Friday, May 29, 2009


In the light of the sun, is there anyone? Oh it has begun...
Oh dear you look so lost, eyes are red and tears are shed,
This world you must've crossed... you said...

You don't know me, you don't even care, oh yeah,
She said
You don't know me, and you don't wear my chains... oh yeah,

Essential yet appealed, carry all your thoughts across
An open field,
When flowers gaze at you... they're not the only ones who cry
When they see you
You said...

You don't know me, you don't even care, oh yeah,
She said
You don't know me, and you don't wear my chains... oh yeah,

She said I think I'll go to Boston...
I think I'll start a new life,
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name,
I'll get out of California, I'm tired of the weather,
I think I'll get a lover and fly em out to Spain...
I think I'll go to Boston,
I think that I'm just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind...
I think I need a sunrise, I'm tired of the sunset,
I hear it's nice in the Summer, some snow would be nice... oh yeah,

Boston... where no one knows my name... yeah
Where no one knows my name...
Where no one knows my name...
Yeah Boston...
Where no one knows my name.

- Augustana

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rejection 101

Rejection comes with the call to write. Here is my favourite rejection story.

At the University of Michigan, we have a prestigious writing award called the Hopwood. There's a different category for every type of writing possible, the judges are professionals, and they give away thousands of dollars to the winners. Arthur Miller won a Hopwood.

I first entered in spring 2008 with "The 4:05." I didn't win any awards, but I had gotten into the top ten so I received comments from the judges. I was looking forward to this. "The 4:05" is my darling screenplay, my first effort, and this was the first time I'd get academic/professional feedback on a screenplay.

I picked up my manuscripts and my comments from the Hopwood Room and found the nearest bench to dig into the comments. Two judges, two sets of comments. One set was tolerable. Critical, but not overly harsh.

I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped when reading the second set. I have never - in all my life - received comments like this before or have since. There's lots of great stuff, but this last paragraph is my favourite.

"In the end, we're left wondering why that story needed to be told. I think the writer was aiming for a small, intimate story about two people struggling with their own inner demons who find comfort, companionship and relief in one person who truly understands them, and accepts them for who they are now, not what they could be. Instead we end up with a slow, cliched, frustrating, anticlimactic story that plods along with no real structure or build. To make this script work, I think it needs better, more compelling characters who grow and change, much better, interesting dialogue, and more going on besides them together, talking in a vacuum."

Listen. I'll be the first to say that this script is far from perfect. No, the plot is not strong. The characters do, at times, come across harsh, I can see that. I did not know what the three act structure was when I wrote it. I think what gets me is that this script landed in the top ten, and in four paragraphs the nicest comment I got from this judge was what story they "thought" I was trying to tell. It was almost so harsh that I giggle a little bit when I read it.

But it was difficult - it's still rejection, right? Worst part - "In the end, we're left wondering why that story needed to be told." More than entertaining an audience, I want them to understand why this story is important, why they should feel a certain way, maybe even inspire them. To say something like that is to tell me I failed as a writer.

As with all rejection, you bounce back. I entered the Hopwoods this past spring with "Collapse." Again, I didn't win. Again, I got in the top ten. And again, I got some pretty harsh comments. But there were also some nice comments. Hopefully the improvement in the judges' response reflects an improvement in my writing.

As for those judges' comments, what did I do with those? I tossed them - right onto my growing stack of rejection letters.

Add this to the list of things I'm excited about --

HBO is doing "Game of Thrones," a TV series adaptation of George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy novel. Thomas McCarthy is set to direct. I wish I had known when he was visiting our uni (though it probably wasn't official at that point). I would have asked so many questions about it. Total switch from his directorial debut, The Visitor. I also wished I would have asked him about his experience with The Lovely Bones and Peter Jackson.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Open to Suggestions

Clearly before I become famous I'm going to need to change my name. Google "Amy Butler" and all you come up with are patterns and designs and books from the craft and sewing guru.

