Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crazy-A Storm of 2010

A couple of weeks ago we had a massive storm. Power out, floods, trees down everywhere. I was, of course, driving through a large chunk of it, but it wasn't even the storm itself that was the worst thing. The flooding was just unbelievable. Firefighter Friend steered a BOAT down a street where the water was above the mailboxes. And while a lot of cleanup has happened, people are still working on their homes and their yards, especially since we just had another weekend of rain on top of waters that still haven't completely receded.

I snapped this picture today in front of a house in my town. Thank goodness the tree didn't fall *toward* the house.

I would have taken a better picture, but there was someone working in the yard next door, and it was sorta awkward already with the parking and the getting out of the car and the picture taking. You get the point.

Also, still haven't decided about Script Frenzy, which starts tomorrow. I'm sure I can fill the 100 page quota, but I'm not sure I should be focusing on original material right now. And whether it be Screnzy or NaNo, I always have something time consuming and writing-prohibitive to do on the first. This year it's cupcake baking and dinner with friends. Man, such trying obligations!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Restful Monday

I spent about two hours today thinking about cupcakes. I need to make more friends so I have more people to pass my baking off to so my family and I don't get fat. I'm so glad I haven't been keeping track of the pounds of butter I've used these past few months.

Because I was intentionally super bored today (my weekend was craaazzy) and in an effort to distract myself from all things cupcake, I tried out our Wii Fit. Can you believe it kept telling me I was unbalanced? It even asked me if I found myself tripping frequently! Malarkey.

Script Frenzy starts in three days. I participated their inaugural year in 2007, resulting in a bottom-drawer script that I still maintain has a good premise, if terrible execution. I hadn't even considered it this year, really. ANOTHER script, COMPLETELY new? Seriously, why bother doing that to myself, especially right before contest season, when I'm trying to get Keys to the Garden through another draft and a TV script presentable.

But then I read Bitter's Screnzy article, and I started thinking, "3 pages a day? I could do that. It's really not much at all, especially at the first draft stage. And it's not like I'm getting much work done on the other projects anyway... I do have my 17th quirky drama idea that's been niggling in back of my mind. I could use it like a warm up. Sit down, write 3 and a half pages for Screnzy, move onto Keys, get some real work done instead of doodling around in that crap novel idea. Even if I got lazy and just wrote my Screnzy script, at least I'd be getting SOMETHING done. Yeah, maybe this could work..." Basically I will do anything to procrastinate on real work.

So maybe. We'll see. I'm going to think about a stellar idea. But the truth is, I love Screnzy and NaNoWriMo. They're fun and exciting and the closest thing I'll ever get to a marathon. I haven't done either in years. And first drafts are so much fun to write, unlike stupid rewrites. Also, I want a cool Screnzy t-shirt.

I came up with the most killer pen name. I figure I'll have to change my name, since Amy Butler is a queen in the craft world, and apparently it's more likely that I'll get famous before I get married. I've been trying to think up something firey, and it finally came to me as I was spacing out in the coffee shop this afternoon -- B.A. Butler.

Done and done.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Piece of (Cup)Cake

Recent exciting things --

1) I bought a kitchen flame thrower. Well, it's more like a mini torch, but it's amazing fun. I used it yesterday to toast the icing on my s'mores cupcakes.

You wish you knew me for realsies now, don't you?

2) I applied for a job. It's a PA position for Game of Thrones, which I'm cautious of getting too excited about, but I was excited anyway. I thought I wrote a pretty kick-a cover letter, though sometimes it was difficult to convene how no one else is going to be as passionate about this project as I am without sounding like a pandering fangirl. In typical Butler fashion, I wrote my cover letter last night and woke up at 5:15 to do my resume this morning. It's just exciting to start applying for film jobs. This is the first of many (unless I get it!).

3) It was warm here. We had a picnic last week. Even though it's cold again, it's still warmer than Michigan.

4) This week's Lost was an episode to make all of us who stayed proud.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I fell off the wagon

Write every day. Even if it's just a sentence.

Advice frequently given to new/aspiring writers. A rule that is not to-the-letter followed by all writers. Here's how I found out that maybe it's a maxim worth designing your entire writing life around.

