Friday Questions to stuff in your stockings or wherever you normally stuff them.
Anna Hedburg asks:
When you sit down to write characters do you ever think of certain actors for the parts to help yourself write it, even if they might be unattainable, and do you ever go so far to name them (Seth Meyers-like)or is that crossing the line between storyteller and fanatic fan?
Anna, we use specific actors as prototypes all the time. Especially when a team is writing a pilot, having someone in mind greatly helps both partners envision the same character and hear the same voice. We often will select unattainable actors. And sometimes for the draft we’re submitting to the network we’ll flat-out say in the description: (picture Anne Hathaway).
One time we wrote a character for a pilot and modeled him after a specific actor. And then that actor actually came in and read for it. He read the lines exactly the way we pictured it. When he left we both looked at each other and said, “Nah, I think we can do better.” By the way – we did.
How many permanent sets does a sitcom usually have available? An ensemble show like Friends or The Big Bang Theory has a lot of different characters living in separate apartments. Are some of them a generic apartment set that keeps getting redressed, or is there a lot of storage space in the studio?
Usually, you have your main sets (apartments, office, diner everyone hangs out at), and a certain amount of room for “swing sets.” These are the sets erected for individual episodes. Ballrooms, restaurants, classrooms, hotel rooms, hospital rooms, etc.
Sometimes if a swing set is too big you have to strike one of your existing sets (if you can). So if THE BIG BANG THEORY wants to do a big wedding scene, for example, then maybe they can’t do a scene in the lunch area because they need that extra space.
Designers are pretty ingenious when it comes to designing sets. Take CHEERS for example, designed by Academy Award winner, Richard Sylbert. The bar hinges in the middle. When we wanted to go to Sam’s office we would swing out the right side of the bar and fan out the right wall of the bar, opening to reveal Sam’s office. Look carefully for a line right down the center of bar the next time you watch CHEERS.
And finally, from vicernie:
Your comment about skipping the commercials reminded me of a Friday question I have wanted to ask. The only commercials that have any staying power to me are humorous ones and they often turn up on YouTube. Can sitcom writers turn out a good thirty second, funny commercial?
I’m sure some can, but understand that comedy writing and comic copywriting are two very different skills. Yes, a commercial might be funny, but does it sell the product? And in advertising that’s all that counts. There have been lots of hilarious commercials, but at the end of the day you couldn’t remember what the product was. Those spots are failures.
There are some exceptional copywriters, but unlike sitcom writers, they never get a credit. And Don Draper would take the credit for their work anyway.
What’s your question?