Writing A Romantic Comedy Masterclass – Pamela Jaye Smith [FULL INTERVIEW]

Film Courage: Pamela with romantic comedies, is falling
in love really supposed to be funny? Pamela Jaye Smith: Well falling in love seldom is funny. Now
it's hopefully fun, but I think what romantic comedies and the funny look at
the situations can do for us is it can make it easier for us to take a look at
what happens and how frightened we sometimes get if the changes that are
happening when we start falling in love and the resistance that comes from
within and often from without you know from friends and family who know what
are you doing with that person and maybe society's strictures against who you're
falling in love with so to take a comedic look at some of those situations
can be helpful because then you can go oh okay other people have faced this
kind of situation here are some solutions maybe we can work that out too
I know in looking at your book romantic comedies you used one of the case
studies of I think my Big Fat Greek Wedding and sounds like we're talking a
lot of the similar things where the out the family was so strong that they only
wanted you know they were very possessive and also too they had her
sort of as this one type of person and kind of gave her the impression she
couldn't have another type that that was the beauty of the film that two
opposites came together yes it's a very good example of that and I think it's
also a good example when we say falling in love note the word falling okay
you're going from one position as the daughter who always does it this way as
the member of the family who this is the way we do it you're falling into a
different realm and I've often wondered though why we don't like slide into love
okay it's not a horizontal movement or why we don't rise into love but of
course if it's well done you do rise up you do have that that uplifting of your
spirit but falling in love you're falling off that level where you've been
you're going to a different realm it's a different world and so I think the
beauty of romance to comedies is that it can make it a
little bit more palatable to take a look at the things that happen to us now why
do people love romantic comedies and I realize not everybody does but we all
have a soft spot for at least one that's that's true we all we all do have a soft
spot for at least one I will admit when the publishers came and we were talking
about a new book Kenley said oh you know there's this study that's been done and
we think that maybe that would make a good book well what was it said well
couples who watch romantic comedies together versus the other group of
couples who went to couples therapy an amazing thing happened the stay together
rate was higher for those who watched comedies together and talked about them
then it was for those who went to couples therapy now I still think
couples therapy is a good idea but wait until you get to that point romantic
comedies now you say well does everybody like romantic comedies frankly I didn't
that much when Ken and I were talking about this and he said well we think
you'd be a good person to write this book I said uh you know I do mythology
and military stuff right and adventure you guys no no no you you'll do a good
job with it well thanks to he and Michael we see of Michael we see
productions it was a group effort on constructing how the chapters would be
laid out and how we'd approach each film so me a person who was not that much of
a rom-com fan I actually became one through the process of writing this book
well we want to talk to you about structure and archetypes and even a
crossover of Mythology versus some of the romantic comedy themes why do people
set out to write romantic comedies why do you feel that it's there's a lot of
people in Hollywood pitching these scripts I think the reason that a
shaundra comes into a trend or a fad is often the success of a film or a TV show
in at particularly genre example being
zombie stories I mean for years when we go to the great American pitchfest and
you look at what people are looking for it was zombie this zombie that vampire
horror thriller give me some more zombies for the last couple of years no
one's asking for zombies okay so genres cycle in and out of popularity but I
think romantic comedies tend to be consistent because the people who write
them have had some kind of an experience that they want to share with the world
or maybe okay so I have this theory and I think facts will prove me out winners
right history losers write about love because the losers aren't doing anything
they lost in love so they're the ones who'll write about love and idealize it
and how they think it should be so I think a lot of the people who write
romantic comedies are those who are trying to create a reality that they
could inhabit yeah and then sometimes it's because well gee that's what the
market is looking for because some writers do right towards the markets
although we're always told you'll get a much better story if you write it from
here or from here rather than oh yeah it's gonna be popular it's going to make
a billion dollars love is at the center of so many people's lives whether it's
they've got plenty or they don't and so a romantic comedy can be a way of
dealing with that for yourself I think and also sometimes either warning or
encouraging other people about falling in love
so that and this is no pun intended but always a bridesmaid never a bride kind
of a feeling and so they feel like they have to somehow fulfill that on paper
and through a film I think so and the the film 27 dresses is a very good
example of that someone who is always a bridesmaid was
always helping other people but she never had her own love and so through
the course of that story it's about how she comes to realize that you know she
does deserve love and she's been helping all these other people maybe it's time
to look after herself so again who writes romantic comedies
I had one writer friend who is a very good writer and he wrote a romantic
comedy was starting it when he was dating this girl and he was really in
love and then they broke up and oh my goodness that script changed and it
turned into a horror film I said now you you are aware of what's
going on here aren't you so how one feels about love at the moment is
certainly going to dictate the kind of story that you write and I think we
would all be well served by having more stories that do put forth as the
romantic comedies in the book do joy dignity
passion and integrity when relating to love let's say a writer decides they
would like to write a romantic comedy and it's for not just the market but for
their own catharsis or need to tell stories so what should they know before
they even put one word down on the page about writing romantic comedies I think
in writing romantic comedies one of the most important things to remember is
that it's a three part trip now not necessarily three acts but there are
three things that need to happen this is that this is the genre boy meets girl
boy loses girl boy gets girl back yet gotta have all that now or it can be you
know girl meets boy girl loses boy girl meets girl boy meets whatever but you
need to have that that initial spark that we see them feeling for each other
