Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Origins and Formatting of Modern Screenplays

Nice history of screenplay formatting as well as summary of how our current master scene only style should look:

The Origins and Formatting of Modern Screenplays from on Vimeo.

Check out the additional videos from Filmmaker IQ. Quality info!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bob Mankoff: Anatomy of a New Yorker Cartoon

Great TED talk.   Good summary of how comedy works at the 8 minute mark:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Comedy of Groucho Marx: Characterization

The Comedy of Groucho Marx: Characterization

Eyeglasses, cigar, big mustache and ever-twitching eyebrows: who am I talking about? If you didn’t say Groucho Marx [Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx (1890 – 1977), the most famous of the four Marx Brothers], you are too young to know better. That is your unfortunate loss. However, to this day, you can go into a gag store to buy a glasses-and-mustache disguise and become Groucho. His distinctive look was carried over from Vaudeville, where he and his brothers actually started out as a singing group called The Four Nightingales. The Nightingales weren’t that big a hit (who likes a bird with twitching eyebrows?), but when they quit singing and started cracking jokes instead, stars were born.

The fast-talking, funny-walking, cigar-chewing wag with painted-on eyebrows and mustache came about as a substitute for his usual ethnic German accent, which started getting boos from patriotic audiences after the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania. He made a quick switch to his classic character and the rest is history.

Although Groucho started out wanting to be a doctor, those dreams were thrown out when the family needed money. The brothers went into show business, but Groucho made up for his lack of formal education by reading voraciously. One of his famous lines is “I think TV is very educational. Every time someone turns on a TV, I go in the other room and read.”

Groucho and his brothers, Harpo, Chico and Gummo, were a hit on Vaudeville, then Broadway, and finally on the big screen in a series of comedy spoofs, including The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera. Their movies were chock full of fast-paced, sarcastically silly, wickedly witty dialogue (especially from Groucho) and lots of physical humor.

In addition, Groucho, the one brother who could best carry a note, introduced several clever songs in these films, including Hooray for Captain Spaulding; Hello, I Must Be Going; Whatever It Is, I'm Against It; Everyone Says I Love You; and, probably his most famous, Lydia the Tattooed Lady. Groucho went on to host a popular radio and television show, both called You Bet Your Life, which ran from 1946 through 1961.

A master of the one-liner, Groucho Marx was well-known for his plays on words and groan-worthy puns that are quoted often to this day. Be sure to twitch your eyebrows when you use one of these lines:

  • I wish you'd keep my hands to yourself.
  • Marriage is the chief cause of divorce.
  • Women should be obscene and not heard.
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  • Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
  • While shooting elephants in Africa, I found the tusks very difficult to remove. But in Alabama, the Tuscaloosa...
  • I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.
  • You're only as young as the woman you feel.
  • Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I'll never know.
  • Behind every successful man stands a woman. And behind her stands his wife.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Comedy of Carol Burnett: Sketches

The Comedy of Carol Burnett: Sketches

Carol Burnett is more than a triple threat. Yes, she can sing, dance and act – but she can also make you fall down laughing during one of her comedy skits. She made her mark in the world of comedy through Broadway, movies and – above all – television, carrying her charwoman mop and tugging her ear lobe.

The Texas native’s alcoholic parents left her at an early age with her grandmother in Hollywood. According to Burnett, she was a pistol even then, with an imaginary twin sister named Karen. She and the “twin” would change places with different clothes, coming in the front door while the other slipped out on the fire escape. “Then,” she said, “I became exhausted and Karen mysteriously vanished.”

Burnett got into acting and show business by accident, having planned to be a journalist and/or playwright. But, she found she had to take an acting course to get into the writing program. The first time she made an audience laugh, she was hooked. She found some early sponsors who helped her move to New York and pursue show business. Burnett soon caught on in nightclubs, especially with her first parody song hit: "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles" (Dulles was Secretary of State at the time). In a short time, she was asked to perform this number on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957.

