October 9, 2011

Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive seminar notes pt 2

Hi, and welcome back to the show. In today's Screenwriters Anonymous, we bring you part two of the notes from the Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive.
To read part one, simply scroll.
It's time to get high... on learning.


* Every character has their own point of view (and desires, fears, etc.) – not just the protagonist.
* Protagonists expect each of their actions to work and get the results they need, or at least make things better. So of course there is surprise when this does not occur, and may in fact make things worse.
* We like when characters do mean things, because they’re not doing it to be mean – they’re trying to make their own situation better. (This is important to think about when creating ‘evil’ characters. Plain old nasty villains are boring because their motivations are two dimensional. You must think from the villain’s viewpoint—they are only doing what they’re doing to achieve something for themselves, and they often feel that is the right thing.)
* Your character will be surprised when their selfish action/positive action doesn’t work.
* Their goal is to try and dissipate pain or anger.
* To make a character a better person, give them more skills. It reduces comedy, ups drama, and that’s not always a bad thing in a comedy.
* Cutting through subtext and just being direct can be funny (considering most dialogue throughout a film is subtext).
* Comedy is watching somebody watch somebody else be funny. We live vicariously through the witness to the hilarity (which they may not find funny).
* One character ‘sees’, the other is ‘blind’.
* Two character function types: straight line, and wavy line.
* The wavy line character represents us (and just to confuse you, the wavy line is the ‘straight’ one). They waver about in confusion of a situation with a straight line. They externally express inner emotions and impulses we can relate to.
* The straight line character is usually pretty confident in the conversation/situation. They don’t see anything as being ‘out of whack’.
* Wavy line/straight line are not character types. It switches constantly (watch a Seinfeld episode. George will be the confused one as Kramer explains something odd, then Seinfeld will be the confused one as George rants about a woman, etc.)
* Wavy line is open and vulnerable to the environment. A lot of looking and reacting, not much dialogue. We essentially just witness their exasperation and attempts to understand/find order.
* Once the wavy line character solves the problem, the wavy/straight ends, and wavy ‘comes into focus’ (finds clarity). Then the balance will shift again. You can just keep doing this over and over and it will provide consistent comedy.
* Though the straight line character may possibly be outrageous, it’s the wavy we’re focussing on.
* You can have many straight lines, but only one wavy.
* Straight achieves their goals and expectations.
* Wavy is like the sane person in an insane world. A lot of the humour comes from their frustration, and our empathising with the exasperation.
* Straight is ‘blind’/they create the problem. Wavy struggles.
* If a character stands up for themselves, they become a hero. In a comedy you don’t want this at the start. They’ll lose their underdog status and reach their goal too soon.

That's all for this week. Join us next time for the thrilling conclusion of... The Steve Kaplan Comedy Intensive.

Be there, or be, um, somewhere else.

Screenwriters Anonymous - the support group for people who constantly make film metaphors about life.

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