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By Eric Owusu · January 3, 2015
Sometimes people make movies that are so serious, so over-the-top, and so ridiculous that they have to be parodied. Fortunately, 1980 saw the release of Airplane!, a spoof of airplane and disaster movies like Airport 1975 and Zero Hour!
Genre parodies can be funny, but there are many elements that have to be present to contribute to a parody movie’s success. In addition to a cohesive and well-written screenplay, the parody has to have a capable cast, great direction and design, and great behind the scenes execution (but hey, doesn’t any movie need these things?). The parody has to be a collaborative effort to skewer scenes from popular movies and events from reality, or even events from the news that wound up being used in movies. Several disaster or super-serious but ridiculous movies have tropes that commonly reoccur in their screenplays. Here are a few suggestions of how to make good use of said tropes in developing a parody screenplay.
The opening scene of Airplane! has the tail of an airplane cutting through clouds like a shark fin as ominous cello music similar to the Jaws theme plays. Then the airplane comes out of the clouds at the screen like Jaws jumping out of the water at the audience. After establishing the tone of playful ridicule by making fun of a serious movie scene or subject, clearly introduce and define your genre characters in a piercingly funny way.
In I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, which spoofs blaxploitation movies of the 70s, we are quickly introduced to the main faux-hero, Jack Spade, who comes home from war and wants to clean up the streets of his old neighborhood. In Airplane!, we are introduced to a similar character: a boozy fighter pilot who’s home from war and wants to get his stewardess girlfriend back. We follow these characters as they introduce us to other characters in their situations. In Airplane!, we have the love interest, the incompetent pilots and airplane doctor, the mean war sergeant, an over zealous nun, and a slew of other characters that resemble and parody their serious movie counterparts. These cartoonish characters all come together to make the parody screenplay worth reading and, once produced, worth watching repeatedly.
Once the characters are introduced, or even as they are introduced, the screenplay has to have them in situations that parody other movies, but are also interesting to the writer. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka parodies Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s, which writer and director Keenan Ivory Wayans was well versed and interested in. Airplane! parodies disaster movies. The Scary Movie movies parody horror films from the 90’s and 2000’s. Plan out your parody screenplay to make fun of genres that you enjoy and are familiar with and don’t miss the opportunity to use specific tropes and occurrences in your screenplay that make it even funnier (Editor’s Tip: try sticking to one to two genres when doing this). Airplane! has disaster movie jokes, but also jokes about race relations, people that suck at their jobs, unrequited love and misunderstanding the people around us. Use things you know and love to make your characters and their situations in your screenplay pop.
Speaking of pop, make sure to include pop culture references of your current time. It’s important to get things right when making fun of the time the serious movie you’re spoofing is set, but audiences who will read and/or watch your screenplay will definitely enjoy good current popular references. Airplane! had Kareem Abdul Jabar, a famous basketball player at the time it was produced, whose mere presence in the movie lent to pop culture jokes and references galore.
Also, have actual messages in your genre-parodying screenplay. It’s fun to make jokes at the expense of a well-know serious movie, but what made that movie well regarded was probably the message it conveyed to audiences. Sure, Jaws is a movie about a great white that terrorizes people at a beach. But that movie has been shown and made Americans much more afraid to swim on coastlines out of fear of shark attacks. So don’t stray away from conveying your own messages in your screenplay. As movies like Religulous and TV shows like The Colbert Report have shown, satire and parody with an actual message can be wildly funny and effectively persuasive.
Have fun writing your parody screenplay, whatever it’s about! If not, it could end up as self-righteous as the screenplay you plan on mocking.