Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm gone a couple of days...

and a whopping amount of posts are made (including two cherry poppers, nice).

Anyways people, have just read your suggestions, noted with interest, will be spending the next few weeks mulling. I have to do a presentation tomorrow morning (probably at the same time as half of you are at working reading this blog) and I chose to focus on the read-through you fullas kindly did for me. I decided to post it for you to read if you want, hopefully it'll give you the chance to understand how freaking fantastic you all are, and what a big help it was to me. It's about two A4's long, just thought I should warn you before you begin.

BTW - our discussions and your feedback led to many changes - thanks guys!

At the start of the year I set myself a goal: to write two new drafts of my feature film Birth Control. Considering this was the first film I had written I really had no idea what I was getting in to. I finished last year with a 103 page first draft, and while I was pretty proud of the achievement I knew there was much to be done. The whole process has been new to me, and to be honest there has been far too much involved for me to be able to cover in ten minutes. So I’ve decided that today I’ll talk about a tool I used to understand a little more about my characters, and my film script.

A couple of weeks ago I gathered nine of my friends and had them do a read-through of Birth Control. The read-through was part of discovering my own process as a writer, and there were a couple of important outcomes that I hoped to achieve.

Firstly, by committing my friends to a date in advance I also committed myself to a deadline for producing a second draft. I know that I’m a person best motivated by pressure, and for me, there’s nothing like the potential to let people down to get me moving.

I had also been feeling a bit stale about my script. I began almost every writing session by reading from page one and making little changes here and there. I was no longer sure if what I had was any good. I had come in too close to my characters and their world, I’d lost the ability to see if there was humour in a line, or tension in a scene – I was pretty much over it.

I wanted to hear my characters in a voice that wasn’t my own, to see how someone else may interpret the line, to see if my dialogue was strong enough to convey what I intended. I was ready for the lines to rise off the page, to hear instead of see them, to get a different perspective.

The other reason I wanted a read through was that I have struggled a lot with the isolation of writing. I’m a people person and interaction with others is something that energises me. I’ve found that holing up in my corner of the house with my i-pod on and people who only exist because I put them there was not totally conducive to good mental health. It was time to share.

There are probably a bunch of ways I could’ve done this: assigned characters to each person, given the scripts beforehand so they could be read, given a description of characters and their stories… but I was pretty stoked my mates had agreed to give up their Sunday arvo and anything more seemed a bit much to ask. Besides, the reasons I had for the read-through were my own. At this point I wasn’t listening to check a line had been delivered perfectly, or that timing was bang on, I simply wanted to get at my script from another angle.

So Sunday rolls round. We were sat there with a beer in hand when somebody shoved the snacks aside, and it hit me. While I have shown my script to my tutor and classmates, and regularly had their feedback, these guys were different. This was my gang, my closest friends whose opinion I cared about, whose values and ideals I often shared. This was totally being judged by an audience of my peers.

What if they thought it was shit? Would they say it to my face? Would there be an awkward silence at the end. Part of me wanted to get up and run from the room, but I managed to override the urge. I felt my cheeks flush as we kicked into the first couple of pages.

About two minutes into the reading I was feeling pretty crappy, there was so much description and direction, it felt stilted. My friend reading the directions must've thought she was in for a hell of a long afternoon. In hindsight I was able to understand that this is the setup – this is where we first meet the characters, this is where I paint their world. So yeah, it’s a little wordy, but get four or five pages in and it all starts to happen.

At this point I want to let you know that my friends are not actors. Most of them had never seen a film script let alone read one, and their only qualification for the job was that I was pretty sure they could be honest with me. At least I hoped so.

As we read on something started to happen – my friends voices began to change, the dialogue gained momentum, the characters started to speak for themselves. I began to see how it might work, how each characters voice would play on the screen, how their relationships to each other would look. Without having seen the script before, my friends began to show the emotion and tension in a given scene, using nothing more than their voices.

It was valuable to be able to sit and listen, to hear the lines that hummed, the lines that clunked, and the lines that the group had a reaction to. I immediately knew what to cross out, the scenes I entered too late, the plots and sub-plots that I needed to develop further.

To have the opportunity to be an audience to my script let me experience it differently, and consider all the elements from another angle. And the round of applause they gave me at the end – well it felt pretty sweet.

After we refilled our drinks we asked questions of each other – it was interesting to see the storylines that resonated and the ones that needed more attention. It was great to hear the way a friend perceived a certain character, and to realise that as we continued the discussion they were referring to the characters by name, explaining things they had said or done, commenting on their situation.

So enough ego stroking, and back to my main reasons for setting up the read-through.

Deadlines – well, that worked. The days leading up the read-through I was focused on crafting a draft good enough to let me hold my head up as it was read aloud. After the read through I had a few days before I was due to hand it in to Graeme, which gave me the chance to right some of the wrongs that came up in the reading. I know it still needs work, but hey, it’s my second draft, and that’s what the next ten are for huh?

The read-through definitely helped freshen the script for me again. I was able to forget the fact that I knew the next line, and just listen. I could take whatever my friends bought to the character and see the film, rather than the letters on the page. And as for whether or not I was funny, I’m glad to announce I got a few laughs.

Did I get to hear my characters voice? It was fantastic to hear my friends voices change as they became a nineteen year old boy, a matriarch, or a plumber in his mid forties. Even without a rehearsal or prior discussion I got a sense of who my characters are, and how so much of their presence is tied up in the dialogue.

And my final reason for wanting a read-through, there’s nothing like baring your all to make you feel alive. It was great to share this with my friends, as much for that Sunday afternoon, as the discussions we’ve had since about the characters that inhabit my script.

As I mentioned at the start this is my first film, and the first time I am muddling my way through something of this complexity. The process is all new, and for this reason it is impossible for me to make mistakes, though I’m sure I’ll have my share of learning opportunities. To have the chance to do a read through, to hear my script rather than read it, well it’s just one step back from watching it on screen, and I say bring on that Sunday afternoon.

Thanks fullas, you rock.

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