Here are this week’s FQ, hot off the presses (which is another one of those expressions we still use but is now obsolete):
Justin Russo starts us off:
Ken, as a writer of comedy, is there any classic film actor/actress that you wish you could have written for and worked with (aside from Natalie Wood, of course - that's too easy)?
Okay, I’m going to list some names. These are based strictly on comedy chops, not looks. Otherwise Grace Kelly (pictured above) would top the list. Note: You may not know some of these names, but they’re worth looking up if you’re a student of comedy.
Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Margaret Dumont, Kate Hepburn, Audrey Meadows, Spencer Tracy, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Curly Howard, John Belushi, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Hans Conried, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Phil Silvers, Lou Costello, and I'm sure for every person I listed there are ten I forgot.
Who decides how extras should or shouldn't react, the director? I understand that most of the time they're just background fill and aren't supposed to be paying attention to the actors, but I've seen scenes where the actors should be paying attention, but they're not. For example, two actors in a restaurant are having a loud argument, the kind of thing that in real life would be drawing a lot of attention, but in the scene the extras remain oblivious to the yelling that's going on a few feet away from them. Things like that take away from the reality of a scene.
Not only do the extras have to move and cross, but they must do so at exactly the same point in the scene so multiple takes can match. A good 2nd is a godsend. He/she must also get them to react at times. And things that seem like no-brainers must be carefully explained. Like the restaurant scene you referenced. Whenever I direct and there’s a background reaction required I rehearse the extras myself.
And if left to their own devices to cross, invariably an extra will cross in front of actor just when he’s delivering a joke. It’s uncanny – like waiters showing up just as you get to the punch line of a long story.
On the other hand, extras are poorly paid and treated like cattle. My heart always goes out to them. And I always ask the 2nd AD to place them strategically so that most of them can be on camera. At least for their time and effort they can get on TV, even for two seconds.
Johnny Walker asks:
In season 9 of CHEERS there's a series of episodes with cold openings actually set in Boston. How did these come about? Was everyone flown over for them, or was there some event happening and you took the opportunity to shoot something while everyone was there?
To commemorate the 200th episode the cast and writing staff went back to Boston. There was a big parade and dinner. It was like following around the Beatles. And since we had the entire cast, we took the opportunity to film a bunch of teasers at the Bull & Finch (which might have been officially retitled CHEERS by then).
We also all went back for the series finale, but it would seem stupid to film any more scenes by then.
Kensi Blonde wonders:
Is there a joke you regret?
Still, I felt kind of sheepish about it.
The night it aired I cringed when that joke came on.
The next day the writers’ assistant buzzed me that “Jan Murray was on the phone.”
I walked to the phone like I was heading to my execution. I figured I would get an earful and I deserved every word. Instead, he thanked me, thought the joke was funny, totally got the intent, and was pleasantly surprised to hear his name on CHEERS. I was relieved and very grateful. But that was the last time we ever did a joke like that.
As a coda: In later years when I became a director, Jan’s son Howard was my camera coordinator on several shows. He’s a great guy and we’ve become good friends. But if Jan hadn’t been so gracious I think I’d still be apologizing profusely to Howard every time I saw him.
What’s your Friday Question?