This second installment of movies for writers is as much of a mixed bag as Part One. Despite their different genres, however, the films all have common themes and tap into a basic truth about writers: We’re all weird as hell.
With deep condolences to Robin William’s family and all the children of the ’90s, I’m kicking off the list with one of the greatest motivational films for writers: Dead Poets Society, the movie in which I first learned about carpe diem, sucking the marrow out of life, nonconformity, and writers like Whitman, Thoreau, Tennyson, Shakespeare, and Frost. Here’s to you, Mr. Williams, “O Captain! My Captain.” You’re a striking example of how a body of work can inspire, entertain, and contribute cultural value—even after its artist goes gently into that good night: “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Dead Poets Society
Synopsis: An English prep school instructor uses unconventional teaching methods and inspires his students to explore poetry and achieve their potential.
Live vicariously: Inspire others to love poetry; join a writing and reading group of freethinkers; write poetry; take risks; be fearless.
- “You will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
- “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering—these are noble pursuits necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.”
- “Dead poets were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life.”
Themes: poetry, poets, carpe diem, fearlessness, independent thinking, and barbaric yawping.
Synopsis: Author J.K. Barry meets the family to inspire Peter Pan.
Live vicariously: Be famous; inspire creativity in others; be seized with inspiration; write.
- “All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.”
- “Write about anything. Write about your family. Write about the talking whale.”
“The one that’s trapped in your imagination and desperate to get out.”
Themes: critics, fame, imagination, creativity, and inspiration.
Synopsis: High school English teacher Erin Gruwell uses writing to inspire her class of at-risk students and collaboratively publish The Freedom Writers Diary.
Live vicariously: Make a difference; give someone the love of reading and writing; write daily; share stories.
- “We were writers with our own voices, our own stories. And even if nobody else read it, the book would be something to leave behind that said we were here. This is what happened. We mattered.”
Themes: socioeconomics, literature, creative writing, the ability of literature and writing to influence culture and change ideologies, and Anne Frank.
Synopsis: Author Clifford Irving sells and writes a counterfeit biography of Howard Hughes.
Live vicariously: Accept a $1 million advance; use a typewriter; see our book become an enormous event.
- “This book will sell more copies than the Bible. But our competitors will kill to get it, and if they can’t get it, they’ll do anything they can to destroy it.”
- “I sell books….That’s why I love it when people say, ‘I’m a reader.’ I say, ‘Good for you, and good for me.'”
Themes: book acquisitions and proposals, McGraw Hill Book Company, author-publisher relations, advances, research, book promotions, fraud, slander, defamation of character, and book-burning.
Synopsis: An eccentric author receives a strange visitor at his cabin who accuses him of plagiarism and begins a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Live vicariously: Write in a secluded cabin (come on—we all want to do that); fill bookshelves with our books; rewrite a bad ending.
- “I give her a call about the magazine, I go write some crap for a couple of hours, and then I get to take a nap.”
- “I can’t decide what’s worse: stealing my story or ruining the ending.”
Themes: intellectual property, plagiarism, copyright infringement, writer’s block, creative minds, and revision.
Synopsis: An English professor wrestles with finishing his novel, appeasing his editor, and being surpassed by talented students in his class.
Live vicariously: Have an editor; write on a typewriter; think in creative prose.
- “Somewhere in the night, a Manhattan book editor was prowling the streets of Pittsburg, bestselling author at his side, dead dog in his trunk.”
- “Is all of that single-spaced?”
“I’m afraid so, yeah.”
Themes: workshops, editors, writer-editor relations, acquisitions, drafts, and writer’s block.
Bonus: Sex in the City (the TV series)
Synopsis: Writer Carrie Bradshaw writes a relationship column for the New York Star.
Live vicariously: Have our faces on the side of a bus (“Secret Sex”); consider a movie option for our columns (“Escape from New York”); freelance for a major magazine (“A ‘Vogue’ Idea”); receive a publishing deal and dedicate our book (“Unoriginal Sin”); approve our book cover (“Cover Girl”); attend our first book launch (“Plus One is the Loneliest Number”); complete our first book tour and reading (“The Big Journey”); receive book royalties (“Lights, Camera, Relationship”).
- “The worst part about not being in a relationship is when your job is to write about being in a relationship.” — “Unoriginal Sin”
Themes: writing, deadlines, fame, content, and writing careers.
[Editorial note: Check out Part Three!]