“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” –Orson Welles
The art of making a film is also the art of compromise. Because we write in an imagined world but have to shoot in the real world (not counting animation and films that are completely green screen/CGI), there are certain compromises that must be made.
The setting informs so much of the look and feel of a film, so it’s always great if you can write with a specific location in mind. If you have a location you know you can get, it will save you a lot of time and agony later on.
When I wrote The Last Hit, I had very specific parameters I had to follow, but because I wrote with the location in mind I could see the movie clearly in my head. I could also craft the storyboards around that location. The limitations of the space informed my writing and storyboarding. I knew what kinds of shots would be possible.
Have actors in mind as well. If there are some go-to actors you know will want to be part of the project, you can write with their voices in mind. You can start to craft the characters around their mannerisms, personality traits, and inflections. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “what if I write for those actors and don’t get them when I cast.” This is where compromise comes in. You have clear ideas for the characters, so now you’re able to mate those ideas with whomever you do end up casting.
A famous example of this is C3PO in Star Wars. George Lucas originally saw the character as a slick used-car-salesman type, but in casting Anthony Daniels, he got more of a nervous British butler. After auditioning dozens of voice actors, Lucas finally settled on Daniels’s performance because he inhabited the character so completely. It’s difficult to imagine C3PO any other way. The compromise paid off, and the rest is cinematic history.
If you’re an independent filmmaker working on a low budget or micro-budget, flexibility is key. If you don’t have the money to accomplish your original vision, you have a choice. You can either wait until you do have the money, or you can change your vision. For most of us working on micro/no budget films, it’s necessary to alter the vision to get the film made. Even experienced filmmakers who work on multi-million-dollar movies have to compromise.
During the making of Othello, Orson Welles was forced to shoot a scene before the costumes had arrived. He had his cast ready to go, but they had nothing to wear. Instead of delaying the film because he couldn’t afford to add days to the schedule, he made the decision to set the scene in a bath house. The actors all wore towels, and it gave the scene a life that even Welles couldn’t have imagined.
Compromise is a fact of life in any art or profession. In an art as costly as filmmaking, being able to compromise can be the difference between the life and death of the movie. If you have realistic expectations and embrace your circumstances through careful planning, you’ll have a film that is true to your vision and doesn’t leave you feeling compromised.