Her first comedy role on Broadway was as the princess with the pea, called Once Upon a Mattress. She also became a regular guest on The Garry Moore Show and did a television special in 1962 with Julie Andrews at Carnegie Hall. She then went on to gigantic success in her own television variety show, The Carol Burnett Show, which began in 1967.

Joking ad lib with the audience before the show demonstrated her natural sense of humor. But, she also surrounded herself with an extremely talented comic ensemble comprised of Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Lyle Waggoner and Vicki Lawrence to perform hilarious skits. Burnett’s skits included cleverly silly movie parodies: Went With the Wind had Burnett dressed in drapes complete with curtain rods to parody Scarlett O’Hara’s big scene of making a fine dress out of Tara’s velvet drapery. Upon seeing this vision, “Rat Butler” tells her “That gown is gorgeous!” “Thank you,” she replies, “I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it!”

Other parodies included From Here to Maternity, Sunnyset Boulevard, Lovely Story, The Howl and the Pussycat and Bonnie and Clod.  The show also featured an ongoing soap opera parody called As the Stomach Turns, complete with dramatic organ chords. Her series skit, Mama’s Family, went on to become its own television show with Vicki Lawrence as “Mama.”Once The Carol Burnett Show stopped in 1978, we never saw the wide-reaching comedy talent from a variety show again. Burnett’s story is inspiring.

She grew up in a poor, dysfunctional family with a huge lack of confidence in her looks, noting “Adolescence is just one big walking pimple.” Through towering talent and perseverance, she found her fame and fortune in Los Angeles. “I have always grown from my problems and challenges,” she said, “from the things that don’t work out, that’s when I’ve really learned.”

If you are interested in some of the award-winning skit scripts from the Carol Burnett Show, they are available through the Contemporary Drama Service
( with performance rights included.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Comedy of Scott Adams: Comic strip

The Comedy of Scott Adams: Comic strip
Scott Adams, the successful author of the Dilbert comic strip and several comic compilation books (and he also owns a food company), actually was Dilbert at one time. In working with telecommunications engineers as a software developer in the eighties and nineties, he had plenty of inspiration for his hapless character, who is at the mercy of corporate American policies and politics as well as management dunderheads.

Adams was interested in cartooning as a child, entering several contests – which he didn’t win. He kept his day job at Pacific Bell for eight years even after he started the strip in 1989 to continue to get good material – and for income security. White-collared workers embraced Dilbert, the sarcastic software engineer dealing with evil consultants (Catbert), annoying co-workers and incredibly stupid managers from his office cubicle.
 (please click to enlarge)

Now, his strip is syndicated in more than 2,000 newspapers worldwide in 65 countries and 25 languages; has Dilbert immortalized on t-shirts, calendars, office supplies, dolls and more; and has a string of Dilbert books, in which his satiric attitude toward business is obvious in titles such as: When Did Ignorance Become a Point of View?, Random Acts of Management, Fugitive from the Cubicle Police and Seven Years of Highly Defective People and Clues for the Clueless.

(please click to enlarge)

In an interview with The Celebrity CafĂ©.com, Adams said he gets asked for his opinion on serious subjects such as the economy and technology. “It’s funny that anybody would listen to anything I have to say,” he commented. “Afterwards I often laugh and say, ‘Why the hell am I answering that question?’” His theory is it’s because he wears glasses, but we know the guy behind Dilbert must know something!

Of course, Adams isn’t afraid of getting something wrong. “Creativity,” he says, “is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” He uses his razor-sharp observations to ensure we all see the inanities in corporate-speak and management bullshit. Some examples:
  • Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll buy a funny hat. Talk to a hungry man about fish, and you're a consultant. 
  • Dance like it hurts,
    Love like you need money,
    Work when people are watching. 
  • No matter how smart you are, you spend most of your day being an idiot. 
  • Normal people ... believe that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet.
  • Consultants have credibility because they are not dumb enough to work at your company.
  • I get mail; therefore I am.
  • Remind people that profit is the difference between revenue and expense. This makes you look smart.
  • We must develop knowledge optimization initiatives to leverage our key learnings.
 (please click to enlarge)

