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Script Doctor – Why bad scripts can’t be saved in post-production

** This article first appeared in movieScope, issue 18 **

Many writers feel a chill at the words ‘don’t worry the director will fix it in the shoot’. And directors probably don’t like to hear that the editor will fix it in the edit. Indeed, the producers who utter these words should be shot, maybe with blanks, some great sound effects and lots of fake blood.

You can understand why these words are frequently spoken, however, since often the script is not ready when filming starts. Aside from raising the question as to why these projects are green-lit, so many films have been saved in post-production that it has become almost a norm of the industry.

Could this be why we don’t often see the rigourous script editing that would make such rescue work unnecessary? I have always encouraged writers to get into the editing room, ever since the great Chris Vogler (The Writer’s Journey) wrote an article for TwelvePoint.com entitled ‘The Writer in the Editing Room’, in which he described the hiring of his storytelling expertise to fix a film that had been shot on a dubious script.

If any national film industry wants to get more effective scripts, the training is in its own hands.

The brutal economy of great editing is a lesson for all writers, as is the role of sound, both effects and music. I was once questioned during a lecture about whether I thought dialogue was more important than music in film. Being a writers’ agent I said yes. The questioner disagreed; he was a composer. After five minutes of discussion I concluded that he was right, as music seems to have such a direct effect on the listener – greater and more extensive than dialogue.

But sadly the process of filmmaking is not only hierarchical, it is also fragmented. Writers are seldom invited onto the set; there seems to be a paranoid fear that they will argue about every change to the script, so they don’t get to see the problems directors have with the way they have written scenes and learn to do better next time. And they rarely get invited into the editing room, so they don’t learn from this process either. Having seen Innocent, which I exec-produced, improve remarkably through a series of edits by the brilliant Michael Bradsell, I am convinced that all writers should have to learn basic film editing before they are allowed to put pen to paper. In fact, the editor could be a great asset when planning shots. If any national film industry wants to get more effective scripts, the training is in its own hands; the faster we get trainee writers into the process of making films, the better their scripts will become-assuming, of course, they have the talent in the first place.

In these times of vastly-reduced budgets, knowledge of SFX and post-production techniques would enable writers to provide far more effective scripts for those who have to turn them into features. So producers would be well-advised to include the writer in a wide range of meetings during development, not leave them isolated as far away as possible. ♦ www.innocentthefilm.com

Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 18 (August/September 2010)
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