Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Ve are making MOVIE MAGIC here!

I recently showed an episode of ALMOST PERFECT that centered around the production of an hour cop show. My friend, Lee Goldberg good-naturally pointed out some inaccuracies. I reminded him of how on terrific shows like THE GOOD WIFE, cases go to trial in one day, and thus began a fun exchange of the creative license that shows and movies take.

In the past, I wrote about the things we did in CHEERS that required a suspension of belief (in some cases, a MAJOR suspension of belief). You can find that here.

Creative license is part of storytelling. The one day I was on the set of a Billy Wilder movie (BUDDY BUDDY), Mr. Wilder wanted a wall heater to turn on and instantly glow. One of the technicians told him it took thirty seconds for the filaments to get hot. Mr. Wilder then replied in his distinctive accent: “Young man, ve are making movie magic here! Did you ever notice there is always a parking space right out front and couples always get the best window table? Movie magic!” The wall heater glowed instantly upon turning it on.

The problem arises when the arena is something you yourself are very close to. Lawyers cringe watching legal shows. Doctors have big trouble accepting the shenanigans that go on in medical dramas. So the inaccuracies really stick out whereas the average viewer just goes with it. A doctor friend of mine said he was always able to diagnose the mystery ailment in HOUSE by the first act break. (My problem with HOUSE was the patient rooms all being glass cubicles. You really want to use your bedpan with strangers walking by.)

On MASH, we had a medical consultant, a nurse on set, and a military advisor and we still took some liberties (like them being there for eleven years when the Korean War was just over three).

As a former radio disc jockey, I had lots of technical issues with WKRP IN CINCINNATI but was able to get past them all because Jan Smithers was in the show.

But my favorite example is going to see the baseball movie, BULL DURHAM with a professional ballplayer. I was broadcasting for Syracuse at the time of the movie’s release and went to see it with a few players to kill some time on the road. I loved the movie (still do). But as we walked out one of the players said, “What a piece of shit!” He had even thought of walking out. “What was your problem with it?” I asked. “There was that scene where the count was 2-1 and the catcher called for a slider. That would NEVER happen.” Amazingly, that glaring inaccuracy did not bother the rest of America. (Of course this is the same player who hated WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT because he thought Toontown wasn’t realistic enough.)

We all walk a fine line. There’s an old expression “Never let facts get in the way of a good story,” but there’s also the obligation to be as accurate and realistic as you can. Still, aren’t movies long enough without having to watch Julia Roberts drive around for ten minutes looking for a parking space and then walking two blocks to the restaurant? Imagine 24 if things really took place in real time. “Tonight Jack Bauer drives from CTU to Van Nuys and gets as far as Coldwater Canyon.”

VE ARE MAKING MOVIE MAGIC HERE.

38 comments:

Peter said...

Friday Q

For those of us who bought and enjoyed Must Kill TV (available here: Must Kill TV ), when can we expect a new novel?

B.A. said...

I overlooked Bob Eucker's drinking and muttered cusses in MAJOR LEAGUE'S broadcast booth because I got to see Bob Eucker drinking and muttering in the broadcast booth. That movie needs a lot of overlooking because it's hilarious ("Oh my God the Indians win!!!").

Jeannie said...

Or as Hitchcock famously said: Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Steve Mc said...

Over in the UK, apparently some medical students have a drinking game where they take a drink every time there's a procedural/medical inaccuracy in the medical drama Casualty. Of course, it's also well known that you don't ever want to have to go to hospital in August. That's when those same medical students start practising their finely honed medical expertise on real patients, and death rates rise...

Mike said...

Make the lie big enough and it becomes a positive:
French Connection: The police strip the Lincoln down to its constituent parts, while its owner waits. Then present the owner with a bucket of nuts & bolts - no, a gleaming, mint-condition car. I forget why a Lincoln was imported to America.

House: The diagnosis was always a neurological problem manifesting as strange symptoms elsewhere in the body. But who paid for the large team of highly expensive specialists?

Howard Hoffman said...

