Four Things I Learned from a Bad Movie

Time and money are a precious commodity. So when Ryan and I spent both on a not-so-good movie this past Friday, I refused to let either go to waste.

Instead of mourning the loss of a four dollar rental fee and two hours of movie time, I put on my writing-hat and decided to learn from the experience.

I asked myself two questions:

Why didn’t this movie work? How can I use the experience to become a better storyteller?

I came up with four important takeaways. 

As writers, it’s important that we….

Keep the audience immersed in story world

So many things in this movie made me stop and go, “Come on, that’s so not believable.”

The main character is clearly Native American. His parents are clearly Caucasian. Yet he never suspected they might not be his biological parents?

On top of that, we have unbelievable behavior. By the end of the movie, we should have a kid who is completely traumatized. Yet instead of asking questions and grieving, he’s all smiles with his new girlfriend.

Lesson to be learned:

As writers, it’s so important that we pay attention to details. We have to do our research. We can’t overlook glaring inconsistencies in the name of fiction.

Our characters have to respond appropriately. If they experience something traumatic, we can’t gloss over that with cuddles and kisses. A glimpse of hope is always better than an unrealistic happily ever after. 

Get to the story already

There was this hideously prolonged sparring scene between the main character and his “father”. It was a total ploy to see the actor show off his ninja skills. And it kept going on and on and on…. 

Lesson to be learned:

Every scene needs a purpose. If we find ourselves holding on to one just because it’s eloquent or clever or beautifully written, that’s almost always a sure sign to kiss it goodbye.

Make theme an integral part of the story

It was almost as if the movie writers were like, “Shoot. We forgot about theme.” So they tacked one on at the end. 

Lesson to be learned:

Our theme can’t be an afterthought. We can’t deliver it via some character monologue at the end. At least not without making our readers roll their eyes. We should take care to weave our theme throughout the entirety of the story. 

Embrace our heart, not what’s hot

As I watched, I couldn’t help wondering if the movie-people wrote the script for the sole purpose of capitalizing on this particular actor’s popularity. It was a two hour excuse to show him taking off his shirt, being all athletic, and kissing a girl. 

Lesson to be learned:

We have to write what matters to us. We have to write what we love. We can’t jump on whatever bandwagon is hot at the time. Even if we do somehow make it through to publication, our readers will see right through it. 

So there you go. Four things I learned from a bad movie. Four things I’m taking to heart. Because I don’t want readers throwing popcorn at my books.

Let’s Talk: Have you watched any bad movies lately? Did you learn anything from the experience? Do you agree with the four takeaways above? 

31 thoughts on “Four Things I Learned from a Bad Movie

  1. […] From Katie Ganshert: Four Things I Learned from a Bad Movie […]

  2. I love your takeaways!! I don’t have a recent bad movie experience, but a book with a bad ending, totally out of touch with reality. A lady is severely traumatized — and a few months later gets engaged and thinks she’ll never have to tell her husband and he won’t ever know anything is wrong? Really? This final revelation in the last pages so jarred me out of the storyline that it ended up ruining the whole book.

  3. At least you didn’t spend $30 on a bad movie like we did for Pirates of the Caribbean 3…ugh! If I ever meet Johnny Depp in a dark alley, so help me!

    But I digress…it is good that you picked up on these items in your list. I tend to analyze good movies like Gladiator. That film had it all! Action, love, good writing, great soundtrack, lighting, directing, atmosphere…I could go on.

    It is wise to view the good, the bad, and the ugly (another great film!) in order to learn more about our craft.


  4. Hah omg. I would NEVER throw popcorn at your book, when it comes. I do have the occasion of folding corners though. A lot actually.

    But as for the lessons, true and thanks. The believable part for me is the make or break for a book. That’s probably why I was never into fantasy books, and more into believable fiction and biographies, most especially autobiographies.

    It’s like I’m there living their life with them!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I’m a corner folder too. I’ve even been known to do that with library books! (shhh!)

  5. Oh yes, I totally do this too. My sign of a great book or movie is that I forget to analyze. Even a good movie can have me analyzing a few times, but greatness sweeps me away and makes me forget everything else. 🙂

  6. Katie Ganshert

    Alright….so consensus seems to be that if a movie or book doesn’t grab you, you stop watching/reading.

    I’m totally with you all on the book front. But movies I have a harder time turning off. Maybe because it’s only a two hour investment and I keep thinking it will get better.

  7. i used to have these anxious moments were i felt like i had to keep watching/reading something that didn’t hold my interest. not so anymore. reading The Moral Premise (which is for screenwriters, basically, but can be applied to writers) really helped with why sometimes things don’t ring true. highly recommend it.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I seriously need to get that book!

  8. I’m so impressed by your tenacity to sit through a bad movie to be an observer in light of writing. Well done! As I read through your post, I found myself nodding in agreement, literally. Thanks for sharing these great takeaways and wisdom.

  9. Coming late to the blog post, Katie … I love how you don’t waste anything, even a bad movie.
    Here’s what I’ve learned: If it’s not worth watching, I don’t. I will find another movie. I’ve even gone so far as to throw a DVD out and never, ever watch it again. And I make sure other people know not to waste their time watching the movie, either.
    So, lessons:
    1. If you don’t engage your reader, they will stop reading.
    2. An unhappy reader will be happy to let others know how unhappy she was with your book.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      So true, Beth. A lot of our readers won’t have the patience or a reason to sit through something bad just for the sake of a lesson.

