The late Jeremy Smith* and I had a difference of opinion about script reviews. I never felt entirely comfortable with them, since there are always so many variables at play in the making of a movie. The script that the reviewer has may be an old one, the director may be planning on doing things with a scene that the script cannot tell you, and everything can change in the editing room (one upcoming film that I loved had the entire third act reconstructed in the editing room, making it quite different from the screenplay. The filmmaker is wondering how to deal with that when the inevitable script book comes out). Of course these are the things that an educated script reviewer takes into consideration. Jeremy, who recently did a wonderful review of the script for Roland Emmerich’s next apocalyptic blockbuster, 2012, is just such an educated reviewer.
But most people on the web, quite simply, are not. And what’s worse is that when you combine sheer ignorance of filmmaking with the way the web rewards people who are ‘first,’ you get a disaster like a recent feature on a movie website (I’m not even linking to this shit), written by a soft skulled fellow named Josh Tyler. He somehow got his hands on SEVEN pages** of Judd Apatow’s Funny People, and proceeds to not only prove that he doesn’t know how movies are made, he proves that he has zero ethics and attempts to make sweeping generalizations about a film based on seven out of probably 120 pages.
“It’s seven pages, composed almost entirely of dialogue,” Tyler says. Okay, we’re off to a decent start. I don’t know what he thinks most scripts look like (hint, Josh: they’re mostly dialogue), but I have no problems with this statement. Oh wait, here comes the stupid: “Apparently Apatow doesn’t improvise everything his characters say on the set, as is sometimes assumed. He has plenty of talking planned.”
I have to admit that when I read this, I was stunned. It’s just so simply ignorant that even Alex Billington would have to laugh at it. This is the sort of statement that makes me feel embarrassed for Tyler – even moreso than I am on a regular basis, since his site blatantly makes up rumors and publishes them. I’m going to give Tyler a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, though, just because I’m a nice guy. Maybe he thinks that Apatow’s films work like Christopher Guest movies, or like Curb Your Enthusiasm. I don’t know why he would think that – a complete improv works in a mockumentary and in a show with a low budget, off-the-cuff style like Curb, but Apatow makes real movies.
Here’s how Apatow (and Adam McKay and other improv-friendly filmmakers’) movies work: there’s a script. It’s an entirely written script, with dialogue and everything. All of the scenes are there, all of the character arcs are present and all of the plot points are filled out. The characters have words to say, and like all scripts they are words that define them and advance the story. See, Apatow writes a real script.
Then the movie gets filmed. What happens here is that they’ll do a take or two with the words the way they are in the script. Then Apatow will give the actors a chance to riff on the dialogue. He’ll shout out suggestions as well. The actors and the director will play with the scene, seeing what works and what doesn’t, what’s funny and what’s not. But always, at the base of it, is the script, which creates the foundation for the scene, which defines how the scene begins and ends, what happens in it and what information must be conveyed.
If Tyler just fucked this up, I’d be willing to overlook it (although it’s always nice to have an opportunity to impart some information about how movies are made). But he insists on using these seven pages as a way to review the actual script, which is unforgivable. In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s another quote, after Tyler illegally reproduces some dialogue from the pages: “That’s the closest the script gets to a comedy bit…” Really, Josh? You don’t think the other 113 pages might have a comedy bit? And what about this statement you made a paragraph earlier: “Oh it’s certainly full of all the fuck jokes you’d expect…”?
The biggest problem here is that seven pages cannot be at all representative of the movie, especially without knowing where these pages fall. Are they the opening seven pages, which are establishing the setting and characters? Is it a random scene in the middle? Is it the end of the second act, when the resolutions of the third act are being set up? Is Tyler reading just the pages dealing with the inciting incident? Does Tyler have any understanding of what an inciting incident is, or how a three act structure works?
The assumptions he makes include “[T]his doesn’t really seem to be a movie about comedy as has been suggested by some. It reads like a romance movie (done up with all the filth you expect from Apatow), that just happens to involve a bunch of comedians,” and “The tone is a lot more serious than any of his other work as well.” Again, these are stupid assumptions to make, as these could just be the most serious pages. But it’s worse because by proving that he doesn’t understand how Apatow’s movies work, he’s essentially told us that he’s not familiar with Apatow’s other scripts. The original script for Knocked Up was seen by many to be surprisingly dark and serious, yet the movie ended up as an unabashed comedy. I don’t doubt that what we see on screen will be a lot funnier than what’s on the page.
The thing is that I don’t doubt that Funny People will be, for lack of a better word, more dramatic than Apatow’s previous films. The word dramedy has been tossed around a bunch by the people making the film, but I think it’s a loaded term. Here’s what Seth Rogen said when I asked him about ‘dramedy’ while visiting the set of Observe and Report: ‘Yeah, [Funny People] definitely has more dramatic elements than any of the other movies do, but in my head it’s just as funny as the other ones. That term I always found weird. I always thought realistic was a better way to explain things that were dramedies because life is like that. It’s funny, it’s dramatic. To me that how I see it.’
My guess is that this movie is going to hew closer to the Freaks and Geeks model – undeniably funny, but with a more realistic edge than Knocked Up or The 40-Year Old Virgin had, since the premise isn’t starting from a gag. I wouldn’t call Freaks and Geeks a dramedy; as Rogen said, it’s comedy with realistic elements.
Whether or not Tyler is right in how he calls the tone of the film, it’s stunningly irresponsible to make that call from ‘several’ pages of script. It’s so frustrating to see that someone with such minimal ethics and a complete lack of understanding of how movies are made has the ability to impact the conversation on an upcoming film in any way. I just hope that people out there, making their way through the jungle of internet movie sites, know to ignore the jabberings of fools like Josh Tyler.
*recently reborn from the bottom of Jamaica Bay as the star-consuming Mr. Beaks at Aint It Cool.
** And I’ll bet they’re casting sides, which are so useless for these purposes I can’t even tell you. They’re rarely chronological, for one.