Many of us are working from home during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It’s the safest option right now. Meanwhile, we’re all trying to figure out how to order food from our local restaurants without killing ourselves in the process.
As soon as the food comes from the delivery guy, you’ve got to handle the bag with gloves, or a paper towel, get the food inside, remove the plates and packaging supplied by the restaurant, and without touching it, toss it, or burn it or something. Sound familiar?
So many rules, stay six feet apart, or is it 15? Wash your hands every twenty minutes, or is it just after touching certain items? Wash for two happy birthday choruses? Is it okay to pet your dog? What percentage alcohol has to be in our hand-sanitizer? Do we call a doctor if we’re sick? Or should we stay away from doctor’s offices, and hospitals?
With so much going on 24/7, with he news driving us crazy, it’s easy to feel tired, exhausted. How do you stay motivated to work, now that we all have plenty of time to write? Well, when I find myself getting lazy, or when I can’t seem to summon the energy to write, I like to remind myself why I started writing in the first case.
One way I do this is watching movies that inspire me to write. I like to watch movies that got me interested in writing in the first place. Woody Allen movies, for example, Annie Hall, Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Manhattan. Marx Brothers films, Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races. Movies like Arthur, Dr. Strangelove, Life of Brian. W.C. Fields, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy.
That’s one way. The other is to watch inspiring movies about movie-making,
Day For Night
Truffaut’s Day For Night, shows us the behind the scenes reality of the writing, rewriting and improvisation, and set-backs that make it seem impossible for any film to get made, on budget, on deadline.
His story focuses on the relationships between the crew, the designers, stylists, actors, the director, the writer and producer. The film itself is a love-letter to everyone involved in the process of bringing a film to market.
Truffaut plays the fictional writer-director of a movie within a movie called “Meet Pamela.” As problems continue to unfold on set, constantly, budget problems force the group to improvise, to put out the fires that break out almost every day during the filming process.
What’s inspiring is how Truffaut, the director stays calm and finds a way to realize his vision despite the challenges. They veer off schedule; so for example, a night scene can’t possibly be shot at night.
The director tells the camera people to shoot “day for night.” By changing out certain lenses, they can create a night shoot in broad daylight. It is literally “magic” that allows him to create night where there is only day.
Everything appears it will collapse and the film will have to be scrapped when the actress playing Pamela (a married woman) has an on set affair with her irresponsible younger co-star.
She is filled with guilt and can’t leave her trailer to finish the film. How the director overcomes this and other challenges is where this film becomes truly inspirational.
The film won the Best Foreign Film Award here in America, and awards all over the world. It is probably the most inspiring film about filmmaking ever. Watch it and you will fall in love with making movies all over again.
Hearts of Darkness
One of the greatest films of the 20th century was Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which won the Palm De’Or at Cannes. Watching the movie again on DVD can be truly inspiring. For similar reasons, watching the movie about how that film was made can motivate you to write your best.
Hearts of Darkness is widely considered the best documentary ever made about filmmaking. Written and directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, the film won the Academy Award for best documentary filmmaking in 1991.
The film paints a harrowing picture of the journey through chaos and hell that that Coppola faced in making Apocalypse Now! Watching Coppola wrangling the actors is an unbelievable sight.
Dennis Hopper appears to be stoned throughout the film. He’s seen mumbling incoherently at times, throughout the scenes.
Marlon Brando seemed completely disinterested in the movie at times. It’s clear in the documentary that he couldn’t remember his lines at this point in his career. They were written out on cards so he could read them during his scenes. At times, he’d lose it, and wander off, talking to himself about how he just couldn’t think of any more dialogue.
And then, of course, Martin Sheen had a heart attack. To top everything else, they went so over budget that Coppola had to mortgage his house and his vineyard to afford to finish filming.
Amazingly, Apocalypse Now turned out to be one of Coppola’s best.
Hearts of Darkness is widely considered the best documentary ever made about filmmaking. Written and directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, the film won the Academy Award for best documentary filmmaking in 1991. Watch this film and see if you don’t feel inspired.
In Adaptation, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman wrote a brilliant and imaginative film about an awkward neurotic screenwriter, (played by Nichoas Cage), who struggles to adapt the Susan Orlean novel, The Orchid Thief, which doesn’t lend itself to adaptation easily, if at all.
Kaufman’s main character is himself, a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman, who encounters writer’s block when recruited to adapt the Orlean novel.
While initially trying to stay true to the novel, fictional Charlie eventually writes a script in which the novelist (played by Meryl Strep) tries to kill him at one point out in the swamps where the orchid grows.
Fictional Charlie’s story takes huge liberties with the material. In the process, the film captures the two AM panic that sets in as the screenwriter realizes he has no way out of his story.
His moods swing to depths of depression, when finishing the project seems impossible. It gets inside the writer’s head in those moments of doubt, when he thinks that this will never work out and he may never write anything worthwhile again in his life.
The film within the film takes off in a preposterous direction. The real film is imaginative, and anything but cliché. It’s inspiring to watch a film so original, and yet so evocative of the Hollywood writing process. Watching it as a screenwriter, one feels inspired to write something so original, and at the same time, entertaining.
Other inspiring films about filmmaking: 8 ½ written and directed by Federico Fellini (1963). Stardust Memories, written and directed by Woody Allen (1980). Ed Wood written and directed by Tim Burton (1994). La La Land written and directed by Damien Chazelle (2016).
When you feel like you can’t write another word, take a break. Watch one of these films. Get back in touch with why you started writing in the first place. Then go back to your script.