One of the genres that used to be popular with the studios was the romantic comedy. They were relatively inexpensive to produce, and were a good choice for couples out on dates. Only recently, they’ve fallen out of favor as original spec scripts the studios look for.
David Silverman, MA, LMFT coachs and do therapy with screenwriters and creative individuals in LA. I deal with rejection, creative blocks, assertiveness, career advice, dealing with insane booses & deadlines, anxiety and depression.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
I imagine the reasons all have to do with box office profits. These days teenagers and men are buying the majority of movie tickets –and they tend to like action/adventure films which also do better in international markets and generate more sequels and prequels. If you’re targeting independent producers, you might still sell an original spec “rom-com.” However, I advise writers interested in selling to the studios, who are more interested in profits than ever to stick with these comedy genres;
1. Groundhog Day — Genre: Wish Fulfillment
In these comedies some kind of curse, or psychic trick, or wish is granted which often places our flawed hero in a magically surreal situation. In Groundhog Day, there’s a magical event the sets up the story.
In this movie, the flawed character is arrogant television news reporter Phil (Bill Murray). Off-camera he’s a complete jerk. Due to some “magic curse” he is forced to live the same boring day he loathes over and over again – covering Groundhog Day in the “boring,” small town of Punxsutawney. Phil finds it demeaning, to cover the groundhog’s emergence from his hole as a harbinger of spring or more winter. He also distains and mistreats his production team, producer Rita (Andy MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot.)
In these types of stories the hero either gets a wish is granted, or in this case he becomes “cursed.” Phil is cursed to live the same miserable day over and over in Punxsutawney.
No matter how hard he tries (he even commits suicide) he can’t get out of the perpetual loop. However, as he lives the day over each time he starts to notice and appreciate the people he’s looked down on. He gains a new respect for Larry, and falls in love with Rita.
As it happens in these story-lines, once the transformation has occurred, the curse is reversed –as is the case when Phil finally learns to be a better person.
There are many variations that still fit this screenwriting niche, including; Mary Poppins, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Big, Shallow Hal, and just about every “body switch” and ‘wish’ movie.
2. Being There – Genre: Idiocracy
The mythology of this story-line derives from stories told over time of laughable simpletons who go up against powerful enemies and prevail because of an innate likeability or goodness of character.
A good example of this story can be found in Being There, starring Peter Sellers as Chance a mentally challenged gardener who works most of his life for a wealthy Washington D.C. resident Mr. Jennings.
Chance has virtually no experience with the outside word and has learned pretty much everything he knows about the world from watching television. When Jennings dies, Chance takes much of Jennings’ wardrobe with him, so looks like an affluent socialite.
While sent out into the world he runs into successful businessman Ben Rand who mistakes him for what he looks like – a wealthy socialite.
Rand interprets Chance’s life lessons (based mainly on his gardening experiences) as a refreshingly unpretentious but profound world view. Chance passes for one of the intelligentsia because Rand says so; and the naïve former gardener becomes a major influence among the power-players in Washington.
These heroes are naive or even idiots who have good fortune on their side. They almost fall into circumstances in which they are thought to be brilliant, gain a following and ironically prevail against a smarter and more resourceful antagonist.
Again, to demonstrate the range of variations you can create in this genre here are some more examples; Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Forrest Gump, Legally Blonde, Sling Blade, Austin Powers, and Big Momma’s House.
3. Lethal Weapon – Genre: Buddy Cops
Let’s take a look at Lethal Weapon, a police comedy/drama that pairs up two LA detectives that would rather not be paired up. Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson) a detective who recently lost his wife in a car crash –and appears to be suicidal, gets partnered up with a sensible police veteran Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover).
Murtaugh is close to retirement and has a decidedly uneasy relationship with the erratic Riggs. Riggs seemingly has no fear, dragging Murtaugh everywhere – prompting some very funny lines. The partners are sent to investigate the murder of a banker’s daughter which leads them to a deadly ring of former soldiers-turned heroin smugglers.
When members of this ring find out they’re being investigated by Riggs and Murtaugh, they turn their energies towards trying to kill them. The mismatched partners learn to work together and overcome their differences in order to take down the heroin smuggling ring.
As in this example, the “buddy cop” relationship is often a pairing of opposites — who find humor in being stuck with their new “buddies.”
In 48 Hours, for example, it’s a redneck cop (Nick Nolte) forced to work with a black jailbird (Eddie Murphy). In As Good As It Gets, a crotchety, bigoted, author with OCD (Jack Nicholson) falls in love with his opposite, an empathic good-natured waitress (Helen Hunt). Spark fly, they argue a lot, but the fights in these comedies are always funny.
Recent examples of these genre comedies include these films; Ted, a wish-fulfillment story about a foul-mouthed teddy bear who comes to life and befriends Mark Whalberg’s character, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, in which a blundering security guard becomes an unlikely hero, and Central Intelligence, with Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson as mismatched “buddy cops” in the CIA.