About a month ago I got fed up with my lack of productivity and decided to actually get some stuff done. Every day for the next 90 days I was going to make progress on my writing, whether it was outlining, rewriting, brainstorming, notecarding, character sketches, whatever. I had to do something to push a project forward, even if it was as small as writing a sentence in my off the books fiction story. And for the most part, actual progress was minimal (except on that fiction piece). But it was the habit that was important. Every day I'd have to make time to write, no matter how busy or tired I was. And sometimes, once I got started, I would actually make some progress. Keys to the Garden has been restructured and is now ready to undergo the next rewrite. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't made a little effort every day.

And then something happened this week. I was really busy one day, and I just forgot. And then the next day rolled around. I was annoyed that I had forgotten to write the previous day, and I was really busy again. Forgot AGAIN. And when the third day came around, I was busy or not in the mood or something, and it was so easy for me to say, "Heck no way am I writing today. It's not like I've been keeping up with my goal anyway." (This is how dieters gain weight.)

But the next day, I climbed back on the wagon. I wrote. But I had lost my momentum. It's like starting back at Day 1. Write a sentence here, there, make it count as progress, fulfill the (oh so difficult) quota and move on. Putting in too little effort on projects that will never amount to anything. It might take another two weeks to get myself back to a habit of working for a significant amount of time on projects that might really move forward. All because I didn't write for three days.

Kinda a pain. And now I have to go pick up my pen and jot a few sentences of my story down before I collapse for the night. Gotta fill the quota.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

1 out of 4 ain't bad

I need a bigger desk. I need a desk like Megadesk from the Office. Only without all the paper and printing sales stuff.

Also, my desk chair is broken. It was already pretty crappy to begin with, but now the seat is nearly detached from the base. One screw keeps it in place. One out of four. So the seat swings around all the time and gets unbalanced and sometimes I almost fall off. It's ok. It's a reason to go to IKEA and run around pretending I have a house with two kitchens.

I finished restructuring Keys to the Garden. It still seems completely lopsided, but I don't think I was as detailed with the new beats as I was with the old, so notecarding did not give an accurate portrayal of act breakdowns. I guess I'll just have to write it and see. This is the messy part, but I'll be relieved to actually get to some WRITING in this rewriting process.

I updated my calender of competitions yesterday. Man, are there a lot. I also printed out my Bones spec, but I'm trying to think of another spec to write for competition season. Too many projects. Keys to the Garden, rom com, TV pilot, Bones Spec, secret writing project, doodling novel idea. Someone once gave the advice to always be working on more than one project at once. You'll be more productive. If you have to choose between writing and doing nothing, you'll do nothing. But if you have to choose between writing one project or another, you'll at least get something done.

My dream job opened up. They put out job postings for HBO's Game of Thrones. In Ireland. Stupid work visas (and general lack of experience). I'm applying anyway.

Monday, March 15, 2010

And the Oscar goes to...

Saturday may have been the first day in my 90 days of writing that I didn't do *anything.* Usually, no matter how busy or tired I am, I make sure I do something, even if it's just banging out one sentence. However, I don't feel guilty about missing Day 21. We had wind, rain, floods, near hurricane conditions, and I was driving most of the day. I've never seen such severe flooding. FOUR trees fell on my neighbor's property. Even though the rains have stopped, we're still feeling it. Many people don't have power. We're not allowed to drink our water. Many schools were canceled because of the water problem. I'm so grateful to all the technicians and emergency workers who've been taking care of us all weekend. And there's supposed to be sunshine tomorrow.

Liza asked my thoughts on Kathryn Bigelow winning Best Director this year. I'm thrilled a woman finally won Best Director. Bigelow is only the fourth woman to even be nominated for the award. Now I have more of an incentive to watch The Hurt Locker.

However, I said I'd look for someone who could state my opinion better than myself, and Sarah Fain did a pretty good job. Fantastic that a woman won the Best Director award, but honestly, I don't think it's going to break any great ground for female directors everywhere. Hollywood is a wonderful boys' club. Nora Ephron once said that when she was writing back in the 80s, she would get lists of potential directors, and not one woman would be listed. AFI's 1998 list of the 100 best movies of the century had no movies directed by women. Of the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2007, only 6% were directed by women. The independent route is slightly better for women - and wait, that's how Kathryn Bigelow went with the Hurt Locker.

