Monday, March 31, 2008

Ad absurdum

I realized the other day that my posts had gotten deeply personal and a little sentimental. Ew. Let's get back to real business.

School is getting irritating. I'm so far beyond this semester and the drama it's caused. But really --

We turned in our Act IIbs in screenwriting class this week (20 pages in one day, baby). We workshopped mine, and I got reamed a little bit about de-conflicting my Act II turning point. I would agree that something was not quite right, but I'm not sure that it's what everyone was telling me. I have a tendency to want to drain scenes of their overt conflict - especially if it's not relational conflict. In my screenplay there's the real story about relationships and the conflict there, and then there's the subplot about legal proceedings and such. So for every turning point/midpoint in Current Draft, I have scenes for the relational/emotional plot and the "physical" subplot. The "physical" subplot is really only there to create momentum for the plot points and make them easier to distinguish, so really those are the only times it shows up. So for my Act II turning point I have an emotional/relational turning point and a "physical" subplot turning point. Because the latter is less important, I drained it of its conflict. And that's where I took the fall. It's definitely something I'm going to want to think about. I agree with my classmates that there's a lot of potential in those scenes - but that's not where the story is, so I'm not sure how much importance I want to give those scenes.

I feel sometimes like the story in Current Draft is growing beyond my control, like a puddle of water.

In a week and a half we'll turn in the completed screenplay. So far I like Current Draft, much better than my last two, which is good, because I pretty much went to my professor early on in the semester and said, "I've sucked at the last two screenplays - if I don't do well with this one I'm going to radically rethink my decision to be a screenwriter." I feel like I'm back in the game, though.

I shoot my mockumentary short, "Join This Group?" this weekend. I'm stressed. We only have two crew members for our first shoot (including me), the one that I got the professor that I'm in awe of to act in. First shoot, only two people, and I'm going to blubber around her anyway. Oh no, I can already feel my brain start to fog up and my throat getting sticky. I'm still looking for a fourth actor to shoot on Sunday. I think I would already have one, but it's taking a while for people to get back to me with their answer. Otherwise, I think it's going to be a lot of fun, not too stressful, and I'm excited for both the process and the finished project.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to write a series of websoides this summer. I've got another idea for a series of websoides, but it would require tricking a whole lot more people into being involved.

April is going to be crazy. No, really. Besides school finishing (two 8-10 page papers and three finals, with a few presentations, quizzes and short papers thrown in for extra spice), I'm shooting and editing this short, doing Script Frenzy, and hopefully pulling Current Draft through a full edit in time for the Nicholl. The only way this is remotely plausible to think about is because of the fact that after April 18th I will have no obligations whatsoever to anything. Nothing. No more school obligations, no more church obligations. Pure, clear freedom. It's like a shining moment I look forward to. I wish you guys could see my Google calender to compare the next few weeks in all their multi colored jam-packed glory to the complete emptiness of the week after April 18th.

Google calender went out for like 5 hours on Friday and I almost had a meltdown. No joke, there were noticeable panic feelings.

Anyone writing anything for Script Frenzy? I'm trying to decide if I want to write something that's been percolating for a while or go with something completely different. I have an idea about Sierra Leone that I really like, a very plot-based, socially concerned piece. Or I have the vaguest idea for a more anti-structure, romantic piece that will explore some questions I'm thinking about right now. Any suggestions? What are you writing?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Get your giggles out now.

So there's this guy.

"I don't want to be cheesy, you know," was what I told a friend last night. But we have this joke, one we picked up on a leadership conference, when our team leader was talking about how nobody ever says, "Geez, it's so easy to get lost in his dreamy character." Well, now those words are spoken a little more often and not always in joke. And one thing that I appreciate, you know, without getting too cheesy, is that this guy, he really thinks about life. I don't believe enough people really contemplate life. He knows what he's doing and why he's doing it and how his past affects him and what he believes and how what he does affects others and what the most important decisions you're going to make in life are and how you're going to make them. I don't know, I just don't see that too often with people. I mean, we spend all our time doing stuff and living, but how often do we really contemplate life? I'm not going to go all Socratic on you and say an unexamined life isn't worth living. That's a little cynical, buddy. But I think too often we're encouraged to turn our brains off and disengage our critical thinking once we've left the classroom (if it was ever on in there even). We've got one shot at this; isn't it best that we pay attention? It's a mark of maturity that gets lost in the legal drinking age and right to vote, the difference between when society tells us we're adults and when we make ourselves such.

Oh, and it's not just his character, don't worry. He's got one breath-catching smile.

But I don't want to be cheesy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It was a clue.

