making that you're very bound. When I'm writing, if I want a character that dies to suddenly live, I go back and rewrite their fate. When I'm there on the day with actors, that character is doomed because there is no way I could change the entire film whilst in progress. I'm sure it has been done to great expense on bigger productions but are changes that late in the game dangerous to the rest of the story? I think once you get to the stage at which you're shooting - you surrender a lot of your creativity (remember, I speak as a writer who can do whatever he pleases at any point).

And I think that's maybe why I find directing a lot more difficult than writing. Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of room for creativity and certain scenes in scAIRcrows are testament to that. I really enjoyed talking to the actors about how they, as the characters, would react in these situations. I don't know if everyone expected that and if I even came across as someone who knew what they were doing because of this constant discussion. As the director, should I have been asking the actors if they were happy with the takes when I was? I think so. I know it might have given the impression that I didn't have a feel for what I wanted but - and this is the biggest thing I learnt on scAIRcrows - actors can have as much as a feel for the characters as you do. I will keep saying it but I was amazed at how the actors in the auditions nailed the characters that I'd written. I valued their input and trusted it. And the worst thing that I think you can do as a director is deny them the creativity simply for the sake of looking like you're directing. There were two scenes in particular that I had to very mechanically direct and that was the right approach to take as they really work because of the precision but everything else - I wanted this creativity that, as a writer, is the only thing I understand.

And sometimes that backfired. People coming up with things and playing things certain ways worked a  lot of the time. But then, it also didn't. And I think this comes back to film making being more of a technical exercise than writing. When I'm writing, I don't have to worry about where a prop is. I don't need to worry about where the character's hands are at any given point. I don't need to worry about where they're looking. Don't need to worry about another character moving their hair or adjusting their clothing.

But I do when I'm making a film. Now, I know that on a massive film production, there will be people there for continuity and the like but that's not what scAIRcrows is. Nor will anything else I do for the foreseeable future. So I have to pay attention to how much freedom we exercise whilst shooting. I have to constantly question how things factor into the bigger picture. Will the way something happens in one scene, contradict the next? I've hit certain points in editing where I can only use half of the takes that we shot as something changes that means the rest can't be used.

At the same time, I do like directing. It's the collaboration and the process that I enjoy. I love seeing other people connect with my writing and then bring it to life. And then to see these characters travel the path that I've put them on. But it was always primarily a means for me to get my writing out there and making a film that I would actually enjoy watching.

Writing is something that I may still improve at but I don't think there's much else for me to actually learn there. Directing is something I look forward to giving another go (little tease - in the next few months!) and learning more about the process and craft and getting a feel for how far I can take the approach I have in writing to directing and how much I have to surrender to the technical aspect.

I'm sure this is just the beginning of a long journey.

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