7 February 2012

Watching the Writer

Hayley McKenzie is a professional Script Editor who has worked across both film and television.  Here, she talks about her involvement with ‘The Watcher Self’.

As a Script Editor for over ten years my passion is helping writers to make the very best possible version of the story they want to tell, and doing it in a way that develops a strong relationship between Writer and Script Editor.  I’ve always prided myself on giving writers tough notes that really address the problems in a script but doing so in way that is respectful and diplomatic. Sometimes, that’s not easy.

Having worked with Matt many years ago I knew he had great story ideas, an understanding of characters’ psychology and a real passion for film.  However, I was nervous when Matt brought me on board as Script Editor for The Watcher Self – if the script was bad, could I get it into shape and keep our friendship?

After I’d read the first two pages all my worries disappeared and I knew for certain we were onto a winner.  I was hooked, intrigued, fascinated and didn’t look up from the script until the final page.  Sure, there were problems; some scenes that didn’t quite work, some characters and relationships that hadn’t quite been nailed down, but the basic story shape and Matt’s execution of it in the script was thrilling.

We met and talked about the film at length.  Matt talked about his vision and I came to a better understanding of what he wanted from his film.  With that in mind, we were able to come up with changes and improvements that addressed my concerns and notes in a way that kept the script true to Matt’s vision.  As Matt goes about rewriting the script I’m on hand to help as and when he needs me, though not always as instantly as perhaps either of us would like!  Matt sends me revised scenes which I read and give notes on.

As we head nearer to production the script will become a working document for a whole team of people.  Matt and I will keep refining the script to make it editorially as strong as we can but we’ll also have to make compromises.

As a script editor with many hours of produced television drama under my belt, I know how to make a script work for others and still keep the vision of the film intact.  We may not be able to get all the locations that are in the script at present so we’ll have to find ways to merge scenes, or relocate them, or cut them. We may find that the schedule or budget put pressures on us to make further changes.  Matt’s already anticipating possible problems and coming up with changes he can make if he needs to.

Working on a script that’s going into production brings its own set of challenges but it’s exhilarating and the reward is huge.  No one works tirelessly on a script with the desire to see it gather dust on a shelf — we all want to work on scripts that become the foundation for a terrific television drama or a brilliant film. The best bit about being a Script Editor is seeing the script that you and the writer are proud of, brought to life and enjoyed by others.  Bring on the screening!

Find Hayley and all the development services she provides at her website, Script Angel.

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