Movies have always meant a lot to me and a lot to my creative process. As a writer, I’m always fascinated by how writers are portrayed in films, and there is no shortage of examples of authors in the cinema, from real-life scribes to fictional creators. Here then, are six of my favorite films about authors.
1. Wonder Boys
Avengers assemble! Well, not yet. The cast of this one brings together Michael Douglass (Ant-Man) Tobey Maguire (Spider-man) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) in maybe my top pick for favorite film about writers. Douglass is stuck on his second novel, he isn’t really blocked… he just can’t seem to stop. As his world unravels around him, he has to deal with his agent (Downey), a star pupil (Maguire), an affair (Francis MacDormand) and a dog. Adapted from Michael Chabon’s second book.
What it gets right about writers: Imposter syndrome, jealousy, academic life, fear of failure.
Moment that stuck with me: The manuscript tornado. If you’re a writer and you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.
Oh where to start talking about Misery? James Caan is a famous writer who has a car accident out in the middle of nowhere. He’s rescued by Cathy Bates, playing Caan’s number one fan. She nurses him back to health until she discovers her favorite character is being killed off. Then… well, she takes steps to change things. In many ways it speaks to the fans of all media, and was wildly prescient about today’s rabid fans and their desire to control their favorite things. This is the first Stephen King adaptation on my list. Who knows writers better?
What it gets right about writers: The need to please readers vs the need to write what they want.
Moment that stuck with me: There’s a sledgehammer involved.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is Truman Capote and Catherine Keener plays Harper Lee in the story behind the story of In Cold Blood.
What it gets right about writers: The desire to get characters and details right, the depth of research by some writers.
Moment that stuck with me: All of Hoffman’s amazing performance as Capote.
4. The Shining
This Stephen King adaptation takes us deep into the troubled psyche of author Jack Torrence, who takes a job tending to a hotel on the off season in order to get some work done on his book. It does not go well for him or his family as he’s haunted by the hotel’s past. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall
What it gets right about writers: It shows the agony of writer’s block, annoyance of distractions, and the occasional bloody elevator (kidding mostly.)
5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
This envisioning of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel is nearly as trippy as its source material. Director Terry Gilliam takes the drug-addled book and runs with it, thanks to a game cast that includes Johnny Depp and Benico Del Toro. It’s crazy, it’s weird, and it’s a film that is hard to look away from.
What it gets right about writers: Thompson is the poster boy for immersion in a subject, and getting the story at all costs.
Scene that stuck with me: Fictional Thompson meeting real Thompson. “There I was.”
6. The Whole Wide World
This was an under-the-radar film about the life of Robert E. Howard, the author that brought stories like Conan the Barbarian to life. Based on a memoir by Novalyne Price about her relationship and romance with Howard. Performances by Vincent D'Onofrio and Renee Zellweger are the leads, and while the story may run a little melodramatic at times, it’s still fascinating.
What it gets right about writers: It shows the highs and lows of the writer’s ego, the effect of criticism, and this writer’s process.
Scene that stuck with me: Howard pointing off into an empty field and asking “See that lion over there?” Price saying no, and Howard replying “I do.”
There are a lot more films about writers that I enjoy but had to leave off the short list. What are some of your favorites about authors?
Not everyone lands their dream job.
Take Abe: He's bottomed out as an Imaginary Friend and has to find a new job before his bosses assign him a truly crappy one. Just as he's about to resign himself to a life of making toys in a workshop, he's given a reprieve--of sorts. Now he has the opportunity to be the first policeman on the Hill and solve an impossible murder.
For assistance he ropes in his career counselor, a Bigfoot, and his best friend, a Boogeyman. The job requires him to talk to Tooth Fairies, Leprechauns, Yetis and everything else humanity has dreamt up over the years. None of them offer any clues, but since Abe's supervisors are Mother Nature, Father Time and Death, he can't just give up and walk away.
Dream job? Dream on.
"A dreamlike quality permeates this story, and the basic whodunit set-up turns into a multilevel metaphysical quandary as Betts injects one twist after another into an increasingly unsettling tale."--Publishers Weekly
"The moments of humor are well-earned, and Brady and Zane are standouts....The ending manages to be both fascinating and endearing. An offbeat, entertaining look at timeworn mythical characters."--Kirkus
"There is something under your bed. There is something going bump in the night. Something is following you.' Betts' novel finds a way to encapsulate that chilling sentiment in a surprisingly hilarious way..."--Booklist
"What starts out as a quirky tale about a burnt-out Imaginary Friend turns into a locked room murder mystery for a creature that cannot die. An entertaining mash-up of "Monsters Inc." and "Chinatown" in a world populated by Bigfoot, Tooth Fairies, and Boogeymen. Perhaps, the start of its own genre: Imagin-noire."--Josef Matulich, author of Camp Arcanum
About the Author
Matt Betts worked for years in radio as an on-air personality, anchor and reporter. His fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His work includes the steampunk novel, Odd Men Out, urban fantasy book Indelible Ink, the dark fantasy The Boogeyman’s Intern, and the giant robot vs giant monster novel The Shadow beneath the Waves. His poetry collections include See No Evil, Say No Evil and Underwater Fistfight.