Tuesday, May 05, 2020

ON WRITING: check your grammar

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This is a bit of a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT for all you writer's out there, from someone who read's (and write's) a fair number of script's:
Grammar is important.
It affects the way we read and more importantly it affects our confidence in the writer. It's daft in a way because whether or not you can correctly employ an Oxford comma technically has very little bearing on the poetry with which you depict your love triangle / bank heist / helicopter explosion. However if you are someone who has ambitions to wield the written word for a living, learning the fundamentals of your weaponry should be the basic requirement.
It comes down to an idea of faith. When we encounter some avant-garde formatting or stylistic tic, if the writer has demonstrated a solid command of the language, we are minded to give that writer the benefit of the doubt. However, if the writer is struggling with basic apostrophe use, it starts to create an element of doubt that can cast a shadow on other elements of the script - structure, plot and characterisation.
So, if you don't already know this, and even if you do, take half an hour to study correct use of apostrophes, then cmd + muthaf*ckin' F every single apostrophe in your script before you send it to anyone to read. If nothing else, that sh*t needs to be locked down cold.
[If you struggle with learning difficulties other other challenges, of course get someone you trust to proof read for you].
Believe me you will be appreciated for it for ever. And your Chinook-crashing-into-the-hoover-dam denouement will then be appreciated in all its flaming glory.
Posted with love to you all (and a bit of a stern and waggly finger).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

ON WRITING: character introductions in screenplays

I think I’ve found my enthusiasm for writing again, after the last year (plus) being pretty much mojo free. I’ve been working on draft 12,347 of a script that’s twice as old as my kid - and responsible for nearly as many grey hairs - writing with the director for a few hours most afternoons during lockdown.

We’re taking a lot of the script back to basics and rebuilding scenes with a greater sense of purpose, working in more subtext and making sure they point in the direction of our story. A couple of the early scenes have necessitated some pretty comprehensive re-thinking, including introducing new, or re-imagined, characters. I came to the scene where we introduce our protagonist, and realised the character intro was actually pretty terrible. It felt generic, lazy,  and performed the magic trick of being both too long to be punchy; and too short to tell us what we needed to know. It got me thinking about character introductions in scripts, and how other people do them.

Normal well-adjusted people would have a look at a couple of scripts, get some ideas, and go off and bang out a solid character intro. I am not, as many people will confirm, entirely normal. Hence I have spent the last five days analysing the character introductions in nearly three hundred of the scripts in my script library. Everything from Quint in Jaws (bloody brilliant) to Ripley in Alien (extremely cursory), Penny Lane in Almost Famous, to Marty McFly in that movie about the car thief whose mom keeps trying to bone him before he turns his dad into a violent sociopath, plagiarises Chuck Berry and bankrupts his Dad’s boss. 

I’d love to say this is because I am a truth-seeker, thirsty for knowledge and a deep analytical desire to unravel the mysteries of the universe through empirical study. In reality it’s because I am slightly obsessive, bloody minded, and generally don’t know how to stop doing things once I’ve started them.

I’ll try and put a link to a PDF of the collated character introductions somewhere. It’s definitely not all of them - it’s a lot, don’t worry! - but I left out many which didn’t feel particularly noteworthy, or didn’t bother to introduce characters at all, which I saw was a trend in some of the older scripts: Chinatown, When Harry Met Sally, Some Like it Hot, and rather let character emerge through an accumulation of dialogue and action. Note: You have to be bloody confident in your writing to get away with this. 

(This is also sometimes true of ungrateful bastard directors who are writing with cast already on board and therefore don’t need to waste their precious unicorn-riding time with fripperies like describing their protagonists - PTA et al. )

I’m still processing what I’ve learnt from all this idiocy. But one thing's for sure - and it’s a cut-and-paste from any sensible writing about screenwriting anytime anywhere - there is no right way of doing it. Some writers do it it several ways in the same script. However one could say there is a ‘most effective’ way, generally based on the type of film you’re writing. 

Character intros consist of a few common elements:

Name. Obvs. 97% of the time in CAPS.

Age, specific, which is a bit weird unless there’s a specific reason for being specific.

Age, unspecific: 20s, 30s, etc. Or my favourite which is ‘probably in his forties’, which imparts just the right amount of devil-may-care attitude on the part of the writer. “I’m guessing this dude is about forty-five from the thinning hair and significant waistband overhang, but I HAVEN’T EXACTLY LOOKED AT HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE”.

