Posts tagged ‘Billy Mernit’

November 11, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Billy Mernit’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our latest list of “un-rules” comes from the always insightful Billy Mernit. Billy writes Living the Romantic Comedy, a great site that anyone writing romantic comedies or comedies in general should treat like gospel. Known as “the guru of rom-com” for his best-selling screenwriting textbook, Writing the Romantic Comedy, Billy teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and contributed two chapters to the recently published Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Billy published his first novel Imagine Me and You in 2008. During his many years in the entertainment industry, he has written for television and worked as both a screenwriter and private script consultant. After being a story analyst for Sony and Paramount, he has held that job at Universal Pictures for the past fifteen years. At Universal, he’s had a hand in the development of such recent successes as Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect.

Billy chose to approach his rules from the perspective of a story analyst. Here are his top three truisms:

  1. A primary goal of any spec script that’s going to market is to get the reader to identify with its protagonist. Your story requires a compelling, relatable lead character – meaning, we know what she wants and we believe she may be capable of getting it, the ways in which she overcomes her obstacles make her empathetic, and she’s complex enough to keep us interested. Your job is to get us to be her, even if this means putting what she thinks and how she feels into the narrative on the screenplay page. If we’re not totally emotionally invested in her story and seeing it though her eyes by the end of the first act, your script is dead in the water.

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October 4, 2012

10 Rom Com Truisms

Billy Mernit of Living the Romantic Comedy recently compiled a list of 10 romantic comedy truisms with links to his articles supporting and providing advice for each point. If you’re working on a rom com, this list is essential reading:

A few readers have asked me to put all of these “truism” posts, scattered over the past 18 months, in one convenient place for persual.  So be it (just click on the numbers to get to the corresponding links).

# 1:  The primary challenge lies not in creating obstacles to keep the couple apart, but in convincing the audience that these two people truly do belong together.

# 2:  A star can open a romantic comedy, but a protagonist who doesn’t make sense will piss off the movie’s audience forever.

#3:  The depth of your audience’s emotional investment in the central romance is directly proportionate to the size of the story’s stakes.

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#4:  Solve the Woman Problem and you will get rich.

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March 13, 2012

How to Be a Writer: Do it Every Day

No, I’m not talking about sex. Though if you’re lucky enough to be getting that much sex, it probably won’t hurt your creative expression.

But no, I’m talking about writing — you have to write every day. Billy Mernit recently posted an article on this all important habit of professional writers. I’ll admit it’s not a habit I’ve acquired just yet, but I’m working toward it.

Mernit starts his article with a Woody Allen quote: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” He continues:

How to become a writer?  Someone who not only starts projects but finishes them?  Someone who’s always learning the craft and getting better at it?  A for-real, do-it-for-a-living, legitimately call-yourself-a-writer?

The answer’s so obvious, so hiding in plain sight, that I feel silly going on about it, so I’ll try to make this brief.  I can give you the whole thing in four words:

Do it every day.

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January 24, 2012

Fulfilling Film Endings: Both Happy & Sad

Billy Mernit of Living the Romantic Comedy has written a new article commenting on another article, Perfectly Happy, Even Without Happy Endings. Mernit writes:

An article in this past Sunday’s NY Times strikes me as required reading for any screenwriter who has ever attempted to answer the question, “What does the audience want?”

Perfectly Happy Even Without Happy Endings, by Carrie Rickey, explores what Lindsay Doran (who produced Sense and Sensibility and Stranger Than Fiction, among many other films) has learned from her extensive research on how movies work upon our emotions, and from the teachings of Dr. Martin Seligman, a “catalyst of the positive psychology movement” who has identified the five essential elements of well-being as: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.  Analyzing hits and critical favorites, Doran confirmed what she’d intuitively suspected about what audiences responded to in movies that worked:

She broke down their emotional components, isolated the elements of mood elevation and tested her findings against those of market researchers. She concluded: Positive movies do not necessarily have happy endings; their characters’ personal relationships trump personal achievements; and male and female viewers differ in how they define a character’s accomplishments. Ms. Doran had long been drawn to “funny dramas and comedies that make you cry,” she said. Now she knew why.

Read more of Mernit’s analysis here.

November 15, 2011

Write Better: Listen to Music

In Billy Mernit’s latest post on Living the Romantic Comedy, he talks about how many writers rely on music to get their writing groove on. Mernit writes:

Caffeine. Alcohol. A toke, a toot. Everyone’s got their favorite stimulant, but when it comes to working on a draft, the overwhelming drug of choice for most writers I know is music.

Four screenwriters interviewed in Karl Iglesias’s fine and useful book, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters talk of their dependence on music as muse: Ron Bass likes to write to jazz; Steven DeSouza uses soundtracks from movies similar to the genre he’s writing in; Scott Rosenberg goes for rock’n’roll; Nicholas Kazan prefers Gregorian chant (“I need something constant and neutral. I find it’s a wonderful aid that sort of massages the right hemisphere of my brain”).

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November 8, 2011

In a Rom-Com, Less Dialogue is More Emotion

Billy Mernit of Living the Romantic Comedy recently wrote about the following truism: “The less said, the more felt.” Mernit writes:

An ongoing issue with the romantic comedy spec scripts I read is that they talk too much.

By “they” I mean the characters (i.e. the writers), which is surprising. Given that we’re living in the reign of Twitter, seeing as how we all have less time to take in information, why is that screenwriters still seem to think that romantic comedy = two people sitting or standing around talking, for page after page?

It’s axiomatic that in comedy, fast is funny. And brevity being the soul of wit, the alert rom-com writer ought to be able to cut to the gag, pronto. In this regard, I’ve often cited the opening of Richard Curtis’s Four Weddings and a Funeral as a model, a paradigm of great romantic comedy dialogue.

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September 21, 2011

Quote of the Day: Billy Mernit

So much of good comedy comes out of strong, vivid character ideas. Creating two unique characters an audience will fall in love with and need to see united is the most important key to your screenplay’s success. All great characters have purpose and credibility, are empathic and complex.

April 7, 2011

Rom Coms: Convincing the Audience Your Lovers Belong Together

This recent article from Billy Mernit begins with a rom com truism: “The primary challenge lies not in creating obstacles to keep the couple apart, but in convincing the audience that these two people truly do belong together.” Billy continues:

The current box office hit that you’re not supposed to like – because it’s an Adam Sandler movie – is nobody’s idea of a great romantic comedy.  In fact, due to its derivative pedigree (based on a movie based on a play based on a French play, no less), the project sounds more like the “xerox of a xerox of a copy of a movie” decried by this sobering screed that’s lately been giving Hollywood screenwriters insomnia.

So sue me, but I found parts of it to be LOL funny, despite the usual trademark Sandler homophobia, racism and misogyny, and in terms of What America’s In the Mood For right now, I totally get why it’s doing well.  It’s a tan-bodied, creamy, candy-colored bright shiny object of a movie that’s just sharp enough, at moments, to transcend its retro stupidity and revel in entertaining Guilty Pleasure silliness.  It’s also the best thing Jennifer Aniston’s done in… well, it’s nice to see her in something watchable. 

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