Monday, October 11, 2010

Writing Night at the Movies

I don’t often talk about movies. I’m not a big movie buff. I haven’t been to a theater to see a film since Lord of the Rings. I probably average ten or less movie rentals a year through PPV, although I do watch movies when they finally come out on TV, and I rewatch movies that I like when they show up on the little screen. However, we live in the age of video imagery and I haven’t escaped its influence. I’m amazed sometimes at how many movies I have seen. And my writing has definitely been affected. Here are some movies that I like very much, and a bit about how they’ve influenced my writing. (Thanks to Scott for the inspiration for this post.)

1. Once Upon a Time in the West: Sergio Leone’s greatest work, even if it didn’t feature Clint Eastwood. Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Charles Bronson were superb. The staging of this movie, the dramatic way in which the scenes were set and the stark landscapes, helped establish the way I visually stage story scenes in my mind. The dusters worn by “Cheyenne’s” men in this movie were a direct influence on the rawhide coats that the bird riders of Talera wear. Lines from the film such as: “You brought two too many,” “Just a man,” and “An ancient race” have influenced the way I structure dialogue. This is my favorite movie of all time.

2. The Thing: I’m referring here to the John Carpenter version, which is my favorite horror movie. (Even the novelization by Alan Dean Foster was thrilling.) This film certainly wasn’t the first to create a sense of claustrophobic horror, but it did it very well. And it also had a great ensemble cast of characters who responded to the horror in wonderfully realistic ways, from their physical actions to their dialogue. This film was certainly an influence on my desire to create ensemble casts for my horror fiction and get them to act like real people facing absolute terror. This was part of what I wanted to do in Cold in the Light, and in that book I often used the night and the woods to create the claustrophobia.

3. Alien: My second favorite horror movie, and it is definitely horror even if it is set in an SF universe. The “chest burster” scene is, to me, the most effective scene ever caught on film. The “alien” is still the coolest alien ever. This one also had the claustrophobic element and the ensemble cast. And it had a strong female lead character, which I’ve tried several times to achieve myself, without great success, I’m afraid. It also had the “ringer,” the one member of the ensemble who turns out not to be what he seems to be. This is a great device for a writer and one I’ve used several times, particularly in Witch of Talera.

4. The Thirteenth Warrior: My favorite fantasy movie of all time. I also thought the book upon which the movie was based was very good. That book was Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. The gritty realistic feel to this movie contrasted strongly with the more “fantasy” feel of such movies as Conan the Barbarian. Instead of it reminding you of “an age undreamed of,” it made you feel as if every instant was absolutely real. I want to achieve that kind of realism in my fantasy. I want my readers to feel the dirt under their nails and the biting tang of blood in their nostrils. The dialogue here was also extremely good and created a sense of drama that I believe fantasy fiction needs.

5. Predator: A reader remarked a number of years back that the Warkind in Cold in the Light reminded him of the “Predator.” I know the “Predator” did influence the development of the Warkind, although there are also many other elements that went into those creatures. In part because I was curious about the nature of the “Predator,” I created an extensive background and social structure for the Warkind.

There are many other movies that have had some level of influence on my work, though certainly nowhere near the level that books themselves have influenced me. Some of these other films would be: The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Hearts and Armor, Conan the Barbarian, Jurassic Park, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Wars.

How about you? Have movies influenced you? In your writing? In other aspects of your life? If so, which movies? What’s your favorite?

30 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Glad to see that someone else likes THE 13TH WARRIOR (book and movie). I don't think the movie got very good reviews, but I'd read the book and wanted to see the movie. I really liked it. Some great scenes.

Gaston Studio said...

Also a great fan of all those you listed Charles, as well as those you mentioned at the bottom. I'm a huge movie buff although I watch most on DVDs these days as the theaters are too noisy for my taste.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never seen THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR--or even heard of it. The rest I have seen and liked.
All movies influence me. When I write I see the scenes rather than hear them.

Ron Scheer said...

I always enjoy reading how your mind works, Charles. Though we like different movies, it's for some of the same reasons. In particular, the totally plausible human character thrust into a totally extraordinary situation. ALIEN being a good example. Did you ever see the film MOON? It has many of the same qualities.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bill, I even took my son to see it after I did because I liked it so much and wanted him to see it. I read the book first too, but I thought the changes didn't hurt the movie much and that it really turned out nicely.

Gaston Studeo, that's one reason we don't go to the movies much either. The noise, the trash, that sort of thing. But I do watch PPV, and Lana brings home movies from the library on ocassion.

Pattinase, you should have a look at the descriptions for 13th warrior to see if you'd like it. I always picture my scenes as I write too, but I did that from the very beginning, even from childhood when I imagined scenes. I think it was from reading rather than movies.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ron, I didn't see that one. I remember when it was coming out I wanted to but then I completely forgot about it. I 'll have to check it out.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent picks! I'd place Aliens first and The Thing second, but they are two of the best. Predator was great, too. And so few mention The 13th Warrior! I saw it recently again and was reminded of its excellence.

Charles Gramlich said...

Alien and The Thing are very close to me. I probably couldn't slip a copy of my poetry chapbook between them. both excellent movies.

Phyllis Bourne said...

My movie tastes are soooo different from what I write, it's hard to say.

