They Killed My Darlings – Why Filmmakers Make Changes to Your Script

The following is a guest post written by Joey Corpora, a film director with the film-making group, Platypus Underground. Check out their site for some insightful low-budget filmmaking tips, originating in real-life adventures in movie-making. – Ron Brassfield


I think it goes without saying: filmmaking is a collaborative medium. With so many people involved in the filmmaking process, things are bound to change from the time the rough draft is written to when an audience watches the final print.

What can change, and why?

Maybe the location manager found an awesome deserted beach to shoot at that wasn’t originally in the script, or the director met an outstanding actor who could fit in the movie if the story was tweaked slightly, or maybe the script was too ambitious from the beginning.

The thing is, most of the time when a script is picked up by an independent film company, changes aren’t made because the script is bad.

They’re made because new opportunities came up, or because the budget wasn’t quite big enough to fit in the more extravagant bits written in the script. Independent filmmaking is a very fluid medium. You need a director who is willing to roll with the punches and seize new opportunities as they present themselves. Being flexible allows for change- but it doesn’t mean it’s because your script is bad.

I can give an example.

At Platypus Underground, we write all of our own films, so we are well aware of what we are capable of, and what we can’t reasonably do on a small budget.

However, we are all big dreamers. And, as most writers will tell you, when you are caught up in the moment of writing, you don’t want to censor yourself. As a filmmaker and writer, you begin to think, “I’ll write this scene in anyway, even if it seems like it’d be tough to shoot. We’re a smart and creative bunch. I’m SURE we can find some way to pull this off.”

We write scenes that fit in our story, but once it comes time to actually film, our experience, budget, equipment, or location sometimes just don’t match up with what we’d originally written.

When we shot our kung fu flick, Sins of the Dragon, we’d planned on having parts of the film shot in huts or temples. Those were written in the script, so we needed them in the movie, right?

The problem was we didn’t have access to those things, and though we searched for possible locations up until the day before shooting, it just didn’t work out. We needed to find some alternatives, and the easiest alternative is usually to change the parts of the script that just won’t work.

Some scenes were cut. Some were re-written. And others were left mostly intact, but we decided to film them in a different location.

At other times, you may find that you’ve written something “impossible” to shoot, but you end up finding a way to pull it off anyway.

We are currently working on a short film called Future 1986. It’s an epic sci-fi story, and the opening scene involves a huge battle sequence on a charred alien world.

We’d spent a few weeks planning the scene, recruiting people, gathering costumes, and scouting a great location. We figured it would be a cinch — after all, we’d done battle scenes before. No problem!

At the last minute, almost all of our actors dropped out, leaving us with FOUR people, including our two person camera/sound crew for the day. It snowed the day before shooting, and the temperature had plummeted. The props we thought we had were missing.

Everything was going wrong, but we decided to shoot, anyway, and hoped for the best.

Using some clever split screen effects, fast cutting, a variety of camera angles, a few Hallowe’en masks, and uniform costumes, we were able to double up on roles by obscuring our faces and making it look like we had more actors on screen. By using a split screen technique and dividing the screen into thirds, we were able to turn our four actors into “twelve” actors for any shots where we needed to show larger groups of fighters.

Once the footage was shot, we were able to go into After Effects to manipulate the footage further, adding planes flying in overhead, explosions in the distance, and fires in the trees. It was starting to look like we really did have an army of extras!

We keyed out the drab sky and replaced it with grungy clouds, and with a quick bit of color correction — viola! — We had ourselves an epic sci-fi battle on an alien planet — shot with four guys, some Nerf guns, and a tripod.

The point of all this is: don’t get discouraged if you need to make changes to your script, or if a filmmaker you’re working with makes changes to it. Write the story how you think it should be told, and fight to keep your script as intact as possible.

But don’t be stubborn — if a new opportunity arises, or if something doesn’t work out, you should be open to change. Understand that the changes aren’t necessarily being made because your script is “bad”; more than likely, changes will be made due to circumstances beyond your control. Oftentimes, these changes end up being better than anyone could have planned.

And when things work out like that, then guess what? You still get the credit for those great ideas on screen, because you’re listed in the credits as the writer!


2 thoughts on “They Killed My Darlings – Why Filmmakers Make Changes to Your Script

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