A bit of recent synchronicity in my life led to this idea for a blog series. Two parts to this tale, so please bear with me as I walk you through the process that led to this particular inspiration.
My wife Rebecca (@bf4tbrainy) is not only founder of the popular Facebook community The Brain Cafe and senior editor at The Creativity Post, she also started and is the director of online education for the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. To help launch the program last year, I taught a weekly class called The Hero’s Journey to 15 incredibly bright middle schoolers, essentially teaching them college level content. It was a great success. This year, I am teaching a class called Film Festival where each month we research, watch and analyze a notable movie around the theme of metamorphosis. I selected 9 movies covering a wide range of genres, eras and country of origin including Spirited Away, The Searchers, Groundhog Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Singin’ in the Rain, and Whale Rider.
The very first movie we studied in September: Citizen Kane. One of the students’ assignments: Find a good online resource. I suggested that it may include analysis of the film, either its place in movie history like this, essays on the narrative like this, or cinematic technique like this. After giving them those leads, I waited to see what my students, ranging in age from 13-16, would come up with.
Well, safe to say, they knocked it out of the park. Check out these resources, a few examples of the quality items they sourced:
1941 NY Times Movie Review: Citizen Kane: Yes, the original NYT review of the film.
Citizen Kane Cinematography: A list of every single camera shot in the movie.
Citizen Kane: Dramatic Structure: A breakdown of each scene in the movie along with the writer’s analysis of the story’s five act structure.
Light and Shadow in Citizen Kane: A lengthy analysis of this particular aspect of the movie’s cinematic innovation.
Orson Welles Explains the Meaning of Rosebud: The writer, actor, and director himself on the movie’s key mystery.
The Complete Citizen Kane Documentary: A 90 minute documentary online and viewable for free.
How great, right? All these amazing resources online, just sitting there waiting to be tapped — and my crew uncovered them.
Now the second part of my story. When I traveled to Las Vegas on Sunday, September 29th to participate in the Black List Screenwriters Lab, I had these research results from the Film Festival class rolling around in my mind.
During the week, the screenwriting mentors, Brian Koppelman (Ocean’s 13), Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), and Kiwi Smith (Legally Blonde), Franklin Leonard and I had numerous conversations about the craft and the business. One of those talks that stuck with me was how critically important it is for screenwriters to have seen movies. Lots of movies. Tons of movies. And especially important movies.
The reasons for this are many, but here is perhaps one of the most valuable: Everyone who works in Hollywood film development, whether studio exec, producer, director, actor, manager, agent, or writer constantly refers to previously produced movies when in conversation. Not just casual chat, but in actual development meetings. In order to make a point or a quick reference, it’s often easier to suggest the escape sequence in The Shawshank Redemption, the train scene in Stand By Me, and the hitchhiking scene in It Happened One Night than fabricate something out of thin air.
Which means if you, the screenwriter, don’t know the movie reference, you not only can’t get what they’re saying, you also run the risk of looking like a complete laggard. What do you mean you haven’t seen The Godfather: Part 2?!?!
So as I was flying home from Las Vegas, I put one and one together, and came up with this thought: Why not ask the GITS community to come up with 30 essentials movies a screenwriter absolutely must watch. And once we settle on that list, then crowdsource online resources, just like my savvy GHF students.
Run it as a series: An essential movie each day for a month, aggregating a bunch of excellent resources about each one, then archive the whole list to make it easy for a writer to screen and analyze each film.
Note: Obviously there are more than 30 movies we absolutely need to see, but let’s start here, then maybe we revisit to increase the list.
How I’d like to approach this project is this week, let’s see if we can come up with a set of guidelines about how we determine what is an essential movie for screenwriters to see. You may think it’s as easy as taking the top 30 films on the IMDB 250 list, but that’s not necessarily the case. In my view, this is not a best of or favorite list, rather this is about movies a working screenwriter ought to have a working knowledge and understanding of.
For example, one criterion I would include as part of the guidelines: Movies that execs, producers and reps bring up as the type of films they really want to emulate in a new ‘similar but different’ project. I’m not sure if these titles are still in vogue, but for awhile it seemed like almost every meeting I took and this idea would come up, the usual suspects including The Goonies and The Sting. Those would not necessarily be on anybody’s favorite list, but for a time they were top of mind for folks in film development. So that would be one piece of the guideline puzzle I would suggest has to be included in our list.
How about you? What criteria do you think need to be part of the selection process in creating a list of essential movies screenwriters need to watch?
I hope this idea catches on with the GITS community as I think the end result could be a beneficial resource for aspiring and even working screenwriters, driving home once again how important it is to Watch Movies [and Read Scripts and Write Pages].
Let’s see how much response there is today and what type of criteria folks come up with. Maybe we’ll take two or even three days to brainstorm ideas. By the end of the week, hopefully we can come up with a set of guidelines.
Then next week, we can solicit movie suggestions and use some sort of voting system to aggregate 30 essential movies with an eye toward running this series in November.
I’ll make this pledge: Whatever list we generate, I will commit to finding one solid online resource per movie during the series run. Hopefully there are those of you who will want to join in this project.
So what do you say? Is this a good idea? Are you down with it? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what criteria we should use to determine a list of 30 essential movies for screenwriters to watch.