We here at Modern Jackass have learned the hard way that when you’re working on a Romantic Comedy screenplay about ballin’ Korean, Indian, black and white iBankers going models and bottles at clubs in the Meatpacking, massive layoffs at the world’s largest investment firms that cripple the financial industry could take the sheen off your once-timely, zeitgeist riding film.
But when life gives you a paradigm shift you get back on that keyboard and start banging away at a new treatise for new times. Which is why we here at MoJaMa are worried. We’re worried the economic recession that has gripped New York (and therefore at least 45% of the world’s potential screenwriters) in the past 6 months will result in a glut of economy-themed romantic comedies. What will add fuel to the fire is the grotesque amounts of money “He’s Just Not That into You” will bring into the box office – recession be damned. The democratic party and heartbreak are the only growth industries these days.
Yesterday’s New York Times had an article by Ravi Somaiya called “It’s the Economy, Girlfriend.” The piece is the most recent installment of a current trend in New York journalism, which is to use the following equation to generate topics, interests and readership.
Recession + Lifestyle Element = New Ways of Seeing Things
You, too, can play along at home. For example, let’s take:
Recession + Child Rearing = New Way of Seeing the Nuclear Family
Or you can just cut to the chase and set your sights on the elephant in the room:
Recession + Sex = New Ways to Evaluate Male Perforomance Amidst Financial Insecurity
Other potential topics include:
Recession + Fashiong
Recession + Homosexuality
Recession + the term “Recession Special”
In “It’s the Economy, Girlfriend” Ravi sits down with a support group called “Dating a Banker Anonymous,” comprised of women in their late twenties who must cope with the strain the economic downturn has put on their marriages to men in the financial industry. The pressures are very real, and very high-stakes. One divorce attorney attributes the rising number of separations during economic hardship to no more “funds or time for mistresses any more.”
The situation is ripe for romantic commentary within the framework of a romantic comedy (Rom-Comm-Rom-Com), which is exactly the problem. When reporters like Ravi do all the leg-work and publish their findings, lazy “screenwriters” can lift freely from the reporter’s work and dress the theft in fiction. There are only two groups of people who have the right to this story: the reporter who covers it and the men and women who live it.
Unfortunatley, there are no “ethics” in Entertainment, otherwise it’d be Ehntertaincment. People will appropriate this story into their protean templates for “the definitive romantic comedy,” they’ve been writing since their sophomore year in college. To make matters worse, many of the women in relationships with bankers dabble in the frivolous fields of commerce like writing, publishing and producing. These women will be pitching tales based on their own experiences to agents and development execs already inundated by similar screenplays and treatments by people who just happened across the idea and saw in it an opportunity to turn a quick buck – people exactly like you and me.
So as the Cranberries said, “Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?” What follows, a breakdown of how to get your Recession Rom-Com off the ground in a matter of minutes.
Step 1: The Model
There are 4 models we can choose from.
1. When Harry Met Sally
2. Sex and the City
3. the Brothers (Buying the Cow/Saving Silverman)
4. Love Actually (He’s Just Not That into You).
The “WHMS” model is a classic Woody Allen/Nora Ephron style rom-com with men and women learning to deal with the differences between them as individuals in a modern world. Great for character and larger questions of “Gender,” but not for zeitgeist grappling topics like the Economy.
The Sex and the City model is the uber-exageration of the Chick Flick genre where three story-lines centering around female characters and their relationships complement each other to illuminate the larger issue of “shared femininity.” Could work for our Recession Rom-Com, but it risks alienating men (who take women to movies), and the format is already done well on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and, well, Sex and the City.
The Brothers/Buying the Cow/Saving Silverman model is a androcentric inversion of the Sex and the City model.
The Love Actually model is the hyperactive post-post-modern romantic comedy framework that asks, Why tell one story when we can tell five and divide them as insights into the different aspects of love. It is, in short, genius, and exactly what we want to steal from, just as He’s Just Not That into You has.
Step 2: The Characters
Since we’re doing the Crash style of story-telling with interwoven stories with shared narrative arcs, we’ll need about 5 storylines, 3 with two characters and 2 with only one. You can’t have only couples since, after all, you can’t define love until you explore its opposite – loneliness.
Stealing liberally from other Rom-Com archetypes with appropriate attention paid to diversity in casting, our characters will be:
Rohindra: a 30-year-old, South Asian American who lives alone and works long hours at Morgan Stanley. She’s passionate about her career and therefore inattentive to the details of her dating life. Her parents, who live in New Jersey, constantly try to arrange dates with the sons of Indian friends for her. She reluctantly agrees to meet them for a drink before quickly making up her mind that as a couple he and she are incompatible – until she meets Rohit.
