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Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Articles - Screenwriting

Brandon Routh
Brandon Routh stars in Superman Returns. Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Let the eyes guide you.

People are watching the eyes of a character. Eyes are also a link to subtext. You can create your own visual conversation between characters as they have [a different] one on the surface.

Have bad set memory.

If you’ve been to the set, forget you were there. Create the space in your mind. Always try and look at footage the way the audience will. Only you may know the door to the garage is in the back left corner. Don’t let set knowledge limit your options.

Don’t be pick-up crazy.

Even if the coverage of a scene may be disappointing, ironically it can be strangely limiting to just to ask for more footage. Rethinking the scene and making it your personal little goal to make it work with existing footage garners unexpected and editorially creative solutions that can end up better than what you might have done with those inserts you thought you needed so badly.

Cut the crap.

This really depends on your relationship and how you work with the director, but it’s often the case that the script dialogue can be redundant. It’s a taste judgement to decide whether this redundancy is fun for the audience or not. Usually, no matter how crafty it is, if it’s nothing new, get rid of it. When the director comes and sees the scene and has no recollection that there are words missing, you’ve made your point! The worst is when the director is also the writer. If you can snow-job them, you’re a master.

See the Future.

There are two editing philosophies: Cut it fat, or cut it lean. There’s no right or wrong, but I have a bias. Cutting it fat may allow the director to see all his material implemented, but you end up with a three-hour plus film which you will now spend the next few months figuring out how to cut down. This is now how you will spend most your time.

Cutting it lean from the beginning allows you to use those following months to fine-tune and tinker with a cut that’s already manageable time-wise. Why get bogged down by the weight of the baby, when you can be buying it new clothes? Doing this requires the editor to have a sixth sense about what is going to happen in the future. There are always scenes—or parts of scenes—that reek of dead weight from the very beginning. Then there are those that, months later, dawn on you are going to have to go for one reason or the other. The leaner you cut within scenes themselves, the less danger you’ll be in the future of having to throw that baby out with the bath water by eliminating an entire scene. The more clairvoyance you have now about that, the more painless the process will be later and the more polished and smooth the film and its story will be. Besides, it’s always fun to resurrect a scene that was never part of the cut and add it later!

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