What Inspiration Can Writers Find In The Works Of Iconic Film Directors?
August 17, 2018 - Guest post by Jennie Benson
Film directors are a rare and special breed, often having hidden talents that have somehow been overshadowed by their cinematographic vision. Most actually have an acute understanding of human nature and an ability to synchronize the visual and auditory experience. Some directors such as Christopher Nolan (Inception), Paul Haggis (Crash) or Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) have written their own films and indeed, a handful (take Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers) are as well known for their witty scripts as they are for their ability to tell a story through images. In this post we seek inspiration in some of the world's leading directors, discovering that art indeed has no boundaries; that other genres can influence our writing in profound ways.
Those who love Ingmar Bergman's work often cite "Autumn Sonata" (1978) as one of his rawest, most emotionally impactful films, alongside "Cries and Whispers". The film focuses on a mother (Ingrid Bergman in one of her most challenging roles) and a daughter (the always fantastic Liv Ullmann) whose seemingly normal relationship begins to unravel, revealing deep-seated prejudice, hatred, and injustice on the part of the mother. Bergman plays a steely professional pianist who has little room for compassion for her daughters while Ullman is her loving daughter who has suffered many big setbacks, including losing her son, who drowned at the age of four.
An Unforgettable Disappointment
The scene to remember is one on which Ullman plays Prelude No.2 in A Minor by Chopin for her mother, only to have the latter visibly cringe at her performance, and play the entire piece 'correctly' afterwards. The daughter is submissive and accepting in this scene but we know that the tension will eventually explode and indeed it does soon after, leading to the mother's sudden departure. The film strikes deep emotional chords, and reminds writers that sometimes, suggestions, body language, and silence, can be so much more damaging than express confrontation. "Autumn Sonata" is an excellent source of inspiration for those who wish to master the art of minimalism in their writing.
Tim Burton's "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" and "Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton has always celebrated the beauty of the strangest, darkest elements of nature and the afterlife, which has made him a huge icon for goths and Edgar Allan Poe fans. Like Poe, Burton taps into our fear of the unknown, something he was a student at the California Institute of the Arts. Burton wrote fantastical stories in his youth, and his art would feature in posters once he became an established director. Writers can find many sources of inspiration in his work. For one, Burton has always tapped into the human fear of the unknown, celebrating human differences through appealing yet dark characters such as Miss Peregrine in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" or Edward in "Edward Scissorhands." However, he is also a shining example of the way that a general love for art, illustration, or design, can function as a basis for interesting characters, be it in novels or film.
Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita"
Federico Fellini is arguably best known for "La Dolce Vita": a kind of 'non-story' about the glamorous yet soul-destroying life of a young journalist in Rome, played by Marcello Mastroianni. The visuals are stunning (think of Anita Ekberg bathing in the fountain of Trevi, or of Mastroianni on the beach talking with the young waitress - arguably the last pure soul left in 'sin city'). The film is filled with powerful metaphors that don't require textual explanations (e.g. the first scene is of a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus over an ancient Roman aqueduct and soon after, we see a helicopter behind it, taking Mastroianni into the city while below, a group of bikini-clad women sunbath and the journalist makes hand gestures in an effort to get their phone numbers).
Film as satire
"La Dolce Vita" was a powerful satire of what Fellini saw as a 'godless' society in which local celebrities were the new 'Gods' (a role played these days by social media influencers). Money rules, and people are devoid of empathy or the ability to feel genuine emotion... moreover, those who are still pure of spirit hold little place in society and are undervalued by people like the journalist, who should know better. "La Dolce Vita" is credited by many writers as an excellent exponent of satire and of the powerful use of symbols. Fellini is an ace at adding a dash of humor to powerful philosophical musings. This stunning film has often been compared to TS Eliot's "The Waste Land."
We have named just three directors in this post, though there are so many we can find inspiration from when it comes to symbolism, dialogue between characters, and metaphor. Most directors also have a plethora of additional artistic passions, which reminds us of the importance of making room for various artistic genres. You never know where inspiration may come from, so enriching your life with historical and cultural facts is always a good idea when writing is on the mind.