We talked broad comedy a few weeks back. Got my hands on the Ted script, looking it over for clues on what it takes to write a worldwide $500+ million dollar box office grossing movie.
So, what do we find when we look at this script? Start with the monster concept: Teddy Bear comes alive—teaching a man to overcome responsibility issues, even if it means the end of their lifelong relationship. And not just any teddy bear. A foul mouth, expletive-using voice that sounds more than anything like Family Guy’s Peter Griffin suddenly freed of network censorship. He and Mark Wahlberg are lifelong friends, as indicated by this first scene where TED comes alive for young John:
John looks under the covers, but the bear is not there. He jumps out of bed and looks around the bed’s perimeter, assuming that Teddy must have fallen off during the night. Finally, he checks underneath the bed.
John sits up again and freezes, looking right into the camera, wide eyed. ANGLE ON JOHN’S P.O.V.: We see the face of Teddy staring right at him. Teddy blinks once.
TEDDY: Hug me.
John yelps and stumbles back, falling over. He stares at Teddy, breathing heavily.
JOHN: Did you… did you just talk?
TEDDY: You’re my best friend, John.
JOHN: You’re alive?!
TEDDY: Don’t look so surprised. You’re the one who wished for it, aren’t you?
JOHN: Yeah, I… I did wish for it.
A huge grin spreads across John’s face. He gets up, runs to Ted hugs him.
Now that is an Inciting Incident! It’s also the basis for a tentpole series of Ted movies. How many hours elapsed before talk of Ted 2 emerged? Evidently, not many.
The script is broad comedy so it takes all of 10 pages to see how the boy and his teddy bear grew up best friends, and what their life today looks like:
INT. JOHN AND LORI’S APARTMENT – SAME
CLOSE ON a bong. PULL OUT TO REVEAL Ted, who inhales, his snout inside the tube. Ted sits on the sofa, and for the first time, we see Ted in his present day form: he is ratty, patched-up, and worn-looking. He has a couple stains, some small spots of exposed stuffing, and there’sevidence of some half-assed sewing. It’s obvious he’s been around for three decades. He and John, who sits next to him, are both clearly stoned as we join them. John, for his part, looks far too comfortable in the too worn Red Sox T-shirt he wears. He eats directly from a box of Fruity Pebbles. Reaching in for a last handful, he finds the box almost empty. He raises it to empty the remainder into his mouth, and accidentally pours Fruity Pebbles all over his face. It doesn’t faze him much, though, as he brushes them off. It’s quite obvious that this is a guy who has never really given up his childhood… and has never given up his teddy bear. Ted passes the bong to John.
TED: All I’m sayin’ is Boston women are are, on the whole, a paler, uglier sort than women from the elsewheres of life.
JOHN: That’s bullshit, what about Lori? She’s hot.
TED: Lori’s from Pennsylvania, not a Boston girl.
JOHN: They’re not that bad.
John takes a hit from the bong over Ted’s next line.
TED: The fact that you have to say they’re not that bad means that they are that bad.
They turn into drunk, half-white, half-pink monsters after 2 hours at any beach.
Ted takes a hit from the bong.
It’s Seth MacFarlane so the snapping, pop-culture based laughs keep coming. What’s interesting though, is that the heart of this movie is far more romantic comedy. The central conflict emerges when superhot Lori (Mila Kunis) gets involved with John. They love each other but he’s got some issues—like that breathing, XXX-talking teddy bear:
INT. OFFICE – MOMENTS LATER
Lori gets off the elevator, where we see several signs that read “PLYMOUTH PUBLIC RELATIONS.” Lori goes to her desk, looking exhausted. Lori’s office friends, GINA,
MICHELLE, and TRACY approach.
GINA: Wow…Baby, I’m not saying this to be nasty, but you look really tired.
LORI: Oh, I’m okay… except I didn’t have time for breakfast, the garage was full, I spilled coffee on my leg, and I have a boyfriend who can’t sleep through a storm without his teddy bear.
GINA: I don’t understand why you keep putting up with him.
TRACY: Yeah, I mean, the guy’s thirty-five years old and he’s working for a rental car service.
LORI: No, it’s not that, I don’t care about that. I’d love him even if he was a janitor. I mean, he’s got a huge heart, we laugh together all the time, and it’s just a bonus that he’s like the hottest guy in Boston.
GINA” Yeah but the hottest guy in Boston is like being the classiest Kardashian.
LORI: I just wish he could get his life together, you know? Our life. And he can’t, and I swear to god, it’s all because of that bear.
MICHELLE: You should give him an ultimatum: it’s you or the bear.
LORI: I can’t do that, he’d be devastated. And I mean… what if he chose Ted?
Central conflict established: What if he chooses Ted? If Lori is going to stay with John and marry him, he’s got to choose between Ted or her. He lets her down again and again, swears his love, tells her he’ll grow up, but ultimately he disappoints her, until we get to this scene:
EXT. TED’S APARTMENT – MOMENTS LATER
Lori storms out into the street. After a beat, John runs out after her.
JOHN: Lori! Lori wait!
She hastily pays the cabbie who waits outside. John catches up to her and grabs her arm, but she shakes him off. She is clearly hurt, and on the verge of tears.
JOHN (CONT’D): I’m sorry! I messed up! I–
LORI: I want you out of the apartment… tonight. Gimme my car keys.
He reluctantly hands her her keys. She turns and walks toward her car.
JOHN: Lori… please. I love you.
She gets in the car and drives away with a screech. Angle on Ted, who is walking out the door.
TED: Johnny, come on upstairs…
JOHN: Do you know what just happened? Do you have any clue? My life just ended.
