Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on the script: Butter

Yesterday I read the Black List script Butter by Jason Micallef. It's a script near the top of the list - it got 44 recommendations.

For a reason. This script was fantastic to read.

Butter is a relatively short script at a 105 pages, and it's a story about a group of people who engage in underhanded dealings to win a butter carving contest in Iowa. You can sort of sense the comic potential already, don't you think?

I'm a professional multitasker, so usually when I read a script I am also watching a movie, checking email, cleaning my apartment and eventually falling asleep. I started out that way, but after about five minutes I turned the movie (Dial M for Murder) off. Then I stopped checking my email. My house was a mess and I was wide awake. I was just enraptured by this adorable little screenplay.

What makes this screenplay so fantastic is its sense of personality. The characters were so clear and well developed and each had his or her own voice, but the voice of the script as a whole was the bonding factor. It wasn't over the top and it wasn't out of place. It felt organic to the script.

Here are some examples of action lines that made me chuckle:

AND THEN, as the fog parts, a woman emerges. This is LAURA PICKLER and her age is none of your business.

Bob is surrounded by adoring women. He’s like a chubby, diabetic Zac Efron.

Laura looks around: Hummel Figurines, a painting of a crying bald eagle hovering over the Twin Towers on 9/11, a picture of a few of Orval and Helen’s fugly-ass children. We just know what Laura is thinking: these people are disgusting.

A 19-year-old woman works the pole (NOTE: no nudity, please, it’s not that kind of movie) to Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love.”

Fantastic stuff. It didn't get in the way of the story and it didn't feel forced. It felt like the writer really captured the essence of these people and the community they live in. I feel like I really know these people.

I've been reading such downer material lately that this was a breath of fresh air.

Reading these cute little one liners helped me in my rewrite too. Yesterday one of my missions was to trip my action so that I say more with fewer words. I thought about the way Butter does it with a flirty little aside and decided to use that technique in a few places - not too many because I'm not trying to be cutesy, but here and there where it adds a little something to the tale. I hope it makes my script a more fun read.

If you get a chance, read Butter. It's a terrific example of how to put voice into a screenplay.


  1. I's funny,although I haven't finished reading it though but now that you mentioned it's on the Black List (I didnt know it was), I'm gonna have to finish reading it today.

    Do you think Butter will be turned into a film? I've heard that Nicholls finalist screenplays rarely get produced.

  2. According the Black List it hasn't been picked up yet. I'm not entirely sure it would be as good a film as it is a script - that may be the reason. But it did its job, I'm sure he got work out of it.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Interesting take.

    I don't necessarily disagree with anything you've said, but I didn't care for the script nearly as much. It does have a nice voice and it is quite funny throughout. But it had some issues that irked me.

    I thought the first act was kind of a mess. Way too much superfluous voice-over, no clear perspective for its apparent hero, and a clunky set up. The LAURA character rules the story and often leaves DESTINY in the dust, so Destiny's payoffs weren't as highly charged as they could have been.

    I also felt that there were a bunch of minor characters and subplots that were sloppily developed and never fully utilized.

    I thought the humor was solid, but the execution was too far off-point for me. The jokes also felt a little easy at times since the characters, setting, and community are so broad that they made for pretty obvious targets. There's some heart to it in the end, but it feels tacked on.

    So... Thought this one was pretty overrated, but I won't argue that it's funny. Usually that's enough for me, but this one had some baggage that created pretty high expectations, and I never felt that it really overcame its story issues.

  5. I may be a loser, but I've been searching for the Butter screenplay since I read your entry...I know the usual places to find scripts, but I'm not sure where to go to find unpublished scripts (like The Black List contenders). Any hints?

  6. I get all of mine from people I know. The script are usually traded around from person to person.

  7. Ah, gotcha. I'll try to bug some people I know, gracias.


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