Back from Dallas where it's not 112. Travelogue to follow next week. Here are some Friday questions asked while I was away.
Purplejilly gets us going:
What do you think about script writing software? Do you use it nowadays? I've heard several people make comments like 'don't even bother to write a script if you aren't using XXX brand softwriting script and know it inside and out.' What's your opinion on this?
I use either Final Draft or Movie Magic. Both are fine. Both have their quirks. Definitely use a script writing program.
On CHEERS, before there were these programs, one of the assistants created a program just for us. At the time it was revolutionary. Now it’s archaic. For action lines hit Alt+Cnl+2+L. For characters hit Alt+Tab+Esc+5+N, etc. There was a glossary and a format sheet and you had to set up each scene separately. It probably took longer than if we carved the script on sandstone, but again, at the time we thought this was AMAZING.
Today I can’t imagine writing a script without modern software.
Do you prefer any sitcom format in particular? I mean single cam, multi cam, mockumentary, animation? Or do certain projects depend on specific formats to work?
Depends on the project. Imagine MASH shot in front of a studio audience? I like aspects of each format. It’s nice to have the freedom of single camera, to not be chained to one or two sets. On the other hand, with a multi-camera show you get to actually hear the laughs, which to me is the comedy writer’s crack. And in animation you really have a lot of freedom. It costs just as much to draw a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium as it does a kitchen, even a nice kitchen.
Family shows are interesting in that you can do them in practically any format. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND worked extremely well as a multi-camera show. THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY are stand-out cartoons. And MODERN FAMILY has the single-camera and the mockumentary form covered brilliantly.
Generally, I’m not a huge fan of the mockumentary format just because it seems a little gimmicky and is getting old. But if the writing is good like in MODERN FAMILY, THE OFFICE, and PARKS & REC, it doesn’t bother me.
The best mockumentary episode I think that will ever be remains “the Interview” episode of MASH. And that was done in 1975.
Was the Dancing Homer episode the only time you let your two careers (play by play and writing) cross? I remember that you played the play by play announcer in that episode.
No. I’ve done voiceover play-by-play for probably fifteen shows and movies. You’ll hear me from time to time on CHEERS and FRASIER. Surprisingly, on FRASIER, I play the voice of the Seattle Mariners.
Last year I did a MODERN FAMILY and was amazed by how many people recognized my voice.
Generally, I would get called in to be a baseball or football announcer for some show. I’d go to the recording studio, lay down the track, and leave. Then a year later I’d get a residual from say MAJOR DAD and think, “Why am I getting money from MAJOR DAD? Oh right. Voice over.”
It's a great gig. A lot of money for fifteen minutes work. Only trouble is, I could go two years between gigs. I think I was smart not to quit my day job.
And finally, a couple from my favorite liquor, Johnny Walker:
The behind the scenes books seem to paint Sam Simon and George Meyer as the real creative forced behind The Simpsons. Did you get a chance to feel out Meyer's contributions?
Yes. George Meyer is one of the funniest human beings on the planet. I don’t think there’s a person who has ever worked with him who would disagree. And he’s a great guy (which is good because otherwise I'd hate him, he's so damned talented).
Also: Did they ever start giving the writers a decent wage?
Yes. After the first couple of years. SIMPSONS writers are now getting much more than show jackets. I think that was the main issue we fought for in the most recent WGA strike.
What’s your question?