WEBEXCLUSIVE

A scene from The Color Wheel, a screenplay

One of the first questions I always get asked at Q&As following screenings of The Color Wheel is how much of the dialogue is improvised. The answer is mostly none, and I think that should be clear to anybody who pays attention to the way the movie is shot and edited. While I understand the tendency to see a low budget movie made by and starring lazy-looking 20-somethings and assume we didn’t get around to writing a script before filming began, I hope it is at least a little apparent that the speed, rhythm, and specificity of the dialogue is something that not only could not be improvised, but was meticulously planned, rehearsed, timed, and then executed.

Alex Ross Perry (as Colin) and Carlen Altman (as JR) in The Color Wheel. Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

When it came to crafting jokes that are based on a set up, then a response, then a retort, with the intention to film these in shot-reverse-shot, it was imperative that the dialogue be written and memorized accurately and clearly, lest the scenes be impossible to film a second time in a way that would make editing possible. Carlen and I wanted the narrative to follow a clear forward momentum and had two main rules for each scene. The first was that every scene ended in a way that fed directly and logically into the following one and the other that every single thing be as difficult as possible for the characters.

Most of the film is exactly as was written, the majority of deviations from the script came from forgetfulness or flashes of inspiration (and then a bunch more from editing, re-writing one last time). However I would like to talk about this one line for a moment. As written, the Motel Clerk says “Me an’ my wife got married when I was fifteen and she was fourteen. We had our first kid when we were seventeen and sixteen.” The amazing actor performing this scene (Roy Thomas) added an unnecessarily but hysterically lengthy pause between “seventeen” and a quietly muttered “and” before saying “sixteen” leading many to believe that he had flubbed his line and I kept it in the movie, which is really not the case. He simply brought a perplexing and bizarre interpretation to a line, and I think it is that type of atypical touch that results in people believing that we were just goofing around, and that natural or spontaneous performances can only result from improvisation.

—Alex Ross Perry



The Color Wheel opens this Friday, May 18, at BAM Rose Cinemas (www.bam.org)

Contributor

Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry

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