Posts tagged ‘Living the Romantic Comedy’

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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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 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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October 5, 2011

The Trick to a Script Like Bridesmaids: Write, Then Rewrite, Then Rewrite…

This new article from Living the Romantic Comedy delves into the writing process that Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo went through to get to the funniest possible film — they wrote, then they re-wrote a dozen-plus times, and then they embraced a lot of improv in the actual filming (download the script here). There’s a big lesson to be learned here about not settling for the first or even the tenth idea that comes to you:

In the “Line-o-Rama” bonus on the just-released Bridesmaids DVD, a bonanza of alternate takery, there’s one sequence where Melissa McCarthy improvises variations on the same brief line, over and over again, trying out a different gag every time. How many takes? Reader, I counted them: there are forty-eight.

The last question asked in the Q & A of my Screenwriting Expo seminar on “Comedy Craft for the Contemporary Romantic Comedy” came out of discussing Bridesmaids, which I’d worked on as a story analyst at Universal. I’d shown some clips from it and mentioned the screenplay’s long (3-4 years) gestation, noting how co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo had been in the enviable position of writing and rewriting on the studio’s dime, under the guidance of producer Judd Apatow.

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