There's an old writing exercise for new writers that's all about copying great work. Before he became an established writer, Hunter S. Thompson would copy The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms, word for word, to try to better understand the writing styles of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, two artists he admired. It was important to him to know what it felt like to physically write down every word in Gatsby, in an attempt to understand what was going through Fitzgerald's mind when he wrote it. Certain phrases and sentences would take on a different meaning after Thompson had actually typed them out and watch them appear on a page.
Similarly, young screenwriters exercise their minds by watching a movie and then, based on the visuals, writing what they imagine the script looked like, including dialogue, action, descriptions- everything. By transposing what you see on the screen, you learn what was important to the director; you learn what information he/she wanted the audience to see, and how he/she wanted that information presented. It's a really neat exercise, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about visual storytelling.
I also have a few artists that I'd like to understand better, except mine aren't literary greats like Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The artist that is most important to me is the person responsible for the new Battleship movie, the name of whom escapes me at the moment. The trailer for this film, (starring The Blonde Vampire from True Blood, Riggins from Friday Night Lights, and Liam "For Some Reason I'm In This Movie" Neeson), was recently released and, in an effort to really get inside the mind of and understand the folks behind this movie, I decided to perform my own little writing exercise. Allow me to present to you...
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and even though he thinks this movie looks like a pile of shit, he will still go see it (Rihanna).
For more from Dan, check out A Series of Dispatches From Jersey Shore's New Intern and Why Spider-Man Is a Dick.