Here are some mid-summer Friday Questions.
Norm! starts us off:
What do you think is the best movie that's actually about Hollywood itself? People always mention The Player, which IS a good film but a tad overrated. I have a fascination with Hollywood history, especially the darker side. That's why I love films like Hollywoodland about George Reeves and Auto Focus about Bob Crane.
SUNSET BOULEVARD is the ultimate dark Hollywood movie. But I’m going to recommend a rather offbeat title – THE BIG PICTURE. This 1989 comedy was written by Michael Varhol, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean and directed by Christopher Guest. So it has that “Guffman/Best In Show” vibe.
Kevin Bacon stars as a college student who does an award winning film and gets sucked into the maelstrom of Hollywood. Standout performances by J.T. Walsh as a studio head and (of all people) Dan Schneider as an insufferable film student. Schneider went on to create iCarly, among other tween hits.
This little gem came and went very quickly. I’m sure it’s available on some streaming service. Check it out. You’ll thank me. And if you haven’t seen SUNSET BOULEVARD rectify that this weekend.
Michael has a holdover question based on stage direction I wrote for my spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW:
What do "reset" and "continuous" mean, as in
INT. KITCHEN - CONTINUOUS
Do these terms always appear together, or can one appear in a script without the other?
It allows for a dramatic flow, keeps the audience more involved in following the story, and it saves time (which in Hollywood means saves money).
And yes, it’s always “continuous” because it’s just a continuation of the scene.
From Houston Mitchell:
Do you think Cheers and MASH would have lasted as long as they did if the original cast had remained on the show?
They both might have limped to the finish line, but my guess is neither show would have stayed around as long as they did without those cast changes.
MASH in particular because the show was locked into a time and place. The only way to keep it fresh was to introduce new characters and create different chemistry.
CHEERS at least could advance their characters’ lives. Had Shelley stayed with the show, Sam and Diane might have married and then divorced, or she married someone else instead of Sam – I dunno, but I suspect we would have found something.
That said, it was much easier to come up with stories because the series was allowed to evolve and we were able to introduce new characters.
In both MASH and CHEERS I must add that a large reason for their continued success was not just new actors but that the RIGHT new actors were added.
Keeping a sitcom fresh and funny for eleven years with the same cast is almost an impossible feat. Credit to FRASIER for doing just that.
Boomska316 weighs in:
I was wondering if there were any rules on sitcoms about actors reacting to the studio audiences? I've been watching the Dick Van Dyke Show for the first time ever this week and I could pick out more than once where he was clearly looking straight at the audience and reacting to their reactions.
I can’t personally recall Dick Van Dyke ever doing that. Actors are expressly told not to “break the fourth wall” (in other words, acknowledge the audience). It destroys the reality of the show. Actors are also trained to never look straight into the camera.
the Penny Q&A was interesting. I get that you want to respect actors' wishes, but don't they ALL want their character to be successful, beautiful and hilarious?
What if you need a character to be depressing or a loser or something else unflattering?
The smart actors realize that playing flawed or villainous characters is way more interesting and fun. Especially in comedy. Likeable, beautiful, happy, successful characters are difficult to write. There’s nothing particularly funny or edgy about them.
Who’s easier to write, Father Mulcahy or Frank Burns?
Yes, there are some actors who are vain and their sole objective is looking great and being admired, and certainly networks prefer everybody be nice and likable and test favorably, but the vast majority of actors I’ve worked with understand the big picture.
What’s your Friday Question?