Our GSIs are out striking today and tomorrow. Apparently, the undergrads are supposed to support them by not going to class. I don't see how this is a great option for me, so I go to class anyway. I am afraid of getting eaten.

One of my friends asked me if I'd be interested in talking to a reporter about the strike, to which I responded with a definite no. Hey, I can recognize when I'm uneducated about something. I am sympathetic towards strikers in general, but I do think each one should be evaluated on the unique situation. I think, though, the recent writers' strike makes me feel a little guilty when I skirt around the picket circles to enter buildings through another door.

On the up side, it means that three of my four classes tomorrow are canceled, so all I have is screenwriting at 6. And the last half of our second acts are due, so you know I'll probably be pulling another, albeit smaller, sprint.

Speaking of screenwriting, I met with my professor yesterday. He said very nice things about my writing which caused me to immediately call my mother to brag and reassure her that I would not be starving on the streets of LA when I graduate.

LA. Scary as all heck sometimes, but I'm getting more and more excited about it. Or maybe it's just the fact that we got 6 inches of snow the second day of spring and it still hasn't all melted.

Does anyone else revert to middle school flirting tactics sometimes? Maybe it's just me... My two favourites: stealing things/planning pranks and avoidance. I mean, I'm sure guys love it when you tease them incessantly - or just plain out avoid them. That's effective too. : )

I went to take a nap this afternoon, just an hour or two. I woke up four hours later. It was pretty sad. And in my dream, I was murdered. It was freaky and I thought it was real.

I swear I had something real to say in this post. Wish I could remember what.

Watching Garden State. I looove this movie. "Hey guys, don't stay in here all day. I took the batteries out of the carbon monoxide detector - it was beeping all night."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Back two songs, skip a track

Been up all night staring at you
wondering what's on your mind
i've been this way with so many before
but this feels like the first time
you want the sunrise to go back to bed
i want to make you laugh
mess up my bed with me
kick off the covers i'm waiting
every word you say i think
i should write down
don't want to forget come daylight
happy to lay here
just happy to lbe here
i'm happy to know you
play me a song
your newest one
please leave your taste on my tongue
paperweight on my back
cover me like a blanket
mess up my bed with me
kick off the covers i'm waiting
every word you say i think
i should write down
don't want to forget come daylight
and no need to worry
that's wastin time
and no need to wonder
what's been on my mind
it's you
it's you
it's you
every word you say i think
i should write down
don't want to forget come daylight
and i give up
i let you win
you win cause i'm not counting
you made it back
to sleep again
wonder what you're dreaming

- "paperweight" by joshua radin featuring Schuyler Fisk

Saturday, March 22, 2008

8 inches of snow and then 40 degree sunshiney weather results in flash flood conditions

Movies I need to buy: Moulin Rouge and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Money I have available for buying movies: $0.37. No,but really, I was thinking about how I'm going to have to go hardcore on budgeting next year with living in a house and going to school part time and paying for most of my monthly expenses by the month instead of a huge chunk in the beginning of the semester, and it's going to take a little tricky planning. That's ok, though, because getting better at keeping track of my finances was one of the things on my 1001 list (which needs revising, I've decided...).

I'm terrible at storyboarding. I've figured that out - well, today. I think I always knew that my inability to draw and mentally visualize proportions curtailed my storyboarding skills, but today it became quite evident. I thought about putting the storyboards for each production up on the Lives Agape website, but I don't want to embarrass myself *too* much.

We turned in Act IIa for our screenplays last week (yes, the marathon writing that I did). My professor emailed me back saying that it was coming along very nicely and that he didn't have any major notes. Which is great and all, but I'm going in to office hours next week and demanding that he give me deep, critical notes. And I'm also going to ask him to read my other screenplay that I like and give deep, critical notes. It may be time to rake it through another draft. And I'm thinking about sending Current Draft to the Nicholl this year, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to wring a second draft out of it before that. I should have enough time, because the last half of April will be post school empty, meaningless days.

And Script Frenzy starts in April. Screw.

I think I've reached my teenage years as a writer. All those axioms and heart mantras seem, well, a little constraining. I mean, does a story really need 20+ rewrites to be great? Italian neorealism films hardly had a bloody script (granted, I also hate Italian Neorealism, but that's counterproductive to my point). And I feel that that structure is a little irrelevant as long as you have a good story. It's really marvelous, though, because there were two incidents that happened recently that I found amusing with my whole rebellious writer phase:

1. Mystery Man on Film wrote this post about "the storytelling debate," an obvious rip on McKee (at least I hope it is, because that's what I interpreted it as, and I just called it obvious). Rules can be great, sure, but some of the most beautiful pieces come when a person breaks the rules. I think we call them visionaries, no? There's just a bit of snarky rebellion in MM's post that I feel I can snicker with.