Nothing I come up with ever seems to stick, though.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I could never be a doctor

I've diagnosed myself with some form of the awful disease I'm using in my TV spec. Is there a cure for hypochondria?

Friday, May 22, 2009

I've picked up a hobby

TV writing.

I'm sure there are TV writers and would-be TV writers all over the world who would cringe to hear someone call their craft a hobby. It's not, and I don't really think it is. There are a lot of aspects I admire about TV writing, but really it was something that I considered out of my range until recently.

I was going on and on about one of my favourite shows recently, and friend A. - who wants to be a TV writer - turned to me and said, "Why don't you spec it?"

"Oh no," I replied. "I don't know how to write for TV."

But that thought + needing a writing change + summer deadlines for a few TV writing contests I'll never win anytime soon + the career wisdom of having decent TV specs + unending empty hours here at home during which I watch way more TV than typical = me teaching myself TV writing.

I haven't actually done any of the writing part of TV writing yet, so maybe this post is a little premature. But I'm doing the groundwork (this could be one of the few times I've ever gone out of my way to learn something not required for me academically!). I'm reading Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing, breaking down episodes while I watch them, searching out TV scripts to read, doing preliminary research for my spec, and watching lots and lots of TV. I'm not expecting miracles, of course. I'm not going to turn out to be a brilliant TV writing genius. But it's fun learning.

Even so, my golden years of TV were my childhood years. Wishbone, Bill Nye, Square One, Fraggle Rock, the Gummi Bears, and that gnome one. (Kids' TV has gone waaaay down since the 90s.) It might seem weird that I'm not this huge TV person who has her shows she watches every night of the week. It's not really TV I love, and some people in these creative careers might find that as a reason why I shouldn't pursue TV writing - sometimes people can get incredibly defensive about their fields. To which I would reply, it's not TV I love, but storytelling. I like to think that, as a writer, my craft is not the craft of television or fiction or even cinema. Instead I would prefer to learn the trade of storytelling. After all, every time we crack a novel or purchase our movie ticket or flip on the TV, aren't we all just pursuing a good story?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not usually my thing, but...

I think we can all be informed about this:

Safety could suffer if we boost mileage by making cars smaller - USA Today

There seems to be a sick three-point trade off here, environment-economy-safety. And to be honest, Mr. President, I'm not convinced the federal government is manipulating the market in favor for the right one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Screenwriting from Iowa has an excellent post about screenwriting in Michigan that was posted around the time the tax incentives were taking off. We have quite an illustrious literary history.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Water Cooler Moments

I can't remember which of my friends once said it or where I read it, so I can't give due credit here, but this is not my idea.

Someone once said that in every script, there should be at least five water cooler moments. Five moments that were so mind-blowing, that they are what people are going to be talking about around the water cooler Monday morning. It beats talking about how much you hate Mondays.

I think this can be a very helpful concept for writers because it pushes our scenes. One thing I've been learning a lot about the past couple of months is getting the most out of your scenes. I need to be continually upping the stakes, creating more tension, exploiting the opportunities in each scene. Sometimes this is difficult to see in your first draft. It's easier to see the ways to get more out of the scene when you actually have one written. Going through your script and pinpointing your water cooler moments (or potential water cooler moments) will help see if your scenes (and subsequently your script) are nearing completion. You don't want someone to read your script and think, "This scene is good, but there are so many possibilities unexplored by the writer." You don't want to give a reader this option. I feel like it's one of the tell-tales of an inexperienced writer, a writer who doesn't know how to open their scenes up, a writer who is too timid to delve deep into their story.

Not all water cooler scenes have to be big special effects explosions, a la the destruction of NY in every disaster movie. As I go through my scripts, I'm going to be looking for those special effects moments, but also for the emotional moments, the character moments, the relationship moments, to give a good balance to my scripts.

And maybe it wouldn't hurt to chat up your coworkers around the water cooler and see what moments stick out to them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tales of a Student Producer, Part 5

I'm rocking out the boom mic in this picture.

