The #1 question readers ask authors is “What inspires you to write?” Many authors have deep answers like “intellectual curiosity” or “the ability to create my own reality,” but mine’s nothing of the sort.
My greatest inspiration is bad movies.
I enjoy good entertainment, too, of course, but looking back on my life as a writer, I realize that my emergent interest in writing coincided with my discovery of several not-so-classic bits of media, and once my interest in writing was established, similar media propelled my writing interests forward.
Good movies inspired me, too, but the thing about good movies is that they tend to be, for the most part, complete. They’ll always have some flaws, but generally their worlds will be refined, their plots will come together nicely, or you at least leave them satisfied with the adventure you just took while watching.
This isn’t the case with bad movies. Bad movies are defined by their flaws, whether it’s terrible acting, slapdash worldbuilding, lazy characterization, or plot holes galore – but some of these movies have just enough good in them to snag the viewer’s attention, and that is where my interests caught.
When I was starting out as a writer, I didn’t see “plot holes.” I saw “parts of the story that the movie didn’t have time to flesh out.” I made up my own explanations. These explanations became fanfiction. Soon after writing a few early fanfics I realized I could overlap ideas to create my own worlds, and the more bad movies I watched, the more plot holes I explored, and the more ideas I had.
The flaws in bad movies, then, became a playground for my imagination.
Because of that, even when sitting in a crowded theatre, I’m never watching the same movie as everyone else. Terrible movies continue to drive my writing to this day.
But without these initial gems (rocks? gravel?), I’d never have become a writer. To that effect, here are the terrible pieces of entertainment to which I owe the formation of my entire creative being.
Technically it’s not a movie, but it’s pivotal, so we have to start here.
Only the most awesome 0.001% of the Internet has even heard of this show, and it’s probably made up of people from the other percentages who love mediocre animation, the most eye-rolling of dad jokes, and who grew up watching this mess during its brief appearance on ‘90s TV.
Samurai Pizza Cats is a show set in Little Tokyo, where the population is anthropomorphic animals who are also sometimes robots and the main characters are pizza delivery cats by day, sentai by night or whenever the Big Cheese (He’s a big mouse) and his lackey ninja crows (The leader is named Bad Bird) get up to mischief.
It’s one of those anime where the translators saw the original Japanese script, went “PBBBT!” and decided to just write whatever came to mind, no matter how outdated or cringingly awful the humor was. It’s why we have the Big Cheese (who was a fox in the original Japanese), as well as an old crow named Jerry Atric and a dog named Al Dente (for no particular reason except that it was a pun). The very theme song sounds like the performer got himself drunk and just sang the first pizza-related puns to come to mind while inexplicably channeling the B-52s.
And O LORT did 4th Grade me devour it.
My first pieces of real writing were, no lie, Samurai Pizza Cats fanfic. I even attempted to write a musical at some point but stopped because, even in my ill-advised elementary school days, I knew the world did not deserve an atrocity of that scale. (Also I have no idea how to write music.)
Soon after that, Warner Brothers released Cats Don’t Dance – which is a fantastic movie and thus has no place on this list, but kicked my cat-based writing fling into a full-on hobby. For the next several years, I spent all of recess and free time exploring my fictional world of my Wild Cats – a bunch of anthropomorphic cats who…well, actually I can’t remember what they did because high school me burned all the old manuscripts out of embarrassment. But I bet it was incredible.
And that interest still sticks with me today, albeit in a different form. Although I’m far from a furry, I do enjoy writing talking animal characters and building complex cultures around them – something that surfaces quite prominently in the dogmen and Brunl (bear) cultures in The Wizard’s Way (and is explored in even more depth in the upcoming The Wizard’s Circus).
If Samurai Pizza Cats was my gateway drug to writing, Quest for Camelot was the bag of [insert drug of choice here] in which I planted my face, heart, and soul, and let’s face it, never really came up for air.
Quest for Camelot is a miracle of a movie in that it has an A-List cast (including Cary Elwes and Gary Oldman); top tier musicians of its time (Celine Dion and Andrea Frickin’ Bocelli); and came from Warner Animation in between two of the greatest modern animated films (The Iron Giant and Cats Don’t Dance)…and yet somehow ended up one of the worst big budget animated films ever made.
The Nostalgia Critic has already covered everything that makes it terrible, and Jacob could barely make it through that. It is literally so terrible that Jacob has promised to watch it with me only as a landmark anniversary present.
I came upon Quest for Camelot in a roundabout way, finding the movie novelization on my 5th Grade English teacher’s shelf and picking it up because I’d read anything that had to do with Arthurian legends. Though the book was a pretty standard medieval fantasy – Tomboyish girl who wants to become a knight goes on a quest to save Excalibur – it had many details that snagged my attention more so than other fantasies I was reading at the time. First, one of the main characters is blind and yet, despite this seeming flaw, an essential and active contributor to the protagonist’s quest. Second, he has a falcon companion, which is just badass. And third, its heroine was a female adventurer, and in a lot of the books I was reading at the time, this wasn’t the case. All this to say, I was a hardcore Quest for Camelot fan before my parents even took me to see the movie. After the movie, I was 3000% a fan and writing tons of fantasy inspired by its world.
Which is why I was bewildered when I watched it again as an adult and realized that it is, in fact, a dumpster fire of a movie. XD I vividly remember being excited to show it to my cool college friends…who not even halfway through went WHAT IS THIS HP I CAN’T EVEN. This in the days before it was fashionable for millennials to lack the ability to EVEN. This from a crowd that had regular Mystery Science Theatre 3000 movie nights. It’s that bad.
