Friday, November 11, 2011

Oceans 11-11-11

Today is 11-11-11.  There's got to be a revival movie house somewhere playing OCEANS 11 and its two sequels today.  I can't imagine sitting through them all in one sitting but still

Meanwhile, I'm getting ready for the SITCOM ROOM seminar that begins tomorrow in Los Angeles. Got a few surprises in store for this year’s group.  Heh heh heh (that's me doing a “diabolical cackle”)

Here are this week's Friday Questions.  I thought of doing 11 of them, but then I thought -- that's nuts!


Stephen is up first:

How do you shoot those transition shots in a series? For example, Ally McBeal must have featured dozens of aerial shots of Boston in between scenes over the course of its run. Does a cameraman get sent to the city/location in question and just film a pre-set list of footage?

Two ways. Most of the time you send a second-unit crew out to the location to shoot a ton of establishing shots. Day, night, different times of year, weather conditions, different angles, push-ins, pans, etc.

The second (cheaper) way is to just buy footage from studio libraries.

We once had a pilot set in Chicago and bought footage from MTM for THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (it was set in Chicago). In the corner of one shot we used, just for a split second, you could see Newhart.   We figured that was good luck. We were wrong. The pilot was never picked up. Thanks a lot, Bob!

From Weston:

There has to be some amazing moments on the set of M*A*S*H*. Life Hawkeye and Maragret on the front lines when they end up kissing. What is your favorite?

The first shot on the first day of the first episode we wrote (“Out of Sight/Out of Mind”). Watching Alan Alda and Harry Morgan actually perform a scene that we wrote was practically surreal. I had to keep pinching myself. I just couldn’t believe it.

You never forget your first. 

DyHrdMET asks:

I saw your name listed in the credits to an episode of M*A*S*H as "Teleplay by KEN LEVINE & DAVID ISAACS". What does that actually mean - how did you contribute to this episode? If it helps, it was the episode "Post Op" where the 4077th has a shortage of blood and a lot of casualties.

We wrote the script but in that case, Gene Reynolds & Jay Folb came up with the story, not us. We were just handed the outline. That particular episode came at the very end of the season when lead-time was non-existent. We were brought in and asked to quickly write the script. That’s one of the MASH episodes I’m most proud of, because we did write it in only a few days, and they used probably 95% of our draft.

Oh, if only they were all that easy... 

Phillip B has a question based on my recent post about agents:

Is 10% still the show business standard? Does that commission run forever on residuals? And who else gets a piece?

Yes. It’s mandated in the contract agents sign with the WGA. But agents receive no commission on residuals.

Where agents really make their fortune is on “package deals”. If their client creates a show the agency makes a “package deal”. They lobby hard for the show to get picked up and negotiate on its behalf. For that they receive a percentage of ownership. If the show goes on to be a mega hit like FRIENDS or SEINFELD then CA-CHING!

But if the agent has a package deal on the show then they can’t double-dip. In other words, they can’t also take a commission from clients of that agency who work on that show. It’s a good deal for writers of that agency. If they’re on an agency package show they pay no commission. That’s like getting a 10% bonus.

And finally, from Ed Dempsey:

Here' s a Friday question about a Cheers episode from season 1 that I came across on Netflix. The episode is"Friends, Romans, Accountants". At the end of the episode Norm's co-workers, delighted that he actually stood up to his boss, carry him out of the bar on the shoulders. As he's being carried off, it looks like he mouths "WTF". Did you and David write this into the script or did this truly catch George Wendt off guard?

I think he says “What the hell?” We never did get the ending we wrote. In our script as Norm is hoisted on everyone’s shoulders and is carried out the door the toga gets caught on something and flies off. But we could never make that gag physically work. Too bad. Would have been a hell of an ending.

What’s your question? Hope 11-11-11 is a lucky day for you.  If not, there's always 12-12-12.

22 comments:

An said...

I have to say it definitely looks like a WTF to me.

Has anyone noticed all the recent discussion around Cheers out here on the interwebs? The A.V. Club is now blogging weekly episode by episode, among a number of other recently spawned Cheers blogs. Has the world gone sane? Loving it.

Aunt Ermo said...

I have been working my way through THE ROCKFORD FILES of late, and I get the impression that at the start of each season, the second unit spent a day filming James Garner as he drove around Los Angeles; then, this footage was used as needed to bring the episodes up to regulation length. There are a couple of episodes that use a LOT of this footage.

Tom Quigley said...

Ken,

Just wanted to wish all the participants in this year's THE SITCOM ROOM Good Luck and have fun!

But Ken, please -- if you're referring to "surprises," please don't release a swarm of fire ants in one room and a kimodo dragon in another, like you did the year I was there... :-)

Johnny Walker said...

11-11-11 is Nigel Tufnel Day!

DanTedson said...

Stutterer Awareness Day. Support it by asking one the date.

Mousie said...

I believe the Ocean's movies are being broadcast on tv today, tomorrow, and Sunday -- it was my friend's idea and Jerry Weintraub loved it!

erniecanuck said...

Today is my birthday and.... the numbers in my age add to 11! Here in Canada we honour today as Rememberance Day when we pause to consider those men and women like my grandfather who have sacrificed for our freedom. As a kid, I was always torn on this day; a remembrance service at school in the morning, a birthday party in the afternoon.

Sebastian said...

