WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

SERIOUS COMEDY!


There's a very thin line between comedy and tragedy.

In LIAR, LIAR Jim Carrey isn't just a guy who misses a visit with his son, he misses his son's birthday party! He's an admitted bad father. We know that he loves his son (in an early scene we see him rolling around on the lawn with his son, playing The Hand), but he's so wrapped up in himself he forgets about the people that he loves. More character is a good thing. Having an emotional problem for your protagonist to overcome is a good thing... even in a comedy. And the DEEPER the emotional problem, the deeper the laughs!

AMERICAN PIE has managed to spawn three sequels and a series of DVD movies - because people really cared about the characters. A good comedy is still a story about people struggling with emotional problems - it's just funny. Drama is the "default" for every genre, so if your comedy doesn't have a character oriented dramatic core, you may have a problem. Drama is what makes it real, what makes us laugh. Every comedy is a drama at its core... in fact *every* genre is drama at its core. A genre movie is DRAMA PLUS (whatever genre). Which is why straight drama is often a hard sell... there's no plus!

In AMERICAN PIE 2 Jim is afraid he's an unromantic geek like his dad... So we have an external conflict designed to bring that to the surface - this totally hot babe Nadia is coming to visit him at the end of summer. She wants to sleep with him! Jim needs to transform himself into a stud before the end of summer... and so we have a series of scenes where THE PLOT forces Jim to deal with his fears. We learn that Jim has only has sex once - with "flute girl" Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and was about to have sex for a second time at the beginning of the film when his dad stumbles in and ruins everything. Maybe Jim wasn't a geek? Maybe his fears are unfounded? He goes to band camp to ask "flute girl" Michelle... who tells him he's WORSE than he thought. (His fears are CONFIRMED.)

So he takes romance lessons from "flute girl" Michelle... every one of them ends up with Jim looking like a total geek! Everything he does to make him feel like a stud backfires. The PLOT brings out his EMOTIONAL CONFLICT. The "glue scene" is another good example - Jim is such an anti-stud that he screws up when he's playing with himself! Where does the humor come from in that scene? From Jim being a geek! One hand is superglued to his privates, the other hand is superglued to a porno tape, he's naked and managed to climb onto the roof of the beach house just as the police pull up. How embarrassing!

Jim ends up with this bandage over his privates that looks like a diaper! But the doctor says he'll be okay by the big party. So what does the plot do? What external conflict can be created to take advantage of this? Nadia arrives a couple of weeks early! Hey, the only place for her to stay is in Jim's bed! External conflict forcing the emotional conflict to the surface.

EMOTIONAL CONFLICTS

Jim's fear is what makes the audience identify with him - and it's what makes the comedy WORK. We understand how Jim feels - we've felt that way before ourselves. The reason WHY a comedy works - produces laughs - is that we identify with the protagonist. The audience puts themselves in the protag's shoes for 90 minutes and we get to live his life (from the safety of our theater seats). We feel Jim's pain!

Jim needs to find a way to put off sleeping with Nadia until he has overcome his fears and feels sexually competent. He tells her that he's dating "flute girl" Michelle. This keeps him from sleeping with Nadia AND makes her jealous. Right before the big party (when his bandages are off) he'll break up with "flute girl" Michelle and allow Nadia to console him. Great plan, except for one thing...

"flute girl" Michelles emotional conflict. See, she's in love with Jim. She's afraid to do anything about it, because she knows he's hot for Nadia... and let's face it - "flute girl" Michelle KNOWS she's a geek. She KNOWS she doesn't measure up to Nadia. Every romance lesson she gives Jim brings HER emotional conflict to the surface. This reaches a head when she and Jim "break up" in front of Nadia. "flute girl" Michelle storms out of the house to her car... and begins crying.

You know, I got a little emotional writing that... just remembering that scene.

That scene is what makes the movie work - we're emotionally invested in these characters. We CARE about them. When we care about the characters, when the humor comes from character, the laughs come from deep inside the audience. The humor is memorable, because we FEEL it. It's not just some surface gag that made us laugh for a second then we instantly forget it (nothing wrong with gags like that, but you can't make a meal out of them). If Jim and "flute girl" Michelle weren't fully developed characters, if they weren't struggling with emotional problems, we wouldn't believe their stories... and we wouldn't be happy when they hook up at the end.

Their relationship would be unbelievable, and we wouldn't laugh as deeply at the situations they get themselves into.

Want proof? Take a look at Nadia and Sherminator. Because we don't understand either's motivations - because we never get below the surface of either character - their relationship is unbelievable. I didn't laugh when they hooked up (even though I knew I was supposed to). I didn't care about either character. Nadia was just a babe - we never really got to know her. Sherminator is a geek who doesn't KNOW he's a geek (he doesn't fear he's a geek at all - he thinks he's a stud). Because these characters are all surface, we laugh AT them but not WITH them. It's all surface humor... which doesn't always work.

REAL PEOPLE VS. FAKE PEOPLE

One of the problems with JAY AND SILENT BOB is that it's hard to believe Justice (coincidentally played by Shannon Elizabeth who played Nadia) would fall in love with Jay - he's such a jerk and a moron. We totally don't believe their relationship, so all of the humor derived from their romance doesn't work (and the plot seems "fake"). All it would have taken is one scene where Jay let down his guard with her - one scene that establishes he's a jerk around women because he's afraid - and the film would have effected the audience more... and produced more laughs as a "side effect".

Comedies obviously have a lighter tone than serious drama - you don't want to have your protagonist afraid he's dying of cancer...

Or do you? A couple of years ago they announced a remake of a really funny 1960s comedy called SEND ME NO FLOWERS. The plot: Happily married man mistakenly believes he has 6 months to live. He's afraid his wife will be depressed and lonely after he's dead, so he tries to set her up with his best friend. Wife wonders why he keeps pushing her into the arms of his best friend - is he interested in some kinky 3-way action? This strains the marriage... and creates a bunch of great comedy scenes. Because we understand the husband's motivations, we laugh. But take away the "6 months to live" part and you really DO have a story about a guy who wants his wife to sleep with his best friend - where's the humor in that?

One of the problems with AMERICAN REUNION was the comedy was focused more on jokes and gags than on characters and emotions... and it made less than half as much as the next lowest box office film in the series. Though producers look at Box Office as *money*, that money comes from *people* buying tickets. That fourth film just didn't connect with audiences like the previous three did. Why? It was a comedy... but not a drama.

Good comedy comes from CHARACTER - from EMOTIONS - from PAIN and FEAR. I know that sounds weird, but if you watch a bunch of really funny comedies, you'll find the funniest situations are the ones that are the most emotionally painful. Emotional conflict is what makes a character human... and you may have noticed that most of the audience for any comedy is made up of humans.

Always think: Drama Plus!



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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.

ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?

Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.


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"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

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Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

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Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!

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Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 160 pages!

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