Alfred Ernest Christie born in London (Ontario, Canada) November 24, 1881; early film career with Wilton Lackaye; as production general manager: Centaur; Horsley Nestor Comedies (directed Mutt and Jeff series); Universal (producing over 300 comedies, 250 of wich he was author, also 5-reel B’way U features (Mrs. Plum’s Pudding).
This text (originally published by The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly) come from the italian magazine La Cinematografia Italiana ed Estera – Turin September 30, 1915. Enjoy!
You couldn’t make all kinds of cakes or puddings, or pies with the same recipe, you know — and the same applies to comedies. I can stir up a thousand feet of fun with almost anything, if I have to do it. I can get that much out of a good drunk and an old maid, for instance. But, if you want a real, sure-fire, warranted comedy, you have to choose your ingredients carefully. I want to say here that I think the time has gone for the old-fashioned slap-stick brand of comedy. The public has been educated to something higher. We are playing to more, discriminating, more critical audiences nowadays.
When I started in the film game, all that was needed to raise a laugh was to have a man fall into a mill pond with a new suit of clothes on, or if he carried more than the average avoirdupois, you could count on the audience shrieking with merriment if his chair collapsed under him. You didn’t need brains, or actors, in those days. All you needed was a man in your cast who knew how to take a bad fall without having to be sent to a hospital afterwards. But all that is changed now. The public demands a comedy with a real plot, a more subtle sense of humour, and, at least, an average degree of intelligence and good taste in its construction. Personally I believe it is an excellent sign. Poor comedies have done more to lower the standard of the films and arouse criticism than any other class of production. And by poor comedies I mean that type of play which relies on coarse vulgarity, questionable wit, and an outraging of every sense of decency to get it over. A good comedian can still be a gentleman. He doesn’t have to forget the dictate of good breeding to make a laugh. If he treated a woman in real life as some of our film comedians do on the screen, he would be booted out of town — and deserve to be. I am very happy to note that the public demand is gradually forcing this class of comedians out of business.
I have found that the best-liked of the Nestor comedies have been those with a strong romantic and love interest. There is no more general appeal than the love of a man for a maid, and I try to base most of my plays on this foundation — with complications, of course. True love never runs smooth, whether in real life or reel life. It is wonderful how many complications of the old plots you can build on a love interest. Either the stern father does not approve of the young man who is making passionate love to his daughter, or the suitor bumps into jealous rivals, or the girl in the case rebuffs him, or — but you might go on indefinitely.
It used to be that they would tell you a good comedy could have no plot at all — that anything in the nature of a plot was fatal. But the film producers have found out their mistake. The better the plot the better the comedy, provided, of course, the plot lends itself to comedy situations. People want to laugh, and they don’t want to have to burrow through a lot of dry details to find the laugh. If the writer with ambitions to do comedies would hear this fact in mind always, he would have one of the first essentials of success. Make your laugh apparent on the instant. Make your action lead up to it naturally and logically, and, if possible, have the comedy climax come as a surprise. This is where the good plot-builder gets in his work. A comedy plot can always be made of the embarrassing situations into which a would-be philanthropist gets in trying to do good — or of the compromising scrapes which fall to the lot of the husband trying to keep a secret from his wife, or from the misadventures of the tired business man seeking a day of rest. There are possibilities for plots from all of these foundations. Or take the theme of mistaken, or assumed identity — one of the stock situations of popular fiction since people learned to buy books. A really clever writer can weave all kinds of legitimate comedy situations from such a basis on which to build. And if the love interest can be woven in, the production is almost certain to pass muster.
You must hear always in mind, of course, that a comedy, more than any other type of play, must depend as much on the final analysis on the actor and producer as on the writer. The most ingenious comedy can be ruined by an actor who cannot understand the possibilities of humour, and, on the other hand, a really clever comedian can save an otherwise mediocre production. Any film manufacturer or director will tell you that a good comedy is the hardest type of play to secure. Probably higher rates are paid for first-class comedy writers than any other in the business for this reason. But writing comedies for the movies and writing comedies for the magazines are two entirely different propositions. On the printed page the style of the author may itself be so inherently funny, and may combine so many comical expressions and dialogues that the plot of the story is of secondary importance. The reverse is true on the screen.
Some of the best comedy stories of recent years in the magazines would be impossible for the films. The humour lies almost entirely in the style of the writer. A comedy for the screen must be a story of action — where the development of the story carries its own laughs. It doesn’t make any difference whether the scenario is neatly typewritten, or written with a lead pencil on wrapping paper, if the plot of the story is one of logical, sustained humour — humour by action and not by style or dialogue — such a scenario will be in demand.
Personally I believe that the good comedy writer is born and not made. It is impossible for some people to be funny, or to see the humour in any kind of situation. They can’t help it. They were born without a funny bone. On the other hand, it is just as natural for some people to see fun in everything. When they can make others see it through their eyes, it is a safe bet for them to go into the profession of writing funny stories or scenarios. They are sure to make good.