  10. Oh, I saw this very same bad movie. . . with a writer friend, and we spent an hour over coffee afterward lamenting all of these same issues. I might have even forgiven the up front oversights if the ending hadn’t been SO SHOCKINGLY HORRIBLE!!! Just . . . what?!?!
    Later that night I came up with an alternate ending that would have made it at least palatable. Also, I may have missed some key plot points because I was too distracted by the heroine’s freakishly dark eyebrows.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Ha! Yep, the eyebrows distracted us too. I want to know what the alternate ending could be! It was so bad, wasn’t it? The whole conversation with Sojourney Weaver at the end? She touched his arm and was like, “How are you feeling about all this?” Um….seriously!?

      1. I thought if we had just ended with Dad disappearing into the crowd, skipped all the insane nonsense that was the end and then just showed a random day in the future–a few months down the road, or high school graduation even. Showing where he was living, that they were still together, that he had plans for a future and was doing okay, etc.
        It still wouldn’t have made the movie GOOD by any means, but it could have saved it from being in the top ten biggest eye rolls of all time.

  11. What a great way to make something good out of a bad movie. Your observations are excellent.

  12. Oh yes, I know the movie of which you speak. 🙂 I remember thinking that things were “off” in the movie. I couldn’t put my finger on everything, but you spelled it out nicely.

    I am learning to delete a book off the kindle if it doesn’t capture me after a couple of chapters. And as for movies, I tend to fall asleep if it is bad. At least I get some much needed rest! lol

  13. I’ve also found it hard to watch a movie without putting on my writing hat, especially Disney movies. The three act structure is often very clear in Disney movies, which makes them fun to analyze.

  14. I am routinely disappointed by movies–and yet I keep renting them! Another lesson from me to the movie makers (because I am so much more expert than they are): don’t turn half your audience off with your commercials!

    I mean, the new Reese Witherspoon flick where she apparantly is dating two guys and declares she’s going to choose between them in a way I find wrong. Just wrong!! The premise of the film, while funny, is something I won’t watch. And I love Reese Witherspoon! But…yuck.

  15. Katie, I’d love to be handing out popcorn to your readers. They won’t be throwing it, though. They’ll be mindlessly munching it because they will be so engrossed in your story they forget about the world around them. How can I be so sure? Because I was the winner of the ARC you gave away and got to savor your story ahead of the masses. You are a wonderful storyteller who moved this reader with your well-told tale. I can’t wait until the release of Wildflowers from Winter, when readers get to dive into your book and spend time with Bethany, Evan, and Robin. They’re gonna love the experience and be as eager for your next book as I am. 🙂

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Thanks for making me smile this morning, Keli!

  16. Don’t worry, Katie. I won’t throw popcorn at your book. 😛

    And these were great points. I totally hear ya on all of these. We watched a movie with a great message but there were several points at which the middle lagged…and there was a lot of crying, and it was supposed to be a movie geared toward men. So remember your audience is an important point too.

    Also, there was a plot element at the beginning that we didn’t see until the very end. Those should be woven throughout, not just make an appearance again at the end so you have an action scene.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Funny you say remember the audience, because that would be a great tip for this movie too!

      It was like High School Musical audience meets Borne Identity. They tried to give us this high school romance in the midst of all this action. It just didn’t work at all.

  17. Love this…great lessons! I’m finding the more I grow as a storyteller, the less patience I have for bad stories. I hope that doesn’t sound prideful or “ooh, don’t I know so much?” Um, not so. But yeah, I love how you took an annoying movie an educational direction… 🙂

    Loved the last lesson especially. If a writer gets to the end of a story and realizes she haven’t delivered on the theme…and thus chucks it in through a monologue…then I think she really needs to go back and see if maybe she’s got the wrong theme in the first place. Did a new theme emerge in the story? Etc…

    1. Katie Ganshert

      That doesn’t make you sound prideful at all, Melissa! I totally know what you’re saying. And good tip on the theme. We shouldn’t have to force our themes to “fit” our novels. They should naturally arise from them.

  18. I’ve seen bad movies and I agree with your points! Sometimes I wonder how in the world certain movies make it out of the studio, LoL.

  19. I agree with Wendy – I usually stop watching or reading if the story telling doesn’t grab me right away. I love how you kept watching and turned it into a lesson in writing a good story. I will never view a bad movie the same way again! 🙂

  20. I think I know this bad movie! LOL Nice you took away what worked/didn’t and shared. Although, I watched the Wickerman and I’m not sure I learned jack. *shrug*

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I haven’t seen Wickerman. I’ll have to stay far away from that one.

  21. Did you throw popcorn at the screen? That’s what I want to know. 😉

    I don’t sit through bad movies and I stop reading books if they don’t hold my attention. I know, I’m a big meanie. I think I just know time here is limited. You bring up a valid point though (and if we already paid I’d likely sit through it) we can learn from things that aren’t working as much as things that are.
    ~ Wendy

    1. Katie Ganshert

      We didn’t have popcorn, but had it been in my lap, the temptation would have been hard to resist.


Comments are closed.