The director is the girl in yellow.

On location at a coffee shop. On good days they let me do the clapper.

We had to go to leave Ann Arbor to find a coffee shop that would let us shoot without problems. And when we did, they let us have complete rein over the place.

On location at a different coffee shop.

The director checks the framing.

Our cinematographer.

One of the first days of sync sound shooting.

Me and co-producer Meche, the day Patrick Swayze visited the set.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Angels & Demons

I heard a radio spot for the upcoming Tom Hanks movie, Angels & Demons. You know what their biggest selling point was? "Audiences and critics agree, it's better than The Da Vinci Code." At least they're admitting that The Da Vinci Code was a big disappointment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How to Watch a Movie

I hate when I'm sitting in the movie theatre and someone pulls out their phone to text. It lights up like a solar flare in the dark room. It's not like I don't understand that sometimes pressing issues come up that people need to address - but I know all y'all aren't texting about top priority situations. Can we seriously not unplug for two hours?

However, I have difficulty unplugging sometimes too. My mom has commented more than once about how she needs to get a laptop so she can fit in with me, my dad, and my two brothers as we sit there with our computers, surfing or playing games at the same time as we're watching movies or TV. I get very restless, sometimes, and having my computer allows me to multitask while watching a movie, especially helpful during the slow parts.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to stop this. When I watch a movie, I want to actually watch the movie. If I "multiask" (which at this point in my life means playing games or Facebook stalking), I really don't get the "full movie experience." Do I sound like a snotty film student? I secretly don't care - this degree cost money, baby.

But seriously. I don't care about multitasking during My Boys reruns or Sweet Home Alabama, but there is something to be said about focusing all your attention on the film, every nuance, every small choice the filmmakers made. Learning how to watch movies takes a certain degree of focus and concentration, and that is a habit I need to cultivate a little more intentionally.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Type

Several several years ago, I told a friend that I wanted a typewriter. He seemed doubtful.

"Are you really going to write with it? Or is it just a writerly artifact you want?"

"No, I'll write with it." I was, perhaps, being a little defensive about a statement that had been more like a writerly daydream. This was back when I was writing fiction, and while Meg Ryan's boyfriend in You've Got Mail owned an excessive number of typewriters, it seemed like an obvious implement for any literary type to possess.

Long story short, I got the typewriter. It came in the mail one day, huge and heavy and unexpected. I was delighted, but I only remember using it once or twice when I was back at Anderson. It stayed at home, even when I went to Michigan. It was, in fact, more of a beloved artifact than a working typewriter.

After I redecorated my room last summer, I made sure there was space for a desk so I could write. Maybe this was a perfect waste of space because I have never written well in my room, no matter where I am. It's one of the severe adjustments I've had to make in the past week, not having a coffee shop within two blocks that I can easily turn to for all my reading and writing time needs. But I set up the desk anyway and brought my typewriter out.

Its spot on the desk is pretty much permanent, right under my Empire Strike Back poster. I love turning it on and just sitting there, hands resting on it. It hums and vibrates, and of course the typing noises are loud and sharp. In one sense, I don't do any "serious" writing on it. It's very difficult to format a screenplay on a typewriter. I usually write a page or two of whatever comes into my head. These snippets are unplanned and usually unsupported by interest in taking them further. One might think they're useless because they really are stories that exist just for the fifteen minutes I'm typing them. Looking back on some of the pages, I can't remember what motivated me to write the story or where I was going with it. But I love that about writing with my typewriter. It's helping me write every day, just snippets of whatever I want, random tangents, fleeting expressions, fictionalized versions of my self. I don't feel like I have to leave the room to concrete on Current Draft for hours and hours to come up with something brilliant. I just plunk down at my desk, turn the typewriter on, and smile at its beautiful hum.

Maybe one day I'll take one of these pages and flesh it out into a real story. But if not, I'm perfectly happy with my growing pile of unfinished tales.

Monday, May 04, 2009