From High Art (Playwriting)
to a Mass Consumer Product (Film)
by Catherine Weingarten
As a writer, I’ve never had the experience of seeing my work on a screen. All of my previous work has been playwriting (aside from a super sexy animation adaptation of my play about a chick who is obsessed with Justin Bieber—but not sure if that counts). Stationary looks great just from the stills alone, and I can’t wait to see the finished film.
As a kid I was a hardcore actor, but was itching to no longer have to play the loser friend of the main character. I decided to create my own stories. I started playwriting at Bennington College (where I met Daniel at a super hip contact improv dance class) and couldn’t get enough of it.
My freshman year at Bennington I got chosen to write a 24 hour play, which ended up being about two male room-mates who hired a male hooker to hang out with them. I had so much fun I could not stop ma-self!! Since then I have been seriously pursuing playwriting and started Ohio University this year to get my MFA.
I admit I am obsessed with film/tv and a lot of my plays are very in conversation with these forms. Still though, this film has been an exciting new challenge for me.
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In plays the audience is constantly aware of everything on the whole stage. The hardest thing for me about working on a screenplay was understanding the “action directions.” Film is very high maintenance and requires you to think about how you want everything to be framed.
I didn’t know a lot about that aspect of the process and I’m less in touch with where the camera is/what the viewer is looking at. I also noticed that with screenwriting, you can get away with a lot less dialogue to tell your story, since just a close-up of an actor’s face can capture the character’s intent.
The low-budget filmmaking process also had restrictions I wasn’t used to. I had to consider how many sets/characters you need to use, because locations and actors can cost a lot. One needs to have their producer hat on, especially if one of the co-writers is producing it themselves ;) In theater I literally try to ignore this issue and proceed to write plays with flying dinosaurs and mermaids.
The other big difference for me was how short the scenes were required for film. In plays we can write like 40-page emo scenes about people eating dinner; but our longest scene for this film was 4 pages!
I’m actually interested in working with shorter scenes in the future, because it reminds me of comic strips from my past, like “Betty and Veronica.”
My newest play, Are you ready to get PAMPERED!? was inspired by Wet, Hot, American Summerand other infamous summer camp films, so I’m already dabbling a lot this year with short episodic scenes. I feel like comedy especially thrives in contained, short moments and forms.
Overall one of the things that was incredible about working on this film was the restriction inherent in the form of screenwriting. I had to factor in scene length, produce-ability and dialogue that was onscreen-playable. I really do hope to be able to do screenwriting and tv-writing in the future, because they keep me sharp and challenged. With playwriting I have the exhilarating freedom of doing whatever the heck I want; so I’m glad I can come to tv/film writing occasionally and get a bit of a smackdown.