Thursday, February 5, 2009

Good Movies = Good Writing (Or my attempt to justify why 2 hours in front of the TV is really work.)

I love movies. Maybe even as much as I love books. One summer, before we had kids, my husband and I rented 100 movies from Blockbuster, which prompted them to invite us into their platinum club for free. We probably would’ve rented more, but I think we got to the point where we’d seen pretty much everything we wanted to from the whole store.

Growing up, movies were medicine. Whenever I stayed home sick from school, my mom let me watch my favorites: Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, or The Wizard of Oz. (I still love these movies.)

I also loved (and still do love) going to the movie theater, and so many memories are entwined with the movies I saw there. My first movie theater movie was Snow White – I went with my mom’s friend and her son, and I remember being terrified of the witch. I also remember that the car broke down on the way home and we got stranded! On my first date I went to see Jurassic Park. On my first date with my husband we saw My Life (in which Michael Keaton is dying, leaving Nicole Kidman behind), and I can cry again just thinking about it now. Perhaps not the best first date movie, but it was the only movie playing in the small, old-fashioned theater by our high school. I saw, er, slept through Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy when I went to see it with my grandparents when my husband and I were in visiting in Pittsburgh. It was summer, they were having a heat wave, and my grandparents didn’t have air-conditioning, so we drove to the movies to cool off, not even caring what we saw.

In college I took a few communications classes on movies and their history, where we got to watch and learn about the classics. I fell in love with Marilyn Monroe, movies like Some Like it Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was an amazing break from the stress of my other classes, to go into that huge lecture hall and get to sit there for two hours and watch a movie. I couldn’t believe I got college credit for it!

When I was in graduate school, I took a year-long screenwriting class, where I also wrote my own screenplay. Our “books” for the class were scripts from movies, and then we’d watch the movies to see how the words played out. I completely fell in love with North by Northwest, When Harry Met Sally, and The Sixth Sense. We also analyzed how to write scripts and focused on dialogue, scene, and a three-act structure. This was the first time movies and writing collided for me (and also the same year when my husband and I rented those 100 movies.)

In fact, reading movie scripts and writing my own script made me look at movies in a whole new way, and informed my novel writing hugely. Since then, I haven’t been able to watch a movie without thinking about how it’s written. I don’t notice the costumes or the landscapes, the acting or the directing. But I do notice the dialogue, the way the plot’s paced, or the way a character’s developed. And my novel writing? It’s very visual, as if I’m seeing the book play out as a movie in my head as I write. I mentally watch my characters and “hear” them speaking as if they were in a movie scene. Sometimes I even imagine what music would be playing the background, how my characters’ voices would sound, and how they would physically act and react to one another.

Recently I haven’t had as much time to watch movies, and the last movie I saw in the theater was Disney’s Bolt! But I firmly believe that my passion for movies and my passion for books are connected, and that without all the lessons I learned about writing from watching movies, I would absolutely not be the same writer I am today.


Tracy Madison said...

Great post, Jillian! I absolutely agree with you...the way I watch movies (and read books) has completely changed. As a writer, my brain processes books and movies differently.

lisapatton said...

What a fabulous post, Jill! I love so many of the same movies and I, too, took a screenwriting course in college. I see the 3 act structure, too, whenever I watch.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Oh, I love When Harry Met Sally-one of my favorites! Great post.

Jillian Cantor said...

Tracy, That's a good point -- I read books differently, too.

Lisa, I thought I was the only one who thought about three act structure while watching a movie!

GreenBean TQ When Harry Met Sally is my absolute favorite!!!

Maureen Lipinski said...

I'm constantly taking little notes whenever I watch a movie with regards to tips for pacing, plot and structure!