Reader Question: Should we be careful about the genre of movies we watch while writing a script?

February 6th, 2013 by

Question from Zachary:

I know you always say we need to read scripts, watch movies and tv, and write pages. It brings me to a question. Should you be watching and reading the subject matter you are currently writing. For instance i am writing a comedy at the moment and i often wonder if watching or reading dramas will ruin my zone for comedy.

If you’re writing a comedy, I suppose it’s not such a good idea to watch The Road on an endless loop. But frankly I would be more concerned about watching comedies while writing a comedy project. In fact I actually have a personal rule about it: When I’m in the page-writing part of the process, either first draft, rewrite, or polish, I do not watch movies in the same genre of that project. There is one big reason why not: Once I’ve found the tone of the story, I do everything I can to protect it.

This is especially true with comedy. Humor is such a subjective thing to begin with. Working with a story’s collection of characters and finding out where they go comedically is a big challenge. The difference between what works and doesn’t work can be a razor’s edge. Having found the right comedic tone, the last thing I want to do is read a book or watch a movie that causes me to:

* Rethink my tone
* Compare my tone to their tone
* Question my characters and their voices

So my advice: Once you type FADE IN, avoid watching movies in the same genre.

On the other hand, when I’m prepping a script and doing research, it can be important to watch movies in the same genre to get a Gestalt sense of what has come before. For example, if I was writing a compressed time frustration comedy about a group of guys who get into a situation way over their heads, I’d watch movies like The Hangover, Dude Where’s My Car, and After Hours to immerse myself in that subject area.

But not when I’m writing pages.

How about you? Do any of you find watching a bunch of dramas causes you to lose your comedic edge? Like me do you avoid watching movies in the same genre as your current project? Or does it not make one whit of difference to you?

[Originally posted January 31, 2011]

9 thoughts on “Reader Question: Should we be careful about the genre of movies we watch while writing a script?

  1. Debbie Moon says:

    Quite often I’ve had ideas for or solved problems in my current script while watching something totally different, so I think it’s helpful to watch a broad range of movies. But also, watching movies in your genre in the prep phase can be really useful. It just gets you into the right frame of mind.

  2. I find myself drawn to the genre in which I’m writing, but with a lot of stories there’s genre overlap. If I’m writing a sci-fi script I’ll watch “The Fly” or “Event Horizon” or “2001…” However, if the story is also about a father and son, I’d be just as inclined to watch “There Will Be Blood” or “Field of Dreams” or… “The Road.” lol But you’re right about tone — watching another movie in the same genre while I’m writing is definitely disorienting. Great insight!

  3. I do the same in the pre-writing process; watch films that are in the vein of what I’m going to be writing, but I’ve never thought of how watching films in that genre while I’m actually scene writing might affect it.

    The question posed in this post is pretty interesting, especially while applying it to comedy; I would think that it’s harder to write comedy while watching tons of comedy because you might write something similar to what you’ve seen (or read), but then again, how do you know if you’re ripping something off if you don’t watch what’s already been done?

  4. Shaula Evans says:

    For me it’s not a question of genre so much as rhythm: if I can find something with a similar rhythm to something I’m working on, regardless of genre, I’m happy to watch a bit from time to while I’m writing pages to keep my ear (and brain) primed. I generally don’t listen to music as I write but I do watch/listen to shows (TV or film) *as* music when I write.

    For example, I recently watched Breakfast on Pluto and I was blown away by how late it gets into scenes and how early it leaves. I have the film on a constant mental loop right now as a touchstone for the scene pacing I want (and need) on my current project (which is very different in tone and style).

    Likewise, Blackadder and Fawlty Towers are very different from what I’m working on, but they both have the right dialogue tempo, and ratio of verbal to physical comedy. Watching an episode from time to time and keeping my finger on that comedy pulse is helpful, too.

    I’m not worried about what I watch “contaminating” what I write because I’m usually watching for very specific, transferrable elements between works that are otherwise significantly different.

  5. I generally take Scott’s advice and stay away from the genre I’m writing.

    However, I’m knee deep in a Sci-fi/thriller and have still been watching the original Twilight Zone series on Netflix.

    For me, if it inspires to be better, it’s positive.

    Seek for what the masters sought. Rod Serling was a master. I don’t want to mimic him, but he has so much to teach.

  6. I’m still a novice, so when I write a script, one of the things I do early on to help me establish tone is figure out the “A meets B via X and Y” pitch and what bits from each movie/tv show I’m going to borrow.

    1. Shaula Evans says:

      I hear Shakespeare used to do that, too…

  7. WyWe says:

    This is a good question. It all depends on how you were influenced and how you stay motivated to write within that specific genre.

    Whenever I listen to music I hear the melody and rhythm, not the lyrics. If someone asked what that song I just listened to repeatedly was about, I wouldn’t be able to answer. It is obviously different for me with movies, but if you’re able to find that emotional charge from watching a movie in the midst of writing, without fixating too much on the mechanics of the movie, it might help in the progression of the story. It’s important though to approach your writing and story delicately after that emotional influence, whether it’s comedy or drama.

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