Warner Brothers tried SO HARD with this movie, but at some point, all their grand plans went to hell and gave us okay-hand-drawn-animation-to-atrocious-CG-animation, a sense of humor that doesn’t know if it wants to stay in its world or go full Looney Tunes (There are ACME references), and a plot that craps on every single bit of potential presented by its Arthurian world. King Arthur is only in the movie long enough to be voiced by a James Bond actor pretending to be Sean Connery (perhaps a First Knight reference, but let the complexity of that irony sink in), before his arm is broken when a griffin snaps Excalibur off the back of his seat – not even in a battle, not even out of his hands. He tells his peeps to find Merlin and go after Excalibur, at which point Merlin’s like “Hm, I’m just gonna send this falcon to protect the sword. He’s got this.” And so it’s up to Kayley, the aforementioned tomboy farm girl, and Garrett, the aforementioned blind dude, to save the sword. Because everyone more qualified – like, I don’t know, actual knights – is too indisposed by, I don’t know, listening to King Arthur’s terrible accent. Or maybe hypnotized by bad guy Ruber’s eyebrows.
(For real, I am pretty sure his eyebrows had their own animator.)
(Any maybe he had his own choreographer for this jam.)
(Ok, for real, I’m done now.)
I could go on about the obvious villain, his nonsensically complicated plot to take over Camelot, the fact that he uses a magic (ACME!) potion to turn his underlings into half-weapon people as if maces for hands are somehow more practical than, I don’t know, hands for hands. Not to mention the one rooster he turns into a half-axe like really, dude, what’s a rooster going to do with an axe face?
Even so, 5th graders don’t think about those kinds of things when they watch movies, so Quest for Camelot snatched my interest away from talking cats and poured it all into medieval adventures. Most of my stories through junior high were medieval fantasies featuring kick-butt girl protagonists, falcons and hot blind hermits, and again, some of those elements surface in The Wizard’s Way. Chaucey’s pal Ellid totally has a sassy griffin companion because of Ruber’s griffin minion, and the medieval aesthetic that pops up in certain areas of Aurica (the Queen’s Guard wearing ceremonial armor, for example) is a definite holdover from my medieval fantasy days.
[Insert sound of all steampunkers clutching their pearls]
Admittedly, it pains me to consider Atlantis a bad movie, given the place it holds in the hearts of dual Disney and steampunk fans (myself included), and given that we rarely get animated steampunk movies at all, much less ones that are that pretty.
When it comes down to it, however, Atlantis is a film fraught with flaws. Much of this seems due to the fact that it changed identities halfway through production, which never seems to end well for movies. (Apparently it was going to be a monster movie in an early stage, before it became more focused on the city of Atlantis itself.) Even so, a change in focus is no excuse for the undeveloped characters, predictable plot twists, and convenient-for-the-moment plot details that don’t make any sense in a larger context. (Like, how can the Atlanteans speak modern languages without having been exposed to the development of those languages, and why do they know all those languages BUT NOT REMEMBER HOW TO READ THEIR OWN NATIVE LANGUAGE. 😐 Why entrust the health of an entire expedition to a cook who doesn’t understand the four basic food groups? How on earth could a 16-year-old be the most experienced mechanic Whitmore could find?)
The logic of the movie’s world-building is terrible.
However – and it’s a big HOWEVER – its individual pieces had the makings of something great, and this is why Atlantis still holds onto its place in my heart with giant crabby Leviathan claws.
Much as with Quest for Camelot, the details that grabbed me with Atlantis were the ones I wasn’t seeing in other stories at the time. The hero of the movie is not a conventional adventurer, but a weedy little linguist of all things.
Its princess was not a porcelain doll trapped in a castle, but a warrior (uncommon in animated films at the time) who was more concerned with helping her people than being the hero’s girl (though the end of the movie suggests they ended up together). Really, all of its women were quite capable on their own.
Most notable for me was its effortlessly diverse cast, all characterized with little nuggets of backstory that made them just interesting enough…but then, disappointingly, didn’t develop any of that. Atlantis could have approached being a masterpiece if it had dedicated just a little more meaningful screen time to Audrey, Sweet, Moliere, and Vinny (and solved its world-building problems).
But I guess that’s what fanfiction’s for. Likewise, because of those flaws, my imagination ran wild to fill in the gaps, or at the very least play with the movie’s ideas. One of my heroes in an as-yet-unfinished novel was a linguist (albeit a buff linguist who goes on an intergalactic adventure), and again, echoes of Atlantis permeate The Wizard’s Way. Atlantis was the movie that made me want to write a steampunk novel; Chaucey’s last name is Thatcher as a reference to Milo Thatch (Thatcher being an early-production name); the magic mineral clarien is blue because of Atlantis’ magic crystals (though the magic works quite differently); and the central characters are diverse, well, mainly because the real world is diverse, but also because Atlantis planted in my head a notably diverse cast with whom I wanted to spend more time.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other awful entertainments that drove my writing. Perhaps one day I’ll write about my Digimon/Titan A.E.-inspired world from junior high, or my Monster Rancher/Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog saga. (Hey, there were a lot of monster shows back then.)
Until then, readers, what are your guilty pleasure movies/TV shows? 😀
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