There's a lot more to be said about women's voices in film, especially when it comes to "women's pictures" and how Hollywood's interpretation of the market diminishes the influence of the female demographic. There's a whole lot of psychology that comes into play in networking, relationships between women and men in the Industry, and relationships between women and women. I wrote a paper on this once, can you tell? If you'd like to read it, just leave a comment with your email or email me.

Is that situation for women improving in Hollywood? I believe it is - but only because some women have fought like hell for their positions and for the rest of us. Bigelow's Oscar is not an event that shatters the glass ceiling. It is the result of all her hard work and the work of the women before her. And from here we keep working.

Sources --
Fournier, Gina. Thelma & Louise and Women in Hollywood.
Lauzen, Ph.D., Martha M. “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2007.”
Traister, Rebecca. “Chicks Behind Flicks.”
Walker, Susan. “Women on Top of the Film World.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Structure Fail

This is what Keys to the Garden looked like when I originally postnoted it and tacked it up on my wall (at least note that the number of cards/scenes and number of pages are unrelated):

Huge fail. Is Act II actually SHORTER than Act I?

Here's where I went so terribly wrong -- When I wrote the screenplay, I hinged the Act II turning point on a particular beat. However, when notecarding the beats out, I realized that I was completely wrong. The beat that was my former Act II turning point was really just a moment right before the climax. When I posted the beats up on my wall, I separated them into acts based on what are the CORRECT turning points. I had the correct one in there. I was just putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong beat.

I knew Act II had major problems anyway. It is -- obviously -- too short, making the whole story too simplistic. Even when I was notecarding I had my solution. As I've been restructuring it this past week, I've written an entirely new Act IIa. It was actually a pretty simple solution. I had a great backstory for a character which works better -- and is more dramatic -- not as a backstory but current events in Act II that mess with the characters.

I have Act I restructured and re-notecarded. Act II is restructured, awaiting carding. Act III isn't going to change much. The ending was always the ending, and with a hard and fast resolution that I'm not going to change, there're only so many ways you can play with the scenes funneling down to it. But maybe that's where I get stuck sometimes.

Also, this is a great article for anyone interested in writing a rom com. So glad I read it before starting my own.

And, if I can't find someone else who articulates it better than I will before my next post, I'll give my thoughts on Bigelow's Oscar and what it means for women in film.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Return of Spectacle

According to Box Office Mojo, Avatar has made over $2.5 billion worldwide to date. it made over $77 million domestically opening weekend. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland has been out since Friday. It made over $116 million opening weekend, over $210 million worldwide.

When cinema first became a commercial enterprise, it was completely innovative. People would go to the movies just to see the moving pictures. For a little while, there was a tension - would cinema develop a narrative structure or would it become a purely visual art form? Obviously there is a lot of art in cinema, but the narrative won out to be the dominant commercial structure.

But with the box office smashing releases of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, spectacle is again becoming a huge audience draw. 3D isn't a new technology. But Avatar was the first movie that audiences felt they would not have had the same viewing experience if they didn't see it in 3D. Alice in Wonderland is continuing the trend of movies that are MEANT to be watched in 3D as opposed to movies that are made and then made into 3D.

What is NOT a new trend is the tension between spectacle and narrative. Often films that are visually awesome lack a lot in story (did you really think I was going to get through this post without mentioning Micheal Bay?). No one's going to argue that Avatar was not a technological marvel. It was awesome. And I wasn't going to go see it unless I saw it in 3D. The same goes for Alice in Wonderland. But honestly, the narrative of Avatar didn't break any new narrative ground. And commercial film is primarily a NARRATIVE beast. Some wonder if the same problems will befall Alice in Wonderland.

The question for writers is - should this trend towards 3D films change the way we write? Should we be writing towards spectacle?

The answer is - yes and no. Yes, keep up with the times. Be one of those writers that is 3D minded - if that is your genre. You're not going to write Garden State in 3D. A film's vision starts on the page (don't tell the director). Your job, as the writer, is to get the reader to visualize the movie. Can they visualize the potential for 3D? No, because you had BETTER have a strong story, first and foremost. No matter what. Story first, fancy pants spectacle later. What reader is going to be interested in your 3D potential if they don't care about your characters or your story?

