Saturday, May 28, 2011

Smart People Saying Things.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Some luminescent golden orb has popped out of the clouds here in Michigan and has inspired a sudden cult of pale sallow people to wander around outside. I hope you all have relaxing, fun-filled plans.I have a wedding tonight--not my own, obvi, though my two high school best friends always said I was most likely to elope. I suppose that's truer now than ever, since they're both on their second year of marriage.

I'm halfway through Bossypants, after a week and a half of anxiously awaiting its arrival and fearing that the infallible US postal system had laxed off just in time to lose my first book purchase since the text book years. It's wonderful and amazing. It also makes me feel wonderfully productive on a Saturday afternoon, when all I've done is relax in bed with my computer and a book. I honestly don't understand how reading feels productive, but I plan on spending more of my free time being lazy that way so I can later brag about the books I've read to my boyfriend, who doesn't understand leisure reading in the way that he doesn't understand why I don't move to LA and start work as a writer immediately or exactly how big my hair can get.

I should probably write something about movies to make this post relevant--

Memorial Day Weekend Box Office Blow Out : If you're interested in movies, you should check Nikki's blog daily for biz news. I don't really get (or read) most of it, except for the posts about writers or that give me more reasons to love-hate Lena Dunham or that have lots of updates with massively large numbers in the titles. Pirates 4, $500 mil worldwide?

But the thing I like most about this weekend box office is that Bridesmaids is projected to rake in another $20 mil. That's three weekends over $20 mil for the underdog comedy of the summer. Take that, studio fatcats! (I'm bringing back old school insults. It's part of my whole retro thing.)

Why do I love Bridesmaids so much? One, it's hilarious. Two, it's a female powerhouse. Three, it's amazingly well written, as Carson demonstrates.

And lastly, my dad forwarded me this article by Timothy Dalrymple on Christianity in the movies. With a script that gets more and more theological every time I rewrite it, I found it very interesting, especially as it talks about the general critical bias against Soul Surfer and its Christian messages. The thing is, I watched Soul Surfer in theatres too, and whenever they started to talk about God or faith, even I started to feel vaguely uncomfortable.

And I believe it's because of Dalrymple's second argument, "Hollywood has excised faith from feature films for so long that when a robust and unapologetic faith is included in a film it seems jarring and unseemly." And it does. Whenever Carrie Underwood started to talk, I thought to myself, "This is the Christian message." The problem is, however, that vagueness about a film's core theology makes for vague movies. I was so excited for The Adjustment Bureau, but I was just as disappointed when I actually saw it. The movie tries to include God without including God, and the result is simply a weak (and somewhat laughable) story. Angels wear hats for teleportation? What?

It makes me think about my own stories, not just the one has the overt theological legs The Chronicles of Narnia was accused of, but of the ones without Christian messages. When characters (especially Bible Belt dwellers) go through physical and emotional pain, of course their theological worldviews are going to crop up, even if it's just to say that their pain is their proof against the divine. Suffering draws us to God, either to defy Him or to defer to Him. It is the point of our lives where we wrestle most with the question--is this all there is?--and we have to decide if our human experience is the greatest force in the world or if our stories are told for the glory of Someone Else.

(And yes, I capitalized that to indicate God, just in case you had doubts.)

And lastly, from Scott Myer's real Saturday hot links and Candy Land screenwriters, "We envision it as Lord of The Rings, but set in a world of candy.”

And since writing this post, the sun's disappeared again. Hope springs eternal, though, that it really does exist.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thoughts versus Words.

I am not the most productive writer in the world. I can't sit down and write 10,000 words in one sitting like Amanda Hocking can do. I don't sit around my apartment all day in my pajamas plunking away. I don't have a membership to a place like The Office or whatever that private writers' club in LA is. But considering the demands of the rest of my life and the fact that I write by stealing time at coffee shops and bakeries and not in my home office, I think I do ok. I finished a new screenplay draft a couple weeks ago. I'm over 11,000 words in my novel. I sometimes update side projects I'm working on.

However, I'm most productive with my stories when I'm actually writing in them. I think it's because 1. it's easier to monitor your progress. I can know how many words I've written or how many pages I've advanced. I get closer to a defined end goal. And because 2. it's easier to make up stories than it is to analyze them.

After the requisite emotional break from The Exit Strategy, I've pulled it back up to rewrite. The difficulty with rewriting is that you usually need to know what the problems in your story are in order to rewrite them. You have to find problems, come up with a solution, and then implement it. This requires analysis, brainstorming, more clearly defining characters and choices, grappling with your theme, finessing subtext, deeping conflict, manipulating more complexity, coming up with new scenarios only to discard them, figuring out how to set up jokes, constructing set pieces--building up support for your structure at all.

Structure? I think I forgot about that in all the writing.

I can spend my typical hour or two writing just thinking... and have only a couple pages of notes to show for it. It's difficult to believe I'm making progress when I look at my scribbles and find myself just as unsure in my choices as ever. If I'm lucky enough to spot a problem, my solutions are generally vague and not implementable strategies yet.

I.E., I know my opening is weak. My notes are as follows -- "What is the BEST opening possible? What am I trying to set up? The story? The setting? Hazel's character? Hazel's current situation or the absence of her dreams? Her relationship with her family? What is the best set up for the pay off?"

