If you’re an industry person, you may have heard this term or used it–development hell. Development hell refers to the often chaotic, messy, frustrating business of getting a script ready to go into pre-production. No script comes to a producer perfect and camera ready.
We like the script, but there are few things that we need to change. Here is what we want changed: add this character, expand another character, take away the annoying mom character–and can you get this down to 90 pages?
This wasn’t what we had in mind. You know, I had this really great idea for some comic relief at the beginning, since it’s a heavy drama…
This is a mess.
Why is the subplot so much more interesting than the main plot? Should we go a different direction?
We should go a different direction.
Is this too political?
It’s coming together, but we need to find a compelling role for (insert expensive actor’s name here).
Seriously, the Ghost Busters jingle was echoing through my head all through our latest What Women Want Radio Show broadcast. We’ve all had blocks. We’ve all been stuck. We’ve all had that same issue come back over and over again and smack us in the face (or rear).
Once upon a time, in a summer stock theater troupe in a galaxy far far away, I was assigned to play one of those obscure Shakespearean characters. This was one of those comedic relief characters in the heavy drama right before the king gets killed. If you are an actor, you know these characters exist in the Bard’s work and they are hard to nail. Mine was the Duchess of York in Richard II. In many productions of the play, this scene and this character are cut.
Weeks of rehearsal and the director’s input were more about purging the bad choices than discovering the good. It was trial-and-error and both trial-by-fire AND error at the same time, almost all the weeks of working the scene on stage. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this quirky character in this equally off-the-wall scene. People wanted to get to the poetic and tragic death of the king, right? I was frustrated.
It wasn’t until I owned the character’s block as my block that I did finally break through.
The group I was working with paid special attention to the meter of the verse and had a process of using the verse as the momentum of the emotion. My meter was irregular. Great. Irregular scene, quirky character with irregular meter. Awesome. So reading the scene for the umpteenth time, I decided to make her obstacles my obstacles and my thoughts about those obstacles hers.
What was her obstacle?
Getting in the door-literally. In the scene, the character was locked out of a room.
I decided to improvise using a make-shift battering ram. Using the sound effect value of the battering ram helped me focus my intentions, beat (literally) the pesky meters and own it. I made a big, bold choice and it worked for me.
So, not of all of us are going to have to delve into weird characters in the Bard’s world, but we may get handed a sort of surreal set of circumstances.
Own the block—cautiously. Don’t make harsh judgments about yourself. There’s a language difference between “I am blocked,” and “I am experiencing a block”. Verbs move you through. Adjectives might weigh you down.
Identify the most basic part of the obstacle. What’s your basic objective or intention? Start there and get specific. If it’s a conceptual block, try externalizing (mind-mapping, modeling). Perhaps it needs to get out of the head and into the body or on paper.
What is not working? Keep discarding the things that are not yielding the results you want. Keep at it. Keep moving. Don’t let the block weigh you down spiritually or emotionally.
Make a big, bold choice when it makes sense. If it doesn’t work, discard.
Today, I had the privilege of emailing back and forth Dr. Diane Dusick of the Inland Empire Media Academy, regarding their upcoming film festival. This year will be the third year in a row that I’ve been a judge of their student film festival.
I think student films are vitally important to the future of film making, perhaps not the individual films themselves, but the validation that young cinematic voices need to thrive in the very competitive film industry. How many times have I hears someone say, “It’s just a student film?” Often.
“It’s just a student film” negates the fact that the student has chosen a career path in film.
“It’s just a student film” negates the artistic voice of the student, even if that voice is still trying to find itself.
“It’s just a student film” lowers our expectations and does not explore the struggle all film students have in making their first works.
It’s a battle to make a film, even for a pro, even for someone who’s made hundreds. How do we create pros? How do we foster professionalism in filmmaking? Though schools, through mentoring, through sharing.