Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Questions

Getting you ready for the long Memorial Day Weekend with Friday Questions. If you have one, just leave it in the comments section. I answer as many as I can.

Jeremy gets us started:

You have had a ton of success with a writing partner in your career. I know you have shared what to look for in a writing partner, but I wanted to know how to find one. Is there a special screenwriter classifieds section somewhere?

Not that I know of, although I’m sure there are Facebook groups or other online communities.  I haven't checked Craig's List.   The WGA occasionally hosts events like speed dating except for writing partners. Check with the guild. 

One good way is to take writing classes and see if there’s a fellow student who shares your aspirations and sensibilities and is open to teaming up.

So much of it is luck. My partner and I met in the Army Reserves. Peter Casey & David Lee met while both were typing scripts in the middle of the night for a script typing service. David Pollock & Elias Davis were network pages at CBS. I don’t know how the Charles Brothers met.

From Stoney:

The "Cheers" episode "Rat Girl" is currently available (on my system at least) on TVGN On Demand. The story ends with the suggestion of a second child for Frasier and Lillith but that never transpired. Is there much difficulty in writing something into a single episode which could have a major affect on the future of a series?

Well, you certainly have to clear it with the showrunner. And today probably the network, studio, federal government, and the Pope.

In the case of Rat Girl we weren’t really making a major commitment. There was no immediate game plan to have Frasier and Lilith raise a second child. It’s not like Bebe herself was pregnant. But it left open several options (none of which we ultimately took).  

solarity wonders:

Ken, why is it so rare to see sitcom characters laugh at each others jokes? The writers clearly seek to cause the audience to roll on the floor with laughter but the other characters to whom the line is delivered usually don't even break a smile. Is character laughter some kind of unwritten rules violation?

There’s a certain amount of creative license. To me there are two types of jokes. In most cases the characters don’t know they’re saying something funny and in other cases they’re consciously making a witty remark. In those cases, I love when characters laugh.

We use humor to disarm people, to charm them, to needle them. In those cases I want the characters to react. There is a definite motivation behind telling the jokes.

The trouble is when characters laugh too often or too loud it sounds very self congratulatory. Look how amazingly funny we are. I cringe at that. Same with characters saying, “That’s the most brilliant idea ever!” Essentially the writer is saying, “I came up with the most brilliant idea ever. Aren’t I great?” Let the audience decide how brilliant it is and how great you are.

And finally, from Chris:

In a bar/restaurant scene, who choreographs the extras, especially if you have 40 of them? Do they just move freely or does someone tell them what to do? Sometimes in bar scenes, some of them take their jackets and exit, who decides that?

The second assistant director. They do a remarkable job that goes unnoticed. They choreograph the background. When you see extras getting out of an elevator or crossing through restaurants or airline terminals, that’s all been carefully planned. In order for shots to match from take to take those people have to get out of the elevator or cross behind the main characters at the same time every take or the scene won’t cut together. The second AD has to keep all of that in her/his head. Imagine how much easier it is on THE BIG BANG THEORY where the show is set primarily in an apartment vs. 2 BROKE GIRLS where they’re in that restaurant for most of the show. A tip of the cap to second AD's.

Have a safe and sane weekend.

29 comments:

Jim S said...

Ken,

As to the "Why don't characters laugh question," one of the things I loved about the Dick Van Dyke Show was that at the office when a character said something rip-roaring funny, often the others would stop what they were doing and laugh or acknowledge the quality of the jest.

I enjoyed the notion that professionals can see quality. Of course it wasn't always like that, but I liked that real world feeling of people actually recognizing when something funny was said.

Dan Ball said...

FRIDAY QUESTION:

I had a friend who attended sketch comedy classes at Second City Chicago and he's taught me a chunk of what he learned about the various types of jokes and situations he learned.

When you're writing a sitcom, do you strategically plot an outline by going through the joke/situation arsenal until you fill up 30 pages...

-OR-

...is the outlining mostly organic/ intuitional and having a gut feeling something will work even if it's not a clear-cut fish-out-of-water scenario?

RBR said...

Ken,

This season Modern Family had an Australia episode - they sent the case and crew to Australia for a 30 minute episode. That had to be outrageously expensive - why do that for one 30 min. episode? Is this just a way to reward cast/crew with a "bonus;" Australian tourism board picked up the tab; other reasons?

Thanks,
RBR

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

With regard to the characters laughing at other characters' jokes, I certainly see the merits of your answer. I also wonder if -- because it's so hard to edit sitcoms down to the 22-minute mark -- it might also be due to that fact that laughter isn't "content." In other words, if characters laughed in reaction to great jokes even just four to five times an episode (and you'd hope there were at least that many), that laughter might shave off as much as 20 seconds of very valuable real estate. I assume that writers would rather have 20 seconds of scripted content make it to air, rather than the reactionary laughter of a character ... but that's just a guess.

AC said...

On the characters laughing at jokes question, in Mad Men, it was so refreshing to see Julia Ormond as Don Draper's mother-in-law laughing at his jokes and it struck me at the time how seldom that occurs. I always wondered whether it was her choice as an actor or was scripted. Ken's point about actors laughing too often in a sitcom is something I do find annoying but that may just be when the jokes aren't funny to me.

Love the blog. Can always count on Ken for a laugh and one of the few places on the net where I can read the comments without regret.

Rick Wiedmayer said...

Ken,

On the subject of assistant director's, how many are there usually, what are their responsibilities and who is responsible for hiring them. Is it the director of that episode or the shows producers?

Phillip B said...

Ralph Kramden often acknowledged it when Alice was cracking wise. He'd sarcastically responded with a "Hardee Har Har."

And I'm old enough to remember that a standard school yard/playground response....

blinky said...

