Working with Writers

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As I’ve written in previous posts, one of the advantages in being part of a community like Columbia is having access to a variety of other creatives who are looking for projects to jump on.

As a producer this is the ideal situation to be in, as often the wider the pool you can pull from, the more likely you’ll find the right person for the job.  As Columbia is one of the largest film schools in the country, there’s no shortage of people to choose from to work with.  The challenge comes from separating those who may be a match to your project from those who may not be and knowing how to work with those you bring on board.

While, at face value, having many options to choose from can seem like a really great thing (and it is), the reality at Columbia is that everyone here is in school for a reason.  We’re all here to learn, and so this means that as frustrating as it can be for a producer focused on moving forward with efficiency, its important to remember that everyone you choose to work with at Columbia is still growing and formulating at some level.  This is true in the real world too, of course; but it’s especially prominent here, where people come specifically to learn.

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I brought on several writers to work on polishing a draft of “The Last Race,” my story that deals with sexual violence within teenage relationships, and reading several initial drafts has been an eye-opening experience.  The writers’ works are quite different from each other, as each writer is coming from their own level of maturity (not to mention their own understanding of sexual violence as an issue, which is crucial for this project).  One writer submitted a draft that was a clear improvement of my original.  Another changed the story so drastically that it completely violated the message of the film.  He didn’t do this intentionally, of course: he simply didn’t know any better, and was working with what he knew.

So what do you do when the essence of the work people submit to you varies widely?  You have to approach each person differently, based on where they are.  Each set of notes I create for each writer is written not only to address how story problems can be improved, but also my sense of where the writer is at and what their blind spots might be.  It’s a balancing act that requires patience and understanding.

As producer, it’s my job to ensure that the people on my team create the best work they’re able to muster.  It may be a lot more work for me to approach my writers this way, but in my experience being cooperative and encouraging is absolutely worth it.

Filmmaking is a team effort: there’s no way I could do it alone.