It’s always extra poignant being in Hawaii during Pearl Harbor Day. As the “Day of Infamy” gets further into the mist, take a moment to remember and give thanks.
Now then – Friday Questions.
Joss Whedon tells writers, "Cut what you love", the idea being that when a story runs into trouble, be willing to remove your favorite scene for the good of the piece as a whole. Do you have any examples of when you have found this to be a useful approach?
All the time. I could give a thousand examples from my scripts alone. “Kill your babies” is another, more genteel expression that is used.
For me, the most extreme example is when the musical I co-wrote with Janet Brenner was in production at the Goodspeed Theater in Connecticut. It was playing okay but felt long.
I suggested we cut an entire production number. This was like a ten minute number with the entire cast, elaborate choreography, orchestration, lighting effects, visuals, and harmonies. It was an impressive piece. But the song was essentially a rehash of everything we had already said. The director was almost apoplectic when I suggest the radical lift but convinced him to try it for one performance. If we all missed it it could return. Losing that number elevated the entire show. And it was worth everyone in the company not speaking to me for two days.
There’s an expression in the theater: make it twenty minutes shorter and it’ll run five years longer.
By the way, that musical starred Andrew Rannells. Whatever happened to him?
From emd9930 (but I'm not sure if that's his real name):
Do the writers have a master map of character quirks / family names / family stories / etc. so new additions to the character's background make sense? I've been on many TV forums where people complain that the "new" writers don't recall this or that trait of a character. The obvious one is the missing oldest son from Happy Days, but other characters have gone to college for a few shows then never talked about it again (Jamie on Mad About You and Carrie on King of Queens).
It depends on the show. Some keep very detailed bibles that get updated constantly. Other shows don’t bother. Generally it’s up to the showrunner and writers who stay with a series for several of years to police that. But they’re only as effective as their memory allows.
Sometimes there’s a big switch in staffs and maybe the show gets better as a result but the continuity suffers.
And here’s the sad double-standard. When you’re on staff writing the show, those details don’t really matter. Sure, you like to have them right, but other than a few diehard fans, who’s going to know? You can find a thousand inconsistencies in MASH (and indeed some authors have).
And sometimes we ignore previous episodes on purpose. When characters get “sent off to college” they generally disappear entirely from the show’s timeline. In the second episode of CHEERS we make reference to and show Sam’s ex-wife. Then she’s never brought up again for eleven years. As a show moves in a creative direction sometimes you have to alter history.
If you’re writing a spec script, continuity is crucial. Saying a character has a brother back home when he doesn’t or that she loves ice cream when it’s been established that she doesn’t can kill you. The astute reader will accuse you of not really knowing the show. And it becomes doubly tough when you do your due diligence and you discover an inconsistency. What to use? She likes ice cream or she doesn’t? It can be a trap.
Emily Blake queries:
I don't know if this affects comedy as much, but can you talk about how constantly not knowing how many episodes you'll get affects your story telling?
Especially starting out you can’t build a big overall arc. But generally, when you’re a new show you want to leave yourself open to see what works and what doesn’t. You just hope you find the sweet spot in time.
Once you’re established then you have the luxury of being able to map out a season. And having an overall arc helps you in planning stories. You’re not just starting from square one every week.
On the other hand, story arcs can sometimes be dangerous. If the audience doesn’t like a certain creative direction you’ve taken and you’ve got seven more stories in that arc you can really sink yourself. You have to be prepared to abort story arcs, which means double work. You must throw out the episodes you’ve written and quickly write whole new episodes.
And sometimes when an arc doesn’t work a character is dropped and never mentioned again and that affects the continuity. Amazing how this all wraps up!
What’s your question that coincidentally will tie in with other questions? Leave it in the comments section. Mahalo.