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For an indie producer, to engage — and remain for any serious length of time — in development of a project is a testament of belief in the project. The producer works with no promise that the film will ever happen, and generally speaking will have nothing to show of their efforts unless the film actually gets made. If the film isn’t made, the producer can’t use the script to get them future work. If the film doesn’t get made, the producer’s reputation suffers — even if they have improved the project with their involvement.
Nonetheless, I find the development process invaluable for a number of reasons. One of the strongest benefits of development is that it reveals who you are truly collaborating with. Have you ever worked with a writer and director team and they think the script is perfect and you know it needs work — and probably a lot of it? How do they respond to your notes? Do they recognize they can take the script further, or do they think you are just pushing them for pushing’s sake? Do they think each new draft is perfect until you point out otherwise? Arguments are healthy, if they are used to bring things closer to the truth, and not just so that someone can feel they’ve won.
When supposed collaborators don’t want notes, when they just want to go out with the script, or get angry that you have questions, or are confused, these are all good indications that you just are not going to get there. These are good indications that you are not working with people who want to make the best movie, but people who just want to be right. These are people who are telling you that they are not good collaborators. These people are using development to let you know that everything that comes next is not going to be an enjoyable process. They are asking you to evaluate your choice.Tweet
I am thankful for anytime I find more than one of these in the same film. This list originally ran on HammerToNail, a site I helped found, and one that continues to champion those movies that offer up these elements. First the list, and then the description. I would love to hear your comments, too.
4. Integrity To The Concept
7. Joy Of Doing
9. Communication Of Themes
10. Clarity of Intent
11. Synthesis of Style & Themes
12. Application Of Techniques
13. Reality Of Actors
15. A Good Story Well Told
16. Accomplishment Within The Means
17. Awareness & Appreciation Of The World
18. Acknowledgement Of The Limits Of Feature Film Form
19. Consideration Of Effects Of Representation
20. Recognition Of Film History
21. Subversive To The Status Quo
22. Provocation Of The Audience
23. Respect For The Audience
24. Confidence In The Filmmaking
26. Awareness Or Avoidance Of Pretension
27. Access To The Subconscious
28. Differentiation Among Characters & Environments
29. Leaving Some Things Unexplained
30. Emotional Use Of Technique
31. Depth Of Character / Depth of Characters
32. Impassioned Point Of View
Can we and the people we work with actually get better at the things we do? And can we get better, faster? Are there things that we can do for each other that might expedite the process? How do we transcend the plague of doing well enough?
On low-budget indie film shoots, the collaborators are of a wide range of experience levels. Such films are also chronically plagued by a paucity of funds and time. Too much to get done, and not enough resources to really get it done perfectly, or sometimes even just well. With a hundred things needing to happen at any given time, your head will pop if you concern yourself with everything that goes wrong. It does seem like those that often do best are those that have learned not to sweat the petty, or perhaps some sort of zen-esque understanding of the world (that is combined with the sort of hyper-focus of concentration in the things that make all the difference — and that will some other post further down the line).
The Serenity Prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted always seems fit as a method to manage the creative chaos that defines most film production. Granted, I get some criticism in life for having too great expectations of people and things, believing always that one time we all will hit our high point, but I really think by dropping our ego, finding a way to point out what can be done better, explaining the reasons why, we can rise to the occasion and one day truly get it all in sync and do beautiful work. I want us to do more and to do it better, myself included. Let me get to that, but first, I think it’s worth looking beyond the first three lines of the Serenity Prayer, and look at the rest of it:
Many times on film sets, I see folks hesitant to say what they feel, not wanting to complain, not wanting to demand that things are better. When things are sloppy or unsafe or could be handled in a better manner that will most likely yield a better result: SAY SOMETHING. Don’t be cruel, but be direct. Explain, why you think it will work better if they did something differently. Speak of the result you want to obtain. But speak up. Maybe you have to pause and wait for the right time to be truly heard, but speak up.
And when they don’t get it right, take action. Step in, get it done, and recognize when you have to make a change. Be it a director or a producer, if I have heard it once, I have heard it a 100 times: “whenever I considered firing someone, I end up always wishing that I had done it then and there, and when I haven’t done it, I always regret it.” Under the right circumstances, people can learn from those mistakes. What are the right circumstances that help us all learn?