In yesterday’s Dispatch From The Quest, I followed up on Miranda’s post with this observation:
The Questers are doing some research during the Core part of the process, including watching movies and reading scripts that are in the vein of their stories. There are several good reasons to do this:
* To know what has come before: Everything from overall plot to character iterations down to specific set pieces and story beats. This is important to avoid duplication.
* To get a sense of tone: One way to help a writer determine the tone they want to give their story is to watch movies or read scripts in the same genre and get a sense of their tone, a way of calibrating one’s sensibilities.
* To see what works and doesn’t work: To avoid missteps and aim for narrative elements that can succeed, see what has risen or fallen in previous films.
And, of course, inspiration!
Per this last point, what should happen but I get an email from screenwriter David Guggenheim (Safe House) about a set of movies that inspired he and fellow writer Nicholas Mennuti to write the novel “Weaponized” which just came out today. Here is that list and their comments on each movie:
11 MOVIES THAT INSPIRED WEAPONIZED (in stores today – JULY 30)
by Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim
North By Northwest (1959), Alfred Hitchcock
The definitive mistaken identity thriller. Master screenwriter Ernest Lehmann said he wanted to write “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures” and did he ever succeed. Like Weaponized’s Kyle West, Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill is on the run, trying in vain to convince everyone who he really is (or isn’t). If you ever want to write a chase story with an espionage backdrop this is really the only one you need to study. We sure have.
Collateral (2004), Michael Mann
“Weaponized” is part of a style that we refer to as “neon noir” and Michael Mann is the Jackson Pollack of that milieu. Every one of his films is essential, but “Collateral” is the high point of his experimentation with mixing high-def and traditional film. And if that wasn’t enough — it has one of Tom Cruise’s most memorable performances, and you can literally watch Jamie Foxx becoming a star. The scene where Foxx’s Max has to pretend to be Cruise’s ice-cold killer Vincent for a meeting with a drug lord was essential viewing for us during Weaponized. The link below shows you one of the most enervating action sequences in years and why Mann is the contemporary master:
For the rest of Nicholas and David’s list, hit More.
Here is more of of the list of movies that inspired the novel “Weaponized”:
Strangers on a Train (1951), Alfred Hitchcock
More Hitchcock you say! Yes. The master of suspense working with source material from the great Patricia Highsmith (“Talented Mr. Ripley”) proved to be a match made in doppelganger hell. Both the book and the film — about two people who swap identities during a chance encounter — were highly influential to the set-up of “Weaponized.” Be sure to pay close attention to the shoes in this clip below:
Apocalypse Now (1979), Francis Ford Coppola
A fall-down, flat-out masterpiece on its own terms, but most importantly, this classic Vietnam saga taught us that you could fuse the insanity of the outer landscape with the inner tumult of your main character.
Demonlover (2002, Olivier Assayas)
Most people don’t know this one and that’s a shame, because we consider it one the best films of the 2000’s. A corporate espionage movie that’s also a deep meditation on the electronically mediated and atomized 21st century. Plus it’s got a killer soundtrack by Sonic Youth. Proof you don’t have to slow down the pace to make people think. The trailer below is only a sample of how revolutionary this one really is…
The Passenger (1975, Michelangelo Antonioni)
A displaced American in a foreign locale. An amiable stranger with a secretive occupation. A mysterious woman with divided motives. Death, doppelgangers, politics, and a screed against the emptiness of the modern media and society. You might say this one influenced “Weaponized” a bit. However, a word to the wise, this is an Antonioni movie, which is to say – he doesn’t care if you’re entertained. Also, the film climaxes in what many consider the greatest tracking shot in film history. Judge for yourself below…
Black Rain (1989, Ridley Scott)
Again, maybe not the best Ridley Scott movie (see: Alien for David; Blade Runner for Nick), but another prime example of “neon noir”. Influential during “Weaponized” not only for the patented sheen Scott painted on Asia, but also because it featured a morally ambiguous protagonist, Michael Douglas’s Nick Conklin, who may or may not have committed a crime – yet somehow you still root for him. Douglas is just fantastic in this scene below:
Man On Fire (2004, Tony Scott), The Bourne Supremacy (2004, Paul Greengrass)
These two come as a pair because they changed the grammar of film and pacing in ways we’re still trying to process. Not only are they great character-driven CIA stories but both are textbook on how to treat film as a more subjective medium — as projections of the characters inner psyche — as opposed to traditional omniscient narrative. That this experiment was carried out in two big-budget Hollywood thrillers is even more exceptional. Watch the below clips to get an idea of how groundbreaking these two are:
Man On Fire:
Biutiful (2011, Alejando Gonzalez Innaritu)
No one shoots urban squalor quite like Innaritu. His palate is just as striking as Michael Mann’s. A jangled mix of expressionism and realism. He’s a true poet of the unexpected, who can make the ugly and shattered beautiful – something we definitely tried to accomplish in “Weaponized”. On top of which, the film is also a trenchant exploration of the shadow economy exploiting foreign workers.
The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis)
Once you’ve finished “North by Northwest” move onto this modern classic to study the dynamics of the perfect chase film. The hunted is only as good as the hunter and they don’t come any better than Tommy Lee Jones’s US Marshall Sam Gerard. Smart. Suspenseful. Action-packed. If you can harness even a small fraction of this movie’s intensity you’ve more than done your job.
Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)
There’s a lot of reasons to like this twisty, high-concept film, but what truly elevates it is the same thing that grounds it: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb — a fascinatingly complex protagonist with a rich, dark backstory, who, like Kyle West, is a man without a country, in exile, desperate to find a way home. A critically-lauded sci-fi heist film — but should we expect anything less from Nolan? Plus, Tom Hardy and that Mombasa chase sequence are magic and helped shape some of Weaponized’s Cambodia-set action pieces, see below:
Whatever inspiration David and Nicholas got from their deep immersion into cinema paid off:
Universal Pictures has closed a deal to turn the David Guggenheim and Nicholas Mennuti novel Weaponized into a feature with Scott Stuber producing through his Bluegrass Films banner. Guggenheim, who wrote Safe House for the studio and Stuber, will adapt the novel he co-authored. Deal was high six-figures for the book and seven-figures factoring in Guggenheim’s scripting fee.
So circling back to a little mantra we have all come to know and love here at GITS over the years:
Watch Movies. Read Scripts. Write Pages.
The success of “Weaponized” should inspire you to seek inspiration by watching movies.