Sunday, October 08, 2006

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!!


Dwacon said...

That sounds better than my plan to kidnap Ashton Kutcher, attach electrodes to... well, to certain places... and tell him to sign up for my team... or else!

Hey, it worked for Demi!

stephen said...

I'm offended by the mandatory poop jokes. The message I get is the producers have so little faith in their material that in order to get a laugh, someone has to get covered in poop.

Anonymous said...

Ken, your two lines of required romantic dialog were funnier than an entire season of Friends. And thanks for the great advice! I shall commence typing forthwith!

Anonymous said...

great post!
time to go stick my head in the oven!

Beth Ciotta said...

My husband and I were talking about this very subject last night. How weird. And how sad. Where are the smart comedies? The smart movies, period? Once in a blue moon I'm surprised by a gem, but overall, I'm more inspired and entertained by the classics. Hence my love affair with AMC and Net-Flix.

Tenspeed & Brownshoe said...


High Concept doesn't necessarily have to be dumb.

In fact, I think that there are a lot of smart movies. They obviously don't make a lot of money but they're definitely out there.


Warren Fleece said...

This reminds me of Preston Sturges' golden rules for successful comedy:

A pretty girl is better than a plain one.
A leg is better than an arm.
A bedroom is better than a living room.
An arrival is better that a departure.
A birth is better than a death.
A chase is better than a chat.
A dog is better than a landscape.
A kitten is better than a dog.
A baby is better than a kitten.
A kiss is better than a baby.
A pratfall is better than anything.

Subtle, yet effective. Any additions in this new century?

Anonymous said...


Judging by your criteria, I think that means that my latest tome, TEENAGE LESBIAN VAMPIRE NYMPHO CHEERLEADER TERMINATORS (with projected starring cast of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Tara Reid) will probably just miss as far as anyone being interested in it. -- Oh, well, back to the computer....

Anonymous said...

And chimps! Don't forget the chimps.

wcdixon said...

great post - I smiled all the way through reading it...but put Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson together instead to see what Owen does -- instant buzz.

Anonymous said...

I've registered the "What if the girl of your dreams was your grandmother" line with the WGA.

They didn't notice the similarity to "Back to the Future," either, so I figure I'm safe with pretty much any major studio.

Anonymous said...

That's hilariously depressing.

So, in an updated "Say Anything", Lloyd Dobler would have broken Ione Skye's dad of prison and they would have gone on a highjinx riddled road adventure? (Skye's character was afraid of flying, after all). Then after some cruise ship shenanigans (with a newly svelte Ted Lange), they would have lived it up at Oxford by pretending to be nobility?

Hey, I think I got something there. Sign me up!

Dante Kleinberg said...

On the one hand, I think you're being facetious. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that plan would work.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the montage of the couple dating, to the song, "I'm Walking on Sunshine."

Anonymous said...

tom Q, great teen flick! Tara Reid is perfect. You can cast the girl and a couple funny boobs at the same time.