October 2, 2011

Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive seminar notes pt 1

The following are notes taken at the Comedy Intensive seminar as a part of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Sunday 7th August in Melbourne.
They will give you the meat of what was covered, but to get the full effect you really need to go to one of the lectures yourself, especially for the video examples given and the audience participation. Even if you’re a drama bunny, there’s heaps you can take from this.

It was a LOT info. for one day (so I'll present the notes in three parts), and if you can do the two-day seminar, take it! You’ll learn a lot from Steve and be entertained the whole way through. It's a must-do for any aspiring or working comedy writer. He gives insights that could make or break your script.
You can follow the man himself on Twitter by clicking Steve Kaplan.


* Drama shows what we dream we could be. Comedy helps us deal with who we are.
* Comedy tells the truth about people.
* The ultimate flaw that each human shares: death.
* Humans live in hope & guessing.
* A stand-up comedian is the brave person who gets up in front of strangers and confesses they’re human.
* The hidden tools of comedy are: -Winning (you can win in comedy!), - Non-hero, - Metaphorical relationship, - Positive action, - Straight line/wavy line, - Archetypes, - Comic premise.
* When two characters have the same goal, it makes them clash. This is especially good for physical comedy.
* Your characters have permission to do whatever is needed to try and succeed.
* A ‘call-back’ is a repeat of a previous joke.
* Comedy, instead of always coming from a gag, can come from two characters seeing something/an issue from different perspectives.
* Not knowing is funnier than the 'slap' (keeping characters clueless about certain things makes the audience laugh).
* Your characters needn’t be stupid, just temporarily unaware.
* Indignation can create comedy.
* Take away your hero’s skills and tools – take away their knowing and they lose their power, which is funny.
* “Act fast, think slow” – Buster Keaton’s character comedy advice.
* Play with possibility!
* Follow the character’s reality, moment to moment, bit by bit, for physical comedy.
* Metaphorical relationship – e.g. The Odd Couple are like an old married couple. You can include characters acting almost like they’re little kids, like father & son, sisters, mother & son, Satan tempting. They’re easily identifiable to the audience, even if not consciously.
* Recollect – don’t make shit up! Keep scenes, dialogue and behaviour feeling organic – stay true within the metaphor.
* Realisation, discovery, first perception – these are often funnier than a gag.
* Try playing a metaphor out without going for funny (because it should be funny on its own).
* World view is vital. Don’t think from action, think from a character’s perspective and motivations (i.e. get inside their head, don’t play them as puppet from the outside).
* Love your characters! Don’t condescend to them!! Even if a character is simple, give them power and respect. You can make fun of them whilst being empathetic of them!
* Think of a sequence in your screenplay as a chapter, like in a novel. In Something About Mary, you might have THE PROM, THE FIRST DATE, etc.
* Cliches can come in handy. Instant recognition is good.
* Put the familiar into the weird, not the other way around.
* Then we can empathise with the familiar being stuck in the situation.
* A character must be the master of their own disaster in comedy. Stops them being the victim! Even if it seems others are inflicting the damage upon them, ultimately it must be their own fault.
* And the character must keep getting back up! Remember – hope is what divides it from being drama!
* If you’re showing the worst day of your hero’s life, and why not, you need witnesses, the more the better. Blow up the scale, intensify the embarrassment.
* Take it to the extreme point. Don’t go half-assed. Amping things up creates more drama, more tension, more comedy.

The next installment will be available for your learnage in a few days. Until then, keep writing, keep learning!

Screenwriters Anonymous - where no-one sneers "Ohh, have you written anything I'd have seen?"

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