Thursday, June 25, 2009

How Long It Really Takes

or, Why My Last Post is Totally Irrelevant

I was talking up Michigan's amazing screenwriting program to a friend of my parents, mentioning Pamela Gray and Tom McCarthy's generous contributions of time and expertise to last semester's class, when my mom asked me how long it took for either of them to sell their first script.

"Oh," I said, "I'm not sure about Tom McCarthy. But I do know about Pamela Gray."

From first draft to silver screen, it took her fourteen years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Can't be true

I feel like this is a trick.

I'm about halfway through the rough draft of my Bones spec script. I printed out the ABC fellowship application today, mildly wondering how one goes about getting things notarized and being annoyed that we have to submit a resume. I have until Monday to get this thing presentable, notarized, and in the mail. I am only halfway done with my script.

Five days.

And technically, we shouldn't even count Monday, because all I have time to do that day is notarize it and drop it in the mail.

So, four days. Full of wedding activities, packing, and general procrastinating.

And this is where the tricky parts comes in -- I actually feel like I'm doing good work. And it's not just my deluded sense of entitlement that I usually get from finishing a script, because I haven't finished yet. I'm great at being aware of my problems as I write. I usually secretly know that it's not as good as I dream it is. And I am painfully aware of the problems I do have in my script. Some things don't make logical sense yet. I have to do scientific research to replace all the "X"s and "Y"s I have. I definitely don't have enough time to rewrite. And I'm definitely positive this script isn't going to get past the first round of any competition (well, I secretly hope, but I must maintain some amateur humility).

It may not be a winner. I'm well aware of my odds. But I do feel good about this script. Not only because I feel like I'm hitting the nail on the head. But I can tell how much I've progressed, how much I've learned, how my writing has improved so much over the past few years. A year ago I could not have written as well as I do now (well being all relative, mind you).

And to know that, yes, I may not be the best yet, not even close to the best, not even in sight of those who are trailing behind the best, but I'm darn well closer than I was, is enough to keep me pushing to catch up.

Monday, June 22, 2009

If only I remembered my Sunday School songs

My sister and I like to be nostalgic. We once sat and watched the entire My Little Pony movie via ten YouTube installments. Last night we were talking about Psalty the Singing Songbook and G.T. and the Halo Express, and she passed on to me a link to Stuff Christians Like, a hilarious and insightful blog about Christian trends. Make sure to click on the links because they lead to little write ups about each entry.

Some of these are just hilariously true, like #5 Bootlegged Cookies at VBS, #14 Dating God instead of me, or #196 The secret bathroom at church. I love the secret bathroom at church -- however, since we meet in a public school, the secret bathroom is really mini me sized for all the kindergartens. My dad is a fan of Sermon Series Based off of Popular Blockbusters and is trying to help me figure out how to use creative church marketing to my career's advantage.

However, what I really love about this site is that it's not only funny and honest but challenging as well. Here are a couple of my other favourites (though I feel like making categories of "funny favourites" and "spiritual favourites" is another thing Christians like):

#77 Offering a Safe Approach to Life
#121 Thinking God's Call will be Long and Detailed
#212 Shrinking God
#271 Being Afraid to Use Our Gifts

I'm pretty sure there's nothing more disappointing than small faith. I mean, faith is supposed to be something radical in your life. It's supposed to be growing, it's supposed to be big, it's supposed to be a sort of adventure. Is there anything riskier and more fulfilling than being in a personal relationship with God? I would definitely say no. So personally, I think disappointments in faith are, perhaps, the most difficult disappointments to deal with.

Summertime is always sort of this lull in my faith, and I've been in one of those lulls. I think there are a lot of reasons, but I think one of the main reasons is that I've sort of forgotten what God is like. Somewhere in the past two months, I've made Him small and boring. And then I've gotten frustrated about it! About something I did, about limitations I've created. But God hasn't gotten any smaller. Only my faith has. And that's why I've been disappointed. Who would be satisfied with Amy-sized faith when God-sized faith is waiting? And God is really cool, you know, because He used a satirical funny blog to remind me that all the things I'm missing from my faith are exactly where I left them, with Him.

