Starting from the end? Safety Last

Ahh, early Hollywood, where filmmakers were just figuring out how to do things.  Where masterpieces could  be spun out in any way the director saw fit.  Previously I posted about how Buster Keaton would often build his stories beginning-end-middle.  Now I discovered this quote from Harold Lloyd.  It’s from an essay titled “The Serious Business of Being Funny”.

About using scripts.  In Safety Last, probably one of our most popular films, we did the final scenes of that clock climb first.  We didn’t know what we were going to have for the beginning of the film.  We hadn’t made up the opening.  After we found that we had, in our opinion, a very, very good thrill sequence, something that was going to be popular and bring in a few shekels, we went back and figured out what we would do for a beginning and worked on up.  We tried out the same thing in The Freshman.

In The Freshman we tried to shoot the football sequence first – it’s the best sequence, naturally – and we tried to do it first just as we had done the clock climb first in Safety Last.  We went out to the Rose Bowl where we did a great deal of the picture, and we worked for about a week and a half, but it didn’t come off.  It didn’t come off because we didn’t know the character at that time – we didn’t understand him well enough, and we were off with the wrong kind of material.  So we went back and did that story from the beginning, and the football game was shot at the last.

I can imagine conceiving a film this way.  Having a flash of an image or sequence that is so powerful, you could build a story around it.  For animation, that actually sounds quite acceptable.  But to actually start shooting that scene with no idea what came before, that would be considered crazy these days.

Here is one more significant quote from the same essay:

Look, all the comedians of my day had to be students of comedy.  You studied comedy, it just didn’t happen, believe me.

How come the English can do wordless TV animation?

Not long ago, Cartoon Brew posted some videos of the new Bugs and Daffy TV show.  As usual,  the producers hired a bunch of witty writers to come up with jokes for Bugs and Daffy.  Lots of attitude, but little action.

So why is it the English can turn out great TV animation that uses almost no dialog? What I’m thinking of are these two shows.  The Animated Mr. Bean, and Shaun the Sheep from Aardman. Here are samples.

Super Powers

I could easily tip into a rant on this topic.  But here is my basic premise:

Super Powers are a shortcut for creativity.

And by super powers I am including extreme martial arts skills, super genius intelligence and freaky mutations.  Somehow, these have become all to common in animation.

Charlie Chaplin taught us that comedy is the little guy against the big world.  All he has are his wits.  Cartoon characters used to have to prove themselves.  They start off as underdogs and by effort and cleverness they win.

I’m not saying we should never use super powers, but it can’t define the character.  The character has to demonstrate more individuality than suddenly achieving that long sought kung fu move or whipping up a new invention to save himself.

Cartoon characters by nature have at least one super power.  They can’t die.

Playing against type

Playing against type is a common method of creating funny characters.  It involves a character whose voice or behavior is in opposition to their physical appearance.  Here are some examples:

  1. A sweet little girl has extreme martial arts skills.
  2. An old granny who is a fantastic acrobat.
  3. An effeminate homeboy.
  4. A big muscular guy who worries about breaking a finger nail.
  5. A Troll who is an effeminate homeboy.

Of course you wouldn’t want to overuse the technique because it would create a world you couldn’t believe in.   It’s better to use it sparingly, it’s funnier that way.  If you were, for example, to put all those characters in a film together, the results would be a disorienting calamity.

SUCH AS HOODWINKED TWO

Yes, the writers of Hoodwinked 2 try to make nearly every character a contradiction. How can you connect with any of them?  The effect is funny at first, but the joke can wear out quickly.   The wolf who is just plain stupid isn’t really a contradiction, but he’s…  just plain stupid.  The troll who is an effeminate homeboy even doubles down on the technique.  The only character I find the tiniest bit interesting is the frog, who appears to be the straight man,  and it’s because he’s not like the others.  It really is best if no more than 1 secondary character plays against his or her type.

 

 

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