I found this in the comments section from Rob Wright, the film maker of Textual Assassins. There are some great insights here on the film making process. For writers (and film makers) there is a lot of valuable information here on working with a director to go from script to screen.
I hope you don’t mind me jumping in on this thread – I’m the film-maker behind Textual Assassins.
First off, I wanted to say a big thanks to Simply Scripts.com for providing such a fantastic resource (for both script writers seeking feedback on their work or looking for opportunities to have their work made, and for film-makers looking for material or writers to collaborate with).
Back in April of this year, when I was considering making a film and before I had settled on Nolan’s wonderful screenplay, I spend many enjoyable evenings here reading many, many screenplays – I was struck by the creativity and quality of the work, but also by the supportive community spirit evident in the forums.
Anyway, by way of giving something back, I thought I might share a few insights about this project in case any of this might be of interest or useful in some way to your community?
I should say at this point (in case it isn’t obvious) that Textual Assassins was my first attempt at making a film (at least on this scale) – I am therefore very much a beginner/indi film-maker still learning the ropes and as such anything I say below should not be taken too seriously – it’s certainly not an industry insight – however, since Nolan Bryant and I managed to come out of our little collaboration unscathed, still on speaking-terms (haha-Nolan), and with a finished piece of work we are both quite proud of, I suppose we must have done something right !
I’ve tried to think of a few things below which might be of interest, but please feel free to ask any other questions if you would like to know more. (Who knows, Nolan might also answer from his perspective too)? If anyone is interested there are some photos, example storyboards, and further thoughts on this Facebook page.
Why Did I Choose This Particular Script?
There are some fantastic scripts on this website, but for me Textual Assassins appealed for a number of key reasons. It’s witty (in a black comedy kinda way), well written, with some great characters and fun dialogue, etc. – but on a more practical level, it was just… ‘do-able’ (read: manageable for me as an indi film-maker). Limited locations / minimal props needed, a small leading cast, concise and to the point (about the right length for me, not too ambitious in scope, but still a challenge). A beginner film-maker’s dream really. I also read the community forum posts alongside the script and got the sense (largely by the way that the author was responding to suggestions and critique from others) that he would be someone I could work with.
What Happened Next? How was Contact Made?
I contacted Nolan via email, and asked permission to turn his screenplay into a short film – I was open and honest with him about my pervious limited experience but sent some examples of smaller projects I’d completed in the hope that this would show I was serious. I was trying my best to give assurances that I’m a ‘finisher’ and if he would take a chance and grant me a time limited option, the film WOULD be made. After a good number of initial email exchanges we settled on agreeable terms. I also agreed to consult before any major changes occurred, and promised to keep him posted on progress as I hit the milestones.
There are Some Differences Between the Screenplay and the Film – Why so?
Both Nolan and I were open from the outset to the idea that some things would change. This was a two-way street though – I suggested a few things, some he was happy to run with, and others, he explained, he would rather not see happen – and this was OK for me too. Nolan was a great person to work with, clearly talented, but also flexible and open – this was important to me.
For the most part I tried to adhere to the original Screenplay and use it as the blueprint for the story, but here were a few reasons for change, which might be food for thought?:-
i. Localisation – the original script used some phrases that tied it to a particular region (of the world) – and yet the film was going to be made elsewhere (I’m from the UK so that is where the film would need to be set, Nolan is not). A example: the original script included one character described as “bush-league” – this is simply not a phases well understood in the UK (it was changed by me through negotiation with Nolan to “School-Boy error” to address that).
ii. Character Names – some of the film characters have different names to those in the Script (eg. Kyle became Big-Dave). Again, a bit of a localisation thing for me. Kyle isn’t a widely popular name in the UK in the age range of the character. Also, this wan’t a big deal, but my actor playing the role of Kyle looked to me more like a BIG-DAVE!
iii. Other changes came about during early rehearsals or indeed ad lib, where my actors felt their characters would respond slightly differently. As their Director I wanted to allow them this ownership of the characters. Some other direction changes came about due to taking advantage of the layout at the locations we had available. The two pillars in the hallway were just crying out to be used for the stand off between PETE and DAVE for example.
iv. Another somewhat larger change occurred towards the end of the film. In the original screenplay when the police show up, the five assassins are instructed to “drop their guns and raise their hands” and we do not know their fate (but assume they are arrested?). However in the film, I wanted the viewer to see Rookie making a move (and we assume hit fired at the police?). Nolan and I talked this through, along with a third possible ending and I had agreed to shoot all three alternative endings and then we could evaluate which worked best in the edit. As it happened, unfortunately, I overran on the schedule during the film shoot (a night-time shoot at the location) and had to make a quick judgement call in the moment – either continue shooting and risk annoying the location owners (it was about 2:30am and the flashing police lights were becoming annoying!) or cut our losses and only shoot one of the endings. I opted for the latter.
(I suppose the point here is, sometimes even with the best will in the world, a Director might need to make changes and sometimes they need to be made quickly).
How many table-reads / rehearsals did we have with the cast before shooting?
We had rehearsals only for the 3 main characters (Assassins – PETE, DAVE & ROOKIE). The other actors learnt their (few) lines independently and I gave direction as we filmed on location, we filmed multiple takes till I got what was needed. Remarkably, other than the actor playing ROOKIE, the cast consists entirely of good friends of mine whom had zero previous acting experience (I think they did a great job!). I arranged for PETE and DAVE to have two acting classes before we held rehearsals with ROOKIE. The actor playing ROOKIE was more experienced and helped a little on set with acting direction. We had only two rehearsals sessions in total before we filmed.
How long did it take to make the film?
5 Months (not a day-job) – although in reality most of this time was spent planning. Getting the actors on board, converting the script to storyboard, then to shooting script and shortlist, location-hunting, prop-making, organising dates and times when I would be able to access equipment (camera and lighting etc.) and when people would be able to make it. Once the planning stages were done, the film was shot during only 5 shoot-days (2 long days in the main house location + 3 shorter sessions at the other locations). There was a great deal of pressure during the shoot days, as I was leaning on the job to some extent, and was very mindful to keep the location owners on board.
How much did it cost to make the film?
Textual Assassins took a great deal of time, energy and effort to make – but this was largely because I was trying to do pretty much everything on my own – a labour of love you might say. I wanted to direct this film, yes, but I also wanted to use this opportunity to learn something about the other key roles typically associated with film-making. This means that I made the storyboard and props myself, I sourced the locations, organised the cast, arranged the acting-classes/rehearsals, stood as DOP, I operated the camera and microphones, I set up the lighting, recorded sound-effects, edited the footage, colour graded the film, decided upon the soundtrack music, I composed the additional music, etc, etc.
Honestly – I think I gained about 5 years of real film-making experience by tacking this project in this way, but it was a heck of lot of work for one person alone and much more that I had anticipated.
Other than a few items which I bought or hired – most of the technical equipment was hired for free through a lot of begging and borrowing! My actors (my friends) all agreed to work for free (although I fed them!) and they all commented that they really enjoyed the experience very much.
Textual Assassins was made with a budget of only c.£300 (c.400 USD / c.350 Euros).
…anyway, I hope this post proves to be in some small way useful to the community here at Simply Scripts. I know the film isn’t perfect, but given the constraints highlighted above, I’m quite pleased with the outcome and I believe Nolan is too. We thank you once again for this great resource through which we were connected.
Keep writing the great material people!
Being a hitman is tough, killing indiscriminately is harder than you’d think. (Short, Dark Comedy)