Don’t Think Twice

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In the past couple of years, the number of television and films centering on a world behind-the-scenes of comedy appears to have grown at a steep incline. Being a comedy nerd myself and having worked in the industry for several years, I love these projects but I always wonder if they resonate to anyone outside those worlds. Don’t Think Twice is amazing because it invites everyone to this incredibly niche world and lets you feel as though you’ve been there all along.

Don’t Think Twice is a 2016 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Mike Birbiglia. It stars Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard. The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 13, 2016 and was released on July 22, 2016, by The Film Arcade.

The Breakdown 

Protagonists:
Miles, the defacto leader and improv teacher (often sleeps with his students)
Sam, Jack’s girlfriend and the heart of the team
Jack, Sam’s boyfriend and the “showboat”
Allison, comic artist too scared to finish a project
Bill, the grocery store worker
Lindsay, rich and living with her parents still in her 30s

Want: They all want to be successful writers and/or performers on Weekend Live.
Need: They all need to decide what they want out of life if their dreams don’t come true.

Pre-Existing Life: The group performs at an Improv Theater where they have a regular show. They are an incredibly close knit group.

Inciting Incident: Cast members of popular comedy variety show Weekend Live come to the show. The group learns that the theater will be closing down. Sam and Jack get calls for auditions for Weekend Live.

First Act Decision: Jack is hired while Sam is panicked and runs away. The rest of the group ask Jack to submit their writing packets and Jack reluctantly agrees.

Reversals:

Bill’s father is in an accident and is in the hospital.
Miles wants to submit with Bill and/or Allison and they reject him since they’re a writing team.
Lindsay’s parents give her a hard time for smoking pot in the house.
Jack’s co-worker tells him not to submit his friends.
Miles starts to date an old flame.
Sam starts teaching improv classes for Miles.
The group try to find a new place to perform and can only find an expensive lounge uptown.

Midpoint: Jack gets Weekend Live to come to another show after he learns Sam bailed on her audition. Sam realizes and rejects him through the show. Sam ditches the team afterwards to hang out with her new, young improv students.

False Climax / Low Point: Jack subs his friends’ packets to Timothy (aka “Lorne Michaels”) and is told he needs to worry about his own job. The group performs without him at the expensive lounge to an empty house. They see Jack use one of their group’s improvised sketches on Weekend Live and march down to the after party to confront him, only for it to blow up in their faces.

Climax: Sam performs by herself when the team doesn’t show up for their show. Jack joins part way and they break up on stage. The group cleans out the theater after it closes, as they all move on with their lives.

Resolution: Eight months later–

Miles has moved on with his girlfriend and her illegitimate baby.
Sam is teaching improv and loving it.
Jack is doing better at the show.
Allison submits her finally finished comic.
Bill’s father passes away and he uses his inherited theater (an old strip club) to turn into a new improv space.
Lindsay is now a writer at Weekend Live.

Conclusion

This is an ensemble film. When I was in college, these were the kinds of movies that everyone wanted to write but our professors explicitly told us not to do. The reason is simple, these movies are crazy hard to write and balance out the storylines. We were newbie writers who needed to learn how to write a movie for just want one protagonist before moving up to five. Even though some characters will have smaller storylines that don’t take up as much time, it’s still a balancing act that few people understand intuitively before they start writing a script.

When watching a movie like this, I highly recommend writing down every scene and just noting who the protagonist of the scene is to see how it all balances out. The movie was written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, who also plays Miles, and in some ways it feels as though he may have originally be intended to be a larger role. In the final cut, the strongest emotional arc is Sam, played by Community alum Gillian Jacobs, who is also the heart of the improv troupe and the audience’s point of view character. When we learn Sam joined the team sporadically, that’s how the audience feels watching the movie. As the movie continues and she longs for the group to get back together, that’s what the audiences misses, that camaraderie and fun team that understood one another. Her story is uniquely hers and the fullest.

The next biggest characters are Jack and Miles, who also contribute as antagonistic forces, then Bill, and finally Allison and Lindsay. In the case of the final two, there are very few scenes that are owned solely by them, registering more as mere blips in the film though filling out their emotional arc. Once you get all of these arcs moving, if it’s done well it will feel effortless and balanced. Like I said, these movies are the most fun but the toughest to make work properly.

Happy Writing!

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