Inside the Creative Process: Karyn Kusama Walks Through Five Phases of Production, From Screenwriting to Distribution

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Screenwriting

When you’re making a movie, you always start with the script. After reading a draft of the script, you’ll find yourself starting to talk more specifically about which areas of the narrative need to be amplified and which areas need to be refined. From there onward, it becomes a collaborative process.

I’m open to all of the permutations of a director-to-writer relationship that one can have. Regardless of which one I’m operating in, my general position is that I look to the script as a guide, a map to the movie. I’m not somebody who says, “Oh, the script isn’t any good, but I’ll just work with it, adapt to it, and mutate it into something.” If you know what works and doesn’t work for you as a director, you’ll also need the script to work for you from the outset.

I wrote and directed my first film, Girlfight, which was a great way for me to start because it demanded that I immerse myself in the world of my story. Still, if, like me, you’re a really slow writer with some writing habits that are kind of hokey, what you come to appreciate about outside screenwriters coming aboard your projects is that the practice, discipline, and craft of storytelling is what they’ve built their lives around.

I’ve been really lucky to have worked with screenwriting partners Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi three times to date—on Æon Flux in 2005, The Invitation in 2016, and my latest film, Destroyer. Despite the fact that Phil and I were eventually married in the literal sense, not just the creative sense, over the years I’ve found that I like to have a high degree of involvement during every phase of my working relationships with screenwriters. In the case of Destroyer, Phil and Matt had been kicking around their idea for the film for several years, and I would check in on them periodically to get a sense of their creative headspace early on. The story you’re going to tell as a director will grow out of the work that’s put into building the film’s characters first.

I often like to have screenwriters on set while I’m directing, so there’s a sense that the film’s original creators are present while we’re working with actors to map out the look and feel of the story. For me, this is an important and extremely active part of the process.

As long as you have a fruitful, creatively in-sync relationship with your screenwriter, having him or her on set will allow you to anticipate the direction their source material is going in so that you can act quickly and decisively if it’s compromised in any way. If a scene becomes derailed by something that’s not quite right about your shoot that you’re not immediately able to see, having another voice in the mix can serve as an insurance policy. A screenwriter can point out some keys to a performance that might be missing, and may be able to impart insight to an actor on how to interpret a scene, or how to imagine and inhabit their character’s state of mind.

Moviemaking is a team effort. Be open to having your writers involved in the production—not just during the moments leading up to the shooting of their script, but always.

To guide stars Nicole Kidman (C) and Sebastian Stan (L), Karyn Kusama (R) consulted her screenwriters on the set of Destroyer. Image Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

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1 Comment

  1. swift streamz

    January 30, 2019 at 4:41 am

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