You Can Write a Romantic Comedy That Sells.
Here are six insider-tips that will increase your romantic comedy’s chances of getting read, getting purchased, and getting on the Big Screen.
Tip #1: The Chemical Equation
You saw the posters and trailers for ‘The Proposal’, ‘Jump The Broom’, ‘Brown Sugar” and ‘Pretty Woman’ BEFORE you saw the actual films. You went to see these romantic comedies already knowing that the leads were going to end up together. So creating two unique characters an audience will fall in love with and NEED to see united is the most important key to a romantic comedy's success. Your characters must each be emotionally incomplete people who get completed by their mate-to-be. One (if not both) of your protagonists should have an inner conflict that the story's romantic relationship confronts and ultimately resolves.
Tip #2: The Hybrid
Some of the most successful romantic comedies are hybrids -- movies that have expanded their audience by cross-breeding with other genres. Romantic comedies can be action-adventures (Knight & Day), gender-benders ('Tootsie'), sports comedies ('Just Wright'), political ('The American President'), period pieces ('Shakespeare In Love'), crime stories ('The Mexican'), teen movies ('Clueless') and more. This kind of cross-genre inter-breeding has kept our genre healthy for decades, and it's something to think about as you shape your romantic comedy with an eye towards the marketplace. You may already be edging into another genre's territory in your story. If so, maximize that element. Producers and studios are more likely to be intrigued by a romantic comedy that also promises the kind of big screen action that a crime, adventure, sports, etc. movie provides.
Tip #3: Don't Talk Too Much
Great movies MOVE. Too much talk, too much dialogue, can result in a pass (because what you've written is more like a play or a TV show) than a MOVIE. So ask yourself, how active is your script? How visually exciting? While you may not have the mudslides, wild chases and fireworks 'Romancing the Stone' delivered, you may have a set, a setting, world or a physical comedy opportunity that will open up and enliven your movie. Even the verbal-witty 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' featured a Scottish reel in colorful kilts. 'Annie Hall' is packed with sight gags, from the cocaine sneeze to the errant lobsters. Make sure your script makes use of all the cinematic storytelling techniques a good movie- movie uses.
Tip #4: The Formula Flip
Since most plots of successful romantic comedies follow a fairly predictable paradigm, your romantic comedy spec could stand out from the others in the marketplace if your concept, story and/or execution is exceptionally clever, imaginative or even better, ingenious. Four romantic comedies from the past that were truly memorable made their mark by putting a spin on the standard plot structure. There was 'boy doesn't meet girl until the last five minutes of the movie' ('Sleepless in Seattle'), 'boy meets girl after they're both dead' ('Defending Your Life'), 'boy only meets girl in and around weddings (and a funeral)' ('Four Weddings') and 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl, ad infinitum, until he finally gets it right' ('Groundhog Day'). Try to come up with a concept that will enable your rom-com to stand out from the crowd. Failing that, a hook in the execution can make the difference. 'Bridget Jones's Diary' has the diary to hang its story on; ‘Two Can Play That Game’ uses breaking-the-fourth-wall conversations with the audience. Take a bold leap and find your tweak. It may make all the difference.
Tip #5: The Sexy Funny
Everybody remembers the 'fake orgasm in the deli' scene from 'When Harry Met Sally.' Romantic comedies that have pushed the erotic envelope have often scored with their audiences. The zipper scene from 'There's Something About Mary,' the dress straps 'Jerry Maguire' breaks, 'American Pie's pie -- successes like these show that the humor to be found in sexual situations is well worth pursuing. At the same time, don't forget that any comedy should provide at least a couple of truly funny set- pieces. Has your romantic conflict gotten so serious that the script is light on laughs? Find the humor in it and maximize. Steep your characters in painful, truth-baring situations, and look for gags to build bigger gags on. Smiles and chuckles don't sell a script. 'Ha- ha!' laughs-out-loud do.
Tip #6: The Meaning
At the core of any great romantic comedy is some kind of thematic idea grounded in the writer's personal point of view. Why are you writing this particular story about this specific couple? What about their story reflects some insight you have about the relations between men and women or the human condition? What question are you asking that your screenplay's story answers? The romantic comedies that endure -- and strike a real chord with their audiences -- are the ones that explore universal issues. 'When Harry Met Sally...' is about whether men and women can overcome gender differences. 'Tootsie' is about how no man (especially when he becomes a woman) is an island. Your romantic comedy should be posing a question, or poking at a truth, that you, the writer, are passionately invested in exploring. That's the real key to involving an audience, and no amount of cute one-liners can take its place. So have your movie MEAN something. It will help it to get made -- and to matter.
*****This article was created by Michael Elliot, http://www.michaelelliotmedia.com/ and reposted here at Million Dollar Screenwriter. He is the writer of half a dozen produced movies and a great inspiration to emerging screenwriters. Sign up for his newsletter. It is chocked full of useful and timely information that will help propel your screenwriting career to the next level.