Sunday, October 16, 2011
Lost in Translation
I was directing a show for ABC called BROTHERS KEEPER in the late 90s. During rehearsals sometimes tours would come in, sit in the bleachers for ten minutes, get incredibly bored, and leave.
On this particular day I was blocking a scene where Billy Ragsdale (who played the dad) was scolding his eight-year-old son (played by Justin Cooper) for something he had done (lost his homework, killed someone, I forget). Since Justin was required to spend so many hours a day in school we would rehearse with a fifty-year-old stand-in who let’s just say was only Justin’s height.
A group of Japanese tourists came in and sat down in the bleachers. None of them could speak English. What they saw was this:
Me, making a guy in his 30’s scold a middle-aged dwarf to such a degree that the dwarf breaks down crying and runs from the set.
They were appalled! Outraged! As one, they got up and marched out, glaring at me and calling me things that did not need any translation.
Needless to say I have not been invited to direct any Japanese sitcoms. And I don’t think Billy Ragsdale has had too many offers to appear over there either.
And from my friend Dave Hackel comes this experience. (Among his many credits, Dave was the creator of BECKER and longtime showrunner of WINGS.)
The show was in good shape. Laughs were there. Actors were on the money. But after each joke -- nothing. Then fifteen seconds later, a titter. The writers were thrown off. The actors were thrown off. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then I turned around and saw the man signing our show to a large group of deaf people.
The amazing thing is that every writer who has worked on a multi-camera show seems to have at least one story like this. It's why we all have facial tics.
The late brilliant comedian Mitch Hedberg said it best: "Y'know, you can't please all the people all the time... and last night, all those people were at my show."