With this year’s Moonlight win at the Oscars, a lot of big things happened. The primary thing most people are talking about is how monumental Moonlight‘s win is for people of color. It’s rare to see a movie about a black gay man get much recognition and for it to win best picture is a huge achievement. However, in addition to the social progress, Moonlight‘s win speaks to the underdog of the film industry – the independent film.
Moonlight is the second lowest budget film of all time to win best picture. It was the lowest budget film out of all the nominees, so the fact that it won best picture is a testament to the power of storytelling over funding. Much like novelists are starting to self-publish so that they can tell stories without constraints from the publishers, more and more filmmakers are turning towards independent companies so that they can get away from Hollywood and the franchises they enforce.
Because all storytellers are getting tired of big companies determining what is a “good story.” And now with the internet, storytellers who want to write films or books have the resources at their fingertips that used to be only available to the elite. And they’re telling some great stories with those resources.
What are A24 films?
A24 is an independent film company that is churning out some of the best film narratives I’ve seen in a long time, one of which was Moonlight. The stories they produce are all unique and unforgettable and are tied together by their originality and freshness in the industry. The fact that their movie just won best picture means the formulaic approach Hollywood has taken to making movies is dying out. Audience members are demonstrating they want new and interesting stories about people besides the Hollywood elite, and companies like A24 are giving them just that.
As mentioned, just like novelists are taking ownership of their work, filmmakers and screenwriters are doing the same. Because of that similarity, if you are struggling through a draft of your novel, changing up the storytelling medium you are focused on can help redirect and inspire your work. For that reason, I’ve gathered my favorite films from A24 in addition to Moonlight to give you a starting point:
What It’s About: Set in the early 1600’s, The Witch tells a story about a family who decides to live alone in the wilderness after their family is banished from their Puritan church and plantation. When the newborn child of five is swept away when the eldest daughter, Thomasin, is taking care of him, the family begins to lose faith and starts to murmur of witchcraft.
How It’ll Inspire Your Novel: Just like Moonlight, The Witch had an incredibly low budget, but managed to evoke the time period the film is set in better than films with three times the budget. The director did an intense amount of research, basing much of the story on actual historical documents and writing the film in seventeenth-century English. When watching the piece, think about ways you can implement more history into your novel, even if it’s a questionable history, or how you can toy with your characters’ relationships by inserting rumor or doubt into the mix.
What It’s About: In this absurdist film, single people are given 45 days to find love or else they are turned into animals. David, played by Collin Farrell, discovers his wife has left him to be with someone else and is sent to the hotel to find a new partner. As the days pass and David’s chances of finding a partner he truly loves start to dwindle, David begins to question the very nature of the world he lives in and how he can avoid becoming his animal of choice, a lobster.
How It’ll Inspire Your Novel: With its dry humor and dark setting, The Lobster manages to create a rich world separate from our own within a few minutes. Often when we write novels, we take pages and pages to give readers insight into our world. Yet The Lobster manages to do this within the first ten minutes. As you watch, think about how the film is able to reveal so much so quickly and how you can implement the same techniques in your novel. Additionally, think about how the film’s haunting humor lends itself to a unique tone that could not be achieved in any other way and if there’s any room in your novel for things to take themselves less seriously.
What It’s About: When computer programmer Caleb Smith wins a mysterious prize at his work he is transported to the home of Nathan, the CEO of the software company Blue Book, for a one week stay. Upon arrival, Nathan reveals Ava, a humanoid robot he is hoping to test Caleb with. He asks Caleb to get to know her and decide if despite her artificial intelligence, whether she can fool someone into thinking she’s human. As the days go by Caleb develops a connection with Ava and in turn begins to become uncomfortable around Nathan, forcing him to rely more on Ava while he snoops around Nathan’s intricate home.
How It’ll Inspire Your Novel: With only four characters wandering around an isolated home, it’s easy for Ex Machina to raise tensions and put people on the edge of their seat. However what makes this movie so wonderful is how well even the audience is fooled into believing Ava is real. As you watch, think about how you might try and fool readers in a novel with an artificial intelligence. Though you certainly would have to approach things differently, this approach can inspire you to think about other characters in your novel and how they might be able to fool your reader into believing they are someone they are not.
Swiss Army Man
What It’s About: When Hank, a man stranded on a small island on the verge of suicide, sees a body wash up onto the beach, he tries to resuscitate the body to no avail. All he gets in response is a large bout of flatulence, which shortly thereafter propels the dead body back into the sea with Hank riding on top of it. When they reach a new beach, Hank starts to befriend the dead body, Manny, who turns out to have special powers that can help him find home.
How It’ll Inspire Your Novel: Swiss Army Man is a story that could only be told as a movie. That’s what makes it so enjoyable. Sure, a novelist could describe the same story and likely do it poetic justice, but what is so rewarding is the visuals and seeing how the strange and creative ways Manny can be used as a Swiss army man came to life. It is perhaps one of the strangest movies you’ll ever see and for that reason, you’ll have a whole new toolkit as to how to make your story stranger.
20th Century Women
What It’s About: Set in California in the 1970’s, 20th Century Women is perhaps the most straightforward story on this list but that doesn’t mean it’s any less good. It follows the lives of Dorothea and her son Jamie as they take care of a boarding house where two other tenants live, and occasionally Jaime’s best friend and crush, Julie. After deciding she is too old to mother her son properly, Dorothea, in her fifties, asks Abbie, one of her tenants, and Julie to help raise her son. As the story progresses, audience members observe the different ways each woman shapes Jamie into he is, with nothing but the text after the credits to answer.
How It’ll Inspire Your Novel: A lot of movies are about the plot just as much as the character, but 20th Century Women leans more towards the character study side. The film juggles the multiple plot lines and character studies seamlessly so that by the end of the film the audience cares deeply about how everyone’s lives turn out, not just the main characters. As you watch, take note of different ways to make your readers’ care just as deeply about secondary characters in your own story and how they can balance their own goals and aspirations without stealing the spotlight from the main characters. Because if a movie can do this in under two hours, then a novelist can balance this in 200 pages.
Like lists? Check out the 10 indie games for people who hate video games to play and seven books by authors from Muslim countries for more lists!