Margaret Stewart, YouTube’s head of user experience, talks about how the ubiquitous video site works with copyright holders and creators to foster (at the best of times) a creative ecosystem where everybody wins.
This interview was taped on May 4th, 1983 with Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert for a public access show in Roseville, Michigan called “The Fast Track”. Due to copyright, all film clips from the movie “Evil Dead” have been edited out of this interview. This includes the opening credits to this show.
By Jon M. Garon
Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, PC
Unlike other industries, the motion picture business presents a second type of financing sale in addition to the typical model of equity financing. It involves selling the film’s distribution rights. In this form of financing, the company sells its assets in exchange for a present or guaranteed payment. For example, if the film company sells its rights to European distribution in exchange for $50,000, then its future revenue will exclude any monies made in the countries identified as Europe, whether those markets generate $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000. This arrangement reduces the potential for future income, but also serves to reduce the risk of loss.
From the filmmaker’s standpoint, cash for the production is the most critical requirement of any financing structure; no number of future promises will cover rental fees or payroll. Unfortunately, the business realities for presale agreements often require that the completed film be delivered prior to any payment. To actually produce the film, the filmmaker must borrow from a lender, using the presale agreement as collateral. Under this structure, the interest costs are not avoided, and the filmmaker may still shoulder the residual risk that presale fees will not materialize. Nonetheless, since a presale agreement allows the filmmaker to finance a project without risking personal funds, it remains a very attractive option.
Presale and distribution deals may vary significantly. Some of the more common structures are briefly described below.
1. Cash Deals
Only in the rarest of situations or with the lowest of budgets will a filmmaker will be able to fund the production with a cash advance on a guaranteed distribution. There was a time when companies such as Cannon Films would create one-sheets (theatrical advertising posters) that the company would exhibit at the international film markets. If it was successful selling enough territories based on the poster, Cannon would contact the named talent and begin the process of producing the film. If a film didn’t attract enough interest, the remaining posters would be discarded and those projects never started. Today, modest cash advances may sometimes be available, but this is the exception to the rule.
2. Negative Pick-Up
Although the details can vary greatly, the term negative pick-up means that a film studio or distributor pays for the cost of the film to be finished to the point that a completed negative is ready to use. Generally, the filmmaker sells the film to a studio in exchange for reimbursement of production expenses and some form of profit sharing from the eventual proceeds of the film. For example, if a filmmaker had a budget of $1 million for a film project, she would “sell” the film by promising to deliver a completed motion picture substantially the same as that described in the screenplay in exchange for a payment of $1 million. Once the negative was delivered, the film studio would then have the obligation to finish the prints for the film, pay for its marketing and distribution, and split profits, if any, with the filmmaker on the agreed-upon percentage basis. The negative pick-up is the filmmaker’s “field of dreams”—if she shoots it, the money will come.
The negative pick-up arrangement often operates very similarly to studio financing. Each major decision may be subject to review by the distributor. The distributor will require that the script be followed, the agreed-upon casting not be changed, the length of the film be acceptable, and the film be eligible for a particular MPAA rating, typically a PG-13 or R. Any major deviations must be approved by the financier or the filmmaker risks the company stopping payments or claiming that she has breached the agreement.
The amount paid for a negative pick-up need not be the same as the production cost of the film, although the distributor will often seek to cap the payment at this amount. If so, the filmmaker must be sure to include budget items for herself and others who have invested sweat equity as the basis for negotiations with the studio. To add these items later in the negotiations will result in little or no personal payments.
The actual payment structure can vary from arrangement to arrangement. In most cases, the purchasing studio will provide funds on a weekly basis as necessary for the film company to meets its regular obligations, but only after the filmmaker demonstrates that the project remains on budget and on schedule. In other cases the funds will be paid on delivery of the final product, so the filmmaker must use the negative pick-up agreement to obtain commercial loans to cover production expenses.
3. Distribution Guarantee
Closely related to the negative pick-up arrangement is the distribution guarantee agreement. In this case, the distributor agrees to purchase the completed film’s full distribution rights in exchange for a fee and an agreed-upon royalty or gross participation amount. A distribution guarantee does not eliminate the risks to the filmmaker, because the funds are generally not made available until the filmmaker has completed the film.
