×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Truth elbows out gags

WGA Awards 2012

Extemporized screenplays such as “Borat,” or those built through improv like “Another Year,” occasionally garner Oscar love. But the Writers Guild has been more enthusiastic about that style, nominating numerous entries with an impromptu feel, including “Best in Show,” “The Hangover” and (out of the Judd Apatow stable) “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and this year’s “Bridesmaids.”

Apatow credits “the enormous number of comedy writers in the guild, many more than in the Motion Picture Academy. People who’ve written comedy for television understand what we’re doing.”

It’s called “behavioral comedy,” says “Bridesmaids” helmer Paul Feig. TV’s pioneering handheld “The Office,” and loose, naturalistic features like “Waiting for Guffman,” whetted audience appetites for more reality and fewer gags.

“Jokes in themselves distance the audience from the reality, because they demand a response,” Feig says. “And if they don’t destroy, you tend to mistrust the people who made the movie.

“Look at the first ‘Austin Powers,’ which sold itself on those giant set-pieces and big gags. But what’s the funniest part of that? Dr. Evil and his son, that ‘Don’t talk’ goofing … the realistic playfulness where they’re just screwing around. Or if not, they feel like they are.”

On the set, Apatow declares, “The rule is we might do the scene, but if at any moment any actor gets an idea, we encourage him to toss the script. … A lot of the great moments have come from improvisations that were necessary for the actors to surprise each other.” The resulting string of hits has established a distinctive Apatow style that is close to being its own genre.

“These days, people very much want honesty,” Feig says. “You’ve really got to let the actors make the words fit out of their mouths,” a process that begins with structure. Yes, there’s some improvisation in “Bridesmaids,” “but we had a roadmap.”

One of the people who drew that roadmap, the pic’s star and co-writer Kristen Wiig, says, “It’s so hard to look at the final product and think what percentage was improvised and written, but we wrote everything out.”

Meaning, as writing partner Annie Mumolo puts it: “We had a shooting script which was the tightest version, and we always shot that first.”

But previous drafts yielded comedic fodder, which sometimes became laff gold. Wiig and Rose Byrne’s “dueling toasts” sequence, Apatow says, came out of riffing on a score of suggestions.

On the set of “50/50,” reports WGA nominee Will Reiser: “As long as we got what was on the page, we gave the actors the freedom to feel loose.” An extended sequence of aged cancer patients discussing old-time radio, he says, “is completely improvised and one of my favorite scenes.”

Many writers’ fave scenes were born of improv. A rambling Paul Reiser “Diner” speech opened Apatow’s adolescent eyes to “how truthful and natural comedy could be.” And Mumolo has never forgotten Bill Murray’s “Caddyshack” description of golfing with the Dalai Lama.

“I think I heard somewhere that it was improvised. I hope so. That’d make me so happy!”

WGA AWARDS 2012
Truth elbows out gags | Good timing for WGA prexy
Honorees
Kress & McDuffie | Eric Roth | Tate Taylor | Patric Verrone | Zwick & Herskovitz

More Film

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Seeks to Throw Out Gender Pay Gap Lawsuit

    The Walt Disney Co. is seeking to throw out a lawsuit alleging that women employees are paid less than men, arguing that the suit is too sprawling and unwieldy to handle as a class action. Andrus Anderson LLP filed the suit in April, alleging that Disney’s hiring and pay practices have a discriminatory effect on [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Christian Bale, Matt Damon to Campaign in Lead Actor Category for 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon will both campaign in the lead actor category for awards for their work in Fox’s upcoming “Ford v Ferrari,” Variety has learned. “Ford v Ferrari” follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver, Ken Miles (Bale), who [...]

  • Tezuka's Barbara film

    Tokyo Film Festival: Makoto Tezuka Probes Past and Present in 'Barbara'

    The son of the late Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “the god of manga” in Japan for his innovative and enduringly popular comics, Makoto Tezuka (also known as Macoto Tezka) long ago escaped his father’s looming shadow, carving out a career as a film and animation director. At the same time, he has [...]

  • Cuba Gooding Jr

    Cuba Gooding Jr. Sued for Allegedly Pinching Nightclub Server

    A Tao nightclub server who alleges that Cuba Gooding Jr., pinched her rear-end last year has sued the Oscar-winning actor for sexual battery. Natasha Ashworth had previously come forward to New York law enforcement, though her name had not been released publicly. Gooding was indicted last week on four misdemeanor counts, including two counts stemming [...]

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

  • Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film

    Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film 'Sole' to U.S., France (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fiorella Moretti and Hedi Zardi’s Paris-based sales agency Luxbox has closed several territory deals on Carlos Sironi’s “Sole,” which screened in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section and Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery sidebar. The film just won the audience award at Pingyao Intl. Film Festival in China and a Special Jury Mention for the lead actors [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content