and we go yeah there's something there even if it's they're both fighting it
right you know you're not my type oh no I never go with
someone like you but you know oh yeah sparks are flying and then there is that
split and it looks like it's over and then we spend quite some time watching
one of them at least try to figure out how to get the other person back so it's
that struggle if you will to regain or to claim what you saw in that first part
of the film and then the third part is the rien gauging and seeing how that
works now in romantic dramas the third part might not end well
it might be a tragedy and they don't get together but even then you want to feel
that you know what they have lost now in a romantic comedy we want them to get
back together this echoes interestingly enough the myth of Orpheus enter a DJ
that three parts of girl meets boy girl loses boy girl gets boy back is an echo
of the ancient Greek myth about Orpheus and or a DJ they're madly in love it's
their wedding day and she goes off to pick some flowers and gets bitten by a
poisonous snake dies goes to Hades Orpheus who was the first rock star he
was a musician and they said he was so good and so magnetic and charismatic
that he he'd be walking down the lane playing music and the trees would uproot
themselves and the rocks would grow legs to follow after him because his music
was so compelling so he loses his wife his beloved is dead and gone
he stops playing he stops singing and the world around him starts to go gray
to lose its colour because of lost love so you've had the first part they're
together they're happy they're ecstatic then the separation and
this instance of the myth it's very dark and the whole world suffers because of
their loss in a romantic comedy it usually isn't that big of an effect but
a lot of people do suffer when somebody breaks up you know whether it's the
friend who goes I'm so tired of hearing the same story please go out with me
tonight and meet some more people or the parents who are saying oh dear you'll
find more there's more fish in the sea no I don't want fish I want him so that
separation then reflects that myth and in the mythic story
Orpheus says I got to get her back and the goddess of love Aphrodite says hang
on here just a minute she goes and talks to Hades the king of the underworld and
they have a little thing together and she's oh come on the kids are in love
things aren't going well up there let them get back together and Hades says
okay fine but he can't talk to her and he can't
look at her but if he can get her to follow him up back into the upper world
then yeah okay she can be alive again and the story's very sad and it's
spawned a number of wonderful operas and and movies he goes into the underworld
he finds his love so romantic comedy right you search out the beloved you're
willing to try anything and but they're often strings attached and that's where
they can get so fun in that that part – of a romantic comedy what are the
barriers what are the hoops you have to go through what are the rings of fire to
get back that person that you love right well Orpheus gets down to the underworld
and he sees her a DJ he starts playing and he spots it from a distance because
he's not supposed to look at every – that's her so he starts walking back up
and playing and singing and she hears him and starts to follow but and here's
where you also find a great echo for your romantic comedy scripts on the way
up she keeps saying to him obvious is it you won't you look at me
what is it tell me something tell me it's you tell me you love me but he
can't he can't or it'll ruin everything now in some of the stories he just can't
resist and his heart is breaking so he turns around and looks at her and holds
out his hand and even though he's made it over the threshold of the underworld
she hasn't and she gets zapped back down and
they're separated forever now that's a tragedy but in a romantic comedy we're
gonna do the other version and then that version
Aphrodite goes back to Hades and she says Oh seriously come on I mean they
were that close and the kids are in love and you know what love does don't you
and so he just goes yeah okay fine okay fine taker so Orpheus and or DHA
get reunited so we have that tragedy as the format the mythic pattern for
romantic comedies now this is sort of a loaded question but why are there so
many bad romantic comedies and then maybe it's just my own opinion what are
they doing wrong the criteria that I used to select the film's to go into
this book were for these stories had to embody and promote at least one
hopefully more of these four qualities joy dignity passion and integrity a lot
of romantic comedies do not therefore they are maybe entertaining but they're
shallow and there's nothing wrong with fluff entertainment that's perfectly
fine but the romantic comedies that move us that that raise our spirits that
thrill our hearts are the ones that embody in some fashion in some of the
characters joy dignity passion or integrity and those are the ones we
remember though of the classics and here again I think
if you are looking to do a romantic comedy that many people will relate to
and many people will remember and want to see over and over again get one of
those four qualities in there at least one with at least some of your main
characters once again nothing wrong with having you know fluff fluff is okay but
I like and you see that people continue to like the romantic comedies that
really deal with the kind of love that uplifts and not just romantic but also
we have familial we've got some bestfriend
romances in the book and at age differences you know young love older
love age differences love so all kinds of love but they need to embody one of
those four qualities to really be let's say to have the romantic in all capital
letters how would someone know that a script that they've written is maybe
shallow versus having one or two or more of those four qualities that's an
excellent question because it implies that we all have the ability to a see
our own work with a clear eye and most of us don't and that's why it's good to
have you know your friends or readers or other people give you feedback whether
you're in a writing group or you're working with you know some other people
that are that are doing that for you and with you but I would say take a look at
does anybody in your story actually make a positive change in their personality I
think there should always be some element of sacrifice and remember that
the word sacrifice means to make sacred so that could mean elevating someone's
opinion of themselves by saying you're an amazing dancer has no one ever
told you that before or wow those things that you've been
doing for the kids you've been helping that's incredible some moment of
recognition that lifts somebody up to a higher plane if you've got that in your
story that it's not gonna be shallow okay okay so let's say oh sorry
Sleepless in Seattle like if we took one of the the scripts at what point did did
Tom Hanks character maybe or even may Ryan did they get lifted up to a higher
plane Sleepless in Seattle is such a popular film so many people really
really seem to identify with it and liked it so much I think part of that is
