12 Movies to Supercharge Your Creativity
by Mandi Harrison
Writer's block is no joke. You've invested so much of yourself into a project and inevitably you're gonna get stuck. It can leave you feeling like you've hit a wall and/or that everything you've written is awful and unsalvageable. Words literally refuse to come to mind. You start second guessing every decision you've ever made. At this point, I'm usually lying on the floor, just staring at the ceiling.
Every writer has their own way for breaking down the wall. What works for us is reading scripts and watching movies. Watching movies is like having a blueprint. We see how the foundation was built for this story, how the filmmakers handled a particular story challenge and then we can use their formula to figure out what we are missing. Watching a movie or two, talking through the story and then talking through our own really helps us get back on track.
Here's a few movies that always supercharge our creativity:
Silver Linings Playbook
Usually our first go-to. At this point, we don't even have to watch it; we can just break it down to get our answers. David O. Russell's movies all have incredible family dynamics with complex characters, but SLP is just the cat's meow. It's a coming of age story, a family story, a romantic comedy. It handles mental illness realistically- not as a gimmick or a crutch. It takes so many elements and blends them together so they feel natural- like you've stepped into someone's life.
Confession- I had never seen Annie Hall before I met Chris. It's his favorite movie, and he had me watch it and I just fell in love. I mean, it's Diane Keaton- who wouldn't love her. But the movie itself is incredible. Woody Allen's dialogue is outstanding. It's natural conversation; it's intellectual, self-deprecating and witty and always has a double meaning. It reveals character without giving away too much of the story.
Woody has so many gems: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, Husbands & Wives, Blue Jasmine. The women's roles in these movies are interesting and flawed and I just can't take my eyes off of them. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine is one of the most mesmerizing performances I've ever seen. We can put on any Woody Allen movie and an immediate lightbulb comes on over our heads.
When Harry Met Sally
Chris had never seen When Harry Met Sally before me, but now it's one of his favorites. It's my absolute favorite movie. I could go on and on about it. There is so much to learn from this movie, but my main takeaway is this: everything has to have a purpose. If it's brought up in the beginning of the story, it needs to be referred to or disproven in the end. At the very least, if you're including it, it needs to have a reason for being there. Each character needs to have a purpose. Jess and Marie aren't just Harry and Sally's best friends- they each represent something in the story. Nora Ephron uses moments and quirks from everyone she knows, including herself, so that each of her characters feels like someone you know.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected)
There's a saying in writing: Arrive late and leave early- meaning leave the audience wanting more. Noah Baumbach is a master at that. The editing in this movie is amazing- every scene feels like you walked in on a conversation but you immediately can read the room. He sets up each character quickly. There is a scene where Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson have two lines of dialogue in the background and you know instantly who these people are at their core. This is a movie that we just have to watch a few minutes of and we've learned something that we can use.
The Greta Gerwig Catalog
We love Greta. Like hardcore love her. We just read that she's in talks to direct an adaptation of Little Women and I literally was swooning for 4 hours. Lady Bird, her directorial debut, was my favorite movie last year (it was Chris's 2nd). What we love about Greta is her voice; you can tell who she is through her writing. People say the word authentic and it sounds pretentious; but that is what Greta is. Along with Lady Bird, she's co-written Francis Ha and Mistress America. Her characters aren't necessarily likable, but they are very empathetic and leave you wanting to see more. They are frustrating and endearing. They all have a truth to them- they are who they are.
Call Me By Your Name
This movie is just so beautiful and cool. When we aren't drooling over it, we're studying the main character, Elio. He doesn't know what he wants through the story; he's just figuring out what he does NOT want. That is a huge challenge- to have a character without a firm goal or want, and not have it seem like it's lagging. CMBYN does it so naturally.
Eternal Sunshine of the SpotlessMind/ 500 Days of Summer
There is a lot to love about these movies, but what we have learned the most from them is how to tell the story. Nonlinear (not told in chronological order) stories can be challenging, but these movies still have structure, even though its not a typical structure.
Spiderman: Homecoming/ Tootsie
Tootsie has everything that writing books say a screenplay should have: a complex character with wants and needs, a three act structure and a goal that he needs to achieve and obstacles to hinder him from that goal. Yet, although it checks off all the boxes, there is nothing textbook about it. We study Tootsie whenever we are having goal vs. obstacle issues with our story. The way Michael gets into/finds himself in a situation that will derail or sidetrack his goal- how does he ultimately work his way through it? Tootsie helps us with cause and effect.
On the surface, Spiderman: Homecoming is just a fun movie to distract yourself. But deep down, it is a great example of a John Hughes-style coming of age movie. Our Spidey friend has a bad guy he's trying to put away and he's trying to prove to Tony Stark that he can be an Avenger, but really all he's doing running into roadblocks of his own making. It's a great study for characters who get get in their own way- how to make their positive personality traits work against them.
Other movies we've studied recently: 400 Blows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Captain America: Civil War, Love, Simon, and Terms of Endearment.
Watching movies, learning from other's successes and missed opportunities, really helps us get past what's frustrating us. At the very least, it helps us mentally reboot and see things through fresh perspectives.