MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

ONE (IDEA) IS NOT ENOUGH


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One great idea does not a script make. You will need hundreds of ideas for your screenplay - character ideas, dialogue ideas, scene ideas, action ideas, and if you are writing a comedy - joke ideas. Now, when I say "joke" I don't mean some Borscht Belt Henny Youngman routine (though that may work depending on the type of comedy you are writing) - I mean things that are funny. That funny thing can come from the character, character interactions, or situations. But it is something created with the intention to make the audience laugh. Those funny lines or moments or situations start with an idea, and for a comedy film you need enough of them to be constantly funny. Not every joke works for every audience member, so the key is to pack your comedy with different kinds of comedy so that there is always something to make every audience member laugh.

A couple of years ago Will Ferrell seemed to be back with THE OTHER GUYS, though Sam Jackson and The Rock stole the show... and Marky Mark did a great job as a cop with *extreme* anger management issues...

The previous few years we seemed to be having a joke shortage - both GET SMART and ZOHAN didn't have enough funny material for their running times. There were long dry patches where either the one joke didn't work (there will always be misfires, so pack extra ammo) or there *was* nothing funny in that portion of the scene. Colin's brother Will has a new movie coming out where he plays John C. Reily's new step-brother, and the trailer only has a couple of laughs in it. Not a good sign. Lately, Ferrell has been making so many films there aren't enough laughs to go around. SEMI-PRO (now on DVD) is a good example of why you need to spend more time honing your script and making sure there are enough jokes-per-square-inch to provoke consistent laughter *before* you spend the millions to make the film.

THE BIG IDEA

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The most important idea in your screenplay is the concept, so you want to make sure you have the absolute *best* concept possible before going to script. I may come up with 100 ideas before I find the *right* one - the best one. Then I play around with that idea to find the very best version of it before I go to script. I'm thinking about writing a Western right now, and it begins in a town... but what makes this town special? I thought it wold be interesting if it was the town where gunslingers go to retire - so the entire population are fast-draw killers. Look, it could have just been a generic cowboy town where most Westerns take place - but my goal is to improve every part of the idea before I have 110 pages. I want to make sure I have the best idea and the best version of that idea *before* I write the script.

Okay, we're going to make a Will Ferrell sports comedy. Let's start with a sport... say, NASCAR driving. What is funny about that sport? Well, NASCAR started with hillbilly moonshine drivers, so we can do a bunch of "redneck" jokes - how many books full of those does Jeff Foxworthy have? And is there an "opposite" in that world that can create conflict and humor from that conflict? Well, Formula One drivers are often sophisticated Europeans... let's throw in one of those! I think we might find enough material for a movie, there. Okay, what about male figure skating? I can brainstorm up a hundred jokes about male figure skaters! Okay, now what about basketball?

Basketball... what is inherently funny about basketball? What are the built in, obvious basketball jokes? When I watch male figure skating on TV, which is every chance I get (not), it's just funny. When I watch basketball... it's an exciting game. Not funny. Even the Harlem Globetrotters - which are a comedy basketball team - aren't *funny*. They are clever and talented and do amazing tricks - when we laugh at the Globetrotters, it's a laugh of admiration - these guys are like magicians with a basketball. But basketball - not a funny sport. So why select that as the sport to use for your Will Ferrell comedy? Why not click through sports until you find one that is really funny... or not confine yourself to the arena of sports (as opposed to a sports arena) and find the best funny idea available? If you are writing a comedy script, you want to begin with a funny idea... or a situation that can be funny. Look at ZOHAN - we have a tough action hero guy who wants to become a hairdresser. That's a funny concept... unfortunately, they didn't come up with much else that is funny for that movie.

HUNDREDS OF OTHER IDEAS

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One of the things I often do when I'm looking at an idea, I'll make a list of ideas based on that idea. Scenes, story ideas, sub-concepts, etc. And if I can come up with 25 "sub-ideas" - scene or sequence ideas, I know I have enough for a screenplay. Sure, I'll probably need 50-60 scenes for my script, but if I can come up with 25 ideas, the rest will come when I actually outline the script and flesh out the concept. But if I can't come up with 25 ideas? Well, I sure as hell can't come up with 50-60 good scenes for my script.

Then when I'm writing the script, I brainstorm up a bunch of ideas for things that happen within a scene just before writing it, and then select the best to use. I want to make sure there are enough unique and interesting ideas within the scene that it is the best possible version of that scene. Because I write action and thrillers instead of comedy, my scene ideas are usually cool, different, interesting bits in an action scene or suspense scene. The detail ideas that make the scene. I may take a sheet of lined paper and jot down as many ideas for that scene as I can... and not stop until that page is filled. I would rather have so many great scene ideas that I have to leave some out, than have a scene that is generic or has slow spots or isn't the best it can be.

And that's the problem with SEMI-PRO... there aren't enough good funny ideas in the film to sustain it. There are maybe a handful of funny ideas at most... a comedy shortage and an idea shortage. The big problem is not enough jokes and gags - you hardly ever laugh in this film. And they *contrive* gags - like the 70's hairdos - and those look contrived and just fall flat. The best comedy films are the ones you have to see more than once, because you were laughing at one joke and missed the next. So you have to pay another $11 and hope you don't laugh at the same gags you laughed at last time. A great comedy you may have to see a bunch of times, then buy on DVD when it comes out so that you can catch the lines where everyone in the audience laughed. Even after seeing AIRPLANE a million times, I still catch some gag I missed. That film is overflowing with jokes! Though I'm sure SEMI-PRO is renting okay on DVD, I can't imagine someone needing to add it to their DVD collection. I don't ever need to see it again, but there may be some Ferrell fans who will add it to their collection when it hits the $4 bin at Walmart.