because you have two people one who's broken hearted and one who's
dissatisfied with her fiance and their relationship oh and then a third person
the little boy who wants a new mommy right okay so you've got three people
who are wounded or troubled and where you see them starting to rise up is when
meg Ryan hears on the radio Tom Hanks voice and talking about his wife and the
magic they had between them and she realizes that's what I want so that's
her first step upwards and then she starts looking at her relationship is
there enough there to justify a marriage Wow I want that kind of passion I heard
in that man's voice and then so she sacrifices a sure thing to go after a
voice on a radio seriously okay Tom Hanks then has to sacrifice his clinging
to his grief which is a very natural thing that people tend to do but he has
to get over himself no not get over the loss but get over himself so you see
both of them so you see both of them consciously making a choice to leave
where they were and to take a step up and then the little boy is so great you
know he's what does he sacrifice oh nothing he's just out there manipulating
and pulling the strings but it's all for a good cause it's something you said in
the last question reminds me of the missed opportunities scenario and I know
when I was a little girl there was a section in our newspaper where I grew up
about missed opportunities I'll never forget this one post was about a man
that saw some woman he described her and he said we we shared a moment and if
that's you can you please call me and I've never forgotten that post and I
mean this was pre Craigslist you know I know all that exists now but why are we
so enthralled with the idea of missed opportunity a missed opportunity is a
factor of idealism because that opportunity is not fact it's an
opportunity it's a possibility and onto that we can cast all of our dreams and I
think most of us have had those moments you know the glance across a room you're
crossing a street you look at somebody they look at you and you go yeah and
then you both walk about do you think should I just go stand on that street
corner forever and wait for them to come by again and some people do but I think
the thing about a missed opportunity most at its core the reason that it
reaches us so deeply is it offers that question what if and we could see might
that have been the perfection that deep in our hearts we are all striving for so
do most romantic comedies feature the missed opportunity or the sort of even
if it's just a friend at a wedding that they see across the table that they say
hello to isn't that sort of the core because the what if yes the missed
opportunity can be the storyline of an entire film or the main storyline of it
for instance in Four Weddings and a funeral the Hugh Grant character
it definitely has a missed opportunity through line and fortunately he resolves
it and he and Andie MacDowell get together again but within the three part
structure of a romantic comedy that's the that's the sad part about and the
tense part about that second section yeah you saw what it could be and now
it's gone because one of you had to move or somebody got in the way or someone
else's you know in positions of propriety are keeping you apart and so
that missed opportunity which is a vessel if you will for idealism and
perfection really bothers us and we are driven to pursue what might be a perfect
situation and now it's a romantic comedy and they always stop when the people get
together right so we don't have to get into the part about dissolution and
domesticity and all that stuff but we get to keep that illusion of perfection
and that idealism in a romantic comedy it seems like each character each sort
of partner of this dance is missing something in their lives and they see at
some point that that other person is going to basically cure them of that why
do we why do we resonate with that and why is that such a common theme there's
another wonderful Greek myth that says that originally humans were both male
and female together and we had four legs and four arms and two heads then we were
joined but with all those limbs humans were able to start climbing up Mount
Olympus and were able to start challenging the gods and the gods said
oh no this will never do and so they tore humans apart
male and female were separated and since then it is the nature of our yearning to
try to reunite into the one form so that's how a mythology set it up what we
are trying to do in romance is to find that missing part of ourselves what I
think is interesting is that in some instances people are trying to find that
thing that will compliment them because they don't have it and then there are
those instances where somebody says oh you've got that so much more than I do
I'm gonna look a whole lot better than you by comparison
you know if I'm cynical but you're more cynical that's gonna make me look like
the good guy so some of the romantic comedies have that sort of a mechanism
in it but I think basically what most of us are looking for in our romantic
situations is a completion what we see in our romantic relationships is often
said to be a reflection of our relationship with our higher spiritual
selves or with the higher energies or with the cosmos that we we connect to
life through each other that we connect to the one life by relating closely to
one person and so the alchemy of love can actually truly lift us up and that
that is what a lot of us are looking for even if we're not conscious of it but we
are looking for that that that bliss that nirvana within our love
relationships and you may have heard some version of this where people say we
kissed and the world disappeared and we became gods you go oh yes please that's
wonderful and one of my favorite authors Lawrence Durrell British author author
of the wonderful Alexandria quartet which is all about love and one of his
characters makes a note and say in loving Justine I was loving all women
because she stood for the female and so I think that's what we do to even who we
don't realize that we just go oh I love you
we're also loving the essence of love why so often opposites attract
why is it sort of the the hero worshiper or shy admirer and the you know sort of
I don't know if you want to say type a sort of here I mean I'm thinking of
let's say Jerry Maguire yes yes absolutely love uh-huh
but but that's a common scenario whether it's one is the male one is the food you
know that you can kind of switch who's sort of the hero worshiper but why do we
love that scenario so much I think we have to go back to evolutionary biology
and evolutionary psychology to truly answer that in small groups of people
you do not want to have too much interbreeding because it's not healthy
so you need to stir up the gene pool and so there's a phrase the brother or the
other you're going to get a better immune system and your offspring if
you're not mating with your relatives if you go for the other that which is
different so you take that on up to modern times and we're still being
influenced by that we still see the other the person who is different from
us as more of a potential mate a lot of that's just our biology psychology from