TED: Oh come on, she’ll go home, watch Bridget Jones’ Somethin’ Asshole, cry a little bit, she’ll be fine, you’ll talk to her tomorrow.
JOHN: Jesus, Lori was right. I should have stopped hanging out with you a long time ago. I’m never gonna have a life with you around. I’m 35 years old and I’m going nowhere. All I do is smoke pot and watch movies with a teddy fucking bear. And because of that, I just lost the love of my life.
TED: Johnny, I’m… I’m sorry.
JOHN: I just… I gotta be on my own, Ted. I can’t see you anymore.
John turns and walks away.
TED: Johnny, wait! Hey, listen!
Ted pushes his own stomach in. We hear his soundbox squeak out the words “I wuv you.” John does not turn around. Ted looks after him, then slowly lowers his head sadly. He sits down on the sidewalk, dazed and defeated.
This is the double-bind, the core conflict…what’s going to happen between these three? Screenwriting manual writers and Dark Night Of The Soul notwithstanding, this is a fucking comedy, so MacFarlane never takes us far from that pop-culture humor:
INT. BACKSTAGE – SHORTLY AFTER
ANGLE ON a dressing room sign which reads NORAH JONES. We move inside the dressing room as Norah enters and pours a drink.
TED (O.S.): Hey, play chopsticks, you jazzy slut!
NORAH (turning, recognizing): Teddy!! How you doin’, you fuzzy little asshole?
She hugs him.
TED: Well, I’m not a hot half-Muslim chick who sold 37 million records, but I’m hangin’ in there.
NORAH: Well, half-Indian, but thanks.
TED: Eh, ooga booga, whatever. Hey, I want you to meet a good pal of mine. Hey Johnny, come on in!
ANGLE ON the doorway, where John enters, a little nervous.
TED (CONT’D): Norah, this is my friend John.
JOHN(self-consciously extends hand): Hi. Hi, Norah Jones.
NORAH(shaking his hand): Ha. Whoa, relax there, sweaty. You ready to bring down the house?
JOHN: Yes ma’am. Thank you for the opportunity, Ms.– Ma’am Jones.
TED: Jesus, you look fantastic.
NORAH: Well, you’re probably not used to seeing me fully clothed.
TED: Me and Norah met in 2002 at a party at Belinda Carlisle’s house and we had awkward, fuzzy sex in the coatroom.
NORAH: Actually, you weren’t so bad for a guy with no penis.
TED: I have written so many letters to Hasbro about that.
What kind of mind thinks this stuff up?! Helps to actually be able to get to Norah Jones when you write her into your script, right? Novice writers might want to think twice about that. But if you’re writing killer concepts and backing it up with dialogue even close to the above, might be time to get your ass to L.A.
The movie’s climax hits us with the worst ending possible for Ted:
EXT. LIGHTING TOWER – CONTINUOUS
Donny makes one final reach for Ted. He grabs Ted by the foot again, and pulls hard. With one great RRRIIIIIIP, Ted tears into two pieces. As John watches in shock, Ted falls through the air in SLO-MOTION, a shower of white stuffing descending with him. Lori watches with a handover her mouth. The two halves of Ted land, along with the scattered white stuffing. Donny, still hanging, stares down at the fallen teddy bear. He starts pulling himself back over the ledge.
We lead and follow John as he runs back down through the stadium with desperate numbness. Lori climbs over the edge of the seating area, and runs toward him as well. ANGLE BACK ON DONNY, who pulls himself back over into the upper seating area. He hears the sound of a cop siren,and peers over the edge of the stadium. Seeing a cop car pull up far below, he makes a break for it.
Down below, Ted’s top half lies on the grass, looking around in a daze, like a badly wounded soldier for whom there is not much hope. John and Lori race to his side, and kneel down.
LORI: Oh my God…
TED(weak, slow breathing): Johnny…
Ted looks glassy-eyed for a beat. John starts to frantically gather up the chunks of stuffing.
JOHN: Lori, get the stuffing! Get it all!
Lori starts helping him, desperately grabbing chunks of the white cotton.
John leans back over Ted.
JOHN: You’re gonna be okay, buddy. You understand? You’re gonna be fine.
TED(weak): Jesus, I look like the robot from “Aliens”.
JOHN: No, look at me, buddy. I promise, you’re gonna be okay.
TED: I… I don’t think so. I’m… I’m in trouble. I need… I need to tell you something.
JOHN: What is it?
TED: Don’t… don’t ever lose her again. She’s the most important… most important part of your life. Even more than me. She’s your thunder buddy now. She’s–
Ted closes his eyes… and dies. ANGLE DIRECTLY ABOVE TED as we pull away, and it starts to rain…
Say it ain’t so, Teddy!!!
Even the novice moviegoer would know there’s no way this script closes with the death of Ted. Bummer endings, not exactly the stuff of broad comedy. Ted comes back to life, getting sewn up. John gets sewn up too:
JOHN: And after last night, I… I don’t ever want to lose anyone who matters to me ever again. I’m not gonna wait any longer for my life to start. Lori… will you marry me?
LORI(beat, she smiles) That’s all I ever wanted.
John and Lori kiss as we pull away…
NARRATOR (V.O.): And so John, Lori, and Ted lived happily ever after, having discovered at last that all they really needed was each other. John and Lori were married in a beautiful ceremony in Cambridge, by a very special Justice of the Peace.
Happy happy happy! The only way to end a flick like this. The miracle is the litany of mashed-up explicatives and crazy situations we’ve seen a living teddy bear navigate through in a little over an hour and a half.