Professionalism in Practice – Screenwriter on “Cellular”

After the pitches, I approaches Mantas offering myself for hire as a screenwriter for his pitched film which was as of then untitled. He agreed and he sent me a very rough draft of the basic plot outline of the film for me to formulate a first draft from.

I met with Mantas numerous times for story discussions whenever I presented a new draft. I initially wanted to explore phone addiction and how it could potentially have a negative effect on a person’s physical relationships with other people but Mantas wanted to take the concept in a different direction and emphasise the point that there are so many things one can do with technology that any real world counterparts are not as important; but at the same time he wanted to explore that all innovations technology can bring can be hugely distracting to what’s important. Eventually, I decided to go along with Mantas’ vision of his film and try and implement my screenwriting talents to try and achieve what he wanted.

In our subsequent story meetings our constant point of focus was on raising the stakes for Marie (the main character) in regards to her phone addiction, fine tuning her conversation scenes with her mum for strong dramatic effect and by presenting the story in as visually coherent a way as possible.

Mantas and I butted heads on a few story issues such as his insistence on including a scene in which Marie masturbates on her phone and my concerns toward perhaps including too much information in the opening newscast voiceovers along with the onscreen text messages. I managed to talk him out of including the masturbation scene at the beginning of the script as I, along with others who have read the script agreed that a scene such as that didn’t tonally fit with the rest of the script so he eventually agreed to abandon it. We couldn’t come to a consesus on whether or not we were conveying too much information with the on screen text messages and the newscast voiceover so we didn’t fine tune those scenes as much as we could and this would lead to problems that I will discuss later.

Eventually, both of us came to a draft that we were both happy with so that Mantas could start shooting. As far as I’m aware the production went well. However after the rough cut screening, an issue came up on the clarity within the film’s narrative as some people didn’t manage to catch the threat of eviction that was a plot point in the film. Also most people struggled to keep track of the opening of the film as they were confused with all the visual on screen information they were getting as well as the newscast voice over. This was an issue I had feared at the writing stage. Additionally a lot of people did not see the point as to why Marie would study to resit her exams if she isn’t eligble for financial support anymore for failing the first time.

Of course taking on all of this feedback on, there was little I could do to improve upon the story issues. This was a valuable experience in seeing how a director can take a script you’ve written, made a film out of it with their own creative vision and seeing how everyone reacts to the film you’ve written being presented through a different creative lens. I was at a crossroads on whether I should take the blame for the story issues or whether I should let Mantas take the blame. After much self-deliberation, I think as a screenwriter, I should learn to share the burden a bit more with directors who I write scripts for, because at the end of the day even though the director has final say on the creative story side of the script I still feel it’s my duty as a screenwriter to speak up and inform the director whether or not I think he or she is making the best story decision for the story they want to tell if I feel I have a better alternative. This is a lesson learned that I would definitely be taking on board in future projects that I script for others.

Drafts written:

Connection Lost (working title) [First Full Draft]

Cellular (working title) – Second Draft

Cellular – Third Draft

Cellular – Fourth Draft

Cellular – Fifth Draft

Cellular – Sixth Draft

Cellular – Seventh Draft

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Filed under MDA3400 - Film Dissertation Project

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