A description of their physical attributes. 
Along with age this is the most common. The trick is to find some way that gives us something more than just a aesthetic picture of the character: 

‘LUKE, a sullen-looking student with a shaved head and a failed goatee, raises his hand.’

‘Reverse on Reb Groshkover: a short, merry-looking fellow with a bifurcated beard.’

‘John Laroche drives. He’s a skinny man with no front teeth.’

These from Hell or High Water:
TOBY HANSON, late 30’s, a kind face marked by years of sun and disappointment, rides shotgun. It’s not the face of a thief, it is the face of a farmer.’

‘Behind the wheel is TANNER HANSON, 40, his brother’s opposite in every way: mustache, shaggy hair, an air of danger that attracts as many women as it repels.’

A description of what they’re wearing.  In such a manner as to impart character. 
Take this description of Carolyn Burnham from American Beauty: ‘A very well-put together woman of forty, she wears color-coordinated gardening togs and has lots of useful and expensive tools.’ 

A sub-genre of this is where characters are described by something they might wear, as in this from Tina Fey’s Mean Girls script, where Cady’s mom is fabulously described as ‘The kind of woman who would still wear a fanny pack’.  

(Mean Girls also contains this gem: ‘Her gym clothes consist of the tiniest shorts ever forged by man, and a bandanna for a shirt.’)

Certain articles of clothing are often used as symbols of character: Tweed jackets, horn-rimmed spectacles, white tank tops, killer heels, plaid shirts, faded Metallica t-shirts, letter jackets, floaty summer dresses, Brooks Brothers suits, Italian suits, ill-fitting suits and so on. All of these are signifiers of a certain type of person, and one has to ask whether you view this as useful shorthand, or unhelpfully generic. 

A description of what they’re doing. In such a way as to impart character. 
A character chewing a toothpick in scene 8 is definitely gonna shoot somebody before this f*cker’s done. 

Ex Machina: ‘The hands of the young man writing code. This is CALEB. He types fast, with two fingers.’

I particularly like this one from 25th Hour: 'NATURELLE, in her early twenties, has the lean body of a runner. It's cold outside but she doesn't seem to mind.’

Often this is coupled with a description of clothing as above. This from American Gangster: ‘A white Bentley pulls up, disgorging Jackie Fox - the original Superfly - and his entourage. With his trademark tinted Gucci glasses on, he happily poses for anyone with a camera - including the Feds - before going inside.’

Some writers prefer to shorthand the recognisable ‘tribe’ the character is from. This works if you’re dealing with archetypes, often in comedy, or stylistically you just want to get shit done and move on. Personally I find this a little cursory but it is effective and can read as confident.

These from 20th Century Women: 

DOROTHEA (55, short grey hair, Amelia Earhart androgyny) 
JAMIE (15, New-Wave/Punk)
JULIE (17, Something subversive below her good looks)
ABBIE (28, Sophisticated NYC art-punk type)
WILLIAM (Mid 40’s post-hippie type)
MARY, (40’s academic)

It’s no surprise that John Hughes takes this all the way in The Breakfast Club, a movie intentionally and entirely consisting of archetypes:

‘We see CLAIRE and her FATHER sitting in their car in the parking lot. Claire is the prom queen and is clearly a snob.’

‘We are in BRIAN's car. His MOTHER is there and so is his little SISTER. He is sort of a nerd.’

‘We see ANDREW and his FATHER. Andrew is clearly a jock; he’s wearing a letterman's jacket with lots of patches on it.’

The great unknown. I’ve historically subscribed to the Roy Walker approach to character description: ie. ’Say what you see’. If it’s not something you can see in the moment, it’s a bit of cheat to shoehorn it in the script. But lately I’ve come around to the idea of the more lyrical descriptions of character, which set a tone not only for the character, and the others who interact with that character in the movie, but also a useful steer for the reader (and potential director, actor, costume designer, hair and makeup) in imagining how these things might be signified elsewhere in  the script in a way that’s powerful and revelatory.

Sometimes it’s simply a description of useful character traits that will become clear as the story develops:

‘RUSSELL HAMMOND, 27, presses the buzzer with the nose of his guitar-case.  It's obvious from moment one.  This is the star of the band, the charismatic one.’

‘GEORGE McFLY, 47, is absorbed in a BOXING MATCH on TV. He’s balding, bored, uninspired; a man who lost at the game of life.’

‘At the center of this technological rat-nest is NEO, a man who knows more about living inside a computer than outside one.’

