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Monday, February 16, 2009
David mentioned that this was a unique challenge, and I definitely agree. Not only were we trying to write for established actors with fairly distinctive styles, but hopefully to create something that could be expanded into a television show.
In some ways, this felt more about writing the world's shortest pilot than a sketch.
I'm sure I'll be kicking more ideas around over the week, because I'd love to come up with stuff that feels a little more modern (along the lines of "The Office", "Extras" or "30 Rock"), but here's my first wild stab:
INT. BRITISH PUB - NIGHT
ELTON, a stout British man in his mid-fifties sits alone at a quiet table amidst a smattering of other quiet patrons. He wears a tweed jacket with elbow patches an a tartan bowtie. He occasionally sips a beer while reading a classic-looking book through wire-rimmed round glasses. The barkeep dries glasses behind the bar.
Offstage the door to the pub opens. ELTON looks up as GENE speaks to an unseen crowd in an American accent.
OH YEAH!!! OXFORD LOVES THE GENE-MACHINE BABY!!! AND THE GENE-MACHINE LOVES YOU RIGHT BACK!!! GOOD NIGHT OXFORD!!! STAY CLASSICAL YOU HORNY BASTARDS!!!
ELTON shakes his head and buries his nose back in his book. The door closes, and GENE enters. He is a lanky-sort in his late fifties, with flowing gray hair and the bearing of a bad-boy rock star. He wears a emerald velvet jacket collar turned up, and gold silk scarf. GENE walks over ELTON’s table, spins on his heels, pulls the spare chair out, straddles and sits across from ELTON, staring at him. ELTON ignores GENE for a moment, then speaks.
I take it your lecture was well received?
Oh good, another spontaneously invented word.
Mind blowing Elton. I had no idea I was this good.
You rarely miss noticing amazing things about yourself.
The whole room just wanted me...badly.
Shakespearean dissertations have that affect on people.
I could see people wiggling in their seats!
Sexual desire and rapt boredom look so similar.
Yeah...that confused me at first. But by the end...huh? How do you explain that?
Sadly, I missed the ending. I left somewhere between the 60 foot laser animation of Romeo and Juliet freak dancing and your third failed attempt to stage dive.
I can’t believe you missed the end! It was epic. So I’m wrapping up with my thoughts on “To be or not to be”, right? But, like, not many people know that speech, right?
Only ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent of Oxford students could recite it from memory.
Right! So I want to make sure it sticks with people, because it’s a pretty good speech to know. So I have this stripper pole lowered from the ceiling, and I start doing the speech, ripping off clothes as I do, dancing around the pole like Hamlet is dancing around his destiny.
That metaphor is now dead to me.
I get near the end of the speech, and I’m down to just my pants. I climb up the pole and do one of those lean backwards, upside down things, facing the audience, legs clinched around the top, and I rip the pants off. I say the last line with a ruff collar around each thigh and Shakespeare’s head covering my boys. The crowd’s response was...
Total stunned silence.
My second guess.
They were so overwhelmed they couldn’t make a sound.
You sure they weren’t keeping their jaws clamped shut vis a vis the aforementioned vomiting?
Jaws were dropped open all over that auditorium.
And you...head of the English department. You missed it.
Yes...What was I thinking?
GENE rips the book from ELTON’s hands.
Bleak House? You left MY lecture to sit in a pub and read Bleak House?
Careful...that’s a rare edition.
Oooohhhh...better rush home and read Bleak House one more time. Dickens will release that sequel any day now.
ELTON takes his book back from GENE
Well at least I’m versed in the Goddamn material I teach!!!
The whole room goes deathly quiet. ELTON looks around slightly embarrassed, then start speaking to GENE again in a more hushed tone.
Look, may I speak frankly?
You’re British, I doubt it.
The Oxford trustees forced me to invite you to be a guest instructor. One of them read an article in People about you...
I opened for Britney Spears at Yale.
They thought you had a new voice, some new insight into Shakespearean literature.
I was put on this Earth to make Shakespeare sexy.
You’re making it repulsive! You’re an arrogant self-absorbed moron who has no insight into the works of William Shakespeare whatsoever, and you hide your astounding stupidity beneath stale rock concert effects and strip-club vulgarity!
You’re just jealous of my obvious sex appeal.
There is nothing appealing about a man nearing sixty hanging upside down from a stripper pole in a thong!
And ruff collars.
Doesn’t improve the overall visual. Now, if this is all you have to offer Oxford, I’m afraid we will have to terminate your stay immediately.
MARJORIE, an attractive woman in her forties walks over. She is also British, and dressed very conservatively.