2. I got to explain act structure to one of my friends. I think I was referring to my 26-page marathon and realized the phrase "Act IIa" might not mean anything to him. So I broke it down, explained what happened in each one and how the plot points worked, and how long each one took, roughly. His response was along the lines, "You guys really think about all that stuff?" Not four days later, I got to refer to act structure with another friend who was equal unawares. Clearly, act structure is very important. It's a natural rhythm for storytelling. And I'm sure if the act structure in a movie was completely off and we sat my two friends down in front of it, they would realize at least that *something* was wrong.

I'm not sure what it is. I don't think I've written enough screenplays to feel bored with the traditional rules yet. I don't think I've "mastered" traditional forms yet. I think I just start feeling restless when I look at the rich history of storytelling and think about all the stories to be told because all the rules are just as insistent. Maybe we need a different approach. Maybe writers need a chance to experiment with their own voice before being confronted with the traditional rules. I know, I know, they've been tested, they've been tried, and rules that create structure free some part of your creativity or something. Maybe that's true. Maybe I'm being lazy. Maybe I'm being a rebellious writer in her "teenage" years.

But maybe it's time to try something else.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Feels like home to me"

If anyone knows me, they probably know how much I've struggled with my decision to come to Michigan. Once I got here I was pretty much stuck, because no school of any repute lets you transfer in more than two years' worth of credits, but my first semester here it was a constant question in my head as I walked around campus - what if I had made a mistake? This year, I thought I had conquered that question, for the most part. It still haunted around some days, but I had a life here, a place, friends that were like family. About two weeks ago, the lie popped up again, stronger than ever before - had I made a mistake? I thought I had come to Michigan trusting God, but maybe I had trusted myself instead. Maybe I had made a foolish, selfish decision. I had always thought of coming here as an act of faith, but for what purpose?

There's a large open space on campus that we call the Diag. It's sorta in the middle of campus, and in the middle of the Diag is a metal M embedded into the ground, put there by the class of 1953. There's a superstition that if you step on the M, you'll fail your first blue book (essay) exam. The only way to break the curse is to go streaking through the Diag at midnight or something. But once you've taken and passed your first blue book exam, you can step on the M as much as you want. I think it's a sort of coming of age for a student, after they've taken on the challenge of the university and conquered it.

The thing is, I will never step on the M. The M to me doesn't represent this school or the challenges of academics or anything to do with the school, really. It has to do with my decision to trust God, not just when I first came to Michigan, but day after day after day. It is a symbol of faith for me. And now, it's a representation of the reward that comes from that faith. Because I believe with my whole heart that God has me here with a purpose, a plan, and that He's using me here. This is home for me, more than any other place I've lived in the last four years. And I am so thankful that I am here, despite the struggle it's been.

I've journaled about it recently, and what was even cooler was that I got to share the *full* story of me and Michigan with a friend who was just asking my advice on different colleges. It was so cool, because you know that feeling you get when you're talking to someone, and you just know that what you're saying is truth? This is some of what I wrote: "I would love to know the purpose, the plan - but do I need to? The choices I've made, whether optimal or not, God has worked out for good... I can trust in that. And if I can trust in that, the choices that brought me here are neither right nor wrong - they are irrelevant. What matters is that God is using me here and now and that I am still choosing to trust Him."

I was reading the screenplay for The Big Chill for class today, and it was like a final blow to my doubt, oddly enough. The writer is Lawrence Kasdan, a University of Michigan alum. The characters all graduated from Michigan, reference their time there some, and the closing scene even takes place there. I was reading the script when one of the characters mentioned studying for a blue book exam - and I almost started crying. Because I love my school. I've never felt so much pride in being associated with an academic institution. And it's not because of Michigan at all. I love my school because I love what it has taught me about God. There's no place I'd rather be. There's no home I'd rather have.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I wish I had had the *updated* syllabus last weekend...

I had a hard time this week. I kept forgetting what day of the week it was. On Monday I kept thinking it was Tuesday or Sunday, then on Thursday it felt like Friday.

