While it might seem intimidating at first, finding and working with experts on a certain subject matter is well worth the benefits to your project.
The first “Hollywood” money that anyone I know ever earned was as a consultant. Sure, folks we knew had made money editing industrials or PA’ing, but the first time someone I knew made money from a major studio production, they were paid to help with the translation of the head credits of a major action film from modern English into an ancient language they happened to know. That particular example was under the table, and in honor of it being “Hollywood” money, our friend spent it all in a Sunset Strip nightclub that evening in celebration. Easy come, easy go.
The benefits of hiring a consultant are huge. At its most basic level, a consultant helps ensure that your project is accurate. For most of us, there is something we desperately love and have deep knowledge about, and when we see that portrayed incorrectly on screen we are driven nuts.
For me personally, it’s cycling. If you get something about bikes wrong, I immediately lose tremendous respect for your film and it’s frankly hard for me to continue to engage no matter how compelling the story and characters are. Whatever you cover in your movie, you want to be sure that you’re not only getting it right for art’s sake but that you’re avoiding the shaming of thousands of internet trolls picking your work apart, as well. They might still pick it apart anyway, but you want to at least do your due diligence.
I’m currently hard at work on Salty Pirate, a project about two friends who start a typeface design company, and while I have a passing nerd’s interest in type (like many of us, I have seen the documentary Helvetica), I knew that my knowledge was nowhere near as deep as it needed to be to convincingly write about typography.
Thus, for the first time in my career, I went hunting for someone to consult with me and give me an outside perspective on what I was able to get right and wrong about the fascinating world of type.
I started by contacting dozens of people over several weeks who had an interest, somehow expressed publicly, in type design. Folks who ran blogs, folks with Instagram followings, generally just as many fascinating people as I could find. I wasn’t getting amazing results, however, until I started searching for more obscure terms.
I thought it might be fun to see if I could shoot a scene with a vintage Linotype machine, as a type nerd might be interested in history, and I thought surely there must be a Linotype somewhere in New York.
Lucky for me there is one last shop in New York. They have not one, but two machines (the biggest collection of working Linotype Machines in the world), and I emailed and got a response from Davin Kuntze, who works at Woodside Press. In an amazing turn of luck, the press was also located off the Brooklyn Navy yard (where my office is) and was literally two buildings down.
I could walk over, and I did.
More Authentic Dialogue
I ended up giving him the script for a read, which he gratefully did and red-lined it with great notes like “you wouldn’t make fun of Georgia” and “mocking Arial is too cliche,” or “it’s okay to mock Papyrus,” and best of all “Mrs. Eaves was Baskerville’s mistress,” the best part was the free ranging conversation on all topics related to typeface design.
More Authentic Worldbuilding
In open-ended conversations about the world of type fans, the history of type development, and how people fall in love with the shape of letters, I was able to gain new insight into my own characters and how their journeys might have gone to get where they are.
More Authentic Performances
I was especially lucky to have had the opportunity to do something that I highly recommend you do if possible: involve your actors in the process.
During rehearsals, we took a prep day meeting with Davin where he introduced the actors to the same historic machinery I had just met a few weeks earlier and helped them understand how their characters might have come to learn about it. It was a truly beneficial experience for the actors because it helped them inform their characters—things they learned showed up in a few lines of improv later while shooting.
How to Work with a Consultant
The biggest takeaway for me about the experience of working with a subject matter expert was to come in with clear questions, as well as an understanding that there will be things you might not even know to ask. A willingness to just have a conversation and see where it might lead will show you things you never imagined about a world these experts are passionate about.
So, now that we are all out of our normal work rhythms, it might be the perfect time to find an expert to give you insight into your script.
Do a little research and see if you can’t find some outside eyes that have a deep knowledge of your subject to give you a little perspective.
First off, don’t be afraid to reach out to people for research, and secondly meet in person if at all possible once social distancing is lifted in your area. Trying to have that kind of free-for-all through emails just wouldn’t have worked—Davin would’ve answered my questions and moved along—but it was where those questions lead that was most useful to the project, and that happened in person.
To learn more about the show, check out SaltyPirate.tv for streaming options and trailer.
Cre : Nofilmschool.com