Since the sale of distribution rights does not immediately result in cash to the filmmaker, she must use the sales agreement as a form of collateral against which the film company can borrow money from a bank or other lender. Under the distribution guarantee agreement, the film’s distributor serves as guarantor of the loan. Since the lender is entitled to repayment regardless of the film’s revenue, the distributor’s guarantee may put the lender in a position of much greater security than if the filmmaker is solely responsible for the loan. If the distributor is a stable, well-established company, lenders are generally willing to finance this type of arrangement.
Invariably, the lender will require that the film company furnish a completion bond, which serves as insurance against the film not being completed as required by the purchasing distributor. Together, the loan interest and the premium cost of the completion bond could add 20 percent to the cost of completing the film. Short-term financing may further increase this cost substantially.
4. Foreign Distributors, Markets, and Territories
Foreign distribution has grown to become the single largest category of film distribution income, exceeding both domestic theatrical exhibition and video sales for revenue. Despite its importance, however, foreign distribution is risky territory for independent films, because the language, currency, and legal enforcement barriers often make it difficult to collect royalties or enforce contract rights. If a filmmaker seeks an advance and a royalty payment in exchange for foreign distribution rights, she must face the vagaries of currency exchange and the unfortunate but all-too-common practice by which foreign distributors refuse to distribute royalty income.
Even if royalty payments are forthcoming, the difficulties of auditing foreign receipts and dealing with clever accounting practices make this income source highly volatile. For an independent filmmaker without the leverage of an ongoing relationship, the cost of collecting small royalties from a foreign distributor in a small territory can be larger than the amount of payment being sought. Where possible, the filmmaker is best served by selling the rights to a foreign territory outright instead. More modest prepayments will result in greater cash in hand for the filmmaker and should be the preferred strategy with all but the most reputable of distributors.
Nonetheless, independent filmmakers have been increasingly successful selling the rights to foreign territories in exchange for advance payments and using these payments to finance all or most of the film’s budget. These transactions can be conducted through direct cash payments or through letters of credit that are deemed sufficiently sound by the U.S. lenders.
Often the strategy in these sales follows that of Cannon Films: invest early in the poster art so that the purchaser knows what it is marketing. Few people have the skill necessary to read a screenplay (or even view a rough cut) and successfully visualize the final film. On the other hand, most people have attended at least one film solely on the basis of the poster. Perhaps this form of financing seems artistically impure, but commercial success for a film requires commercial techniques.
During the independent film boom of the 1980s, the combination of new marketing opportunities and healthy tax regulations led to an infusion of foreign capital. This financial resource, if it ever truly existed, disappeared as a result of changing economic conditions and substantially more restrictive tax regulations. When the dot-com securities market collapsed, a flurry of venture capital sought independent film opportunities, but that money has also disappeared as the next generation of investors learned the risks of independent film distribution.
But a new international market continues to expand: independent U.S. filmmakers may find opportunities to collaborate or coproduce with production companies outside of the United States. Occasionally these coproduction arrangements will provide financing to the U.S. company, but more often the foreign company enjoys subsidies for its local production and will provide services in exchange for the co-ownership of the project. While such an arrangement entails a number of unique risks, it may also afford the independent filmmaker some attractive side benefits: opportunities to travel and to benefit from the coproducers’ expertise.
The traditional Hollywood studios manufactured motion pictures. They purchased the raw materials—stories and talent—and produced finished films that they exhibited in theaters throughout the world. Over time, the production activities separated from the distribution activities, so that the studios would distribute and promote films produced by other film companies, reducing the studios’ risk if a film was never made.
Today, the major motion picture studios are primarily distributors rather than film production companies. Instead of directly purchasing stories or scripts, the studios work through existing relationships with established production companies. These production companies package the script, develop the budget, and manage the production. The budget will include a negotiated fee for the producer’s own expenses and income. The agreement between the producer and studio will also determine the producer’s participation in the film’s revenue. The studio will finance the project on an incremental basis, providing the necessary funding for each step of the process. In exchange, the studio has primary control over the project and the ability to terminate it at any point in its development.
