It’s that time of the week again….
Joseph Scarbrough starts us off.
What about episodes where guest/one-shot characters are the main focus and the main characters are reduced to secondary roles? We were discussing "The Nurses" on a M*A*S*H site earlier this week and, to me, with the main focus being on the one-shot nurse whom Margaret confines to quarters, but tries to spend a romantic night with her husband, a passing foot soldier, and the other nurses as secondary characters in her corner for support, it felt less like an episode of M*A*S*H, or more like an entry in an anthology series.
Showrunners do this at their own peril. Unless you have a very gracious and secure cast, you do run the very real risk of causing acrimony or even mutiny on the set. MASH had a pretty remarkable cast, and that episode was several years into the series run. It also helped that it was a terrific episode.
Personally, I try to avoid doing them. If my cast can't carry a show then I'm in big trouble.
Over the years when I was on staff I’ve had a number of extras give me spec scripts they’d written for that series. Invariably, THEY would be the featured actor that week and not say, Ted Danson or Alan Alda. But I’m sure they took their cue off of episodes like “the Nurses.” By the way, when writing spec scripts, DON’T DO THAT.
From Brian Phillips:
Harlan Ellison said that a person wrote him a letter about one of his stories saying that reading the story helped give him further insight on Ovid's poem Metamorphoses, because of the parallels between the story and Ovid's poem.
The catch was, Ellison, to that point, had not READ Metamorphoses!
Have you had anyone notice references that weren't there to any of your work?
It was very impressive and we sure came off looking scholarly except for one small thing: None of it was true. I didn’t even know half the references.
You have to take yourself waaaaay too seriously as a writer to even attempt to do shit like that.
One line I vaguely recall had us “clearly” comparing Hawkeye to the Anti-Christ when in truth we were just looking for a joke so we could go to lunch.
Jeff Alexander asks:
There is a Ken Levine who is credited with six versions of a video game titled BioShock. Has there been any confusion -- has he gotten job offers that should have gone to you or vice versa?
Kickstarter rant against Zach Braff (it went viral and I got one million hits in one day), he had to post something saying it wasn’t him. And when he laid off a bunch of employees a few years ago I received many angry emails and Tweets.
At one time someone was trying to put together a panel on creativity for some tech convention and wanted to get both of us to be the panelists. That would have been awesome, but the timing didn’t work.
There’s also another Ken Levine who I know has taken credit for my work. Avoid that Ken Levine. The Bioshock guy is pretty cool.
And finally, Jahn Ghalt wonders:
Ken, you described your "firsts" on MARY in 1985 as a first-time show-runner and first-time director - the latter as a crisis-response on short notice.
Your role was to block the scene, then the original director blocked the cameras.
For Mad Men Matthew Weiner hired his own first-timers (without the crisis) - Jon Hamm, John Slattery, and Jared Harris.
These "rookies" started preparing at least two weeks before shooting. Hamm and Slattery prepared on the same days that they acted on earlier episodes (Harris was already "dead" when he directed his episode).
So my question - how much of the usual director's chores would go to others for the rooks? For instance I suppose they would lean on the DP for camera blocking. How are the decisions (and the "labor") divided between Director and DP?
First time directors do get a lot of help. A good DP is not going to let a green director plan a bad shot or shoot a scene that can’t be edited correctly. Ultimately though, it's the director's decision.
In our case with MARY, it was meatball surgery. We were just looking to get through an emergency situation.
But this does bring up a big pet peeve of mine. Especially on multi-camera shows, the camera blocking and shot selection can be very complicated. You have four cameras all filming simultaneously, moving during the scenes, changing actors, changing sizes, etc. First-time directors can easily be overwhelmed. So they rely on the camera coordinator to do most of the work.
But ultimately the director needs to learn those technical aspects to where the camera coordinator is just there for support. It takes time and experience and most importantly, the willingness to learn.
There are some “directors” who know nothing about cameras and just expect the camera coordinator to handle that. To me that’s not right. The director is getting paid a lot more than the camera coordinator. Assigning shots is part of the JOB of being a director. If you’re a surgeon you need to know how to make incisions. You can’t just say to the nurse, “You do the cutting and I’ll be over at the craft services table.”
Also, you need to know cameras to efficiently block the actors. Otherwise you may have blocked one actor upstaging another, or two actors too far apart, or an actor totally in profile, or action in a corner of the set you can’t shoot. So not only do camera coordinators have to do the director’s job, the director has made it way more difficult. And of course if a shot looks bad, who gets blamed? Of course. The camera coordinator. It doesn’t seem fair.
Okay, enough of my ranting. What’s your Friday Question?