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It’s Valentine’s Day…Again, Egad!

2014-02-07Frog2Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! Or, as I used to call it when I was single, “National Hide Under A Rock Day”. If you’re fortunate enough to have a significant other, you’ll be happy to have lint in your wallet after the roses, the chocolates, the teddy bear, the prix fix dinner and, egad, the ring. You’ll have your choice of movies to go to this year including ENDLESS LOVE, ABOUT LAST NIGHT, THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, LABOR DAY, AT MIDDLETON, BEST NIGHT EVER, LOVE IS IN THE… I’m sorry, just writing that list put me to sleep. Fortunately, if you’re a writer, the long list of choices means that producers are buying Valentine’s Day movies, so we should be selling them.

Now I know you’ve peeked ahead and you’re thinking “Oh boy! Rob’s made a Top 10 Favorite Romantic Comedies List.” Wrong, Beauregard! This is a site for writers so, instead, I’ve listed the romantic comedies I watched while I was preparing to write THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG.

Usually, I’ll start by watching the top 10-20 movies in the genre according to Box Office Mojo and then cross-referencing those with their Rotten Tomatoes ratings to see who stuck the landing and made a great movie that throngs of people wanted to see. I like to build my cathedrals on the shoulders of giants so it’s good to know where to put the scaffolding.

For FROG, I started by screening every princess movie ever made. Then I screened the direct to DVD princess movies. Then the TV specials until I felt like I had a grasp of the elements the “princess audience” was looking for. We wanted FROG to feel like a classic romantic comedy so I screened a lot of those. And then I watched some modern ones until I started to see the elements that made these movies so entertaining. After about a week of dusk to dawn screenings and a ream of notes, I felt like I had enough of a handle on it to get started. Here’s some of what I looked at and why–

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

A million years ago I was at a WGA lecture and Jonathan Roberts & Steve Bloom were talking about how their film, THE SURE THING, was a one-for-one remake of IHON. I didn’t believe it until I saw the two movies side-by-side. IHON has the best bones of any romantic comedy ever made. Almost any time you see two people who don’t like each other get into a car and drive across the country, you can bet the writer has IHON on iTunes. Watch it and then watch FROG and think of Clark Gable as Tiana and Claudette Colbert as Prince Naveen and you’ll see it. The trick is kicking enough dirt over your tracks so it’s not too obvious.

ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)

A great beginning to a movie that, frankly, could have been better. But the idea of a wayward princess worked great and gave us some fantastic ideas for ways to efficiently introduce Prince Naveen and Lawrence during the opening musical number in FROG.

KNOCKED UP (2007)

Every time I watch this movie I think it’s the dumbest thing in the world until I get to Act 3 when I’m crying my eyes out. “You read the book!” And suddenly there aren’t enough tissues. I’m such a sap. So I asked myself what did Judd Apatow do to me and I pulled that movie apart beat by beat. Then I watched 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (2005) to make sure I was right. Everything I discovered is in FROG. I’ll share it with you someday if you’re nice to me.

WEDDING CRASHERS (2005)

It came out right before I started working on FROG so I watched it over and over. It’s got the best First Act ever… but its 3rd Act is a mess.

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994)

You should be sued for malpractice if you touch this genre without completely dissecting every Richard Curtis film ever made. I’ve been a fan of his since “Black Adder” and “The Young Ones” television series and the Mr. Bean movies put me away. The man has mastered this method of storytelling. Each movie is its own lab experiment. Single narrative. Anthology. Science fiction. WEDDINGS is told in chapters. It’s all there.

EASY A (2010)

I wish this had come out in 2005 because it nailed everything I was trying to do on FROG. It’s a clinic on how to update a classic. At a certain point the most important things are to create characters that great actors want to play and tell stories that resonate with large groups of people. EASY A sticks the landing.

EVERYTHING BY WOODY ALLEN

Ultimately the reason why everybody loves this genre is because we’re all searching for someone to love us… and we all look like idiots while we’re doing it. Woody’s stuff is honest, resonant and well told.

“BAD JUDD APATOW” and “BAD WOODY ALLEN”

When you write in television they give you a few weeks to “get up to speed”. That means “learn how to write the show fast!” My method was to watch and read the two best episodes and the two worst. That way I’d have a feel for what elements worked and what stuff to avoid at all cost. I also found that the writers would throw the entire bag of tools at the bad episodes in order to save them and they were all laid bare. Sitting there like roses on a trash heap. Without singling out any particular movies, I’ll just say that you can learn as much about an artist watching their bad stuff as you can watching their masterpieces.

HONORABLE MENTION

PRETTY WOMAN (1990) – that Rodeo shopping montage is in every woman’s DNA; 50 FIRST DATES (2004) – I can’t tell you how hard I cried the first time I saw this movie. Also the greatest character introduction ever; HITCH (2005) – Great characters that great actors wanted to play; THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998) – A clinic in writing a great Superfreak and working backwards from there; SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993) – Jeff Arch said he visualized himself holding an Oscar and then visualized backwards until he knew what movie he had to write to get him there. What movie could two great actors with tough schedules do? What themes won the Oscar? Talk about inspirational!

I watch movies all day, every day so there are a zillion movies that deserve to be on this list that didn’t make it. The point is to give you a taste of the autopsy most movies get after they make me cry. By the way, the “Got it” thing really made me happy so let’s keep that ball rolling. Also, feel free to list your favorite romantic comedies and add a sentence about what you like about them from a writing perspective. And, most of all, enjoy your Valentine’s Day… or have a fun time under that rock.

We Hope to See You at my Burbank Master Classes
A Fun Time with Ryan from Script Magazine

  • Warren Proulx

    Rob,

    Thanks for driving home the importance of researching genre. Something I need to work on.

