T.M.I.? K.I.S.S. (part 1)

posted by victor @ 9:26 am May 26, 2010 in film,writing

One especially delicate matter in screenwriting is the delivery of information, or Exposition. As in, “Exposition Cop,” that guy hovering around a crime scene rattling off details about who’s who, what happened, etc., to bring his buddy (but mainly us) up to speed. Of course, every movie requires exposition. Some handle it artfully, weaving it in so well that you aren’t even aware of receiving sizable doses of data; others — well, not so much, as with Exposition Cop or similar devices, when exposition feels exactly like what it is…information delivery:

“Oh, they might look clean, but these guys are nothing but trouble. Big one’s Johnny, list of priors long as your arm, including armed robbery; bald one there’s Sam, junkie with a penchant for passing bad checks; the little one’s Marty, supposed to be some kinda big-deal hacker, street rep a mile wide but nobody’s been able to pin anything on him. Yet!”

But there is something important for the writer to consider: if you find yourself struggling to find ways of artfully delivering all the info you need to, maybe the problem is a case of TMI, too much information to deliver without feeling heavy-handed. And this may be pointing to that other possibility — that another, larger issue is to blame: Too Many Ideas.

For the writer working with a story through multiple drafts, things can start to feel “too simple,” and it’s hard to resist the urge to “make it more interesting” (more elaborate, more complicated) in order to satisfy that itch. At least if you’re me. But this is often counter-productive, as readers/viewers will be receiving your story only once to decide whether or not they like it. Much as we would love it, they will not be studying or taking notes; the story has to be simple enough to “wash over” them, easily graspable and making sense the first time ’round (of course without being predictable or overly simplistic — a whole ‘nuther kind of problem!). This means being willing to admit that the trouble lies at a more root level: perhaps your story doesn’t lack complexity, maybe it lacks strong, definitive beats and turns. The “easy” solution is to complexify it, instead of doing some “back to the drawing board”-level work. A tough call, but one we need to be ready to consider and act on.

hey what happened?

posted by victor @ 11:48 am May 16, 2010 in film

skepticalericYeah, what happened to that wicked-fast post-production pipeline that had us hitting benchmarks (First cut! Final cut! Color locked!) and expecting final delivery sometime a few months ago? Nothing! We did it! Whew.

But what followed immediately after was a round of internal (re)evaluation and a critical round of “market testing” (limited screening/feedback gathering) that confirmed our suspicions about what needed work and clarified some other weak spots. The result was some new material that needed to be shot (and cut, vfx’d, scored, etc.), plus some new creature effects (!). Plus a second round of color grading, various dialog, sound and music tweaks, etc., etc. All important improvements…but also more time.

So instead of the expected “What? Already!?” surprise delivery, we’re wrapping up a more polished (and improved) finished piece that will have taken almost exactly 9 months to gestate. That’s right. And like that other business, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster of highs and lows..but mostly highs, with an ever-increasing appreciation of all the people who participated and gave us such excellent work — without which, of course, this would have been a long, depressing turd polish. As it is, we’ve been able to focus on making sure all that brilliance made it onto the screen, into the story, and all added up to something that is as engaging, fun and entertaining as it can possibly be.

Here is an color grade example, showing the progression from original footage to finished look. More soon. Sorry for the radio silence; it’s been quite frustrating to be in this phase of “very little to talk about” or worse, repeating essentially the same exact thing every time someone asks (“Yeah, well, we’re still working on finishing, you know, color, vfx…almost there!”) — but now that we’re actually wrapping up we’ll have much more to say — and the time to say it.

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