Thursday, February 19, 2009

Screenwriting, Directing, Editing

I thought I'd try and jot a quick note in response to AuntieKnickers comment on my last post, and what a thoughtful comment it was! I am glad you liked The Visitor, and yes, it made me angry as well, and I think that was the point for people like you and me.

But I digress.

Here's AK's comment:

We watched THE VISITOR last night and it was every bit as good as you said, although it made me very angry (which may have been the idea). I do not yet understand editing, so I don't know if it was the editor or the director whose idea it was to have the (imaginary? perhaps) scene where Richard Jenkins would ask Tarek and Zenab back to the apartment be left out, and you just see the next day. Maybe that's why I should watch deleted scenes? Anyway, thanks to you I've probably seen more nominees than in many recent years so will be watching with some interest. I may try to see The Wrestler before Sunday night.

I'm gonna state some (probably) obvious things here, just to have them out there, and then explain how that fits in with what AuntieKnickers was wondering about.

Screenwriter: This person writes the script (duh) and with an original films, it all starts with them (that's not necessarily true, but for this lesson, let's say it is). A lot more in a film should be attributed to the screenwriter then usually is. A good screenwriter has the ability to write shots into a script in a way that makes the director think it was there idea. I suspect that the scene discussed in AK's comment was written in to the script, but it may not have been.

Director: I think it helps to think of the Director as the Artistic Director, whereas the Producer is a Managing Director (as well as a of of other things, but that's a discussion for another day). So, our director does pre-production and production. They are the person who sits down with the director of photography (cinematographer) and decides how they want to bring the script to life on the screen. Then during the production they work with the actors and look at dailies (the film shot on any given day) with the other bigwigs of the production, making sure they got what they needed how they needed it.

It is perfectly possible that the scene in question was in the script, but that at some point the director decided he/she did not want it to be shown, and so did not film it, or just told the editor to leave it out.

Side note that sometimes the director does do a lot of work in post-production, but usually it's more of a, "Yup, that was nice" or "Oh, not what I had been thinking of, but I like it!" Obviously the director and editor do need to communicate, and they do more then the screenwriter and director, but it isn't a day to day thing.

Editor: The editor takes the script and the film and cuts the film together to tell the story without all the extra nonsense. That's a super abbreviated version of events. In a lot of ways the editor has the most control, and in others the least. In my acting for the camera class, our professor told us to make friends with the cinematographer, camera operator and the editor because those three people have the most control over what you will actually look like in the finished film. Even if you are mostly filmed with perfect lighting and angles and what not, there will always be some shots that suck, and if the editor likes you they're a lot more likely to leave those shots on the cutting room floor.

With the scene we are discussing here, it is entirely possible that the editor felt that the rhythm of the film would work better without that scene, and cut it. Especially since the scene comes in at the beginning of the film, and a lot of the scenes themselves are on the slow side, in a positive way. This was done on purpose to create for the audience the feeling Jenkins has with his life - going nowhere, lonely etc., and editing out needless scenes can be a way of speeding the pace without killing the mood.

So, I would say that if this is an experienced screenwriter, or just a good one, they probably wrote it like that. But if not, then it would most likely have been a decision made in the editing room.

Again, kudos to AuntieKnickers for paying such close attention to little details! And I encourage everyone who hasn't to see The Visitor ASAP!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slumdog and the Oscars

Who hasn't done it?  Imagining yourself giving the acceptance speech for the highest award in your field.  It just so happens that my career path is one that, if your lucky, will lead to the mother of ll award shows - THE OSCARS.

But let's be serious, it's not just about luck, is it?  No, politics have a lot more to do with it I'm afraid.

Bardem and Swinton winning for supporting actor and actress, both foreign actors, winning in the same year... coincidence?  I think not.  It was a strategic move just to have Bardem nominated for supporting and not lead, since No Country for Old Men is a very evenly played piece, but he would have been up against a slew of very popular American Actors (and one Danish-American actor, but who noticed him anyway?).

And long as we're on the subject, do you know how the Oscar nominees and winners are chosen?  A lot of people don't really get it.  They think the Academy is just some random group of people.  Basically, you have to be invited to join the Academy to be nominated or to nominate.  Then only people within a given field get to nominate their peers, i.e. editors vote for editors, actors vote for actors and so on and so forth (there are only 15 fields), except for Best Picture which everybody gets a say in from the beginning.  But when it comes time to vote the winner, EVERYONE in the academy gets to vote! 

OK, so anyway, I have seen three of the five films nominated for Best Picture... and I'm going to try and see The Reader before Sunday but we'll see how that goes!  I'm not as interested in Frost/Nixon, because I heard it sucked from people whose opinions I respect.  

I just saw Slumdog Millionaire yesterday with a friend and it was awesome!  The editing was awesome (side note: I have seen 4 of the 5 editing nominees, and Slumdog is one of them as it should be, but the others I saw were good as well... but I still hope Slumdog wins).

Here's what I liked the most about the editing, along with the camera work: they weren't afraid to take some risks.  Now, maybe it's because I recently saw one of the worst rom-coms ever twice (don't ask), but I am so bored with Hollywood editing!  It's like, over the shoulder, over the other shoulder, long shot, medium shot, close up, cut on even beats never break 180!  I'm so bored with it!  

A lot of the grammar of cinema is such because it helps to make a film appear seamless and lets the audience forget they are watching a movie.  But sometimes filmmakers seem so concerned with this that they ignore the film calling out to them to be different.  Slumdog definitely had the whole forget-your-watching-a-movie thing in the bag, but they broke rules while they did it.  
I want to be Chris Dickens when I grow up... who also edited Shaun of the Dead, btw.