Have you ever wanted to write a side-splittingly funny comedy screenplay? Producing a genuinely funny film script is not as easy as it might first appear. You might be able to get plenty of belly laughs when telling jokes out loud, but knowing and writing comedy scripts for films can be another thing altogether.
Make ‘Em Laugh
According to popular movie, TV and celebrity website iMDb, the top ten funny films of all time include such gems as National Lampoon’s Animal House, Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters and The Hangover. Here is the list of the top 100 comedy movies of all time to watch. Each of these comedy classics have memorable characters, crazy scenarios and lots of laughter-inducing moments in common.
There are many different genres of funny films out there, from romantic comedy to biting satire. Then, there are other categories such as farce, slapstick, sketch shows, sitcoms, buddy comedies and stand-up. There are plenty of comedy styles or sub-genres to choose and start writing comedy scripts, so how do you get started? One good way to seek inspiration is to enrol in local film-making classes. In the meantime, however, here are some ideas to help your film script pass the laughter test.
Research, Research, Research
Researching on writing comedy scripts can be great fun. Start by re-watching some of your favourite comedy films, TV shows and sketches. Try to work out what it is about them that makes you laugh. If you are able to, go and see some live comedy too. Real life stand-ups, plays, sketch shows – anything can help you find out what is funny.
Watch your fellow audience members’ reactions carefully and see what type of jokes and topics make them laugh the most. Decide what type of audience you want to target while writing comedy scripts. Go people-watching in a café, museum, bus stop or similar. Do the people who pass by do or say things that you find funny, or that could be turned into an amusing scenario in your own film script one day?
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice writing comedy scripts – write anything down that you think could make a good joke and will make people laugh at it.. Don’t expect to get it right the first time – practise is the key! Think about the words you want to use. You can have a lot of fun with word play like puns or malapropisms (where a wrong, but similar sounding word is used in a phrase, such as ‘flamingo dancing;’ instead of ‘Flamenco).
Experiment with how funny lines might be spoken by your actors. Think about tone of voice, body language and comedic timing. When writing comedy, it can be useful to develop the punchline first and work backwards, setting the scenario up so that it concludes with your joke. Again, this can take practice to get right. Writing comedy scripts contain ongoing jokes that refer back to something funny that has already happened. This can be an effective technique, but make sure you don’t labour the point or detract from the main plot in trying it out.
First Impressions Count
The general rule is to grab people’s attention within the first ten pages of your script. This captures your reader’s interest and makes them want to read on. It’s often all a producer or an agent will read before making their mind up, sometimes it’s even less. This goes not only for jokes, but for characters, plot development and writing style. Never compromise on your story or characters in order to shoehorn in more jokes. Make your opening scenes funny, but also engaging so that people care about what happens, right from the word ‘go’.
Some good ways to introduce your comedy style early include challenging expectations and reversing stereotypes. Don’t forget to include visual comedy too – visual or physical jokes can work really well on screen. Relying on all the jokes to come from spoken dialogue alone can become tedious and hard work, so find opportunities for other forms of comedy to shine through too.
Develop Your Script
Think about which characters work best together to help tell the joke and move the plot along. Do they have good chemistry? Are the actors you are thinking about casting able to work with your sense of humour and engage the audience with it as well?
It can be a good idea to workshop your script with actors before filming. Having your jokes read aloud will help you discover if your punchlines land and the comedy comes across through the characters. Your actors might also give you new ideas and introduce new possibilities for comedy you wouldn’t think up otherwise.
If you want a joke to stretch over several scenes, think about how this will fit with the initial scenario. Make sure your script as a comedy writer fits in with what your audience knows about your characters and how they behave.
Don’t make things overly complicated for yourself. It’s better to have two or three really well-developed characters instead of a cast of dozens to keep track of. Writing comedy scripts by choosing easy locations, costumes and props to keep filming times and costs down is the best practice for beginners. If you get stuck, ask other people for feedback, ideas and help. Two or more heads are often much better than one when it comes to writing comedy for films. Finally, make sure that your comedy relieves tension rather than adds to it. The best humour comes from a situation resolving itself in a positive, but often totally unexpected way.