Writing lessons and inspirations from 4 (of my 26) favorite films, and 2 of my least favorite
I recently created a board on Pinterest with my 25 All-Time Favorite Movies. Then, of course, I added a 26th. I can’t bring myself to change the title, though, because 25 is just such a nice number that fits so neatly into 100. I suppose if I ever decide to add more, I’ll deal with that issue as it arises.
If you look for trends in the types of films I like, you’ll find them:
- 2 Hugh Grant films (About a Boy and Bridget Jones’s Diary)
- 2 John Cusack films (High Fidelity and Say Anything)
- 2.5 sports films (Bend It Like Beckham, Field of Dreams, and Billy Elliot [boxing-cum-ballet])
- 8 UK-themed films (About a Boy, Bend It Like Beckham, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Billy Elliot, The Commitments, The Full Monty, Notting Hill, and Waking Ned Devine)
Besides finding these movies enjoyable – more than anything for the well-crafted and exceptionally portrayed characters – I also found a few of them particularly inspiring as an author, marketer, business owner, and would-be screenwriter.
Away We Go. This small indie film stars Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski as a couple expecting their first child who travel around the U.S., trying to find the perfect place to start their family. Though I saw this movie before I’d actually begun writing my screenplay (along with my sister and my husband), I was immediately and immensely impressed with the dialogue in this movie. It was funny and fresh and extraordinarily human. Of course, good writing alone does not make a great movie. Overall, I thought the movie was good – not great – but definitely overlooked by filmgoers and reviewers, alike. Nevertheless, the dialogue has stayed with me ever since I saw it. I hope we can write even nearly that well!
The Brothers McMullen. The acting and directorial debut by Edward Burns, this movie is charming for many of the same reasons I liked Away We Go. It’s a small, indie film, but the characters are so fresh and real. The warmth and humor that comes through isn’t slapstick or clownish – it’s just the funny kind of day-to-day awarenesses you notice in the people around you, especially your family. I was particularly inspired to hear Burns speak at the 2003 Phoenix Film Festival about his decision to make this movie. “I couldn’t get a foot in the door anywhere, so I finally just decided to start my own film company and make the movie I wanted to make,” he said (or something close to that). If he could start his own film production company and go on to become a Hollywood notable, we can certainly publish our own books and achieve similar success!
High Fidelity. Perhaps the one movie that literally inspired me to write something, I love this film largely because of Rob’s (John Cusack) quirky fascination with making lists. Adapted from Nick Hornby’s book of the same name, this is one the two Hornby titles relocated from their original UK backdrops to the US (Fever Pitch being the other). Inspired by High Fidelity, back in 2007 I wrote an article titled, “Write a List – Grab the Cash!” the point of which was to inspire its reader to make a list and turn it into a book, teleclass, or other info product.
Good Will Hunting. As you may have guessed, I see a lot of movies. This is one of the few I remember thinking to myself as I watched, “This is an award-winning movie!” And it did win awards: a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Robin Williams, and Best Original Screenplay for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The best part of the screenplay award story is that they originally wrote the script as a thriller: Matt Damon’s title character is hired by the US government to use his superior math skills to help develop top-secret superweaponry. Coached instead to “focus more on the characters,” they did – and look where it got them! My screenwriting team has actually printed out Damon and Affleck’s original script for Good Will Hunting to use as a model for scene formatting and other bits that go into an original screenplay.
So those are the positive takeaways. Then there’s the OTHER Pinterest board that is pretty much the antithesis of the first one: Most Overrated Movies Ever. With only 13 titles presently, this category promises to grow as the hype machines rev up for the summer. However, I sometimes think you can learn as much from the things you dislike as you can from the things that resonate with you.
In this case, it’s the incredibly overrated Descendants, the George Clooney vehicle. GIANT screenwriting lesson that goes back to Sr. Laurian in sixth-grade English: Show, don’t tell. This movie felt like at least 30 percent of the story came through the narration, which created a couple of significant drawbacks: (1) it was a huge SNOOZER; (2) it made Clooney’s character seem even more self-absorbed than I think the screenwriters intended him to be.
Smaller, yet important, lesson from Inception: Don’t make your clever plot so complicated that you need a guidebook and bread crumbs to follow it.
So I admit I’m a tough movie critic. I cannot help but watch with an editor’s eye toward always improving things. I know a movie is good if I am instantly drawn in. If there’s a moment anywhere for me to consider ways to improve it, there’s something wrong with it, as far as I’m concerned.
So which movies have inspired your writing, work, or business? Share your answers in the comments section below.
Happy movie watching!
We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.
In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!