I recently finished reading Robert Altman: The Oral Biography. One of the things emphasized throughout the book is how Altman always failed to stick to the script when it came to shooting a film, how he allowed actors to change and grow their characters and created a set where it was more about just letting magic happen and people come together than it was about trying to tell a specific story. In his best films, like Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, this leads to an amazing piece of work where you have the sense of looking into, and becoming a part of, a fully formed world, where people have lives that just sometimes happen to intersect with the path of the camera.
The implication in the book is that sticking to the script is less creative, that it doesn’t allow actors to really own the characters. I think that’s doing a discredit to writers to a large extent; the best compliment someone can give your script is that it feels improvised when it’s actually carefully written and planned. So, I can see both sides of the argument, and in the course of filming The Third Age, we’ve drifted between doing scenes that are almost entirely rewritten on set, and doing scenes that are faithful to the script word for word.
Part of it depends on the actors we’re working with. Brian Townes, the actor playing Zinone, is a fantastic improviser and has an uncanny ability to memorize scripts and develop scenes on the spot. He’s so in the character that he can basically write his own lines given a scenario, and that’s been really helpful if we have a scene that’s shaky on the page. Particularly in the early days of shooting, Jordan and I didn’t quite have the character voices down yet, and right from the first day of shooting, we were cutting lines on set and doing some substantial changes that ultimately benefited the film in a major way.