We once discussed the two bits of Movie Magic in "42" - the Jackie Robinson film. You of course caught the baseball one with Jackie's walk-off victory in the final scene...but it was a road game, which meant Pittsburgh still had to bat. I caught the radio one, where Jackie clicks on the car radio and the music comes right on, even though car radios had tubes back then. Kinda shows our priorities.

Jeff said...

Author John Scalzi calls it "The Flying Snowman", after the time he and his wife were reading Raymond Briggs' The Snowman to their daughter. In the book, a snowman comes to life and befriends a small boy, and together they build a snow fort, slide down a hill, have a bowl of hot soup...and eventually, the snowman flies.

Scalzi's wife declared the idea of a flying snowman ridiculous. Scalzi pointed out that she hadn't had a problem with the snowman coming to life, walking, or even eating hot soup.So I guess everyone has their breaking point.

Anonymous said...

Hollywood wants real life but not too much real life.
I was a technical consultant on a well-known movie that took place in a hospital.
My job was to recreate a hospital ward as closely as possible.
i thought I had it down as well as could be done.
When the scene shot an orderly roller bladed down the hospital hallway.
i remarked to the assistant director that that would never happen in a real hospital
Icy stare. "When we want your opinion we will ask for it."

ed.j. said...

I had to go to dinner with my wife and her friend a couple weeks ago because "friend" had a bad day at work and needed to "share" (Yes, my favourite thing, too) We met in front of her building and had to walk half a block to the restaurant. "Friend" started explaining about her day right away and I had to tell her to HOLD IT.

"We can't talk important stuff until we get to the table and the drinks are delivered. Just do filler stuff until then. ... The Jays are starting to fade but should still make post season; that kind of thing."

I made them yada yada for the half hour it took to get to where the scene was properly set so we could get serious.

Oddly, they put up with it.

roadgeek said...

Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) was the subject of much intense thinking and admiration on my part. I just knew that under those glasses and baggy sweaters was a goddess. She radiated a sort of natural, wholesome, girl-next-door sexuality, and she could act to boot. Thanks for the memories, Ken.

Mike Barer said...

That was pointed out in "Sleepless In Seattle" where the scenery was in the wrong order.

Wayne said...

Going to see your play next week.
What is the running time of a full-length play?
What is the page count of the scripts?
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ken:
For Friday Questions:
Could you give us some more background on Wings? One of the most underappreciated TV shows of all time.
Who all tried out for which parts, did everyone get along, how much fun was it?
I know that Kathryn Wilde played "Katie" and never spoke, what about the dark haired guy who is in every episode and never spoke?
Any behind the scenes would be great. (I still have your tribute to Wings saved as a favorite)
Thanks,
Mark
fsnoles939913@gmail.com

Michael said...

I'm a history professor, and when I see a movie about history, well .... We went to see Lincoln, and marveled at how beautifully Lincoln portrayed Daniel Day-Lewis. Abe really earned that Oscar. Anyway, as we left with our friends, my wife turned and said, "It must not have been too bad. He only grunted once." That's true. There was one scene that was historically so unrealistic that I couldn't take it. Now, were there mistakes in it? Certainly, and they were avoidable. Was it possible to disagree with the approach or focus? Yes, many historians felt a movie about "Lincoln" should have been about how African Americans did so much to force their own emancipation. But for me the question is whether a film captures the ambience or the "reality" of the time. I grew up in Las Vegas, and "Casino" is a brilliant film because it captures what it was like. As history, though, it's ridiculous.

By the way, the grunt was for when Lincoln slapped his son. Never.

Ted said...

In Star Wars, futuristic spaceships bop around the galaxy, and cities are hi-tech wonders that would impress even the Jetsons. But they still have problems with those 3D holograms - they all have that "bad video" look of the 1960s. Admittedly I haven't seen the latest episode, but I wonder if the universe still has bad video problems.

Peter said...

Michael said...
"Casino" is a brilliant film because it captures what it was like. As history, though, it's ridiculous"

At the risk of sounding pedantic, Michael, if the film captured what it was like, then isn't that part of it being historically accurate?

Kelly said...

My husband is a physician who can't watch medical shows because of the inaccuracies. One of the things that drives him crazy is that x-rays are almost always backwards on TV - i.e., the heart on the wrong side of the chest. It seems to me that it occurs too often to be random chance. Even if you really didn't know which side the heart is on (and don't most people know that?), you should guess correctly half the time. So I've wondered: Is this done on purpose, as an in-joke or to troll the doctors in the audience?

Jahn Ghalt said...

No suspension of disbelief is required to appreciate Jan Smithers - good call.

A healthy dose is required for Wilder's comic masterpiece, Some Like It Hot with Lemon and Curtis in drag

(and swimsuits - but who was looking at those two next to the pregnant Marilyn Monroe?)

Most so-called "science fiction" films have entirely gratutious science-errors - few of which serve the plot or setting. But if you're not a science kid (a different kind of "99%") you don't notice.

(a very mild example - in The Martian we have astrophysics geek using a year-2050 "supercomputer" to recalculate the ballistics for the returning Mars space craft - when we all have the necessary computing power to log in to the Levine Blog).

there’s also the obligation to be as accurate and realistic as you can

So does this obligation extend to things the production team has no clue about?

Stoney said...

One of my favorite films to nit-pic is (the original) "The Manchurian Candidate" because I keep wondering about the amount of time that passes in the story. One scene has Raymond and Ben getting drunk while playing Christmas music. It also looks like wintertime when Raymond is accidentally hypnotized into jumping into a lake. Now, how much time elapses before the climactic scene at a political convention; which is normally held in mid summer?

Andy Rose said...

Advancing technology can catch up with dramatic license. When I worked in local TV news, we used to get annoyed at shows where a news crew would arrive at a scene, decide this was a Big Story, and immediately go live. To do a live shot at the time required a custom-made vehicle, extensive cabling (so you couldn't just walk around anywhere you wanted), and at least 15 minutes of work to set the antenna and dial in the signal back to the station. The China Syndrome is one of the few movies that showed how the process really worked. But now, streaming technology and cellular data speeds are so good, you literally can go live in HD from most places with a brick-sized transmitter and the touch of a button.

I don't mind anachronisms too much as long as there's internal consistency. Rewatching the original Star Trek recently drove me crazy. Operating the transporter in some episodes was treated as a major ordeal requiring special expertise, while in other episodes random civilians would be able to transport themselves. The purpose of devices and control panels constantly changed. And because of the way the producers updated their miniature models and reused stock footage, even the outside appearance of the ship is wildly inconsistent from one scene to the next.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you brought this up.
I'm a former Peace Corps volunteer, and I have a bone to pick with you on your movie Volunteers.......

MikeN said...

On Suits every detail is in service of plot.

I didn't follow it too closely, but it looks like they took someone on death row set to be executed within a month, and somehow got him a jury trial. Not just an appeals court hearing, or something with a judge or parole board, but a full jury trial, without even any real evidence of something wrong with the original case.

Pete Grossman said...

Thanks for mentioning Bull Durham, Ken. To me, even some of the lines, not meant to be really funny, are. For instance, the scene in Crash's apartment where Annie enters all flustered. In the middle of the fight, Crash asks her, "Who dresses you?" and "Do you have a job?" Such great writing that doesn't go for the joke yet keeps us in the scene and smiling - and Costner's delivery puts the dialog right over the plate.

David P said...

My wife has ongoing heartache with the first Iron Man movie. Not with Tony Stark making a fusion reactor out of a junk heap in a slum in the third world. But with Pepper Potts running on a metal grate while wearing stilettos.

Earl Boebert said...

My favorite nit on Star Trek was that seat belts were evidently a lost technology, since the first few seconds of every emergency were spent by the crew picking themselves up off the deck.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Greg House always hits on the right diagnosis, but not until he has killed the patient at least once and ordered a hundred thousand dollars' worth of tests. Who pays the bill, especially when the interesting patient is a homeless drug addict? Well, we're reminded that it's a "teaching hospital," as if that explained everything. This is New Jersey, not the island of Jersey.