INORGANIC MATERIAL

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SEMI-PRO is about a second string basket ball team in the American League that has to start winning games and drawing fans so they can be one of the 4 teams that gets folded into the NBA. Now, that's not a bad idea... but there's nothing inherently funny about it.

So they graft on a bunch of things from the outside - they make Will Ferrell into a musician who was a one hit wonder, they give everyone a funny haircut, they throw in Woody Harrelson as a failed basketball player (and this isn't a funny idea like the prissy French Formula One driver in TALADEGA NIGHTS), and they give Woody an ex-girlfriend to win back (also not a funny idea), and Ferrell gets to do all kinds of wacky stunts to bring in an audience (which usually have nothing at all to do with basketball - like wrestling a bear). It ends up being a grab bag of unrelated plot threads and elements - nothing that has to do with the sport of basketball... and nothing that is particularly funny. Instead of digging into the concept or the characters involved in the sport of basketball to find their gags, they paste on a bunch of gags that have nothing to do with basketball (the concept). You want all of your sub-ideas to come from the main idea - and that means digging deeper into the concept. Using the story as the idea source rather than just coming up with unrelated funny stuff and forcing it into the script.

With all of these cool little ideas or jokes, remember the focus of the script is the Big Idea, the concept. You don't want to confuse the audience with a bunch of ideas that have nothing to do with the story you are trying to tell.. Make sure your hundreds of fresh small ideas are somehow related to that Big Idea. All of the Small Ideas should share your Big Idea's DNA... the central conflict that fuels the story. They should *support* your main idea, not distract from it. Show me the connection between wrestling a bear and basketball! Show me how Woody Harrelson's story thread is part of winning games or attracting an audience. Show me how being a 1970s One Hit Wonder is connected to basketball. None of these things are organic to the main story idea - they are from other stories and forced into SEMI-PRO so that it can have a laugh every ten minutes (instead of a laugh a minute). The result is a film that isn't funny, and doesn't even work as a story.

COMEDY FROM CHARACTER

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Another big problem is Will Ferrell's character is just not someone we can like - he's a buffoon, and self centered, and you end up almost rooting against him. He's not a nice guy, so why should we want him to achieve his goal? They needed a scene somewhere in here that showed us a softer side of him, and allowed us a possibility to care about him. But even when we get a scene with his dead mother, we don't care about him. It's a crap scene that is grafted on from the outside instead of finding an organic scene that belongs in *this* film. Part of this problem might be Ferrell himself - his humor comes from acting like an idiot. We laugh *at* him, not with him. But even an idiot can have an emotional moment early enough in the movie that we care about him for the rest of the film. ZOHAN has the same problem - Sandler never allows us inside the character. No scenes where we see the character as a human being - someone that we can care about. Ferrell and Sandler *always* do their shtick and keep the walls up around their characters so that we can not care about them. No matter how silly your movie, we need to find a doorway into the protagonist so that the audience can identify with them and care about them. They can still be idiots, but they have to be idiots with heart. If we don't care about the character, we can't care about the story... and the story fails. It becomes only surface - like Sandler and Ferrell's characters.

The basic concept, the losing team that must start winning again and attracting a crowd or else it's going to fold, has been used *successfully* in the MAJOR LEAGUE series, and that's what this film could have been. If you look at the tone of MAJOR LEAGUE, it's not a farce - it's a "serious comedy" that takes place in a reality-based world. Instead of fighting a bear, they hire colorful players and encourage them to be their wacky selves in order to attract fans. This makes the comedy *character based* and keeps it on the baseball field instead on in some cage with a bear. (By the way, the bear running gag ends up getting the most laughs in the film - maybe the movie should have been about a Jack Hanna-like zoo guy.) MAJOR LEAGUE manages to have wacky humor - from reality based characters - and work as a sports movie (you really cheer) and has some real emotions (instead of crappy pasted on subplots with ex-girlfriends) and was funny enough to be a huge hit and spawn a bunch of sequels. Basically, the same idea done right.

And I wonder if SEMI-PRO began more like MAJOR LEAGUE and less like... well, whatever it is? Because the Woody ex-girlfriend stuff seems more reality based than the rest of the film - though they graft on some stupid gags with her current live-in boyfriend as Woody's #1 fan who cheers them on when they make love in front of him. And there is a *great* moment in the film with Andre 3000 that seems like it belongs in another movie - something more serious like MAJOR LEAGUE. Things like that make me wonder if this began as a more serious kind of comedy and was screwed-up to become this awful Will Ferrell film. And if that's what happened - somebody needs to be kicked out of Hollywood.

And Will Ferrell needs to take a break and only make a film if it has enough jokes to sustain the running time. Maybe he's spreading himself too thin? Maybe all of these ho-hum comedies like GET SMART and ZOHAN and SEMI-PRO seem like filmed first drafts because they *are* filmed first drafts? Maybe they needed more fine tuning, focus, and rewrites before they put them into production?

Whether you are writing a comedy or a thriller or an action film or any other genre, you need to make sure your main idea is the very best idea there is, and then the best version of that idea possible... then you need to come up with hundreds of other ideas to flesh out your script. Make sure all of those great small ideas are somehow related to the Big Idea and not pasted on from the outside. If you are writing a comedy, you need as many great organic jokes as you can come up with. Never underestimate the importance of jokes in a comedy!

More on this in the Ideas Blue Book!


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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!

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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.

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

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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.

IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE?

Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

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