Once the 80’s misfit teenager ranged far and free across the American landscape. from John Cusack to Molly Ringwald, if you could pretend you were a high school outcast who had big dreams and a desire to win you were on top of the world.
However, I’ve noticed that ever since 1989 people have stopped making stupid 80’s teenager movies. Oh sure, people tried to make a similar film in the 90’s, movies like Chasing Amy and Mallrats, but these movies didn’t have the same flair, the same élan, or the same bone-headedness of the classic 80’s film. To help remedy this situation and to inspire all the budding filmmakers with a desire to make something truly brain-dead I humbly offer this guide to making stupid 80’s movies.
Stick to the Recipe
To make a stupid 80’s movie you have to stick to the recipe. If your main character isn’t a high school student having a hard time fitting in your movie will fail. If the parents in the movie have brains, or even anything resembling a serious part in the film people will suspect your masterwork of being something introspective or even deep, and nobody wants that. No, like a great sonnet, you must work within the framework, and only use the plot elements that have been so well-tested over the years. Specifically:
High School Students
Even if your main actors are old enough to be PhD candidates, you need to portray them in high school. And not just any high school. Your 80’s movie high school is covered in graffiti, the halls perpetually packed with an assortment of punks (colorful hair), preppies(colorful sweaters draped over their shoulders) and jocks (wearing team colors, of course). If anyone is not wearing bright colors they will be your nerds. They must laugh at space jokes, wear brown pants above their navels, and be generally looked upon with either scorn or pity, depending on the character looking upon them.
Against this backdrop you will place your protagonist. If male, your protagonist will wear a tie that is less than 2 inches wide at its widest point and a sports jacket. If female, your protagonist’s hair must be no less than 3 inches taller than her actual skull. In terms of wardrobe you have more freedom with a female lead, but remember that she has to clean up nicely for the big dance, where she will wear something with shoulder pads that would frighten a linebacker.
Your antagonist may be one of the following: The school administration, the jock boyfriend of your male protagonist’s love interest, or the preppie ice queen that actively seeks to destroy your female protagonist’s dreams of finally being socially accepted.
Again, your dilemma is tightly proscribed, and must fit within the high school milieu. Perhaps your main character needs a date to the prom, or maybe they will be denied some life goal if they don’t get their grades in line by the end of the semester. Either way, your protagonist must solve this problem within one week, two at the outside.
Once you have truly mastered the art of stupid 80’s movies you may consider the third-party dilemma. This is where the romantic interest has a problem and the protagonist must help them solve it, usually in a way that would make no sense at all. Saving an old house from being torn down by winning a boat race, for example. The third-party dilemma gives you more room to experiment, but also walks the line between stupid 80’s movie and standard romantic comedy, and should be used sparingly.
While your main couple are fine and all, you can’t really have a stupid 80’s movie without a good supporting cast. Your main character’s best friend, for example, will often define the tone of the movie, and should get the lion’s share of the memorable lines. There should be a younger brother who is either silent and brilliant, or insanely talkative and vapid. In either case the younger brother will be obsessed with finding an attractive female companion. His success in this endeavor is immaterial, so long his antics are sufficiently comic.
It is not uncommon for the love interest to already be romantically involved with someone at the beginning of the movie, and that someone should be an intensely shallow, self-centered icon. Male or female, they should wear pink and have blond hair. You may worry that the audience won’t accept the fact that your love interest, whom you have written as a sensitive, intelligent, and caring person, has willingly paired off with such a dud. For the most part, as long as the romantic interest ends up with your protagonist all will be forgiven, but if you feel the need to have the romantic interest explain their choice, the standard “[He/She] used to be different, before [he/she] became head of the [basketball team/cheerleading squad]” formula is sufficient.
The music in a stupid 80’s movie should be from the 80’s, of course, and no pains should be spared to emphasize the 80’s-ness of it. Any piece that doesn’t have a synthesizer should be rejected out of hand. Themes ranging from new love to lost love may be used. At some point, usually at the prom, there should be a live band, who should endeavor to look as Californian as possible. Brightly colored suits with white loafers are acceptable. There should be two keyboards on stage, a Roland and a Yamaha. If you have a female singer in your live band she should look as much like Cindi Lauper as your budget allows.
Speaking of your budget, a large portion of your production budget can be covered by a few well-placed pizza boxes or soda cans. There’s no reason to write the names of these products into your script–that would be too obvious–but any time a group of friends is gathered to celebrate some minor success be sure that they do so with Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut. Particularly savvy producers can even get either Roland or Yamaha to pay for the Cindi Lauper impersonator, but be aware that they will ask for a long keyboard solo in the middle of your dramatic-conflict-resolution-at-the-dance scene.
And there you have it. Follow these steps and you will be on your way to making quickly forgotten teen movies like a pro. Join us next time when we take a look at making nightmare-inducing children’s fantasy movies using rubber masks and puppets.