Good evening Doctor Lonsberry.
ELTON immediately stands up, all smiles and nerves.
Oh, Good Evening Professor Elsbeth. I had no idea you frequented this pub.
I come here every night. In fact, I’ve seen you in here several times since I told you I loved coming here and reading Dickens.
Oh...yes....so you have...and so you did...ah, my mind is such a sieve sometimes Marjorie...ha ha...may I call you Marjorie?
Am I interrupting something?
Not at all...Professor Douglas and I were just discussing his lecture tonight.
Yes...I saw that...performance. I sat there all the way to the bitter end.
Look Marjorie, if I’d had any idea how his presentation would go, believe me I would’ve...
MARJORIE approaches GENE with an intense glare in her eyes.
Professor Douglas. I refuse to let you leave this pub until you...
Marjorie rips open her blouse
...sign my cleavage.
GENE stands up, pulls a Sharpie out of his jacket, and signs MARJORIE’s chest
Now put Shakespeare’s signature right underneath.
Dear God man, where have you been hiding? Hamlet has never gotten me so hot. I had to have 3 cigarettes after your lecture. I must run to the lavatory, but when I return, I want to see how much of a Rogue and Peasant slave you are, you naughty man.
MARJORIE kisses GENE hard then walks off, flirting with him the whole way. ELTON just watches, stunned. GENE sits down, looking smug.
I’ve got a Dickens seminar next month. How would you attach mutton chops and a stovepipe hat so that wouldn’t fall off when upside down?
This was a weird assignment, to be sure. The parts of PRINE and BRODY are written with the actors Brent Spiner and Stephen Fry in mind...which was kind of fun. I had some fun with it...hopefully you'll agree that I managed something, at least, a bit funny...
INT - THEATRE - EVENING
BRODY GILCREST, portly, middle aged Brit with dark hair, sits at a wooden table backstage, sipping tea. Across from him, partially in shadows, THOMAS PRINE fiddles with something O.S.
Isn't that thing about ready, Thomas. My tea is cold, my patience is shot, and curtain call is in less than an hour.
PRINE sticks his head out of the shadows. He's grinning broadly and his eyes sparkle.
We'll be ready, and it's going to be spectacular - like the old days.
Those days, I'm afraid, are far behind us. The turning over of new leaves often reveals nothing more than damp earth.
You should try smiling. You used to smile quite a lot, as I recall.
BRODY harumphs and drains the last of his now tepid tea.
So, Thomas, this ... thing ... of yours. You say it will bring down the house? Guaranteed? With the budget we've been provided, I'd be surprised to see more than a dry-ice fog and a few colored lights.
I still have...contacts.
Yes, old boy, but you aren't to CONTACT them, don't you see.
BRODY stares into the shadows and frowns.
Should I be...concerned?PRINE's head sticks out of the shadows again, his grin even wider.
Have I ever given you reason for concern?
A door opens O.S. Voices echo, two men, and a woman. The woman laughs.
(rising) I'm glad you are all early. Thomas is making some last minute shifts in the special effects. Please...get ready.
BOBBY PRENTISS, young, dark haired with a cocky grin saunters onto the stage. He's dressed in black leather, a motorcycle jacket with a patch on the sleeve that says BRONZE ANGELS. Beside him, GINGER BUCHANAN, early twenties, petite in skintight jeans and a tube top totters on too-tall heels. Behind them, JIM JENKINS, mid forties with a paunch steps onto the stage. He's dressed in a police officer's uniform.
I love cops and robbers.
Just get that thing working. We now have less than twenty minutes.
Could...could we run through it one time?
BRODY sees the girl's nervousness.
Quickly then. Bobby, center stage with Ginger.
What is it? We're just doing a test run.
PRINE returns to his tinkering and the actor's take their places. Bobby stands, hands in pockets in a perfect James Dean slouch. Ginger stands in front of him, glancing over her shoulder nervously.
So...you're gonna go back to Daddy, play the good girl, screw ol' Joey huh?
You know I love you, Joey, but.
I know...I'm bad. Always been bad, always will be. Can't blame you for cutting out.
(starts to turn away) I...
BOBBY steps forward and wraps her in his arms. She pulls back, and then, as if unable to resist, flutters her eyelids and turns back.
I don't want you to go, baby.
BRODY waves at Prine in the shadows.
O.S. a police siren wails. Tires screech. A door slams. JENKINS steps onto the stage. He's wearing an odd, futuristic helmet, and holding a strange gun leveled at BOBBY.
BOBBY lets go of GINGER, obviously confused. He reaches to his belt, as if going for a gun, or a knife.
