Keep it Real. Even When it’s Fake
Two years ago, on the verge of directing my first feature film, I wrote things that would seem irrelevant to my second feature (now entering pre-production). After all, the film we were shooting back then was an intense emotional drama. And the one we’ll be shooting next is an unapologetically absurd monster movie spoof. What did I write back then?
I wrote, “I’m deep in the throes of anxcitement (anxiety + excitement).” Well, OK, that’s just as true now, and undoubtedly will be every time I’m blessed to lead such a large undertaking. There’s a reason filmmakers compare making movies to giving birth!
But I also wrote, “Actors can’t pretend to be real, they have to be real. Michael Curtiz, the director of Cassablanca, said ‘Don’t act, just think–and the camera will see it.’ My job, I explained, was “to place my actors in circumstances that allow them to be real.”
But is that true of a comedy, especially an all-out farce like This is Spinal Tap or Galaxy Quest? Or Anchorman or Shaun of the Dead?
Yes, it is!
What makes those films work is their absurd earnestness. Think of Leslie Nielsen’s classic response to the question “Surely you can’t be serious?” in Airplane, “Yes, I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.” What makes it funny (in both the writing and performance) is the same thing that makes Bogey and Bergman so compelling in Casablanca. Their complete and utter sincerity.
So here we go again. I’ve just finished the current draft of the screenplay for Notzilla, and will no doubt do a lot of re-writing before it’s camera-ready, i.e. actor and crew ready. Pray with me, if you will, that I’m able to make every description of my rubber-suited monster, every ridiculous line my befuddled B-movie characters say, true. Pray that I’m able to keep it real.
Ridiculously and hilariously real.