The relationship between director and screenwriter can be a tricky, frustrating one. As such, it might be difficult to find as well-matched a pair of moviemakers as Adam Salky and David Brind—director and writer, respectively, of Dare. The movie, based on the duo’s short film of the same name, follows three teenagers (Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford and Ashley Springer) as they embark on their final, life-changing semester of high school.
Here, Salky and Brind interview each other on the challenges and perks of low-budget moviemaking.
David Brind (DB): In the finished version of Dare, is there a scene that played out exactly as you envisioned it, or a scene that totally differed from your original vision? What would you tell a first-time director about the preparation process?
Adam Salky (AS): To the first-time feature director, I would stress relentless planning and preparation. My plan allowed me to make the most of the limited time I had, but also to be flexible and leave it all behind if a better idea presented itself on the day of the shoot.
On Dare, I broke down every scene and character and storyboarded around 85 percent of the film before pre-production. Without that work, I don’t think my visual plan would have been possible.
But the best laid plans are often not enough. It is certain that something unforeseeable will broadside you at some point during the production. For me (and I think the whole Dare team) this occurred during post-production, as we wrestled with the last 10 minutes of the movie. In fact, we spent an entire two months editing those 10 minutes, honing it down to the essential, most emotionally true ending. The final scenes were ultimately quite different than the original design, but they retained the spirit and content of what we set out to do.
DB: On set, there were times when things did not go according to plan. Locations were lost, time ran out, producers (me included) were hovering over you. How did you cope with these pressures?
AS: I found that carrying a taser to ward off schedule-obsessed producers worked well… In all seriousness, the pressures of making a film in limited time with a limited budget are severe. Nothing illustrates this more than when we lost the location for [Gilford’s character] Johnny’s house in the middle of the shoot.
I coped by going back to the plans I had made: What are the most essential moments? What are the shot plans that will translate to the new location? And then I put my trust in the people we had hired to help us create Dare.
We put our heads down and went to work, and the most amazing thing happened: Everyone rose to the occasion. Despite the feeling at the time that the movie could have been completely sunk by that catastrophic event, we all pulled together and did some of the strongest work in the entire film. I believe the scenes we shot there are even better than what we had planned for the previous location.
AS: In addition to writing the script, you also had a strong hand in producing the movie. How did you reconcile these two very different jobs?
DB: This is an unusual situation for a screenwriter, and in many ways a privileged one. On a large majority of films, the writer is mostly divorced from the process once the production side begins to gear up. I had a hand in every step of making Dare. I sat in on every casting session and production meeting, and was on set for the entirety of the shoot.
Mostly this was exhilarating for me—seeing my characters and story come to life was thrilling—but sometimes it was exceptionally difficult. Some of my favorite scenes in the script were cut from the film, others were never even shot. Some scenes you shot were exactly as I pictured them, other scenes were more alive and effective than I could ever have imagined.
For the most part, I successfully separated my role as a producer from that of the writer. Producing is about solving problems and, in our case, using a much-too-small budget to tell our story. There was not a lot of time to think about much else. As the writer, I was much more emotional and reactive when my work was fucked around with. The finished film is different than the script, but absolutely true to the screenplay’s essence.
DB: Okay, fantasy time: If a magic investor came in and granted you three wishes and a budget of $500,000 more to fulfill them on Dare, what would you have used them on?
AS: I would add a healthy $80,000 to the music budget, because it really could not be harder to secure some of the music you love. This frustrates me to no end; $80,000 would have afforded me one dream song and one or two top choices that were just out of financial reach. Of the remaining $420,000…
The most valuable commodity to a director is time. At every step of the process, there is never enough. The day before you start shooting, you wish you had just one more week to prep; during the shoot, you wish you had just one (or several) more days to shoot; and during post-production, you wish for another week to work the cut. I would take that money and invest it in these areas.
AS: The film world is obsessed with the idea of a writer-director, one person who holds the same job. Having done it both ways, do you have an opinion of which is better, or how they differ?
DB: I frequently get asked, “Why didn’t you direct Dare?” The independent film and film festival worlds put an incredible emphasis on the writer-director. At most major film festivals, only the director gets a badge that says “Filmmaker.” The writer is often an afterthought; the person who comes after the actors in the pecking order of the film world. And the producer? Forget it. This confuses me and I won’t lie, it can be frustrating and demeaning at times.
I believe there are some screenplays that have such a specificity of vision that only the writer can direct them; I also believe such screenplays are few and far between. Dare was an incredibly personal script, but I told it very specifically in my writing. I felt it was more interesting to have someone else retell it.
You brought ideas and visions to Dare as the director that came from a different place than my script. How exciting to have my story built upon, visualized in someone else’s mind and have even more layers and emotion added to it. Our collaboration on Dare made it richer, no question.
AS: When we spooned, did you prefer the right or left side of the bed?
DB: Totally depended on the size and quality of the bed, its location, my mood and who needed to be held more that day. You? MM
Image Entertainment will release Dare on November 13, 2009.