Richard Y asks:
When a comedy show is filmed in front of a live studio audience (the producers hope they are alive) 'Laverne & Shirley', and many others for example. How do they set up the sight gags that one would see coming if sitting in the audience (and not laugh) but when viewing at home the audience laughter is appropriately placed as the sight gag is reveled?
Often we’ll have a riser covering a set until we’re about to shoot. Or pre-shoot a scene up until the big reveal. But it’s hard to really hide surprise-jokes. Plus, there are always re-shoots and pick ups so the audience sees the same joke several times regardless. The real fun is doing complicated stunts live in front of the audience. I talked about the pie fight I staged on ALMOST PERFECT. We did that live. See for yourself. There was an episode of CHEERS my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote where Cliff chains himself to his house to stave off the wrecking ball. Eventually Norm cuts the center beam and the entire second floor crashes down just after they vacate the place. Even a toilet is seen crashing to the ground. That was all filmed in real time in front of 200 startled and delighted people. Kudos to James Burrows for that one.
From Mark Potts:
What do you think about actors writing and directing episodes of shows you work on?
It all depends on the actor. Alan Alda was a good writer and even better director. Other actors we have worked with were not. When they wrote scripts we had to rewrite them from scratch. One actor I worked with got to direct an episode every season. Normally he was the nicest guy. But when he became a director he became a raging maniac It was so bizarre to hear him order around people knowing the following week he would just be one of them again. Often times when actors direct multi-camera shows they just work with the actors on the stage and someone else (usually the camera coordinator) has to do the camera blocking because the actor has no clue how to do that.
But some actors have become so proficient as directors they've become that full-time. Peter Bonerz, James Widdoes, Melanie Mayron, Amanda Bearse, Will MacKenzie, Robbie Benson, Betty Thomas, Penny Marshall, David Steinberg just to name a bunch. There are at least fifty others. And that's just the ones who are still alive.
My problem in general with actors writing scripts is that they tend to give themselves all the good lines and other cast members are given short shrift. In one script by one series regular (who will remain nameless) he gave his co-star six lines for the entire episode. Of course we had to rewrite extensively.
My problem with actors directing episodes is that usually they try to be light in the episode and as good as they might be behind the camera they’re better in front of it.
That said, some of the best directors I’ve ever worked with were (and are) actors. Danny DeVito and Alan Alda top that list.
Rob! weighs in:
I was watching an episode of Frasier last night, the one where they all go to a cabin in the woods, intended as a romantic getaway for Martin and Ronnie, and they all have weird dreams.
Martin's dream is this huge musical number, complete with dancing girls, fireworks, etc. Quite an amazing little number.
My question is, in terms of producing such an episode--that clearly busts the budget for that particular episode, doing something so elaborate.
Where does that money come from? Do you go to the network for extra $$ or do the producers take money away from other episodes that come in under budget, to put it towards something special?
Studios are given money by the networks for two prime time airings. This is the “license fee”. It is negotiated between the studio and network. If the show goes over budget the studio is responsible for the remaining costs. But the studio owns the show and can sell it into syndication if there are enough episodes and there is a market for that series (like say FRASIER). Then it’s a license to print money.
But most shows fail. And most of the time the studios lose money on series. Now keep in mind, today the networks own the studios so the lines are blurred over who owns what and who is responsible for what. The network controls everything.
Generally shows have a yearly budget. So if you do an elaborate dance number one week, the next week just have an episode that takes place in Frasier’s apartment that can come in under budget.
You’ll notice that with 24. There will be some spectacular stunts and helicopters and giant gun battles. And the next two weeks Jack will be in FBI headquarters. Another thing, to help pay for the cost of sets and production, usually if Jack Bauer goes somewhere he’s there for at least two episodes. A warehouse, the White House, etc. And you’ll notice a “day” on 24 usually begins around 8 a.m. That allows them to shoot the daytime scenes in the summer when it stays light until 8 and the nighttime scenes in the winter when shooting can begin as early as 5. Lots of little tricks go into getting the most bang for your production buck.
I don’t know how they do it on LOST though. Every week is elaborate and expensive. It’s a mystery – like everything else on that show.
What’s your question? The comments section awaits.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Richard Y asks: