Thursday, May 19, 2011

Martin McDonagh: Personal Hero

For a long time I only wrote dramatic action stories. I tried a couple of time to write sitcom episodes back when I was still considering television, and it always turned out kind of crappy because I can't do "jokes" very well. I figured, even though in person I'm a cheeky bugger, in script form I just couldn't do comedy.

Then people kept telling me to do comedy and I kept saying no, no, I'm no good at it. Then my friend Mel at PitchQ listened to my pitch for Not Dead Yet and told me that my pitch was so high energy and kind of humorous, but the story I pitched was so serious that it didn't match.

I got that a lot. Tone doesn't match the story.

So I thought, to hell with it, and wrote a comedy. And what do you know, I enjoyed it. So I wrote another one. And now I'm working on a third. It feels more natural in many ways, but there are still times when I find myself struggling to turn a scene funny.

So now I get the note that the tone is uneven. Sometimes funny, then suddenly serious.

I'm too funny to do drama and too serious to do comedy.

That's why my hero is Martin McDonagh. He was a playwright who won an Oscar for his first film endeavor, a short called Six Shooter that you can see on ITunes. It's a beautiful little flick starring Brendan Gleeson, about a train car full of messed up people in different stages of grief. In this little movie we have death of a child and a wife and a mother and a horrible suicide, and in the middle of it all there's this long joke about cow farts. You laugh and then you feel kind of sick about laughing.

It reminds me of Catch 22. There's a scene in the book where you're just roaring with laughter over some stupid Army regulation or whatever, and suddenly out of the sky comes an airplane flying super low over the water because the pilot is fucking around, and the propeller slices a guy in a raft into pieces. That scene was one of the pivotal scenes in my development as a writer. I didn't know stories were allowed to do that.

So here's Martin McDonagh with his short film, and he goes on to make In Bruges. I came out of the theater pissed off than nothing I'd written was anywhere near that good. But In Bruges has this tragic child death and suicide, yet it was billed as a comedy. In Bruges isn't a comedy, and yet it totally is. And it's also a tragedy.

I'm sure at some point someone told Martin McDonagh, "You can't do that! You can't have a child murderer be your protagonist and crack jokes!" and he said "Go fuck yourself" and made a brilliant film.

And now he's making Seven Psychopaths, a story about......

I have no idea what this story is. It's some dudes and they're writing a screenplay and it's all very meta, but there's a dog and a mobster and a lot of violence, and I don't know what all. All I know is I read it in an instant, and then I just sort of sat there in awe of its brilliance.

And once again there's gruesome death and I rooted for bad people and I laughed until suddenly I felt sad.

I love you, Martin McDonagh. I want to do what you do, but, you know, with some female characters.


  1. Did you go see Cripple of Inisshman (sp?) at the Douglas last month?

  2. I never hear about plays until they're already gone.

  3. Great post.

    In Bruges is one of my favs...

  4. cshel6:02 PM

    Good choice for a hero. I love McDonagh, too. In Bruges was great. The fact that I spent a week in Bruges myself made it all the more hilarious. But yeah, dark moments for sure. It really is a storybook little town. I kept trying to picture them filming in some of those places, like the cramped, steep stairwell of the bell tower. I agreed the fat guy shouldn't try to climb it. I have to read SS. : )

  5. Unique voice! Damn fabulous.

    Did not want to read SS, world ugly enough, I like my stories silly and kickass, with sparklies, but your recommendation intrigues, and I look forward to delving into McDonagh's brilliance.

    OT, but are threat of zombies really ever OT, thought of you when I saw this:

  6. I've never seen In Bruges, though I've always meant to. As for Seven Psychopaths, is it a good sign if you have no idea what the story is? You can relate the story of Waiting for Godot. I don't know. I hear "meta" used in terms of contemporary film and I head the other way these days. But I do have to see In Bruges.

  7. That's cool, cshel. I'd like to go there some day.

    Thanks, Atlanta. I love that.

    Adam, the story is about two guys who set out to write a screenplay about seven psychopaths that start to enter their real life experiences. But the story is way more than that. Way more. And genius.

  8. Seven Psychopaths is just brilliant. You should read his play The Pillowman. Disturbing stuff.

  9. He wrote "The Pillowman" of the most amazing, dark plays that I've ever had the pleasure of seeing on Broadway. I loved every single weird minute of it. He's one of my personal heroes too. :)

    And screw it. Life is uneven. Comedy, tragedy...these things happen right after each other. Sometimes seconds after each other. Hollywood just continually tries to convince us otherwise.

    Keep fighting the good fight with your uneven comedy. I LOVE IT.

  10. In the last decade, movies that are both comic and serious that have won Academy Awards for screenwriting:

    Original: Juno 2007, Little Miss Sunshine 2006, Lost in Translation 2003

    Adapted: The Social Network 2011, The Departed 2005

    Just sayin'.


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.