When I got the call back in May that my script had won the FiLMLaB competition, I was ecstatic. FiLMLaB offers what I consider the most rewarding prize possible; the opportunity to put one’s work in front of an audience.
The film that will be shown next month in Portland though, isn’t the film I originally wrote. It’s a close sibling, but it’s not the same. Soon after receiving the news that I had won the contest, I got my first set of (cue ominous music) notes.
I anticipated this would happen. Nobody ever says “I love it, it’s perfect” without promptly adding “but have you considered…” And I’ve received notes before in workshops, from my writing group, in coverage, in contest feedback. To be a writer requires the ability to take notes, and have not just a thick skin but a scaly carapace. Ideally, an exoskeleton.
So I was used to getting notes. But notes from coverage and contests and peers are not notes you necessarily have to address. Notes from the producer and director are. I had to resolve the practical issues (certain locations were not available, certain shots were not in the budget) and make the changes the director wanted and changes the producers wanted and to do all this while making sure the script still had my voice.
I won’t lie -it was a frustrating process at times. But I learned so much from it. How to listen, for one thing. How to hear the note behind the note. How to let go of the version of the film that is only ever going to exist in my imagination and concentrate on making the best possible version of a film that can actually be produced. I had always known, intellectually, that filmmaking is a collaborative process, but the FiLMLaB process showed me what collaboration actually means. And I am proud of the script that came out of all those notes and revisions.
As I live in Texas, I was unable to attend the filming, but thanks to Ruth Witteried, I could follow along as she posted updates and photos on Twitter and Facebook. While all of the pictures thrilled me to pieces, there were two in particular that stood out.
The first photo is one that I couldn’t place. I couldn’t think of a scene in the script that it matched. I’m not the least bit worried about it though. After a month of discussions and revisions with Christopher Alley, the director, I trust him completely. Whatever that scene is, I’m sure it’s necessary and fits into the story seamlessly.
The second photo is of Brynn Baron and Greg Alexander working on a scene that I do recognize. It’s a testament to how well they had inhabited their characters that I instantly knew the scene. And I just know that when the audience sees it, they are going to be emotionally affected.
My favorite Stephen Sondheim musical is Sunday in the Park With George, which is a fictionalized account of the life of 19th century Impressionist Georges Seurat. My favorite song in that musical is a number from the first act called “Finishing the Hat” in which Georges explains (to a stray dog) why he pursues his art, even though it costs him so much, personally and professionally.
“Look, I made a hat. Where there never was a hat.”
I’m no Seurat. And I’m not usually precious about my work. But there is something irresistibly satisfying about knowing that you made a thing that didn’t exist at all in the world until you thought it up and brought it into being. And now it exists forever.
Chris, Ruth Stefan, Greg, Brynn, Eric, and all the other cast & crew – we made a hat!Barbara Thomas lives in the Dallas area and writes for stage and screen. Someday she hopes to write for money. Two of her one-act plays were staged by Rover Dramawerks, a local theater company, and she recently made the quarterfinals of the Page International Screenwriting Competition. Inspiration is her first produced film.