Ghostbusters is an amazing film, for many reasons. One of the more remarkable aspects of the film is where it starts compared to where it ends. The film begins with 3 strictly academic scientists discovering ghosts are real. It ends with a banishment of Sumerian god to another dimensions and the destruction of a 100 foot marshmallow man. Makes perfect sense, right?
In Ghostbusters, you begin with the discovery of ghosts, move on to their capture, then Dana’s possession, and finally battle with Gozer. With every step, the film asks you to believe just a little bit more. And once you do, they take lots of smaller things for granted. We are asked to believe these men are scientists who study ghosts, but once we do, we are expected to trust that their PKE meters would exist. We are asked to believe ghosts exist, but are expected to trust that a fridge would play host to an inter-dimensional portal. The film starts in the real world, asks the audience for a little stretch of reality, and keeps asking for little additions to ‘reality’ throughout the film.
Director Ivan Reitman (though I’ve heard it ascribed to and mentioned by Harold Ramis as well):
“I call it like the domino theory of reality. If you can go one step at a time and it seems to make sense, you can then take your audience into an area that is relatively outlandish.”
In improv, we worship “Yes And”. “Yes And” doesn’t account for where you are and where you’re going in a scene though. It’s primarily concerned with accepting the reality and building off it. But many scenes start from such an elevated place, both the players and the audience are lost as to what the reality of the world is. I think there’s something to be said by starting a scene or game from reality (or something that we and the audience will accept as being ‘real’).
Look at a team like Death by Roo Roo. Their monoscenes begin in recognizable locations, with recognizable characters. They make big choices, which beget bigger choices, and next thing you know you’ve got Neil beating Gavin with a wrench, the audience in tears, and everyone thinking, “Of course that would happen!” The same applies to small scenes. We need only a line or two to establish ourselves in a recognizable place with our audience. Once there, we’re given much more freedom to move in unexpected directions.
Now, I realize none of this is new or particularly revolutionary improv thinking, but it’s important to remember. We’re all in such a rush to get in a scene, establish a game and get huge laughs that we sometimes forget how we get there, and I think the Domino Theory is a nice, easy reminder of a way to play.
Also, we should always be thinking about Ghostbusters when improvising, if only to increase the likelihood of a Ghostbusters related scene.
Disclaimer: I know nothing! Don’t listen! You should probably disagree, if anything!