Arts & Entertainment

Structuring Films, Part 1

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 17:49 min

Judd reveals how he cracked the code on story structure and shares the basic template that he uses for many of his projects.

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Topics include: Outline the Structure of Other Films • Begin With a Simple Structure • Syd Field Structure Case Study: The 40-Year-Old Virgin • Develop Innovative Versions of Established Beats • Unconventional Structure Case Study: Funny People


I think when I first began to take writing more seriously, a comedian I looked up to, Mike Binder, was having success as a screenwriter. And he said something I never forgot. He said that the first screenplay he sold was his tenth screenplay. And that had a huge impact on me. I thought, oh, so you have to write a bunch of these. You don't sell the first one. And that took the pressure off. Oh, I'll write one, and then I'll write another one. And that's what he said. He said, Judd, the second you finish a screenplay, start the next one. A lot of people finish a screenplay, and they just talk about it for years. And they don't sell it, but they keep talking about it. And they keep showing it to people, and no one wants to make it. You have to start the next one immediately. And then I bought his Apple portable computer. He had the first Apple portable computer, and I bought it from him. And that's when I started trying to write more seriously. And part of that process was watching movies and outlining the movies. I would watch a movie, say "The Graduate." I remember I sat down with Owen Wilson. We were talking about writing a movie. And one day, we said, let's take notes on what "The Graduate" is. We didn't have the script, so we just wrote down what happened in every scene. What happens? What do we know about this guy? And how are they telling this story? It seems like such a unique structure. And I remember we noticed, oh, we don't know anything about him from college except he ran track and he worked on the school yearbook, or the school newspaper. That's the only information we have. We don't meet any of his friends. That is it. And that was an important thing to learn. Wow, I don't know anything about him, but I'm fascinated by this character. And I'm learning about him based on how he interacts with his parents and his friends parents. But I'm not seeing him in his world with his friends. So it just made me think, there's all sorts of ways to tell a story and to meet characters. You don't have to do it the normal way where the guy would come home from college, and then he'd be with his 15 friends. And he'd be at a party, and we'd know everything about him. We don't get to see any of that. We were fascinated by how little happened in "The Graduate." He comes home from school. He's a little lost. His parents friend is hitting on him. He has an affair with her. And then he falls for her daughter. And then her daughter goes back to school, and she's engaged. And then he decides, I'm going to go after her. That's the whole movie. But yet it's so much more than that. And everyone who saw it, you realize, oh, all these structures that they teach me about how stories work and how movies work, they are there to learn from, but you also sometimes have to toss them out completely because there's always a unique, innovative way to do these things. When I was in college, Syd Field taught the screenwriting class. And Syd Fie...

About the Instructor

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 comedy class, the Emmy Award winner teaches you how to create hilarious storylines, write great stand-up, and direct movies that leave audiences laughing.

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Judd Apatow

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

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