Chapter 21 of 32 from Judd Apatow

Directing: Tone

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When you're making a comedy, it's all about establishing and maintaining your tone. In this lesson, Judd examines this crucial component of filmmaking and describes the steps you should take to communicate your creative vision with your collaborators.

Topics include: Maintain Consistent Tone • Establish Tone in Preproduction

Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy

Judd Apatow teaches you how to write, direct, produce, and perform comedy for film and television.

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When you're making a movie, it's all about setting your comedic style and your tone. And sometimes that's happening slowly as you write, as you rehearse, even as you shoot. So there's styles of comedy that are very realistic and they play almost like a drama, but they're funny. So you might say Broadcast News is like that. It's all very real and credible. The comedy comes from character. It's very human. Then there are movies like Something About Mary, where it's also emotionally driven, but they will go farther, and he'll have his testicles stuck in a zipper and she'll have ejaculate in her hair. And they're coming up with a tone that they think works for their comedic style. So it might have edgier jokes and some broader type of jokes, but they-- in that case, with Something About Mary, found a way to keep it emotionally very involving and credible. But they had their own unique hard comedy style, and that's what we love about the Farrelly Brothers, is they will go farther than you expect. And that was a choice that they made, and every movie is making that choice. When we did Trainwreck, Amy Schumer had written a lot of flashbacks, fantasies, worries that you would go to. So there was a sequence where she imagined being married to Bill Hader. And they're driving in a minivan and they're very suburban, and they have multiple kids. And the kids are screaming at her, and it's her vision of hell. There was another sequence where Bill Hader is talking to a bunch of gentlemen at this baby shower, and he's telling them that he's a sports doctor. And they keep asking him, well, who do you-- who do you see? And he mentions all of these famous athletes. And the guys are so excited that he knows Roger Federer and he knows these famous pitchers. And it goes to this weird fantasy sequence where the guys are so excited that it becomes like a beer commercial, where they're like pouring a hose on themselves. And it becomes very homoerotic because they're so excited that this guy knows athletes. Both sequences were cut out of the movie because ultimately, the comedic style didn't want those sequences. It was realistic and in Amy's comedic voice, but when you went to fantasies and absurd nightmares, the movie said, I don't want this in it. This isn't what we're doing. Usually when you're in prep, you have to describe this movie and your vision for it to your department heads, to your production designer and your costume designer and your cinematographer. And that can be done in a number of ways-- you might show them some movies and say, it's in the world of this. You're not copying it, but-- you know, we're not doing Airplane. We're doing a movie in the world of Say Anything. And that helps people understand tone. What is our level of realism? If we're making a movie like Walk Hard, which is a parody of Walk the Line and Ray, we'll watch all those movies and we'll talk about the outfits. Debra McGuire did the costumes on that mov...

Get serious about comedy

No joke: At age 15, Judd Apatow took a dishwashing job at a comedy club to watch the acts. Today, he’s the comedic genius behind hits including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, and Freaks and Geeks. In his first-ever online class, the Emmy Award winner teaches you how to create hilarious storylines, write great stand-up, and direct comedies that leave audiences laughing.

Learn Judd’s creative process through case studies, scene deconstructions, and practical insight in 32 on-demand video lessons.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Judd will also answer select student questions.

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Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy