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!


Auntie Knickers said...

Not positive, but I think in this movie the screenwriter and director were the same person, Tom McCarthy. But your point is still valid, as he could have written it in to the script and then decided it was better out. Anyway, thanks for the lesson, it can't get too elementary for me! And are all those different production companies at the beginning just about money from different sources?

Onkel Hankie Pants said...

Yes, indeed, thanks for a great cinematography primer. What I wondered about is how storyboards fit into all this.

Oh, I thought of another point about my comment - and Elinor's response - concerning the previous post. (Reader alert - potentially bogus analysis ahead.) Leaving out the scene (or part of a scene) could be considered at a deeper level than just something to speed up the pace. It is also about understating. Think about what the scene would have contained - lots of verbal and facial acting; he asks them to go back, they refuse politely, he asks them more forcefully, they refuse from pride, he cajoles, begs, etc., etc. They give in. Oh, please. Instead, we in the audience get to assume that scene, and we're therefore forced to empathize and participate more in the story. The reason I thought of all this is that, with his work in The Visitor, Richard Jenkins earned a place in my pantheon of "Film Actors Who Achieve Greatness in Dramatic Roles by Underplaying." The three actors who preceded him in my hall of fame are Jackie Gleason (The Hustler, Soldier in the Rain, Chris Cooper Capote, and John Mahoney Tin Men. So what I'm saying is that the structure of the film and Mr. Jenkins's acting complement each other.