I write soft, pretty and sweet.

My favorite movies are High Plains Drifter, Payback, New Jack City, Terminator 2 and Gladiator...

Charles Gramlich said...

Phyllis, your tastes are quite similar to mine. I like all of those movies too. Payback certainly created one of the "toughest" characters ever.

Randy Johnson said...

A good list of movies. I;ve seen them all but THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR. Could never get into Eaters of The Dead, so I just skipped it.

Natasha Fondren said...

That's one of my favorite of the old Star Trek TOS movies. I am movie crazy. I adore pop culture, and so I find current TV shows and newly-released movies fascinating, just because I'm fascinated with how art speaks on our society. TV, especially, gives immediate feedback on this. Movies, too. It's interesting how TV and movies and politics play off one another.

Books move so slow in this way, but I'm always scouring the sections to find out what's new this month. It's a bit of an obsession of mine.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, the 13th warrior doesn't have all the framing backstory that Eaters had. YOu might enjoy it more.

Natasha, the most recent show I've developed a liking for is Modern Family.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Alien is the only movie on your list that I saw part of. Sci-fi and horror are not my thing. In that genre, Species come to mind. I love the scene when the woman was pregnant with the alien and it just pushed through her belly.

As for influence, I don't have a specific movie that influence my writing, but I like the flow of dialogs in movies and use that to shape the dialong in my stories.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jewel, Species wasn't bad for sure, although it's not one of my all time favorites. Since I struggled with dialogue a lot when I was younger movies did help with that.

David J. West said...

Great list, I'm a big fan of 13th Warrior too, and I saw you listed Hearts and Armor-I want/need to get a copy of that. I saw it when I was a kid and it permanently altered my view of sword movies and thus fantasy writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, I was knocked out by Hearts and Armour the first time I see it and I'd really like to see it again.

Ty Johnston said...

Charles, I could've written your list myself, almost verbatim.

Of course there are other movies I enjoy quite a bit, some that are even favorites, but I wouldn't say they've influenced my writing nearly as much as the ones you listed, though I might have added Eastwood's Unforgiven.

Your list gave me two pleasant surprises:

1.) Once Upon a Time in the West, which it seems FAR too few people have seen, even fans of the Dollar Trilogy.

2.) The Thirteenth Warrior, which is one of the most under-rated movies of all time, in my opinion. Outside of a handful of hardcore fans, few people seem to know about this film, and it's awesome. I don't care what anyone says, Vladimir Kulich's performance in this movie was Oscar worthy.

Liane Spicer said...

Haven't seen many of your faves, Charles, but I do remember being terrified out of my wits while watching Predator many years ago. It was good! I think I outgrew sci-fi movies and I never had the stomach for horror.

Don't know if movies have affected my writing, but there are a few sublime adaptations that make me envious on behalf of both the book and the film. The English Patient and Constant Gardener come to mind. Don't think Eve's Bayou was based on a novel but it has that same quality that makes me wish I'd written it and makes me want to dissect it to figure out why it works so well.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, I don't understand either why both Once upon a time in the west and the 13th warrior aren't celebrated far more than they have been. Unforgiven is also great. I love the line "deservings got nothing to do with it."

Liane, movies are such a different medium from prose but they do have some things that work similarly in them. Analyzing one can probably help you understand the other to some extent.

Carole said...

I watch a good number of movies and guess I never thought about using them in writing,mostly because if I ever read the book first, it is so much better than the movie that I think you can't learn how to write by watching movies. I see that I am wrong. Good post.

Charles Gramlich said...

Carole, I almost always find the book better than the movie too, but there are elements of the movies that can translate into writing, I think.

Steve Malley said...

I try to live every day like I was Napoleon Dynamite. ;-p

Seriously, though, great post and I totally see all those influences in your work!

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, good one. Haven't seen the 13th Warrior. Sergio Leone is right on. Have you seen his 1st, The Colossus of Rhodes?

I also like foreign language films b/c they force an additional adjustment in perception, which to me is usually a good thing, a little decentering.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve, everything visual really fascinates me. thanks for dropping over, man.

Erik, I haven't even heard of the Colossus. Will have to check it out. My favorite foreign film is Brotherhood of the wolf.

Scott said...

Charles,

Great post, and great list of films. Glad to know I influence someone in a positive manner once in a while. :)

X. Dell said...

Well, since I started out by writing screenplays, I'd have to say that all my fiction work is influenced by movies.

I would agree that there is an abject sense of terror in CitL that only abates at key moments. That part really comes through nicely. But in writing for film, part of the actual composition is partly in the direction and performance. The writer can only do so much. But good actors can actually add considerably to the printed text.

Charles Gramlich said...

Scott, you've inspired me to drink several times, my friend. A job well done.

X-Dell, glad you appreciated that element of CITL. You're right, of course. The actors can really flesh out a story and give it weight, or they can destroy what weight it did carry.

jennifer said...

When I watched Alien, I was way too young to handle the movie. I remember the way everything seemed sinister for the next few days. I think that's the mark of a good movie - it didn't matter that it took place in Space, it was plausible that something could suddenly claw it's way out of my chest right here on Earth.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jennifer, yes, when a movie or a book leaves that kind of impression on you then it's done it's job.