One vs Two Hander Movies

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  • One vs Two Hander Movies

    I write comedy. Most of my ideas tend to fall into the 2-hander setup. Buddy comedy. Sometimes I have the family comedy idea. But I always want to write that Happy Gilmore like spec where 1 guy is the main character doing his thing. But it seems most comedy comes from multiple characters fighting along the way with different POV on life and their situation. So naturally comedy has more of these ideas.

    And I was just thinking how much more often in thrillers and dramas and action movies it's ONE PERSON is the lead and I just wondered is that the reason they make more of those? Do readers/audiences/actors/directors prefer 1 main character to multiple main characters? Or is it just that comedy is subjective so they will always find less fans in Hollywood than thrillers?

    Just my dumb thought of the day.

    Do you like to write your stories with ONE LEAD in mind? In a way, it's easier to write if it's all the action takes place around one main person.


  • #2
    Based on a book, the story of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (2013) is a good comedy romp. It has one main comic character supported by the comic relief of several other character actors. To me, it’s a one-hander because, throughout the film, the main character is in almost every scene in one form or another (as a boy, as a teen, as a young man, etc.). It’s available on Amazon Prime Video.
    Last edited by Clint Hill; 11-20-2021, 08:46 PM.
    "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." — Joseph Campbell

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    • #3
      Action/thriller tends to let the viewer live vicariously thru a single character. Comedy is something we observe and often needs a "straightman" to represent the viewer and make it more conversational (back-and-forth banter) or more of a group effort...Marx Brothers, 3 Stooges.

      Lots of exceptions like stand-up comedy, ensemble action/thriller like Oceans 11, Expendables, etc.

      Comedy is not my zone, but I might have to pitch one to you Bono. It's a physical comedy (lots of comedic actions and situations) rather than verbal hilarity. Might be something for the next Kevin Hart, Jim Carey, etc. A confined inexpensive screen test for some new comic. It's mostly just in my head and started from just a title I thought of. There's nothing special about it other than it could be cheap to film.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Bono View Post
        I write comedy. Most of my ideas tend to fall into the 2-hander setup. Buddy comedy. Sometimes I have the family comedy idea. But I always want to write that Happy Gilmore like spec where 1 guy is the main character doing his thing. But it seems most comedy comes from multiple characters fighting along the way with different POV on life and their situation. So naturally comedy has more of these ideas.

        And I was just thinking how much more often in thrillers and dramas and action movies it's ONE PERSON is the lead and I just wondered is that the reason they make more of those? Do readers/audiences/actors/directors prefer 1 main character to multiple main characters? Or is it just that comedy is subjective so they will always find less fans in Hollywood than thrillers?

        Just my dumb thought of the day.

        Do you like to write your stories with ONE LEAD in mind? In a way, it's easier to write if it's all the action takes place around one main person.
        Based on the original concept of a movie where moviegoers sit in a darkened theater to watch a film (pretty much an isolating experience), my guess would be that 4 out of 5 psychiatrists surveyed would say it’s easier for a person to identify with one main character rather than two, that is, if that moviegoing person is sitting in the dark with a willing suspension of disbelief to have the vicarious experience depicted in the film’s story.

        In your two-hander setups, do you use one character as a foil for the other to highlight their differences? Or do your two-hander stories have their traits evenly spread between them? As always, a lot of these decisions depend on the premise, but it seems you’d want some level of conflict between these two characters for entertainment purposes even if their ultimate story goals are the same.
        Last edited by Clint Hill; 11-21-2021, 04:27 AM.
        "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." — Joseph Campbell

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        • #5
          I'm just saying there is Eddie Murphy in 48 hours (2 hander) and Eddie Murphy (1 hander) in Beverly Hills Cop. In Beverly he has the 2 other cops to act as the foil, but he's not partner up with just one dumb white LA cop who doesn't know how to do real police work which is how my mind works most of the time thinking of this ideas.

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          • #6
            Two-handers are often comedies (or hybrid genres) because they work best by using contrast for much of the comedy. The comedy has to play OFF of character differences. All genres have a set of audience expectations. But even with a two main characters, one is predominantly the lead. Beverly HIlls Cop, it's Eddie. In Lethal Weapon in Rigs.

            Thrillers and action films are different from each other and the similar at the same time. I'll give you three examples of three films that have sequels where the first film is a thriller and the sequels are action films. Thillers require the hero be isolated, because for them to work they must drive the active story through their own choices. In both cases they are typically on the outside without many allies to help them. This raises tension and stakes, because everything relies on them. The stakes are different in a thriller vesus an action film. A few examples below. There are also hybrids which some will fall into, so keep in mind I'm simplifying my statements below. Because they are so similiar to each other and to the horror genre, there are often many that combine elements of all three.