But in other cases it’s more of a ‘screw your wafty screenwriting rules, my character is a total badass, and I will describe him/her as such in as much detail as I require thankyouverymuch.’ 

So here are some of my fave character descriptions that tell us a bunch of stuff that we can’t possibly know from looking at our character, and in many cases never even find out during the movie, but add something that feels necessary/awesome:

‘MICHAEL CLAYTON’S FACE -- A PHOTOGRAPH laminated onto a Kenner, Bach & Ledeen ID card -- FILLS OUR FRAME. It’s a man’s face. Son of a second-generation cop’s face. Father of a ten-year-old boy’s face. A face women like more than they know why. The good soldier’s face.’

‘He is L.B. JEFFERIES. A tall, lean, energetic thirtyfive, his face long and serious-looking at rest, is in other circumstances capable of humour, passion, naive wonder and the kind intensity that bespeaks inner convictions of moral strength and basic honesty.’

‘Then, entering a plane of focus is VINCENT. He walks towards us...an arriving passenger. Suit. Shirt. No tie. Sunglasses and expensive briefcase say "confident executive traveler." The suit's custom-made but not domestic. His hair and shades are current, but it would be difficult to describe his identifying specifics...grey suit,  white shirt, medium height. And that's the idea…’

‘This is LESTER BANGS, 25, the rarely-seen God of a then new art-form -- Rock Journalism.’

‘David makes for an incredibly glamorous and attractive couple in their late twenties who are waiting outside - DANNY and HELEN. Helen is as far from anyone’s idea of an aunt as one can get. She’s no more beautiful than Jenny, but she’s dressed both appropriately and spectacularly, in early-60s, pre-hippy Bohemian gear. She turns heads in a way that Jenny is not yet able to. Danny too is attractive, but soberly so. David and Jenny are, in a way, paler, less striking versions of these two.’

‘COSTELLO is never the threatener. His demeanor is gentle, philosophical. Almost a shrink’s probing bedside manner. He has great interest in the world as he moves through it. As if he originally came from a different world and his survival in this one depends on close continual observation and analysis.’

‘Sgt. ED EXLEY, 30, bespectacled, is at the desk with a YOUNG OFFICER. Exley is an up-and-comer. Burning with ambition. The faster he rises through the ranks, the more resentment he leaves in his wake.’

In conclusion I would say best practice is to choose a style that matches the way the rest of the script is written, and give the reader exactly as much as they need to understand each character - what makes them particular. But don’t fall into the trap of writing something long and generic when a couple of words do the same job. 

| | Here's the PDF for your amusement. | |

And finally…

Rising like Neptune from out of the deep, QUINT walks the sidewalk in the pool of his own shadow.  He is a sleek and sinewy specimen, inches over six feet, and with a face making it hard to determine where the scars leave off and the wrinkles begin, though he is no older than fifty.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

twelve f*cking minutes

Twelve minutes in the grand scheme of things is not a very long time. 

When your team is 1-0 down to Blackburn in the 80th minute of the FA Cup it can go by in the blink of an eye. On a fixed bike in a gym, where I ventured for the first time last week time passes rather slower, (especially when your heart-rate has reached 320bpm, blood is roaring in your ears, and you are wishing for the sweet release of death). But by most measures twelve minutes is a perfectly manageable slice of the day.

Except when you’re stuck in a lift. And wildly claustrophobic.

It happened today at the office. We’d just come out of a conference call in one of the fourth floor meeting rooms, and were still discussing the ins and outs of the conversation as the lift doors closed, we began our descent and then with a strange clank and a lurch we arrested, midway between two floors.

I’d often imagined how I’d react in this situation - I’d heard anecdotes of friends who had the same experience, and had been fascinated by the story of the New York office worker Nicholas White who had hopped into a lift on a friday night in 1999 and emerged forty-one hours later a truly changed man. And not for the better. [White’s incarceration was captured on CCTV and you can view a time-lapse of his lost weekend]

But on the whole I tried not to listen to these tales, immediately feeling the heart rate go up, and the muscles tense.