My dad was an electrician who could be counted on to ruin every caper movie by pointing out that when you cut the wires, the burglar alarm is triggered, not disabled. My problem (I try not to comment out loud) is clueless actors pretending to play musical instruments. I've never seen anyone as Sherlock Holmes who even knew how to hold a violin. It's not that hard to learn. Call me, producers, my rates are low.

In THE GRADUATE, doesn't Benjamin cross the Golden Gate Bridge in the wrong direction?

Donald Benson said...

The "Cheers" post mentioned Carla being the only waitress after Diane. That leads to a big pet peeve: Understaffed workplaces. On some shows it's made clear there are other cops on the force, or other employees elsewhere in a company. Sometimes they even have extras. Elsewhere, not.

While I liked "The Duck Factory", I knew it was impossible that a half dozen people were cranking out a Saturday morning half hour show -- even a cheap one. Shows set in newspapers and magazines often seem to have one guy who takes ALL the photographs, and no layout people at all.

Whodunit shows have the same habit, creating improbably small workplaces to limit the suspects ("The entire university faculty was present: the dean, his assistant, his secretary, the professor and the other professor. Oh, and Old Ned the janitor and gardener for the entire campus").

DBA said...

My problem with the types of things mentioned, like being too close to the material, is that it's not necessarily the inaccuracy that bugs me. Sometimes it does, but mostly, if a show establishes an internally consistent movie-magic logic, I'm OK to run with it, even if I know it's wrong.

What REALLY pisses me off is when the same show, same episode, in some cases will have the plot entirely reliant on some esoteric realistic detail. But the rest you have to ignore reality. Especially for something like a medical drama or a cop drama where there's some mystery element (figure out the dignosis, figure out whodunnit, whatever) if knowing some real-life detail solves the mystery, but some other real life detail has to be ignored for the plot to work it takes all the fun out of guessing at home because you never know if you can trust your real life knowledge, if things that might be clues, are or not. It's infuriating.

MikeN said...

The Unit is one of the best written shows, with Ken posting here a memo by David Mamet who was an advisor.

However, they couldn't seen to stick to their own rules.

One week they make a big deal about how this is all a secret that you can't tell anyone, and the women will get together and tell your significant other when the time comes. Then a few episodes later, the plot is about a girlfriend finding out after a few dates.

VincentS said...

I get that feeling whenever I see the scene in PRIDE OF THE YANKEES - one of my favorite movies - when Lou Gehrig ends his consecutive-game-playing streak by taking himself out DURING THE GAME! Every baseball fan knows that as long has he played in the game the streak stays alive (all they had to do was have the scene take place BEFORE the game!). And, even though I'm dating myself, I get the Jan Smithers thing, Ken.

Douglas Trapasso said...

According to @Buttermilk Sky
"Who pays the bill, especially when the interesting patient is a homeless drug addict?"

Maybe House was a very subtle advertisement for Obamacare

Oh yes, I am -sure- I'm going to The Bad Place for this one . . .

Donald Benson said...

And course, any potboiler that says repeatedly, "Defeating the death ray / ancient curse / prizefighter / magic spell / slick lawyer is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE!" Then, late in the proceedings, they add something like "...UNLESS you use two tablespoons of ionized salt."

Pseudonym said...

And then, there's MY COUSIN VINNY, the movie so accurate that it's required viewing at most US law schools.

H Johnson said...

Two pet peeves on this subject;

Characters out-running giant approaching fireballs
Merely wrecked cars (not bombs) that explode like Hiroshima.

Aloha

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The doctor at the Polite Dissent site did a great job of analyzing the medicine on HOUSE every week, assessing how well the diagnosis actually fit the symptoms and how well the treatment fit the diagnosis.

The error rate of both went up substantially as the show aged.

wg

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I love how Viviva Fox was saved from the all consuming death ray in Independence Day by closing the door of a closet that was stronger than every building in LA

J. Hauschild said...

I love it, when american actors play foreigners and have to speak in the native tongue. It's hilarious if you speak the language, especially russian and german.

mike said...

I haven't seen it since it came out, but isn't there a scene in Bull Durham where Susan Sarandon is in the batting cage giving tips to a major league player? Lost me right there.