The Comedy of Bill Cosby: Personal Anecdotes

The Comedy of Bill Cosby: Personal Anecdotes

Thank goodness Bill Cosby “started out as a child.” We’ve been belly laughing about his inner-city Philadelphia childhood days since he began comedy routines in 1961 as a bartender-cum-comic at the Cellar, where he worked while attending Temple University in Philadelphia on a track and field scholarship. As with many comedians, Cosby was considered a class clown and always had an ability to make those around him laugh. He left Temple and started the club circuit in the early sixties, cutting his first album in 1963: Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow … Right! (1963). He won a Best Comedy Album Grammy Award for that and his 1964 record, I Started Out As a Child, and then just kept getting that award for new albums until 1969.

Some people wondered why, during a restive time like the sixties, Cosby didn’t get into any racial humor like his black colleagues, Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor. He found himself defending his choice of material often with black activists who wanted him to use his celebrity for racial activism. He said, “A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, 'Yeah, that's the way I see it too.' Okay. He's white. I'm Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I'm doing as much for good race relations as the next guy.”

Indeed, anyone who didn’t come away from a Cosby routine about Fat Albert (Hey, hey, hey!) and Ol’ Weird Harold with fond reminisces of their childhood, probably never participated in a good snowball fight or scared themselves to death at a horror movie. Activist or not, Cosby was an important figure in black history: first black male star on television with I Spy, then an animated cartoon called Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and an unequivocal influence with his top-rated sitcom, The Cosby Show, in the eighties. Cosby was also a spokesperson for children with shows like Fat Albert and The Electric Company.

Cosby was considered a master of the anecdote, from his childhood and his own marriage, which became extremely popular as material for stand-up comics. His stories weren’t complete without using a variety of voices and facial expressions. Here are some examples:

It was because of my father that from the ages of seven to fifteen, I thought that my name was Jesus Christ and my brother, Russell, thought that his name was Dammit. "Dammit, will you stop all that noise?" And, "Jesus Christ, sit down!" One day, I'm out playing in the rain, and my father yelled, "Dammit will you get back in here!" I said, "Dad, I'm Jesus Christ!"

I love it when mothers get so mad they can't remember your name. "Come here, Roy, er, Rupert, er, Rutabaga... what is your name, boy? And don't lie to me, because you live here, and I'll find out who you are.”

My father established our relationship when I was seven years old. He looked at me and said, "You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don't make no difference to me; I'll make another one look just like you."

My mother comes in my room and says, "Just look at this mess! This is a pig sty!" Now, I've already been in the room five hours, and she wants me to LOOK at it.

[referring to mothers] When they ask you a question, you try and answer, they tell you to shut up! "Day and night, night and day, work my fingers to the bone, for what?" "I don't..." "SHUT UP! And when I ask you a question, you keep your trap shut! Think I'm talking to hear myself talk? ANSWER ME!"

I asked my father for a dollar for the school picnic; he told me how he killed a grizzly bear with his loose-leaf notebook.

Whenhis wife sees that he has given the kids cake for breakfast] I've always heard about people having a conniption but I've never seen one. You don't want to see 'em. My wife's face split. My wife's face split and the skin and hair split and came off of her face so that there was nothing except a skull. And orange lights came out of her hair and there was glitter all around. And fire shot from her eye sockets and began to burn my stomach and she said, "WHERE DID THEY GET CHOCOLATE CAKE FROM?" And I said, "They asked for it!" And the children who had been singing praises to me... LIED on me and said, "Uh-uh! We asked for eggs and milk... AND DAD MADE US EAT THIS!" And my wife sent me to my room... which is where I wanted to go in the first place.

My wife and I were intellectuals before we had children. We were very, very bright people. My wife graduated from the University of Maryland, child psychology major with a B-plus average, which means that if you ask her a question about a child's behavior, she will give you at least an 85 answer. I, from Temple University, physical education major with a child psychology minor, which means that if you ask me a question about a child's behavior, I will tell you to tell the child to take a lap.

