This post originally ran in October 2012 with the title The “Stuckinna” Plot:
Long before writer/director Garry Marshall‘s success in films (Pretty Woman), or as the creator of TV shows (Happy Days, Mork & Mindy), he was a comedy writer for some of the biggest names in the 60s; Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas, Joey Bishop, and Dick Van Dyke.
One cost cutting technique he learned from the world of sitcom writing (that some filmmakers today would call “containment”) Marshall calls the ‘stuckinna” plot.
“Another favorite formula of sitcom producers was the ‘stuckinna’ plot, in which the main characters would get ‘stuck in’ something because it helped reduced the number of sets and kept production values down. These stories might find characters stuck in a bath tub, a basement, an attic, a bus, or anything that would be conducive to physical humor. Jerry [Belson] and I wrote a two-part Dick Van Dyke episode called ‘8 1/2’ in which Dick and Mary got stuck in an elevator and were held up by a thief played by Don Rickles. The episode was nominated for a Writers Guild award, which goes to show you that just because an episode is cheap productionwise, it’s not without merit.”
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
It worked for Charlie Chaplin when he got stuck in a cage with a lion, or in a cabin with a bear. It worked for Hitchcock in Lifeboat. And it worked for Rodrifo Cortes in the film Buried based on Chris Sparling’s script, where Ryan Reynolds is the sole actor on screen set inside a coffin. Embrace your limitations.
Update 6.23.13—The Stuckinna plot worked when Lucy was stuck in the assembly line.
Update 10.22.15—A literal (and dramatic) version of the “stuckinna” plot that comes to mind is 127 Hours where a mountain climber gets his arm trapped with a boulder.
P.S. Another more subtle comedy tip in that Marshall quote is the title 8 1/2. While it wouldn’t resonate as much today, back in ’60s it would have been instantly recognizable as a humorous play on the 1963 Fellini film 8 1/2.
Writing for Low Budget Films (includes a list of films shot on one location)