Itís not only an art to write and direct a screenplay; itís also a refined
skill to listen effectively to your director of photography (DP), editor,
producer, designer and actors. I recognize that filmmaking is a collaborative
effort, not only in the physical sense, but emotionally. This became clearer
to me as I made character judgments and aesthetic choices throughout pre-production,
production and post-production of my film Girl Talk.
For over twenty years, Iíve been in development for this film which captures
a formative time of my childhoodómy motherís book club. At the impressionable
age of four, I sat in the company of wives, mothers and sisters. I listened
as they discussed the works of African-American writers and shared personal
concerns and issues that were happening in their lives. Through my film,
I was able to pay tribute to these women I held in high esteem. The screenplay
of Girl Talk is a present-day depiction of four twenty-something
women who gather once a month to discuss the writings of African-American
When I began seeking cast and crew, my intentions were to find creative
people who were resourceful, experienced, committed, and enthusiastic.
I also wanted to find artists who believed in my vision. Once I had settled
on the crew, I had an initial meeting to discuss the look and feel of
Girl Talk. As for the actors, I walked each of them through the
who, what, when and where of their character. I even went as far as having
them portray their characters at a dinner I hosted.
During rehearsals and pre-production meetings, I got the opportunity
to see my vision for the film more clearly. I answered lots of questions
asked by the cast and crew. After hearing all the "Okays" and
"I got its," I felt as though I was able to communicate my vision
and then make it into reality. One day, though, when we were finalizing
wardrobe, two actresses called me into the room. "Stacey, we have
a couple of suggestions," they said.
Up until this point, I thought we were in agreement with my vision. So
I was a bit surprised when other suggestions and feelings were brought
to the table. Once I humbled my ego and tried to check my defenses at
the door, it seemed like a domino effect. John, the DP, came to me with
ideas about how a scene should be shot. When filming a gallery sequence,
he felt that the characterís frustration would translate better if it
were shot from a high angle. He thought we should have the character look
up toward the camera as if she were studying a work of art. It worked
and added more intensity to the character.
When I began the editing process, Rob, the editor, suggested new ways
to move the pacing of the film. He also had ideas regarding the main characterís
conflict and her resolution. During one of the editing sessions, we were
watching the film to determine which scenes needed a little work. There
was an altercation scene that I felt was beautifully shot and performed.
I thought it fit well within the context of the film. Rob argued that
it didnít work and that it would take the film in a different direction.
His interpretation was that the film wasnít about this altercation, but
more about the character and her personal struggle.
At some point, I had to stop and think about what all these suggestions
and interpretations meant for Girl Talk. Would listening to them
compromise my vision? Did I now doubt my ability? Or was I just too close
to the film to see what worked and didnít work? Most importantly, at what
point would Girl Talk stop being my film? The driving force behind
why I made the film continued to move me, but it was moving me down a
wider road that encompassed the personal experiences of the cast and crew.
I reminded myself that I hired these people not only for their expertise,
but also for their creative genius. I had to establish not only a "trust
in my actors" (as the director Ingmar Bergman says), but also in
my crew. What eventually became clear was that this film was a collaborative
effort between the DP, the editor, the cast and myself. I recognized their
ideas, and by listening to them, expanded my vision in the film. Each
of us "agreed to disagree," but I always made a point of listening
to what everyone had to say. Although I had an emotional attachment to
Girl Talk, this process of collaboration caused me to step back
and look at it objectively. As the project progressed, my concerns and
doubts began to dissipate and what took form was a confidence in my ability
to allow my collaborators to participate and to use their imaginations.
Because I took some of the suggestions and interpretations given during
the making of the film, one could easily ask if I still had authorship
of Girl Talk. My answer would be "yes." When I shared
with one of my friends (who worked on Girl Talk) that I was writing
this article, he challenged my authorship of the film, since he had witnessed
the constant suggestions and interpretations made by others throughout
the shoot. My answer remained the same. Even though I was receiving constant
feedback, I was continually discerning how the suggestions would help
or hinder the film. In the end, the final decisions were in my hands.
I do realize, though, that lines created by cast members and used word-for-word
within my script could easily be challenged. That is a copyright and ownership
issue in the legal sense that could easily affect any income made after
the film is complete.
On another level, issues of authorship could be an everlasting debate
for independent and mainstream filmmakers. For the independent, we have
just that óthe independence to write and direct in whatever way we see
fit. We can do that without the bureaucracy connected to some mainstream
films. I am not insinuating that there arenít any independent filmmakers
who tangle with authorship issues, nor am I suggesting that all mainstream
directors struggle with authorship. Every film is its own case. To avoid
this conflict, many first-time mainstream directors write their own screenplays.
As for the independent feature director, in most cases everyone involved
in the project is usually trying to get the film finished and the authorship
issue arises only when the director no longer has a passion for that film.
My passion for filmmaking grew during the making of Girl Talk.
As an artist, I am constantly being pushed out of my "comfort zone."
During the making of this movie, I allowed myself to be pushed even further.
I found that the four-year-old girl sitting in a room with her mother
and her friends was no longer there. Instead, she was out trying to make
things happen. Even though filmmaking involves listening to the interpretive
thoughts of others, I never lost sight of my goal or my vision. I simply
altered the steps to reach it. When I view Girl Talk, I see a film
that was planted in seed form and watered with interpretations and suggestions.
As the seed began to grow because of the ideas of the director of photography,
editor, composer, set designer and actors, it developed into a film that
blossomed brighter and bigger than I had ever imagined.
Stacey Holman, a graduate of the M.F.A. film program at New York University,
has directed four short films. Her third film, "Mirar Mirror",
received the Warner Brothers Film Production and the Martin Scorsese Post-Production