There are many aspiring screenwriters who take this whole writing thing a bit seriously. Not that there's anything wrong with that. They know their Kurosawa, Hitchcock and Fellini. They can compare and contrast early Polanski, analyzing whether Knife in the Water was reflective of cinema verité or whether it was simply derivative. They can spend entire evenings discussing the meaning and metaphor of Truffaut's Jules and Jim.
Serious writers wear black turtlenecks and write each day at an appointed time. They quote Flannery O'Connor or Ernest Hemingway; they wear elbow patches. They knit their collective brows when we ask if they saw Oprah yesterday. Op-rah? On tele-vision?
Serious writers spend every day stooped over their Olivetti typewriters clack-clacking the next Cinema Paradiso and most evenings watching The Bicycle Thief while they sip expensive scotch and congratulate themselves on how veddy veddy intellectual they are.
Serious writers need to relax a little and remember that what we are doing here, as writers, is bread and circus. We are creating entertainment. Say it with me slowly: enter-tain-ment. Effing Entertainment.
When I talk with various executives, producers, managers and agents, I find that we have one thing very much in common: a passionate love of movies. Posters adorn their walls. They are eager to discuss great scenes and memorable moments. If you ask their favorite movie it's as likely to be The Life of Brian as it is Apocalypse Now. Yes, it is easy to get lost in the box office stats, the prestige, fame and money involved with this business but at the end of the day the reason we don't work in a paper mill is because we love movies, top to bottom, side to side, six ways from Sunday. Movies are cool. Working in The Business is cool.
If you find yourself watching a Buster Keaton movie and feeling very smug and intellectual about it, somebody needs to wallop your head with a dead fish. Forget everything you have learned and watch that man drive a car as it is falling apart down the street. That is entertainment in its purest, essential form.
One of my favorite movies is Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels. Our main character goes on a quest to live the authentic life because he feels that being a screenwriter in Hollywood just isn't meaningful or productive. The great moment in the movie comes when our main character watches prisoners shuffle into the viewing hall for their weekly movie. It's a comedy. And suddenly those sweaty, hopeless prisoners are alight with laughter. And our guy looks around at those faces and has an epiphany: Sometimes a good belly laugh is all we have to hang on to. And sometimes a cathartic cry is just what we need. Movies heal us. Movies are us.
It is fantastic to have a knowledge and appreciation of film history and of specific movements, directors, periods, etc. In fact, I think it quite important. But this knowledge is dry, dusty and dead if the pure, untethered love of movies is sucked from it. Nothing is more boring than a writer who spouts intellectual blather about the French New Wave when all we can think is "Death therapy, Bob!"
Nobody said it better than Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters. Mickey Sachs, fearing he has brain cancer, goes to the movies and watches the Marx Brothers. And as he watches the black and white movie flicker before him... well... if you haven't seen it - rent it immediately. It is one of my favorite movie moments ever.
Movies are an art form, a passion and a tabula rasa upon which we collectively write our dreams and fears. Be omnivorous; watch foreign movies, silly movies, action movies and war movies. Let your guard down and take it all in.
And just remember this: That pervasive smell of popcorn as you enter a theater is a reminder that this is entertainment. When you get stuck on your script or are just plain frustrated because you haven't had a good idea for six months, spend a whole weekend and go to the movies. Get that jumbo popcorn and soda, slide down into that seat and forget about plot points, cinematography and directors. Turn off your mental IMDB. Enjoy the exquisite pleasure of forgetting all about your taxes, car repair and laundry.
Make watching movies for the simple joy of it a habit. It will make you a happier, more inspired writer and remind you of just why it is you want to become part of something as ephemeral yet rock-bottomly important as entertainment.