Writers in Movies

movie 1I was thinking the other day how often writers feature in movies and how much that celluloid image had affected my view of what a writer did when I was growing up wanting to be (you guessed it) a writer.

Luckily for everyone who knew me, I only saw THE SHINING very late when it was part of a special cinema release to mark the Wartner Brothers 75th anniversary. Such a scary movie. I think even at my most frustrated, I’m nowhere near as terrifying as Jack in that film!

Although I’ve certainly felt his fear of the blank page. Never to the point of wanting to chop up the neighbors, thank goodness!

There are a couple of things writers in movies always do which I NEVER do.

The first is drink like fishes as they’re writing. I’m sure there are writers who do/have. William Faulkner definitely enjoyed a tipple, as did Hemingway. Whether they drank as they wrote or after they’d done their immortal prose for the day, I’m not sure. Perhaps a Bandita or Bandita buddy knows.

 I have tried drinking while I write. While I’m writing, it’s wonderful – I’m convinced that I’m writing a masterpiece. And every extra glass adds to the glow. Sadly when I read the pages over when I’m sober, masterpiece isn’t the first word that springs to mind. I definitely enjoy a glass of wine or two, but not while I’m in the process of trying to wrestle a story into submission.

movie 5Another thing that writers in movies do is throw away a lot of perfectly usable paper. You know the scene. Tormented young man (they’re usually men!) sits down at a typewriter or with his quill pen and writes three words. Stares at them with a tortured expression. Sighs as if the world is out to get him. Then he rips out the sheet, screws up the paper and throws it on the ground. Even if there was a bin in the room, he misses it! The great artist is frustrated that he can’t get it right first time. But he persists!

Scene cuts away to the next morning/week/year, and the writer’s garret looks like it’s been hit by a paper snowstorm, but on the desk there is a chapter/novel/series finished. All those trees clearly didn’t die in vain. Throwing out the bad stuff meant that the good stuff lived to become a bestseller (they almost invariably do in these movies).

I’d like to say that I don’t do this because I’m too environmentally conscious. However I have a nasty feeling that it’s just because I’m too stingy to waste paper. A bit of crossing out and you’re ready to go again. A first draft is going to involve a lot of crossing out anyway.

Of course, now that we all write on computer, these dramatic if wasteful scenes are rather old hat. A movie where the author swears and hits the delete button several times lacks emotional punch, sadly.

movie 2Something else that always amuses me when writers turn up in movies or TV shows is that usually they’re fairly glamorous creatures. I’m thinking of the women in particular here. I remember a NEW TRICKS (a BBC crime series) where the investigating team go to interview a writer about a murder and she looks all dressed up and ready to accept an Oscar.

I’m sure there are writers who dress up when they write, just as I’m sure there’s a Tooth Fairy. But most of us look VERY shabby when we write.

I mean, come on, one of the advantages of this gig is that we get to wear our pajamas to work. And when I’m not in my pajamas, I’m in shorts and t-shirt or the winter equivalent. If you don’t believe how shabby I look when I’m on deadline, just ask my poor postman who is forced to face the horror that is me on a writing binge at the door on a regular basis.

Some of my favorite movies feature writers. I have a theory that so many movies feature writers because they’re written by writers. The whole ‘write what you know’ mantra at work.

What’s interesting is that movies about writing rarely give much film time to what is the largest part of a writer’s life. Sitting alone, scribbling or staring into space – or doing housework to avoid sitting alone, scribbling.

Writers write.

And sadly that’s not very cinematic. Or exciting. Or visually compelling.

movie 4Most of us don’t have the time to romance Robert Redford or murder people (probably a good thing) or save our sisters from Colombian drug smugglers.

Speaking of Colombian drug smugglers, my favorite movie about a writer actually does get a lot of it write. Uh, right. At least for a hardworking romance writer! Although a dashing adventurer is yet to bowl up my street on a yacht to sweep me to a life of adventure and love. Although having said that, my friend Helene Young lives with her wonderful, dashing husband on a yacht and has a very exciting life as a commercial pilot so perhaps the end of this film isn’t complete fantasy after all!

Of course I’m talking about ROMANCING THE STONE.

Please tell me you love this movie too!

I love how mousy Joan Wilder discovers her inner wild woman and defeats the bad guys and demonstrates the courage to seize her chance at love. I love how we get hints at the start that mousy Joan Wilder has a wonderful inner life and that really she’s very far from mousy in her soul. The seeds of the strong, dynamic woman she becomes are always there inside her, but expressed through her imaginary characters rather than her actual life.

movie 3The first time I saw this film in 1984 when it came out, I was many years from being published although I’d written a full manuscript and a stack of bits and pieces. Enough so that the opening scene where Joan is crying her eyes out and blowing her nose on post-it notes rang a loud bell. And I still love the bit where she opens a can of salmon and gives it to the cat as her only real way of celebrating writing the end on a manuscript. Sigh!

