What Have We Learned From This, Dorothy?

Posted by on Mar 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | 23 comments

Lani and I are having a business meeting at Panera tomorrow to review PopD and decide things like what the hell we want to do now that we’ve analyzed romantic comedy to death, how we can make the podcasts better, and what night to meet on. And one of the things we’re going to talk about is what we learned from the rom com series. (All we learned from the Hitman series is not to watch Hitman movies.)

So I was wondering, what did YOU learn from nine months of incessant romantic comedy watching? (If the answer is, “Nothing,” we’ll try to do better in the future.)

23 Comments

  1. I don’t have any hard-and-fast lessons learned from this experience. I realize 9 months of romantic comedy watching should lead to the delivery of a bouncing baby conclusion, but all I can think in summation is “Damn! Who was the father again?” and similar helpful remarks.
    Some movies/analyses I liked, some I didn’t. The most helpful and enlightening podcasts came from when you both had firmly held beliefs that were poles apart. It helped to hear you both argue from opposite sides. The least helpful (though fun) were the laugh-fests when you each agreed with the other before even finishing the thought. (Some of those movies I haven’t seen, but one of them was an Adam Sandler movie were you both agreed that the bit about the penguin was hilarious, but not why it worked. That’s probably the one reason I’d see that movie, just to see why the penguin was funny. Unless maybe you’d just like to tell me? Maybe?)

  2. And stop calling me Dorothy.

  3. I learned a lot about structure.

    I’m catching up backwards so I’m still a bit behind everybody, but one lightbulb thing for me (that isn’t completely formed) is this:

    If you can put your characters together in a place that is familiar to viewers you’re halfway there, so if you want to use an exotic setting (different class, strange occupation, foreign country) include universal elements to pull Joe viewer in. Subtlety or the unfamiliar is not your friend in re: setting– at least not before the character is well-established.

    For example:

    Bringing up Baby used extremely stereotypical versions of the “exotic” in order to bring the audience into the world they didn’t know. We were told the hero was a professor, saw his glasses, saw a dinosaur and, because of that worn-out caricature, accepted that whatever follows is just something a nerdy professor would do. The more exotic the character or job, the more elemental the presentation.

    In Philadelphia Story we’ve got our everyman interpreter (Jimmy Stewart) as the one who guides the viewer (for whom the Lords would be exotic) to sympathize (if not empathize) with the h/h. On top of that we meet the characters in situations that everyone can relate to: a boy/girl fight, stress over a wedding, a precocious little sister who is always underfoot.

    In Ninotchka, the hero was a post-war gigolo and I think people today miss that. (He was a kept man by the countess and risked everything to leave her for Ninotchka). That was too “between the lines” for modern-day viewers (though wartime era viewers would recognize him since so many men were lost in the war that it wasn’t so unusual for the remaining ones to be able to make a living just being an “escort”) and I think it makes it hard for modern-day viewers to see any depth in the hero.

    In You Kill Me, the familiar structure of the 12-step program gave us context for the more unfamiliar idea of the hero being a for-hire killer.

    With Romantic Comedy, where it’s so important to bond with the h/h, providing a familiar setting (or at least universal elements the audience can connect to) helps viewers to receive the character you are building. In a thriller, I’m ready to be confused for the first half hour. I want to be fooled by who I think is going to be the protagonist. Romantic Comedy viewers are impatient about bonding.

    If I were writing RomCom screenplays I would definitely strive to find these universal elements elements. The portrait gallery during the credits of Two Weeks Notice was pretty brilliant info-dump and clearly showed how different the lifestyle of h/h were– and a photograph is one of the most universal connectors for people. Who doesn’t lean forward when someone pulls out a picture– even if you’ve got nothing in common with the person. We were predisposed to put up with the h/h because we grew up with them by the time the movie started. Add buying take-out alone and you’ve got every woman in the audience.

    If I were to rewrite The Baker, in the opening scene I would have had him open a nearly empty, spotless refrigerator and pull out a hermetically sealed ready-made meal with disposable utensils stuck right on it. Viewers connect to food right away. Everyone knows the loneliness of a tv dinner. He’s neat, he’s not made this sterile place a home, he’s efficient, and he’s alone. Instead, they used the universal connector of online dating and his persona during the dating video is too smiley/nervous– like his persona when he finds baking– and it doesn’t provide enough contrast with Milo later in the movie.

