Seeing Movies Twice

‘If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you must watch movies, but you need to do more than that. You must also read movies as well.

If you want to be a screenwriter, you need to watch every movie twice and then read the screenplay. The reason for this is simple.

The first time you watch a movie, just sit back and allow yourself to enjoy it. If the movie sucks, then you can amuse yourself trying to analyze what went wrong, but if the movie is good, just experience it for what it offers.

For example, if you’re watching a movie like “Transformers,” just let yourself enjoy what the film is trying to make you feel. Lose yourself in the story and action. A movie like “Transformers” may not be considered Best Picture material, but it does what it sets out to do, which is to show as much skin on Megan Fox as possible while showing special effects robots beating the crap out of each other. That’s what people want to see and that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

For your own movie, decide what the audience wants to see. If you’re writing an action film, ask yourself what type of action do people want to see and how much of it they want to see. Nothing’s more disappointing than a movie that promises action or horror or comedy, but then only gives out bits and pieces without giving you what you thought you were going to get.

I remember watching “Signs,” the movie where space aliens leave crop circles and torment Mel Gibson. I expected a horror film that would creep me out. Instead, I wound up watching a silly movie about aliens that fear water, yet decide to invade a planet loaded with the very stuff they fear that could kill them. Then a super intelligent alien gets beaten up by a guy with a baseball bat. That type of crap isn’t what I thought I was going to see, but that’s what I got. Despite its box office success, to me, “Signs” is a huge failure.

After you determine if a movie gives you the emotional rollercoaster that you thought you were going to get, watch it a second time and this time analyze it. Ask yourself what’s the inciting incident that starts the story going? Who’s the main character, what are his (or her goals), and why do you personally care about that person?

In the first 15 minutes, how does the movie show the hero’s typical day? In the second 15 minutes, what new event intrudes into the hero’s world and what major event sends the hero into another world to start Act II?

In Act II, what does the hero learn that later helps him achieve a goal later on? What False Victory does the hero achieve at the halfway point of the movie? How does the villain take control in the second half of Act II? What major event sets up the hero’s battle with the villain to start Act III?

In Act III, how does the hero get closer to the villain? How does the hero confront the villain? My favorite stupid moment of all time is when Sandra Bullock in “The Net,” defeats the villain by hitting him with a fire extinguisher, which obviously has nothing to do with the theme of the movie “The Net” as being a computer-related adventure. The alien getting hit by a baseball bat in “Signs” is my second favorite stupid moment of all time.

By studying a movie a second time, you can see the structure for how that movie succeeded (or failed) to get you involved with the hero or made you despise the villain. If necessary, see it a third or fourth time so you can see hat you missed the first or second time.

Finally, read the script. On the Internet, there are actual scripts and transcripts, which is basically what somebody wrote down while watching the movie. Get the actual script so you can see how the structure of a screenplay translated into the actual film.

You’ll see where scenes were cut, changed, rearranged, or shortened. This can teach you what’s really important and what isn’t. For example in “Star Trek,” there was supposed to be a scene where the villain gets kidnapped by Klingons and escapes from the prison to come back and capture Spock. Obviously this massive detour had nothing to do with the main characters of the movie, so the director wisely left these scenes out. By studying what works and what doesn’t work in a film, you can better decide how your screenplay might work.

So watch a movie once for enjoyment, a second time to study it, and read the script to see how it was put together. The more you understand how screenplays get turned into movies, the better you’ll be able to write your own screenplay one day.

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