Vicky and Cam: Vicky and Cam have been married a year and a half. Vicky has chosen to work at home since the marriage, leaving a well-paying position at a New York publishing house. The economic downturn has changed Cam’s mood and their marriage has gone from the ideal of fun and friendship to the kind of relationship friends whisper about behind their back. Has the marriage settled into its routine and the honeymoon period ended, or is Cam dealing with darker secrets?
Shelly and Michael: Michael is a highly successful, highly-driven and very busy VP of a hedge-fund in New York City. His pending nuptials to Shelly have already been slated to appear in the New York Times. Shelly’s main responsibility is to plan the arrangements for the wedding. As the economy slides, though, Michael hints that the wedding should be paired down and perhaps even delayed. Shelly believes Michael is blaming the recession for his “cold feet,” and she won’t have any of it.
Monica: a 24-year-old Black woman who has recently been laid off as an executive assistant in a downtown Manhattan finance firm. As she adjusts to the down time of unemployment, she frequents a coffee shop where she spends hours researching jobs and sending out resumes. Over time it becomes clear the male barrista has taken an interest in her. He’s clearly not in the same socio-economic league as Monica, and though she’s put-off by him at first, she begins to question her ideas of relationships and class.
Vinh: Vinh is a 35-year-old Vietnamese-American baller. He’s obsessed with making it rain. Even if he’s standing in the Express line of a Gristedes living life on the Government doll after being convicted of organizing a high-stakes Ponzi scheme he’ll still throw food stamps in to the air making it rain on the cashier like she’s a dancer at Badda Bing.
Step 3: Context and Setting
Naturally, let’s put it in New York City during the weeks before Christmas. Nothing’s more romantic than snow and Christmas lights in the Big Apple thanks to the thousands of Rom Coms that have already done it and established the inextricable connection between romance, New York and winter. The dramatic opportunities afforded by reevaluating Christmas as a spirit instead of a commercial holiday are pretty bountiful, too.
Step 4: Arcs
Remember each character has to go through their own arc, or journey. Achieve this by introducing opportunity, conflict, resolution and growth. For example: Rohindra falls in love against her better judgment with Rohit. The demands of a relationship force her to compromise at work which leads to frustration she takes out on Rohit. Rohindra must find a balance between work and a love life. She realizes her obsession with work has stemmed from a fear of vulnerability and being alone. But it’s too late, she has already pushed Rohit away. How can she resolve this?
Step 5: Climax
Every romantic comedy needs a climax, whether it be a sprint through an airport, a huge song-and-dance, or, in the case of Love Actually, both. For our example, let’s choose a Bruce Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden. All you have to do is push your story in that direction so that the climax of each subplot occurs at, near or around the Springsteen concert. Be sure to include grandiose statements of love such as someone grabbing the mic from Bruce and pulling the love of his life on stage to Courtney Cox dance to Dancing in the Dark.
You can choose whatever setting you want, since the music and the editing will convey most of the energy your story needs to propel itself forward. Other options include: the floor of the NYSE, the exterior of the NYSE, a booze cruise in the middle of the Hudson, or a shareholders meeting in a boardroom or auditorium.
Step 6: The Title
Often times, working backward from a clever title can be all you need to create a romantic comedy. Look at “Made of Honor.” Ravi took a pretty good one for the title of his article, “It’s the Economy, Girlfriend.” The goal should be a title broad enough to convey we are dealing with romantic ideals in a time of change yet familiar and playful so as not to seem didactic. For example, “For Richer or Poorer,” “‘Till Debt Do Us Part,” “Love & Money,” or “He. She. (Sh)it.”
Step 7: The Tagline
Finally, we’ll need a slogan to cleverly convey the essence of our story in one sentence. “This Christmas, the greatest gift of all is love.” Something like that. It’s beneficial to play off the language of the recession in order to show that we are offering is a rom-com specifically about the economy. For example:
“This Fall, Love is a Bear Market.”
“Business is down. Heartbreak is booming.”
Throw that on a white background with a giant, red graph plummeting downward and you got Mad Men meets Candace Bushnell.
As the economy worsens and gainful employment becomes a romantic vestige of the Bush administration, the only way to make any money will be to capitalize on the shared experience of loss. Have that former venture capitalist hold your place in the breadline and duck into a Starbucks for a second to bang out your treatment to the next big thing, the Recession Rom Com. Competition will soon be fierce so get in early and sell high. Unfortunately, Ravi’s probably already got the option on his own article and started a draft of his script before the byline hit the printer.