Saturday, June 21, 2008

How to REALLY write a romantic comedy

You want to write a romantic comedy screenplay and sell it for a million dollars. So you take classes, read books, study story structure, analyze classic screen comedies, even put yourself through a couple of Nora Ephron films, and you think you’re ready.

You’re not.

Because even though those things are important they’re not what’s going to sell your movie. THESE will.

You need a high concept. A BIG hook. To where “the girl is a mermaid” just barely makes the grade. Your characters can be real as long as there’s time travel.

The studio needs to visualize the one-sheet. In other words, the poster. And if you can provide a tag line that would be good too. “What if the girl of your dreams was your grandmother?”

There must be five good “trailer moments”. Studios don’t think in terms of 90 minutes, they think in terms of 90 seconds. There better be pratfalls. Someone in an avocado mask. Hugs and crashes.

Be sure to include five block comedy scenes. Zany sequences that generally involve destruction, humiliation, emasculation, dogs, and toilets. If they were making SOME LIKE IT HOT today Joe E. Brown would be giving Jack Lemmon a bikini wax. THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH would be Ben-Gay in Marilyn Monroe's panties.

Just as you see it every day in real life, have a group of strangers sing an infectious song from the 60’s and do a perfectly choreographed spontaneous dance number.

New York, Chicago, and Paris -- better than Detroit, Cleveland, and Warsaw.

And finally, it’s not enough anymore to have a happy ending, you need a sappy happy ending. A memorable line of dialogue wouldn't hurt either. "Without you I'm only me." "Before I met you, love was a noun. Now it's a verb."

Follow these guidelines, keep your script under 110 pages and there could be an Ashton Kutcher/Kate Hudson in your future. Good luck!!

29 comments:

James Patrick Joyce said...

Wow. If only I'd known. So much for my spec script, "Sleepy in Cleveland".



Thanks for saving me the embarrassment.

Richard Marcej said...

"there could be an Ashton Kutcher/Kate Hudson in your future. "

That's one of the most horrifying line I've every read.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

And finally, it’s not enough anymore to have a happy ending, you need a sappy happy ending. A memorable line of dialogue wouldn't hurt either. "Without you I'm only me." "Before I met you, love was a noun. Now it's a verb."

Wow, checkmarks all over for "Music and Lyrics," which I just finished. It was full of those types of lines. Sappy happy ending? Check too, with the Madison Square Garden finale. Drew Barrymore's characters are good at tearing up in front of their men. She did the same thing in "The Wedding Singer," but in this case, there unfortunately wasn't Matthew Glave for a Billy Idol fan to push around.

estiv said...

Follow these guidelines, keep your script under 110 pages and there could be an Ashton Kutcher/Kate Hudson in your future.

I actually like both Ashton Kutcher and Kate Hudson, and this thought still made me gag.

sephim said...

If you don't want us to write, just come out and say so, don't give us a list of "Ways To Be Ass-Fucked Out Of Hollywood" - if you had your way, every romantic comedy would end with Ashton Kutcher playing Bon Jovi to Amanda Peet.

emily said...

My alltime fav:

"I'll have what she's having."

Dave Lichtman said...

"What if the boy of your dreams was really your son?" could be the tagline for an alternate perspective remake of Back to the Future.

Grant said...

I just watched "Sabrina" the other night and was thinking that they don't make them like they used to. I could imagine the studio comments today. "Suicide is not funny." "She ends up with the old guy?"

Annie said...

"Trailer moments." I figure everything's in the trailer, too. If the trailer runs out of gas, I sure ain't going to see it. Kinda like dating - you have exactly ten seconds to impress me. Otherwise, begone!

And lay out Nora Ephron or I'll smack you with my designer purse. ;)
-AE

Chris said...

Make sure somebody falls down or gets hit in the head, because all the best movie trailers end that way.

DodgerGirl said...

Your post is timely. I just wasted 90 minutes on "The Lake House" solely for the presence of Sandra Bullock. What a crapfest. Spent half the time yelling for her to just google his name. Plus it was easy to figure out within the first ten minutes what the final problem and solution was going to be. Stupid movie. Stupid me for watching it.

Mary Stella said...

Your characters can be real as long as there’s time travel.

Is this the right room for an argument about whether Kate and Leopold was a good movie?

Scratch that. I don't care whether anybody else thought it was good. I enjoyed it and I'm not much of a Meg Ryan fan. Actually, with Hugh Jackman as Leopold, Carmen Electra could have played Kate and I'd probably still have rooted for a happy ever after ending.

growingupartists said...

The only place better than Detroit is Joliet, although I hear they're transferring inmates to Rugby, ND (not nearly enough riff-raff to make ends meet!)

Anonymous said...

I treat most trailers as warnings. Don't see this stupid movie. Thanks for the heads up!.

Christina said...

“What if the girl of your dreams was your grandmother?”