This incremental approach, known as a production and distribution deal, allows the studio to maximize its control while minimizing its risk. The producer will typically receive a small fee for early preproduction activities. Although the costs of script and budget preparation often exceed this payment, the producer rather than the studio covers this risk. If the studio is interested in developing the project further, it will release funds to the producer to pay for selected key aspects of preproduction. Locations will be scouted, the script rewritten or polished, and key personnel identified. Throughout this process, the producer will receive little or no additional pay.
Eventually, however, the studio may commit to the project. It “greenlights” the film and commits to principal actors, director, and designers. (For some directors and actors, the studio will be obligated to pay them whether or not the production is ever filmed.) During this phase of preproduction, the studio will typically distribute a small portion of the producer’s fee. The bulk of the producer’s fee will be paid during principal photography, with small payments withheld until the delivery of the first rough cut of the picture and the delivery of the final picture.1
For the independent filmmaker, making a picture under a studio-financed production deal is both a blessing and a curse. A well-made studio film has the potential to greatly exceed the success of any independent film. The studio’s marketing budgets and promotional savvy can make a household name out of anyone, opening the door for tremendous professional control on subsequent projects.
The curse is that the independent filmmaker gives up control immediately. Rarely do studio screenplays resemble the writer’s first drafts, and novice directors will be second-guessed at every turn—if the filmmaker is allowed to remain attached to the picture at all. Still, that is where the money is. For most artists it is commercial success that buys them the luxury of later artistic control.
This is part of a series of book excerpts from Independent Filmmaking, The Law & Business Guide for Financing, Shooting & Distributing Independent & Digital Films designed as an introduction to the many legal issues involved in the filmmaking process.
Minority Report science adviser and inventor John Underkoffler demos g-speak — the real-life version of the film’s eye-popping, tai chi-meets-cyberspace computer interface. Is this how tomorrow’s computers will be controlled?
You’re heard it a gazillion times: it’s not what you know but who you know.
Talent, schmalent, one screenplay is pretty much like another. Don’t oodles of lousy scripts get produced? We’ve all seen movies that were worse than one or another of our own unsold screenplays. How can it be that a bad script gets shot and my superior work remains on the shelf? Clearly, the explanation can only be that what counts in Hollywood is not the quality of writing but the right parties, schmoozing up the right people, making the right connections.
In fact, this is the opposite of the truth. I know personally all kinds of well-connected writers who cannot manage to sell a screenplay. On campus at UCLA in our graduate screenwriting program, on the other hand, I see brand new writers break through every season. The truth about Hollywood, as hard as it may be for skeptics to acknowledge, is that it is a meritocracy. Newcomers succeed on the basis of the worthy scripts they write.
I moderated a screenwriting panel years ago in Maui (am I a lucky guy or what?) in which big shot screenwriters discussed writing issues. The panelists were Carrie Fisher (beyond her career as an actor, she has also substantial success as a writer), Steven DeSouza, James L. Brooks, Ron Bass, and Nick Kazan. I pointed out that prior to their success only one of these writers had any connections at all. That would have been, of course, Carrie, who told the crowd that her connections held her back for years, actually militated against her success, served not as support but obstacles to overcome. All the others achieved what they achieved starting from scratch.
If your writing career at the moment wallows in scratch, therefore, you are in good company.
Every successful writer without exception, no matter how adored, rich, envied, lauded and accomplished, was once as anonymous as you.
Cynics love to quote Dorothy Parker’s timeless line: “Hollywood is the one place on earth where you could die of encouragement.”
My answer appears in my 1999 novel Escape From Film School: “Hollywood is the one place on earth where you start at the top and work your way down.”
Your best credit is no credits. Exactly as movies romanticize and idealize the human condition, so also does the movie business. Producers can project upon a blank slate the romanticized, idealized vision they seek. They cannot do that with a writer who has development deals that didn’t develop, movies that got made that never got distributed, or movies that got distributed but bombed at the box office. This is the only business I know where inexperience trumps experience.