    Still pondering, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about so far.

  4. Before I started listening to the podcast, there would be times when I’d really love or hate a movie but couldn’t explain exactly why. This has helped me understand why I react to certain stories in certain ways (like why I occasionally felt compelled to re-watch Down With Love even though I mostly hated it the first time, and why Pillow Talk got less and less fun as I got older). Also, it’s been good for finding new movies; never would have seen Love Potion #9 or American Dreamer otherwise. Still, not even for you guys will I watch Dodgeball. The five minutes I saw years ago horrified me.

  5. Crap. Didn’t realize that was so long– such a tiny “compose” window. Sorry about that.

  6. the biggest thing for me was not using Big Misunderstandings to run the plot – and getting how much work this takes to maintain. Alongside that is investigating every single thing you write to make sure it’s working for the greater good (The Greater Good). That’s given me a new spin on the “kill your darlings” technique.

    Given that my premise begins with a machiavellian/suicidal duke dressing up as a woman and sharing a bed with his lover’s sister, this has given me a lot of food for thought… 🙂

  7. Listening to you analyzing what worked and why (or what didn’t work and why) was the most valuable thing for me. Also you noticed things in the movies that I didn’t and brought them to my attention. You had me hooked from the very first podcast when you described the repeated motifs in It Happened One Night–the modes of transportation and what they signaled is one example of that I remember off the top of my head. I didn’t consciously notice that in the movie but it was brilliant and I was glad to have it pointed out.

    And while it would be dull if the two of you agreed on everything, it is also a little tiny itsy bitsy bit dull to listen to you argue the same point exhaustively. If you don’t agree on a point, maybe you could just agree to disagree and move on to talk about something else. And if you don’t agree with what I’m saying here, we’ll just pretend I never said it.

  8. I learned you are both passionate about the craft – okay I knew that already.
    I learned a lot of details about what you can’t get away with {DON”T violate character for a laugh} and what you can’t {I’m pretty you are pretty, we must be in love}

    Please keep it up. I would miss your arguing and advice if it went away.

  9. This is great.

    You’re right, we have to stop arguing the same point over and over. We do this in real life over other stuff but we shouldn’t be so lazy on the podcast. In the beginning I kept notes so I knew all the stuff I wanted to go over, and I think that’s a good idea for the next bit, too, because I want to talk about what makes comedy work so that’s going to need some organization. I think the big question for the next month is going to be, “Why is this funny?” (Or why isn’t it?)

    No comment is ever too long. We’re all about ideas here. Even if we beat them to death.

    Why the penguin was funny. Are you talking about the scene in the road? The penguin was a stand-in for the best friend (since his real best friend was too annoying to bear) and he took it everywhere dressed in that little shirt. So when he needed a wingman (har) to stop the girl’s car, he put the penguin in the middle of the road and then she almost ran over it, and when you saw the penguin again, it was just standing there, thinking, “Dude . . .” Or words to that effect.

    Sometimes it’s just funny. Not as funny as Drew Barrymore beating the hell out of Rob Schneider, but funny.

  10. I do miss the segments you guys had in the beginning, where you would do the heroine, the hero, the romance, the structure, etc. Those titles obviously won’t work for every series, but having the divisions helped me follow the discussion.

  11. Well, I really enjoyed the whole thing. What do you plan on analyzing in other movies? (Perhaps mysteries? That could be a good topic.) Because I like when you go in with a plan as to what’s good and what’s not. Maybe the problem with the hitman series was that it kind of boiled down to “how to write a sympathetic killer” and that was it, comparatively speaking. I am kind of puzzled as to what you are going to analyze in guy comedies…

    Really, I just like how you talk about structure, and characterization, and how to make a good, comprehensive movie for the format that it is working in. I got a lot out of the romantic comedy series from that.

  12. I’m a latecomer to the series, but I’ve loved it, and find myself looking forward to each new installment. Although I enjoy the podcast, I’ll admit that for me the best part is the live chat – seeing how people react to the story in real time is both educational and exciting. Bottom line, I’m a total geek for any opportunity to talk shop, and I love having the opportunity to do so under the leadership of two such smart and accomplished writers.

