Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why Rom Coms Get A Bad Rap -- And What You Can Do About It!

If you think writing a good Romantic Comedy is easy, then I’ll hazard a guess you’ve never written one.

In fact, the Romantic Comedy writer may just have the toughest job of all the screenwriters in Hollywood.

Don’t believe me? Then try this on for size...

You have to convince millions of people to come and sit through two hours of their life watching a movie that they already know the ending to. And what’s worse, is that not only do they already know your ending, but they know your basic plot too. You are practically dead in the water before you even begin!

Rom Coms have a bad rap -- and rightly so. They are derivative in every sense of the word. Boy will Meet Girl. Boy will Lose Girl. And Boy will get girl back. Or any other variation of the same basic plot. You can add twists and turns and interesting reveals and reversals, but in the end, your basic plot is still tried tested and true. Meets girl, loses girl, gets girl back. And in the end, usually, the couple will end up in some sort of joyful reunion, kiss, or wedding. Some romantic comedies think changing the ending will make their romantic comedy stand out. You see, they exclaim, my romantic comedy is different – my couple doesn’t get together at the end! And that script will have an even harder time selling, because nobody wants to see that ending, do they?

People come to see a romantic comedy (and here’s the key so listen up!) DESPITE the fact that they already know what the plot will be. They come DESPITE the fact that they already know what the ending will be. They come BECAUSE they know what your ending will be. They want to watch this couple fall in love and end up together – so to stray from that ending because you think it will give it a fresh twist is shooting yourself in the foot.

And you know what? That’s okay! That’s what we came to see! So PLEASE don’t take that away from us. What we want you to do is keep us so fascinated by your characters, that we forget we know how it will end. That we worry for them. That we will cheer when they finally do get together. You must embrace your genre. Embrace your ending. Give us the best most romantic ending you can think of. Let us see how this man will win back this woman in a gesture that is new and surprising. Let it be so romantic that our heart races. Give us what we want and give it to us in spades. Shower us with romance, give us a fairytale that makes us all wish we lived in a land far, far away, give us a happy ending that makes us forget about our own shitty love lives, our own problems, our own shortcomings. Lift us up and let us get carried away. We want to ride off into the sunset, on that horse, with your characters. Do not let us down. Do not give us a predictable, forced, or unromantic, run of the mill happy ending. We want fireworks!

As for your plot. We all know that our characters will meet, fall in love, and then something will happen to tear them apart and threaten our happy ending. We already know this! Do not spend time trying to reinvent the wheel, or throw in an alien spacecraft, depressing death, or cop chases the bad guy scene. You won’t impress us by going off genre and coming up with something new. You will only let us down even more. We came KNOWING what your plot would be. We are here, despite that fact. We came to see a romantic comedy, because we want to see your leads meet fall in love, break up and then get back together. What we don’t want is boring! What we don’t want is to watch two people we don’t care about doing predictable things that feel forced, aren’t interesting, and aren’t romantic or funny. We want to laugh our heads off. We want to fall in love with your characters. We want to see the sparks, feel the chemistry. We want to leave the theatre saying, yeah, now that was funny! We want to come out thinking, yeah, now that’s love! We want to be engaged and entertained and made to feel like even though we knew the plot and the ending, that it was worth our time and money. We want leave feeling that love really could be that wonderful, funny, heartbreaking, terrifying and yes, something we would give up everything in our lives for. We want it to be hilarious, heartfelt, and so romantic that it makes us all want to quit our day jobs, ride bareback into the sunset for love. We want it to make us believe in happily ever after again. To show us why it still matters. And remind us why we can’t possibly live without it.

Still think writing romantic comedies are easy?

Go ahead then, prove me wrong!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Screenplay Real Estate -- Location location location!

No, I'm not talking about where you set your story.

I'm taking about THE most important thing in screenwriting -- the big idea!

Screenplays are like real estate.

You can build the house.
You can fill it with amazing details and furnishings.
You can remodel it.
You can tear it down and rebuild it from the ground up.
But you cannot change the location.

This is as important for a screenwriter to remember, as it is for a real estate investor. Don't build your dream house on a lot that isn't worthy of it.

Once you have decided on the IDEA of your script, that becomes the idea for your whole script. You can change settings, characters, structure, scenes, and all the details you want -- but your idea is your idea. So make it a GREAT IDEA, just as you would chose the best location.

If real estate is LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION, then screenplays are IDEAS IDEAS IDEAS.

Even the worst house built on the best lot on the street is more valuable than the best house on the worst lot. You will have real-estate investors FIGHTING to buy a bad house on a great lot. They know the secret. If you have the lot, you can rebuild the house you want. Without the lot (IDEA) nobody will fight over you script. It is not a GOLDMINE waiting to happen. If you have a great house on a decent lot, you may get a lot of offers, if you have the nicest house in the world in the worst lot, it may sit forever and never sell. Or sell for much less than it is worth.