At the first meeting of my regular UCLA screenwriting workshop, in which each student has ten weeks to write a feature-length script, I brag to the attendees about all the movies, not to mention movie franchises, which have emerged from scripts written in these very same classes. Forgive me for bragging, but it’s the writers’ fault; they give me so much to brag about.
After this orgy of boasting, I caution the writers: “Please don’t try to sell the script that you write in this class.” I follow this with what some call my characteristic long pause.
Is it not a contradiction? I brag about The Highlander and Backdraft and Ace Ventura and more, projects that grew out of assignments in my own and other instructors’ classes, and then instruct the writers not to try to sell the work they write in the class.
There is, in fact, no contradiction whatsoever. I do not tell the writers not to sell their work. I tell them not to TRY to sell their work. Indeed, fervently I hope and pray they do sell their work. If they do, I’ll add it to the list of projects to brag about at future such sessions.
There is a Zen line regarding archers: You can’t hit a target by aiming at it.
To sell a screenplay you have to forget totally about the sale and simply wallow in the process. You have to do all those California things: follow your bliss, go with the flow. I’ve never known a writer who was not surprised by a twist or turn in the story, a line of dialogue spoken by a character that emerged wholly by surprise.
Isn’t life like that? The late writer/director UCLA film school grad Colin Higgins (Silver Streak and Foul Play among others) told me years ago that when he was still a film student, he prayed to win first prize in the Goldwyn competition, which would have provided enough money for him to do nothing but write for a year. He would not have to suffer the distraction of a day job. Alas, he won only second prize, which required him to seek part-time work. He chose the perfect job for a writer or actor: working for a swimming pool cleaning company.
At the first house whose pool he cleaned, an upscale home in the flats of Beverly Hills, he noticed a man sitting at the end of the pool beneath a beach umbrella, reading a script. Clearly, this was the owner of the house. Just as clearly, he was a movie producer. Indeed, this neighborhood positively overflowed with producers. Colin got to chatting with him. He told him that he was a screenwriter himself, and persuaded him to read his second-prize Goldwyn-winning screenplay. The producer ended up making the movie. It established Colin’s impressive, productive career.
Some people will remonstrate, “But isn’t that just another example of connections, of meeting the right people?” They focus on the meeting and overlook the fact that the script happened to be Harold and Maude. Had Colin given the producer an unworthy script, we would not be recounting this story.
“Just think, Richie,” Colin said to me, “If my dream had come true, if I had won first prize, I’d be cleaning swimming pools today.”
The lesson: stay open to the surprises. This is true not only regarding the surprises in your screenplay but also your life’s narrative.
It’s not who you know, or even what you know.
Ultimately, it’s what you write.
Richard Walter is a celebrated storytelling guru, movie industry expert, and longtime chairman of UCLA’s legendary graduate program in screenwriting. A screenwriter and published novelist, his latest book, Essentials of Screenwriting, will be available June 29, 2010. Professor Walter lectures throughout North America and the world and serves as a court-authorized expert in intellectual property litigation.
Source with permission: The Writers Store
Camera movement has always added that extra bit of production value and those steady flying shots are no exception. As some one who has spent countless hours making an modifying my own camera stabilizing rig, I was interested in giving the Steadicam Merlin (courtesty of B&H Photo) a try out – if not only to experience what really good engineering is all about, but to get some ideas on where my system stands in comparison and get some ideas for improvement.
The Steadicam Merlin ships in a easy to transport case. Upon opening it up for the first time I was surprised at how small and compact the system is when folded down. I quickly popped on the Sony AX2000 to give it a quick try out but was totally unsuccessful in obtaining a balance – guess it’s time to watch the Training DVD.
After spending some time reviewing the training materials (which are fairly detailed and complete) I was finally able to find the proper balance for the AX2000. This prosumer camera comes close to topping off the Merlin’s max weight limit of 5.5lbs (the weight being the primary reason I had so much trouble with it in the beginning).
Steadicam offers something called a MerlinCookbook which has a listing of configurations based on what kind of camera you’re flying. If you’re on the list – you’re almost all set. If not, you’ll need to spend some time practicing.
I won’t go into all the details about how to achieve the perfect balance but it does take a lot of practice. Fortunately for me, I’ve put in a lot of hours already and so I can feel my way to a proper balance but I can see this being incredibly frustrating for some one just starting out. This may be partly to the design – the bow is not as intuitive as the standard post found on bigger setups and can easily mask situations where you’re top heavy. My best advice to a new user is to just put in the time with the training materials – you’ll get it eventually.
Bells and whistles
Once you find your balance the Merlin is a great setup. I particularly like the trim options. These thumb screws are well engineered, well documented (little arrows indicate which direction the rig will balance) , and are really great for fine tuning the balance. Even the caliber length (the length and shape of the bow) can be adjusted as well as the gimbal position.
Where the gimbal attaches, there’s a little tongue which helps you aim the rig. I love this feature for controlling the direction of my shots.
With the AX2000 onboard, the Merlin floats along very nicely but I found myself tiring out for carrying all that weight. And I’m a pretty strong guy. I’m sure I could grunt and bear the weight of the Merlin for a few hours with numerous rest stops, but having all that weight would really have me reconsider using this on a camera that weighed around 5 lbs.
Next I tried the Merlin with the Canon 5d. The weight of the rig was very comfortable to hold although finding an acceptable balance was very tricky (the 5d is side heavy). The lack of anti-shake features on these HD-DSLR cameras and focus control will create some problems.
In a Nutshell
The Merlin is a solid product that comes with all the high end engineering you’d expect to find from an official “Steadicam” product. If you’re planning to shoot with a heavier prosumer camera that’s around five pounds, either start training to get used to holding a brick in front of you or look toward a system with a vest and arm support. For smaller consumer cameras and smaller cameras, the Merlin is a great solution. Either way, expect to spend a lot of time experimenting and practicing to get that perfect flying shot.
- Small compact design
- Well engineered components that allow for micro adjustments.
- Well documented and includes training DVD
- Includes a traveling case
- Design is a bit counter-intuitive when it comes to finding balance
- Weight limit of 5.5lbs puts most prosumer cameras right at the edge.
- No monitor – you’ll have to use the camera’s LCD monitor
You can purchase the items featured in this review from our trusted sponsor B&H Video. We don’t recommend B&H because they our are sponsor, they are our sponsor because they are the only store we would ever recommend.
Items from the review:
You may also want to check out these Accessories:
Other Camera Stabalizers
The horror master’s latest zombie film, ‘Survivor of the Dead,’ is in theaters. George Romero will now take 10 questions from TIME Magazine readers.
A lesson in film editing with Albert Brooks, Bruno Kirby. from the film “Modern Romance.”
by Steve Kaplan
Let’s start off with a test. A Comedy Perception Test, to see if we’re perceiving comedy with 20-20 vision.
Below are seven sentences, seven word-pictures. They don’t mean anything other than what they are. There’s no back story. Read them carefully.
A. Man slipping on a banana peel.
B. Man wearing a top hat slipping on a banana peel.
C. Man slipping on a banana peel after kicking a dog.
D. Man slipping on a banana peel after losing his job.
E. Blind man slipping on a banana peel.
F. Blind man’s dog slipping on a banana peel.
G. Man slipping on a banana peel, and dying.
So, you have these seven sentences, word-pictures that contain no hidden meanings or narratives. Now answer these four questions:
Which of these statements is the funniest? The least funny? The most comic?
And which one is the least comic?
Now, one of you might be thinking to yourself, “Comic and funny – isn’t that the same thing?”
Excellent question, thanks for asking. But just for now, let’s stick to selecting which one you think is the funniest, the least funniest, the most comic and the least comic.
Let’s start with the funniest. Which one did you pick? A.) Man slipping on a banana peel? How about C.) Man kicking a dog or D.) Man losing his job? (OK, that one only a boss could find funny.) Was your choice E.) Blind Man? (And if it was, shame on you! You’re sick, you know that?)
So, which did you decide was the funniest? The answer to which is funniest is, of course . . . you’re right, no matter which one you picked! Don’t you feel affirmed?
You were right because the difference between what’s funny and what’s comic is that funny is subjective. If you’re laughing at it, to you, that’s funny. End of story. End debate. Period. If you’re laughing at it, it’s funny to you. And by the same token, if you’re not laughing at it, no matter how learned a review in The New Yorker, to you, it’s not funny. I have a three-year-old nephew. And if I took my keys and started shaking my keys, I can make him laugh. So to him, that’s funny. But would you give me $600,000 against a million option to buy those set of keys?
One of the biggest mistakes that writers make is they’re worried whether the script is funny or not funny. But funny, as we’ve said, is subjective. What comedians will tell you is that you can’t live or die by whether this person or that person laughs. You have to do your material and just trust that it’s creating a comic picture, a comic portrait, and that comedy is not predicated on how many jokes there are on the page. The worst sitcom you can think of, the worst comic movie, the worst RomCom, is chock full of moments that they’re trying to make funny.
So what’s comedy? In my seminar, we watch a lot of comedy clips, but one of the most important clips we watch is from a daytime soap opera. When I show it, occasionally people laugh. Taken out of context, it’s pretty funny. OK, it’s very funny. But why would we want to watch a soap to learn about comedy?
Here’s the thing: Everybody involved in this – as writers, directors, actors, designers and craftsmen – is usually dedicated to not making you laugh. So I think it’s instructive to pay attention to what they are doing and the choices they’re making. Take a look at almost any soap scene. The first thing you have to notice about people in soaps is that they’re more than just good-looking, they’re almost supernaturally attractive. People like this just do not exist in nature. And the combination of writing, directing and performance is designed to communicate a specific set of qualities. Even when the behavior is extreme, i.e. adultery, murder and deceit, the staples of daytime drama, the actors rarely act in an inappropriate manner, such as that would tend to mock the characters. The actors playing the characters are subtly saying to us: Look at me, look how sensitive I am, how much I’m suffering, how deeply I feel, how intelligent I am. And I’ll turn to the women in the audience, and I’ll say, “Ladies, is this what your significant other is like?” There’s often a big laugh because obviously, they’re not.
The point is that drama helps us dream about what we can be, but comedy helps us live with who we are. Comedy helps us live with who we are because while drama idealizes man’s perfection and the tragedy of his falling short, comedy operates secure in the knowledge of man’s imperfection: insecure, awkward, fumbling unsure – all the core attributes of comedy. Doesn’t this really describe us all? While drama might depict one of us going through a dark night of the soul, comedy sees the dark night, but also notices that, during that dark night, we’re still wearing the same robe we’ve had on for a few days and eating chunky peanut butter out of the jar while sitting and watching Judge Judy. It’s still a dark night, but one that comedy makes more bearable by helping us keep things – like our life – in perspective.
Comedy tells the truth, and specifically, it tells the truth about being human. A comedian is simply the courageous person who gets up in front of a group of strangers and admits, confesses to being human. In that if you have the courage to tell the truth, and mostly the truth about yourself, and the truth about the crazy things that you do, and the crazy way that you see the world, then you have a good head start in creating comedy.
So what’s comedy? The paradigm of comedy is an ordinary guy or gal struggling against insurmountable odds without many of the required tools with which to win, yet never giving up hope. It can almost be stated as an equation: An ordinary guy or gal – Jackie Gleason used to call him a moke – struggling against insurmountable odds, without many of the required tools with which to win, yet never giving up hope.
From this paradigm or equation, we can draw usable, practical tools, what we call the Hidden Tools of Comedy.
The tools are:
3. Positive (or Selfish) Action
4. Active Emotion
5. Metaphorical Relationship
6. Straight Line/Wavy Line
First there’s the tool of Winning. Winning is the idea that, in comedy, you are allowed to do whatever you think you need to do in order to win. Comedy gives the character permission to win. In winning, there are no “shoulds.” Even if it makes you look stupid, you can do what you think you have to do in order to win. You’re not trying to be funny, just trying to get what you want, given who you are.
