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A Feature Script in my hand. . but. . .


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#1 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 05:17 PM

So, I got asked to meet with an aspiring director to talk about a low budget feature film he's doing. This would be my first feature (104pgs) ever, and while I have done a good deal of shorts, and throughly enjoyed them, I really do want to work on something longer. Even better, I'm getting paid; though not much. . .
Wonderful, right?
Well the problem I have is with the script. It's not bad, it has it's moments where it is quite good, and you can feel it, or rather I can feel it. Problem is, it's rather cliche, and a lot of the dialog is on the nose (not to mention the 5 pg long monologue like diner scene. . )
So here's the question, and I ask for your opinions overall, Should I
1) Dummy up and just shoot it the best I can?
2) Bring it up to the director that I feel the script needs some more polish?
3) Pass on it?
4) something else?

I know that's nearly an impossible question to answer without seeing the script or knowing the budget; hell I don't even know the budget yet! But, I'm having a hard time communicating with my gut on this one, and would just appreciate some opinions. On the one hand it's a Feature, which I know is a major proving ground, for anyone, and on the other, it's rather slapdash and immature (drug dealers, comic book store hero, prostitutes, and a flamingo dancing montage for the geriatric I can't quite visualize. . . )

Best,
~Adrian
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#2 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 05:27 PM

You obviously can do whatever you want but if you're asking what the "right thing" to do is, it would be to either pass it up if you aren't comfortable with the material or to suck it up and shoot.

I'm sure someone will disagree with me but I don't feel it's within the scope of a DP to question a writer/Director's script unless it's an issue of the Director calling a shot that the DP feels compromises Cinematography. Many other DPs must feel this way too or else you wouldn't see so many otherwise lousy movies with fantastic cinematography.

As a Director, I respect what DPs do. This is why I would never question their technique after I hire them. If I don't trust them to do their job right, why would I hire them in the first place? Same goes in reverse...a DP should respect that the Director has the vision in the script and in their decision making and go with that. If the Director ASKS your opinion, you now have a license to state your concerns. Otherwise, I think you may be overstepping your bounds.

Just my take,
Matthew
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 05:36 PM

Yeah, that's what i figured. I didn't mean, and never would go right out and give an unwarranted opinion. I was more interested what to say if asked.
Thanks for the take Matthew
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#4 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 04:05 AM

Shoot it! You'll learn a ton and have a feature under your belt.
I've read scripts before that I thought were absolute garbage, and after I saw the final cut I was surprised at how good it was.
If asked, I would accentuate the positive parts of the script. If a director is ready to shoot a script, that means he/she likes it the way it is. If you try to critique something about it they may decide that you're not right for the movie.
I shot a terrible movie (my first and only feature credit as DP) about ten years ago with a first time writer/director (he was writing the script while we were shooting), and while it was immensely frustrating, I learned a ton and would shoot it again if I had it to do over. Just get what you can out of it and have fun.
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 05:06 PM

Well, I just had the meeting with the director, and I've been hired on! Let's just hope some funding comes through! He's looking for 50K, which I think, honestly, is reasonable all in all, though If everything worked out just right, one could do this film for much less.
In any case, what sold me in the end was his own passion for it. He wants to shoot this very badly, and in the end, as I re-read the script, I started to get little visual ideas for shots/lighting and the like. That's just how I work; I get a shot in my head, and then I go from there (director willing of course!)
If you could see how fast I'm typing, you'd know how damned excited I am. Of course, I'm fresh to anything this long (though I've shot long-ish projects before, so hopefully I'll apply some of that here), so I agree Brad, this is going to be one hell of a great learning experience!
You know, to be honest with all of you here, I'm 24, and I'd NEVER have thought I'd be where I am now (which isn't great, but I'm making some money as a DP) when I was 18, or 20, or hell, even 21!
Thanks (to everyone here) for all your help and advice on this and everything I've ever asked.
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#6 Paul Bruening

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 05:40 PM

Congrats Adrian! Keep us up to date in the "In Production" thread. We want to hear all the gooey details.
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#7 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 07:29 PM

I disagree.

I think the best directors should have visual input and be encouraged to be clear about how they want something covered and lit. By the same token, a director should be able to listen to input from others.

I meddle in ways to tell story and coverage and even acting all the time. Obviously not intrusively, but in a collaborative way. And I've not only found that most directors I've worked with like it, they even crave it. Just like I enjoy input into my work.

Filmmaking is collaborative - maybe not by design, but by necessity. I find that unless your a genius, single auteur-ish visions are normally lacking compared to more collaborative efforts.

Obviously there's a limit to how much every single stagehand on set should be able to butt in, but as long as you can sift through information and have integrity, it's not really a problem. You can always reject others views.
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#8 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 07:43 PM

Filmmaking is collaborative - maybe not by design, but by necessity. I find that unless your a genius, single auteur-ish visions are normally lacking compared to more collaborative efforts.