    While the notion of exploring specific themes like “hitmen in love” has been fun, I think it might be interesting to see some movies grouped by their overall quality. Movies that work, and why they work. Movies that just missed the mark, and why that happened. Movies that should never have been made, etc. But in particular I’d love to see Jenny and Lucy explore movies that are done WELL, so we can all be taught by example. Or have us nominate some of our favorites, and see how they withstand the scrutiny of Those Two Women From Ohio.

    Whatever you do, please don’t think what you’re currently doing is broken. There’s always room to tweak and evolve, but this is already a wonderful series. Thanks for hosting it!

  13. PS – The only criticism/weakness I can identify is that it sometimes seems that your feelings for particular actors and actresses create obstacles that stand between you and enjoying some of these movies. But you’re usually pretty up-front about that, so I just take it with a grain of salt when it becomes evident that liking a movie is contingent on your accepting that particular actor.

    That’s a big difference between books and films, now that I think of it.

  14. I sometimes learn more from What Didn’t Work. I would like a way to discuss how we might fix a movie that is broken or tweak a character to make them really speak to an audience.

    Not sure how to do this, because you do the podcast right after the movie. Would it be possible to stay on the chat when it’s over and all of us talk about it right then?

  15. @Molly: Maybe use the half hour the chat is open before the movie starts to discuss the previous week’s film and talk about the stuff you mention?

  16. I like the idea of an after-chat very much, discussing the movie while it’s fresh in our minds. Frankly, I’d probably enjoy that more than the podcast.

  17. How about both? A 15-20 minute chat after the movie, while it’s still fresh. And then use the chat before the next movie to discuss the podcast.

    That would have kept me more disciplined about watching the movie and listening to the podcast before the next one began.

  18. Definitely like the afterchat idea; let me run it past Lani.

  19. I’m loving the whole thing and learning a lot. I listen to the podcast every Monday, whether I had the chance to watch the movie yet or not, and I watch with the live chat when I can.

    I do think that making sure to give a general breakdown and trying to keep the discussion to one particular area at a time is helpful.

    I love it when you offer some small (or not-so-small) tweaks that could have “fixed” an almost-there movie. It gives me more of an insight than just “this is broken.”

    I agree with someone else who said I learn the most (probably) when you two are articulating different viewpoints. (Jenny’s right about Mike Cutler in Desk Set, btw.)
    😉

    I wonder if after each series it would make sense to do a short overview of what was learned/established. You did a brief one way back at the beginning of the rom-coms and you worked it into the Killers podcast, but perhaps a stand-alone one? So that someone who isn’t interested in a particular movie doesn’t miss the overview of What We Learned?

    In rom-coms we learned: consistency of character is key; conflict can NOT be overcome just by someone telling the truth; humor should be something integral to the character, not just stupid happenings; tone should be consistent; etc. Maybe you could also include a good and bad example of each from the series (not extensive, just brief!).

    Thanks for doing this! It’s really fun AND helpful!

  20. We’re doing the RomCom book which will do all of that, so we’re way ahead of you. And the podcasts will be more focused from now. Lucy’s even going to print out outlines so we stay on target.

  21. i’m late to the conversation and now there’s nothing left to add:) i love the idea of the after chat. Sometimes dh will talk to me about the movie afterward since he sits and watches it with me but but it’s not the same.

    what else have i learned? structure. pacing. that bad movies get made all the time for many reasons. that as basic as my own writing is at least i know who my protagonist is – which is more than can be said for some of the movies we’ve seen:)

    Oh, wait — I did have something I was going to ask and now you’re asking for suggestions. Jeez. I wish I could remember what it was. okay, i’ll come back when/ if I remember.

  22. oh, it it might go along with some of the other suggestions in some way but here it is….
    I watched Music and Lyrics for the first time the other day and was remarkably surprised. I don’t usually care for Drew Barrymore and who knew Hugh Grant could carry a tune passably well. But what really surprised me was what a good romcom this was. So, I guess i’m wondering if there’s a place for ‘movies we wished we’d watched’ – either ones you’ve found since the survey or suggestions from the peanut gallery?

  23. As others have said before me the stuff i like is the explanation of what works and what doesn’t work, and why.

    I think the stuff I have learned about is the arc of character which I understand a lot better. I also liked the discussion about tone.

    It reminds me when i watched Made of Honor a couple of months ago, and the thing that made me hate it so much (apart from Patrick Dempsy) was character violation of the heroine. Also really suffered from the reasons why they can’t be together (his fathe can’t commit). This series really made understand the reasons why it didn’t work.