you know 200,000 years still working on us but I also think it's part of the the
wonderful magnetism of passion and of sex regardless of what gender the body
is to have the positive pole and the negative pole that's when you get
magnetism you get to positive poles together what happens nothing they repel
each other right but you get positive and negative together and then you get
sparks then you get the magnetic pull so I think that part of that opposites
attract is built into human nature that is
trying to produce the best offspring and part of it also is just our sense of
adventure let's take Annie Hall so you have Woody
Allen's character who's kind of self effacing he's down on himself and then
Diane Keaton who's a breath of fresh air she's in a great mood she you know very
open to life why does that dynamic work well I would counter and say it didn't
actually work because they broke up and she in spite of her seeming
self-confidence also had some problems with her own self-worth and what she
wanted and what she thought she should want but yes on the surface they're
opposites and they and they attract and it's fun and that's one of the most fun
parts about that romantic comedy but if you look at it again I think you'll see
that there are a whole lot more alike at heart than they are different I was
surprised at that when I went back and watched it you know with an analytical
eye for the book at the beginning of a romantic comedy is it best that the two
leads hate each other or intensely dislike each other does that make us
more you know if it's if it's too easygoing when I mean that's boring in
some sense why do we why are we intrigued by the two you know whether
it's the co-workers or you know whatever just you know sort of the college friend
that always sort of made fun of you or something like that what why is that
something that's we're intrigued by I think it goes back again to your
question about opposites attracting and you you're not going to get any sparks
if you agree all the time this is just not going to be interesting you know
give me somebody who challenges me also I I have this thing I call cheetah love
and little baby cheetahs when they're learning how to hunt you know the mom
takes them out and shows them how to pounce and how to grab prey and how to
eat it if you walk in to
where they are and the little baby cheetahs are just sitting around maybe
it's not quite time to go hunting yet but they're going to be going soon you
lay down a big chunk of bloody raw meat in front of them they'll just look at it
they don't recognize it as lunch unless it's running away a lot of us are the
same way about romance we love the chase and we don't show any
interest if it's not running away so it's part of part of some people's human
nature that they like the chase they want to conquer something they feel that
if I didn't have to pay a price for it it must not be worth it and that's a
hard thing when people then do get together and the chase is over it's
often difficult then to keep the romance going if that's been a major part of the
relationship at the beginning so is it a good idea to start people at the
beginning of a rom-com at disparate sides of something absolutely absolutely
because part of the fun of a rom-com is the chase and then they get separated
and then okay now how are they going to get back together we know what's going
to happen we just don't know how and that's the fun of rom-coms
yes it's a predictable genre absolutely that's why we watch it because we know
it's going to end happily or a bittersweet maybe but we want to see how
the chase goes what tricks do they use to win each other back or what
sacrifices do they have to make to endear themselves again to the person
that they realize they love that takes something where maybe it's not someone
who's chasing the the playboy but I'm thinking of the movie green card you'd
mention Andie MacDowell earlier and Gerard Depardieu where they're both
supposed to go in to be married and they have to pretend that they know each
other so those types of scenarios where it's not really that anybody's totally
at odds because I don't think if I remember correctly that they were it was
just that they were put into this situation
and so it's this weird thing where they end up falling for one another acts
dentally kind of thing I don't know what that that storyline is but I've seen it
before that sort of accidental discovery of one another where it wasn't intended
yes you see that also in it happened to one night and you've got a reporter and
a rich girl and you know he's trying to get a story she's trying to get back
with her fiance who she's only engaged to to make her dad mad because her
billionaire dad is over controlling and so these two people come together with a
specific goal which is to get her back to her fiance and for the story the
other reporter to get this story but along the way then they have to pretend
like they're married and once they do that then the accident of pretending as
if sets off even more Sparks and that indeed is a good trope for romantic
comedies where people are thrown together and wouldn't have even thought
that they'd like each other but once they step into a different role with
each other and the whole pretending to be married or pretending to be together
is a very good one I think we see that in real life okay next time you're at
the grocery store look at the tabloids look at those magazines what are they
all about actors and actresses who were playing at being in love and fell in
love how often do you see that happening the point of it is when you start acting
as if you often make it so and it's a it's a wonderful device for romantic
comedies now another instance where you may find
people acting as if and then falling in love is when you're writing with
somebody and you're building these characters you're building this
situation you're building the romance and you're doing it they're together you
know many romances have started over I got a great idea for a screenplay
let's write together okay and you'll hear anybody
who's ever done this before or her knows what can happen say yeah right you're
just writing a screenplay together uh-huh
well we know how that goes so once again you put two people together in a
situation where they're creating an illusion they often start to fall into
it and to live it so be very careful who
you're writing your rom-coms with how much sex should a screenwriter put into
a romantic comedy screenplay from what I have seen of the ones that I looked at
and selected and the ones I did not select for the book I would say not much
now they can be having sex but you probably don't want to see very much of
it because it's more about the emotions a romantic comedy is and it's more about
the yearning it's about the barriers between the people and certainly yeah
it's there's going to be sex but it can start opening up so many other doors of
discussion and emotion and it can also shift the feel of your story if you
start putting a lot of sex into it so that's interesting mmm I think the way
that sex can shift the feel of a romantic comedy is sex is not that funny
it's more ideally intense it's it's passionate now can you have fun in sex
