Instructor - Norman Hollyn

Lesson #12

Nov 11, 2003

Added Material

Assignments for Next Week

Handouts for this Week

Lesson for This Week


Cutting Comedy -- so it's funny

In my opinion, editing comedy is a lot harder than cutting battle scenes or action sequences. Of course, really good action editors may disagree with me, but I find that the concepts of comedy -- pacing, set-up, geography and the like -- are very difficult to control. In addition, everyone has different opinions about what is funny, As a result, you're constantly mediating between wildly opposing points of view. It's a test of politics as well as cutting skills.

But, what else is new?

Tonight, we're going to be looking at one or two scenes from the 1988 comedy A FISH CALLED WANDA ,a film which still makes me chuckle because of its plot, casting, timing and near-perfect execution of comedy.

In the first scene tonight, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) is attempting to seduce Archie (John Cleese), a straight-laced lawyer into revealing the details about where some stolen jewels are hidden so that she might get them and run away from her partners in the crime. Establishing that Cleese's wife (Maria Aitken) is off to the opera, she arranges a meeting with Archie at his house, bringing along one of her partners -- Otto (Kevin Kline), a very dim, easily angered American, who she has been passing off as her brother.

The genius of this scene comes partly in the geography -- first there is the construction between Curtis, Kline and Cleese -- how can Curitis's character get Kline hidden so he doesn't tip off her plan. Then, when Cleese's wife arrives, the scene shifts to a different set of rules -- how can Curtis hide herself and how does Cleese deal with the situation. In the third section of the scene, the comedy switches to a more verbal one -- how does Kline's character deal with getting himself out of the room. Finally, the scene shifts into a geographical one again -- how can Curtis get out of the room with her necklace. To deal with the geographical portions of the scene it is important to know where we are at all time. Even in the more verbal portions of the scene, Cleese or Curtis still keeps us in contact with the geography.

The second scene we might look at comes from later in the movie after Archie refuses to apologize to Otto for calling him stupid. The humor here comes not only from the action but from the way in which the scene is melded to the preceding scene -- the twisting camera move revealing Archie hanging upside down, rather than standing up as we are led to believe. Comedy is often about setting up expectations and then intentionally not delivering on them.


Script pages for CRIMSON TIDE
This is PDF file of the pertinent pages of the shooting script for CRIMSON TIDE. You're going to notice a number of things about this script, largely that it differs in some great ways from the footage you are going to be working with. This is fairly normal on a film, in particular a big action film. Mark the differences on the script.
David Zucker talks about comedy in his movie THE NAKED GUN 2.5
.In this handout, done in 1999 for the release of the third movie in the NAKED GUN film series, David Zucker talks about 15 rules that he followed in creating the film. Some of them are even straight. And, hence, valuable for this type of film.
Log Line Assignment #3
You are going to do your final log line assignment this week. Because it is different than the two previous logline assignments I've put together this assignment sheet.

Assignments For Next Week

This week you will begin your final project -- the editing of scenes from the movie CRIMSON TIDE. There is a lot more coverage on these scenes than you're used to. However, after working on all of the scenes that you've been doing for the past twelve weeks you should be able to approach the scene in an intelligent manner. First, figure out (from the script) what the scenes are about. Where are the beats? Then look at the footage. How does the footage work with what your analysis was? Where do you have to change it? Then figure out what you want the audience to be looking at at each of those beats (you can do this in pencil on your script pages if you'd like). Then begin cutting. Do at least a first cut. Note that, even though you are doing this one scene, you are getting the script pages for the entire sequence that you are going to be cutting. Read all of the scenes, since they will inform how you work on this one. One final note -- please don't look at the film CRIMSON TIDE, as I want these exercises you do over the next four weeks to be about your own analyses and editing, not about director Tony Scott's or editor Chris Lebenzon's work.
Write your third logline
This week you will be writing your final log line of the semester. However, there is a difference in this one -- I want you to do this on a film which you would like to make, rather than one which is already made. Go back and look at the notes from your last two log lines -- what about your analyses needed toughening up. Bring that to this assignment, knowing that I won't have seen the film that you're talking about. Make me want to see this film. Make me want to work on this film. Make me want to edit this film.
Read Chapters 16 and 16A of the book
This almost wraps up the reading and gets you ready for the quiz which will probably be in three weeks.

Added Material

(will open in a separate window; click on the close box to return to this screen)

"The Anatomy of a Log Line" -- SCREEN TALK Article on Log Lines
Rob-Gregory Browne writes about creating a log line, from the point of view of the writer. Though he doesn't really deal with the issues of adjectives and how to turn the log line into something dynamic (as opposed to concisely telling the story) much of what he says has validity to the editor trying to do a story analysis.
How To Write A Really Good Log Line
Wendy Moon discusses the elements behind writing a great log line. One of my favorite lines is this:
"You've heard over and over, "If you can't say it in three sentences, you don't know what your script is about." Trust me--they're right and you're wrong. You have to, absolutely must, learn to get to the heart of what your script is about--your career may very well depend on your ability to state what your script is about in a fascinating way."
The Art Of The Pitch
The New York Times Sunday Magazine published an interview, on November 12, 2000, with two writers who have recently scored some successes in selling scripts. In view of your final log line assignment, due tonight, I thought you might be interested in what to say to studio executives during a pitch meeting. It's a bit of horrifying lighter side to what we've been talking about in terms of the arts.
Movie Cliche List
Ever wonder why phones are always answered after only three rings in film? Or why bad guys in film always lurk around on a corner until their presence is revealed by a flash of light -- or a car's headlamp? The answer to these questions are that "these are movie cliches!!" This is a hilarious list of cliches about money, alcohol, answering machines, heroes, and much much more.

Though I've tried to accomodate other browsers THIS SITE IS DESIGNED FOR BEST USE WITH IE for the PC, SAFARI for the Mac, and FIREFOX for both the PC and the Mac. It also looks reasonably good on the iPhone. Lucked out on that!

All material, except where noted, ©1999-2008 by Norman Hollyn. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Send me an e-mail at my office
Last Modified - November 17, 2008