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Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas: Movies That Inspire Us

We really, really like movies. Tarun has been dissecting screenplays since high school and Kelly has been crying at movies for much longer. And we don’t just enjoy them as audience members. We often have long, rambling discussions after we’ve both seen something to really figure out what worked or didn’t for us, and this often leads to a lot of inspiration for our projects. Here are eight movies that helped us finish the trilogy.


Bright Star

Bright Star is an absolutely beautiful movie and probably my favorite. The cinematography is so exquisite it makes my heart hurt. Not to mention the delicate, yearning soundtrack, perfect pacing, and phenomenal acting by Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish. This is one of the first movies where I noticed how much the littlest things can mean—a fleeting touch of hands, one stitch in a cloth, a look that only lasts a moment. This was especially helpful when writing about Evelyn’s relationship with Sebastian.

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Pride and Prejudice 1995 AND Pride and Prejudice 2005

Yes, the book is better. However, I think there is so much to love in both the 1995 and 2005 versions. The 1995 is so full of joy and heart while the 2005 teased out the tension and mood (and since I am a sucker for cinematography… WOW.) I think these adaptations are a great example of how different the pictures your writing evokes can be.

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Pride and Prejudice ... And Zombies

I know. This was not a good movie. However! I adored some of the fight scenes. Particularly how the emotional arcs of the characters were incorporated into the choreography. With all the many fights we inserted into the trilogy, having a movie with well-shot action scenes come out in the middle of writing of writing book two was refreshing and gave us plenty of new ideas.

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I first saw this movie because I loved Emma Caulfield and Buffy was over and I was sad. I ended up being completely and unexpectedly charmed by this sci-fi rom-com. One of the best parts was the relationship between the main character and her stepsister/best friend. They were so authentic and honest and silly and I adored their dynamic. This movie was in the back of my mind when writing about Evelyn and Rose. I was constantly reminded that sisters and best friends see something in us that no one else can. Also, they are ridiculous. See below:

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Kill Bill Vol. 1

Revenge has always been one of my favorite tropes because it’s a simple, effective way to sympathize with a character, they usually become active and passionate in carrying out their vengeance, and it often blossoms (or spirals) into something much more complex by the end of the story. Kill Bill has been one of my favorite examples of that, ever since I snuck into theatres in high school about 7 times to see it. For These Vengeful Souls, it was often playing in my head, as inspiration for both our hero and our villain, as they dealt with their losses, sought redress and sucked others into their obsession.

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The Dark Knight

And when it comes to our hero and villain trying to one-up the other, my mind always goes back to Batman and the Joker for that dynamic. When writing villains, we always find it helpful to ask whether ours is being as smart (or lucky) as the Joker because they need to be a big enough threat to make the hero learn something and for their efforts and solutions to be satisfying enough.

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Police Story

For the inevitable hero-villain showdowns though, we needed action, which is one of the more frustrating things to try to capture in prose. A lot of movie conventions simply don’t translate, like slow motion or grand explosions or grand explosions in slow motion. So I try to look to the action movies that accomplish more with their fights, like Police Story, or pretty much every other classic Jackie Chan movie. A lot of the fun there occurs in the mini logic puzzles of surrounding Jackie with an assortment of problems and villains, in a specific setting like a mall, and seeing how he improvises, using display counters and escalators as weapons. We treated our action scenes similarly: a mini problem in the form of an enemy’s superpower and a mini solution from something the hero has learned about the environment and/or their superpower.

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The Nice Guys

And because we just can’t resist throwing banter into every scene, The Nice Guys, along with other Shane Black scripts like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Last Boy Scout, were my inspiration for the constant wit, playing with tension and subverting cliches. His movies will often feature moments that makes you burst out laughing, followed by moments of sudden violence, and not only do they somehow fit together, but they even make the other hit harder.

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What about you, Swooners? Are you inspired by any movies in particular? Share in the comments!

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Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few …

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