I didn’t always have this problem. I did my fair share of spelunking as a youth, squeezing through the infamous ‘Worm Wriggle’ at one cavern system or other on school trips. I used to ride the tube in London without a second thought, and elevators weren’t any great shakes. But something came unwired in my head around 2006, and suddenly the thought of an underground train stopping in a dark tunnel between stations became the stuff of my nightmares. I have a fairly good idea of why this happened, but at some point in my life I fear I shall be paying a New York analyst thousands of dollars an hour to rediscover the source of my anxieties, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

When the situation started to unfold the first thing that happened was my heart started beating harder and a familiar sensation of anxiety started rising from my gut. Panic set in. The brain starts firing questions: what happened? how long are we going to be here? does anyone know we’re here? what’s the process they have to go through to fix this? Do they have to call someone in? How long is that going to take? The questions are always intricate and specific. They’re always about the process. 

At this quickfire brain-speed a minute can seem like a very long time, and twelve: an eternity. The question you try and avoid asking yourself is the most dark. It flits around the outskirts of your thought process trying to creep past the mental barriers and emerge into the light: What’s going to happen to me if this goes on much longer? The physical sensations are so intense that you start to wonder if you might eventually break.

Thankfully I haven’t found out. Yet.

It’s so frustrating to have something like this in your life that you can’t control. The relative argument holds true - it’s a comparatively small problem to have, and god forbid I should have something more serious to deal with, but it is both fascinating and horrifying to have a weakness, something so irrational and so much beyond your control, and that no amount of logical thought can conquer. Thinking both helps and makes the situation worse.

We’re adaptable creatures however, and three-and-a-half floors above Rathbone Street this afternoon, I held it together. It helped the others in the lift were friends. Strangers would have been worse. And there are ways I have found to cope with the anxiety. I try and always have a good book on me - being in the middle of a great story is wonderful for distracting the mind from malicious thinkings, and the better the book, the more powerful the diversion. In this situation, film scripts can be of wildly varying efficacy, for reasons I don’t need to explain. I once commuted to work with Season 3 of The Sopranos on my mp3 player. It was practical magic.

But there’s one thing I’ve found helps more than anything else. It comes from something I read in my various investigations into the way the human mind functions. The article, which has now become lost to me in the vortex, reported on a study (conducted by scientists and psychologists at some venerable institution or other) which concluded that recreating the physical sensation of something can cause the brain to manufacture that psychological feeling. Or to put it more simply: Smiling can make you happy. This was apparently something of a surprise to said psychologists who had previously believed that feelings always provoked the physical response, and the brain did not follow the body. Of course I tried it and goddamn if it didn’t work a charm.

So now, when the anxiety starts to creep in, I try and smile, and I find it’s a lot harder to be stressed when you are smiling. I care not for the other passengers in my tunnel-bound train carriage wondering who the grinning idiot sitting across from them may be - is he about to start asking them for money, proclaiming the divinity of Jesus Christ, or does he have something incendiary strapped under that shirt (which is bizarrely not one of my tube-based phobias). And as I sit there smiling away, thoughts come to mind of the good things in my life, the people I care about and the things I am proud of, and the fears start to lose their power over me.

I don’t exactly know why I wanted to share this. Perhaps because sometimes it can help to know that other people out there go through the same things as you, maybe someone would read this with a glimmer of recognition and feel comforted in some way. Perhaps I thought it might help me to put it out into the world. What I do know is that today I was confronted by one of my most potent fears, if only for twelve minutes, and when we were finally let out of that lift, I emerged with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ON WRITING: christopher nolan on 'inception'

In the shooting script for Inception, Chris Nolan is interviewed by his brother Jonathon.

He makes a few interesting points about the way he tells stories. I particularly like his comments about 'the rules' which I think is key to any type of fantasy / supernatural sci-fi. I first heard the idea expressed by Borges, who talked about the 'orbe autonomo' (autonomous world) of his stories. The basic theory is that the audience needs to know the rule of your world in order to engage with your story. If you set a story in a world in which anything is possible, it becomes un-relatable to the audience and ultimately un-engaging.

For any good fantasy I think you need to 'sell the rabbit hole', as I would describe it. Like Alice, the transition from our world to one in which magic/the supernatural is possible has to be fundamentally unquestionable to an audience, even if it requires a suspension of disbelief, or a surrender to some pretty hokey movie logic. In the best fantasies we want to surrender to the logic.

Some rabbit holes:

Struck by lightning = magical powers
Cursed by Hungarian gypsy woman = seriously scary shit happens to you
Christopher Lloyd + illegal nuclear sh*t from the Libyans = time travel
Buying pets in China town from mystical eastern dude = little furry thing capable of eating you after a midnight feast.

To an extent we believe in these rabbit holes because we want to, not because we think they're real but from the point of view of story logic they all make locked-down sense.

