Marty Murphy: Tips for Directing Screen Comedy

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Marty Murphy, filmmaker, writer, comedian and tutor of AFTRS Open’s Screen Comedy Directing Masterclass gave us his top tips for directing comedy.


Tip #1

Create comic distance - It’s all about putting the viewer at some emotional remove from the character so that they may comfortably laugh at the misfortune of your characters.

Tip #2

Exaggeration - weak comedies suffer from a lack of exaggeration. This can be applied to all levels of comedy and is an important directorial tool and one that can be modulated according to the needs of your story.

Tip #3

Comic Incongruity - Look for opportunities to create a clash of context. This also applies globally to comedy, from word placement in dialogue to things being stuck where they shouldn’t to the premise of the story.

Tip #4

Comic Perspective - This is how the comic character views the world so as the director you must be clear about the difference between how the character sees themselves and who they really are.

Tip #5

Comic Flaws - Allow your characters to be flawed. Comic characters are the sum of their flaws. The more flawed they are, the greater potential for comic conflict.

Tip #6

Character Humanity - Some empathic response, some humanity, is needed for the audience to care about the flawed comic character, so show them as vulnerable or needy or attacked in some way, even though they are probably at fault.

Tip #7

Pacing - Allow the pacing of the scene to come from the conflict between characters, but be prepared to give direction to increase the pace of the scene in order to “land” the comic beat.

Tip #8

Framing - Where are you going to place the camera? The size of the frame will affect comic distance and emotional identification. Adopting wider framing allows action to play out in full but also, gives the viewer more emotional distance from the character and action.

Tip #9

Lighting - High key lighting and saturated colours create comic effect in the broadest sense. A more neutral approach will change the tone of the scene so this is something to consider, and for black comedy you may want to adopt dramatic lighting techniques and colour palette.

Tip #10

Improvisation - use improvisation with your actors to develop conflict between characters and to develop dialogue.

If you want to hear more from Marty Murphy check out Screen Comedy Directing Workshop.

Acknowledgement

The Australian Film Television Radio and School would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners, the Bidjigal people and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on whose land we meet, work, study and teach. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and extend our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all nations of this land.