Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Digital Shorts - Part 3: Script Development

Another instalment of my writer's diary from the UKFC / Screen South Digital Shorts Scheme 2006/07. Parts one and two which I posted ages ago now, took the tale up to the selection of my script “Out of the Frying Pan” as one of the digital shorts 2007, and the attachment of a producer, Ricci-Lee Berry.

Late September 2006: arrangements are made for producers and directors to attend a training session at the NFTS. Ricci-Lee attends this. In the meantime, we both were scouring websites, and our contacts lists, for a suitable director. This was a long task, and obviously an important one. The worst thing that can happen is to end up working with a director that doesn’t have the same vision of the material as you do. But how do you tell who’s attracted to the material, rather than just attracted to the juicy UKFC funding already in place?

Well, you have to get to know them, and see if you like the cut of their jib. This can take a lot of time, and be very frustrating; and, it is where, with hindsight, I can see the advantages in applying to the scheme with a director already attached. Once you’re given a go-ahead and a budget, you want to spend every moment you can in development and preparation. If the director (and producer, if you can get one) has been with you from day one, then you can start the fun stuff straight away.

October 2006 – December 2006: Over the next month, I watch a lot of showreels, and towards the end of October, Ricci-Lee, Screen South Exec Miranda Robinson and I perform the first of our interviews. We whittled down the number of candidates over the next couple of weeks, and then we went quite a long way with one director, but things didn’t work out. It was mid-December when we finally appointed the third big member of the team: James Twyford - who had previously worked on the Digital Shorts scheme in 2005, with the comedy short ‘Little Things’ - was our director.

November 2006 – January 2007: While we hunted for a director, script development took place. I had notes for the next draft based on the discussions during the selection process, and Ricci-Lee had some good ideas. The marvellous Pippa Brill, script executive for half of the 2006/07 Screen South Digital shorts output, including our film, worked with me to realise these. Input came in from our initial director, and then from James.

I think in total there were about ten drafts before we submitted our final script to the UKFC, which isn’t a great deal in the larger scheme of things, but unfortunately not all of these drafts were for the better. Drafts 3 to 5 were a digression, and we kept little or no material from them when we reverted back to draft 2 as the launching point for all future work. [By the by, I’d recommend this approach if you get too bogged down - never be scared to admit you’ve taken the wrong track, and revert back to an older draft. It will stop you going insane.]

How did it happen? Simply: I didn’t know the strengths of my own material. It sounds dumb, but it is a very easy trap to fall into. When people get together to discuss scripts – and we did make the effort to all be in the same room occasionally, although a lot more was done on the phone, or by email - notes fly around, and creativity bounces off every corner of the room, and before you know it, someone - with the best of intentions - has said “Why don’t we set this domestic drama in –ooh, I don’t know – a spaceship?” and you’re saying, “Dammit, you're right”.

(That particular example never occurred, but we had a few mad ideas that weren’t far off it).

Luckily, I had Pippa to get me back on track. At that stage, I wrote down every point that I thought was good or worthwhile about the story, and I kept that piece of paper with me for the rest of the process. It wasn’t about being precious: it was just to remind myself what worked; had anyone tried to persuade me to change any of those points, I would have listened to their views. But everything on that list made it to the screen, because ultimately we all agreed that it was the heart of the film.

It was also during these months that the title “Out of the Frying Pan” became “Recipe” (for about a week), then “Pancake Day”, and finally “Lent.” So, we made it to the beginning of 2007 with a title, a locked script, and a shooting date for early February. All we needed now was a crew.

To be continued...


potdoll said...

I need to top up my self-belief too Stuart. I'm too easily persuaded that other people know better than me.

Stuart Perry said...

The problem, as in most things, is knowing when the fight's worthwhile, and when it's not. I do recommend the method of writing down everything you think represents the essence of the piece before development starts, so you can weigh any proposed change against that list.