Editor’s Note: Musical screenplays are not recommended for first time writers.
Both 2011’s The Muppets and 2012’s Pitch Perfect are two of this decade’s most successful and best musical comedy films. They both feature ensemble casts whose characters have to come together and sing their hearts out to make the most of one important showcase. And critics lauded both as being good, well-written movies.
The Muppets and Pitch Perfect are great examples of fun musical comedy films. If and when you decide to write a musical comedy screenplay of your own, build a great story that audiences will want to see play out from start to finish.
First things first, introduce the characters we’ll be following throughout the movie. Present your underdogs, show how they come together and demonstrate how the unlikely hero of the bunch shifts into becomming the leader. The characters Beca in Pitch Perfect and Walter in The Muppets aren’t larger-than-life heroic figures, but they are introduced early in their respective screenplays and eventually rally the other misfits to work together and sing their way to collective victories.
Walter assembles The Muppets, starting with Kermit the Frog, to save the Muppet Theater from the antagonist Tex Richman. Beca finds her way into the Barden Bellas, a cappella group, and leads them with her original and less-dated song choices to win a national college A cappella singing competition. The goals in these two screenplays are what keep the characters unified after the hero/leader brings them together and the situations they are all in force the two groups of musical oddballs to come together and strive towards common goals. When penning your musical comedy, be sure to have a big stage benchmark for your characters to compete on, showcasing their singing, unity, friendship and, most of all, determination. Give them an all-or-nothing mission to accomplish.
Of course, no screenplay would be compelling or interesting without a little drama, especially between the singing heroes of the screenplay. In The Muppets, Kermit and Miss Piggy have bad blood between them that makes it hard for Miss Piggy to cooperate with any of the Muppets. In Pitch Perfect, Beca’s impromptu use of a newer song during the Bellas’ performance, even though it wins the crowd over and gets the Bellas to qualify, gets her kicked out of the group and they fall apart without her. Make sure the heroes of your musical comedy screenplay have a bumpy ride on their way to success by injecting some infighting between your heroes. It helps show what kind of people (or muppets) your heroes are and what kinds of things they are capable of overcoming in the pursuit of a happy ending.
In addition to infighting, include antagonists that have a stake in your heroes’ failure. The Muppets have Rich Texman, a greedy oil magnate, who wants to buy the Muppet Theater and destroy it so he can drill for oil underneath it. He actively tries to foil The Muppets at every turn with help from muppets Statler and Waldorf to make sure they can’t save the theater. In Pitch Perfect, fratty singer Bumper is the antagonist that patronizes Beca, Fat Amy and the Bellas every chance he gets. He’s far less of a villain than Rich Texman, but he is nonetheless an antagonizing force that opposes the Bellas all the same. Aubrey is also molded as the minor “B-villain,” as her negativity towards Beca disables the group from attaining success. Antagonists bring the heroes together, giving the heroes something to battle against, and can tear them apart. Have your antagonist be a clear part of the narrative that helps move the story along.
And finally, write your musical comedy so that your heroes come together and succeed. The Muppets get a rousing speech from Kermit and the Bellas have an effective heart to heart that gets both groups inspired and ready to fight along side each other to win out in the end. Your screenplay wouldn’t be much of an uplifting comedy if the villains won and your heroes lost. Have your heroes win a well-deserved victory in the end and be more united than at any point in the screenplay. Your audience will enjoy the music, the spectacle and the heart-warming success your heroes experience if you deliver it to them in a fun way. It could even have them singing along with your heroes.