Here are some highlights from the Nolan interview (thanks to Jonathan Wakeham for the edits). Full text here

On the need for rules When I saw the first Matrix film, I thought it was really terrific, but I wasn’t quite sure I understood the limits on the powers of the characters who had become self-aware. Inception, on the other hand, is about a more everyday experience …. It doesn’t question an actual reality. It’s just saying, “Okay, we all dream every night. What if you could share your dream with someone else?” And it becomes an alternate reality simply because the dream becomes a form of communication, like using a telephone or going online.

On the need for emotional risk I consider this script to have begun when I figured out I was going to use a heist movie structure … The problem I had was finishing it, because the heist movie as a genre tends to be deliberately superficial … And I realised that when you’re talking about dreaming, this universal human experience, you need the stakes of the story to have a much more emotional resonance. If you’re going to do a massive movie, you’ve got to be able to unlock that more universal experience for yourself as well as the audience. As soon as I realised that Mal would be his wife, it became completely relatable.

On melodrama I’ve written quite a few dead wives, that’s true. But you try to put your relatable fears into these things. That’s what film noir is, and Ido view Inception as film noir. You take the things you are actually worried about in real life, and you extrapolate that into a universal drama, painted as large as possible. You turn it into melodrama. People always talk about melodrama as a pejorative, but I don’t know what other word there is.

On actors I’ve been fortunate enough to work with great casts on all my films. Particularly with a lot of the supporting characters, a great actor will come in with a whole take on it, and they’ll literally give what’s on the page some kind of life that you hadn’t forseen.

On trusting audiences There are points where you worry that you might be putting too much in and alienating the audience … Somewhere in the back of my mind, for example, I had assumed that the business with the spinning top in the safe would wind up being cut out of the film … But what we realised in showing it to people is that they actually grasped the imagery as something to hold onto, as an illustration of things that had happened off camera.

On sincerity I give a film a lot of credit for trying to do something fresh — even if it doesn’t work … I think the thing that I always react against as a filmgoer is insincerity, when somebody makes a film that they don’t really enjoy themselves, just to produce an effect on the audience. And what really frustrates me with a film like Inception is when you show somebody the film and they think you’re trying to be clever. Or show off. I always feel like I’ve completely failed at that point, because I know as a filmgoer that that’s something I react against … you want to believe that the film-maker loves the movie, loves what that movie does.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ON WRITING: david simon on the 'average reader' (Quote)

This is taken from a fantastic piece in 'The Believer' mag, in which Nick Hornby interviewed David Simon - the mastermind behind 'The Wire', 'Generation Kill' and 'Treme'. This is a great quote, a great philosophy, and I think forms a kind of rallying cry for how HBO's drama changed TV storytelling for the better.

My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.

Full interview can be found here

ON WRITING: david milch on convention (Quote)

It seems appropriate to start with something from David Milch - the screenwriter behind 'Deadwood' (as well as 'Luck' and 'NYPD Blue') as Milch is the reason I really became fascinated with the craft. Deadwood is truly a masterpiece of TV writing, more so because apparently Milch dictated each episode lying on his back in a trailer, the night before shooting. Whether or not this story is apocryphal the fact that I don't doubt it says a lot about the man.

Here's Milch's take on Convention:

"As I get older, I become less and less patient with convention. A convention is the set of assumptions in a story which are taken as given, rather than tested by the action."

Friday, September 21, 2012

PRODUCING: storyboards

The way we develop movies over here (I guess it’s the same in the states) is a pretty antiquated beast. The template for a movie, for the vast majority of its gestation period, is 100 pages of courier 10pt.

I’ve always found this a little bizarre. Film is a visual medium, with light and movement and music and sound and fury, and yet the best blueprint we can come up with is a paper (or nowadays PDF) script. Words on a page. It’s kind of like composing a piece of music by writing a series of notes on a stave, without tinkering around on a piano to see if they sound good together. Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who’ll come out of that process with a symphony, but for most people you’re gonna end up somewhere between free jazz, and a bag of angry cats.

Once everyone’s decided that your script blueprint works, and you’re into the next stage of the process, ie. budgeting and scheduling the shoot, often you produce a set of storyboards – which is a kind of cartoon strip telling the story of the film, and suggesting the camera angles and movement for each setup.

Directors each have a different approach to storyboarding. Some will storyboard the movie to the last detail and the shoot becomes a process of simply committing that to film (…'simply’, hah!). Others prefer to keep things a little looser on set, allowing more room for improvisation, and to react to things as they arise.

