Friday Questions coming at ya:
Mark has one about TV directors:
Certain highly visual gags need good direction. Does knowing that an (Andy) Ackerman or a (James) Burrows is directing affect the way you write? Does not knowing who will be directing make you less likely to include a gag that requires just the right staging?
To a degree, yes. If we know there’s a complicated show – if someone is driving a car through a set, or there’s a big wedding scene with lots of extras – we will often wait until the weeks Jimmy or Andy is available.
At CHEERS, where Burrows directed the lion’s share of episodes, we would be in the writers room, someone would pitch an elaborate physical gag, someone else would say “how would we shoot that” and everyone else in the room would chime in, “That’s Jimmy magic.”
“Jimmy magic” became the catchword when we were just too lazy to really work things out ourselves. By the way, he always made them work. "Jimmy magic" indeed.
But the one factor that makes Jimmy, Andy, and few other directors really tops in their field is not their ability to stage complicated stunts or shoot from amazing angles. It’s the performances they get out of the actors. That’s a true gift.
Jim S. has a question about actors’ ability to match behavior for continuity. Old time actors really learned that and also mastered a variety of skills like horseback riding or fencing.
Do today's actors, who didn't go through the old Hollywood Machine, lack some of the basic skills. In the old days, when westerns were popular, actors were expected to know how to ride. They might take tap dancing because, hey musicals. Has that basic nuts and bolts technique stuff been lost?
Not at all. Today’s television and film actors are amazingly adept at matching behavior, hitting marks, cheating their angles occasionally for the camera, etc. They're very precise but make it look it easy.
And if you read any actor’s resume, nine times out of ten you’ll see he or she has skills that include tap dancing, fencing, various accents, juggling, you name it. I always read their resumes when casting. A few are usually classics. Special skills: Can burp on cue. Can pack a suitcase. Has excellent handwriting.
Tomorrow I have a guest blogger talk about mastering a special skill.
From Nevin ":-)" Liber:
In season 7 of M*A*S*H BJ Hunnicutt grew a mustache. Was that something requested by the production team or by Mike Farrell? If the former, was it for looks, better humor/stories, etc.? If the latter, who has the final say-so: the actor or the production team?
Mike could have nixed it, but instead went along like a good sport – although he never really knew why he was growing it. We just sort of accepted it and ignored it. What stories can you get from B.J. now has a mustache?
Good character development comes from within. Their attitude, their personality, their worldview, their wants and needs. Not something you can just paste on.
And finally, from John:
Hi Ken, just wondering how you feel about the 10/90 deals that are being made for shows? I noticed Kelsey was doing it with Partners and it seems to be working for Anger Management.
Do you think it's good for showrunners to know that their show will run for a set amount of episodes, or is it just a comedy sweatshop?
Yes, it’s good for showrunners and writers in general to know they've got an order of a hundred shows. Especially in a landscape where network shows are getting picked up for only six or eight. Certainly a lot more job security on ANGER MANAGEMENT than SELIFE.
The trouble is, as you say, they have to really crank out these episodes like Lucy & Ethel in the chocolate factory. The quality understandably suffers. These shows seem to be more for people who just like the rhythm of multi-camera shows. But I don’t know how you could turn out real quality episodes if you have to make a hundred in a relatively short period of time. Likewise, for performances – when you’re doing two shows a week, how do you have time to really find the moments? It becomes a conveyer belt. But writers and crew people and actors are working so I say “yay!”
What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks.