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How technology has ruined romantic comedy

by Danny Manus

Remember the good old days when to find one’s lost soul mate, a character had to scour the earth on this grand romantic voyage with nothing but a wisp of hair, a charcoal drawing and a childhood memory? Now, they can just use Facebook. It takes 30 seconds and the story is over.

Social media and today’s current technology has completely ruined romantic comedies and has made it that much harder to create an original and believable story for two random people to get together. Because there is no such thing as random anymore. There’s no such thing as “courting.” People don’t even date anymore — they just hook up and eventually decide they are together.

So you need to ask yourself — are your characters still living in the 1950s? Even if you bumped into a total stranger on the street and had that “love at first sight” moment, you’d go home and Google her, check out her Facebook page, her MySpace, her Linked In profile, her blog, her Twitter account (which comes with GPS location and receipt counter so you could know exactly where she’s been and what she bought), and you’d know everything you could ever want to know in 5 minutes. Kind of takes the fun out of a good old fashioned stalking, doesn’t it?

Some of the biggest romantic comedies are based on one of the following issues or setups:

• Finding a lost love or childhood sweetheart
• Getting a message to the person you love before it’s too late
• Connecting with the friends or family of the person you love
• Overcoming distance
• Trying to break up a couple because they don’t belong together
• Getting someone’s attention who doesn’t know you’re alive

• Finding out something about the person you want to be with
so they think you have something in common

• Proving you aren’t lying or cheating to someone
• Having to track someone down
• Best friends who fall out of touch and then find each other again later in life

These used to be concepts you could write 100 pages on. Now, any one of these issues would be solvable in a matter of minutes. A good love story may still transcend time, but these days, if your characters don’t even have cell phones, how genuine to real life could they be?

These days, Harry probably would have met Sally on Match.com and that orgasm scene in the deli would have been Billy Crystal watching a video of Meg Ryan on his iPhone. Steve Martin wouldn’t have had to sit in the bushes and whisper words to another man to woo Roxanne — he could have just texted her from the other guy’s phone. And John Cusack wouldn’t be standing outside Ione Skye’s house with a boom-box over his head — he would have just thrown his I-Pod into her open window and screamed “Track 4.”

Sleepless in Seattle worked because it was about these two people on different sides of the country who found each other on a radio show. But now 15 years later… who listens to the radio anymore except right wing nutjobs, Howard Stern fans and 12 year old girls?

And long distance relationships are certainly much easier these days than it was 10 years ago. There are webcams built into every computer. There’s Skype, sexting and websites designed for people looking to cheat. In a world where 14 year olds are having more sex than their parents, 1 in 2 relationships end in divorce, and 1 in 4 relationships are started online, romantic comedies about the 25 year old beautiful virgin girl or true love that doesn’t involve technology, just don’t ring as true anymore.

This certainly doesn’t mean that true love (or romantic comedies) is dead. It just means you need to be more creative in your hooks and premises, and be mindful of the pitfalls of forgetting about technology. Now perhaps if you’re writing It’s Complicated and your lead characters are in their 50s or older, technology doesn’t have to be focused on as much. But if you’re writing a teen romance and the kids never text each other — how genuine is that going to feel to today’s youth?

Romantic comedies have always had an element of fantasy to them. They are the perfect dream scenarios. They follow a simple equation — Circumstance plus magic plus incredible good looks minus obstacles equals happily ever after. And audiences do go to the movies to escape the realities of their own lives, but they need to be able to relate to the world you have created.

Romantic comedies have to be grounded in some sort of reality, and if none of your characters use a computer, that’s just not reality. So, always keep in mind the time period you are writing for and everything that encompasses.

And when it comes to love, keep an open heart and an empty hard drive.

Danny Manus

About Danny Manus

Danny Manus is CEO of No BullScript Consulting and author of “No B.S. for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective.” Ranked one of the Top 15 “Cream of the Crop” Script Consultants in CS Magazine, he was previously Director of Development for Clifford Werber Productions (Cinderella Story), Development Consultant for Eclectic Pictures (Lovelace) and DOD at Sandstorm Films (The Covenant). Danny teaches seminars and workshops across the country and you can follow him on Twitter @DannyManus.

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