I think another favorite of mine is BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, although George Peppard in that is more an ex-writer than a writer. Too much of that drinking while he wrote (and while he wasn’t writing!), I think!

So do you like movies about writers? Do you have a favorite?  Have you ever seen anything that struck you as just plain silly in a movie about a writer?

Have you seen any of the movies I’ve used as examples today? They’re all pretty good if you haven’t!

 

 

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Comments

56 Comments

  • Jane says:

    Hello Anna,
    The only ones i can think of are Sideways and Misery. I’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s a few times. Love that movie.

  • Amy Conley says:

    Romancing the Stone was on last week, but I didn’t rewatch it.

    Right noe I am brain dead and can’t think od a single movie except the one with Nicole Kidmann and she commits suicide (was she playing Sylvia Plath maybe?)

  • Mary Chen says:

    Hi Anna,
    The most recent movie I’ve watched that features a secondary character who’s a writer is About Time (2013), and that character portrays essentially everything you’ve mentioned in your post (the booze, the paper snowstorm…). So cliched, now that I’ve read this. I can’t recall any other movies about writers, mainly because most movies don’t stick in my head after I watch them. lol

    • Mary, I actually wanted to see About Time because I generally love Richard Curtis’s romantic comedies. I suspect that very few writers behave like the writers in movies. Except in their own imaginations!

  • Susanne Bellamy says:

    I love the escapism of Romancing the Stone and the hints you mentioned of Joan Wilder’s inner self (think about her surname too!) I don’t think you could have picked a better example of the writer’s life and the many inner lives… Wonder what that says about writers?

    What about As Good as It Gets and Something’s Gotta Give? In one, Jack writes, in the other, he’s the playboy to Diane Keaton’s author. Loved the latter! Enjoyed this post, Anna. Cheers.

    • Sue, thanks so much for swinging by. Always lovely to see you! Oh, I’d forgotten Something’s Gotta Give. Loved that film (I wanted her house big time – do you remember it? It was gorgeous). Although I think she would have been far better sticking with Keanu. I’m one of the few people who has never really seen what people rave about in Jack Nicholson. As a result, As Good as it Gets left me a bit cold. Again, I know I was definitely in the minority there.

  • Carol Cork says:

    Anna, I love Romancing the Stone too! What a wonderful mix of adventure and romance. Looking at the film from a reader’s perspective, I think Joan epitomises the heroines we love in our romances. My favourite scene is where they slide down the mud and Jack finishes up with his dead between Joan’s legs!!

  • I love Romancing the Stone too! Have you seen Stranger than Fiction with Emma Thompson? I’ve only watched it once years ago, but the thought that what you write could actually affect a person in real life is pretty freaky 🙂

  • Helen says:

    Anna

    I love Romancing The Stone as well it is years since I have seen it but I do love it other than that one I haven’t seen any of the other ones you have listed but there is that Steven King one Misery with Cathy Bates that was no way to treat a writer LOL

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Great post, Anna! Romancing the Stone has to be my favourite movie about a writer, too. There’s a cute Aussie film called Paperback Hero about a guy (Hugh Jackman) who writes a romance novel under the name of a girl in his town (Claudia Karvan). Worth seeing just for Hugh of course! Don’t remember much else about it, I have to admit!

    And I think the difference between those drinker writers and you is that they were alcoholics, so the alcohol didn’t affect their writing after a while!

    • Christina, I probably need to revisit Paperback Hero. I remember Hugh being good in it but the story being really pretty banal – and they weren’t particularly respectful to romance novels despite the premise.

    • Anna Sugden says:

      I remember Paperback Hero – not much about it other than it was fun viewing and Hugh was scrummy.

  • Shannon says:

    Romancing the Stone is one of my favorites–funny, adventurous, and even funny. I think there was a sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, which wasn’t nearly as much fun. I do think it pointed out the drudgery of being an author.

    The only image of a writer and a movie I can capture at the moment is they way they used words on a page in The Great Gatsy where of course Nick writes about Gatsby as part of his treatment for alcoholism. The latest version was decent but not great. F. Scott Fitzgerald had his problems with alcohol and he was barely able to publish later in his life.

