Many of you are aware that I’m a member of the Blank Stage Screenwriter’s Group (based out of Roswell, GA). As a member of the screenwriter’s group I get the chance to listen to and read from some very interesting screenwriters and help them critique and analyze the good and bad points of their work. On occasion I get to present some of my own as I’ve most recently done with my Night of the Living Dead fan-film script NOTLD: Parallel Lives, an anthology of stories about the characters from the original George A. Romero ’68 film.
What was most shocking about the night I presented my screenplay was that over 70% of the group members had neither seen nor heard of one of the most iconic horror films in history. This wouldn’t have been as surprising if I was in a group of non-filmmakers and writers but this is a travesty to behold. It is my belief that in order to be a good screenwriter (or any writer in general) that you study the classics and are aware of the iconic stories in order to better immolate them.
If you want to write better films you study the best – Casablanca, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Rocky, Gone With the Wind, The Searchers, etc You don’t have to have studied and read the screenplay but you should have at least seen such films as Cinema Paradiso, The Seven samurai, 8 ½, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Star Wars, Blade Runner, and most certainly Night of the Living Dead.
Why Night of the Living Dead you ask?
Night of the Living Dead (1968) was a film that changed the face of horror films of the ‘60s and redefined the term “zombie” while also commenting on the state of the United States post-Vietnam war era. It had an African American as the star (hitherto unheard of) and was uncompromising in its gore (for the time). It has since been held as one of the greatest horror films of all time alongside The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and Jaws and continues to influence the horror genre and filmmakers even today while still being held as the Godfather of the zombie genre. It’s not just a great horror film but a cinematique masterpiece.
So, in my opinion it was an utter travesty to hear that many of my fellow screenwriters had neither seen nor heard of the film. In order to be a better screenwriter and filmmaker I’ve watched some of the best films from all over the world from Bergman to Kurosawa to those of Howard Hawks, Dario Argento, and Samuel Fuller. I’ve studied the films of Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Mario Bava, Bernardo Bertolucci and Stanley Kubrick; the films of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Walt Disney, Lina Riefenstahl, Seigi Eisenstein, and William Friedkin.
Romero took his inspiration for NOTLD from Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. He took a classic novel as an influence for his own apocalyptic tale. Just like he borrowed from an iconic novelist we should take inspiration from the best that cinema (and novelist) has to offer. As a screenwriter I cannot stress this enough. I watch (or at least plan on watching) as many classic films that I can in order to better write captivating stories and films. Like Romero I also read a lot of different materials from novels to graphic novels to news articles for inspiration. I read a lot of different materials in order to get a better understanding of story structure, style, genre, and execution, among many other things.
It is my hope not only as a filmmaker but as a writer that I can write material at the caliber of the people I admire and stories I know have resonated with audiences in the past. It is my hope that other aspiring writers and filmmakers (and all artists in general) look to the past not only for inspiration but also to see what came before in order to see where we are heading and can go. Today NOTLD, tomorrow the world.