Recently I have started doing a little screenwriting exercise whereby I read a screenplay then directly afterwards watch the film / television show produced from said screenplay.
The idea is to try to gain a better understanding of how screenplays translate onto the screen. Looking out for what made it to the screen and what didn't (and trying to figure out why), what was effective on the page and if that effectiveness translated onto the screen etc. (NB: It has to be a film / television show I have never seen before in order to get the full benefit.)
Last month I started with BBC mini series Exile. Created by Paul Abbott, written by Danny Brocklehurst. The BBC only offer the shooting script, so what was on the page was almost exactly what ended up on the screen but it was still very interesting and informative. I think I even enjoyed the show slightly more because of having read the script first. What I found interesting was the way certain minor characters that didn't particularly jump out of the page were really brought to life by the actors. The characters weren't badly written, far from it, but I learned that you definitely need to know when to pull your punches with minor characters. Less is more.
Today I will be 'reading and watching' the 1971 movie Deliverence. Written by James Dickey, based on his own novel. (I guess really I should read the novel, then read the screenplay, then watch the film... but that would take far too long!) I am planning on writing a feature length horror screenplay myself so I have been watching a lot of horror movies (For research and for funzies!). Whilst Deliverance isn't a straight up horror movie, it definitely has elements of horror in it. Plus it is one of those movies that when you tell people you have never seen it they tend to look at you like you're slightly mentile. (Yes, I just used the word 'Mentile'. Yes, it is a real word! It is in Urban Dictionary and everything! SEE!)
I am always more terrified by horror movies when I believe that the 'horror' could actually happen in real life. Ghosts and vampires and zombies and witchcraft are all well and good, but they just don't scare me anymore (Lost Boys, Candyman, you know I still you love guys!). Call me a cynic but I just don't buy into the supernatural stuff. Human beings are far more fucked up!
Feel free to use my 'read and watch' technique to help improve your own writing. (Of course, you will have to pay me a small fee of £100 every time you use it. Okay? Cool.)