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Posts Tagged ‘8 1/2’

Only three more days left in my Month of Marhsall, where I’ve been finding bits of wisdom from writer/director Garry Marshall. Long before his 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.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 81-82 

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.

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.

Related links:

Screenwriting Quote #124 (Chris Sparling)

Writing for Low Budget Films (includes a list of films shot on one location)

Scott W. Smith

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“I like strong narrative drive, even though some of my very favorite films are more internal and meandering, like The 400 Blows, Terms of Endearment, 8 1/2,  Wild Strawberries, or Lost in Translation. One of the greatest filmmakers to never win an Academy Award, Alfred Hitchcock, felt that making a movie was ,  ‘like telling a story to your seven-year-old niece, sitting on your knee. If at any point in the telling you stop, you want her to eagerly ask, ‘And then what happened?”

If you’re going to tell me a story about your first date, your first sexual encounter, you want it to be clear, compelling, and entertaining, and to have me, the listener, satisfied at the end. That satisfaction doesn’t have to mean happy; the classic movie A Man for All Seasons ends with the leading character, Sir Thomas More, being executed. But it’s an execution he chose rather than desert his personal beliefs of truth and justice. I, the audience, felt ennobled and enriched living through his experience.”

                              Lawerence Turman (producer of The Graduate)
                              So You Want to Be a Producer
                              Page 81

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