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How To Use A Political Or Legal Situation To Improve Your Romantic Comedy

By Marilyn Horowitz

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This is certainly a time of turmoil in the world. Sometimes what’s bad for the world is great for us writers.  For example, in New York City, demonstrators are boycotting Wall Street—and some of those anti-corporate rebels go to Starbucks for the liquid strength to keep up the fight! This irony amuses the Heroine in my latest story, but the Love Interest is offended by her irreverence, which sparks off an argument that lands them (since it’s a romantic comedy) in bed!

You will remember that in the classic romantic comedy, Adam’s Rib, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy play lawyers on two sides of a lawsuit in which a woman has unsuccessfully attempted to shoot her philandering husband after catching him in the act. Their legal differences create newspaper headlines and political controversy. The comedy comes from a serious situation: will a woman go to jail for attempted murder?

In my weekly email, in which I offer a writing exercise intended to challenge and inspire my readers, the most recent newsletter exercise asked,” Would your main character demonstrate on Wall Street?”

I got back many responses, the best of which was, “No way ANY of my characters would do such a foolish thing. Anytime.” A few minutes later, I received a second email from the same student, which read, “Well, unless my new romantic comedy character thought he could pick up girls there.” Then, an hour later, I received a third email from the same student. “Thanks, just got the idea for my next script, here’s the pitch: Wedding Crashers meets Two Weeks Notice.” 

You may remember that, in this film, Two Weeks Notice, Hugh Grant hires Sandra Bullock after she participates in a political demonstration; and in the film Wedding Crashers, the boys go to weddings in order to “get laid.“ My student’s pitch was not half-bad, so it got me thinking about how a political or legal situation raises the stakes when working on a romantic comedy. This technique was confirmed when I got back another response, “When I did your exercise, I realized that my male main character, a ne’er-do-well street musician, would demonstrate, hoping to make some money. He would have a chance meeting with his estranged brother, a stockbroker. The stock broker brother at first snubs our hero, but then joins him when he himself is laid off.” Another not bad pitch!

So, if you feel you want a more dynamic situation for your romantic comedy, a new political or social justice situation may be just what you need to get your script to “pop.”

Here’s The Exercise:

There are three steps to developing new material for a new or existing screenplay. I always work with a timer set to 10 minutes and write by hand. 
Step 1:  Identify A Political Or Social Justice Situation

For example, if your story was the one about the two brothers, you might write, “ The film will be set amidst the ongoing demonstrations on Wall Street.”
Step 2:  Have Your Main Character “Tell” You About The Set Up For The Script

Imagine that you are your main character. As your character, describe the opening situation of your film.

For example, if your script were going to be about the two brothers mentioned earlier, you might write in the voice of the ne’er-do-well street musician: “ I was really broke, and riding around the subways busking. I got off at Wall Street, and was met with an amazing situation: hundreds of people going to demonstrate against the big wigs. I don’t get involved in such nonsense, but I can do a stirring rendition of We Shall Overcome, so I thought I’d go up there and sing for my breakfast. Little did I know I would run into my jerk of an older brother…”
Step 3: Incorporate What You Learned Into The Script

As you can see, the example given is actually a casual blueprint for the first 20 to 30 minutes of a new screenplay. I suspect that your exercise was equally revealing. So why not organize it into scenes, and write a rough draft. Later, revisit the material to see how it fits into a current project or works as new material.

Completing each exercise for your script will lead you to understand a new way for conceiving or improving your screenplay.

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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