Relationships and romance have been the inspiration behind an endless number of remarkable moments in cinema. This Valentine’s Day week, we are looking to past AFF panelists for tips on the key to inventing a romance that stands the test of time.
1. Background History Crafts Well-Rounded Characters
I think about everything, where they go to college and, you know, I don’t just write a married couple without knowing how long they were married or, you know, I came up with this story in IT’S COMPLICATED, how he cheated on his wife. Like, how did that happen? It’s not in the movie, but I know how it happened. I know where he met her.” – Nancy Meyers (2016 Distinguished Screenwriter, writer/director It’s Complicated)
For more from Nancy Meyers, watch our On Story episode Complicated Relationships: A Conversation with Nancy Meyers at onstory.tv
2. Use Nuggets of Truth
“For HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU…we just got, I mean, how many people together? That was like, I would say ninety percent of those stories were real stories from either friends of ours, or friends of the producers, or Abby got a dinner together with a bunch of people and said, ‘What are the worst things that ever happened to you, dating-wise?’ So those are all real, pretty much. So I think you go outside of yourself…” – Marc Silverstein (writer He’s Just Not That Into You)
“You go outside of yourself, but just like, one step outside of yourself. Like friends, or friends of friends. Most stuff has a nugget of something that really happened, whether to us, to our friend—most of it really has a nugget of truth to it.” – Abby Kohn (writer He’s Just Not That Into You)
3. Zig-Zag Through Genre Expectations
“500 days of summer was sort of two things. One, it was just me exercising some demons. And the other thing was a reflection of the fact that, I look to pop culture to answer the big life questions, and I could find music that helped me. I could find books that helped me, and a lot of TV was helpful to get over this thing, but none of the movies that were made in that period of time were in any way representative of what I was dealing with, and we got really frustrated and we said, ‘We really have to figure out how to write one of these’ it’s romantic because it’s romantic, and it’s comedic because of the couple. A lot of the comedy of these romantic comedies were being made would be hilarious, but not really sourced from the couple. It would be a relationship is over here, and then the funny friend would be over there doing shenanigans, or there would be a setpiece, but they go to the zoo, and an animal would attack somebody or something like that. And so we wanted to sort of go back to basics, and that meant throwing, doing it, zigging where everyone else was zagging. And the marketability of your thing should be irrelevant at this stage. You should think about the best version, wha- why do you want to sit down and write it, why is it exciting to you, and what are you going to do to write a script for a movie that you’d be excited exists?” – Scott Neustadter (writer The Disaster Artist, (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars)
4. Layered Dialogue = High-Level Romance
I love the scene in SILVER LININGS between them in the diner, when they kind of have that non-date, not-date, you know, and he’s asking her to get the letter, and you know, she throws the cup of cereal at him, or whatever, – but the scene is really about something. When you go back and watch it, that scene is about judgment, and he is, he is judging her, and putting her, like, saying, ‘Well, you’re that kind of girl,’ and so, so there’s, there’s so much going on in it, and she’s then defending herself against that, but they also clearly, because of the chemistry, are attracted to each other. So you’ve got all these levels in the scene, it’s not just two people talking.”– Tess Morris (writer Man Up, Casual, The Great)
5. Battle Against the Norm
“I thought it was a stronger arc to have somebody to—to have somebody who starts off as severely imperfect and then go to just being like, regular imperfect, but show that they learned something about themselves and that they became more of a quality person. And so, you know, we kind of battled back and forth, and the note that I always battled up against was, ‘We’re going to lose the audience before the movie gets started,’ and I would always think, ‘It’s not like they’re going to sit down and then go, Gee, I don’t like him! and then go demand their money back.’ We’ve already got them there, maybe we can give something that pays off in the end.” – Geoff LaTulippe (writer Going the Distance)
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