The on-set visit is always a fun experience especially if you’ve written the movie that’s being produced. This week I was blessed to visit the set of my new movie and I was lucky that it was filmed in the Los Angeles area where I reside. Many of my recent films this year have been shot out-of-state, so an on-set visit to those was prohibitive. Never underestimate the invaluable visit to the set for a priceless firsthand chance to learn the craft of filmmaking. This is important for screenwriters so they can become more production savvy.
You always learn something new when you visit the set. If you’ve written the movie, it’s a great learning experience to see how the director is actually bringing your screenplay to life. You’ll learn the realities of production and the compromises that are made daily to get the movie completed. It was nice to be welcomed to the set of my movie and finally meet the director and the stars. Everyone was so nice and it was tremendously fulfilling to hear the positive comments about my screenplay from the director, the actors, the crew and also the producer. It’s always a kick to see what you wrote come alive right in front of your eyes and to hear your dialogue being spoken by your characters.
If you have yet to sell a screenplay or be hired to write a movie that goes into production, find a mentor, another established writer, producer or director and pick their brain for their experience and do whatever you can to get on to 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 many of the sets of my produced films that I’ve written. I’m blessed to have really good relationships with the producers who hire 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 remember if you are a guest on a set, let the cast and crew eat breakfast, lunch or dinner first because they are working. Once everyone goes through the line only then should you eat your meal. The on-set visit will be one of the most satisfying experiences you will have as a screenwriter especially if you use it to your advantage to learn film production.
Keep the faith and filling your blank pages on your road to screenwriting success.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog My Blank Page.
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“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa
“Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter—you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.” —Orson Welles
“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet
“The main thing for a writer is to find out who you are. Now, that’s not going to please everybody. You have to discover what your real talent is—what really interests you as a writer. That’s really the thing. Not how popular you can be. But what really is your metier.”—Horton Foote