Watching Films for Research

I’ve always been someone who loves to watch films for research. I know there’s plenty of information out there and that I’m sure I could find everything I need to know via the internet and books, which I do use, but for me my research tends to come through films.

I love nothing more than to watch a bunch of films from the same genre when I start a new project. It’s not that my idea needs to be related in any real way, as often it’s not, it’s just the genre itself that I’m interested in.

I’m a big fan of conventions in films, especially horror movies. I like to fit a lot of the conventions into my script if I can find a natural way to do it and like seeing how others have. What I like seeing even more is where these conventions started.

Last time I wrote a slasher script I binge watched all the Friday 13th films and Nightmare on Elm Street, along with about 20 others. There was a line from Friday the 13th Part Four that I loved and somewhat adapted for myself but other than that what I really wanted to take from these movies was the general vibe.

I wanted to capture the attitude of these movies in my own way.

I wrote a Christmas horror script that I’m looking to get out there soon so beforehand I watched every Christmas horror film I could. I was mostly interested in the Christmasy way people died in the films and was slightly disappointed that there weren’t as many inventive deaths as I hoped. But there was beginnings, hints off, maybe the more modern Christmas films had them but there was enough there to inspire me.

That particular set of watching also led me to watch possibly the worse movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. What happened there? I need the disaster artist book for that film.

During my exploitation script I watched a ton of Russ Meyer, Jack Hill and Lloyd Kaufman stuff along with a bunch of Grindhouse movies. My script wasn’t really akin to any of these, I just wanted to be in that frame of mind when I was writing.

For me film is my language. I can never get through a conversation without a film quote, I always reference films in my script notes and workings. I haven’t written decapitated in a script note ever, I write decaffeinated every time thanks to Hot Fuzz. If I’m describing a shot to a friend I’ll use examples from as many different films as I can until I hit on one they know.

I’m not sure if it’s a good process or not to watch similar genre movies to your idea before starting a new script but I’ve never read my script back at the end and find it to be a clone of the others I’ve watched. I’m inspired by movies in every other area of my life so it makes sense to me that the same would work for my writing.

For the new script I’m working on I’m watching a bunch of Hitchcock films. This time round I’m watching them for the way he builds tension in the final act rather than the story (although I love these films so will enjoy that part anyway). There’s always something to get from watching films in relationship to your own work and I fully believe that.

Stephen

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