absolutely but in a romantic comedy we're talking about yearning and we're
talking about desire we're not so much talking about fulfillment on the screen
the fulfillment comes after the end of the movie okay so by putting a lot of
sex into the film I think you run the risk of diluting
the romance and the comedy now this is not at all to say that sex isn't where
it's going because yeah but but I think you have to keep in mind the tone of the
film and that sex can take us into many many other deeper emotional levels do
you want to do that or do you want to keep it more on the the yearning
idealistic fun the search part of the story now a film where the sex actually
is important in the romantic comedy is in moonstruck and there's this moment
not long after Nicolas Cage and Cher have met she's engaged to his brother
the brothers going back to Sicily for a family visit says talk my younger
brother into coming to the wedding so she goes to meet the younger brother and
oh my gosh sparks fly and he has this wonderful speech something to the effect
of I don't care if I burn in hell I don't care if you burn in hell I want
you now we should be together and he picks her up and takes her upstairs to
his bedroom and they have wild mad passionate sex okay so in moonstruck the
passionate sex that they have starts to affect everybody else in the story
because everyone else has to start realizing that they don't have that kind
of passion and they want it so that's an instance where sex really makes a
difference and is appropriate for that story how important is the first kiss in
a romantic comedy it is maybe the most important moment
followed closely by the one towards the end where the two people realize and
admit to each other their love for each other but that first kiss wow that's
that's amazing that's that's when you're standing on the threshold of paradise
and that's when you know whether or not it's going to work
because if that kiss does not transport your characters does not turn on all the
lights and all the bells and whistles and the fireworks and all the people
talk about in poetry and literature for thousands and thousands of years if
that's not there there's no story there's no story so building up to the
first kiss you need to have that tension that push-pull so that when you get
there and the positive and the negative come together
sparks do fly thinking of pretty woman so there's the implication of sex
there's definitely the you know the sort of the agreement the business
arrangement but but I'm trying to remember does that actually happen until
they actually have the first kiss and actually feels something for one another
that's when it happens okay is that that first kiss yes now I think they've been
feeling a comradeship they've been feeling admiration they've been having
fun they've been finding that they do agree on some things and not others and
so there is an affinity there's definitely an affinity and you're right
they presumably have been having sex and she's a pro so okay you figure it's got
to be pretty good but that moment of actually kissing is when the magic
really starts to happen and that also now remember she was a
professional escort there is a reason why among people who are sex workers
there's no kissing allowed because that creates a let's say an energetic
electrical etheric esoteric connection between people that really does
something it can change everything it seems like to with those two characters
once they got out of their roles because his role of was of the here I'm gonna
pay you and you're kind of beneath me and I'm I'm this prestigious businessman
and she's like oh who do you think you are and I've seen the guys like you
you're a dime a dozen but once they got out of those identities and they became
real that's when it seemed like the real kiss and the real sort of relationship
happened because they stopped being their element sort of yeah that's a good
point when they just became themselves and not the masks and not the costumes I
like that I like that man there's a wonderful line in Jerry Maguire before
they have sex the first time and he says you know sex changes everything and she
says oh I hope so and what I love too is the sister and I want to talk about that
the sister in Jerry Maguire and the wonderful scene where she's having her
women's group and he comes in and you can just tell he there's a few women in
the crowd that made me look at him with a Deering and endearing eyes but there
are just daggers pointed his way and just the the Jiminy Cricket friend
either the one that's either trying to talk them out of it or the one that's
trying to talk them into the relationship I I want to talk about that
role of the the third person that sort of either tries to bring them together
or separate them when I first started selecting films for the book Ken Lee
publisher said you have to include trainwreck
I went train wreck I wouldn't even go see that I said why would I want know
this about people's relationships getting
better you'd want to see trainwreck he said go see trainwreck I could not
believe it it's really good and it has in it the qualities of joy and dignity
and passion and integrity I was so surprised now one of the reasons it does
is because the Jiminy Cricket character the best friend is LeBron James okay
that works mhm and he is best friends with Bill Hader and he sees something in
Amy Schumer he sees what she can be and he convinces the two of them to get back
together and to admit their feelings for each other so that's a wonderful
instance of that a different kind of love triangle that you've pointed out
where you've got the lovers and then that third person who helps them see
what it is that they have or what they could have let's see when the third
person is actually trying to prevent them from being together because it's
like if you take pretty woman and I forget his name but you know George
Costanza character on Seinfeld the one that that's his business partner and
pretty and and and he's kind of this negative force and and and sort of
antagonizing them so that third person as the one that's trying to prevent them
from being together yes you need the third person either helping them because
they're not wanting to get together or as you described trying to keep them
apart well you need that for dramatic tension and also we need the secondary
characters to help tell us things about the main characters so they can make
those statements you know when you say oh I can't have them I can't have him
saying that he'd never say that about himself we'll give the line to his
friend or give the line to her friend who says ah you have you no idea what
this guy's like so they the third character yes it's very very important
in any script all of the secondary characters need some
how to be showing us something about the main characters or they don't need to be
there now whether it's they are people that the main characters do something to
or with or for but they are there to service the main characters in the
storytelling our romantic comedy is driven by plot or character as a genre
that has three parts the plots just there
you know you get together you get apart and then you get back together so I
don't think it's so much plot that drives it as it is character that's