Colloborate means "to work together toward a common goal." Therefore, you have to have one path that everyone wants to achieve. How can this be if everyone has different ideas? I've always thought that the purpose of the Director was to be responsible for the overall direction of the film. I liken the Director to the CEO of the company with the Producer being the Board of Directors, the DP being as a CFO who carries out the overall vision of the Director in regards to the visual part of the film. I may agree that the non-verbal acting could possibly be the business of the DP. I cannot reason though how the script dialog is of any concern to the DP. Dialog does not limit camera movement or shot changes. A DP has vast room for creativity in regards to shooting dialog. The actual wording of the dialog just doesn't seem to be the DPs concern. This is how I feel strongly.

If a Director welcomes your input...great! But I still wouldn't recommend that an up and coming DP make a practice out of giving non-solicited opinions. It's a very risky practice and it only takes one mishap to ruin a career.
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 09:42 PM

By the same token, a director should be able to listen to input from others.

I totally agree. But timing is important. If you start suggesting lots of changes before you're even hired, that could be a problem. There is plenty of time to offer input once your hired and get to know the director a little bit better. And of course during production things change often and collaboration is very important when you have to make things up on the fly.
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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 08:26 AM

I don't meant to suggest that I would be telling the director what to/how to do. Rather, that when I'm reading the script, I'm reading a script, ya know? I am looking at the dialog and from there thinking about how I see it. I then ask the director how s/he sees it, let them know how I see it, and we work from there.
I worry about dialog and the like because I feel anything I create is part and parcel of telling the story, and I'd probably film someone who is articulate differently than someone who isn't. But, then again, that's just me.
I agree a director should have a vision, and at the end of the day, my main task is to execute that vision. But, at the same time, I also feel it's part of my job to offer thoughts outside of that vision to enhance it. Of course, I always defer to the director's wants/needs, but I also [in pre production when talking about the look] voice my opinions.

As for the in-production, as soon as we get into production I just might have to write little tidbits.
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#11 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 08:45 PM

I think you'll know pretty quickly whether the director is open to your script suggestions or not. If not, then you know not to offer those types of suggestions.
In the general sense, as a DP, your strengths aren't necessarily in writing, your strengths are in visualizing what is on the page. You're a DP because thats where your interest and skills lie. Whoever wrote the script is presumably a writer. Not to say that a DP can't offer good input, but generally there is a reason we all do the specific jobs that we do.
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#12 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 10:02 PM

You're a DP because thats where your interest and skills lie. Whoever wrote the script is presumably a writer. Not to say that a DP can't offer good input, but generally there is a reason we all do the specific jobs that we do.


That is a wise statement. Too bad more DPs and various cast/crew members don't realize this.
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#13 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 08 June 2008 - 05:10 PM

That is a wise statement. Too bad more DPs and various cast/crew members don't realize this.

Well, to be fair, this is a two way street. There are plenty of producers and directors who are constantly trying to tell DP's and camera operators how to do their jobs. And what's worse, now they're sometimes drastically changing things during the D.I. without the input of the D.P.
I've taken good suggestions from people outside my department plenty of times in the past (a good idea is a good idea after all) and occasionally I make a suggestion outside of my normal job description to a DP or director that they've taken and used. I must admit that it's nice working on a set where creative input is encouraged, but it can become too much at certain times.
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#14 Mark Williams

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 09:45 AM

I think thats pretty worrying when cast and crew start deciding whether or not the film is good enough for them. I dont think I'd want to hire a crew with that attitude. I think if you're paid to do a job then you do it to a professional standard unless another offer is on the table. People who see the film my think well that wasnt very good but the camera work or lighting was. The director might next get a better script and offer a better job. The script with all its cliches and most do might be a success. most arent. Most films are the same old story dressed up in a different package. atching law and order and the almost martian scriptwriting trying to give the repackaging a gloss for me makes no diference. I dont care about cliches but the actors can sometimes change the words into a subtle different meaning that takes it all upwards or improvise and give his own words. dialogue cn easily be altered before after or during as long as it doesnt interfere with the story. Think positive and practice your profession. Thinking of how you look or come across is wishy washy in an industry that by its nature demands boldness and risk.
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#15 Jacob C Ross

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 01:25 PM

At this point in your career (early stages) it will be really good experience and you'll learn a lot. The more you progress in your career, the more chances you will have to collaborate with directors/writers. Just my 2 cents. good luck man.
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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 01:50 PM

I certainly hope I do learn a good deal!
In the end, though, I feel that I should be a collaborator, at least on the visuals. I know that at the end of the day, I have to do what the director wants, but I personally feel, especially on the low/no budget side, that before you go to shoot, the director and I should've sat down and forwarded both of our visions for how the film looks, before arriving at a consensus, and then, figuring out the best way to do it (and modifying it as the real world, whatever, dictates).
I was just moreso curious as to what you all would do given this situation. I know better than to tell a director how to do his/her job, but I honestly think that we all look at a script and have our critiques of it; generally, I would assume and it seems to be the case, kept to ourselves until elicited.

In any case, Thank you all for your responses. Now, here's hoping the all pulls together.
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