THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR CHOSEN MEDIUM
About a year ago, I took a step back and really thought about where I want my creative career to go. Am I a screenwriter or a director? At the end of the day I’m neither in the professional sense. I don’t apply for directing gigs and I still struggle to REALLY put my screenplays out there. No, I’m a professional editor. That’s my trade. I work in a fast paced live television environment and I’m still addicted to it after nearly 6 years. At work, I tell stories through highlights, reports and features. I love it.
Still, at home, I’m a passionate screenwriter and an aspiring filmmaker.
Like any job it’s important to have a clear focus and a year ago, I felt like I lost that focus. I was still messing around with the footage we shot for The Climb and promoting Playing Through as much as possible. These two shorts are the focus of this post as they are the only two shorts that I wrote and directed. I love both of those films because they taught me something very important about myself:
I don’t want to be a director anymore. I want to be a screenwriter.
I came to this realization for two very distinct reasons. First, I read the original screenplays for those films. They were so much more visual than the film on the screen. I’ve learned that I’m better describing images than making them a reality on set. Second, during the production of both short films, I desperately wanted to write something else. You can’t do both. You can only focus and I fell behind on my screenwriting goals.
However, I’d like to take a second to make one thing clear. I do not regret making Playing Through or The Climb. Those films didn’t scare me away from directing. They just made me realize how badly I wanted to write instead. And so those two short films serve as inspiration for me now. I learned so much by getting out there and yelling action and cut. (Even though I felt self conscious doing so.) Directing has given me a unique perspective that has changed the way I write scripts. But that’s a pretty generic statement to make.
So let’s get into specifics.
It’s official. Playing Through will go down as my most successful film. It played in three film festivals and won a few awards along the way. Beyond anything I’m proud of the fact that people laughed and some cried. I saw Playing Through in a packed theater once and it was both terrifying and gratifying all at once. People laughed when I intended them to laugh. I can’t really confirm that they cried but many have told me over the years.
The film won’t reach everyone but I sleep well knowing that it DID reach people. I loved Playing Through. The entire experience with the cast and crew was one I’ll never forget. But looking back, there are still some major lessons learned.
It’s too long. That’s the major criticism I’ve heard since we released the film. When we realized the film was going to be close to 20 minutes long it became a concern. But the way I wrote and directed it left little to cut out without affecting the story. We reordered it a bit and lost a minute or two but the film is still 19 minutes long.
When it comes to writing short screenplays, you have to get the most information across as possible. The script for Playing Through contained one major plot point per scene but I think I could have been more creative and made each page more efficient. It would have been shorter and the pacing would have increased dramatically.
Proof that there are always lessons to take away from a project no matter how happy you are with it.
I wrote The Climb a year before I finished the script for Playing Through. Right off the bat, my biggest mistake was ignoring the screenwriting lessons I learned directing Playing Through. The script was nearly 5 years old by the time we started production in May 2010. I didn’t apply what I had learned…
However, I did rewrite the screenplay with length in mind. The original script was 24 pages long. The script we filmed was 16. There were a lot of great moments in those lost pages but I was so concerned with length that I shredded it mercilessly. When I was cutting, I did so with simplicity in mind. We were shooting the film with basically no budget at all so I eliminated complex locations, merged scenes together so they could be filmed easier and deleted entire characters to avoid casting and scheduling conflicts.
That was a mistake.
It’s fine to edit your screenplays but this was a massive lesson that I’m thankful I learned. When I cut those scenes, I lost sight of the story I wanted to tell. The essence of the story is still in there but it’s a lot clearer on the page. I wish I had gone back and stripped the story down and rewrote it entirely.
I learned the most when I was editing the film. It becomes clear right away which lines work and which lines don’t. I mean that from a screenwriting perspective. I got rid of so many lines that weren’t really needed to advance the story. That’s one of the first things you learn in virtually every screenwriting book ever published. You have to make every line count. EVERY WORD. I feel like I failed in that respect because I caught so many that sounded good on the page but didn’t work on screen. That’s not a knock against my actors. That’s fundamental screenwriting.
Editors will agree that when a line doesn’t work, you really have to get creative to keep things moving. Especially when it comes to continuity. I think that’s why The Climb feels choppy in places. From an editing perspective, I’m happy with the way the film turned out but that’s because I eliminated about 3 minutes of dialogue by the time we released it. That’s a lot of dialogue.
It made me realize how many moments I could have saved when I was cutting scenes and characters before we started. If only I had simplified the dialogue. From a story perspective, the film comes across as a first act instead of a tale with a beginning, middle and end. Actually, it’s kind of like a prologue. On the page, I had two great characters with really interesting back stories and as the film evolved, I fell in love with those back stories and that became the focus. A back story is supposed to lead you somewhere. In the script, these characters changed but I don’t think it comes across in the final product.
There was a time when I planned to turn The Climb into a feature screenplay. I wrote a great scene in a cemetery where ‘Cameron’ faces his past and it helps him. I really can’t explain why I didn’t put that in the story.
Having said that, I do enjoy the theme of hope these characters talk about. There is more to their dialogue than simply words that have to advance the plot. There is subtext. This is a lesson that’s truly important when you are shaping your creative style. No matter what you don’t like about your films, your writing, your paintings or your music, do not let these things blind you from the things you do like. Every creative endeavor moves you forward.
Screenwriting aside, I had so much fun working on The Climb. It was stressful on set with weather issues and bitter cold but our cast and crew laughed together and created together. These are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.
The two films I have made are based on screenplays I wrote 6 and 7 years ago respectively. I think that’s why leaving directing behind is so important to me. I never stopped writing but I do not have anything recent that showcases what I can do. Every writer gets better by WRITING. I’m 100% confident that my work has improved but nobody knows that except for me. I write about passion and dedication all the time on this blog but I never really follow through by sending my work into the world. To be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to the people who read this blog regularly. I intend to change that.
Obviously, I’m refocused now and hopefully that will change in the coming year. It’s time for something new. It’s the reason why I put screenwriting aside to finish The Climb and the new website. I wanted to clear my slate. I wanted 2012 to be the year I put the past behind me while bringing the lessons I’ve learned along for the ride.
I’m obsessed with movies, I’m addicted to filmmaking and I’m deeply passionate about screenwriting. Most of all, I want to tell stories.
- We are the sum of our experiences.
- Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
- You learn by trying.
- Find a job you love, never work a day in your life.
These are just a few of my favorite quotes and words I live by. But I think one quote in particular describes my personal creative journey:
There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view is always the same at it’s peak.
At the peak of the mountain is a successful screenwriter. I know it. I just have to find my way up there.
Click here to check out 17west.ca and watch Playing Through, The Climb and more. Have any thoughts on the films? Comment below!