where we find our interest is in the people and how diverse are they and how
opposite are they or where are their similarities what is it that took them
apart and how will they possibly get back together and who's helping them do
that and who's against them doing that so it's more about character I think in
a romantic comedy because it's a genre and it has its tropes and it has its
steps and if those aren't happening then you don't have a romantic comedy
so character is I think the most important thing and that's what you
should be focusing on let's talk about the character archetypes because you
have as I was saying earlier sort of the hero worshiper you had the sort of the
type a ambitious that doesn't have time for relationship you might have sort of
the hot girl that no guy is sort of good enough for or similar with the guy and
then you have sort of the shot you know what are some of the archetypes that we
typically see in romantic comedies either as a friend or as the protagonist
some of the typical archetypes and in the book I did have on there's a whole
section in each movie about the lover types and indeed a lot of what you just
mentioned there's the cynical person now that's always a real good one somebody
who's been burned and disappointed in love so the cynic is a wonderful
archetype and I like that definition that a cynic is just a wounded romantic
so seeing that character change and go through a character arc can be very
satisfying to us also the person who doesn't even realize
they need love the clueless no it's different from being a cynic but the
clueless person is just oh no everything's fine
okay maybe I'm in a loveless relationship but you know it's
convenient it works so they need to be waked up so they're the archetype of the
person who needs to be awakened that just kind of what Wow Oh and then you've
got another good one is the bossy person who's always right and always in charge
or always wants to be anyway and then the person who and I think this is so
well done and down with love where you've got even McGregor is the the type
a confident always in charge you know and he's a he's running the show and all
of course all the women love him he's got you know many many many many
girlfriends and then you have Renee Zellweger who is the formerly mousy
secretary who I love this and your writers I think will all just roll their
eyes she says well you weren't paying any attention to me and so I decided I
was just gonna go off and I was gonna write a book and so I did and then it
became a best-seller international and then I said and I went to see it with uh
some writers and we all went I always thought have I supposed to work
right you just write something and it becomes
an instant international bestseller okay so she was the person who was waking up
now she was waking herself up but bringing the two of them together made a
really dynamic energy exchange in that film down with love so the the various
archetypes you can go from the the disappointed in love to the still
grieving and must love dogs Christopher Plummer has a wonderful line he's father
who's a widow and he says no I know I've had the love of my life
and they'll never ever be anyone to take her place but I'm just out there tap
dancing as fast as I can having some fun and just hoping I won't
notice all the time what I've lost and it's very sad but it's also very hopeful
so many many character types can play a part in a romantic comedy and by
choosing different types than what you would think you can make a much more
interesting story if they're an antagonist or a dark side to romantic
comedies and antagonist or a dark side I think in romantic comedies the
antagonist is either within or usually just without but not big okay we take
three levels of opposition there's internal and then there's opposition
from those around you family society culture and then on a bigger level of
stories there's the opposition from the big outside you know bureaucracies
aliens you know tsunamis but in a romantic comedy you want antagonists and
opposition just at those two levels the close two levels it's a this is a small
story we're not taking on the world we're not trying to overthrow kingdoms
so your opposition can be an another person or a bunch of people family
society culture sometimes religion but usually not because it can be problems
in them trying to have a comedy to get into you know those deeper philosophical
questions but so often the main antagonist is within one's own self take
for instance my best friend's wedding Julia Roberts main antagonist was
herself and what she thought she should have and how she thought it should be
and that was enough opposition to carry that whole film
because there was no one else against her now the situation was against her
because the guy was engaged and he was getting married but nobody was coming
against her in particular she was doing it all to herself in My Big Fat Greek
Wedding you had both those levels the insecurity and then the family saying
well no you got to marry a nice Greek boy and be Greek like you're a great
person be a great person so two levels four
antagonists and opposition in a romantic comedy and he said earlier that before
starting this book you weren't a huge fan of romantic comedies but what films
did you actually enjoy of that genre well I did have my favorites already
and certainly Love Actually is my favorite because it's got so many
different love stories in it of so many different types and it's so well crafted
every writer should watch and deconstruct Love Actually to see how you
can create and sustain character arcs many of them over the course of a film
and have what seven eight ten storylines going on and they all work together and
they're all interconnected and it's it's brilliant it's brilliant writing and
filmmaking and the stories and the characters are so endearing so love
actually I do like down with love and Mamma Mia because it's so much fun to
sing to seriously can you watch Mamma Mia and not sing no you can't we talked
about what a screenwriter should know about the confessional moment in writing
a romantic comedy is that a crises is where they break down they've been
beaten down they just have to get this off their chest or how does that work
yes typically it is something has cracked and when we talked earlier about
the opposition being internal it's the moment when a
character realizes what they are doing is not helping them to get what they
want and that they have to ask for forgiveness or they have to change
something in themselves they have to once again sacrifice something in order
to get that greater thing that they desire a couple of good examples of that
are when Mel Gibson is apologizing in what women want and it's a beautiful
apology there's another really good one in you've got mail when Tom Hanks
apologizes what's interesting there though is he's apologizing for being two
different people and he's apologizing for being you know the guy who shut down
her book store but also for being the guy that she was in love with online and
not letting her know that he was both guys so he has a two-fold apology
there's also an interesting one in Romancing the stone which is a fun
romantic comedy that's also adventure and so that moment of the apology is
that moment when someone realizes they've got to change in order to get
what they want so there's still a little bit of selfishness in it but if they do
it well if they do it with humility and integrity it can work however Mantic
comedy is evolved over the years I mean you know we have trainwreck when you I
mean and I don't even know if the graduates really a romantic comedy but
totally different films you know in terms of to the way that humor is
approached and so however the years over the decades have romantic comedies
changed or maybe they haven't what it looks like to me from having looked at
romantic comedies from way back in the 30s on up to today is that like a lot of
films they used to be more clever in the dialog we had snappier dialogue there
were it was a sharper sense of humor there was
intelligence and wit at play that I think we've lost some of and that's just
a cultural shift people communicate differently now whether it's because of
social media or you know globalization there's just not as much witty banter as
there used to be in the romantic comedies also you've seen a shifting in
sexual attitudes and what's allowed remember that for a lot of the older
films they were being made under the Hays Code which was a code imposed on
Hollywood that you couldn't say certain things you couldn't deal with certain
topics you couldn't have overt sexuality so you get all these wonderful innuendos
right and you get the wonderful the look well you don't have to see the people in
bed together you know that's where it's going okay so there's a lot of subtlety
and really really good writing in the older films because of those constraints
so now when anything goes often I think people cut to the chase too soon and
what we like is the chase otherwise frankly you're just watching porn
you know you need the story for it to really be engaging on those emotional
and mental levels so how I've seen them change a lot is that what in how I've
seen them change a lot is in what you're actually going to see on screen as well
as the dialog and the interaction between the characters either being more
constrained and more difficult to get together or easier to get together and
then you sometimes and unfortunately it doesn't work very well you have to
fabricate reasons for people to be in conflict curious about this Hays Code
when did sort of those rules get lifted I do not know the answer to that okay I
think it was in the early 60s oh but that's something your writers should
look up mm-hmm because it was a very very interesting time what god impose
on writing and filmmaking and seeing how clever writers worked around it and
still got to say what they wanted to say but it used to be if in that era if you
committed adultery you had to die if you were the mistress you had to die if you
were the person who did this you had to die and usually it was the blonde
because we were upholding you know the truth the American Way the American
family and all this hypocrisy but also you know codes of behavior it's a very
very interesting time and also look into the whole blacklist era as well they
kind of went hand in hand it's a it's a really good look for writers to look
back and see the constraints that are often placed on writers and how to get
around it and still tell wonderful stories sure I know the notorious Bettie
Page they sort of touched on all that but then the Summer of Love came so I
don't know if that's like 68 but things definitely changed and then it was
totally different and you had you know where it was expected that people were
swapping partners and things like that so it's it's changed whereas now it
seems like it's more sort of online hookup so you see how the culture
changes how these people get together and it's interesting but you said
something earlier about maybe it being wrong here now do you think we'll ever
go back to another time where maybe people will be like you know what I'm
too desensitized to all this because even driving around Los Angeles you see
billboards that you're like wow I'm just shocked that that would be out there but
it's part of the culture now it's expected to see certain images it is and
I think if we take a long view we see that these sorts of things come and go
everything is cyclic now what I hope would not happen is that there is
repression because down that road lies well repression and all the bad stuff
that comes with that but what I would rather see is a raising
sensibilities like what you just said you know there's too much of that it's
like also I think what you risk and here again raunchy is in style right now it's
a fad and so many of the stand-up comics and the comedies are raunchy comedies
what I think we lose now not to be censoring any of that but what I think
we lose is the sense of romance again and I I hear a lot of particularly
younger people saying they wish things were more romantic they wish they had
the situations that they have read about that they've seen in the movies but it's
just not like that right now so I think what you may be finding is people
wanting more romance because it's exhilarating
it's thrilling and unless you've got a bit of distance unless you've got a bit
of the hidden unless you've got some of the unobtainable you're not going to
have the striving and the yearning that is what makes romance so going back to
that article or that little post I saw in my hometown newspaper about you know
I saw you when you're wearing this and you look like this and we shared a
moment and please and here's my number area code for one you know that that
we've lost that and for me I'm still remembering who was that man who was
that woman yes what was it about her that was so you know how it would just
be like I mean there's just you could probably swipe look right or
left on one of these social networks and tinder grind or whatever and find who
that person is but I'm not sure really really I'm going with it I guess it just
it seems like it'd be nice to go back to that but you're saying so you hear from
a lot of Millennials that they kind of miss like the notebook and that was
probably before most Millennials were watching films I think that was what
early 2000s or something so yeah so so it sounds like oh right around that time
things started to change so now we get more very open sexual talk
but a lot of the human emotion in terms of the yearning is gone I think it's
important to keep in mind the various levels of our interactions with each
other and sex is easy sex is easy to get okay
not a problem in our culture anyway love fortunately is pretty well widespread –
you've got familial love and friendship love and you know love of people who are
involved in it's a similar cause so love is pretty prevalent but passion is rare
and precious and that's what romantic comedies ideally and the ones that end
up being classics are giving us they're showing us passion and you can't have
passion without yearning and you can't have yearning without a buildup and you
can't have a buildup without and ideal something that to be yearning for like
that missed opportunity so if you want to get the most out of that first kiss
and the first Boff or whatever then you have to build up the energy that's just
