Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pretending to Be Normal

"Everybody do yourself a favor and pretend to be normal, okay?"

I love that line - one of many in Little Miss Sunshine, the screenplay that won Michael Arndt an Academy Award for best original screenplay. AFF and Creative Screenwriting have podcast interviews with Michael Arndt so do yourself a favor and go have a listen.

Pretending to be normal -- isn't that what screenwriters do every day? Go about life pretending to be normal? We're not normal. We spend much of our lives alone in worlds of our own creation, arguing with ourselves, and playing God with invisible friends that we put through hellish situations and comic impossibilities. If we were normal, we wouldn't have anything to write about.

I like Little Miss Sunshine. No. I love this story. It's peculiarly reflective of my own extended family. Seriously. There's no such thing as normal in my family. No wonder I'm on seizure medication. I swear these meds make me see Teletubbies. They sneak in my house and steal my yogurt and corn flakes. I also think they peek in the window when I shower.

Anyway, I'm not sure there's such a thing as normal in any family anymore. Dysfunctional is the new functional and functional is becoming an oddity. Heaven help us, the world is a mess. Maybe that's why Little Miss Sunshine gained such a following.

But I digress --

Screenwriting is an enigma. I've read the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine and I can tell you that if I handed this screenplay off to be evaluated by a friend, he'd probably give me back detailed notes cautioning me about the quality of writing and include comments like "it's too chatty" or "it uses too many weak verbs".

This screenplay will naturally be chatty because it takes place in a van. But I don't even know how many times the screenplay uses lines like "so and so look at each other" or "so and so glance at each other" and "we see this" or "we see that". Girl Scouts honor, as much as I like the story, I think it could be better written.

What the? How can I say that? It just won an Oscar!

Don't get your breeches in a twist. I'm not saying it isn't good. I'm saying it gets away with liberties that would get my specs tossed.

There's a difference in the way people read screenplays PRIOR to production and POST production. There's a difference in the way people read a spec script and a script they just paid you to write. There's a difference in the way people read a screenplay for a well received Indy film and a screenplay a reader just put on the desk of a producer with a recommendation. And there's a difference in the way people take their leisurely time to read a script and pages hurriedly rewritten on a shooting deadline.

That's life.

If you want to look at Little Miss Sunshine and pretend all those weak descriptions set some kind of normal standard because the screenplay won an Oscar, go right ahead. We all know there are no rules. But when amateurs still trying to find recognition break the rules that don't exist, we give readers a ready excuse to clean off their desk.

Your screenplay may be so brilliant that it rises to the top no matter what. But I keep picturing that climax moment in the film when little Olive is doing her inappropriate strip club dance while all those pageant parents look on in bewilderment. It's fun on film but I don't want it to be a metaphor for the way readers look at my work.

Should we get hung up on petty rules? No. Should we ignore the rules? No. It's tough pretending to be normal. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go call the police on these peeping Teletubbies.

p.s. please don't egg my house or scratch my truck

4 comments:

Lucy said...

I've said it before but I'll say it again: specs are the job interview that get you through the door, but you gotta do the spec equivalent of wearing a tie...just so that, when you ARE thru that door, you can wear jeans to work.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Dang, Lucy, you said in one sentence what it took me a whole post to say.

Lucy said...

But you do it so well, dah-link ;)

ECHenry said...

"Little Miss Sunshine" beat "Pan's Lybrinth" for best original screenplay? You gotta be kinding me!

As far as the showering goes, keep doing it, you have nothing to worry about. Teletubbies don't do anything other than hop arround and giggle.

Glad to here you're not normal, join the crowd!

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA