Sunday, June 21, 2009

Research and inspiration: back to basics

The tricky part about writing this blog is that I don't plan to share my actual idea for the screenplay, at least not for now. I'm sure my anonymous readers will understand. All I can say for now is that I'm writing a comedy about a family, and that it involves some unlikely situations.

I've read 3 books so far:
- "Story" by Robert Mckee
- "Writing the Comedy Film – Make 'Em Laugh" by Stuart Voytilla and Scott Petri
- "Conversations with Wilder" by Cameron Crowe

"Writing the Comedy Film" had me focusing on my film genre: farce. This book isn't as elegantly written as Robert Mckee's "Story", but it does offer some good basic exercises to get you started. Both books tell you to research your genre. Watch over and over films you love. Study them. Watch over and over films you don't love. Study them. Write down a list of comedy films you love; scenes you love; characters you love; directors you love; actors and actresses you love.

So I feel I have to start with setting my territory. In terms of general plot and atmosphere, I chose 4 films that I feel I relate to, and should learn from.

1. Some like it hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Reading "Conversations with Wilder", I learned "Some like it hot" is based on the 1951 German film "Fanfaren der Liebe", which is also about 2 out-of-work musicians who dress as women in order to get jobs in an all-girl band. I found this piece of information very encouraging: even Billy Wilder used other people's ideas.

What I love best in "Some like it hot" is how Jack Lemon's character gets caught up in his lie, till the point where the lie takes over. Memorable scenes here are the ball room scene, where Jack (Daphne) has a wild tango with her Millionaire suitor, Osgood Fielding III, and of course – the last scene of the movie, in which Daphne, trapped on a boat with Osgood who's going over their wedding plans, finally tells him he can't marry her, because she's a man, followed by Osgood's famous comeback - "nobody's perfect". This is exactly where I'm going in my script – lies and secrets that evolve into a presence that is much stronger than the truth.

2. The apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)

Wilder and Lemon again. After watching many films in the past couple of months, what stood out for me the most is that comedies used to be much less cheesy than they are today. I'm really aiming for a lack of cheesiness in my script.

I only saw this film for the first time a few months ago. I heard the name, but I didn't even know that it was about a nice guy that lets his bosses use his apartment as an after-work free of charge motel to bring their mistresses to. I love the freshness of the story – a story that is funny on its own, before you get into its details, I love how it's an extreme situation but still believable, and I love Jack Lemon's character – the archetype of a man who can't say no.

3. La Cage aux Folles (Edouard Molinaro, 1978)

I just love this film so much. I didn't see the American version, and I don't know if it's as chic as the original. Again, the story itself, of a gay couple - one of whom owns a drag club, the other performs there – who pretend to be straight to impress their son's fiancee's family, is funny as is. On top of that, the dialogues are exquisite, as are both leading actors. My favorite character here is Albin (played by Michel Serrault) – the extremely vulnerable drag performer, who is almost cast off the family because he can't pass as straight.

Here's a scene in which the two men go to a restaurant, discuss the straight performance they plan to display in front of the fiancee's family, but can't even manage to lift their cups without holding their little finger in the air.

4. There's something about Mary (Farrelly brothers, 1998)

What I love about this film is the great rhythm, and the genuine farce atmosphere: Anything crazy can happen but life/story goes on; every character has a selfish motive; no one is who he seems to be; and opposed to all that there's Mary (Cameron Diaz) - a calm rock of compassion, kindness and inner peace, in the midst of all this commotion. I find that Mary somewhat resembles Suagr (Marilyn Monroe in "Some like it hot"). It has something to do with both characters' friendliness, willingness to accept whomever and whatever happens around them and blonde hair.

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