physics you have to build up the charge of energy and then when those points
come together then you get the fireworks and how does a writer build that up
that's that's a great point well it could even be as simple as a line that
says he walks towards her she can see what's on his mind and then he turns
away and then you go to her and she's going but but and then you have another
preview so you almost get people – it's teasing okay it's foreplay if you will
for the emotions as well as you know eventually it'll seep over into the
physicalities of the love but it's think of it as foreplay for the emotions it's
teasing it's oh do they oh I don't know Oh what about this and almost getting
there and then pulling away so it's a real dance it's a real dance like the
crossing and the walk like the crossing in the crosswalk
yeah yeah but you have to build up the tension for there to be any charge so
when a screenwriter finally finishes their screenplay and this could apply to
romantic comedies or horror or whatever what's the standard protocol of steps
that they should go through after they finish it up well as a consultant I'm a
bit prejudiced but I think they should seek professional opinion and there are
a number of really wonderful well experienced story consultants that are
available and so get someone who's a professional to read your script and
give you commentary on it and often more than one person because you know
everybody's got their own opinion even though they know about story and of
course register it with the writers guild be sure you do that before it goes
to you know any potential buyers and then start taking a look at the places
to place your story and for instance the great American pitch fest is a wonderful
opportunity for writers you go there you attend classes listen to panels on
writing and selling and then there's a whole day of live pitching opportunities
where you can go in and pitch your romantic comedy script and hopefully
find people who are interested in it producers production companies
development executives agents managers there are a couple of live pitchfest
great American pitch fest is the best one it's fabulous then there are also
virtual pitch fests and there are listing places like Inc tip is a good
one so you can write your synopsis and put your story up there get it listed
and many many many producers and people looking for stories go to these places
to find them so put it out there but now do this after you've consulted with
somebody who is an expert on story and knows the business and try to go to some
of the conference's some of them are happening online now but try to attend
some Story conferences if you haven't already and then write up
your synopsis your pitch and you can get help with that too on how to write good
pitches and effective pitches and then start putting it out there it's easier
now than it used to be Wow because there are so many new venues and
there's so many production companies and you can even do it yourself you can you
know make your own movie a lot of people do for not much money at all and then
just put it up on YouTube or Vimeo but I would say do get feedback get
professional feedback be sure you register it and then look at the various
outlets for exposing your script to people who are buying the virtual pitch
vests the listing services and great American pitch vest and see what kind of
feedback you get and make improvements if you think that they're good
suggestions if not stick to what you've got and persist persist persist persist
persist and I'll tell one little quick story about that back in 1977 one of my
writing partners and I wrote a script and we had it and we were rewriting it
and we got feedback and this and that and at one point it was under
consideration at MGM before a regime change you know and then everything goes
away and everybody starts over so we'd had this script for a long time we
entered it into a script contest year or so ago and it was one of the winners and
we got a trip to the Bahamas for a writer's retreat and somebody said wow
that's great how long did it take you guys we went
well we started in 1977 so it took a long time but you see you just keep
doing it and keep getting it out there and you may well eventually have your
dream come true it's curious when you decided to submit for this this contest
how much did you change it for the time frame not at all
because it's an historical script anyway okay yeah okay interesting
yeah it's said in Cuba Cuba's opening up we said AHA now it's the time let's pull
that script back out and get it out there so we entered a number of contests
and you know placed here and place there and got in this mention and that so it
got good feedback it got good results so yeah what does this persist persist
one last question though and that is what if someone says you know I finished
my script I've shown it to someone in my family and then three of my college
buddies and one of them is an English major and I know they're gonna give me
the truth is that enough because maybe they're not in the industry it's good
but it's not enough and specifically for the reason you just said they're not in
the industry it's important to get non industry
feedback because that's your eventual audience is the people sitting in the
theatres or the people tuning in on Netflix or watching your piece on Vimeo
so you want civilians to give you some feedback but as far as is your structure
working are your characters well-developed is your plot pasted well
enough and what's the market place you need to go to the professionals for that
because it's a very crowded marketplace and you need professional help in order
to know how to approach it

11 thoughts on “Writing A Romantic Comedy Masterclass – Pamela Jaye Smith [FULL INTERVIEW]

  1. This is fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing this great knowledge. I'm hoping to write novels in this genre and this is so helpful 😊

  2. Very informative and useful video. But saying that "people who write about love, or who write romantic comedies, are losers" is one of the strangest comments I've ever heard a writing consultant make. And I know quite a few personally.

  3. "losers write about love" — what a bizarre thing to say, and to show how little she thinks of people who might be interested in this video, ha. gross.

  4. I could take pages unpacking this interview, but I will focus on one fairly minor point. She makes the claim that there was better dialogue in older movies. I am not qualified to say if that is true, but it seems likely that the movies with better dialogue (and characters and plot and…) would be the ones more likely to survive to be viewed by a modern person. I remember seeing movies in the 70's (yes, I'm old) that moved me, but on later reflection were only pretty good and I can't even remember their names. Most of what is being made today will be forgotten in forty years. Creating something memorable might be harder than making something entertaining, profitable or maybe even Oscar-worthy.

  5. The interviews on this channel are invaluable to writers who want better their craft. Thank you so much for sharing them with the world!

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