You'll never take me, John Law.
BRODY starts to rise and move forward.
You might want to say cut before...
JENKINS grins evilly. His eyes are wide, and he points the strange gun straight at BOBBY's heart.
Name's jot John, scumbag. Names Alexander. Alexander Hughes, and...as a matter of fact, I am the law.
BRODY turns to PRINE, eyes wide.
Sorry, I couldn't resist. I changed the line.
BRODY turns back as JENKINS pulls the trigger. There's a a flash of brilliant blue light. What appears to be lightning snaps across the stage and bursts through BOBBY's chest, continuing on through curtains and walls. JENKINS stares at the gun, then lets it fall from his hand and staggers back. GINGER faints.
(calmly) Thomas...what have you done?
Cool, huh? I made it out of spare parts.
There is the sound of falling debris, and a horrible creak from the ceiling above. Both men look up.
I suggest that - perhaps - we should run?
I think I need to explain the word retirement to you in clearer terms.
BRODY and PRINE run for the back exit. As the building begins to fall down around them, crushing the actors and the stage, PRINE begins to laugh.
I TOLD you to say cut.
Next time be clear.
Be fair, (diving through the rear door as the walls collapse) I DID bring the house down...
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Ken's entryI thought Ken started off the week on a solid note. It seems to me that for a fake movie trailer for an old TV show to be funny (not necessarily indicative of a good movie) it needs to have a stark tonal shift from the source material. The source material should also be something with which the audience is very familiar. E.g. NYPD Blue turned into a frathouse movie or Starsky and Hutch as a gay romcom.1 His Tarantino meets Tootie succeeded on both fronts, taking a well-known and recognizable little romp and flipping it on its head into a darkly comic shoot em up.
One area where I feel Ken didn't succeed was including Tarantino's heavy use of popculture references, both in dialog and in shot selection. We're all working on short deadlines when we write these sketches, so I suspect another day or two would have made a big difference. Especially with a show like this, I think a few winks and nods toward George Clooney, or the difficulties the Different Strokes kids have had as adults would really kick this up a bit.
RA's entryI succeeded in what I set out to do, though I could also have used another day or two to polish. As I said above, but applying a tonal shift to a well known property, I get a lot of humor based on the audience's inverted expectations. Added to that, the genre I picked - blaxploitation flicks - lends itself to parody. In a genre where many of the foundational entries were nearly self-parodic, it's hard not to get some easy laughs. Like Ken's, mine feels basically like a trailer, though we both wrote ours in mostly chronological order. A few more cuts, a little less narrative arc, and I think I'd have been closer to the feel of a trailer.
But more than pulling the scenes out of strict chronological order, I needed to watch a bunch of genre trailers and work on the dialog for the characters and especially the narrator. It's vaguely close, but not right by any means. Watching those would also have given me a better idea for what to do with those spray painted titles, though I got pretty close with those.
Peter's entryI like Peter's entry quite a lot, but I don't find it very funny. Where it fails for me is taking a light actioner and turning it into an action-thriller. It just didn't change enough to have any inherit humor, leaving it up to Peter to write a lot of funny bits. But because it's now an action-thriller, there's not much funny there.
Of all the entries, his feels the most like a modern movie trailer. It does suffer a bit from chronological scene ordering, but gets away with it better because the underlying film jumps around in time.
I'd definitely be interested in seeing this film - a strong antagonist for Sam is what QL always lacked - but I wouldn't expect it to be a comedy based on this trailer.
David W's entryDavid admitted to having some trouble with this topic and it didn't help that we changed it late in the week leading up to the battle so he only had a couple of days to work on it. This sketch feels very little like a trailer. It plays out more like the opening scene for the movie. It also doesn't have a consistent tone. At times, I think this is going to be a light-thriller, like E.T., where nefarious forces find out about Ed and come looking for him. At other times, it feels like a straight up family comedy, in line with the original show. Because the sketch isn't clear what it wants to be, I'm not clear how I should take it.
Criticisms aside, there are a few chuckles on display. It's juvenile, but the poison gas bit is cute, as is the "now you've stepped in it" line. However, it's these very chuckles that make this out to be a family comedy in the Beethoven age group.
Michael's entryMichael also wrote something that plays out more like a single scene from the movie than a traditional trailer. I think he manages to balance his two genres well, though. Keeping the voices of his characters true to the originals but moving them into a horror film works *because* of Wes Craven.2 His Scream series pushed the light horror genre into the mainstream, making a horror film where Woody's making dumb comments about Occam's Razor feel perfectly natural. The humor in this sketch comes from the character interactions and very little from the setting. It could as easily have been a Halloween episode of Cheers instead of the trailer for a film.