Um, yeah, I actually read a script (of an acquaintance) with this premise. Hot girl dies and enters the body of a the protag's grandmother - 2nd act is a bunch of physical romantic stuff between grandson and grandmother.

Even though you're told the spirit inside the granny body is a hot 22 year old, it didn't work for me. In fact, it was quite disturbing!

But it might be fun to do as a studio picture starring Eddie Murphy, Tyler Perry as the grandmother and Beyonce as the hot girl trapped in Tyler Perry's body. Like every time Tyler Perry's character looks in the mirror, we/he/it sees Beyonce, but if there is no mirror, then all the audience sees is Eddie Murphy and Tyler Perry kissing.

Wait -- I think I'm starting to have a viable rom com pitch here, according to your rules.

Tootsie meets Harold and Maude meets Bowfinger. Set in LA.

te said...

I hope you're first in line at the WGA tomorrow morning to register that!

Bill Stankus said...

Can the mermaids carry whomp ass big guns?

Buttermilk Sky said...

In "Sabrina," doesn't William Holden sit on broken glass? That has possibilities for Jim Carrey....

VP81955 said...

To really write a good romantic comedy these days, you'd have to have the subersive, between-the-lines skills of Preston Sturges in "The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek." The difference, however, is that Sturges had to get his story through the Hays office; you'd have to get your story through Ivy League bean counters whose "research" shows what elements must be added to a romantic comedy in order to make it work.

Frankly, Sturges had it easier.

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview on Glen and Les talking about Cheers

http://youtube.com/watch?v=4MEXi1RY18g

jbryant said...

I actually quite liked "The Lake House," even if the 1948 "Portrait of Jennie" is still the one to beat for time-shifting romance. As is usually the case with such stories, you can either bend your mind into pretzels trying to account for every little logic flaw, or just give yourself over to the "emotional logic" that makes us root for love to find a way.

Oddly enough, I've always thought that "I'll have what she's having," while very funny, is not great screenwriting because it's too out of character for Sally. At least that's how it seemed to me at the time.

Sara Bellam said...

Please tell me "Before I met you, love was a noun. Now it's a verb" is something you just made up. If I thought that was really a line in a real movie, I'd have to stick a fork in my ear. UGH!

Tom Quigley said...

It probably wouldn't hurt if one of the main characters also posessed a certain degree of superpowers, and the female lead was just starting to recover from amnesia, so while she's now working as a Denny's waitress, she's starting to have flashbacks that she was once a member of the Royal House of Luxembourg which forbade its chidren from marrying a commoner -- even one who was faster than a speeding bullet... ESPECIALLY one who was faster than a speeding bullet if she ever expected to provide them with heirs...

Andrew Feldstein said...

Thank gawd--until I read your last two graphs, I thought you were serious.

A friend of mine, thought the line--"I'll have what she's having"--didn't fit well in the movie and should be cut. He's still an *aspiring* screenwriter, natch.

stephan herschung said...

A big hook? like "mannequin 2"? ;-)

cheers from cologne,
stephan

Anonymous Production Assistant said...

"Without you, I'm just me!" Awesome!

Morgan McKinnon said...

Ken Levine:
“You want to write a romantic comedy screenplay and sell it for a million dollars. You need a high concept. A BIG hook. To where “the girl is a mermaid” just barely makes the grade.”


Callie Khouri:
“All the time I was writing, I felt like I was telling a true story. And all I had to do was wait until somebody told me the next part.”
(Khouri also said that she didn’t know what had happened to Louise, in Texas, until well into the script.)


Bill Martell:
"I believe that fiction is the lie we use to tell the truth."


Morgan McKinnon:
My characters are real. Sometimes they are really funny. Sometimes they are really romantic.
My goal is that when I’m in my grave (which is bound to happen) …
Somewhere. Someone will still remember Holly Summers…
That people will laugh remembering events at THE SUMMERS INN.


p.s. sorry to be so late for the party.

Morgan ;)

tales from the pole said...

ha ha ha. i love kate hudson. she reminds me so much of her mom. my mom brought us up on the old goldie hawn/chevy chase films of the seventies. good times. i'd love to write a great romantic comedy with strong female leads not centered around being desperate to get get married, give birth, or be caught up in a stylishly wacky wedding. (although these are all wonderful things, i feel we've just seen this movie over an over again--i'd like to write a new kind of one for my lady pals). i have a few ideas and "hooks" in mind--thank you for this--it will certainly help me frame my ideas and punch them up more. :-)

tales from the pole said...

"ben gay in marilyn monore's panties' = LOL oh ken, it's funny because it's sad because it's TRUE. but as courtney love once said: "i'm here to save you! i'm here for rock and roll! you may hate me but i'm here to save you from avril lavigne and the jonas brothers!" sometimes it takes an army or an armada to defeat an encroaching enemy, but then again there was that tiny man named david with his slingshot...