    • Rob Edwards

      As you’ll hear me say on this site, Andrew Stanton said to be a filmgoer first and a filmmaker second. Enjoy watching movies. Be a fan. I even watch movies while I’m writing. It’s a bad habit and the pause button gets used a lot but it’s important to love the genre you’re working in to the point where you can see the scaffolding that holds the good ones together… and the missing elements that make the bad ones bad. Good luck with your writing!

  • Lauren Barnette

    Great post, very interesting to see your process!

    • Rob Edwards

      Thanks. I used to be fascinated with that kind of stuff when I was starting out. I still am! I once asked one of my heroes, Earl Pomerantz (“Cheers”, “Taxi”, “Major Dad”), if he wrote with a pen or pencil and what sized paper he used. Pen and legal paper because he wanted to see as much of the teleplay as possible on one page. Amazing, huh?

  • http://www.pauleppleston.com Paul Eppleston

    “When Harry Met Sally” is my favorite. One thing that’s always struck me
    about it is the framing interviews that occur on the couch. The quirky,
    real-life stories of how couples met and ended up together sets up the whole
    structure of the film, sets the tone, and foreshadows the real-life,
    messy, and outrageous things the characters go through which helps keep everything believable.

    • Rob Edwards

      Great minds think alike. You should read Christopher’s comment. Have you read the screenplay for WHMS? I wonder if the interviews were written or if they just rolled the cameras and hoped for magic. If Nora Ephron (RIP) wrote those interviews that would be incredible.

      • http://www.BruceGordonMedia.com Bruce B. Gordon

        Yep, Rob. The interviews were in the script: http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/whenharrymesally.pdf

        The script was written by Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner & Andrew Scheinman. (IMDb indicates that the WGA gives sole credit to Ms. Ephron.)

  • Christopher Velasquez

    I must say that I agree with Paul that HARRY MET SALLY is fantastic! I really love how the movie explores the relationship dynamics between a male and female friend. Who can ever forget the classic Katz restaurant scene which resulted in some of the greatest comedic interactions in cinema history. Another one of my favorite romantic comedies is MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. I love how the script explores the social dynamics between cultures in regards to romance. The films protagonist Toula is a 30-year old Greek woman who is not married and essentially living to meet her families wishes. Toula finds herself working at a family restaurant and is under pressure to meet a Greek man to marry. Her life is propelled by an inciting incident when she gets a brochure to attend college. Once on her journey, our hero breaks from the confines of her strict family and begins to enter a relationship with a non Greek. This is comedic gold because it sets up a fantastic third act that culminates with a wedding where two very different cultural worlds must merge. I am a huge fan of exploring family dynamics based on different cultures and this film does it beautifully. A film in the same light that I enjoy is LOOKING FOR LOLA which is sometimes on HBO Latino. I was introduced to this film via my friend who is the lead actress on this romantic Latino comedy. I might be a bit biased to this film in particular but I love the story and the way the acts come together. It is essentially a woman who is a maid meets a man and pretends to be rich to date him. Ironically, the man who is poor is pretending to be reach for the very reason of impressing her. Its quirky comedy exploiting the success of the “Macarina” song as it plays throughout the film but non the less I love how it showcasing Latino talent and two families coming together much like in HARRY MET SALLY. I am very grateful for this post in that it gives us great insight into the preparation that it takes to write a great script. I remember Rob mentioning in his El Paso Workshop that once you are skilled enough at writing, you can tell how many pages you have written without looking at the page number. He compared this to Michael Jordan when he would make game winning shots. It sure looks easy enough but the preparation, hard work and dedication that goes into getting to that level is plenty. As a writer this is a huge eye opening experience to get a glimpse into the study that goes into creating a awesome feature like PRINCESS AND THE FROG.

    • Rob Edwards

      Awesome comment, Christopher. I love WHEN HARRY MET SALLY too. The reason I didn’t list it in the post is because it’s so specific that I couldn’t use it as a template. I needed stories where people with no prior history met for the first time and probably hated each other for the first act and a half.

      I’m going to look for LOOKING FOR LOLA. That sounds like a fun movie. And I’m sure your friend is awesome in it. Thanks!

    • Bree Woodruff

      Great post, I will look for LOOKING FOR LOLA !

  • Nancy Bates

    Great conversations, thanks! One doesn’t think there are that many awesome classic and modern romantic comedies but once the lists begin, it’s hard to stop. A classic fav for me is AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957). I love the dynamics of Art/Passion job verses a Paycheck with love in the mix. The scene where Nickie (Cary Grant) visits his grandmother on the Mediterranean coast gets me every time; sending Nickie’s integrity meter through the roof and me pining for he and Terry (Deborah Kerr) to be together no matter what.

  • Pingback: The Results for romantic comedies and whether studios are buying them.()

  • Bree Woodruff

    Great post! I really enjoyed learning how you selected the movies you viewed to prep for FROG, a family fav! Because each genre has so many subgenres, it is difficult to narrow my focus, again, great post. I would love to hear more about how you select what movies you view to prep for a project.
    Some of my favorites are LOVE CRAZY, Myrna Loy wants to divorce William Powell so he pretends to be insane to postpone it and lands in a looney bin!
    I LOVE YOU AGAIN, on the verge of divorce a guy takes a blow to the head and wakes up a new man who falls in love with the wife about to divorce him and has to win her without revealing he is not the same guy she wants to leave. even the guys in my house who hate romcoms, will watch them. But I also love…..
    ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, I LOVE YOU TO DEATH, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, THEODORA GOES WILD, SHREK, BOMBSHELL, LOVE ACTUALLY are all so funny no matter how many times I have seen them, I still laugh.