Monday, July 25, 2011

I love you, movies

The first day of my first college writing workshop class, the professor made us all fill out an index card - your name, your major, your favorite writer - and this one guy named Elton asked if he could list himself. He just didn't read other writers' work, he said.

As you may imagine, his work was dreadful, and he refused to take criticism like an adult. He argued every single note until the professor refused to critique any more of his stories.

When you don't study other writers, of course you'll think you're the best. You have no comparison.

I remembered this the other day when I overheard an aspiring screenwriter say to her companion, "Oh I haven't seen a movie in the theater in four years." Apparently she also didn't have a Netflix account.

I hear that every now and then, people who brag about how no film made after 1972 is good enough for their impossibly specific taste. They're such amazing writers, so very gifted, they just don't reduce their standards. So they think.

Our primary job is to write great screenplays, but part of that is knowing what else is out there, what the trends of the day are, and to learn from the great ones who went before us.

The first time I saw In Bruges I immediately drove home, turned on my computer and started working on my screenplay, because I realized that what I had written was not even in the same hemisphere as that film. I write movies for the same reason I teach English - I am in AWE of a great story. I could go on for hours about the underrated genius that is Pitch Black or the way Donnie Darko made me feel. Sometimes a movie is so good I want to hug it.

Sometimes a movie is so terrible I want to cut off its face. And that, too, I could talk about for hours. I LOVE MOVIES. That's why I write them - I want to be like those people who make the movies so I can live inside the thing I love.

I am chomping at the bit to see Cowboys and Aliens. I'm so excited I might pass out on the floor before I get to my seat. I promised to wait until Monday because Beefcake will be out of town this weekend, so I will try to distract myself from my impatience with a cocktail of writing and LA Noir, which I am horrible at but quite enjoy.

Anyway, I can't imagine why someone would want to put themselves through all the trouble of cranking out script after script, dealing with rejection and rudeness and feeling like you wasted your life unless you love movies. And if you love movies, don't you want to see them?

I just don't get it.


  1. I couldn't agree more! I can only go to movies with fellow film lovers or I risk annoying the crap out of everyone after the movie, because I won't stop talking about it.

    Movies are by turns motivating and breathtaking (okay, some of them deserve stabbing), but whether they're good or bad they make us better writers. Last summer after watching Inception I cranked out ten pages of a script I'd been working on, because I was so inspired. Here's hoping Cowboys & Aliens provokes the same response.

  2. I love movies, too (and their snooty cousins, films), but I challenge the idea that you must watch them with a larger audience in a movie theatre. I find that totally distracting, making the whole experience completely unenjoyable.

  3. i am waiting for one of f_a_f or catcon films to make the big screen. until then, AMC ain't gettin' my money!

  4. Amy Stole My Boyfriend. Again.9:29 PM

    So, which is your favorite story in los angeles noir (I'm reading it now also)?

  5. This is such a strange post.

    How often do you really hear a screenwriter say they haven't watched a movie made in the last 40 years? And do you think they're exaggerating? My assumption is they're being extreme to make a point.

    They may not have your taste-Pitch Black is unwatchable crap in my opinion and Donnie Darko is the (totally lame) film shallow wanna be "film people" say they love so they feel deep and intellectual-but that doesn't mean they don't have valid taste.

    I've watched as you've ripped masterpieces, but does that mean you don't actually like movies? You don't like Annie Hall or most of Tarantino's work but if somebody doesn't adore Pitch Black they're just film haters?

  6. Agreed, Ashley.

    I get that, Millar, but don't you want to write movies that people will see in the theater?

    Young, hah!

    Amy, I meant LA Noir the X Box game, which is great fun but I at which I suck. I believe everybody's telling the truth.

    RBR, that was FOUR years, not forty. And no I don't think they're exaggerating to make a point. I've heard at least three or four aspiring screenwriters brag about the fact that they don't go to the movies, but in this case I was referring to one particular anecdote that got me thinking.

    I never said someone who doesn't love Pitch Black is a film hater. People are free to like or not like whatever they want and I'd certainly never judge them for it. There is room in this world for people with differing opinions who treat each other with respect.

    I happen to like what I like. You can make whatever judgements you like about my choices, but I know my own mind.

    What I don't get is people who claim to write movies who don't actually ever watch them.

    It's funny to me, though, that you keep going back to how I don't like Annie Hall and then accuse me of trying to win some kind of film street cred by liking Donnie Darko.

  7. I too love them. Since I'll watch any movie and appreciate it for it's good qualities, does that make me a man-whore? ("Michael Bolton is a major cinephile" hehe)

    Films such at Donnie Darko definitely transported me to it's world. Huge fan of that one.

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  9. Considering that Pitch Black was an adaptation of an Asimov story, I'd say it started out ahead of most of the movies you'd normally compare it to. (I agree, it's underrated.)

  10. I'm not so sure it matters where movies are viewed. My argument is, in the early days movie theatres were the only viable method by which the studios and filmmakers could effectively and economically deliver their product, therefore theaters were a necessary cog. By default, watching movies was a shared event.

    Now, it's no longer necessary. Home theatres and dedicated screening rooms provide a comparable or even better movie going experience.

    When writing, I'm not thinking of the 'audience' in a theatre. I'm only concerned with entertaining them, and connecting with them on an emotional level. For that, I really don't think it matters where they see it.

