The Movie

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The Movie is an improvised movie as a longform format.


The Family originally developed The movie format under the direction of Del Close. They performed it as one of The Three Mad Rituals (along with Deconstruction and Harold).

Once he moved to New York City and founded the UCB Theatre, Matt Besser recruited a cast to whom he taught The Movie. They became the cast of Feature Feature. Members of Feature Feature later directed the cast of Instant Cinema.

The Movie is usually a very popular but difficult form. Many improvisers are movie buffs, and are eager to try and parody genres or directors or techniques, but it's difficult to avoid getting caught up in a complicated plot. Successful executions of The Movie don't focus on plot as much as character and genre -- leaving the details of the plot hazy or even ignored.



The cast asks the audience the name a lyric of their favorite song. Using the line as inspiration, the cast describes three scenes using the terminology of screenplay directions. They'd all take turns describing the scenes, taking over for each other in mid-sentence.

Here's an example of the first description in the opening, and the start of the second description.

  • Improviser 1: "We open on tracking shot of students cramming in a library. They're college-aged, well-dressed. Piles of law books..."
  • Improviser 2: "... surround them. We settle on one student who unlike the rest is dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt. He doesn't appear nervous at all, in fact he's asleep, with an empty notebook..."
  • Improviser 3: "We see his T-shirt is a novelty T-shirt that says 'I took the LSAT stoned.'"
  • Improviser 2: "We cut away from this scene to a luxurious townhouse. Inside is a posh bedroom where a stuffy-looking man is getting ready for bed."

As narrators describe each scene, players from the backline step in to become the characters as they are mentioned. There is no dialogue in the opening, the characters silently mime and move in the space under the narration. After three location scenes are set up, one improvisers steps forward and gives a title to indicate the opening is over.

  • Improviser: "The camera pans to a university blue book, the title appears in red ink 'Crammin' It In!'" And we fade into the first scene...."

Main Show

After the opening three descriptions and the title, the improvisers return to the first set-up and start improvising the scene described. From this point forward, the characters would talk. Improvisers not in a scene would step forward to add indicate lighting changes, camera angles, or soundtrack effects.

The hook of form is the game of the scene work is based on playing the expectations of a particular genre: sports, film noir, classic Hollywood musical, courtroom drama, inspirational teacher drama. The cast took it upon themselves to be experts in these genres, no matter how specific. Once established, their stage directions could make comments on a genre. If it were a Quentin Tarantino-type movie, someone might say "We see this character is played by an actor who was a big star in the '70s but hasn't worked in 20 years."

Actors would end their movies, explicitly describing the moment when closing credits emerged or declaring that the words "The End" had appeared on the "screen."


The Movie format borrows it's edits from screenplay terms as a form scene painting

  • Close-up: An improvisor from the backline verbally says "Close up on ___" framing with his hands at the front of the stage. Other players may move as needed to help create the new stage picture
  • Cut back: Takes back to regular stage
  • Cut-to: In the movie, a cut toends one scene and starts a new one.
  • Angles: An improvisor from the backline can verbally call a low-angle or high angle shot.
  • Pan: Used to have vertical or horizontal movement reveal something that was previously out of "frame"
  • Split screen: For the movie, a backline member narrates "We see a split screen of ___". Other improvisers fill out the narrated world
  • Slow motion: By saying "We see this sequence in slow motion", the improvisers in the scene slow down and their voices mimic a slowed down sound.