WHAT THE HECK’S A SCRIPTMENT?: AND OTHER THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE ONE I LOVE SCREENWRITER JUSTIN LADER
If there’s one thing you don’t talk about with the screenwriter behind Sundance darling The One I Love, it’s the plot.
“The less you know going into it, the better,” says Justin Lader, who is still riding high from the film’s national premieres. It opened in New York and LA this past weekend.
Plot aside, Lader had a lot to share with me regarding what he learned on his most recent project, from starting with a “scriptment” to writing theme, and launching a screenwriting career in Hollywood.
First things first:
What the heck’s a scriptment?
“Basically a full script minus a lot of the dialogue...If you take away exterior or interior sluglines, it reads like a short story.”
Lader’s 52-page scriptment was the production script for The One I Love but unlike other movies that have used treatments, Lader described how the detail in the scriptment created specific scenarios for the actors -- improv was used on set, but wouldn’t redirect the story.
“What would happen is that I would script [the dialogue in] a scene the night before or while the crew was prepping. [The cast] would get the pages and they would see just from a pacing standpoint [what needs to happen and when].”
Because of technical elements within the plot (that’s all he would say…), Lader ended up scripting the last 30 pages of the script as well. He was pleased with how well the scripted dialogue ended up matching the voices of the characters that stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss found on set. For that, he credits director Charlie McDowell’s vision:
“His vision was so sprawling -- not narrow-minded -- that it allowed for collaboration.”
Lader met partner-in-film McDowell at AFI. The two spent years developing Lader’s thesis script before a meeting with Duplass (TV regular on The Mindy Project and The League) left them with a new project, and a new deadline.
“Mark was like ‘Let’s just make a movie.’ Within 6 months we went from conception to editing. The movie was shot in 15 days,” recalls Lader.
Lader went on to describe the Duplass Theory of Moviemaking, which involves taking stock of what you have available to you for production and then working backwards into the script. It’s a model that relies on collaboration, and it’s a welcome and empowering reminder to any screenwriter -- see ScreenCraft’s recent post on developing a feature script you can shoot.
“You need a lot of people to get a movie made,” says Lader. And under McDowell’s leadership, all of those people were able to work together to tell the same story.
I pressed Lader about this -- is it the theme, the message of the piece, that everyone rallies behind?
“As soon as you say a movie is about this and it’s not about that, for somebody who loves the film…” Lader warned, “you’ve taken that away from them.”
Lader said that the theme wasn’t discussed heavily when he and McDowell were beating out the script. “We talked about things that felt real … The theme emerged organically on set.”
"Keep things simple" & "it happened organically" were themes that continued to arise in my conversation with Justin -- and advice that screenwriters can never hear enough. When I pressed him about breaking into Hollywood, his story remained the same:
“I can’t say it enough. It depends on the kind of stories that you want to tell.”
For Lader, the independent movie market is a place where high concept stories can be told in an unexpected way, whereas the studio system is producing “bubblegum” adaptations, existing properties, and sequels. He refers back to the Duplass Theory:
“If you have the means to reverse-engineer a story, then it’s an excellent philosophy to say: Go make a movie.”
More straight-shooting advice from a star screenwriter on the rise.
We wrapped up by talking about Lader’s newest script, which he just completed with McDowell. Lader talked about how a second project really helped him creatively:
“It’s always good to have at least two things going at once, on different ends of the assembly line. Like you’re working with something that you’ve been toying with for a couple of years, then you go to something else for a couple of days and you’ll be surprised that when you go back to the first thing, you’ll see it in a completely new way.”
Keep writing, screenwriters! Keep collaborating, keep it simple, and GO MAKE A MOVIE!