How do you make money being funny? Last weekend, the Greenwich International Film Festival’s Comedy Of Business Panel featured a selection of industry luminaries to talk about that exact topic. Actor Will Arnett (“Flaked”) joined producers Richard Brener (“Wedding Crashers”), Stuart Cornfeld (“Tropic Thunder”) and Chris Bender (“American Pie”) to talk about the process behind making a truly great comedy.
Between jokes about Twitter “correctness” and losing the script for “The Hangover” (which would go on to gross around $50 million), the seasoned assembly got down to the heart of what comedic films are today. Here are the three of their most interesting insights they had to offer.
Let the Douche Be the Fall Guy
“All of us are constantly being painted further and further into a corner,” said Arnett on the topic of political correctness in feature comedies.
In a time when Twitter backlash can ruin a career over an off color joke, the industry leaders had quite a bit to say about finding where to draw the line. When asked about Ben Stiller’s infamous “Tropic Thunder,” Cornfeld admitted it would be difficult to produce today, especially when it comes to the movie’s “full retard” sequence, of which Cornfeld said, “I can’t believe you would tell a joke like that now.” Richard Brener added, “or then.”
He later added, “Don’t aim low and miss. If there’s no joke behind the joke and it’s just mean spirited you’re going to fall on your face.” The panel revealed that it was this very reason that so many comedies feature an unlikable character saying horrendous things, like ‘American Pie’s douche extraordinaire Stiffler. If the audience knows the joke is coming from a bad person, they are less likely to take offense.
“I play a lot of dumb characters on purpose so I can say a lot of shitty things,” Arnett joked.
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R-Rated Movies Have More Fun
With difficulty to create comedy that would be inoffensive to anyone, the speakers agreed that R-rated comedy was the place to find freedom. Nearly everyone on the panel had taken part in making a movie that was acclaimed as bringing R-ratings back into style. From box office successes like the “Wedding Crashers” and “Zoolander” to the more recent giant “The Hangover,” the popularity of R is cyclical every few years.
Speaking from his own experience with “American Pie,” Chris Bender noted that, “R is so much more freeing, both in, like, being more truthful and real in language.” PG-13 may be more attractive to studios that want as many people to see a movie as possible, but language constraints can often stunt comedy. Brener, who works for the studio New Line Cinema confirmed, “You only get one non-sexual ‘fuck.’”
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Make A Comedy For the Joy and the Pain
When you boil it down, comedies are perhaps the most difficult (and wonderful) movies to make.
For Arnett, “it’s always about the experience of it. I know that for me, as a performer, if you’re going to have a good experience and feel like you’re a part of something you are really into, the other person is going to raise their game. So, you want to do that because that’s kind of the recipe for success.” The panel agreed, if it looks like the audience was having fun making it, they probably were.
However, as a producer, that is not always the case. For Cornfeld, the Tenacious D movie was the best experience, but never yielded returns like he thought. Whereas on the set of “Zoolander,” his money problems with the studio went as far as debt collectors leaving him threatening messages at his home.
But it does feel good to look back and laugh. Brenner and Bender certainly do when they remember how they almost made “The Hangover.” After workshopping the script, and even providing the key plot point of the groom disappearing (something that really happened to a friend), the script went to another studio. They both admitted it would not be the same wonderful movie if they had made it.
In fact, it’s Brenner’s dad’s favorite movie. “He brings it up every time I see him,” he laughed at the lowest point of his career.
Watch the full panel below:
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- Sarah Colvin
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