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Roberto Rossellini, the director, and Isabella’s father, once said, “Do you know how many words it takes to adequately explain an image that will register, in your mind, the total meaning in a split second?”
Let’s think about that for a moment.
I don’t know the answer to his question, but my first thought is that it would take an enormous amount of words. There are endless ways to describe something. Those of us who have studied scene analysis from already completed movies know that a simple five-minute scene might take an entire day to film. Stepping back another level, we examine the script for that scene and discover it’s only a couple pages long. And when we examine the script used during the filming, we discover how little of what we see on screen had been previously written.
Films are made up of pictures, which spawn emotions and tug at our full understanding of feelings and perspective. Even when the viewer is looking at the same scene, each person will be watching it from a different history. People come from different backgrounds, different upbringings, and each have different viewpoints.
There are only a couple reasons I can see for a screenplay. One is to communicate to the actors what they will say and (to some degree) where they should stand, move or sit. Although the director, or each actor, may change that to suit the actual location of filming, or rhythm of the scene when its played out. Another purpose for a screenplay is to keep track of the skeleton of the story. If the skeleton is solid, and the foundation secure, the scenes themselves might end up in any number of possible outcomes.
It is totally possible to shoot a movie without using a traditional screenplay. If you intend to do this, my advice is to work with really great actors. Especially if they have any kind of writing background or improv coaching. Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy joined their director Richard Linklater with Best Screenplay Oscar nominations for the BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT movies because they made those movies in this fashion.
I’ve recently started working on a similar project and am extremely excited to experience what it’s like to work in a world like that. There is something ultimately freeing about it, and that excites me.
STRUCTURE is the best word I can use to describe prepping for something like this. Each scene has a purpose. Every scene in a movie starts at 1 and ends at 3. There will always be a 2 in between. Of course you can just decide whatever is the most obvious way to get from 1 to 3 and use that, but you might find there are several ways to move through 2 that will still lead you to 3. So why not film the alternative 2’s and decide in the editing room which one works the best?
Sometimes there is no time or budget for this kind of filmmaking, and I understand that on certain days during your shoot you might not have that kind of ultimate freedom. But my suggestion is to find that freedom whenever you can. And remember that freedom is what makes a truly independent filmmaker.