By Caitlin Costello
As I writer, I find it almost necessary to read great books and watch great films. As an artist myself, I feel like it is important to enjoy and appreciate other forms of art. I think films are important to the writing artform. So in addition to reading, I also enjoy watching films in order to write well. I am a very visual person and watching great films inspire me to want to write more and even write something like that. Granted, I am not the next great screenwriter, however, I am a storyteller.
A film without cinematography is just a script, and a screenwriter is essentially a masterful storyteller (and even better at dialogue than most writers). When you watch a film you are watching a story unfold – so that’s an entire book in about 1.5 hours. As a writer, a great film gives me life because I want to aspire to write something that great. I find that there is even literature in film, if analyzed enough, a film’s plot can have that same sort of specialness that a book has. It’s all in the fiction, or in this case, the intricate layers of striking cinematography and crafty dialogue.
Without further ado, here are the top eight films that I think every writer should see:
Two words. Kathy Bates. This film is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. It is the story of a famous writer who gets into a car accident and is then rescued by a woman who turns out to be one of his biggest fans. She is pathologically obsessed with his book series and makes sure that he doesn’t get any better so that he can stay under her ‘care’ and finish the manuscript of his newest book. This film delves into the psychology of fanaticism. But it also gives writers a fair warning about the kinds of people who actually read their work. I mean just imagine being kidnapped, psychologically abused, and forced to write for a sociopath’s enjoyment, you’d probably never pick up a pen again.
This film is about a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman, named after the actual screenwriter and director of the film. The story follows a neurotic sweaty writer who is trying to adapt a book into a screenplay. The plot gives the pains of being an undervalued slave to Hollywood while still trying to maintain a writer’s credibility. It delves into the psyche of its main character, and we find ourselves as fellow writers sympathizing with all of his crazy antics and cynicism. I recommend this film because it is a great introduction to the work of the genius screenwriter, you guessed it, Charlie Kaufman.
This film is very dark, so if you don’t have a black enough sense of humor then don’t watch it, it won’t be rewarding enough for you I promise. The film makes a mockery of writers. It follows two plots, one is titled “fiction” and the other is “non-fiction.” Both parts are equally disappointing and painfully real. The film covers themes such as film criticism, exploitation, and metafiction. Brought to you by the wonderfully subversive Todd Solondz, Storytelling pities writers and it’s hilarious.
4. Ruby Sparks
This film comes from the makers of Little Miss Sunshine, which is another brilliant movie script. It’s about a writer who creates a fictitious girlfriend for himself because he is lonely, but the rub is that she becomes real. Intrigued by this, he manipulates her existence by writing what he wants her to be like and even what he wants her to do. Every man’s dream, right? I recommend this film for one reason and one reason only, because it’s unrealistic. You can’t make your characters fall in love with you. No matter how talented of a writer you are.
5. Adult World
This film is about a twenty-something post undergrad named Amy who is also a struggling writer. We are all Amy. She obsessively submits her work to some of the top literary magazines in the country and gets rejected by all of them. She thinks that she is a great writer, and don’t we all think that at first. She meets a famous writer (John Cusack) who completely shatters her ego, but in doing so he offers her (and the audience) some great advice on being a young writer who is just starting out. The film taught me a lot about my own goals as an emerging writer. One quote from the movie really stuck with me and that is, “It is the artist’s job to fail better.” To me it means, that as a writer you will fail a lot, you will get rejected a lot, however, that doesn’t mean that you should stop what you love doing, you should keep going and try to fail a little bit better next time.
6. The End of the Tour
This is an indie-type biopic about the brilliant and prolific writer David Foster Wallace. For those of you not familiar with his work, I recommend that you look up his most famous scripture Infinite Jest, because it is definitely infinite. The tale follows his friendship with a journalist on his book tour. I like this film because I found that there are a lot of philosophical remarks by DFW that are very beneficial to writers of all sorts. The script is based on the actual interview that occurred between Wallace and the journalist. Wallace is very insightful and his advice is great for anyone who wants to be a writer. Also, if you are fascinated about the glamorous life of a writer then watch this film.
7. Midnight in Paris
This film is for the romantic types and for people who love the twenties. If you like both of those things then you will probably like this film. It is a Woody Allen film, but don’t let that stop you. The film features a lot of the greats from that era.
If you are an English major or a fancy-schmancy literary connoisseur then you will definitely enjoy this film. The plot is about a struggling writer who wanders the streets of Paris at night in hope to muster up some inspiration but instead finds himself transported back to the twenties during the golden age of literature and art. The film is slow to warm up, but once it does magic happens.
8. Synecdoche, New York
This film made me question my entire mortality. Why you ask? Because the film deals with every writer’s anxiety over writing something worthwhile and putting it out into the world before they die. The character in this film Caden, played by the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a very complicated playwright who is afraid of death. While unsuccessfully trying to finish a play over the span of seventeen years, his own life becomes intertwined in the play itself. The film has deep existential themes that tackle every human’s fear of death and every writer’s fear of somehow creating meaning to that death.
What are your must-see writer movies?