[After a birth contraction] Then my wife stood up... in the stirrups, grabbed my bottom lip... and said, "I WANT MORPHINE!" I said, "But dear... ”
[He imitates Lamaze breathing]
She said, "YOU SHUT UP! *YOU* DID THIS TO ME!" And on the next contraction, she told everybody in the delivery room that my parents were never married.

In the hospital room after the birth of their first baby] ... and I looked at it... and it wasn't getting any better. So I went over to my wife, and kissed her ever so gently on the lips, and I said "I love you, very very much dear. You just... had... a lizard." I mean, because the thing changed colors like, five times! And I said to the doctor, "Can you put this back? Cause it isn't finished cooking! It needs to cook two, three months!" But the hospital made us take it home.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Comedy of Jim Carrey: Physical Improvisation

We could say Jim Carrey is the poster child of the American Dream. Except he’s Canadian. But, his story of living in a van with his family when the factory in town sold out really shows how far a person can come if he’s extraordinarily talented and ambitious.

Carrey was always trying for a laugh, and even sent his resume in the Carol Burnett Show when he was 10. He became so disruptive with his humor in junior high, that the school administrators finally gave him special time at the end of the day to tell jokes to the other kids so he wouldn’t do it in class. “If there'd been Ritalin when I was a kid, I wouldn't be here now,” he noted.

Carrey was a straight-A student in high school until he decided to drop out to pursue a comedy career. He did his first performance at Yuk Yuk’s, a Toronto comedy club, at which he began to hone his comedy talent before making the big step of moving to Los Angeles in 1979 at the tender age of 19. There, he became a regular opening act at The Comedy Store after impressing club owner Rodney Dangerfield. He soon became known as an “anything for a laugh” comic who would use wild facial contortions and movements when the verbal jokes weren’t working.

Carrey didn’t want to top his career by doing lounge acts, so he started looking for other opportunities and landed a few bit movie parts, including one in Once Bitten and Peggy Sue Got Married. He nabbed a larger part as an alien in Earth Girls Are Easy, and his alien co-star Damon Wayans got him in on the ground floor of the television sketch comedy show In Living Color in 1990. Carrey's success in this genre brought him the lead role in the loony Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1994, the role that made him a full-fledged movie star. Later films included Dumb and Dumber, The Truman Show, The Mask, The Cable Guy and Bruce Almighty (for which he was paid $25 million).

Carrey is probably best known for his quick improvisational quirkiness, seen in his In Living Color performances and his physical humor, which includes rubber-faced impressions, clumsy trips and his own unique way of (as he puts it) “talking out of his ass,” which he demonstrated in Ace Ventura. His unique talents were highlighted in The Mask, which included a double part for Carrey as meek bank employee, Stanley Ipkiss, and the dashing debonair yellow personification of the title role. The film’s special effects complemented animated exaggerations of Carrey’s facial expressions to create the perfect venue for him.

Now at the top of his game, Carrey tries to stay true to his humor and not become overwhelmed with his fame. “I've been dubbed the man most responsible for the dumbing of America, so obviously I don't put much stock into thoughts like (the theme of the 'dumbing down' of contemporary comedy),” he said. “People love to laugh, and most people can find humor in just about anything, which is great. Trying to label or categorize comedy is ridiculous. I mean, if you laugh at a fart joke, does that make you a moron? I don't think so!”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The End of the Age of Heroic Comedy

In his classic 1973 book Groucho Harpo Chico & Sometimes Zeppo, Joe
Adamson coined the phrase "The Age Of Heroic Comedy" to describe the
era of great film comedians who followed Chaplin, comedians whose larger-than-life characters were bigger and more important than the stories in which they appeared. For Adamson this era lasted roughly from The Kid in 1920 to The Bank Dick in 1940 (intriguingly, it overlaps with the so-called "Golden Age of Sports", the 1920s, in which athletes like Babe Ruth, Red Grange, and
Bill Tilden were "bigger than the games they played"). The AOHC ended due to a number of factors, among them the rise of screwball comedy (where attractive romantic leads took the roles previously played by comedians), but perhaps mostly because of the evolution toward screen naturalism (which the advent of sound quickened), in which story took precedence over all, resulting in characters being scaled down from the operatic levels of before.