Hi Ken, I was the one who asked if you could read my short writing idea. You politely and succinctly told me to bug off.
Well I submitted that piece to the New Yorker and today I was thrilled that I got an email from the web master (in New York City!) and it turns out that my idea has been forwarded to the Shouts & Murmurs department. I should receive a reply within three months.
That means I have not been rejected as of yet. Hope is reigning eternal over the Memorial Day weekend!

Ken Levine said...

Blinky,

That's FANTASTIC!! You certainly got your piece to the RIGHT person. All the best, and please let me know if it's accepted. I'll hype the piece in the blog. Congrats.

VP81955 said...

For lack of a better place to put this here, I'm happy to report that I'll be relocating to Los Angeles within the next few months and should have everything finished by the end of July. It's a fairly large studio apartment, the type of building folks in Manhattan refer to as "pre-war" (1927), in a reasonably attractive neighborhood (near 3rd and Rampart) and with a reasonably attractive rent. When I'm not at work (something I do out of home, so I found it easy to make the move), I'll indulge in my hobby of film history research and possibly do some screenwriting on the side (Ken, you've taught me so much here). Looking forward to life as an Angeleno.

Kirk in Kansas City said...

When I thought about characters laughing in sitcoms, the first image that came to mind was Ted Danson reacting on Cheers. I can envision him standing behind the bar, cracking a smile, slightly raising his head, and suggesting an appreciative laugh without actually laughing. He did it in a way that was completely natural and not intrusive.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I like some of the work by puppeteer Jeff Dunham because like Mel, Jeff makes fun of the awful folks. With Jeff, it's terrorists; with Mel, it's the Nazi's.

Why is there such power in ridiculing awful stuff? And was there an element of that in MASH, making fun of the awful Korean War?

Mr. First Nighter said...

Nancy Travis constantly laughs at other characters' lines. She did so on BECKER and does so on LAST MAN STANDING

Rich said...

Ken -- I'd love you to dedicate a blogpost to Gary Owens -- specifically to his afternoon show on KMPC. I know you listed him as one of your "Comedy Gods" and you've written a little about his stint on Laugh-In. I was a teenager in the 60's in L.A., and the two most visited spots on my eight dollar Zenith transistor radio were KFI for Scully-Dodgers, and, after school, KMPC for the Zuckmeister Broadcasting Network, headed by Gary Owens. Owens had an inspired group of comics creating bits for him, headed by Bob Arbogast. It was like a broadcast version of Mad Magazine, punctuated by Johnny Mathis records. Love to see if you were as big a fan as I was...

Wendy M. Grossman said...

RBR: I recall that The Carol Burnett Show did an Australia episode, too, but I think they were invited; it was part of the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

blinky: Best of luck with The New Yorker. I hope your piece gets accepted.

wg

Cat said...

There is a moment in Coach's Daughter when Sam is laughing at something Norm and Cliff have said, and it seems so joyous and appreciate, I swear it came from Ted and not just from Sam.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Fellini was always my favorite multi-cam director. Excellent work on EIGHT AND A HALF MEN.

Hiba Arnaout said...

Hi.. why don't you like Jim Belushi's According to Jim ?
I know he's not brilliant. . But better than few others

Paul Duca said...

Hilda...Belushi thinks he and his show deserved Emmys because it had more viewers than many of the winners had.

Barefoot Billy... because comedy allows for the revealing of deep truths in a way that make people more receptive to them. It's been that way from Punch & Judy to THE DAILY SHOW.

John Jackson Miller said...

On the subject of laughter on set, I always thought one of the strengths of CHEERS' setting was the fact that there was an audience for the main characters on stage, in a sense. You'd have the barflies who would watch them and smile or act as if they're laughing -- which melded really well with the studio reaction. It sort of gave the viewer a role, too -- we're just like Pete and the other guys, coming to this bar every night just to watch these people joust.

Jason Roberts said...

Hey Ken,

As a faithful reader, I always love when a question comes up in the comment section that I can speak to. I am sure you will address it yourself in an upcoming Friday Questions. However being that I am an Assistant Director, with your permission, I would also be happy to add or address Rick Wiedmayer's question too.

Best,

Jason

Ken Levine said...

Jason,

Email me at bossjock@dslextreme.com with your reply and I'd be happy to post it. Thanks. You're way more qualified to answered than me. Thanks.

Vicki said...

To: RBR

Qantas contacted Modern Family to suggest they film an episode in Australia and covered all flight expenses plus additional funding.

Qantas also did it for the Ellen DeGeneres show.

Kevin Avery said...

Regarding "why is it so rare to see sitcom characters laugh at each others jokes," I used to love seeing Wayne Rogers as Trapper John laugh at one of the other character's (usually Hawkeye's) jokes. It seemed so natural and lent an air of authenticity to the scene.

Breadbaker said...

Someone clearly is missing a beat by not writing a Ph.D. dissertation on various theories on how the Charles brothers met.

Anth said...

On the subject of characters laughing at one another's jokes, one thing I've always felt was kind of risky was episodes of a show that demanded a character be considered funny both within the universe of the show and to the audience at home. The first one that comes to mind is when Krusty the Clown becomes an observational stand-up comic on The Simpsons. How do you develop material that you know will fit both categories without it coming across as too self-congratulatory?

Brian said...

In all the episodes of Cheers that I have seen, I only recall a specific beer order once - an Amstell Light. Was that a product placement? if not, why was that particular beer mentioned? Could it have been just to add some realism into the orders?

Gitano131 said...

Question: What are "Post-Production Services"? I see that listed in the credits of TV shows but I don't know what it is. Thanks.

Gitano131 said...

Question: What are "Post-Production Services"? I see that listed in the credits of TV shows but I don't know what it is. Thanks.