A safe place - Exclusive Interview with EAVE expert Jacques Akchoti
"Sometimes to be a good gardener, you have to know how to be a firefighter."
EAVE script consultant since more than two decades, Jacques Akchoti talks about the triangle of scriptwriter, director and producer in film and about the philosophy behind script consultancy at EAVE workshops.
EAVE: If you would have to compare your work with an everyday profession, what would it be: a firefighter or a gardener?
Jacques Akchoti: It depends. Actually, you have to switch from one to the other. The idea is to be a gardener, but sometimes to be a good gardener, you have to know how to be a firefighter!
With both you need water hose.
Exactly. It depends on who is in front of you.
You were script consultant of TITANE. The film won the Golden Palm in Cannes, started in cinemas in Europe, and has been nominated Best International Film by France at the Oscars. Was it difficult to balance this rather turbulent film?
I worked on the director’s, Julia Ducournau’s previous film RAW. This new film was with a new producer (EAVE+ graduate Jean-Yves Roubin) that we both knew. Since I knew Julia from her previous film, I knew what kind of world and genre she was interested in, I knew her original style and personality.
Julia’s previous film RAW was a story about a young girl with whom an audience could easily identify. In TITANE, the main character is more peculiar: she is a serial killer... The identification is more complex. Julia always has a clear point of view of what she wants to achieve: with this film she took things a step further in the world she wants to explore.
It wasn’t always an easy ride. When she came to me, she had already worked for 3-4 years on the project. We worked together on the script for an additional year, even if the financing was already in place after 9 months.
So, you had to change a lot, or was it more fine tuning?
She came with a draft of the script, things were not in place yet, but the general story was there. She had a difficult time making some decisions and I had to tackle her about these. We worked out the story, the characters, the relationships, but even when we had the financing, we still had major decisions to make.
If you see the film, there are two very strong characters. She was resisting to change some key issues relating to each of them in the story. When the financing was in place and also because she got other feedbacks, she finally decided to accept major changes in the narration of the story and to stick more to her main character. That’s what is in the film now.
When we were working on the script some budget issues came up because of a few very expensive scenes. We had to solve these and find cheaper solutions. As you can tell, we had to approach the project from a lot of different angles: storytelling, characters, plot, point of view issues, budget, in order to narrow it down to the essence.
Julia shot the film late because of COVID and things got delayed also for other reasons. In the meantime, she shot a series in the US and after she got back, we did the final version.
As a script consultant do you have to consult thinking about the budget?
As a script consultant you also work with the producer. In this case, the issue was that we had an important French star (Vincent Lindon), who had committed to the project before even reading it. He had to train himself and do some bodybuilding for the film. He started before he read the script, so we had to come up with a convincing draft of the script also for him.
The producer has necessarily his own opinion about the script and where it should go. He also has budget and financing issues on his mind. As a consultant you have to be conscious about all these issues. It’s not always the case, but in this specific one, because it was a long process, you get involved to a certain extent in all these different aspects. They are part of the project and also define it.
But in general, as a script consultant, you don’t necessarily do that. In other cases, you might see someone just once or twice, or three times. It depends on the nature of the project and on the producer's demands.
Maybe it’s also important, if the writer or the director has an own world of thinking?
Yes.The key element in script consultancy is to be able to build up trust. It depends on the relationship you have with the writer or the director. It also depends on the demands of the producer and how much trust you can build there. It's all about constructive collaboration. You need trust to achieve that and to overcome the conflicts that sometimes arise.
At which stage of the development are the scripts usually when you read them first as a consultant?
There’s no rule. I have to clarify that I personally - but that’s my way of working - don’t take projects unless there is a producer on board. It is really important to have a producer involved, because it’s the producer’s responsibility to decide when the film is going to enter financing, and to be proposed to future partners. I believe roles and responsibilities need to be clear.
I can get projects at an early stage, say a treatment, and be asked by the producer to supervise the writing of the project. And then once in a while we send him the script and get his reaction. But I can also receive scripts that are in late development, and in such cases, I’m asked to assist in the final polishing of the script, or to clarify issues that haven’t been solved. You have to adapt to the circumstances.
Sometimes it turns out that there are communication problems between the writer, the director and the producer, so you also have to try to fix these a bit, and make sure that they are making the same film and are talking about the same things.
Some producers and some directors are also asking for notes, but I never give them. Notes are open to interpretation and can be misunderstood. For me it is really important to meet the people. I need to understand what is the process that they went into, so that I can get an understanding of what went into the project emotionally and intellectually. It’s not just about what is written on paper, it’s also about the whole process.
And to feel what is important for them, and what can be debated and what not…
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes when you discuss a project, you discover that actually the person who is writing it is afraid to go in some places that he needs to go. So then you have to say that in order to solve the issues, the writer has to accept to get more involved emotionally or intellectually, etc. Sometimes they are hiding things and that’s why it’s not working. So, there are different psychological aspects involved in the process.
