It is often said “a film is made 3 times”, once when the screenplay written, once again when the film is shot and again when it’s edited. With few exceptions every film changes during each of the three processes. Ideally the changes are evolutions that move the story toward a better place. Sure, there are often obstacles that lead to creative compromises during these processes but the goal is to make sure each process is serving the story to make it better. For independent filmmakers, often times you are huge part of each of these creative processes.
Nearly every screenplay I write I do with the hope that I will be the one making the film. I love expressing myself in every aspect of filmmaking that I can, whether that’s in writing, directing, or editing. Being the writer and director of a project sounds liberating and creatively freeing but it can also be a creative trap.
It can be very tempting to write as short handed as possible when you’re writing a film you’re going to make yourself. This has been done before and it can be successful but I admire the traditional writing process. As I’m writing my script I am truly trying to put the words on paper that all add up to the ingredients of a great film.
Lately I’ve been revisiting the work of one of my favorite filmmakers, Michael Mann. The past few days I have watched Heat a few times and watched as many roundtable discussions and interviews about it as I can. Many times Michael talks about the writing process. He never once talks about shorting the script writing process because he was going to direct it. Interesting side note, he did say that he didn’t think he was going to direct this but ended up doing it. Maybe that’s part of the reason he treated the writing process with such respect but either way he did and a wonderful script for Heat came out of his research, love for the characters and their depth and the world he created to set them in. Another reason I connect with his experience in making Heat was that it was also a project that took him many years to finally see come to fruition in a way that matched what he saw in his mind. He first shot it as a TV pilot years earlier. The pilot didn’t go anywhere and the story was done, or so it seemed. He revisited it and persisted and it finally got made.
I’m sure all of his collaborators appreciated his wonderful script that possessed all the elements needed to make the film great. I imagine that Michael Mann the director also appreciated how Michael Mann the writer approached the writing process.
I’m sure when I go to direct this film I will appreciate the effort and time the writer version of me put into making it the best it can be.