I like films. I like writing. So perhaps it was inevitable that I would like films about writers. And once you scratch the surface, there are quite a few of them. Of course, most films start as a screenplay which has to be written by one or (more commonly) several people, so perhaps it’s not surprising that those writers occasionally turn inwards for inspiration. What is surprising about it is that writing as an activity is just about the least filmic thing ever invented, with its furrowed concentration over a keyboard, unintelligible muttering or pacing around with a half-smoked cigarette. I have never in my life pulled a sheet of paper from a typewriter, screwed it into a ball and thrown it in the bin. Yet this motion is one of the great clichés of writing in the movies.
All this having been said, there are some really fascinating films about writers, writing and the creative process. In fact, I went through my own collection and found twenty-seven:
You'll be pleased to know that I'm not going to try to write about all of these, or we'd be here all day! What follows is a wholly subjective, roughly chronological celebration of seven films about writers. Action!
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The Shining (1980)
Although I loved the Stephen King novel it was based on, the movie version of The Shining took many years to work its magic on me. Actually, what made me finally fall for the film was seeing it on a big screen for the first time, after years of watching it on television. Perhaps it isn’t true that I fell for the film as much as fell into it – the long, languid tracking shots that Kubrick uses exert a hypnotic pull that draws the cinema viewer into the horrific story.
Stand By Me (1986)
Barton Fink (1991)
As you can imagine, this is a film that tends to divide audiences. I have even found that it causes me to have wildly different reactions each time I watch it. The first time, I was amused but confused. The second time, I thought it might be the greatest film ever made. The third time, I found myself intensely annoyed by the final act, in which Kaufman wrecks the structure of his own film to make a rather glib point about the formulaic structure of Hollywood movies.
Will there be a fourth time? Such is the strange allure of Adaptation that I think it’s quite likely...
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Saving Mr Banks (2013)
So, those are just a few of the films about writers out there. What's clear from this cross-section is that the writer on-screen often acts as an analogue for the creative team behind it, expressing their joys and frustrations about the creative process.
If I had more space I might have included films such as Capote, Wonder Boys, Stranger than Fiction, Misery or even the Charles Bukowski biopic Factotum (a film so obscure that I can't imagine anyone else has even heard of it, much less seen it). And there are loads of TV series with writers in them, such as Bored to Death, 30 Rock, Castle, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or even Murder She Wrote. But no-one (apart from Angela Lansbury’s fan club) wants to know about that!
*This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery and A Few Good Men (since you asked).
Nick Cross is a children's writer, Undiscovered Voices winner and Alphabet Soup maker for SCBWI Words & Pictures Magazine.
Nick's writing appears in Stew Magazine, and received a 2015 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.