When Movies Beat Words

I’ve always been a visual learner. Try to explain something to me audibly, and chances are I’ll say, “Can you write that down?” I need to see something in order to get it.

My stories play out the same way. Before I write them, I typically “see” them in my head. And, ok — IT’S NOT THAT WEIRD. I’m gonna guess it’s actually pretty common (fellow writers, yes?). I see the characters, see the lighting, feel the mood, figure out how the scene plays out. And only after that do I figure out how to describe that scene in words.

In this way, movies are sometimes — sometimes — the better storytelling format. Some scenes you can’t effectively put into words. Hell, some scenes are most effective without words. And, you know, if you’re writing? That’s a conundrum.

Oddly enough, these scenes are the ones that stick with me, that inspire me to be a better storyteller. I want to dissect them and figure out exactly why they’re so effective. They’re the ones my brain returns to again and again for inspiration.

Three scenes in particular come to mind, ones that I always press “rewind” to watch again and study. And yes, haters to the left — two of them are Wes Anderson.

This one comes from The Royal Tenenbaums (probably my favorite movie of all time). I love the lighting. I love the slow-motion silence as Margot Tenenbaum steps off the Green Line. I love the row of uniformed sailors behind Richie, stepping in time to the music. I love that you immediately know — without any words said — that these two characters are intensely, hopelessly in love.

500 Days of Summer is a GREAT movie for any writer to study. The way the timeline jumps around could have been hoaky but ends up 100% making the movie. A good example of how to mix up an otherwise pretty straightforward story.

But enough about the movie on the whole — we’re talkin’ THIS SCENE. Which I love. It so perfectly captures that feeling of being on top of the world, when everything is going your way and nothing, no one can stop you. Could this emotion be captured in words? Sure. But I don’t think as well (although if anyone has an example, I’d love to see it).

Oh what’s that? ANOTHER Royal Tenenbaums clip? I warned you, it’s my favorite. And this scene, THIS scene is my favorite scene from any movie, ever:

I don’t even know if I can count how many times I’ve watched this bit. And ok, yes — I realize it’s super depressing. But it’s also amazingly beautiful. The meticulous way Richie cuts his beard. The moody blue lighting interrupted by red. And the music — I mean, let’s face it.  The music makes this scene what it is.

That’s really the one thing these scenes have in common — great music. That’s one area where books can’t compete — there’s no soundtrack. Although I DO think this could be changing. The spring 2013 edition of Kinfolk magazine featured a story with a bar code. Using your phone to scan the bar scode, you could download a song specially written to be played while you read that story. I’ve gotta say, it was pretty damn cool and makes me excited for how we tell stories in the future.

Are there any particular movie scenes that inspire you? Which ones, and why?

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5 thoughts on “When Movies Beat Words

  1. I love, love, love… the Royal Tennebaums. I also love Ameilie and What Dreams May Come. These movies are all visually exciting and beautiful. All these movies have little special emotional moments that are carried by the music. Without music, all types of art would be missing that special something.

    1. Ooh Amelie is a great one… I haven’t seen it in a LONG time, but seem to recall a scene where she kind of melts into the floor. I need to rewatch it!

      Haven’t seen What Dreams May Come… One to add to the list!

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