Comedy Screenwriting Number 2 – Comic Journey

Writing is a craft, and undoubtedly it’s the most complicated craft in the world. That’s why I put so much emphasis on specific, practical techniques. Big esoteric words and inspirational slogans may sound good, but they don’t get the story on the page.

Blockbusters Are Story

Summer is the time for big blockbuster movies. What most people don’t realize is that blockbusters don’t come from stars or special effects. They come from story. Smash hit movies use a number of unique story techniques that audiences love. Many of them have been around for hundreds, even thousands, of years. You just have to know what they are, and how to apply them in a screenplay.

A technique I teach in my 22 Step Story Structure Class has to do with writing comedy, one of the most popular of all genres, and the foundation of a number of summer blockbusters.

The Comedy Problem

Comedy poses a unique problem for anyone wanting to write a blockbuster. A true blockbuster is one with worldwide appeal. The studio has to be able to sell it outside the United States. Action stories and myth stories travel very well, because they are two genres based on a universal language. But comedy is notoriously stuck in its home of origin. What is funny in the US may not be funny in Germany, Italy and Japan.

Advantages of the Comic Journey

The solution is a technique known as the Comic Journey. Comic Journey gives you a number of advantages when trying to sell a comedy to the worldwide market. First, it lets you create the comedy out of the structure, not the dialogue. That’s because it’s using the storytelling strategy known as irony. Irony says that life is filled with failing to reach our goal or reaching a different goal than we intended. That goal is the spine of the story.

Why is this so valuable? Because dialogue is specific; structure is universal. Structure travels; dialogue stays at home.

A second advantage of the Comic Journey is that it gives you the benefits of the journey – such as story movement, heroic action, and character change – and adds the benefits of the comedy – such as irony and laughter. This is a very powerful and popular combination.

A third advantage of the Comic Journey is that it’s an excellent way to make social commentary, since your hero encounters many different people from many strata of society on the route. That tends to give your comedy a stronger theme, which is always a good idea, and lets you people your story with a wealth of fun, quirky characters.

Keys to the Comic Journey

So how do you set up a comic journey? Begin by focusing on your hero. You have probably heard how important it is for comedy to come from character. In the Comic Journey, one of the ways you do that is to create a pompous person who encounters a harsh reality or a normal person who encounters pompous or insane people. Notice either way you get a comic contrast that allows you to drop the characters, to deflate them, throughout the script. This is crucial. Many movie comedies die after the first twenty minutes because the essential comic contrast disappears.

Next, give the hero a goal that forces him/her to travel. This is the spine of the story and is the line on which you hang all your comic encounters. Because the Comic Journey is inherently episodic, it’s also a good idea to give this goal some urgency. The more intense the hero’s desire line, the more comic encounters you can hang on the line without the line collapsing.

Bring the Family

One of the best tricks for a great Comic Journey is to come up with a reason for the hero to take the family along for the ride. Again the episodic nature of the journey is your biggest problem. In the Comic Journey story, this quality comes from the succession of opponents your hero encounters along the way. Every time your hero meets and overcomes an opponent, that’s a mini-story. Hence the episodic feel.

But if you bring the family along for the ride, the hero has an ongoing opposition that never goes away. You get a through line to the journey as well as characters other than the hero that the audience can get to know and invest in.

The next trick is to figure out a logical sequence for the parade of people the hero encounters. This is another way you overcome the episodic feel of the story and it is the primary way you build your satirical theme. For example, the characters may become progressively more dangerous, more pompous, more high class, or more powerful.

Above all, when writing the Comic Journey, make sure the hero’s encounters create comedy, not just conflict. Laughs only happen when an inflated person is punctured. Structurally, there are only two ways for that to happen. A pompous person keeps running up against a harsh reality or a sane person keeps meeting and exposing a bunch of pompous or phony people. In every encounter, someone must be deflated or you are wasting the scene.

If you want some models to study before writing your Comic Journey, you have many to choose from. Some of the most famous are Don Quixote, Huck Finn, Gulliver’s Travels, Little Big Man, The Blues Brothers, Crocodile Dundee, Thelma and Louise (a buddy Comic Journey that ends tragically), the National Lampoon Vacation movies, Rain Man, Scent of A Woman, Babe, and Flirting With Disaster.

The Comic Journey is just one of hundreds of story techniques that you can use to be successful. The most important thing is to realize that success comes from mastering the craft. It takes a lot of work and a lot of study, but the rewards are tremendous.