Television comedy had its own sort of Heroic Age, in which star comedians were bigger than their sketches. Now-legendary figures like Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, and Sid Caesar had their own shows and dominated early television.

By the end of the decade, they were all off the air.

I recently unearthed a Life Magazine cover story on Ernie Kovacs from April
1957.  The most interesting part is not specifically about Kovacs, but the
epilogue, an overview of TV comedy at the time, which is considered to
be in decline.

The tone is pessimistic. Gleason and Caesar were about to leave the air; Berle already had the year before. None of the comedians interviewed knows what the answer is, or even exactly what the question is.

A few months later Bob Hope was a guest on the Steve Allen show. Allen said
something about a cowboy burying an Indian, and Hope replied "I didn't
know cowboys buried Indians. I thought they just buried comedians".

True, westerns bore some responsibility for the comedy crisis. The "Adult
Western" era had begun in 1955 with the premieres of Gunsmoke and Cheyenne,
although oaters would not truly start to dominate prime time until
that fall, when Wagon Train, Maverick, and Have Gun Will Travel would all make their debuts. I think there were other reasons for comedy's fall from grace. One was the rise of the sitcom. A format invented on radio, though even there it was dominated by star comedians like Jack Benny and Burns & Allen, all of whom showed they were bigger than the silly stories by frequently breaking the fourth wall or making jokes about their real-life personalities.

With the success of I Love Lucy in 1951 this format began to be modified. No
matter how wacky the situation, it was always "Lucy Ricardo" being zany, never "Lucille Ball". There was no wall breaking, no winking at the audience, no smirking references to her home life with Desi Arnaz. The plot was all.

Even a comic as over the top as burlesque vet Phil Silvers respected the new
dynamic, with his personality never allowed to trump the intricately-detailed
farces of Sgt. Bilko.

You can watch every Honeymooners sketch/episode and never see Jackie
Gleason break character. He very, very occasionally did with other
characters, but never Ralph Kramden. It's very tempting to cite The Honeymooners going from a sketch on a live TV variety show to a filmed sitcom as a metaphor for the entire era.

It's sometimes claimed that what ended this golden age of TV comedy was the
increased viewership outside the major cities, as television spread
out into the unsophisticated hinterlands (Sid Caesar was driven off the air by Lawrence Welk!). Again, there is some truth in this. Early TV comedy was written and performed at the speeded-up tempo of city life, and as television made its way to where the pace of life was slower, its own pace slowed down.

But I think there was another reason. As more people moved from the bustling
cities to whitebread suburbs, television itself became suburbanized. Family
sitcoms Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show
increased in popularity as the decade progressed. You can actually see
this process onscreen with Sid Caesar. A comparatively unremarkable sketch called The Commuters became an increasingly important part of the Caesar show, until eventually it was taking up a half hour or more per episode.

Fascinatingly enough, this also took place with TV comedy's rival, the
western. The first "Adult Western" heroes were either outright drifters (Cheyenne) or gunslingers with a badge (Matt Dillon, Wyatt Earp). But 1957 brought Wagon Train, essentially a ranch on wheels, and then 1958 provided a key link in the Rifleman, a gunslinger tied down to his homestead. And 1959 sealed the deal with the ultimate ranch western, Bonanza.

With so much domesticity taking place on and off the range, how could "Heroic
Comedy" survive? By the dawn of the '60s Caesar, Berle, Silvers, Gleason, and
George Gobel were off the air, and Kovacs was reduced to monthly specials on
little-watched ABC -- which only got on the air at all because they were
subsidized by his sponsor, Dutch Masters cigars. Only the near-forgotten Red
Skelton -- significantly, more popular in the sticks than the cities
-- still had a weekly showcase.