They are, of course, wrong.

‘Keeping things loose’ on set generally means shooting slows to half speed, as the director has now decided that a shot of the lead actor from between the slices of  a British rail ham sandwich is the only way to convey his inner torment, and the entire morning is spent gaffer-taping Sunblest to the camera lens.

But even with the most board-shy, producer-hating directors (god forbid we should know how the movie’s gonna be shot), in order to budget things like visual fx (digital) and special fx (physical), at the very least the relevant Heads of department need to know what’s going to be seen on camera for each shot, so these sequences need to be fairly closely storyboarded.

We were lucky enough to work with a wonderful artist called Douglas Ingram, whose previous work included ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘Batman’.

You can see a page from his storyboards here:

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

PRODUCING: who the *!%& do you think you are...? pt. 3

Ok, so I realise it’s been about a year since I last updated this, and kinda left off in the middle of a train of thought. I was going to have a crack at explaining what we do during shooting, and it would have made sense to do that during shooting. Well, as luck would have it we are indeed shooting again on Last Passenger...

Let me try and explain. (and believe me it’s not the first time I’ve had to explain this,...). When we shot the movie we’d always intended there would be about a week of pickup shooting, and train exteriors (things like VFX plates of trains going through stations and suchlike). This was going to be done quick and dirty guerilla-style with a tiny crew, and ideally in the director’s garden. Hence I am writing this from my makeshift office on the James Bond Stage at Pinewood studios, amid a chaos of smoke and fire, and our train which we hoisted up from a Dartmoor quarry, where it’s been residing since the shoot wrapped at Shepperton last year. Ahem.

A man’s reach should always exceed his grasp. At least that’s what I told our investors when asking them to put their hands in their pockets for this ambitious pickup shoot. To their credit, they all came up with the goods, hence we now find ourselves on probably the most famous single studio stage in the world, finishing LP.

Shooting: The Therapist / Politician

As is evidenced by the fact that I’ve got time to write this stuff, if all is going well on set a Producer is about as useful as a third testicle. Or so I’ve been told. (Thanks ‘anonymous rigger’ for that little gem).

It’s only when the mierda hits the ventilador that the Producer has to spring into action and find someone who can fix it / to blame. Making a mockery of all theories about the speed on evolution, within hours of first walking on set you develop two vital survival skills.

  1. A sixth sense for when someone is about to ask you for more money.
  2. A Ninja-like ability to vanish into the shadows.

In general on film sets you’re surrounded by experienced crew who are highly skilled in various crucial tasks. Everyone does his/her job, and only that job, otherwise the machine breaks down. One thing that becomes very clear in the jump from micro- to feature- budget productions is that the mucking-in blitz spirit of the short film is neither practical nor feasible - due in large part to the general awkwardness of crew (*koff-camera department-*koff koff). But the practical aspect is important. If one of those cogs isn’t in the right place at the right time, the machine grinds to a very expensive halt.

The relationship between producer and director at this stage in the film can take many forms, and this is probably the most fluid part of the job. In fact I guess this is the point at which you choose the kind of producer you want to be. My contention would be that the ideal relationship is one in which the Producer absorbs the stresses and strains of mounting such a large scale production, allowing the Director the space to create, while the director part of the bargain is to stay on-time and on budget (a la Ang Lee / James Shamus). Creatively the producer is a sounding board, and trusted ally, but should really hold back from imposing his creative vision. The best films are always made from a director’s unified vision and too often a duff film is the result of a creative power struggle between a producer (who secretly wants to be a director), and the director, resulting in a compromised mish-mash of ideas.

That’s the therapy part.

Often on set you are called upon to make big decisions, often very expensive, and sometimes against the advice of those around you. But no-one knows the intracacies of the complex organism that is a film better than its Producer, so you have to go with your gut. This is also where you stand or fall by your instinct.

I also call this part the ‘Politician’ because during this part of the process your relationship with the truth will become, shall we say, more nuanced. There are a dozen competing voices demanding your time energy and money. All need to be addressed but in the right order and at the right time, and often it’s not the time for the brutal unvarnished truth. 

All in all a good producer has his/her eyes on the prize, and everything is geared towards making the best film possible on the creative side, and being responsible to ‘the money’ on the financial side. No production has ever gone completely smoothly, but as long as you bear these two important elements in mind, there’s usually a way through.