Make It Integral

Considered one of the worst comedies ever made, the movie “Dirty Love” is just one series of unrelated jokes after another. Given a choice between telling a story or going for a cheap laugh, the movie goes for the cheap laugh even if it has nothing to do with telling the story.

Now think of other comedies like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” or “The Hangover.” The comedy in those movies stems directly from the story and the character’s reactions to those events. Change the character and the dialogue wouldn’t be as funny because the humor stems partly from what’s being said and partly from who’s saying it in that particular situation.

That’s the difference between an effective comedy and a bad one. In a good comedy, the humor flows organically from the characters and the story. In a bad comedy such as those bad spoofs that end with the word “Movie” such as “Disaster Movie,” the humor comes from random jokes that don’t advance the story.

Integrating the action is a key in making a compelling story. The typical story consists of making a hero’s life as difficult as possible. However, just randomly throwing obstacles in the hero’s path is pointless if the obstacles aren’t related to the story and character somehow.

In “Clash of the Titans” (the remake), a scorpion suddenly pops out of the sand to attack the hero. There was no hint of the scorpion ahead of time so this is just an example of a pointless obstacle for the sake of showing a fight that means nothing emotionally to anyone.

Consider any movie such as “Star Wars.” Despite all the best action you can see, action by itself is meaningless if you don’t care about the characters involved in that action. Watch someone play a violent first-person shooting video game and it’s just a never-ending parade of bad guys popping up so the player can mow them down. For the player, this may be interesting because he or she is actively involved, but for an outside observer, watching someone else play isn’t quite as exciting.

Action, like humor, has to stem from the story and the characters and not be something bolted on for the sake of showing an exciting scene or making a joke. In writing a situation comedy, television writers never focus on the humor. Instead, they focus on creating a compelling conflict and then they layer in the humor. If comedies don’t have a solid story, all the humor in the world is useless.

Likewise, action films need a similar solid story or else you’ll just watch a hero run around blowing things up for no apparent reason. Watch the first two “Terminator” movies and you get a strong sense of a story. Now watch the last two “Terminator” movies and the story is much weaker.

Watch the first two “Alien” movies and you see the same strong storyline. Watch the last few “Alien” movies and the story is much weaker, making all the action less interesting as a result.

Create an interesting story first, and then decide whether to make it an action flick or a comedy, or something else entirely, but it all begins with a strong story and no amount of special effects can substitute for that.

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