Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Questions

Friday Question time already? Where did the week go? (That’s not an official Friday Question.)

Kim T. Bené asks:

M*A*S*H had first rate acting, memorable characters, an unusual premise... and of course incredible scripts. However the audio was lousy. When they were shooting outside it was fine. But when they shot exterior scenes in the studio the audio was always echoy and sounded exactly like they were simply shooting film in a big metal warehouse. When they shot interiors in the studio the audio was OK because the "buildings" were all tents so the fabric muffled the echo but you can close your eyes and pick out every single scene shot as an exterior inside the studio. What gives?

Funny you should mention that Kim because that was always one of my pet peeves and drove me crazy.

We filmed MASH on Stage 9 at 20th. All of the tents were set up and a huge backdrop was erected allowing us to shoot exteriors. Normally we shot all exteriors out at the Malibu ranch. We shot one day per episode and to maximize the light, cameras rolled from sunup to sundown. That was fine in the summer when the sun went down at 8:15. But once we went to PST it was dark before 5:00. So for the remainder of the season we shot exteriors on the stage. Generally that meant the last six or seven shows.

Because of the audio problem (and the lighting difference – especially daytime scenes), when David and I were head writers we stayed clear of those scenes unless we absolutely had to have them. And if we did, the scenes were super brief. Lots of activity like triage or people running from one place to another.

I complained about the sound and was told nothing could be done due to the acoustics. I’m sure today you could equalize and fix the sound with an app you could buy on your phone for $0.99.

But I used to joke whenever we were forced to do an exterior scene on the stage that we were going to the Brady Bunch backyard.

Chris queries:

Is there a rule that says when you cut back and forth between two scenes, they have to be happening at the same time?

I was watching the second episode of HBO's "Looking" and they cut between a scene where a lawyer meets with his clients and one where one of the other characters was out clubbing at night. It felt weird that a lawyer would meet clients at 10 pm, but it also didn't feel right that the meeting was taking place during the day and the other scene was in the middle of the night, while they cut back and forth between them.

There’s not a rule but it’s generally accepted that when you cut between two scenes they’re in the same time frame. Woody Allen violated this in TO ROME WITH LOVE. He had multiple stories going. One was over three days, another was over one afternoon. The end result was that the movie was a confusing mess. If the audience can’t place the time or geography they’re taken out of the scene. Yes, directors could argue it’s a creative choice, but why do anything to take the audience out of the show? That said, I think Woody Allen has been accused of worse.

From Angry Gamer:

I have noticed that your blog posts seem to follow a familiar pattern.

Something like this:
Intro (general info)
Inside Scoop (details from the trenches)
Little Joke
Middle Exposition (marking time, biz story time, setup)
BAM - BIG JOKE
Last Story or Observation
End Credit or zinger one liner

So... is this deliberate? Is this the off the cuff organization of a genius comedic writer? What gives?

The genius part is correct. No, seriously, I consciously do the following:

Try to keep the posts fairly short. Maybe one page. People don’t want to read a seven-page article every day. Certainly not from me.

Sprinkle some humor in there somewhere.

Ask myself the question -- is this topic funny, interesting, or informative enough to consider?

End with a wrap up that ties things together.

Other than that, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And finally from Hamid:

When you made it as a successful writer and your name was on TV, did lots of people you hadn't seen or heard from in years, including any who gave you a hard time at school, start coming out of the woodwork wanting to hang out with you?

Not enough of them.

When David and I first started selling scripts, a number of my friends began writing specs as well. The message of course was: “If Levine could make it, anyone could.” Ironically, none of these friends could even finish their specs.

When I was on MASH I went to my 10 year high school reunion. Several people approached me at various times of the evening and said, “Is that you on MASH? We see your name every week and can’t believe it’s you.”

But generally, no. The people who had no use for me before I became successful still have no use for me. I have to admire their integrity.

However, for all the girls who told me to get lost when I asked them out, I hope when they see my credit this is what they see:

                                                Written by:
“The guy I should have gone out with and been nice to instead of the jerks I did date which is why I’m now divorced and living in a trailer park in the Mojave Desert”
                                                        &
                                                 David Isaacs

What’s your Friday Question?