Different Types of Comedy Movies

It is an undeniable fact that the first movies, which were silent movies, were all comedies. These movies had good happy endings and propagated the theme of good winning over the bad. They placed much emphasis on humor and as such they siphoned great interest among the young and the old alike. With the passage of time, the lighthearted comedies gave way to more important social and political satires.

These movies helped people to understand the prevailing conditions through humor and wit. For example, in the well-liked film, ‘comedy of manners’, much emphasis was based on the manners and mannerisms of the social class. It was highlighted by the witty and catchy dialogues. Swapping gender roles in some films like ‘Tootsie’ also created humor and was adored by the audience.

Spoof or parody deals in making fun of, or dealing in a humorous way the plots and themes of the earlier classic films. They treat the subject by employing a wide sense of sarcasm, mockery, etc about the scenes of the old popular films. It is sometimes found that the audiences enjoy these spoofs better than the original movie! Some of the glaring examples of these sorts of movies are ‘Blazing saddles’, ‘Airplane’, etc.

Black comedies are those movies that deals with subjects that are taboo and are not discussed openly in the society. It also includes subjects like war, death, murder, suicide, etc in a satirical way. Though, it is filled with witty dialogues and fun plots, they are able to make the audience realize their follies in the way they deal with some sensitive topics in the society. Some of the most popular black comedies are, ‘War of the Roses’, ‘Keeping Mum’, etc.

The different genres in comedy include the Action comedy, Comedy horror, Fantasy comedy, Sci-fi comedy and Military comedy.

Movie Review – Zombieland

ZOMBIELAND – REVIEW

10 out of 10

What can I say? Zombieland is the perfect zombie movie. A potent mix of horror, gore, action, comedy and buddy movies, the film works on all levels and is seriously the most fun you can possibly have at the movies. It made me jump, made me laugh and also made me genuinely care about the characters. The film is a visually arresting, highly stylized treat that entertains all the way through and will leave you wanting more. The premise of the film is relatively simple. The world has been overrun by zombies and the few survivors of the human race are constantly on the move trying to find someplace safe to lay their heads at night. The movie starts out brilliantly with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) telling us about his rules for survival in post-apocalyptic zombie filled America.

The opening credits ensue and we are shown various scenes of people running from zombies in the slow motion technique popularized by Watchmen. From there we are introduced to Columbus who explains what has happened to the world and why he has managed to survive so long. Being an introvert by nature, Columbus has managed to stay alive by sticking to his self created rules such as cardio good, avoid bathrooms and the double tap (always shoot twice). More rules are introduced as the film plays and the gag never grows old. Columbus decides to head towards Ohio in hopes that he will find his parents alive and well. On the way he hooks up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the most bad ass zombie killer you can imagine. Just to clarify, the characters call each other by their destinations, not by their actual names. Tallahassee explains that it’s easier not to grow attached to each other that way.

The pair are complete opposites which allows for some great buddy movie comedy and from here on in Zombieland plays like a road trip comedy on acid. Attacked by zombies at every turn, the two soon meet up with two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have managed to survive and after a few false starts; the foursome begins to trust and like one another.

Woody Harrelson as tough guy zombie slayer Tallahassee is ideally cast and it is the best role of his career. Harrelson is hilarious in the film, displaying his impeccable comic timing while also showcasing his tough guy swagger. Watching him kill zombies is as pleasurable for the audience as it is for the character. Harrelson shares great chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, in effect portraying the Odd Couple as zombie killers. Eisenberg is solid, perfecting the nerdy, wimpy guy and he reminds me more than a little bit of king of the dweebs, Michael Cera. In fact Cera must be kicking himself for turning down this role (I’m assuming he was offered it). Emma Stone as tough older sister, Wichita, is quite good and I believe she has a bright future on the silver screen. Abigail Breslin as her little sister, Little Rock, is one tough little cookie and proves that she is much more than Little Miss Sunshine. There is also a side-splitting cameo from… I don’t want to ruin it… let’s just say it is a brilliant cameo from a comedy god.

First time director, Ruben Fleischer, does a great job of moving the film along at a breakneck pace while also mining the comedy gold out of every situation the characters find themselves in. He has a wonderful visual style that borrows heavily from Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead remake, Watchmen) and he is certainly a director to watch in the future. It’s not an easy thing to make something fresh out of a zombie flick, but Fleischer takes the genre (sub-genre?) to a whole new level.

To sum it up, Zombieland is a splatteristic, gory, jump out of your seat horror film that also happens to be one of the funniest films of the year. Anchored by terrific performances, Zombieland is a must see horror/comedy delight. Better than Shaun of the Dead or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, Zombieland is the definitive zombie movie.