Well actually the writer get's 100 cents of every dollar instead of 90 cents and those 10 cents more are compared to the 90 from before. 10 of 90 is 11.1, so the raise would be 11.1%

Sorry. Math major. And I thought it fit the day rather nicely :-D

Phillip B said...

Thanks for the insight on the incentives for agents. The pitches on package deals must get really looney (I'm imagining a sitcom deal for every member of the Glee cast).

And it means while every actor wants to direct, every agent wants to produce...

Brian Phillips said...

I just watched the last bit of "Friends, Romans, Accountants" and I think I have to side with Ed Dempsey. If you look at what George Wendt is mouthing, you will notice that "hell" does not begin with "F", regardless of what the scripted line was.

Extraneous_Ed said...

I'm just annoyed by all these British people who keep writing today's date as 11-11-11 instead of 11-11-11.

D. McEwan said...

Oh great. I'm the 12th comment, so I'm erasing "Oceans 11-11-11, 11 comments."

Anyway, for many of us it's Nigel Tufnel Day, not Oceans 11 Day. I guess it depends on whom you consider cool: Sinatra's Rat Pack, Affleck's Rat Pack, or Spinal Tap and National Lampooners. I lean towards the final choice.

tb said...

Wait, they LIFTED George Wendt onto their shoulders? Who did?
I gotta see this one...

Michael said...

Apropos of that filming, in Las Vegas, where I live, we used to love to watch VEGAS, with Robert Urich. Whenever he drove out of the Desert Inn, no matter which direction he said he was headed, he seemed to drive past the same hotels. Hm.

DyHrdMET said...

From what I understand, and please correct me if I'm wrong, TV sitcoms usually air on television a couple of weeks after being "filmed in front of a live studio audience" (what is it, 3 or 4 weeks later?). How do they handle explaining important plot points to the studio audience from episodes sequentially before the one being filmed that haven't yet aired?
For example, I'm guessing that probably 3 or 4 episodes of CHEERS were filmed with Kirstie Alley playing a new character, Rebecca Howe, before any of us watching television had been introduced to her on the show...so how was it explained to the studio audience of her second episode (who hadn't seen that character on TV yet) who she was?

VP81955 said...

11-11-11 was a lucky day for Wilson Ramos (thank God).

Pat Quinn said...

You often give insight as to the different iterations of job titles that writers can get on a tv show. Would it be too much to ask if you listed all the current titles that writers get in the credits and what they mean?

Steve said...

Do you have an opinion on backdoor pilots? I remember Golden Girls did one in 1987 to set up Empty Nest, and just a few years ago Grey's Anatomy gave up two episodes of its season to setting up its spin-off Private Practice; but do you think these are cheap cheats at getting a mass audience to sample the new show or is simply a smart business tactic? Also, did any of the Cheers writers suggest sending Frasier to Seattle for an episode in the last season to set up the "Frasier" series?

Pamela Jaye said...

re: the stock footage, flyovers, Ally McBeal, etc.

two things.

There was a Quantum Leap episode ostensibly set in Connecticut, with stock footage from Boston (Shawmut Bank, Citgo Sign)

but my favorite:

Spenser for Hire, 1988 episode, stock footage of the John Hancock Tower- *under construction.* I had to check the copyright date.
I worked there (in the old building) starting in 1980, and I promise you, the building was totally built, except for the occasional flying window. (you never knew when you might get your head sheared off. actually, only one coworker ever got hit. on the way back from lunch. did you know there was a tunnel between the Clarendon bldg and the Tower?)

Anyway, that's my main experience with stock footage. I just found it amusing that the show mentioned in the question was Ally. As I am obviously from Boston and as it was my 2nd favorite show ever, I watched those flyovers with happy sighs (or waves of nostalgia in the final seasons when I'd just moved to FL.)

Pamela Jaye said...

re: the stock footage, flyovers, Ally McBeal, etc.

two things.

There was a Quantum Leap episode ostensibly set in Connecticut, with stock footage from Boston (Shawmut Bank, Citgo Sign)

but my favorite:

Spenser for Hire, 1988 episode, stock footage of the John Hancock Tower- *under construction.* I had to check the copyright date.
I worked there (in the old building) starting in 1980, and I promise you, the building was totally built, except for the occasional flying window. (you never knew when you might get your head sheared off. actually, only one coworker ever got hit. on the way back from lunch. did you know there was a tunnel between the Clarendon bldg and the Tower?)

Anyway, that's my main experience with stock footage. I just found it amusing that the show mentioned in the question was Ally. As I am obviously from Boston and as it was my 2nd favorite show ever, I watched those flyovers with happy sighs (or waves of nostalgia in the final seasons when I'd just moved to FL.)

blogger ate my comment. luckily, i'd copied it first

Mr. Ace said...

Hi Ken,

I have a few questions for you.

1. How do the show creators come up with the names for their shows?

2. I have read that guys like Sidney Sheldon wrote most if not all of the episdoes of his shows. I was wondering how common is that nowadays?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Levine,

Very good blog indeed. Even the baseball bits which mean absolutely nothing to someone over in England. Where I am.

One question:

As a writer do you think it would help/hinder to go to meetings in a suit and tie? I'm pretty much suit and tie but find myself usually dressed much smarter than my fellow writers who generally turn up looking like hobos.

What does a writer dress like?