28 comments:

Carson said...

Has modern technology made it easier to write scenes? By that I mean that it used to be that for a character to receive outside news that could be important to the plot, they needed to be by their home phone. Now you can just script that they received a text.

Hamid said...

which is why I’m now divorced and living in a trailer park in the Mojave Desert

Please say that's really what happened to one of them!

I do believe in the notion that success is the best revenge.

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

ScottyB said...

I have a Friday question, which occurred to me last night while half paying attention to an episode of 'Modern Family':

Is there some sort of unwritten screenwriter commandment that every man must be portrayed as a moron/fool/Neanderthal who wouldn't be able to understand himself even if given a road map? But OTOH, we had a swing the other way during the 1980s with 'thirtysomething', which was just as painful.

Isn't there some sort of middle ground?

Rich Shealer said...

@ScottyB - I think the dad on The Middle is common ground. He's hard working, hardly a fool and sometimes lets a crack appear in his armor.

DwWashburn said...

ScottyB -- I don't notice it as much in scripted shows as I do in commercials. You seldom find a rational, normal man in a commercial that has a woman in it. He's always bumbling and needs her to show him the right way to do things.

Sally Rogers Lives said...

Friday Question: Ken, do you have any advice/insight for writers regarding time management, organization, how to fight off procrastination, etc.? Or advice about dealing with non-writing collaborators/employers who always proffer ideas and feedback that ends with "just do this/that, it shouldn't take too long"?

Philip Morton said...

Woody Allen's sex abuse claims were also out of linear time, which violates a film making abuse rule.

Steve Pepoon said...

I once held the title of Supervising Producer on "Roseanne" (although had no real power or responsibility). I would fantasize about all the girls who'd been mean to me, seeing that credit pop up on their black and white TV, and doing a beer spit take into their illegitimate baby's face. Sadly, none of them ever contacted me to verify if this had actually happened.

Jesse said...

Can't say I had a problem keeping up with TO ROME WITH LOVE, non-linear though it was.

D. McEwan said...

"Is there a rule that says when you cut back and forth between two scenes, they have to be happening at the same time?"

Ever see LOST? It routinely cut back and forth between scenes that occurred years apart. Throughout season 5, every episode, they cut back and forth between scenes that occurred 30 years apart! In the episode in season 4 where Sun had her baby, they cut back and forth between scenes you were meant to think were occuring at the same time, until the big reveal at the end that the ones with Sun took place in the future while the ones with Jin took place many years in the past. You really had to pay close attention to LOST.

"Steve Pepoon said...
I once held the title of Supervising Producer on "Roseanne" (although had no real power or responsibility). I would fantasize about all the girls who'd been mean to me..."


Were any of them as mean as Roseanne? In any event, they must have been good training for working with Roseanne.

I had a brother, now passed away, with whom I seldom got along at all. One day he and some friends were watching a TV show I had written, though, since Zack avoided learning anything at all about whatever I was up to (We really didn't get along. My two living brothers and I get along just fine. Just had dinner with them 5 days ago), he didn't know I'd written it until my name came on the credits at the end. Then suddenly he was bragging to his friends that his brother had written the show they'd all been laughing at and enjoying for two hours. I have strong reason to suspect that it was the only time in his entire life that he ever bragged about my being his big brother.

ScottyB said...

I read thru this article (link at end) and sat there thinking, "Isn't that what Ken Levin has been saying all these years?" Or as Harold Ramis put it, very succinctly" "Write good."

http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-ways-new-season-heroes-can-avoid-sucking

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I've read a fascinating failed pilot story the other day, involving Kevin Curran and Fox.

http://antennafree.tv/2013/07/12/pilot-error-kevin-currans-circus-comes-to-an-abrupt-conclusion/

Wendy M. Grossman said...

One of the interesting things the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn has done is to play with time and space on stage. In TAKING STEPS he collapsed three stories of a house down to one set and had actions taking place in all of them. For BEDROOM FARCE he stacked three bedrooms and cross-cut among them. Most germane to the discussion of cross-cutting, in HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES he had two dining/living rooms superimposed on each other and cross-cut (by an ingenious use of swivel chairs) between action on two successive nights in each one (one couple comes to dinner with each of the other two), so he was cutting across space *and* time on stage live. Amazing use of the stage.

wg

ScottyB said...