Next is Non-Hero. Non-hero is the ordinary guy who lacks some, if not all, of the required skills with which to win. Note that we don’t say comic hero, but a non-hero. Not an idiot, not an exaggerated fool, but simply somebody who lacks something. Or many things, but is still determined to win. The more skills your character has, the less comic and the more dramatic the character is. This is how you can shape the arc in a romantic comedy: in the romantic moments, the heretofore clumsy or obnoxious hero becomes more sensitive, more mature. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Positive Action, or selfish-action, or hopeful action, is the idea that every action your character takes, your character actually thinks is going to work, no matter how stupid, or foolish or naive that might make him or her appear. It also takes the nasty edge off characters such as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers or Louie DePalma in Taxi.
Active Emotion is the idea that the emotion that occurs naturally in the course of trying to win. The emotion that is created simply by being in the situation is the exact right emotion to be having.
Metaphorical Relationship is the tool of perception. It’s the idea that beneath every surface relationship is a true, or essential, metaphorical relationship. Each character perceives others around him, and the world itself, in specific, metaphorical ways. Think about the couples you know. Some fight like cats and dogs, some coo to each other like babies and some are like business partners: “OK, I can’t have sex with you this Thursday, but if I move some things around, I might be able to squeeze it in Sunday afternoon, barring no further complications.” Even thought they’re a married couple, their metaphorical relationship is that of nose-to-the-grindstone business partners. It’s Oscar and Felix, two middle-aged divorced roommates, acting like an old married couple. And it’s Jerry and George, sitting in the back of a police car, acting like kids: “Hey, can I play with the siren?”
And last, but not least, the tool that challenges the conventional view of comedy: Straight Line/Wavy Line.
John Cleese once said that when they started Monty Python, they thought that comedy was the silly bits: “We used to think that comedy was watching someone do something silly…we came to realize that comedy was watching somebody watch somebody do something silly.”
There is the mistaken belief that in every duo there’s the funny guy and the straight guy. In “Who’s On First?” it’s obvious that Lou Costello, the short, fat, roly-poly bumbler is the funny man of the team, whereas tall, thin, severe Bud Abbott is the straight man. This misconception misses the essential truth about comedy-that it is a team effort, where each member of the team is contributing to the comic moment. The real dynamic is that of watcher and watched, the one who sees and the one who does not see; the one creating the problem and the one struggling with the problem. Think of Kramer in Seinfeld. The comedy isn’t just watching Kramer behave in his typically outrageous fashion, the comedy requires Jerry or George or Elaine to watch it in bemused amazement. The tool of Straight Line/Wavy Line recognizes this. It’s the idea that not only do we need someone, some funny person, to do something silly or create a problem, we also need someone who is acting as the audience’s representative to watch that person do something silly or struggle to solve the problem that has been created. The other character might not be as verbal, might not be doing the funny things, but because the other character is also a Non-Hero, he or she sees the problem, but doesn’t have the skills to solve it. The Straight Line creates the problem, like he has blinders on, and is actually blind to the problem or is creating the problem themselves. The Wavy Line struggles, but is unable to, solve the problem. So what the Wavy Line does more than not is simply doing a lot of watching. Watching without knowing what to do about it, so there’s confusion. There’s consternation. Whereas the other characters are doing something – as John Cleese would say – silly. And it’s that combination that creates the comic moment, as opposed to somebody simply getting hit in the face with a pie.
With these six hidden tools, we can begin to unlock the secrets of comedy.
For almost 20 years, Steve Kaplan has been the industry’s most respected and sought-after expert on comedy. In addition to being a regular consultant and script doctor to such companies as Disney, Dreamworks, HBO, Paramount, and others, Steve has taught at UCLA, NYU, Yale, and other top universities, and created the HBO Workspace and the HBO New Writers Program teaching and mentoring some of the biggest writers, producers and directors in comedy today.
Source with permission: The Writers Store