Technology is going to change the way movies are made and watched. And written. But the transformation is going to be slower than any of the other technological developments in our lives, cell phones, wireless, DVR. Cinema-viewing hasn't really changed since its advent. Neither Avatar or Alice in Wonderland were spec scripts. The writers aren't typically the ones that on the forefront of change. But that doesn't mean that we need to be the last ones catching up on the industry changes that are actually very pertinent to the way we write.

On Oscar news, here's an article on the weird VMA Kayne West moment. I got to see most of the Oscars despite the annoying Cablevision-ABC battle. Hopefully next year it will be more entertaining.

Friday, March 05, 2010

A 2 Cupcake Kinda Day

It feels like there're fireworks going off in my brain. I feel like I might have at one point had a topic for this post, but my seizing histamines are clouding my thought processes. I hope it's allergies because (1) I refuse to let myself get sick from any of my students and (2) it means that warm weather is coming. I definitely have been feeling the affects of cabin fever these past few weeks.

I am 90% sure what I'm doing come the end of June. The other 10% is reserved for various miracles.

My classroom teacher is confusing our students by telling them that I'm a writer/author. They don't understand the word "aspiring" yet. They keep asking me what the title of my book is. I was going to bring in my stacks and stacks of stories to show them, but I think they might get even more confused if I show them the books I got for free from LuLu for finishing NaNoWriMo. The business side of publishing and self publishing might be a little over their heads.

I have rewritten the opening for my secret writing project three times now. I think I finally have something that works. Which, you know, I cannot share at this particular moment...

Oh man, I had the craziest dream earlier this week. I woke up and wrote it down immediately so I could make it into a story. I don't think that's ever happened to me before. I have pretty vivid dreams, but nothing that's jumped out to me before with inherent dramatic characteristics. Unfortunately, I think the best format for this story would be fiction, and I am so out of practice there. Maybe NaNoWriMo this year. Regardless, it's about fifth on my priority list.

ABC and Cablevision, can you please work out your issues so that I can actually watch the Oscars. Though if you don't, at least I'll have a valid excuse for not seeing them this year.

Also, George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones was picked up by HBO. Am super psyched. Won't start airing until next year, but I will definitely be upgrading my cable plan to include HBO now.

Michigan's campus during February, snowy streets, primitive forms of transportation, students strewn everywhere. Or a still from the opening scene of Game of Thrones.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What you should be writing and why

I tried to laugh it off when I wiped out in the melting slush in the middle of the street this morning, but I should have known it was going to be one of those days. I came home from work and immediately stuffed myself with cookies and 30 Rock. I will blame it all on being exhausted from staying up too late to watch all 3 unsatisfying hours of the Bachelor last night. Sorry, Bachelor. It never would have worked between us anyway, Jake. I'm too much like Ali, and you're too much like my ex-boyfriend.

It's Day 11 of my 90 days of productivity. I have done something, in any small way, to make progress on my scripts every single day. Though if I keep up the rate I'm going at, 90 days of productivity isn't going to make that much of a dent in my career. I've been focusing primarily on two scripts, Keys to the Garden and my TV pilot. As I was notecarding one day, I thought about this. 90 days falls conveniently close to the summer contest deadlines. Am I focusing on the right projects? What kind of script does each contest ask for? I decided to do some research on the contests I was interested in as well as a few extra.

Austin Film Festival - Features, Current Specs
AAA Creative Screenwriting Contest - Features, Specs
Creative Screenwriting Expo - Features, Specs
Disney/ABC TV Fellowship - Current Specs
Film Independent Screenwriters Lab - Features
Script Magazine's Big Break - Features
Scriptapalooza - Current Specs, TV Pilots, Features
Script PIMP - Feature, TV Pilot, Spec
Silver Screenwriting Competition - Features
Slamdance - Features, TV Pilots
Nicholl Fellowship - Features
Warner Bros. TV Workshop - Current Specs
Zoetrope - Features

So maybe I should put away the pilot for a while and pull out the Bones spec again. It could use 3 months of work. If anyone has any other information to share about contests, please add it on!