    Did anyone notice that the hero in Her was a writer, but what he wrote was hand written letters in a future where everything was computerized and a book was a rarity? (BTW, I would not/not consider Her to be a romance although that was how it was marketed.)

    • Shannon says:

      I meant sexy, etc. You can see why I specialize in being a reader and only dream about being a writer.

    • Shannon, what an interesting idea about the letter becoming a cultural statement – I think that might actually be true. I was talking to someone last week about how nobody writes to anyone anymore (I do, but nowhere near as much as I used to and an email just isn’t the same!).

      I agree with you about Jewel of the Nile being nowhere near the movie that Romancing the Stone was. I haven’t seen the new Great Gatsby although I saw some of the costumes as part of a Hollywood costume exhibition last year and they were spectacular!

  • Anna Sugden says:

    I think The Shining is one of the scariest films ever – I’m afraid it’s spoiled Jack Nicholson for me, because whatever else I see him in, I expect him to chop through a door!

    Love Romancing the Stone! Even enjoyed Jewel of the Nile, because it was so silly.

    One film I quite enjoyed was Alex and Emma – with Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson. He’s a writer who has to deliver a finished book or someone will kill him.

    • Oh, I haven’t seen Alex and Emma, Anna. I must check that out. I think perhaps someone threatening to kill me is just what I need sometimes to settle down and write! 😉

  • Mozette says:

    So do you like movies about writers?

    They give us a visual about who the writer is/was. I love reading about writers, but it can get a little strange and you have to understand that some writers sound a little nutty without people actually being around them or visiting where they come from. So watching a movie or television show about them is a lot clearer – so long the director and screen-writer hasn’t left out anything.

    Do you have a favorite? Have you ever seen anything that struck you as just plain silly in a movie about a writer?

    Secret Window with Johnny Depp really showed how writers can have big problems if they become too reclusive. I picked the film out on a date once, and my date loved it. I loved it! There wer a few things the director ignored from the Stephen King changeover, but otherwise, it was striking film… and he was stunned that the film rang true for some writers – that they can take things too far and they can lose their minds if they’re alone too much… if they don’t keep in touch with the outside world.

    Have you seen any of the movies I’ve used as examples today? They’re all pretty good if you haven’t!

    I have seen ‘Romancing the Stone’ plenty of times… love it! I have heard that Stephen King doesn’t like the movie version of ‘The Shining’ because it has no heart… Kubriks scared people, but gave it no heart, not like SK gave it in his book. So, I haven’t seen that film… instead, I bought his book of ‘The Shining’

    • Mozette, I really loved the book of the Shining and as SK says, it’s got plenty of heart. I remember SK himself directed a miniseries of the Shining a few years ago and set it in the creepy old hotel at the gates of the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Went there a few years ago – it definitely has an atmosphere. The miniseries is pretty good if you can lay your hands on it.

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    I went to see Romancing the Stone 12 times at the theater when it came out. Loved the movie and the characters. Especially the fact she was a romance writer living out one of her own stories.

    • Debbie Oxier says:

      Have you seen American Dreamer with Tom Conti and JoBeth Williams? He writes mysteries under his mother’s name. She wins a contest and gets to fly to Paris to meet him and be honored at a luncheon. She’s hit by a car and when she comes to she thinks she is the lead character in the books he writes. Gets him embroiled in a real life mystery and they fall in love. Also one of my favorites.

    • Debbie, wow, good for you! I went to see Strictly Ballroom and Dirty Dancing at that sort of frequency. Clearly it’s not writers that make me want to see a movie multiple times, it’s dancers!

  • Laurie G says:

    I loved Romancing the Stone, the dancing scene in the tiny, Mexican village. AHHH!

    Another movie, MOULIN ROUGE, featured a depressed writer ,Christian, played by Ewan McGregor.

    • Laurie G says:

      OOPS! I forgot to add that ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN featured two Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein. The writers who exposed Nixon’s Watergate incident.

    • Laurie, while I loved Strictly Ballroom, I couldn’t really cope with Moulin Rouge. Thought the story was really inane and the fast editing gave me a headache. Clearly I’m becoming an old curmudgeon!

      Do you know I’ve never seen All the President’s Men. Must check it out! I remember it being such a huge hit in my childhood.

  • Patty L. says:

    I have seen Romancing the Stone and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, loved them both. As for the Shining, I was and am to scared to see it.

  • Hellion says:

    I was hoping you’d list ROMANCING THE STONE–that’s probably my favorite because she writes romances and she cries when she’s writing the ends of her drafts when they get back together. Hysterical.

