Side Effects: Learning from Movies

Like most people, I’ve always loved a good movie or TV drama.  In fact, my earliest remembered dream is of sitting behind the Lone Ranger and Mickey Mouse as we gallop down the street on that magnificent white horse, Silver. Go figure.

But since becoming a writer, the movie-going experience has taken on a new dimension. Movies have become quick studies in what makes a good plot, usually taking no more than an hour and a half.

So recently, when my friend and fellow writer, Barbara, suggested the movie Side Effects as an example of a fine mystery, my husband, David, and I rushed off to see it. As usual, Barbara was right. This tightly plotted movie sets us up to believe one thing and then shocks us by slowly revealing something quite unexpected.

So of course I wanted to study it. How do you study a movie? One way is to get your hands on the script. Since for Side Effects there didn’t seem to be one available, the next stop was the Internet. There I found multiple interviews of Stephen Soderbergh, the director, and Scott Z. Burns, the script writer, where they discussed the development of the movie. In one interview, Scott Z. Burns, noted that his script was influenced by Hitchock’s Rear Window in creating the empathetic central character, see:  (

Even better, there was a wonderful website where blogger Larry Brooks painstakingly dissects Side Effects so that writers can see how the plot evolves from inciting incident to climax. Larry’s blog can be found at: I won’t say more so as not to spoil the story for those who haven’t seen the movie.

Thinking about what can be gained by studying movies got me thinking about another benefit—it can be a shared experience. An experience David and I will enjoy a second time when Side Effects comes out on DVD in late May. This time we’ll watch and discuss it with Barbara and her husband, Patrick—a delightful side effect of its own.

Do you have a favorite movie that helps you think about your writing? If so, what have you learned from it? 

About Nancy Gardner

Nancy Gardner’s short stories have been published in magazines, anthologies and online. Currently she’s working on a mystery set in Salem Massachusetts and featuring a present-day Salem witch who uses her ability to walk into the dreams of others to learn their secrets and solve crime.
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3 Responses to Side Effects: Learning from Movies

  1. MoW says:

    “The Usual Suspects” always reminds me of the importance of the narrative point of view in fiction–and that it is not always reliable. “Wait Until Dark” is a great example of what the POV character knows v. the antagonist.

    • Nancy Gardner says:

      I totally agree on your point about “The Usual Suspects,” Mo! That unreliable narrator is so beautifully rendered.

  2. Pingback: SINCNE Blog Summary April-May | Pen, Ink, and Crimes

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