            Thrillers:

            Alien, Bourne Identity, and Terminator - the hero is the victim being chased by antagonist, the goal is to survive but they are forced to rise up to defeat the enemy. The hero is being hunted.
            • The hero becomes the victim
            • The hero is inferior to the antagonist
              • the alien's power and acid blood difficulty to kill
              • immense secret government agency that he cannot identify
              • a killing machine that cannot be killed that cannot be reasoned with and will never stop
            • The hero/setting often isolates the hero from the rest of the world - they are alone (this is key)
            • The hero is chased for most of the film (The Fugitive uses this plot as well)
            • The hero is forced to take action in order to survive
              • once the hero's ally(s) is killed they must rise up themselves to defeat the antagonist
            • The stakes are the heroes own life
              • the story is about survival and the means are escape
            • Main plot devices is suspense, tension, dread and anxiety
            • Dramatic question is Will he survive?
            • The Fugitive, The Net, The Peliquin Brief, Traitor, War of the Worlds, Arlington Road, Cape Fear, Enough, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Guilty, Panic Room, Split, Bird Box, Underwater, Fatal Attraction, Disclosure, Ex Machina, Jaws, Basic Instinct, Law Abiding Citizen
            Action:

            Aliens, Bourne Supremacy, and T2/ (hybrid) The hero actively goes after the antagonist, the goal is to defeat the enemy-- the hero is the hunter.
            • The hero is not a victim they take the initial action to go after the antagonist
            • The Hero has more power to fight the antagonist (or they think they do) ☺
              • Ripley has a team of marines, Jason has realized all his skills as a lethal killer/agent in BS, and Arnold is a Terminator
            • The Hero actively goes after the antagonist-- their motto is to fight the fight
            • The hero uses tools, skills, knowledge and experience to defeat the enemy
            • The hero moves up the chain of command to defeat the ultimate antagonist
              • Ripley must destroy the queen to prevent an invasion on earth
              • BS -- must take down the agency to prevent them from doing more harm in the world
              • Arnold/Sarah must destroy the new Terminator/Teledyne to prevent the future from happening at all
            • The stakes are higher, not just their own life but that of others
            • The main plot devices are big action set pieces
            • The Dramatic question is Will they save the world?
            • Examples: Mr. and Mrs, Smith, Star Trek, Troy, Tomb Raider, True Lies, Total Recall. Armageddon, Die Hard, The Fifth Element, Knight and Day, Indiana Jones, 007, I Am Legend, Legion, The Dark Knight, Gladiator, IRobot, Speed, Matrix, you get it
            • Understanding the differences can help a writer deliver on the audience expectations of a specific genre. Once you understand how they work individually, it becomes easier to combine them to create a hybrid plot. There are definitely cross-overs, for sure. Again, I'm simplifying.

            The main difference? Is the hero a victim that is chased or is the hero the active force that pursues their enemy to defeat them and save the world.
            Last edited by finalact4; 11-23-2021, 06:51 PM.
            "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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            • #7
              Interesting, FA4. Never thought about how those films switch genres in the sequels.

              I think the idea dictates what a film should be. It's hard to imagine "The Fugitive" or "Bourne" as a two hander - the point is that they're isolated. But I think there are a bunch of honest two handers where someone isn't the lead - 48 Hours and Midnight Run spring to mind. I think the reason they work is that there's an enemy beyond your main two, but they're also each other's antagonist.

              And has anyone mentioned the genre that's almost all two handers? Romantic comedies. From Hepburn/Tracy to Annie Hall to When Harry Met Sally to recent ones like Palm Springs.

              Or, sometimes a film will get creative and do a classic romantic comedy structure but make the obstacle to the love the co-lead. Meet The Parents is a two hander between De Niro and Stiller - but the plot has all the beats of a romantic comedy between Stiller and his fiancee.

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              • #8
                So what do you guys and gals think of my random observation that maybe the single protagonist screenplay will always win over the double or more protagonist screenplay when it comes to spec sales and movies getting made. It may be a 1% better chance, but it does feel like those movie have an advantage?

                Just maybe I should write my next comedy spec thinking about this and not write another 2 hander is the question I'm asking. I love those movies. But I also want to play the game better.

                However, it might just be what I said that certain genres lead you down a certain path and it's not the single hero, but the fact that it's a thriller not a comedy. But maybe, maybe it's both. It sort of makes sense. We all think we are the stars in our own movie or TV show. We don't live our lives in a 2 hander. Even if we have a family, it's Everybody Loves Raymond, not Everybody Loves Raymond and HIs Wife and His Children.

                So maybe our egos and the readers egos, want to see themselves in the shoes of Indiana Jones and not in the shoes of some dumb cop paired with a monkey who talks.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bono View Post
                  Just maybe I should write my next comedy spec thinking about this and not write another 2 hander is the question I'm asking. I love those movies. But I also want to play the game better.
                  My answer to you is yes, write the one-hander comedy script. Why, you ask?

                  The two reasons are simple. They are: 1.) you don't see any standup comedy duos anymore, only Netflix specials starring one comedian/comedienne making people laugh, and 2.) if you're not getting any traction with two-handers, what do you have to lose by trying a one-hander?

                  Maybe you could pair up two comedians who work well together, but they seem to be few and far between these days. Or maybe you can convince two SNL alums to go for it, one of whom might forego a starring role to pull off a great comedy, but that, too, seems a remote possibility (also the premise has to have a great carrot or two for that foil character, thereby making for a more complicated structure of the premise).

                  Mainly, though, a comedian like Kevin Hart or Ricky Gervais is looking for a script that stars Kevin Hart or Ricky Gervais and no one else but supporting characters.

                  Not to mention the trouble of not just getting two comic actors aboard, but keeping both of them aboard as they're plied with one-hander scripts on a daily basis.

                  Write your one-hander comedy script and sell that. You, too, can become famous and fabulously well-to-do!
                  "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." — Joseph Campbell

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Maybe I'm crazy, but to me, the one hander vs. two hander conversation seems like a moot subject. Either way, you're going to have to cast more than one actor, no? There's always going to be supporting roles no matter what in 99 percent of movies. Seems to me we're quibbling about how large a supporting role is allowed to be.

                    I think the focus should be what's narratively right for the concept. Sometimes a single central character will be what's needed. Others, like the one I'll start writing in January once the shitshow movie I'm on wraps requires more of an of an ensemble approach to realize its full potential.

                    At the end of the day, these things should work themselves out. You don't NEED a big movie star for every role. You just need good actors. I've encountered plenty of actors in my travels that people aren't super familiar with, and therefore wouldn't be cost prohibitive, that I would love to cast in a film of mine over bigger name actors.

                    Then again, I'm an artist and technician that believes product quality and craftsmanship trumps all. A businessman that favors an easy marketing strategy might disagree with me.

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                    • #11
                      I think you're overthinking it, Bono. A Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Superbad would launch a career as surely as a one hander.

                      And as for sitcoms, the three that have had the biggest resurgences lately are The Office, Friends and Seinfeld. All pure ensembles.

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                      • #12
                        TV is a different animal! The more the merrier!

                        Well in order to get discussion going I have to post topics and overthink it! And I enjoy the overthinking! Don't worry when I go to write, I never think! I just write like a dumb monkey!!!!

                        I'm just saying maybe I should see how I'd do writing a one hander. That makes sense too! I have done it, but it was a horror movie.

                        Same way I keep thinking of writing a simple drama and not having to create emotion from dick jokes. The emotion will be built in because it's closer to real life problems and I can focus more on dialogue and characters than set pieces.

                        Mostly, since you jerks won't post any topics, I'm forced too. This is what happens. This is your fault!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                          Interesting, FA4. Never thought about how those films switch genres in the sequels.

                          I think the idea dictates what a film should be. It's hard to imagine "The Fugitive" or "Bourne" as a two hander - the point is that they're isolated. But I think there are a bunch of honest two handers where someone isn't the lead - 48 Hours and Midnight Run spring to mind. I think the reason they work is that there's an enemy beyond your main two, but they're also each other's antagonist.

                          And has anyone mentioned the genre that's almost all two handers? Romantic comedies. From Hepburn/Tracy to Annie Hall to When Harry Met Sally to recent ones like Palm Springs.

                          Or, sometimes a film will get creative and do a classic romantic comedy structure but make the obstacle to the love the co-lead. Meet The Parents is a two hander between De Niro and Stiller - but the plot has all the beats of a romantic comedy between Stiller and his fiancee.
                          Perhaps the genre switch is partly why these specific sequels were so successful? Subverting expectations, perhaps?

                          Even though we think that a two-hander story is about defeating the antagonist, the movie is about their relationship-- overcoming their differences. Defeating the antagonist simply becomes the means at which they express their growth and their reward is defeating the antagonist.

                          Mr. and Mrs Smith have an equal two-hander, but then it also successfully blends more than one genre, one being the rom-com, right? It's done well. Very entertaining.

                          How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days is one of the most successful rom-coms for me. The notion that NEITHER character is trying to find love but are instead placing value in their careers, is really interesting. It makes their obvious connection and subsequent betrayal more powerful than other rom-coms, even though we expect them to get together in the end. Shrek is a great hybrid to the action/comedy/rom-com.

                          I think once a writer understands genre expectations well, they can effectively combine them into a successful hybrid.
                          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Bono View Post
                            TV is a different animal! The more the merrier!

                            Well in order to get discussion going I have to post topics and overthink it! And I enjoy the overthinking! Don't worry when I go to write, I never think! I just write like a dumb monkey!!!!

                            I'm just saying maybe I should see how I'd do writing a one hander. That makes sense too! I have done it, but it was a horror movie.

                            Same way I keep thinking of writing a simple drama and not having to create emotion from dick jokes. The emotion will be built in because it's closer to real life problems and I can focus more on dialogue and characters than set pieces.

                            Mostly, since you jerks won't post any topics, I'm forced too. This is what happens. This is your fault!
                            I don't know about writing a comedy with a single protagonist. I think it would have to be a high concept for it to work. I can't think of one that wasn't... but then again, comedy isn't my first love. The only ones I can think of are the ones below, but I'm not sure all of them qualify as a single protagonist. It's been a moment. It seems there needs to be a contrast between characters to create comedy.

                            Bruce Almighty
                            Liar Liar
                            Ed TV
                            The Mask
                            Ace Ventura
                            The Cable Guy (was that one?)
                            "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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