Now I'm tempted to look back and see how many "Stuff Christians Like" techniques I employed in that post. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Biggest Fan

Some day, I'll be so famous and renown that my poor mailman will have a back of steel from carrying my daily fan mail to my cliff-side cottage. And each letter will start, "Ms. Butler, I am your number one fan!" I will smile and shake my head ruefully, because I know who my number one fan is, and he doesn't write me any fan mail.

All of us Butler children are good readers, especially in our childhoods. My little brother L consumes books. It's actually a waste to buy him a book for his birthday or for Christmas, because he'll most likely finish with it before he goes to bed that night.

I have about ten million copies of my novels, screenplays, and short stories. One of the most frustrating tasks of packing last month was figuring out which manuscripts were multiples and I could throw away. This plethora of paper means that I'm continually leaving pages around, on the table where I've been working, a copy for my parents, in my room (which should be sacred). Sometimes L comes across these copies.

The other night I printed out a copy of Keys to the Garden for my parents. I left it with them, in the living room, and the next morning as I was eating breakfast, L came up to me and started talking to me about it. He had read maybe the first twenty pages, which, he told me, he thought "were good." He wanted to finish reading it, but the manuscript has since vanished, meaning that someone probably tried to put it away during cleaning day and have forgotten where it is.

I used to joke that I went into screenwriting because it's a lot easier to force someone to sit a watch a movie for a couple of hours than read a several hundred page novel. It's a guaranteed way to get people to experience what you've written. I love when people read my work, but it's difficult to connive people into it. I feel awkward asking people if they'd like to read my screenplays and it's a pain to print off several copies of the 90+ page documents, so besides my screenwriting peers, nobody really reads much of what I write. It's frustrating sometimes. You always want people to value what you find important in yourself. Which is why every time L picks up my screenplay or begs my parents to read the silly space opera novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo I feel a wave of appreciation for my 14 year old number one fan.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Plea

Dear Staff Writers,

I love your show. But. I hate when you ruin my halfway finished spec by already having used my device or my plot point or my story base. It happened for a fourth time. FOUR TIMES. Geez. This time, you destroyed my entire B story with just a simple twist to a subplot. Pretty much obliterated it.

But... I can't really be mad. Because you did it with such skill.

Why do you have to be such geniuses?

Sincerely pandering to you,

Monday, June 01, 2009

In which Amy spills about her TV writing projects --

TV writing is difficult.

I started with my spec script.

Not the actual writing of it. The research. The watching of episode after episode after episode. The reading of How-To books. The episode break downs (which I'm infinitely proud of. Our professors in screenwriting used to challenge us to do movie break downs. Heck no am I ever doing a break down of something 90 minutes or longer).

The thing with my spec script was I kept having to come up with a different idea. I had a great story. I was excited about it and felt it fit the show well and was fairly sure I could execute it well. Then I was skimming episode summaries of seasons I had yet to see - and found a nearly matching logline. I have yet to see the episode - it could play out completely differently - but why bother? I was ruminating on a second idea when that one was also blown out of the water by another episode.

But, dear readers, third time's the charm. Finally I had an excellent medical premise for the script. The story aspect needed some work. It still does. I'm hammering out my outline. I have never felt like the outline was as important as I do now right now for this spec. Maybe it's because I made those episode breakdowns. Maybe it's because I saw how tightly structured the episodes. It's tough, finding the ultimate balance between being new and inventive and outstanding and demonstrating that I know the structure and story and tone of the show. I have still not actually started writing the episode, which is bad news since I want to have it finished before the end of the month.

And then there's the pilot.

Oh the pilot. The pilot that I had no real intentions of writing because I had no real ideas for it. But I had an idea. And I sat down the other day. And I wrote. And I wrote seven pages in one day, which is more than I've written in one sitting since the last time I had a deadline. No outline. Vague understanding of what I wanted to accomplish in the episode. Now I'm on page 15 or something, and I'm quite happy with it, especially as a first ditch effort at a pilot.

The paranoia that's setting in (there's always paranoia, you know), is that what I find interesting and engaging is bo-o-or-ing. It constantly gets rammed into writers that audiences are abnormally advanced when it comes to... being an audience. They've seen countless stories, they know the plot twists, they're looking for the red herrings. It's your job as a writer to stay ahead of them. It's not an easy race.

But right now, I'm just looking forward to the challenge of finishing these scripts.