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How to Write a Great Scene: BRIDESMAIDS

5 November 2014

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 November 5, 2014
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Ever wonder how to write great comedy?  One of the secrets is to write great scenes. Watch this one from BRIDESMAIDS, and then we’ll break it down.

AIRPLANE SCENE

Hilarious right?  And from now on, I insist that everyone call me Mrs. Iglesias.

Let’s talk about what makes this scene fantastic.  And by the way, we’re talking about film comedy here, but the following applies to scenes in any genre, as well as fiction and memoir.

The key to a great scene is that we need to see a character DOING THINGS to achieve his/her GOAL, hitting obstacles, and either succeeding or failing in a way that moves the story forward.

This clip is technically two scenes, because there’s a time cut, but it can also play singly.  Annie (Kristin Wiig) has a goal–  to sit in first class with her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) because she fears Helen (Rose Byrne) is trying to steal her away.

Let’s list all the ACTIONS Annie takes to achieve her goal.

  1. Having taken a pill (and some scotch) to calm her nerves, she sneaks up from economy and ruffles Lillian’s hair to get her attention.
  2. She acts grateful to Helen for the pill– “Thank you so much Helen.”  She’s trying to act chill, “See how mellow and open I am?”
  3. Next, she gets bitchy with Helen and mocks her voice.
  4. When the Flight Attendant tells her to go back to Economy she tries to kiss up to him
  5. When that doesn’t work, she calls him Hitler
  6. She realizes she can’t stay up in first class, and tries to make light of it, “I’m going to take a nap.”
  7. Before leaving she implies the “class” system on board is unfair, “It’s the nineties.”
  8. Later, she puts on sunglasses and tries to disguise herself.  She pretends to be Mrs. Iglesias.
  9. When the Flight Attendant once again appears and Helen offers Annie her seat, she uses pity, “Help me, I’m poor.”
  10. The Flight Attendant tells her to move and she stalls, saying she can’t get anywhere in three seconds.
  11. She mocks his name, calling him “Stove”
  12. She refuses to close the curtain.

 

What makes this scene comedic is the manner in which Annie is doing all these things.  The writers, Wiig and Annie Mumolo, have made their character afraid of flying.  She takes the pill to deal with her fear and gets wasted (and yes,  wasted people are funny.)  All filters are off.  This allows her character to go to outrageous, ridiculous lengths to get what she wants.

In his book Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder lays out four things you need to make a scene work.

First, he says, you need conflict.  In this scene, Annie wants to be in First Class, and the flight attendant tries to stop her.  See how their goals are in DIRECT OPPOSITION?  There’s also secondary friction between Annie and Helen.

Snyder also says your scene needs a beginning, middle and end. Here’s how it lays out in our BRIDESMAIDS clip… Beginning—Annie wants to be with Lillian, comes to first class, and tries to be part of their conversation.  Middle—She’s mean to Helen, is confronted by the Flight Attendant, gets kicked out, and sneaks back, in disguise. End– She gets permanently forced back to economy.

The third requirement for a great scene is an emotional shift for the main character– Annie starts out happy, relaxed, and ends up petulant and ostracized.

A great scene also needs to move the story forward—ultimately, Annie’s behavior gets them kicked off the plane and destroys the trip.

Take action!  Do you have a problem scene?  Does your character have a specific goal and take different actions to achieve that goal? Who or what tries to stop them?  Does the scene have a clear beginning, middle and end?  Is there an emotional shift for the character?  Does the scene move the story forward?

If any of these things are missing, add them.  See what happens.  But the most important thing is that your character takes action to get what they want.  And that there’s an obstacle.

When writing comedy, it sometimes helps to go outrageous.

Add alcohol, Xanax and stir.

Happy Writing!

xo Pat

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