If you want to write movies, you need to love movies. And that love ought to manifest itself in a thorough, longstanding and passionate immersion in the world of cinema.
Love it. Live it. Learn it.
You may squint your eyes at that word cinema. Sounds awfully high tone if one’s goal is to write mainstream commercial Hollywood movies. Popcorn films. Stories for the masses.
I prefer that term because if we think movies, we might be inclined to limit the scope of our efforts to watching films and perhaps reading scripts. Maybe tracking the comments section at Deadline.
Not enough in my humble opinion.
Yes, you must watch movies, read scripts and write pages. But you should consider doing more. Much more.
- Read filmmaking books: “Making Movies” by Sidney Lumet, “Conversations with Wilder” with Billy Wilder & Cameron Crowe, “Adventures in the Screen Trade” by William Goldman. Just a few of the many essential books.
- Watch DVD commentaries: The Third Man (filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Tony Gilroy), The Silence of the Lambs (director Jonathan Demme, actors Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, FBI agent John Douglas), Little Miss Sunshine (directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, screenwriter Michael Arndt). Three of literally thousands of audio commentaries.
- Film analysis: “Roger Ebert’s Book of Films” by Roger Ebert, “5001 Nights at the Movies” by Pauline Kael, “A Biographical Dictionary of Film” by David Thomson. So many great books of film criticism, plus numerous journals.
- Evolution of filmmaking: “Film History: An Introduction” by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, “An Empire of Their Own” by Neal Gabler, “What Happens Next” by Marc Norman. There is a treasure trove of books about the history of filmmaking and the movies business.
- Screenwriter interviews: Watch, read, and listen to interviews with professional writers. You can get a good start in this area right here on my blog, literally hundreds of interviews: Audio, Video, Written.
- Podcasts: “Scriptnotes” with John August and Craig Mazin, “Nerdist Writers Panel,” KCRW’s “The Treatment” and many more.
- Online: The Bitter Script Reader, Thompson on Hollywood, Box Office Mojo. Just the tip of the iceberg of sites you should bookmark.
Every writer is different. There’s no right way to write. But having been in the business for over a quarter-century and met literally hundreds of writers, I can safely say that to a man and woman, they live and breathe movies.
That’s why I use cinema. It’s all-embracing, expansive and comprehensive. If you want to maximize your chances of success as a working screenwriter, you should immerse yourself in cinema.
But how? And where to start? If only someone would put together a primer.
Guess what? The fine folks who frequent this site have done that, right here: Deep Focus: The Go Into The Movies Project.
Deep Focus In Brief syllabus: 25 movies, 25 screenplays, 5 books [For those with limited time or looking for a good starting point]
So, cinema. Not trying to be snooty. Just hoping to inspire you to immerse yourself in this amazing world of visual storytelling.