Yeah, yeah, I know ... it's Levine, not Levine. And something about a vine when you say it.

Johnny Walker said...

If you like your comedy dark, Bill Hicks did a brilliant ex-gf revenge fantasy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRJWcTYOTso

Not for the easily offended -- but very very funny!

ScottyB said...

Fuck. Levine, not Levin. Fucking technology.

BigTed said...

I'm looking forward to your seminar, "The Levine Method of Blog Post Structure: Make $$$$ Writing Blog Posts That Really Sell!"

(Of course, "$$$$" stands for four dollars.)

bmcmolo said...

My Friday question... when I was in high school, I got home from baseball practice just in time for the Cheers re-run at 5:30, and usually I went to bed after the re-run (on a different channel) at 11. This went on for all the years I played baseball and even some after. Over the past few years, I've resurrected this practice and have made my way through the series numerous times one half-hour-before-bedtime ep at a time.

My parents never understood this devotion (ahem, obsession) then, and my wife does not understand now. But I've grown so accustomed to this that I have trouble getting to sleep unless the last thing I hear before switching off the TV is that closing theme.

Do you know of any longterm effects of such sustained Cheers-ing on the brain?

RockGolf said...

@Bmcmolo: It sounds like you have a bad case of Dire-Rhea.

DrBOP said...

I think many of us wouldn't mind you writing longer posts (NOT saying you should).....just that you "write good".

Angry Gamer said...

Ken,

Thanks for answering my question.



Angry Gamer
- Angry and Tired... but mostly Angry

Pat Reeder said...

Your fantasy credit reminds me of one of the "Letters From The Editors" in the old National Lampoon printed back in the '80s. It read (quoting from memory):

"Dear Editors,

This is the cheerleader you asked out in high school who laughed in your face and called you a dweeb in front of your friends. I'm now divorced with three kids, about 50 pounds overweight and have a pretty serious drinking problem, and I was just wondering if you were still interested in that date?"

For obvious reasons, that was one of only two of those fake letters I still remember. This was the other one:

"You white people think it's funny when someone is named after a part of the body, but it's not.

Signed,
Urethra Franklin"

Hank Gillette said...

You seldom find a rational, normal man in a commercial that has a woman in it. He's always bumbling and needs her to show him the right way to do things.

How about those men in the Viagra commercials? They can do just about anything (except get it up).

Steve B. said...

Friday question: How do you decide whether to make a sitcom pilot single or multi cam?

DwWashburn said...

Don't get me started on the Viagra commercials. There's one where a guy gets his truck stuck in the mud. As the voice over is talking about the benefits of the pill, the guy opens the horse trailer he's pulling and a smile comes to his face. Apparently the Viagra is working as he looks at the horses' rumps.

Matt Tauber said...

I was wondering why you haven't posted anything on Stanford Tischler's passing in January.

Luke O said...

Hey Ken,

I'm a 23-year-old aspiring TV writer. I often think of how tedious it must have been for writers to research information before the dawn of the internet (which I have very little recollection of).

Aspiring to become a TV writer seems to take bravery for making the decision to get into such a fickle industry and skills/discipline to sustain that career. My questions are: How did you first realize that this job existed before the internet? Also, Do you think that certain people nowadays (maybe even myself) would have never that of this career had it not been for the internet?

Sorry to ramble on, but just wanted to put it out there.

Luke O'Grady said...

Hey Ken,

I'm a 23-year-old aspiring TV writer. I often think of how tedious it must have been for writers to research information before the dawn of the internet (which I have very little recollection of).

Aspiring to become a TV writer seems to take bravery for making the decision to get into such a fickle industry and skills/discipline to sustain that career.

My questions are: How did you first realize that this job existed before the internet? Also, Do you think that certain people nowadays (maybe even myself) would have never pursued such a career if had it not been for the internet making information so available?

Sorry to ramble on, but just wanted to put it out there.