Theater Masks

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eight (depending on your math) movies and four TV shows that inspired me

I don't really know why it is, but we all love lists of things. I've never met anyone who said, "I hate lists." A recent conversation got me to thinking about movies and TV shows that inspired me. So I decided to make a list.

These aren't necessarily my favorite movies (though many are) and they aren't in any order. Just movies (and three TV shows) that have in some way affected me or changed my life in some way.

1)Fantasia -- this was the first movie I was taken to see as a child. Parts of it bored me, certainly, but I still remember looking up at Mickey Mouse moving those brooms and knew I would always want to come back to the movies.

2)The Sound of Music -- people who know me know this story because I tell it all the time. When asked, why do I like musicals, it stems from this movie. When I was about seven or eight, my dad got his first VCR. He wanted to test it out, checked the TV Guide, and asked me what I wanted to see: Superman or The Sound of Music? (I just realized: VCR? TV GUIDE? I feel so old!) I chose Superman (why wouldn't I? I was seven!) but my Dad decided to go with The Sound of Music anyway. The next day he sat my sister and me down to watch it and I was completely enthralled. A couple of days later he taped The King and I, and that was it - I was hooked!

3)The Wizard of Oz - the beginning of my love of all things fantasy. The Wizard of Oz carried me away to a new place, a place I loved to visit as often as I could. The Witch scared the hell out of me - I used to think she'd be waiting around corners of my house for me! - and I wanted the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion for friends.

4)Star Wars - along with the Wizard of Oz, these two movies hooked me onto one of the most important concepts in story telling that I know - the mythic hero journey. In ninth grade, my favorite teacher ever used these two movies to help us understand the heroic journey, and I've since spent many many hours studying it and learning how to adapt it. As it turns out, that journey can be used in so many ways, and many of my favorites can be traced back to the form. I always have the steps of the journey in the back of my mind, and I use it to teach my students about plot.

5)Casablanca - God, the writing is magnificent. No other movie has as many famous lines, and to watch as they come at you one after the other, perfectly in context of course, is just an amazing experience. The story ain't so bad, either.

6)The Princess Bride - I've stated before my single greatest influence as a writer is William Goldman. Well, it all started with this movie. It's my favorite movie of all time (well, this or The Wizard of Oz) and more than anything else it's all about the style. The language is so distinct that it's almost as quotable as Casablanca. The story is crisp, funny, quirky, and exciting. I model much of my writing after TPB, and I think it's made me all the better for it.

7)Monty Python and the Holy Grail/Mel Brooks canon -- I don't often write comedy, but when I do I base my rhythm on the language in these movies.

8)The Usual Suspects/Fight Club -- these movies knocked my socks off because I was completely surprised by the endings. To be able to flip a story around so that everything that came before takes on a different meaning is just an incredible thing. I've tried having endings along these lines in some of my stories - I don't think I've come close to pulling it off nearly as well by any means!

9)The Simpsons - for much the same reason as number seven on the list, the timing and mixture of TYPES of jokes are just brilliant and have influenced my comedy writing for sure. It's a bit scary how often I hear Homer's voice in my head.

10) Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Doctor Who - Again with the comedy rhythms. More importantly, though, both shows showed me how expansive story-telling can really be. There are no limits to what you can do on the page (heck, if they can do it on TV, think what can be done on the page without worries about a budget!). Both shows have such sharp characterization, one of their regulars, one that manages to quickly introduce and shuffle off new characters almost every week. Plus, the mixture of comedy and horror is just awesome. Besides, have you SEEN Once More With Feeling, Hush, and Blink? I mean, really, have you SEEN them?

11)You know what number 11 is if you know anything at all about me. I've talked about Lost on here already, I don't need to go into the details, but if Lost had never aired, I don't know that Before White or Sparks would ever have been written. If you didn't watch Lost while it was on, go start now. :)

I really believe movies and television, the good stuff at least, is on par with literature and art as medium that have the power to affect, influence, and alter our lives. I know it has for me.
What shows or movies have influenced you, changed your life in some significant way?


  1. It's forty five years since my Dad took me to see The Sound of Music for the first time, and like you, I was captivated by the movie. I must have seen it at least fifty times since then. I love it so much that I've even written a website about it!

  2. Hi Jason--I saw your query on the WriteOnCon website. It looked really interesting, so I thought I'd check out your blog and become your next follower. Cheers!