They say a movie is written three times: once at the keyboard, once in production and once in post-production.
But the amount of revisions is actually manifold. The screenplay is often written many times over before it becomes the script that is finally sold. Then, it can be revised more before the cameras roll, tweaked for creative decisions, budgetary concerns—even to make an actor happy.
Things are next revised on the set as shooting needs demand or unforeseen opportunities arise. Then things are cut and shaped further in the editing room often months later.
Even after a film has been released, it can be revised. There can be a studio cut, a director’s cut, a cut for television, or more…
You may wonder what kinds of things change.
I’ll use my film “Deadly Revisions” as a case study.
It is particularly apropos, since the film is about revisions: the main character is a writer who was presumably well into the revision of a script when he fell and got amnesia… Since then, his memories seem to keep getting revised as does a new script he’s working on.
Even some of his own movies seem to be revising themselves.
The characters no longer stay on the screen, but come to life to terrorize our poor, befuddled hero to the point where he wonders if he’s losing his mind. What were some of the changes that were made to the story at each phase of the film’s creation?
Let me share some of them for your amusement and, perhaps, education.
In pre-production, the script had to be altered to fit the locations we decided to use for various reasons. The original script called for a two-story cabin on a lake. Since the location we were using for the inside of the cabin was a single story, spooky staircase scenes became spooky hallway scenes.
Because of the location we were using for the outside of the cabin the same one used in “Friday the 13th, Part 4” we had to change the lake to a meadow. Also, due to the amount of available daylight hours, we had to change the climactic sequence from an exterior location to an interior one.
Those changes, as well as others, made the first set of revisions – None of them deadly.
The film would survive.
In production, though we planned as wisely as possible, as the schedule evolved (in part due to unforeseen delays from noises beyond our control such as helicopters, lawn mowers and one stoned hippie singing at the top of his lungs), choices had to be made from what camera shots were worth the set-up time to what scenes we could cut and still have the movie make sense.
Even actors occasionally request (or improvise) line changes that stick. Some of these revisions were welcome; others felt like painful compromises. But none of them killed the movie.
Finally, in post, as the footage is being sewn together, the rhythm of the final film becomes clear and dialogue (and scenes) can be cut or re-written to make the editing choices work. We ended up chopping off the ends of several of the earlier scenes to get to the cabin sooner and help the film move faster.
We also moved dialogue from one scene to another to allow for smoother transitions (and less wasted time)—a technique often called an L-cut or a J-cut. My editor is a fan of L-cuts and I have to admit I’ve become one, too.
The take-away from all this is to realize that filmmaking is a fluid, collaborative process that morphs and changes as things happen in the ether around you. DEADLY REVISIONS, like most films, has had many revisions on the way to the final product you will soon be able to see in festivals and elsewhere. (Although to call it a final product at this stage may be premature!)
Plan, plan some more, have back-up plans for your back-up plans. But know that you will still have to embrace the ever-evolving modus operandi that is a key part of the craft and the art of filmmaking. So embrace the unexpected. Embrace the chaos. Or you might just be the one to lose your mind!
Gregory Blair is an EOTM Award winner for “Best Director of an Indie Horror Film” for “Deadly Revisions.” To learn more about “Deadly Revisions”, visit www.DEADLYREVISIONSMOVIE.com