What I Learned From Seeing FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF in a Crowded Theater!

It’s Ferris and Cameron’s 30th Anniversary! I don’t know if it’s playing in your town. Perhaps it is. Hope so!

At my school, we regularly screen movies so students can get a chance to see them on a big screen. The first one we showed was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Very few students had ever seen it. On a big screen, it is breathtaking. One student told me the next day, “After it was over, I couldn’t talk for 45 minutes.”

We don’t just show big spectaculars. Last semester, we showed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which all of them had seen, repeatedly. Not only had none of them seen it on a big screen, none had seen it in a crowded theater.

Watching a comedy with 250 people is a completely different experience than watching it at home with five people, or on your smartphone, or on an airplane with headphones, in a cocoon of loneliness. Movies, one must remind oneself, were created to be witnessed and enjoyed with other people. Filmgoing is not supposed to be a solitary art, yet, we forget this.

Watching Ferris Bueller with 250 other people taught me something important: physical humor is a lot funnier than witty dialogue.

I noticed this fairly quickly. When 250 people are laughing, things that are not funny when you’re alone become hilarious. The tone of the room is different. Lots of people laughing get you laughing. Moments that get glossed over when you watch alone, are actually funny. How do you know it’s funny? Because people laugh.

A funny moment in Ferris Bueller was much funnier when done physically. Once I noticed this phenomenon, I began to pay attention. The laughs that came from physical comedy were much deeper, more emotional, more enjoyable, and lasted longer than the laughs that came from dialogue.

For the first time, I deeply understood why filmmakers in the 1920s and 30s lamented the arrival of sound. It’s easier to think up funny dialogue that it is to think up a funny moments for physical action. But, it’s worth it. But after my Ferris Bueller screening, I understood and I hope you do too, that physical funny is a much better and more satisfying laugh than word funny.

Keep this in mind as you write your script.

I suggest watching shorts by Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd. There is a lot to learn from the guys who did it at the beginning, before they could write witty dialogue.

In honor of Ferris’ 30th Anniversary… “Oh Yeah,” by Yello.


Oh Yeah by Mello

And, one of the finest scenes in all of movies… sorry for the synch problem.


1961 Ferrari GT California

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4 Comments

Filed under character, Details, Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing Process

4 responses to “What I Learned From Seeing FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF in a Crowded Theater!

  1. Do you have any favorite examples of well written physical comedy in script format? I’ve had difficulty finding scripts for some of my favorites and have wondered how much is written and how much comes from the actor.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      What a great question!

      My favorite movies with physical comedy are USED CARS by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale and NOISES OFF, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Based on the play by Michael Frayn, the script was written by Marty Kaplan. I don’t have either one. Nor can I find them on line.

      Long ago, I had a copy of USED CARS. No more, sadly. All I remember about it was that every single sentence ended in an exclamation point! Every one!

      EXT. CAR DEALERSHIP DAY

      Rudy comes outside! The sun’s shining! It’s a beautiful day!

      Never seen that before or since. Sure gave the script a ton of energy.

      I’ve heard that IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD had two screenplays, one for the story and dialogue and a separate one for the physical comedy.

      All these scripts should be in the Academy library in Los Angeles and you can read them there. Not much help, I’m afraid if you’re not in L.A….

  2. Anon

    Oh Yeah is by YELLO!

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