Sunday, February 16, 2014

Better Days Part 3: The collaboration process

As a writer, the collaboration process does not really exist. I mean, maybe, perhaps you got a few personalities rolling round in your mind, perhaps you consult some of your imaginary friends (all writers have these) or perhaps you must need a second reader to provide insight. Chances are, there are none of these things, and writing is just that, writing. It leaves no room for discussion, no room for debate and the only ideas a writer needs, wants or uses are the very ideas on the page.

I am not much of a collaborator. I suppose I had to collaborate with my advisers in grad school... rather, I did what they told me to do. I collaborate with my compadres at Umbrella Factory Magazine. It was really on collaboration during our founding process, now we just do our work and get it done. At Sophia Ballou we call collaboration, but really we are just a group of writers who enjoy each other's words and company. I guess what I'm saying it, collaboration is out there, and I have been party to it. I did not really understand collaboration until I began working with Rocket House Pictures.

For the writer, collaboration is not always going to happen. I mean, simply, a writer who does nothing more than write a screenplay and then the screenplay goes to a director and then the production company does not invite the writer along, then the writer is off the collaboration hook. I don't think it would be a bad thing to simply surrender a screenplay to a director and simply trust that the director will treat the screenplay appropriately. When I see a screen credit as writer/director, then I know the writer had to collaborate with others. When a writer becomes a director then something very unique happens: the screenplay becomes a fluid document.

Make calamari from a giant squid: A fluid document

Whole pages got cut from “Better Days.” Whole pages. There were entire soliloquy that made so much sense to me when I was writing. Soliloquy that made for romance and drama and humor and perfect. Soliloquy that did not make much sense to others when read aloud. Soliloquy that puzzled actors, then puzzled me. And ultimately soliloquy that really was unnecessary. Words, lines, and entire pages that did not make the plot progress. As a director I had no problems cutting these unnecessary pieces. I have admit, as a writer, I felt a little sting.

There were places, however, that I let actors use their discretion. If a line was difficult to say, there was no reason to say. I'm thinking of the fight scene in “The Tryst.” When people are emotional, anger especially, longer lines made no sense. In short, if an actor had a line that had three sentences, complete with three periods, things changed. They said their line to the first period. Anything more was trite, redundant and unnecessary. I see that now. What this accomplished, simply, is a more fluent dialogue between characters. Both Andrew and Aeon did not stray one syllable from their lines when they worked together. When they were with other actors, these two were patient, giving and supportive. Again, the fight scene got completely rewritten as we were rehearsing and blocking it.

After the shoot, the cast completely goes to the 2 dimensional images on screen. Most of the crew vanishes outright. What's left is two, the director and the director of cinematography. In short, Gio and me. Our collaboration is often inherently understood. We have a shared vision, a similar sensibility and a job to do. Gio is a master. I do what he wants because I trust him implicitly.

Writing is a private act. I've always believed this. For me, writing is the only time I'm not disappointed in the nature of the universe. It's the only time I'm not angsty, angry, or an asshole. I could be all of those things but no one will know, I'm alone.

As a writer, especially a writer of screenplays or stage plays, collaboration is the only way to get anything good from the initial project. And I just don't think process of collaboration is very easy. But isn't the notion of seeing a wonderfully unexpected finished project delight viewers?

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