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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A strict script - how close should you stick to the script?

Here is an interesting case study. It has to do with interpreting scripts - specifically with how, as a director and/or producer, we treat the work of a writer. How close can we stick to the words on the page? Should we adhere exactly to that vision? What if we don't?

But let's talk specifics.

Here is the script that Dom Carver sent in, kindly, and for free, to Mr Vista...



Mr. Vista plonks a Tesco’s bag on the counter top, extracts a microwave meal, reads the cover.


Mr. Vista licks his lips, shoves the meal in the microwave, presses buttons.

INSERT: Progress Bar “2 minutes.”


INSERT: Progress Bar “Done.”

Mr. Vista extracts the meal, sticks his fork in, lifts it out. It’s still a block of ice. Back in it goes, followed by more button pressing.

INSERT: Progress Bar “2 minutes.”


INSERT: Progress Bar “Done...I think?”

Mr. Vista extracts the meal, sticks his fork in again, lifts it out. It’s still a block of ice. Mr. Vista perplexed. Back in it goes, followed by frantic button pressing.

INSERT: Progress Bar “Warp Factor Ten Mr. Sulu.”


INSERT: Progress Bar “It should be done now?”

Mr. Vista extracts the meal. It’s a small charred, smoking lump.

INSERT: Progress Bar “Enjoy!”

And here is the episode as it turned out...

Mr Vesta
Uploaded by MrVista

Now I sit on both sides of this fence. How would I feel if my work was changed in this way? Dom himself, being a relaxed kind of guy, has blogged about how he is cool with it.

But let's face it. Let's be honest for a moment - at least with ourselves. We hate people 'mucking about' with our stuff. So why did it happen here? Where's the progress bar bits for a start that Dom mentioned? Let's get it out in the open on this small piece of fun work - so we can understand it better on larger projects where we don't have the insight of both the writer and director.

3 reasons for change

Or rather budget and time in the schedule. Which is kind of the same thing. Dom's script called for the meal itself to be a block of ice. That was too hard to do in the time. We shoot about 8 episodes of Mr Vista in a day. That is the only way to get the economics to work. So ice cubes were used. Probably not as good, Dom's way would be better, but it keeps the comedy and the angle - so is probably okay. And meant we could at least shoot something rather than skip it all together.

Two:On the Set
Whilst shooting it we were still imagining using Dom's progress bars. However thinking about the character and working with the actor it was clear some crazy facial reactions were necessary to capture the boredom of waiting, the shock of the ice, the anticipation of a meal, the disappointment and so on. These were alluded to in Dom's script, but not mentioned outright. And probably nor should they have been. He doesn't need to say 'Mr Vista waits impatiently' - we all kind of got that already. And he does say 'Mr Vista looks perplexed' - so we just took that further.

Three:In the Edit
So that is how we shot it. What that meant however, with those extra comedy faces, was that the progress bar now seemed too much. I mean we see him typing in the numbers into the microwave and we count it down - so we get out timebased information via that. So do we need the progress bar still? In fact, the answer seemed to be no. It was too much going on at once, distracting from the comedy. So they went.

So those were the three big reasons behind the changes. Was the writer wrong for not forseeing those issues - of course not. Were we wrong for going around the script - again no, we saw ways live to make it funnier.

And that, to me, is what it all comes down too. If we all agree on the goal of the story, on the character and the aims for the piece then we can all pull together. The details may change, but the feeling stays.

Disaster strikes when this goal is not shared or where we all believe the film is about different things.


Dom Carver said...

I agree that losing the progress bar helped the sketch. Looking back now I can see I was telling the audience when to laugh and not letting the audience get that from the performance. I think the comedy works better with just the actor's reactions, it's his performance that makes the comedy.

However, the use of ice cubes could have been thought out a bit more. I can see what you were trying to do, but for me it didn't work as well as a solid block of food would have done. we've all experienced putting our frozen meal in the microwave, set the time as instructed and taken it out only to find the center still frozen solid. Crushing the ice so it wasn't so cube like might have worked better, but the ice was obviously straight out of its tray and kind of lost the comedy of the moment for me.

Tim Clague said...

Perhaps could have been thought out more. However you could also say that the ridiculous nature of the cubes is so stupid it is almost surreal. Kind of Marx Brothers or Monty Python in style. Maybe. The jury is still out.