Make no bones about it, making an independent movie is nothing less than war. And…
What surprised me most from the audiences was how difficult it was for them to follow the opening. Originally we opened on the pharmacy – David, our hero, is tired (pale, dark circles, unkempt hair) and he’s staring at laxatives. It should be a funny image, right? But it wasn’t. The small people I tested the movie with didn’t laugh. We cut wide to reveal the pharmacy and the fact that it is dark outside – the middle of the night. Then the pharmacist comes out and starts talking about his favorite stool softeners. He hands some pills to David and the camera moves right to reveal the animated character – at this point it is Cartoon David, a younger, hipper, thinner version of our lead character. Cartoon David looks at David and the Pharmacist and then turns directly to the audience and says: “I think I’m going to vomit.”
This is a great joke. And it should have gotten a great laugh. Nope. Nothing. Crickets.
I showed the movie to a few editor friends. They looked at it and said something amazing and obvious – there is too much going on here; the audience is way too busy trying to figure out what is happening to laugh.
- Who is this guy? Do we like him?
- Why is he looking at laxatives? Is it for him? Is he constipated? Are they missing something?
- WOAH – there’s a cartoon mixed in with the real people? Who is that? What’s going on?
This should be a mandatory lesson for anyone who wants to write comedy: there is no room for confusion. The opening moments of anything – a novel, a song, a movie, even a commercial – the opening moments the artist is teaching the audience how to watch. With humor, we need to give the audience permission to laugh. The opening is crucial. We have to take the audience by the hand and guide them to the proper state of mind to watch.
I had to answer these questions and answer them quickly and seamlessly. Yes, David is a good guy – he’s our hero. No the laxatives are not for him; they are for his wife. He has left his bed in the middle of the night because his pregnant wife is constipated (makes him a good guy). And yes, there is an animated version of David – big deal. It is his inner voice. We all have one… don’t we? (Or am I the one who is schizophrenic?)
My friend Jason Venokur (a terrific comedy writer) came up with the idea of recording a scene between David and Cartoon David. We could do it over black/opening titles. Maybe it was a conversation about where they are going. Maybe Cartoon David is excited to go out and party, but no, real David has to go on a horrible middle of the night journey to the pharmacy to deal with his wife’s poop. I thought we could throw in some funny jokes. Maybe Cartoon David wants to go see a porn flick. It would sound like two friends going out and then when we opened on them in the pharmacy, we would reveal the crazy reality that the irresponsible friend is a cartoon.
It was a good idea. And it helped. No Room For Confusion. But boy, we still had a lot of problems. So I moved on from the opening issue and tried to solve some of the issues deeper into the movie. But so much for having No Room For Confusion. I’ll tackle those deeper issues in another installment.
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