Monday, December 29, 2008

And in other good news...

We have three screenwriting classes at my university. The first one you write a screenplay, the second one you re-write that screenplay, and in the third one you write a new screenplay. They're all competition based. Half of the students in One get into Two, and half the students from Two get into Three. I finished the second class this semester and was waiting with bated breath for an email one way or the other on the third class. Out of the twelve students in our class, only five would make it into Three for winter semester. Christmas Day I opened my email to find a congratulatory email from my professor - I got into the third class! One step closer to my dream of being a real, working, money-making screenwriter.

Now a decision to make : do I write the children's fantasy Neverwhere meets Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium or the action-adventure Da Vinci Code meets The Matrix?

Amy's Guide to Moral Living

Or, How does one become a movie critic?

Sometimes I wonder what else I can do with a film degree besides make movies. If I can't write movies, maybe I can write about movies. I know it's not that easy, of course. And to be truthful, I'm really bad at discerning what makes a good movie. I spent a semester in a class that just read scripts. Good scripts, produced scripts, some award winning scripts. And it was sometimes very difficult for me to understand what it was about the script that got it greenlit. And when I watch movies, I often do it from a pure enjoyment perspective (should one really mix work and fun?). And it definitely takes me more than one viewing to formulate some sort of critical stance on a film.

Then I was perusing Bill Martell's blog and came across Mark Twain's Rules for Writing. Basically, Twain was using his rules to completely ream another writer, but it got me thinking. If there are rules for good writing, there should be (and are, though I think they're a secret) rules for great movie making. I'm big on theory as it is, that writers and filmmakers should have an understanding of why they're making movies and what they believe to be the purpose of film. And an extension of that is understanding what makes a great film, to them. So, it may take some research, but I'd like to compile rules for great filmmaking and fantastic storytelling. Think about my favourite movies, what makes them great. Write it down, 'cause otherwise I'll forget.

Figuring out what makes the movies I love great will only make the stories I write better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Stork Brings Them

From Finding Neverland
Mary Ansell Barrie: I was hopelessly naive when I married you. I imagined that brilliant people disappeared to some secret place where good ideas floated around like leaves in autumn, and I hoped at least once you would take me there with you.
J.M. Barrie: There is no such place.
Mary Ansell Barrie: Yes there is: Neverland.

Sometimes I do something I hate very much, that grates against my pride and sensibilities, that makes me cringe and mumbled excuses. And that is summarize my stories. After I manage to word vomit something out, someone will invariably say, "I could never be creative enough to write something."

This ends up being very embarrassing for me, because I feel like I hardly have any creativity at all. If someone doesn't say something like that, they'll ask me where I get my ideas. It's quite easy, and if you follow this advice, you will both have the ideas and the creativity to write your own story.

Cannibalize your life.

Seriously, if you daydream, and who doesn't, you can come up with a story. Both my favourite scripts have been inspired by real life events or issues. All it takes is asking, "What if?"

I already have a couple of ideas for future projects, but if I were to take my own life and cannibalize it, here's what I would do:

Two of my friends at college and I apparently have similar tastes in guys. At some point, two of us have been interested in the same guy at the same time. And we always joke that we'd all get married, but to the one guy we were never interested in. So if both O. and I had been interested in X. at one point, T. would be the one to marry him. We joke about that a lot.

But what if that actually happened? Love triangles are more than popular in movies. What if you had *three*? (The old fashioned kind, guys.) Maybe it would be too much, I don't know. Maybe it would be like a reversed-gender Sabrina on acid. But -- it could be so much fun. It would be like the chaos of Shakespeare's comedies and the humor of My Best Friend's Wedding. The possibilities are endless, and that was a "What If" I came up with with friends. Maybe people don't think about their lives that way. Maybe no one sees the possibilities in their daydreams. Not just anything can be a story, it's true, and not every story makes a good film. Execution is a skill. Execution is an art. But stories? There's a minefield every day.

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it." - Harlan Ellison

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Finish Line

The earth is warm next to my ear
Insect noise is all that I hear
A magic trick makes the world disappear
The skies are dark, they're dark but they're clear

A distant motorcade and suddenly there's joy
The snow and ticker tape blurs all my senses numb
It's like the finish line where everything just ends
The crack of radios seems close enough to touch

Cold water, cleaning my wounds
A sad parade, with a single balloon
I'm done with this, I'm counting to ten
Bluest seas, running to them

I feel like I am watching everything from space
And in a minute I'll hear my name and I'll wake
I think the finish line's a good place we could start
Take a deep breath, take in all that you could want

- by Snow Patrol

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Tales of a Student Producer, Part 2

That's not really my job. I'd love to just do slate all weekend, but usually I only get to play with the slate when we're short crewed.

We're about a third of the way done with shooting. We ran into some frustrating location issues for this weekend and, long story short, had to cancel the shoot. I hate doing locations. The place we were hoping to shoot wanted to charge us $40 an hour, both for overnight shooting and during business hours. We understood that we'd probably have to pay some for the overnight because most businesses like to have an employee there - but who is getting paid $40/hour at a coffee shop? Or even 20?

I've worked on one other senior honors thesis. I only PAed for just two days, but I learned some interesting things and got a little bit of a feel for the way it ran. It ran a lot different from the way we run ours. And for a while, I really struggled with that. The project is already pretty stressful for me, and having that comparison made it more difficult.

Until I put things into perspective. The other thesis film was produced and directed by a team of senior film students who had done a project of similar length and scope the previous year. So it wasn't their first time around the rodeo. Our project's director is talented and knowledgeable, but it's her first time directing some of this scope. Our producing team has never before produced anything of this length and are relatively early in their film training. And we're running on a very talented but limited crew.

Basically, I realized that the two different films I worked on were, in fact, two different films. And I should treat them as such. And that helped a lot. Realizing that I didn't have to live up to some standard that didn't actually even compare made me feel a little more at ease with the job. I was talking with my screenwriting professor the other day about how producing was probably making me more stressed than all my classes, he sort of raised his eyebrow as if to tell me that I needed to rethink something. And he reminded me that everyone in everything has a learning curve. I think the goal is to just maintain your course on that journey and not let yourself be overwhelmed by the mistakes and challenges that are inherent in improvement.

Sure, it's a lot of work and it's stressful sometimes. But I have no doubt that this film is going to be great. Our crew members are so talented and skilled that I can't imagine it coming out anything less than stellar. And they're amazingly fun to work with too. And that keeping that perspective helps me realize what an enjoyable experience this is.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"If you were a melody...I used only the good notes."

I was walking back to my house today, and I passed this tall, kind of goofy looking kid with large earphones, and I had a flash of sudden realization/dread.

I don't know if anyone else ever inadvertently daydreams about how they're going to meet their future spouse, but I have -- you know, only once or twice.

My two best friends from high school are getting married this summer. They're making smart choices. One is marrying an engineer, the other is marrying a film major - but he's got a plan. So they're both making practical choices. Here's the thing. I'm not going to make the practical choice. I'm going to run into someone on the street, he'll say something sorta goofy, and I'll be completely smitten, which will be a sign since I've been so rarely smote on a first meeting, etc. etc. etc. Sounds cute enough, right? So what's with the dread?

I know I'm going to make a completely irrational, impratical choice --
I'm going to marry a musician.