Last year, I worked on the screenplay for the short film version of The Green Bench. Unlike novels, screenplays are intended to be a group effort. Lots of people bring their abilities and you won’t be happy if you are not flexible. The major plot points and themes, yes, fight for those. However, if you’re fortunate, actors will breathe life into your characters in new ways, chemistry happens between a group of actors that you cannot plan for, the camera crew lights and frames according to their expertise, the director has his or her creative vision, and so on. The director’s creative vision may align with yours and they will still bring new ideas and shading to scenes and to the work as a whole. All of the cast and crew names are on a film for very good reasons.
As with short stories, short films are all about distilling down to the essential elements. Short stories done well are more difficult than novels – in longer works, you might be able to pause to explore or add in another point of view. There is no room for that in short forms. When we got a script that was ready to shoot, it turned out to be an absolute joy on set. Everyone was upbeat and professional. Whenever a crew assembles, sometimes the family is functional and sometimes not. This time it was. There were a handful of smaller parts I wrote with friends in mind and they delivered flawlessly. It’s rare to have that voice in your head be the same one on set and it was pure joy to experience.
Now I am working to expand that short work into a longer one. Oh boy! After all that distillation, now it is time to broaden, develop and enlarge. I’ve had the great good fortune to get to know poet Brendan Constantine and he gave me notes as only a poet can on the short version. Poets look at the small, the minute. If you’ve never asked a poet to give you notes, do. It’s a whole new world! Things I would never have thought of and, perhaps counterintuitively, gave me a few jumping off points to expand the work. For example, is there anyone else in one particular scene that is not referenced who would logically be in the background? Who else is impacted by Evan’s illness? I saw right away that his best friend needs to be a part of the larger story. What is more interesting to explore, before or after? In this case, after is where all the drama lives. I don’t yet know if I will pull it off successfully, but it’s stretching me in unexpected ways and the unexpected journey is the most fun and satisfying.