By Ace Hunter
In Lawrence Kasdan’s film “Grand Canyon,” Steve Martin comments to one of the characters: “That’s part of your problem: you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”
I often return to this quote as a source of inspiration to understanding my own challenges in life, and while I believe what he said holds true from my own perspective in this world, I also believe it holds true for many industry folk struggling with their own unique visions.
If you are a screenwriter or filmmaker, chances are you are not watching enough movies.
I know the very idea sounds absurd. How could someone working in the industry they love NOT be watching films? But time and again I encounter various scribes and directors who spend more time grousing about story structure problems and less time actually watching films. Hell, even my fellow Film Warriors don’t watch as many films as I do.
I make a concerted effort to attend at least one theatrical film a week, sometimes two. That means I physically make a trip to my local cinema and plop down in an actual theater. If for some reason that doesn’t happen (hangovers, cheap sex, etc.), then I usually rent new releases from my local Redbox and watch them at home. Many weeks I actually do both.
Regardless, there is always an influx of new films for me on a weekly basis, and it’s this return to the source that fuels my creativity for my own projects.
To be a better screenwriter or filmmaker, you MUST watch a lot of films. A LOT of films.
Films have their own internal rhythm, and it’s finding and understanding this rhythm that’s key to improving your work. Anyone can learn the mechanics, but if you aren’t able to develop a rhythm for it, then the material will just sit there, lifeless. This where talent comes into play.
Of course, the best way to tap into a film’s rhythm is to actually WATCH a film from start to finish. Putting a movie on as background noise while you write does not count. You may have seen that film 70 times, but it’s that 71st viewing where you’ll finally catch something that will improve the rhythm in your own work.
I often find there are too many distractions at home, which is why I plant myself in a theater and set my cell phone to silent. Movies should be a completely absorbing experience to the viewer. Half assed movie viewing leads to half assed writing and filmmaking, so stop Tweeting and start watching.
Don’t limit yourself to your well played DVD collection, either. Film is a constantly shifting landscape. Watching new quest items can open up new doors in your creativity, so make it a point to seek them out.
If you’re too damn lazy to motivate yourself into a theater at least once a week, why are you working in this industry? I actually know an industry professional who claimed they hadn’t been to a theatrical film in months, and this person evaluates screenplays for a living!
This is your PASSION! I couldn’t imagine a novelist who didn’t read books, or an artist who never looks at other paintings. Actively watching films is a part of your soul. It’s what got you to write that screenplay or shoot that movie in the first place, and you can’t cut corners by half watching films or waiting until all the new releases hit Netflix.
Yes, I know actively watching films can be time consuming. Yes, I know you’re busy writing or editing. But let me ask you this: How would feel if you dumped five long years of hard work into a project, only to have someone skip your theatrical release, wait until it hits Redbox, then use it as background noise while they do the laundry?
If you don’t continue to actively watch films, then you’re not really a true screenwriter or filmmaker. You’re someone who learned just enough to think they could do it better, which probably explains why you’re struggling with your projects now.
“Deeds, not words…”