Pre-production starts. Costumes are being constructed. Weapons are being forged in that particular rotoscope way. Actors are being cast. Storyboards are being drawn. Things are moving and becoming real.
But the script is still there.
And it ends up reading and re-read constantly throughout pre-production. It gets assessed in new lights, from just about every angle possible. Because of this constant reappraisal, ideas for further script changes begin to occur
This is a process every film goes through. If a script is structurally solid, these ideas aren’t huge ones. No one says “Hey! We should probably completely change the middle act of the film.”
Mostly these ideas are small. Some of them absurdly small. Little dialogue tweaks. Further details of action that can help clarify intention. Small moments that you hope might end up being the most special moments in the thing.
The polishes on Spine of Night were largely of this nature. Things so small that perhaps the audience won’t catch them, but if they do they’ll be rewarded with further insight into the world being presented.
An example: Late in our film a religion is presented to the audience as motivation for an entire nation’s action. The idea occurred in pre-production that that religion's underpinnings should be setup much earlier in the film and they should be introduced as a kind of myth that would only later acquire the force of religion.
So we found the space inside an existing conversation for a brief mention of it. Just a small kernel, that, one hopes, a careful viewer will notice.
Another of our polishes involved whittling back a scene.
How long can a necromancer, blood drunk and raging, stand on a cathedral tower cursing the world? I’d like think “forever” but the answer is actually more like “for about five lines of dialogue otherwise it starts to feel ridiculous.”
Sometimes polishes involve a bit of fear and handwringing. The biggest polish decision involved re-writing the very first dialogue exchange in the film so that it more directly referenced events at the very end of the film. Things in the world of The Spine of Night are often cyclical.
This was the most delicate polish as it involved subtly exploring the central magical element in the story. We’ll talk more about magic in the film later, but suffice it to say we wanted to treat it in a certain way.
This polish also occurred the night before shooting. Not a lot of time to make sure it was just right and not bringing unwanted implications with it.
... there was also the little matter of the lead character who was killed in earlier drafts but, because of how the casting process worked out, ended up living in the film.
Mostly pretty small stuff but in the best films small stuff matters as much as the big stuff.
And then, of course, the polishing continues as you’re shooting, as you’re cutting, and, for this film, as you’re animating.
The polishing never ends, basically, until a film is out. And even then, some people keep polishing, for better or worse (… looking at you, Lucas).
Next week! This film’s an anthology film. What’s the deal with that?