I think I'm coming to know my limits. Whether I respect them or not is something completely different. But I'm starting to realize where I need boundaries, in my schedule, in my relationships, in my health, in my academics. Okay, that last one if probably just a result of poor planning. I think both Emily and Bill have talked about how many pages they can write in a day before they max out. I think I found where I max out, maybe. I was have a really crappy, draining week and was therefore probably not being as diligent as I could have been in my academics. Then it came to Tuesday night around 10:00, and I had the first half of my second act due in screenwriting class the next day. I was *planning* on starting that night, but I crashed again and decided that the best thing to do was another assignment while I watched Walk the Line (that movie always makes me tear up at the end. It's so beautiful. One of those movies that restores my hope in people) and not go to sleep until 3 AM. Which left me only Wednesday until 6 PM to write Act IIa. We have step outlines for this class, but I wasn't sure how many pages it would end up being. So after my class got out at noon on Wednesday, I parked myself in the student Union and wrote. One location change, a grilled cheese, and five hours later, I had the 26 pages of my Act IIa. As I was walking back toward my door to print it out, I wondered if my temples would explode from the pressure.

Besides being draining and head-ache inducing, I think I liked writing like this better than spreading it out, a scene a day or whatever. I've always written well under pressure when it came to classes, but I never *had* a deadline before for creative writing, not really (I don't count Script Frenzy). I felt much more immersed in and connected to the story. It was an intense experience, which I think is good. Writing should be intense. If it's not, you're short changing your story.

I also learned an important idea about condensing story beats. I'm not typically an over-writer; I'm usually *too* concise. Current Draft is completely different, though. My first act was 34 pages. As I was writing the second act, I was working on my step outline and my story beats. I totally killed one that was going to be a huge scene; it was repetitive and boring and the conflict wasn't escalating in an exciting way. Another time I condescend a couple of story beats into one scene, which I think is a great idea because it 1. makes the scene more complicated and interesting, simply plot-wise, 2. makes fun bookmarks that you know I love, and 3. if you can play the conflict of the two beats off each other, it will make the conflict in the scene that much more engaging.

But really - I'm not waiting until the day of to write Act IIb.

Speaking of Script Frenzy - it's in April this year. I think this is better for me, overall, because I start my summer job in the middle of June, and so this year I'll actually have the entire month to work on my script. But April is like, next month. The project I want to do is going to require a good amount of research and I'll still be in the middle of school. Yikes!

I wanted to have the storyboarding for "Join This Group?" done this weekend. I only need to get one more actor signed on. We're going to end up shooting three straight days, I think, which will be fun and intense. I also wanted to watch a lot of movies this weekend. We started on Thursday with the Blair Witch Project, watched An Officer and A Gentleman last night, and will probably watch The Big Chill tonight, since apparently Current Draft is a story in similar vein and we have connections to the writer. Not like real connections. Just connections.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm wearing my Ireland stamp earrings in honor.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jackson

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, I'm gonna mess around,
Yeah, I'm goin' to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand you big-talkin' man, make a big fool of yourself,
You're goin' to Jackson; go comb your hair!
Honey, I'm gonna snowball Jackson.
See if I care.

When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow. (Hah!)
All them women gonna make me, teach 'em what they don't know how,
I'm goin' to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat.
'Cos I'm goin' to Jackson.
"Goodbye," that's all she wrote.

But they'll laugh at you in Jackson, and I'll be dancin' on a Pony Keg.
They'll lead you 'round town like a scalded hound,
With your tail tucked between your legs,
You're goin' to Jackson, you big-talkin' man.
And I'll be waitin' in Jackson, behind my Jaypan Fan,

Well now, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper Sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, and that's a fact.
Yeah, we're goin' to Jackson, ain't never comin' back.

Well, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout'
And we've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went..

- Johnny Cash and June Carter

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lives Agape Productions

We didn't even let you get settled into our new blog address and title before we connected to the new endeavor - Lives Agape Productions. As I've started working on projects independent of class, I thought it would be fun to have a website for them, not only to showcase them when they're finished but to have a blog tracking their production and other fun features I'm sure I'll think of later. Really, this is playing at having a production company, but it's good fun anyway. I realized that I haven't really mentioned the short I've been working on that will be Lives Agape's first project. It's a short mockumentary called "Join This Group?" about the (over) importance of Facebook in a collegiate setting. I'm excited about it. It should be fun, but it's going to be a whirlwind of a production. We have three crew members, myself included, and we're hoping to pull it all off in three days of shooting. Hopefully, the interview style that dominates the script will help cut down on needed shooting time. Once the short is completed, there will be a link to that as well as to the Lives Agape Production Blog.

The reason I chose the name Lives Agape for the production company played largely on the meaning I want my stories to carry (ok, so maybe a mockumentary about Facebook is not the clearest example of what I want to demonstrate in my movies). I like to think that "lives agape" can mean open lives or lives of love. I think that by crafting stories that openly examine life, we can learn how to live lives of extreme love, which is, perhaps, the only way to live.

I read Galatians and Ephesians the other night for my Bible study, and I came across a verse that I had read and liked before, one I think people will find very little to argue with. Galations 5:6b, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

Lives agape, lives of love.