  11. I can't hear the opening notes from Mad World without breaking into tears. Damn you, Donnie Darko.

    Loved Pitch Black, actually seen it twice, don't do that often. The pleasure of the sci fi and the tale well told. 23mil production budget, 53mil global box office gross, I bet dvd sales added a good bit, bet it hit the 3X mark.

    If you haven't seen it, most transported I've been in a while, Bronson with Tom Hardy, wild movie ride.

  12. I'm a little puzzled by all this because it seems like the most non-controversial post imaginable. I don't even agree all the time with Emily but I can certainly appreciate what she has to say here. It's fun to go to the movies. It really is and I love doing it. And I still hope that someday Emily will come around on a few certain movies she says she doesn't like.

    Also, if you don't go to movies on a regular basis, if you don't get a thrill out of the flicker of the 35mm image, if you don't revel in that experience as if you're getting oxygen, if you don't look at the act of going to the movies as a form of going to church or whatever...I don't think you can say that you actually love movies.

  13. There is no case for an argument that declares not going to the theatre to watch a movie means you don't really love movies. That's preposterous. I understand the social aspect of an evening out at the movies. That's a blast, I'm sure. But I suggest if you really LOVE movies, it only makes sense that you should want to see it in an environment that allows you to actually watch it without outside disturbances.

    You should be taken by a movie. Absorbed into the world the writer, actors, and director have created. That can't possibly be acheived if you are removed from the fantasy at every cough, whisper, sneeze, phone call, misplaced snicker, dropped soda cup, weak bladder, foot shuffle, toe nail clip, nasal snort, or large bulbous moving head.

    Just can't happen. To say otherwise means you don't really love movies.

  14. I strongly suspect that millar prescott has been going to the absolute worst multiplexes on the planet. Plus I believe he/she didn't really understand my point.

  15. Most theatres today use digital projectors. The romance of a flickering 35mm image is long gone. Additionally, I don't understand why the format has anything to do with one's love of movies. If you're talking about going to the movies, then yes, that is certainly part of the complete experience: the theatre, the audience, the expectation. But has nothing whatever to do with one's love of a great story, well told. Which is essentially what we're talking about, after all. Love of movies, not love of going to the theatre to watch them.

  16. I guess my point is that, if you want to make movies, do you want to make D2DVD films? Or do you plan to make movies that are shown in theaters?

    I often go to the theater to support a film I want more of in the future. And there's nothing like watching explosions on a giant screen, or comedies in an audience full of people laughing.

    I guess I know the theaters in my area well enough to avoid most theater annoyances.

  17. Yeah, the theatres have been pretty brutal. Total f*cks in the audience.

  18. Good debate. So tonight I'm gonna watch Anthony Hopkins' Slipstream, and David Lynch's Inland Empire. I've been dying to see IE. Hope it doesn't disappoint.

    Gonna stay in to watch them.

  19. Putting aside how I prefer 35mm to digital, I'm going to drop any snark and simply say this--if millar prescott lives in a place that doesn't allow access to an Arclight-type theater and only the shittiest multiplexes imaginable are nearby, well, I'm not sure I'd want to go there to see a movie either.

  20. Mr. Peel, sir, you are a gentleman. I accept your whatever that was.

    Hey, no snark at all. It's the kind of banter you have with good friends at the pub after a night at the movies.

  21. Indeed. I love respectful discussions.

    And Millar, as long as you see the movies you love, that's what matters most. There are theaters in this town (*cough* Third Street Promenade *cough*) where I wouldn't set foot if my life depended on it. So I can see the frustration if you have few options.

  22. Anonymous7:40 AM

    I don't love movies. I love writing and filmmaking. Most movies make me sick to the tummy.

    I don't love movies, never.
    I love the business of Hollywood.

    Actually, movies, ha? - lots of shit out there.

    Still waiting for the next MATRIX and the next CROW and the next SNATCH and the next WEST SIDE STORY and the next APOCALYPSE NOW and the next REAR VIEW WINDOW..


  23. I am currently in a film class of 23 fellow storytellers. I have over 750 scripts, (black list, hit list, unproduced, iconic) that I have gathered over the last few years. I keep them on a thumb drive on my keychain.

    I offered the entire library to anyone in the class. Only three people asked for them.

    The instructors have said it several times. Writers say it over and over again in interviews. Read scripts, especially the ones you love.

    I devour scripts. I support my favorite genre (sci-fi) almost religously at the movie theatre. Anything else I netflix or watch on the pay channels.

    Unless you immerse yourself in story telling, specifically in the brand of story you intend to break into, I fail to see how one can be successful.


  24. Also I love Pitch Black. I mean, who shaves with axel grease?

    COME ON!


  25. You would not believe the number of poets who are like this. They don't read poetry. They don't go to poetry readings (at least not ones they aren't participating in.) They don't have much technical knowledge about the artform. And they sneer at the idea that any of these things might be important or make them better writers.

    They seem to confuse poetry with a personal diary, in that they think it's about just putting down whatever comes into their heads, and feel that technique and skill would interfere somehow with this process... also, despite the fact that they do not read other poets, they expect you to read them.

    Yeah, I can't imagine writing if you don't love reading. I can't imagine writing screenplays if you don't love watching movies. I am always looking to be delighted, thrilled, gutted, frightened, enticed or otherwise moved by art - and that's the reason I write. I want to move people, in some way. I think if I succeed at that, even if it's just tingles from suspense, that's never trivial.


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