How to write a Film Journal

Dear Fellow Journalers,

In order to analyse a film, you need to watch the film carefully and write in your journal soon after. If you are going to just RATE  (like Good Reads or Amazon) you don’t need to read further. But if you really want to analyze the films you watch you need to:

  1. Keep notes on specific scenes and explain why they are important to the outline or character development.
  2. Note significant moments that made you want to stop the movie, think, and re-wind.
  3. Make a plot summary so you can remember the film!
  4. Write down your reactions to the movie plot and the ending.

You might be surprised to know that movie directors and writers write film jounals too. Here are some famous diary entries. This one is from Stanley Kubrick, director of Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odessey and Shining.

The entry dates back to the early-60’s when Kubrick was trying to come up with a name for the movie he was in the process of making. This is fascinating for a number of reasons – the opportunity to look at a genius’ brainstorming process, the chance to imagine the classic film existing with any of these alternate titles – but it’s probably most interesting because this page ultimately led to what is arguably one of the greatest names for a movie of all time: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. (In turn, the movie was based on a book with a comparatively lackluster name: Red Alert.)

Here’s a list of some of the titles Kubrick came up with:

Doctor Doomsday
Don’t Knock the Bomb
Dr. Doomsday and his Nuclear Wiseman
Dr. Doomsday Meets Ingrid Strangelove
Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying
Dr. Strangelove’s Bomb
Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus
My Bomb, Your Bomb
Save The Bomb
Strangelove: Nuclear Wiseman
The Bomb and Dr. Strangelove or: How to be Afraid 24hrs a Day
The Bomb of Bombs
The Doomsday Machine
The Passion of Dr. Strangelove
Wonderful Bomb
It’s curious to note in the actual written entry (see below) how the ultimate title doesn’t appear and also how some ideas are circled, some are not, some words are underlined, some are written in cursive, some are not, etc.


Many films begin with the reading of a book. No shock there, right? This doesn’t mean the re-making of a book necessarily. For instance, Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame said that at the time he was commissioned to write the story of Downtown Abbey he was reading a book entitled ” To marry an English Lord” about an American heiress who had gone to marrying into an English family during the Victorian era. He asked himself “What was it like after that?” He decided to develop the characters, a community, and the interactions between its members that would tell their story: the rivalry, jealousy, love, hatred, births, marriages, deaths.

And finally, there’s Frank Capra who is famous for “It’s A Wonderful Life” which originally came from a story entitled “The Greatest Gift” by Marc Connelly. In an interview for the New York Times in December 1947, he talked about his philosophy about script writing:

“No script can be taken as gospel. It must be adapted to actors, to the set. Scripts may be written, but pictures aren’t written… any good scene can be expanded almost indefinitely.” Capra would work over the scrip before he shot it – tightening, writing new dialog, changing characterizations, eliminating scenes, adding needed actions and writing all these notes on scraps of paper.

One example of a script change is the Honeymoon scene. As originally written, it was supposed to end with the predictable Honeymoon kiss. But Capra wrote the scene as follows:

“Bert and Ernie hanging posters. Mary tells them to hurry. When George arrives they hide and sing a song outside the window in the rain. Ernie kisses Bert on the head.”

Happy film watching,


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