Remember this. If you have the BEST HOUSE on the BEST LOT – you will be in an exclusive market. You will be selling to MAJOR players, with money, with resources. These investors are critical. They have money. They have a lot of places to choose from. Give them a LOT they cannot resist. And then build them a house to match it’s unmistakable beauty. Give them a house so unique on a lot so gorgeous, that they simply HAVE to HAVE it. And the beauty of this, is that to build the BEST HOUSE on the BEST LOT in the world will cost you millions, if not billions. To give somebody the BEST screenplay idea with the best story execution will cost you nothing. But time, sweat, tears and your creativity. You are in the same spot as everyone else. You do not need money behind you to come up with a prime piece of screenwriting real estate. You have it within your power to break into Hollywood. So do not build a cookie cutter house on a cookie cutter lot and think that you will stand out from the crowd.

GO FOR IT. Think grand. Think big.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day and our Screenplays

The holiday of love is upon us.

You don’t have to look very far to see roses, chocolates, stuffed hearts, and an explosion of red. Some wonder why we celebrate, some complain it has gotten to commercial, and others feel an enormous sense of pressure. But deep down inside, everyone just wants someone to love and be loved. And most of us know that expressing that love publicly is something that makes our love stronger. Valentine's Day, a holiday that was established in 496 AD, has stood the test of time, because it gives everybody a day to stop and put love first.

So if Valentine’s Day is traditionally a day on which lovers express their public love for each other, then think of the climax of your romantic comedy, a version of this holiday. The third Act of our romantic comedies must be dedicated to expressing love. It is here where our character learns that love is the most important thing to them, something they value over everything else. It is here, where publicly, our hero must learn and grow and change. It is here, where publicly, our hero must sacrifice what he thought he wanted, for what he actually needs. It is here, where publicly, our hero must put his heart on the line and lay his soul bare. It is here, where publicly, our hero must express to his lover, why they are meant to be together forever.

Valentine’s Day, like the climax of our romantic comedies, reminds us that doing little things to show our love is what keeps it alive. It reminds us that publicly celebrating and expressing our love for one another is important. It reminds us that buying flowers and writing love poems will help express our love. Valentine’s Day is a symbol of how important it is to put love first – not just one day a year, but everyday. It is a reminder for lovers to keep love front and center in their lives.

And similarly for our characters, it is a reminder that the climax of our films must be a public declaration of love, to the person that they cannot bear to live without for even one second longer.

Valentine’s Day, like a great romantic comedy, reminds us all that to love and be loved is all that truly matters.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Top 10 Romantic Comedies

Pretty Woman
When Harry Met Sally
Bridget Jones's Diary
Notting Hill
Sleepless in Seattle
My Best Friend's Wedding
Love Actually
Jerry Maguire
The Wedding Planner
Sweet Home Alabama

Honourable Mentions: How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days, Something's Gotta Give, Serendipity

So why did I pick these romantic comedies you might be asking?

Surely there are better one's than this, especially critically.
Yes there are!

These aren't even the highest grossing ten romantic comedies.
Right again!

And let's not forget, Annie Hall, It Happened One Night, Adam's Rib, The Philadelphia Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Moonstruck.
Yes, I know -- I love them too.

So why did I include the 'fluff' like The Wedding Planner, over a classic like Adam's Rib?
Well actually, maybe I need to rethink it.

But here's why I originally made the list I did.

Whenever I'm sitting around bored and flicking through the TV channels, and come across an old Romantic Comedy on TV (with commercials mind you!), these are the ones I will stop and watch. I've seen them over and over again. They get played repeatedly. And yet, when one of these comes on, I will sit and watch it yet again. Yes, even though I know what will happen. Yes, even though there are commercials! And yes, even though I could find a hundred better things to do with my time. And that, in itself is a BIG feat.

But the list isn't important anyway. What's important is why we love the Romantic Comedies that we do. And why will we watch them over and over and over again?

It's simple. Because we fall in love with the characters. They make us laugh. They make us cry. And even though we know it's coming, we can't help but want to stand up and cheer when they finally realize what we've known all along -- that they are perfect for each other. And that they belong together forever. We sit and watch and cheer them on. And we fall in love with the idea that love really can conquer all. And we know, that if the characters of our favorite Romantic Comedies can find the kind of knock-down, all-out, ride off into the sunset fairytale kind of love, then surely we can too.

And in the end, what is more important than love?

So even though the lists may change over the years. And even from day to day.
Romantic Comedies have stood the test of time because they make us fall in love. And even though other types of movies thrill and scare, and make us think -- in the end, what girl doesn't want to sit down on a Saturday night, with a big bowl of popcorn, and fall in love?