Writing Exercise: The Silent Movie Rewrite

This exercise is about letting your brain storm for you. 

Anyone who’s ever smoked enormous amounts of weed with friends while watching TV in the middle of day with nothing good on knows what I’m talking about when I mention Telemundo Charades. 

That’s this, but with a purpose. You can still be high if you think you’ll still be able to manage to complete the assignment. 

Find a foreign, non-English movie whose (muted) trailer really visually appeals to you.

(Non-English just to cut off any impulse to read lips.)

Or better yet, so you’re completely ignorant of the story, ask for recommendations for great foreign movies. 

In choosing a movie, ask your recommender for something with an oblique or obscure premise, something not easily pinned even with subtitles.

(Maybe avoid someone like Tarkovsky or similar movies with five-minute shots of bubbling brooks. Maybe not. That’s just me.) 

The blunt, Hollywood-style frames everything so clearly that dialogue is often only for details and one-liners. We’re trying to work with weird movies, so find a weird movie. This will give your transcription more wiggle room and you can find your own creative path.

See where this is going?

Watch without subtitles while writing down what’s going on—describing events, filling in the dialogue you don’t understand, describing relationships in the margins.

This will be a stop and start affair, and it certainly doesn’t need to be done all in a single sitting. It’s better that you don’t, since this is more of a creative exercise than it is an analytical one. Maybe just a few scenes at a time. 

In this exercise you should toe the line between faithfulness to what you actually think is happening and what you wish was actually going on. 

What you have when you’re done is a very rough-draft outline of a story. You probably want to watch the movie with subtitles to see what was actually going on all that time, and if you like what you’ve written, use that as a jumping off point. 

Don’t plagiarize, of course, but this will get you going with an incredible amount of work already under your belt.

As you’ll see in later posts, I’m a big fan of stealing and tweaking. More on that later.