The invaluable visit to the set…

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Never underestimate the invaluable visit to the set for a priceless first hand chance to learn the craft of filmmaking. Find a mentor, another established writer, producer or director and pick their brain for their experience.  Do whatever you can to get on a set to observe.  Utilize your important network of contacts to gain access to a film or TV series set. Visit as many sets as you can to learn the production process, but if you are the writer stay out-of-the-way and offer no opinions unless asked.  Writers are usually not welcomed on a set as changes are always happening to your script—from actors changing dialogue to directors cutting or reworking scenes. Production is meticulously planned, but remains fluid and if the scene is not working, things change at a moment’s notice. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but suck it up because no director or actor wants to experience an upset writer on the set when they have to make changes to the script.  Put aside your ego and don’t take these changes personally.  Be a team player and keep focused on bigger picture of  getting the film made.  Your on set experience is an invaluable tool, but you have to accept the fact your script is a fluid blueprint and it might be changed to accommodate the production.

Your time spent on set is better than any film school because it’s real world experience.  There are real craftspeople making a real movie, hopefully one that you wrote.  You may find the crews are a bit jaded and the hardest audience to please because they’ve worked on their share of bad scripts over the years.  This is why it’s refreshing to hear their honest comments because they don’t have to say anything to me.  There’s no hidden agenda behind their praise because I can’t hire them for my next film; I’m only the writer.

I’ve been extremely lucky to visit every set of every produced film that I’ve written.  I’m blessed to have really good relationships with the producers who hired me and in turn that good relationship extends to the directors as well.  They treat me as an equal creative partner and not a pariah.  I know when I step foot on the set, it’s the director’s playground and I’m not there to usurp any creative vision.  My job ends when I turn in the final draft of the script.  If asked, I will comment and give suggestions, but only if asked.  Otherwise, I sit back and watch because there’s always something new to learn on every project.  There are literally dozens of creative artisans working on the film who are a wellspring of specialized knowledge.  As a writer you should soak up as much knowledge as you can from having full access to the set.  Observe, study and ask questions.  Watch how the director blocks scenes and works with the actors, study how the actors shape your material and speak your dialogue, and notice how creative ideas constantly bounce around the set.  The more you learn about the practical aspects of production, the more you’ll begin to make creative decisions mindful of the film.  As a bonus, you’ll become a more efficient screenwriter.

When the production machine is up to speed it’s an amazing sight to behold, but while you’re observing don’t forget to make time to enjoy the fantastic meals and the snacks at the craft service table.  Hey, a writer has to eat too, right?  Just don’t get caught stuffing your pockets with goodies — they’ll think you wandered onto the set and escort you out!  If you get the chance, get onto a set, stay out of the way, and observe.

Oh, and keep writing… the blank page awaits.

kane set

sunset boulevard set


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