One of the Best Screenwriting Tips… Has Nothing to Do With Writing!

Surprisingly enough, one of the best screenwriting tips has nothing to do with writing at all! Everyone seems to agree that to be a successful screenwriter, you should watch as many films as you possibly can�and I agree� somewhat. Watching film is a good thing. It�s great advice. But has anyone ever told you why you should watch film?

You should watch film, first and foremost, for the thrill of lantern symbolism in the tell tale heart.

Your first and primary reason for watching film is not to study it or analyze it. It�s to be enthralled by it. It�s to remember how watching a great film feeds your soul. It�s to be mesmerized, swept up and swept away.

You, as a writer, need to experience the thrill of it all, in order to be re-connected to the reason you ever wanted to strap yourself to a chair and try to write a movie in the first place.

When you really get to the bottom of it, many times, wanting to write movies has to do with wanting to re-create, time and again, the exhilaration that you felt, at one time or another, while sitting in some darkened theater.

Essentially, what you�re saying is, it was such a thrill, sitting and watching this two hour spectacle, that I want to go out and thrill myself in the same way, and connectedly, thrill other people.

Think about that last sentence for a minute. There�s nothing in that sentence about money, fame, big houses or fine cars. And the primary focus is not on thrilling or entertaining someone else. It�s about thrilling myself. I am my own first audience. If it doesn�t thrill me, it�s not going to thrill anyone else.

The second reason for watching film is to learn the �rhythm� of film�to learn how a movie flows.

There are people who have never had �formal� songwriting training, but they write beautiful music. They know that a verse, followed by a chorus, followed by another verse and chorus, with a break separating a final verse and chorus, is a satisfying way to construct a song. They know this, not by instruction, but by listening to music. They know the natural rhythm and flow of a song.

In the same way, watching movies helps you to instinctively know the rhythm of a movie. It�s not a conscious thing. It�s not an analytical thing�at least not on this level. It�s a feeling, sensing, �knowing� thing. What you�re learning is how the rhythm of a great film plays on screen.

You should never go into a film that you are watching for the first time, with a mind to dissect or analyze it. What will happen, after a while, is that you�ll lose the joy of watching film, and it won�t be long before the act of writing films becomes dry, tasteless and labored.

Naturally, in the course of watching a film, ideas will come to mind (although, in an extremely well made film, you will rarely be thinking of story arcs, plot points or anything of the like during the experience of watching it). But it�s better to fully entertain these thoughts after watching the film, or on a second or third viewing.

I know this isn�t always easy to do, but if you go into a movie theater trying to analyze why something works for you, or doesn�t work for you, you will kill the movie going experience. If you can�t walk into a movie theater, kick back, and allow someone to knock your socks off, then there�s no point to any of this.

Another great reason for watching film is that listening to great movie dialogue will help you to write great dialogue.

When you write film description, although it will initially be read, it�s meant to be seen. You are describing what viewers will see. But when you write dialogue, it�s meant to be heard. At times, it�s almost like writing a kind of poetry or lyrics for a song. Good movie dialogue has its own kind of meter and rhythm, its own beat.

Actually, one of the best screenwriting tips is, after you write dialogue, record it on a recording device and listen to it. From listening to great dialogue, you�ll be able to hear if your dialogue works or not.

Lastly, and I emphasize lastly, you should watch film as a kind of how-to guide. For a screenwriter, watching film in this way can be a little tricky. One of the reasons is that it�s not always easy to draw a hard line between where the screenwriter leaves off and the director begins.

Let�s say, for instance, that you�re in a movie theater, and you see some fantastic sequence. You marvel at how the writer pulled it together and make mental notes about how you might incorporate it into a piece of your own. You go home to your computer and pull up the screenplay on the internet, only to find out that the sequence was written entirely differently than it was filmed.

But there is a deeper reason, for me as an instructor, that watching film can be a little tricky. The film medium is totally constructed through images. We go into a darkened space where we are bombarded by image, after image, after image. It�s the juxtaposition and ordering of those images that gives a film meaning, and triggers an emotional response.

What I�ve seen too often in teaching classes, is that students draw their inspiration and �images� from watching film. Then, when they go to write, what�s needed is the ability to turn those visual images into �word images.� They have difficulty doing this, because they see things in their minds that they are unable to fully capture on the page. Watching a film doesn�t necessarily help you accomplish this. What does help, is watching how other writers do it.

By reading other screenwriters� work, it will help you to hone your writing skills in a way that watching film can�t. It�s an invaluable screenwriting tip.

Lastly, some writers use watching film as a kind of diversion to keep themselves from actually having to sit down and write. They are constantly �studying� film. They�ve seen almost all of the current offerings, and they do their due diligence in boning up on �significant� film in their film archives. But, they never can seem to find the time to actually sit at their desks and write.

And I know, just as every other writer knows, that by far, the best screenwrting tip or tool is to simply sit down and write. So, watch film, but watch it in the right way. Use it to empower your writing, to re-direct you deeper into your own work, and make sure that you don�t use it as a tool to avoid your own desk and what you might have to say.

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