    I loved SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE–that was like a valentine to writers and lovers. *swoons*

    One of the funniest movies I thought was called HER ALIBI with Tom Seleck who is a crime/mystery writer and he provides himself as an alibi to a beautiful foreign woman who may or may not have committed murder. It’s hokey, but hilarious. And you know he’s writing “himself” as the hero, but the hero is always cooler than himself, doing push ups or whipping up gourmet meals, while he is eating cereal out of a box or slouching in his PJs. *LOL*

    • Helly, I LOVE Her Alibi. I saw it in the cinema – it was only on for about two days, it was such a commercial flop. I’ve since seen it on video and just loved it all over again. Tom Selleck is brilliant as the guy who’s falling in love with a girl who may his murder in her sights. And Paulina P is just gorgeous in it!

  • catslady says:

    I loved Romancing the Stone. And wouldn’t it be great if the author was a romance writer. My first thought was Misery and as good as the movie was, the book was better (of course lol). I know I saw one with Chevy Chase where he had writers block but I’m drawing a blank on the title.

  • Hey Anna!

    Loved Romancing The Stone. They did get a lot of what romance writing is and what a romance novel brought to life should be.

    A great story about a writer and how she found her voice is LITTLE WOMEN. I especially like the version with Winnona Ryder as Jo March.

  • Helene says:

    Love ‘Romancing the Stone’. (And Capt G is currently dashing about Roo Bin Esque just prove his reputation is justified! – Thank you!!)

    I also love ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ – although why on earth Diane’s character would go for Jack Nicholson when she had hot and cold running Keanu Reeves I’ll never know!!

    And that house! Sigh….

    • Ha ha, Helene, we’re clearly movie watching sisters. I REALLY wanted that house. It was just to die for, wasn’t it? And why the hell would she go for Jack when Keanu was so lovely in that film? It would have been more interesting if she’d stuck with the younger man who adored her too. You could see Jack becoming even more of a curmudgeon as he got older whereas I think K is going to age very nicely!

  • Annie West says:

    Anna, what a fun post and so true. I do sometimes wonder at the way writers are portrayed on film and TV. On the latter we’re quite often just plain odd which gives me a laugh. On film, as you say, the writers often spend most of their time not writing and when they do it seems quite a quick process once they knuckle down to it.

    I loved Joan Wilder’s inner life in RtS. I also enjoyed the way Hugh Jackman wrote romance with his dog while driving a huge road train through the outback. Lovely!

    • Annie, thanks so much for swinging by. Thought you might enjoy today’s post. The sad thing was that I thought writers really did work for about five minutes a day and do glamorous things for the rest of the time when I was a young un. Twas a shock to the system when I discovered the wicked truth!

  • Becke Turner says:

    Anna,
    Wasn’t Redford a writer in “The Way We Were?” Of course he’d look good in his PJ’s so that doesn’t count. I loved Romancing the Stone.

    I’ve never cared for the Hemmingway character simply based on the movies about him. Of course, the heavy drinking is a major turn off and add the sexism and I’m not going there.

    I wrote a dissertation for a friend on Hemmingway and his sexism. That paper got me ten trips to the stables. (my parents let me take my horse but not a car to college. Thus, my first paid writing gig.)

    I heard Stephen King had a dependency problem. Is that fact or fiction? Regardless, it certainly didn’t hurt is storytelling ability. He’s a master.
    b

    • Becke, I haven’t seen that since I was a teenager, although I still play the theme on the piano. I’ve got a feeling that you’re right. Yes, I think Stephen King has been quite open about his addictions – can’t remember what to, cocaine, perhaps.

  • Anna, what a fun post! I’ve seen Romancing the Stone, which I loved, Out of Africa, which I remember liking, and Julia, which left me with mixed feelings. I’m certain I must’ve seen other writer movies but am drawing a blank.

    Castle is on tonight in the US. It’s TV, not movies, of course, but I notice that we seldom see him doing any actual writing.

    • Nancy, I think writing is VERY boring to watch so I’m not at all surprised that we rarely see writers on screen actually writing. Sometimes writing is VERY boring to do! 😉

  • Hi Anna –

    Sorry to be dropping in so late – it’s been a busy, busy day. I LOVE Romancing the Stone, but only the first one. I didn’t care for the sequels. One of my favorite writer movies is STRANGER THAN FICTION where Emma Thompson is a writer whose character comes alive. Emma fights writer’s block which I can relate to :). The Shining is one scary movie – I tend to avoid it at all costs.

  • Sorry I’ve been AWOL most of the day. I’ve been down in Redcliffe teaching a workshop and I’ve only just got back.

    Thanks to everyone who swung by to have fun with writers in movies!