See? I know what the problem is--but I don't even know what the question is.

My favourite note to myself? "This scene needs more punch." What does that even mean? And how am I supposed to make something more "punch-y"? I obviously failed at it the first time around. Did I suddenly get more clever in the past month?

Another note I starred (stars show importance. This is an important note.) -- "How does Hazel's FLAW feed into her PROBLEM?"

Not only do I have to give my protag a flaw and a problem, I have to CORRELATE them.

I'm not good at this part of rewriting, this ethereal staring off into space while I just conjure up brilliant edits to my story. I am, as a 20 year old family Christmas letter prophetically suggested, not a thinker. I am a do-er. It's very hard to believe that all this thinking is writing. It's too unsubstantial for me. And sometimes when I look at my own handwriting all I see are loops and swirls. I get very antsy and want to just go back to the actual page writing.

But I'm trying to make my rewriting process better, more efficient. I'm trying to slow myself down, take time to consider characters and motivation and conflict and set ups and payoffs and theme and subtext. I'm reading scripts in the same genre and might even watch some older classic movies to give me a good grounding in the style I'm trying to acheive. In an ideal world, after one more draft and a polish, I'd be able to start showing this script to people who are better than I am at anaylsis and who can give me real, intelligent notes.

And then I can start rewriting. Again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

'Cause the Box Office DOES Matter. [to the people I need to sell scripts to]

My best friend and I are going to see Bridesmaids tonight. Simply because of this Huffington Post article. Just saying.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Fade Out on Script 6

When I made my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days (which I was nowhere near completing at the end of 1001 days, but I am still working on), I made one of the items to have finished seven feature length first drafts. I'm one closer to my goal of 7 which--illogically so--seems like some magic number. When I hit 7 completely scripts I'll have learned something or mastered something or at least come up with one marketable idea. And in some sense it's true--I've noticed a slow but steady development of good concept and craft with each script. Nearly all of these projects have been documented in some way on this blog, but here's a recap. Cause I'm narcisstic.

1. The 4:05 -- My first script ever, I wrote it while living in England in my semester between my two universities. That sounds very romantic, and it was. I sat in pubs in the middle of the afternoon--drinking soda, mom and dad--writing on yellow legal pads, a hastily scrawled paragraph as an outline. I love this story, probably because it is my own, but it's not a fresh enough take on the coming-of-age romantic dramedy. It placed in the top ten screenplays at the University of Michigan's most prestigious writing competition, warranting some of the harshest comments I've ever received on a piece. I have a soft spot for this story but currently have little intention of revisiting it.

2. Making It -- A very terrible coming of age story. I didn't like it very much even when I was writing it, so if it's ok with you, we'll just acknowledge that this one happened in order to make it count for the tally.

3. Whatever You Ask -- 2007 Script Frenzy project. A romantic comedy with three male protagonists. Because I know so much about the male mind. While I was very excited about the idea when I was gearing up for it, I honestly don't think I've looked at it since I finished it. I have zero desire to revisit it.

4. Collapse/In Memoriam -- I wrote this script for my first screenwriting class. I wrote it for a friend. Since our second screenwriting class as a rewrite class, I took this script through a couple drafts. It might be good. I don't know. I haven't really looked at it since then. It's a story about death, and right now it's just so damn depressing. I'd need to figure out a way to make it more light-hearted without making it a Big Chill rip off (thought that would be a bit fitting). But after the flops that were Making It and Whatever You Ask, this script did good things for me. I again entered the Hopwood Awards and again placed in the top ten, where the comments were not AS mean as they were for The 4:05 [improvement!]. This script also got me into the master screenwriting class, where I wrote--

5. The Garden [Even Angels Swear] -- I can't really call it that, but I wish I could. This script is definitely my passion project script. I wrote it for my master class, had pages workshopped by Tom McCarthy and Pamela Gray, and spent many hours in my professor's office trying to make it work. I finished my third draft of it last summer. It was a shredding rewrite, and a fourth draft is definitely needed. I will get to it--I think I'll always return to this project--but I'm hesitant about how marketable it is. It'd be a big budget movie with strong religious themes and a real cliff hanger ending. I've got to make it phenomenal before anyone takes a risk on that.

6. The Exit Strategy -- Clocking in at 75 pages, this is the first feature length first draft I've completed since graduating in 2009. It's an incredibly personal project, though if I had to pitch it I'd say it's My Best Friend's Wedding meets Tiny Furniture. Meets Forgetting Sarah Marshall meets (500) Days of Summer. I wrapped it last week and am taking a break before diving back in for the rewrite. I have a couple friends who I know would be willing to look at it after I get it to the best I can by myself. And I have secret hopes for this script.

7. Found Footage Story -- My next project. Am I jumping on this bandwagon? Heck yes I am.

I remember after I wrote Whatever You Ask, I had this terrible wave of self doubt. I had written three scripts, and the last two were real bombs. But looking back I can see the gradual improvement [and this isn't counting the numerous ideas, loglines, shorts, first acts, pilots, and tv specs I've banged out]. They say it takes ten years. Or is it ten scripts? A million words?

Whatever it is, I'll get there. Eventually. Cause I just keep on typing.