“What if no one options it?”
After the initial euphoria had waned, this was my focus. I couldn’t bear to think that my story, In Vino Veritas, had battled its way through over two thousand screenplays, only to possibly fall at the last hurdle and the more I thought about it, the more this potential outcome became unpalatable. That’s when I decided to become a producer and make it myself.
The decision made, reality hit home fast and hard as a thousand doubts set it. What makes you think you could ever produce; you’ve never even been on a set for Pete’s sake? Where do you even start? How do the words on the page actually get from script onto screen. Where’s the money going to come from? What if the only Director you know well enough to ask says “no”?
As a first time writer/producer, I was also blissfully unaware what thought processes a Director, DoP, Editor and copious other crew members would apply to a script. Only by discussing with them and overseeing options for casting, crew, shooting schedules, choice of kit, budgets and locations etc., did I even begin to understand and appreciate the complexities of what it takes to bring a script to life. For instance, who knew that the choice of camera lenses can be crucial to the end ‘feel’ of your film? I certainly didn’t. (Apparently, different types of movie lenses bring a different atmosphere to the resulting images; soft focus, brilliancy, hard imagery etc.) And what exactly is ‘blocking’ and ‘LUTs’ and ‘Rec709’? It was as if the entire crew were speaking a different language. I had so much to learn and it was hugely daunting! And then there was fundraising…
As for budgets and film equipment, it occurred that the crew would most likely prefer quality kit to help them to demonstrate their skills. They’d expect to be accommodated, fed and well watered too. However, in reality, our budget was relatively small, around £2000 to cover everything from insurance and bringing up an entire crew (mostly from London) to Shropshire, all travel, accommodation, food, kit hire etc,. and I had very few savings which wouldn’t nearly cover it. It suddenly dawned that we may end up only being able to afford an i-phone, a bottle of pop and a packet of pork scratchings between us. Tough (and sometimes unpopular) compromises needed to be made and I, as the producer, would be ultimately responsible for them. As one who dislikes confrontation, “Crikey”, I thought; “this is gonna test your metal!”
That said, I found it a liberating experience to see how my script was picked apart from different angles by those in the know.
The experience, knowledge and alternative priorities which each crew member brought to the project, highlighted issues which I’d never thought of when first putting pen to paper.
The practicalities and budget implications of a simple line or two being transposed onto screen can cause all kinds of issues for a cast and crew.
A cush’ for your tush, Mr. Challis?
Here’s a classic example from our script:
“The ground rumbles, shaking beneath him. Dust particles pepper the air. John struggles to stay upright.
From the floor, John views the wine quaking within the bottle and glass.
His eyes flit between the wine and beer bottles as they travel along the table towards the edge.
The wine bottle teeters over the edge and smashes on the floor.
The beer topples too.”
I saw it all in my mind’s eye as a writer. “Should be easy enough,” thought I. Nooooo!
This one sequence involved me making a three hundred and twenty mile round trip to pick up matching sugar and dummy plastic, reusable, wine bottles (very delicate and not very cheap!) from the extremely helpful folks at Shepperton Studios; one day researching and designing an authentic wine bottle label and name which had no legal or copyright issues attached to it; probably half a day toing and froing between our director and DoP and countless headaches to plan out how to shift those darned bottles along a shaking table without them falling over before their cue; and over two hours filming of our supposed eight hour shoot (for a nine second sequence) just to get it in the can!
Frankly, it was a nightmare for the entire cast and crew, which came at the very end of an already long and overrunning shoot. After each take, every time the sugar ‘wine’ bottle crashed to the floor and splattered Ribena all over the set and our generous host’s kitchen, it took us twenty minutes to clean up; dry the floor; reset the identical stunt plastic ‘wine’ bottle with fresh juice, new cork and foil seal; recheck everywhere for Health and Safety compliance; and check that Mr. Challis (who was sat patiently but uncomfortably on the ice cold, quarry tiled floor) had not received any wine splashes to his clothing which would require a costume change into the one and only reserve outfit we could afford for him.
Would I ever include a semi-full, shattering wine bottle in a script again? Absolutely not! (You can watch our Behind The Scenes Video to catch a glimpse of what was involved in the filming of this scene. The link is below.)
Now, will that wine go into the bowl as planned, or all over Mr. Challis?
Another aspect for me to take onboard was how not only the script but the story itself would change as it travelled through the whole pre-shoot, shoot and post production processes. For instance, there was one secondary character which didn’t sit well with the DoP but which had not come to light during feedback by the Create50 community and had never occurred to me as the writer. The DoP and Director wanted the part cut; I didn’t, for the reason below.
The part in question, a voiceover, was thought not to carry John’s character arc forward and was viewed as being distracting and confusing to the vintage love story at the heart of the tale we were attempting to tell. I requested that we record the voiceover in post anyway, just to hear what it sounded like, and, subsequently, fought long and hard to keep the part in the final cut. I felt an overwhelming obligation to the person (whom I’d already cast) for the time, devotion and enthusiasm which she had brought to the project. Her voiceover sounded nothing short of brilliant too (we all agreed on that) which made the decision to potentially cut the part even harder. The lady is question is also a friend. But I was thinking as someone who really wanted to please everyone. In the end, I had to admit defeat. Our edited footage was already badly overrunning and I was outvoted three to one; not a pleasant feeling. It was a tough lesson to stand back and submit to thinking like a dispassionate, professional producer and not as a passionate writer. Do I regret signing-off on taking the voiceover out? No. The Director and DoP were absolutely right, it was the correct choice for the project and, for me, a very valuable lesson learned in the need to take off the writer’s hat when turning to producing.
The entire process of taking a script from page to screen has, and continues to be, such a steep learning curve for me; I’ve certainly made many mistakes. Our wonderful, generous and talented crew still help to guide me through those parts of being a producer which Google and book research cannot answer and for that I’m eternally grateful. All the lessons I’ve learned I’ll take forward with me on my ongoing journey and there is no doubt that producing In Vino Veritas has improved my writing exponentially. Now, I think much more ‘visually’ when sitting at the keyboard and even, sometimes, ponder budget implications!
So, to sum up, if you want to understand how working with a film crew and submitting to the production process can take your own writing to a whole new level, I highly recommend producing a film. There are plenty of super scripts on The Impact website just waiting to be optioned (link below). You may gain a few more grey hairs along the way (some of which you’ll want to tear out from time to time, haha) but you won’t regret it. What an amazing, mind-bogglingly stressful, educational, all-consuming, exhilarating, ride this continues to be…. and soooo damn glam’, right?
Will I ever produce another film? No! Absolutely not! Never in a million years!… Apart from the ‘Proof of Concept’ film I’m planning later this year… A-and those two shorts I’ve been waiting to tackle… And maybe that adaptation that’s sitting gathering dust…
Oh, and the Hmm. Happy writing and producing, fellow filmmakers. Kim x
Kim is a produced screenwriter and playwright and a published author and poet.
To find out more about her continuing journey, please visit www.kimlwheeler.wix.com/writer.