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Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer

I Give It A Year

Film3Sixty Magazine

February 2013

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Sacha Baron Cohen’s longtime writing partner Dan Mazer shares the recipe for success with his deeply funny directorial debut I Give It A Year.

Dan Mazer has been Sacha Baron Cohen’s confidante for 15 years – as writer and producer on everything from Da Ali G Show to Borat, Bruno and The Dictator – so we hazard he must know a thing or two about comedy. Now, Mazer is striking out on his own with his directorial debut I Give It A Year, his original script about a newly married London couple (played by Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall) who realise they might have been a bit hasty when they said, ‘I do’. Exclusively for Film3Sixty, Mazer offers up his six top tips for churning out a successful rom-com (or should we say com-rom, the term Mazer’s producer much prefers: “He’s desperate to coin that phrase!”).

Find A Good Hook
“The initial inspiration came from an idea I had for a scene where, rather than somebody running in and making a very public marriage proposal, they make a very public declaration asking for a divorce. It was almost a sketch idea and I worked backwards from that. We’re so used to seeing romantic comedies end with a picture-perfect wedding but I thought, ‘What happens after that?’ Marriage isn’t about beautiful wedding cakes and wonderful white dresses. What happens to Hugh Grant and Andie Macdowell after the wedding in Four Weddings And A Funeral? The fact is they don’t know each other very well so it likely wouldn’t go tremendously well. As my wife always says to me, ‘A boiling kettle soon goes cold.’”

Subvert The Genre, Carefully
“We’ve all seen a million romantic comedies by now. They’re so familiar and yet generally not particularly funny. I wanted to play on the clichés and stereotypes but not subvert it to the extent that you’re left feeling cynical at the end. If you look at The Break-Up [2006 rom-com starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston], I love that film and it’s similar to I Give It A Year in its themes but the end does leave you a bit deflated… They don’t end up with anyone, it’s all a bit miserable. I tried to have my cake and eat it too. People have called this an anti-rom-com but there’s enough nice things in there to leave people feeling satisfied.”

Build On Your Strengths
“My intention was to make people laugh first and foremost; to make every scene funny. It’s in the wheelhouse of Bridesmaids, not 27 Dresses. I also wanted to distinguish myself from the work I’d done with Sacha and make a film that was personal and more mature. Comedy is always better when it’s coming from a place of authenticity and I’ve put in the things that make me laugh about relationships and marriage. My friends aren’t full of hilarious stories about how they got together with their wives or partners, but there are lots of funny stories about how they broke up. An unfortunate – fortunate for me – corollary of my friends’ failed marriages is a funny script. So something good’s come out of it.”

Cast Actors With Funny Bones
“I was adamant that all the actors should be funny. I didn’t want classical actors or Oscar-nominated actors; I wanted somebody who could sit in a room and make me laugh. Yes, Rafe Spall is a brilliant actor but above and beyond, he’s witty, intelligent, acerbic, quick on his feet – all of the things I wanted his character to be. Likewise with Rose Byrne: she’s also amazing but when I found out that she had improvised most of that brilliant scene in Bridesmaids where she and Kristen Wiig do duelling speeches, I thought, ‘I have to have you in my film.’ Down to the smallest role, I looked for actors who knew how to improvise. Maybe that’s laziness on my part: if a line isn’t good enough or a scene isn’t working, it’s nice to know you can rely on the actors to lift it and make it funnier.”

Test-Drive The Script And The Rough Cut
“I’m pretty good at knowing what’s funny and what isn’t this far down the line but there’s still nothing like hearing things read aloud by actors in the harsh environment of a room of your peers to really feel whether something’s working or not. It’s amazing when it is and incredibly bleak and depressing when it’s not. In editing the film, we ended up with a three-hour first cut because there was so much great improvisation. But I’m a believer that no real comedy should last much over 90 minutes because laughter is a muscle that gets tired. So, put it in front of an audience and see what happens. If they laugh, it stays; if they don’t, it goes. That quickly separates the wheat from the chaff in a depressing and miserable way.”

Trust Your Collaborators
“Everybody was telling me how stressful directing would be but I loved every single minute of it. Considering that my previous film experiences with Sacha had often been spent running from gun-wielding white supremacists or cage-fighting Midwesterners, being on a nice cosy film set where you have your own chair and people bring you breakfast, lunch and endless cups of tea was fantastic. Just surround yourself with brilliant people and trust them to do their thing. Ben Davis, my director of photography, made the film look beautiful but he also didn’t make me feel like an idiot when I asked questions like, ‘What’s crossing the line?’ I always thought that directing required this unique sort of preternatural ability that I couldn’t muster. Don’t micro-manage, don’t go crazy, have faith in people who are brilliant at their jobs.”
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