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Thursday
Dec302010

When Your Plans Go Up in Flames (or how to not crash like the Hindenburg)

It's going to happen.  Sooner or later (in most cases sooner), as a filmmaker you will have all your plans blow up in your face.  Yes, it's crucial for you to have a really good plan of how're you're going to get your story from the page to the stage (or from the script to the screen...)  But to one degree or another, those plans aren't going to work out.  Some times it's only partially, a line of dialogue isn't working for example.  Other times, it's absolutely disastrous, your plans dying in a blaze of glory...

So what do you do when your plans explode in a million pieces?  As a filmmaker, you've got to learn to be flexible.  You've got to learn to ask yourself the question: what is the objective of the film or scene and how do I accomplish it in light of the unexpected.  Let me share two examples from my own experience.  One in which I failed to ask this question and continued following my original plans despite the fact that they were failing miserably.  And one in which my team was forced to scrap our original plans and chart a new course...

FAILURE
Last year I wrote and directed a short film called The Interventionist.  The film opened with these two rubes breaking into the house and exchanging a bit of witty dialogue.  My Director of Photography and I planned to cover this entire conversation in one long take.  As we started filming the scene, it was apparent that covering it in one take wasn't working...the actors weren't hitting their cues (which was due only to the fact that we hadn't be able to rehearse the scene enough)...the lines were falling flat...it wasn't working.  Now, as the director I should have said, "This approach isn't working.  What's most important in this scene, what's the objective, and what is a different way we can accomplish this?"  The most important thing certainly wasn't doing it in a long, single take.  What was most important was the humorous dialogue and the tension between the characters (which wasn't being accomplished).  Well, I didn't stop to ask this question.  Rather I did take after take after take after take of the scene as I had originally envisioned it.  In the end, the actors were frustrated, I was frustrated, and we had to move on without getting the scene right...

SUCCESS
It was an utter disaster.  I was directing a web-spot about a couple of kids who go on a road trip driving a gold, '93 Volvo.  The entire piece surrounded that glorious, vintage Volvo.  But on day two of the shoot my brilliantly crafted plans went down like the Hindenburg.  While filming, the driver of the Volvo rear ended another vehicle and the Volvo was totaled.  It was devastating.  The clock was ticking, we had two days of production left and no way to get another gold, '93 Volvo.  As my team and I watched our plans smolder in a heap, we began to ask ourselves the question what's most important in this piece?  What's the objective?  Was the objective to show people driving in a Volvo?  No.  The objective was to tell the story about a couple of kids on a road trip...the team was awesome...we sat down for forty five minutes, figured out how to tell the story of the road trip without the Volvo, and resumed the production...

Learn to be flexible.  Ask yourself the question (and don't wait until your plans explode): what is the objective of the film or scene and how do I accomplish when my original plans die.


— David