I think I would have liked this one a bit better if it had hewed to the conventions of trailers a bit more, at least by cutting together more scenes. Nonetheless, I think it's a funny one.
Dave's entryIf I were ranking the sketches, Dave's would have come in first by a large margin. Now, *technically* he cheated the topic a little bit. Entertainment Tonight isn't exactly the type of TV show one would ever expect to see as a film, but it obeys the letter of the law. Beyond that, it is *funny*. By twisting the genre completely - turning ET into an All the President's Men look into an Oscar conspiracy - Dave really pulled me in. At the same time I'm laughing, I'm thinking this might be a *good* movie. Silly, maybe, but he's not taking it that way.
Dave's also feels the most like a modern trailer. From the very opening to the final shot, the cuts scenes tell the story without *spoiling* the story. A really fine example of the form.
RA's bonus entryKen and I had both been toying with second ideas during the week, his a full sketch and mine just a teaser. He actually posted his first, but I scheduled mine to run a few hours earlier so his would be top of the blog until the wrapup.
There isn't much to mine, but I think I perfectly nailed what I was looking for. In fact, when Ken commented that he heard Danny Elfman playing while reading it, I knew I'd hit my target. This should feel like a cross between Tim Burton and Barry Sonnenfeld, and an Elfman score would fit it perfectly. What the movie is? I don't know or care. But the teaser came to me fully formed.
I think it works because, well, there isn't much there. The movie's tone was hopefully obvious from the description of the camera work and the final weirdness of the maze spelling out the title of the movie. Once the tone wass set and the title delivered, my job was done.
Ken's bonus entryThere is nothing not funny about a title mashup. This sketch works not because it defies genre conventions, but because it pairs two incompatible genres. The silliness of Chico and the Man dropped into the thriller world of Manimal succeeds on its fish out of water strength.3 The sketch feels like a trailer, and because it doesn't attempt to go from film's start to its end, it doesn't even feel as chronologically bound as most of our other trailers this week.
In some ways, I think Ken's bonus entry is better than his first entry.
1. See how a funny trailer can be a NOT funny movie. Each comedy idea has an ideal length, something the writers of SNL have *still* never learned. Week in and week out they stretch two-minute ideas into five-minute sketches. Likewise the atrocious S&H movie. Funny for a trailer, not two hours.
2. To a lesser extent it also works because of George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. I don't know if Michael has ever seen House or House II: The Second Story, but they were horror films from '86 and '87. The first starred William Katt and Wendt. It was slightly light horror. The second starred Arye Gross and featured Ratzenberger and was *extremely* light horror. I actually recommend them both as easy-going fun.
3. Yes, I know. Manimal is silly too, but it wasn't *intended* to be silly. If we accept Manimal on its terms, it is a light actioner more in line with Knight Rider than a self-parody. With a modern SFX budget, I think a big screen Manimal could actually hit its target, making Chico's presence very out of place and therefore funny.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Another great fight this week with six warriors bringing eight sketches. Yeah, we got a little crazy.
- Ken started us off with a little controversy, mashing Tarantino and the Eastland School...
- RA shot back with a tale of a life got flipped, turned upside down...
- Peter JUMPED into the arena...
- DNW brought in the cavalry, and launched a poison gas attack...
- Michael launched a supernatural attack where everyone knows your name...
- Dave showed us the seedy underbelly of Entertainment...
- RA fired a second shot from the safety of the countryside...
- Ken assembled a crime fighting duo with real animal magnetism...
Next week we're changing things up a little bit. Because they asked the Twitterverse for it, we're going to write sketches - hopefully ones that could be expanded into TV shows - intended to star @stephenfry and @BrentSpiner.
If you think you've got the comedy chops to do battle with our scarredand bitter warriors, if you dare step into the hailstorm of seltzer andcream pies, if you think you're MAN ENOUGH to make us laugh, write asketch and contact us at sketchwar(nospam)@dreamloom.com.
Well, I couldn't resist. I had this idea when I was working on the Facts of Life sketch earlier for this weeks "Pimp My TV" theme, and people giggled everytime I mentioned it. So, I just had to write it up. I'm just being a little high-concept sketch piggy this week :)
Anyway, hope you enjoy this:
INT. MANSION ENTRYWAY - DAY
Close up on a tuxedo clad handsome blond man in his early thirties, DR. CHASE, adjusts his clothes for a night out when the camera freezes on a closeup of his face
Dr. Jonathan Chase... wealthy, young, handsome. A man with the brightest of futures. A man with the darkest of pasts. From Africa's deepest recesses, to the rarefied peaks of Tibet, heir to his father's legacy and the world's darkest mysteries. Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man
The camera un-freezes. The doorbell rings and DR. CHASE answers. CHICO, a young handsome latino in his early twenties stands there.
