How Movies Get Writers Wrong
Writers in movies
Writers are a crucial element to the movie making process. So, you'd think they'd be able to accurately depict their profession in their scripts.
Writers are seen stealing moments from their life verbatim, putting it down on paper, and making a fortune. They write one draft of a piece, and it's ready for publication. They make a good living and spend most of their days meandering around, waiting for inspiration to strike.
Below are some examples of this lazy and inaccurate depiction of writers in movies.
Writers are oblivious to their underlying message
Part of the fun of writing is burying intentional themes, messages, and symbols into your plot. This is something you develop as you study your craft, but the understanding of intent is there from day one.
In the movie Orange County, Colin Hanks' Shaun Brumder is a high school student who is passionate about pursuing a writing degree at Stamford University. When an error made by his guidance counselor causes him to not get accepted, he spends the rest of the movie determined to find a way in, fearing that the right education will keep him from becoming a writer.
The one story that he has written is heavily based on his home life. The fact that he hasn't written any others shows how he is waiting for new experiences at college in order to find new material.
A conversation with his mentor makes Shaun realize how blindly his story was written, failing to see the themes and the deep connections that he has pieced together without realizing it. This is because of how close he kept the story to his real life and was merely retelling what he experienced everyday. But how could he have been so oblivious as to his story's message if the message was that deep?
A scene from Something's Gotta Give
Writers use their work to get revenge on their real life enemies
Writers have to be careful when they draw inspiration from the people they know. If they give a villain the physical traits of their mother or use an embarrassing story that happened to their friend as a backstory for a character, for instance, they may find themselves having to explain their actions to these people.
It is understandable that someone would think the worst whenever a writer seems to paint their friends and family in an unflattering light, especially to someone who has never seriously written a work of fiction and has wracked their brain to fill in the details of their story. It is not easy to come up with every detail out of thin air, as realistic as the characters or story may seem in their own head.
In films, the writer in the story can receive some serious backlash when they fail to disguise their inspiration for a particular character or story. In Something's Got To Give, Diane Keaton's character, Erica, writes a play based on her time spent with Jack Nicholson's character, Harry. When Harry walks in on the dress rehearsal, he is embarrassed by how negatively is portrayed and shocked by the realization that Erica kills him off at the end of the play. This makes her out to seem vengeful and even homicidal on a certain level, despite the fact that the scene is played for laughs.
While it is clear that their time together weighs heavily on her and would inspire her next play, she copies dialogue word for word and paints a relatively unimaginative copy of what the cinematic audience has just witnessed. It downplays her character's reputation as a famous playwright and sends a message to the audience that this is how writers get their revenge on those who have wronged them.
Writers need to be told what to write
Sometimes a character in a movie will be full of ideas and stories, but none of them are accepted by their readers, publishers, or critics. They are trivialized for their genre or content, and they are encouraged to draw from real life instead. Once they do, they become a success.
This interpretation of writers is illustrated in the film, Little Women. Jo is seen traveling from publisher to publisher in New York trying to get her stories published in different papers and journals. She is dismissed as a female author who writes from a female perspective, despite the fact that she writes adventure stories that would mainly appeal to male audiences.
Once she does start to find some success, the critic that matters most to her, Friedrich, bluntly tells her that she doesn't put herself into her work, and she won't be able to call herself a great writer until she does.
This comment hurts Jo to the point where she leaves everything behind to return home to her family and write down the story of her life. As a result, her book is published, and her adventure stories are left behind.
Writers are terrible to their muses
When writers draw inspiration from their family and friends, it's not hard for those people to identify themselves in the work, especially in the movies. As a result, they are left to deal with the effects of being that inspiration and questioning what the writer actually thinks of them. In the case of a story becoming famous and word getting out that the character was based upon that person, it adds another level of confusion and drama to a story.
In the movie, The Hours, it is mentioned several times by several characters that Meryl Streep's Clarissa was the inspiration for her friend's award-winning novel. He does little to disguise her, including every detail down to the street that she lived on.
It is never discussed between the two of them, but Clarissa is constantly fielding questions about it and trying to convince others that the character is not her. She was just a model for the character. Her efforts turn out to be futile as anyone who has read the book can see plainly see the similarities.
Writers are horrible to each other in workshops
The opening scene of Wonder Boys always irks me because it portrays a group of students in workshop pelting Tobey Maguire's James Leer's short story with bullying criticism. Any creative writing student knows that workshops have a harsh rule of constructive criticism only. In fact, a strict rule in any workshop I've taken has banned the phrase, "I didn't like it."
Nothing comes from these unexplored opinions. Writers can't improve without specific suggestions and a critique of what is working along with what isn't. Students are much more mature at the college level, and humanities students especially form a type of comradery that makes this type of bullying off limits.
Writers submit a perfect first draft
Movies love to show writers typing up the end of their piece, writing The End, and then submitting it to their publisher, editor, etc. This could account for why so many new writers think that mistakes are for editors to correct.
Chances are, that first draft is going to be full of typos, mistakes, and sloppy sentence structure. Even the best writers need a few proofreading sessions to get a piece right. It might feel cinematically satisfying to finish a piece, but it does not reflect reality.
What most bothers you about how writers are portrayed in movies? Leave your answers in the comments below!