Keys to the Craft: Watch Movies

November 27th, 2012 by

If you want to learn the craft of screenwriting, here are five practices you need to adopt:

Think Concepts. Watch Movies. Read Scripts. Write Pages. Live Life.

Okay, the last one is pretty unavoidable. That said, I will have some thoughts on it this Friday. Why? Because I am running a series this week on each of these practices.

Yesterday, I wrote about Think Concepts.

Today: Watch movies.

I’m often surprised when I interface with aspiring screenwriters how few movies they have seen. This is wrong in so many ways.

* You gain inspiration from seeing, studying, and analyzing movies.

* Every time you see a movie, you learn something about the craft.

* There is a Gestalt understanding of the craft you gain from watching a multitude of movies.

And then there’s this warning: If you expect to work in Hollywood, it’s critical you have a broad exposure to movies in order to be able to traffic in the countless film references people in the industry use every day.

You simply must watch movies.

Let me delve into this further by parsing the word “watch.” Broadly speaking, there are two ways to watch a movie.

The first is simply for sheer enjoyment and entertainment. Go to a theater. Rub shoulders with a real crowd to remind you of your target audience. Buy a big overpriced tub of buttered popcorn. Kick back and give yourself over to the story universe.

The second is for analysis and understanding. Cue up Netflix or pop in a DVD, and study it. Track its characters and their respective narrative functions. Identify themes. Note the story’s major plot points. Better yet, do a scene-by-scene breakdown.

Both are critical, the latter to inform your mind, the former to feed your soul.

Seriously you should watching two movies per week — minimum.

Where to start? Here: The IMDB Top 250 movie list. Go through this list and note which movies you have seen and which you have not. Then work your way through the titles you haven’t seen, one by one.

You can do this. You know you need to do this. The time to get started is now.

Watch. A. Movie. Today.

Tomorrow: Read scripts.

7 thoughts on “Keys to the Craft: Watch Movies

  1. BTW: Cinema Paradiso (pic used in this post) is on Netflix. Piace molto!

    1. Scott says:

      Still remember when I saw “Cinema Paradiso” the first time: The Ventana Inn in Big Sur with my wife on a rainy weekend getaway. Such a wonderful movie.

      1. “Such a wonderful movie.” Amen.
        This was my first introduction to “foreign film,” besides British and Australian films. What a gem to begin with!

  2. Shaula Evans says:

    Other good sources of free movies:

    Many public libraries lend out videos and DVDs. offers many films for free.

    Open Culture maintains an extensive list of free online movies.

    1. Scott says:

      Thanks, Shaula!

  3. Vijay Raman says:

    Hello guys,

    Although this advice is extremely important for an aspiring screenwriter/filmmaker, care must be taken to ensure that this analysis and deep exploration of the film doesn’t become an end in itself. I personally feel that too much of an indulgence in the films of masters leads to an unconscious compulsion to duplicate them, and thus the genesis of a writer’s yet-to-come stories become the watched-movie images and not the issues that he resonates with.

    The best way to tackle this is to always remember not to try n use these lessons consciously while creating.

  4. […] Watch Movies I’m often surprised when I interface with aspiring screenwriters how few movies they have seen. This is wrong in so many ways. […]

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