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May 21, 2006

Unscripted

gdmf.jpg

Operating in a far more timely fashion than I did with my own film, James and I finished the first cut of GDMF last night, after five days of editing. It was tough job, but we forgot all about its difficulties when we reached to the final scene. "I could never write an ending that good," James said after we watched the film straight through for the first time.

So it's off to a really good start, but at the same time, its very rough, and there's a lot of work left to be done. I suggested that some of that work might include a bit of additional shooting (I can hear James groaning again right now). On the other hand, that may just be the impulsive reaction of a filmmaker who's become increasingly obsessed with shooting as much material as possible, even on his friends' movies ("Why do we have seven takes of this shot?" James asked me at another point, as we watched an actor walk into a room over and over and over again), but regardless, we've quite a bit of refinement to get through before we come to any conclusions on what the film does or doesn't need.

I do think, though, that when one is making a film without a script, the lines between production and post-production will - and should - begin to blur. The old adage about films being written three times (on the page, on the set and in the cut) doesn't have the luxury of being so clearly delineated -- a deficiency which is in itself a luxury, especially if you're shooting on DV, but one that requires its own set of disciplines. James may never have been able to write an ending as good as the one that spontaneously occurred on set, but he established the context and guided the actors to the point where they were able to create it. But what is this 'it?' It is an end that's free of a certain structural means; it's something more organic than a scripted scene, but also more volatile in its relationship to the film as a whole. It's precisely because James didn't write this closing scene, or plan for it, that its dynamic with what precedes it must be taken into careful consideration.

In other words, if an improvised scene fulfills the general ends a director had in mind (which he or she should always have, no matter how vague), then it's a success, and that's great. If it takes things to a slightly new level, or if it changes the meaning of something that came before it, that might be even better - but it might also necessitate some reevaluation, and perhaps some recutting and reshooting. Although I think reshoots, with their negative connotation, are the wrong term to use in these instances; any additional shooting is an extension of principal photography just as much as its a part of post-production; you can't say that you write a film three times in this context, because you never quite finish the first draft.

My requisite closing caveats number two: the first is that it's important to remember that most films which feature a great deal of improvisation are still scripted (see pretty much any Andrew Bujalski interview for example by way of further explanation); the second is I say all this without ever having directed a film that completely eschewed any form of a script - it was just over a year ago, after all, that I was whining about how difficult it was to write The Outlaw Son - although I have become somewhat adept at throwing my scripts out prior to production, and I imagine that the experiences are somewhat comparable. But GDMF was ninety percent improvised - probably more, actually - and the experience has and continues to present new ideas and new possibilities, and new problems as well. Problems which may be solved by cuts that haven't presented themselves to us, or with scene that haven't yet been shot. Whatever the case, the rough cut will be accompanying us around the country in the next two weeks, where it might be exhibited for an objective audience member or two.

In the meantime, because I want the best of both worlds, I'm going to turn back to the methodical labor pains of this new feature sceenplay and its carefully attenuated dialogue, its precisely paced chronology. It's turning out pretty well.

Posted by David Lowery at May 21, 2006 4:54 PM

Comments

I, for one, can't wait to see Cory in this movie.

Posted by: Bryan Poyser at May 27, 2006 8:13 PM