Here’s the second half of my take on comedy. Laughing All The Way To The Box Office takes a look at trends in the market. This post offers some suggestions on what makes a comedy commercial and how to appeal to distributors.

So, even after reading about the distribution challenges for comedies, you’ve got heart set on making one, here’s some things to consider.

Make ‘Em Laugh

Sounds obvious, right? When I was looking for acquisitions as a sales agent, you’d be shocked how many comedies just aren’t funny.

Comedy needs great writing and fantastic performers with comic timing, chemistry and improv skills.

Your comedy needs to be objectively funny. Not just something that makes you and your mates laugh after three pints down the pub, but genuinely funny.

That means you need to test your film. Again and again and again. Gather up a roomful of strangers and play your film. Does it work? Can you make them spit out their popcorn laughing? Is it actually funny? Edit and reshoot accordingly.

Who’s Your Audience?

When it comes to film, distributors are always looking backwards, at what sold and succeeded before, whereas filmmakers are looking to the future to make something new.

Think a little like a distributor. Who’s your market? Who’s going to watch your film?

Are you going for a broad based R-rated comedy? Or are you aiming older audiences with a gentle comedy with a seasoned name given top billing? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet and Philomena showed the grey pound is a force to be reckoned with.

Maybe you want to make the next Bridesmaids and target female audiences, the way Pitch Perfect, The Heat and Powder Room did.

On the low budget side, some distributors are open to high school and college sex comedies in the vein of American Pie, particularly in Benelux. With raunchy artwork and a provocative title, they can perform decently on VOD.

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Alternatively, a strong spoof film with good production values can break out like Scary Movie or more recently, The Starving Games. They’re leveraging on the popularity of successful films and genres and have an in-built hook.

Quirky, cult, and black comedies are going to find it harder in the marketplace, because it’s harder to come up with an audience profile distributors see as viable enough to guarantee a return, especially as an unproven filmmaker.

Cast Matters

Look at the studio successes and the cast reads like a who’s who from Saturday Night Live. There’s a stable of actors who Hollywood hits up when it comes to comedy. Most earned their stripes as comedians, TV comedy, made a splash in a studio comedy and/or know Judd Apatow somehow.

Think Will Ferrell, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Steve Carrell, Zack Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Melissa McCarthy.

Names are a prerequisite when it comes to traditional distribution. Other names popping up in UK theatrical comedies in the past 18 months include Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Robert de Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Emma Thompson, Pierce Brosnan and Barbara Streisand.

Known cast makes your film more marketable and instantly more appealing to buyers and audiences. You’re trading on your actors’ track record and comedy chops. It gives the audience faith they’re going into to see a funny film.

Tell A Universal Story

It used to be a truism that comedy didn’t travel well. That’s still the case for a lot of comedies, because they focus too narrowly on situations or characters that are very culturally specific.

In short, they don’t translate. To grab the international market, you need to tell a story that everyone can relate to. Comedies about family dynamics and weddings tend to work well.

Use Visual Humour

Dynamic visual storytelling can really elevate a comedy. Puns and wordplay don’t translate well overseas, but slapstick, pratfalls and sight gags work everywhere. Be inventive with your directing choices.

Check out Tony Zhou’s primer on How To Do Visual Comedy below, which has some fantastic examples from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Blood and Cornetto trilogy.

Small Screen To Big Screen

If you look at the British box office success stories, there’s a direct line between TV success and cinema takings. Sacha Baron Cohen made the jump from The 11 O’Clock Show to worldwide fame with Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno.  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright started with Spaced and went on to the big screen with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul, and The World’s End.

Not to be out done, Nick Frost gave us Cuban Fury this year. Steve Coogan made Alan Partridge a movie star in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and The In-Betweeners outperformed all expectations, when it took $88 million in worldwide box office and has a sequel in the works.

TV success means you’ve built an audience, demonstrates you can deliver and makes it much easier to get financing.

YouTube It?

Okay, so getting a TV deal might feel like an unrealistic ask, but if you’re an up and coming filmmaker, Youtube’s levelled the playing field.

It’s perfect for sketch comedy and webisodes. It’s a fantastic platform to hone your craft, test material and grow a fan base, which could crowdfund you if you want to make a feature.

Here’s my question. If you want to make comedy, do you really want to make a film? Youtube’s top stars’ views and earnings rank competitively with their TV counterparts.

Yes, they are the outliers, but getting film distribution for a comedy when you’re just starting out is intensely challenging. Youtube has no barriers to entry, a direct line to your audience and comedy’s well suited to the medium. Would your idea work as a web series instead? There’s also Vine and even Snapchat stars raking in the cash for short form comedy.
New opportunities are evolving all the time. Just last week, Vimeo announced it had commissioned their first original programming project, with six new episodes about High Maintenance, a comedy about a pot dealer, which will be available exclusively on Vimeo On Demand later this year. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Vimeo’s pledged to invest $10 million in content and licensing for Vimeo On Demand. Could that be you?

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Picture Credit: The World’s End

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