You are working as a script consultant for the EAVE’s Producers Workshop, and you are guiding writers through the process when developing their project at the workshop, right?
It’s not exactly like this. EAVE is mainly a producers’ workshop, so producers come with a project and they can bring their writers with them. At the very beginning of EAVE the writers were not part of the workshop. After a while we decided to also include them. But it’s not a writing workshop!
The idea of the script consulting sessions at EAVE is to give tools to the producers in order to get them more involved in the development of their projects; to make them even more aware of their responsibility in the development. How far he or she can go, what is his or her relationship with the writer and the director, etc. We discuss their relationship and how to focus on developing the project further during the workshop.
The focus here is essentially to teach and to help the producers to get involved and to understand what script development is really about. It’s true that we follow the writers through the process, but it’s not a writing workshop, it’s a producing workshop. We help them develop their projects between the sessions, but our main idea is to enable the producer to mature in terms of script development. That’s what makes the script consultancy special at EAVE.
I’m involved with two workshops of EAVE, the Producers Workshop and PUENTES. The idea is really to give some awareness to producers about script development, to let them know how important it is for them and how they can manage their projects and the vision of their projects, to identify the film that they are making, and to know how to communicate with their writer and director. The way we do it is very practical. We take the scripts that we have, and we use them as cases studies. Sometimes things get a bit dramatic, because suddenly the producer and the writer might come to understand that they don’t get along or that they are not making the same film. So, identifying what they are trying to do is really key. We talk about the project and how they can develop it. We discuss the issues that they are facing in the scripts, etc.
The writers are not necessarily always there. Sometimes producers cannot bring their writers for different reasons. We then discuss the project just with the producer. Once back home, the producer talks with his writer and his director and reports to us about how it all went, about the decisions they made in order to move on. So, there’s always this back-and-forth exchanges in between the workshops.
So the producer needs to talk to a script consultant and the writer, and he has to convey the information from you to them, and to convince the writer…
Convince or not. Sometimes you find out that a producer sees the project from a certain angle and discover, whether the writer is there or not, that the writer has completely other plans on his mind. Maybe the writer also has his own solutions that were not clear to us at the beginning. So, the work during the development with the script consultancy is clarifying the goals and using the right tools to develop the project in a coherent way.
Because at EAVE we select producers and because it is a producers’ workshop, we work on this dynamic. So it’s not just about the story and the script, it’s also about the relationships. Our goal is to have producers think about the development, mature their approach and take their projects further. When you do a writers’ workshop, it’s just about the project, mostly about the story and the film to come.
You also have producers who are not interested in development. EAVE’s focus has always been on independent creative producers. Usually, independent producers are interested in arthouse films. They are interested in subject matters; they are interested in the development and the stories, so it’s not just about the financing. This is the philosophy that we usually have at EAVE. The reality of the business and the way that it is going and growing now with the platforms, this aspect is becoming even more important.
As a producer you have to come up with a package. The script is a big part of the package, because the script is a key tool to finance films, so it’s becoming more and more important. The capacity of a producer to come up with a coherent project is very important and this is really our focus. We use anything we can to reinforce that.
The producer must be able to see if an idea or a script can be a good project to convince the platforms, or whoever, in order to sell the package, right?
The producer has to be him- or herself convinced about the project and the strengths of the project, in order to be able to sell it. He or she also has to work things out with the writer and director, so they can get out the best project possible. If you were to develop the same idea with two different producers, you would probably end up with two completely different films.
Our work is based on collaboration and the producer will certainly influence the content. The producer is a key part of the collaboration. He or she is the partner of the director from the beginning to the end. We are also asking our participants to define what kind of a producer they want to be. By coming to the script sessions at EAVE, they learn to understand their strengths and their weakness, and what they need to work on for themselves as producers.
They must ask themselves what kind of a producer they want to be?
Exactly. The interesting thing for the writers and the directors who come to the workshops is that they attend the plenaries and other activities we have and discover what the job of the producer actually is. They get a better understanding of the problems a producer faces, and this contributes to a more fluid communication between them.
At EAVE we don’t have just the script consultancy, there’s the whole EAVE pedagogical team. When the producers and the writers come, suddenly their project is read by 15-20 people. They get the feedback from their colleagues and from us as well, so it helps them evaluate where they are, what needs to be worked on, and how the project can mature.
We are their first audience and this is very rich experience, because EAVE is also a very safe place. Participants feel it’s a safe place and they end up bonding with each other. In turn this creates a feeling of trust, which we value very much at EAVE.
You have to imagine that we have participants who are professionals from all over the world. At the beginning of the workshop they hardly know each other. At the end of the sessions, some end up crying because the process ends. These professionals get involved emotionally and they build strong relationships - it’s quite an intense experience!
Page published 29 October 2021. Updated 27 April 2022.
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A safe place - Exclusive Interview with EAVE expert Jacques Akchoti
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