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Psychologists Writing for Film

Many movies function as “equipment for living,” a phrase coined by Skip Dine Young based on Kenneth Burke’s idea of literature as equipment for living. This phrase means that movies provide edification, inspiration, and thoughtful debate among viewers about important aspects of living. For example, Thelma and Louise is a feminist exposition that caught our imagination, and Silver Linings Playbook speaks of the resilience in the human personality to contain and adapt to mental illness and still aspire. Good Will Hunting and Rain Man speak of the redemptive qualities we contain.  Many movies are more indirect and provide contemplative gardens for existential wonderings and tragedy, such as Melancholia and Leaving Las Vegas.

My assertion is that psychologists are in a unique position to make rich, thoughtful and impassioned movies where others may not have the same voice.  Interesting that it is done so little. It may be unusual for a psychologist to write for film, but it’s rewarding. Some psychologists have written fiction novels that have been made into film. The most noteworthy example is Irwin Yalom and his book When Nietzsche Wept, which was turned into a film by the same name, starring Ben Cross and Armand Assante.

What does it take to write for film? I think it requires suspension of disbelief. The phrase, “I couldn’t possibly do that” must be challenged. One also needs to understand screenplay format.  There are now inexpensive programs that can help in that regard, and free or low-cost webinars can help with impasses in screen writing. You also need a little time. Well, maybe more than a little. I heard Scott Turow, a lawyer by profession, wrote his first screenplay on his commute home each evening on the train. It also takes some imagination and some will power.

I am certainly not a great writer, but I am now finishing up a screenplay that I have been working on for a couple of years. I have treated it as a hobby and have periodically employed a film writing coach to help me with overall direction. I have started to enter it in film festivals and have received some local interest in the script from a theater company. I do believe it will get made into a movie at some point. In the meantime, I enjoy my hobby of screenwriting. If you have ever entertained the idea of writing for film don’t be overwhelmed; be underwhelmed and take a flyer on it.  You may find it doable and very rewarding.


Franklin SollarsBy Franklin Sollars, PhD, MSP Core Faculty