Hey, man...you need, like, any help with the gardening, or maybe someone to wash your limo?
Freeze on a close up of CHICO’S face
Chico Juarez...unemployed, young, latino. A man with a questionable future. A man with a past no one cares about. Heir to his cousin’s Econovan, master of the dance floor.
Camera un-freezes. DR. CHASE walks over to CHICO and puts his hand on his shoulder.
The Ghostly head of Dr. Chase’s father, Dr. CHASE Senior appears. Only DR. CHASE can see or hear it.
DR. CHASE SENIOR
(in an ethereal voice)
Jonathan...this man can help you in your quest...accept his aid
The head fades
My friend, providence has brought us together.
No man...I just noticed you got, like, the only mansion in the barrio. So I figure you got money and you like Mexicans, si hermano? Hey, nice threads, man! Hot date tonight?
Camera freezes on the two men facing other in profile.
Together, they’re an unstoppable crime-fighting force of nature.
They turn to silhouettes and titles fly in:
CHICO AND THE MANIMAL
INT. LIMO - NIGHT
CHICO, now wears a chauffeur’s uniform and drives, while DR. CHASE, still in his tuxedo.
Why we gotta follow this car man? My cousin is the bouncer at this hot club...wall to wall chicas.
They’re stopping. Quick...the window.
CHICO stops the car, and presses a button lowering a back window. DR. CHASE transforms into a black panther. After a dramatic snarl the panther leaps out the back window in slow motion. CHICO stares ahead looking on in awe.
Go get ‘em Dr. Chase.
CHICO notices a smell in the air. After sniffing he looks in the back seat.
Awww man...you chase bad guys, I get to hose out the back seat...again!!! Madre de Dios.
INT. MANSION ENTRYWAY - DAY
With the unknowing assistance of Detective Brooke Mackenzie, they’ll fight to take back the city from the evil that consumes it.
BROOKE MACKNZIE, a beautiful blonde police detective in her late twenties addresses DR. CHASE
If you do see a panther in the area, don’t try to subdue it yourself.
Of course detective Mackenzie. But how curious that a wild animal like that was such an aid in apprehending those arms dealers.
Yes, it was curious...are you sure...
CHICO enters, looking at BROOKE and obviously attracted. BROOKE notices CHICO, and stumbles over her words.
Que pasa, chica?
CHICO walks around BROOKE, slowly checking her out. BROOKE giggles slightly
But the panther was of tremendous help...one might even say heroic in it’s actions.
Oh God yeah...it was so...so hot...helpful, I mean...oh yeah, soooooooo helpful. He moves so gracefully...IT..IT moved!
EXT. ABANDONED DIRT LOT - NIGHT
Together, they’ll face everything the mean streets can throw at them
CHICO drags DR. CHASE around the corner of a chain link fence, falling back against it. Both men are scraped, bloody and bruised, with large rips in their clothes. CHICO looks back to make sure they weren’t followed.
You’ve saved my life my friend. I’m forever in your debt.
Just promise me one thing.
Don’t EVER change into a chicken in the barrio again. It’s suicide!
INT. WAREHOUSE LOFT - NIGHT
CHICO talks to JORGE, while DR. CHASE stands nearby.
(to DR. CHASE)
Jorge’s my cousin, it’s cool. Show him.
DR. CHASE looks nervous, then transforms into a panther.
Madre de Dios! It’s true!
JORGE runs off screen and returns a black velvet canvas on an easel, and starts painting the panther in neon colores. CHICO smiles
When animal magnetism meets latin heat, it can only be...
Titles fly in as the ANNOUNCER says them
Chico....and the Manimal!
EXT. CORN MAZE - DAY
The camera enters the maze and flies through it, cutting around corners, swinging like a pendulum, a rapid swirl of green corn and pale yellow hay. It comes to a dead end. A pig oinks softly. The camera swings around and moves off, the grunts getting louder.
Literally through one of the maze walls and find the pig, running with purpose through the maze. The camera follows as the pig rapidly cuts through to the end.
Outside the maze, farmland stretches to the horizon. The camera swings back around to the exterior of the maze, swings down to the ground, and flies straight up, away from the ground.
From high in the sky looking down on the maze we see it spells out -
Everything but the words fades to black and a title appears underneath -
FADE TO BLACK: