Writing comedy in Hollywood

Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2002

Doug Eboch hates it when writers cheat, especially in romantic comedies.

Eboch, a 1986 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, wrote "Sweet Home Alabama" as his master's thesis in screenwriting at the University of Southern California and then sold the screenplay to a pair of Hollywood film producers.

The film, starring Reese Witherspoon, opened Friday in theaters across the country, including Juneau. In "Sweet Home Alabama," Witherspoon's character must choose between two men. That's a common situation for a romantic comedy, but Eboch didn't want to make the choices obvious.

"I think it's important that it not feel contrived," he said. "You believe she could be in this situation and it would be tough for her. I tried to create a real character and real relationships."

He said that too often in romantic comedies there are the good guy and the bad guy, and the audience is just waiting for the main character to wake up and realize who the good guy is.

"We wanted both relationships to feel real, with ups and downs," he said. "So this is a choice between two possible men and two possible lives. So she has to figure out who she is and what she wants. Both guys have a lot going for them."

His pet peeve is that writers use contrived misunderstandings, such as the heroine mis-hearing a comment, to create the dramatic tension.

He's a fan of Witherspoon and said she is ideally cast in the part. Her character Melanie does some pretty unlikeable things at the start of the film, Eboch said, but she's compelling enough to keep the audience caring about her and interested in her fate.

"It's important to give the movie somewhere to go," he said. "Romantic comedies are a tough genre; it's hard not to make the choices easy and obvious for the character."

He said too often romantic comedies forget the comedy part.

"You hope as a writer you get good actors and a good director," he said. "So much depends on the performance. I'm not a joke writer, really. For me it's funny to create funny characters and put them in funny situations; then the comedy comes out."

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.

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