Another Way To Learn To Write
To cut or not to cut
Written by James DeMarco writer/ director of The Stagg Do.
Mainly due to personal budgetary constraints i.e. I shot a feature film this summer and I’m fucking broke, I was unable to attend this year’s London Screen Writing Festival (LSWF).
I was at the first LSWF last year, and I also attended the Comedy Writer’s edition that they hosted earlier this year. For the record, overall I really had a good time, met some decent folk and learned shit loads about screenwriting and the UK film industry.
But today I’d like to talk to you about a different kind of learning. The kind of education you can’t get from books, lectures, speed pitches or even in one-to-one meetings. It’s called ‘just doing it’ - going out and making your own film.
In some ways, I’d have to say that I’ve gained more from my recent experiences of shooting and editing the film from my own screenplay than I could have ever from any screenwriting or filmmaking seminar (Robert McKee eat your fucking heart out!).
The turnaround of the screenplay for my first feature ‘The Stagg Do’ was ridiculously quick. One of the actors and I came up with the idea in late April, and after meeting a few times to work out a basic outline, I wrote a first-draft (75 pages) in about three weeks. From that time, right up to the start of principle photography in late July, I continued to rewrite, e.g. making the dialogue more authentic, restructuring, scene-by-scene analysis - all the things that screenwriters would normally do. Let’s call this phase one of the screenwriting process.
I’ll be the first to admit that the script could’ve done with more development, more rewrites, etc., but once we had set a production date, there was no turning back, everything was full steam ahead. For better or worse, the script had to be shot in its latest incarnation.
The Screenwriting Process Phase Two
Then a strange thing happened during the shoot. For a variety of reasons, but mainly due to time constraints, I was forced to rewrite on the fly. I found myself cutting extraneous lines of dialogue here and there, truncating and even dropping scenes out of the script all together. There were a few situations where the actors, some of whom were non-actors, couldn’t remember their lines, which forced me to completely redesign the scene to make it work.
As the shoot progressed (and we fell further behind) I found myself hemorrhaging gags -eliminating some of what I thought to be the funniest material, but dialogue and description which wasn’t really necessary to move the story forward (hopefully this will turn out to be a good thing, fingers crossed).
The Screenwriting Process Phase Three
Welcome to the edit. For the past few weeks, the editor and I have been spending hours trying to put the film together in a coherent, and, because it is a comedy, humorous way.
Continuity issues have sprung up (those pesky non-actors again) which have forced us to piece together scenes using different takes, resulting in marked differences between the original screenplay and what has ultimately wound up on the time line.
I have been forced to cut more “precious’ lines of dialogue, replace scenes, rewrite others, shoot pickups (e.g. I’ve added two different shots of full moons which work perfectly as transitions).
EXT. FIELD - NIGHT - A full moon shines overhead (never in the script).
And there’s more. Working in collaboration, the producer, editor and myself concocted an entirely new sequence which was never even in the original script; in fact it was never even written, just shot by myself and one of the actors. Ironically, this may be one of the best/ funniest scenes in the entire film!
Experiencing the three phases of screenwriting has been a real eye opener for me. A whole new way of screenwriting: writing from your feet, instead of from your arse. Come to think of it, I don’t I can recall ever hearing anything about it from McKee or any other Guru.
Will try our best to keep this busy during the shoot and post-production.