When you set out to make a film, you have this fanciful idea of how it’s going to turn out in the end - perhaps a standing ovation from the audience at the Cannes Film Festival. You plan out every scene, every moment, every beat, every action, only to have a completely different product. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, from writing the first draft of the script, to editing the final cut. It doesn’t matter if you’re Martin Scorsese or some new kid on the block directing your debut short film, your ideas are going to develop and change. And you know what? It’s probably for the better.
I recently directed my first short film Born to Die alongside some very talented and hardworking people. And just as I described above, the film that I had constructed not only in my mind, but on paper during a two year writing process, is now a completely different film.
During principal photography, the story begins to change from what was the “final shooting script”. I can’t say I believe in a final shooting script anymore, everyone who you’re working with sees the film in their own unique way. Therefore, the people in your crew are going to offer suggestions and constructive critique, especially the key crew that are working closely with you (Cinematographer, Producer, Production Designer, 1st AD, 1st AC, Gaffer, Sound, Editor, Composer etc.). Actor’s are going to offer you their interpretation of the scene and the story also. In doing so, to no surprise, the scene changes, the moment changes, the beat changes, the action changes, the story changes. In my experience...it improved the story greatly. Principal photography is over. This is just the beginning.
The editing room is a beautiful thing. This is where the story truly begins to find its form, where it begins to take shape. You can do whatever you like. Manipulate scenes, mess around with the stories timeline, and most importantly...cut scenes. It’s almost like you’re working with the Editor to shoot the film all over again. I should also mention that much like the writing process, it’s also important to show various edits and drafts of the film to others and life teachers to get some feedback. And just like that...the story changes again. It’s not until the final colour grade (think Instagram filters for those who don’t know what I just said), sound design and the film’s score that the story truly harnesses its tone. All of these art forms set a mood, which begins to move an audience subconsciously. Think of it as the special sauce which makes a good burger the best burger you’ve ever tasted. But we’re not done yet. Sorry.
The Final Screening. You would have deemed the film to be finished until you begin to mingle and get chatting with your audience who give you, yet again, another round of feedback. Days later, you sit procrastinating, writing notes, making pros and cons - only to find yourself making the “final changes”. You’ll export the film and hope your efforts are satisfactory enough to fulfil the dream of a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.