Monday, April 30, 2018

Reporting from the trenches

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

Covarr asks:

Have you ever made substantial changes to a script based on input from an actor? Respectfulness aside (I would hope and assume that one is obvious), what factors influence the extent to which you heed their concerns?

Yes. In some cases it’s because the star is just difficult and wields the power to force wholesale changes. In practically ALL of those instances, the resulting script is worse. Or, at best, lateral.

I’ve been relatively lucky. I haven’t written for the more notorious of the monsters.

There have been times when an actor’s reluctance to do the script as written comes with a good reason. And those generally result in better scripts. We had a script on MASH where Mike Farrell took issue ethically with something we were asking BJ to do. We used that argument and did an extensive rewrite. The end result was a much more layered episode.

Look, as a showrunner I always assume that during the course of a season there are going to be a few scripts that are just snake bitten. We’ll be rewriting late into the wee hours night after night. The problem is you don’t know going in which scripts those will be. (If you did you would have addressed the problems before it went into production.) So if there’s a particularly hard week based on an actor balking at something and he’s right, that’s just the way it goes. I never resent the actor for that. We’re rewriting because we didn’t get it right the first time.

But here’s what really pisses me off: Actors objecting to something in the script and trying to justify it as a character issue when in truth it’s a vanity issue. The actress doesn’t think the actor we’ve cast to play her boyfriend is attractive enough for her. But she won’t say that. She’ll say her character wouldn’t date this person for some bullshit reason. We end up getting into this argument about motivation and the character when we KNOW that’s not really what this is about at all. And we can’t just call her on it. We can’t say, “The real issue is your ego. You think people will find you less attractive if you’re with this guy instead of George Clooney. You don’t give a shit about the character or the show. You just care about how YOU look.” So instead we engage in this fifteen-minute discussion of nonsense.

At the end of the day it’s all about who’s the most powerful person in the room. And there’s a great quote from the brilliant late producer, Steven Bochco regarding actors.

“The first year they work for you, the second year you all work together, and the third year you work for them.”

13 comments :

Anonymous said...

A Friday question for you:

What would your life have been like if you hadn't met David Isaacs? Would you have gone solo or teamed with another partner? Did you ever try writing with someone else? Who would have picked you up at the car dealer?

-30-

Matt said...

A few months ago I heard Nick Searcy on the radio. He made it sound like he and Justified’s star Timothy Olyphant would sit around with the writers and help them write the script. I found this terribly disrespectful to the writers of a truly great show. Have you ever had an actor publicly take credit for the writing?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Let me guess, that particular M*A*S*H script was where Hawkeye performs an unnecessary appendectomy on the cold, heartless Colonel and B.J. kept denouncing Hawkeye and his actions as being against everything he stands for as a doctor of medicine?

Brian Phillips said...

Friday question: The last few movies that I've been to put the credits at the end. On one hand, you get right into the "world" of the film. On the other hand, you have the potential of great opening sequences (like the Saul Bass-designed credits) and you also have various credits seen by the rear of patrons' heads, which may work on other planets like Twylo, but not here.

Do you have preferences in this matter?

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Bochco was being generous. With Caruso, that honeymoon period didn't last nearly that long.

David Kruh said...

Which episode? that's a "tell," Ken.

Vrej said...

Not sure whether this is the spot to post a Friday question, but here goes...

Do you think networks are more reluctant in recent years to title a show after the main character? Sure there are still a few but anecdotally I feel this was a much bigger trend in decades gone by. It would make business sense to not name a show after the character (or the star) for the simple reason that you can swap out actors without having to rename the entire series!

Any truth to this feeling I have or is it bunk?

Thanks for your time! Your blog is just wonderful.

Trevor said...

Did the BJ story revolve around him being unfaithful?

Tammy said...

Matt - Justified is actually the first show that came to mind when I read this post, because Graham Yost used to always give credit to Timothy Olyphant for various story points (if you look up the interviews he gave EW after every episode, you'll see it's full of "Oh, Tim came up with that".). I always found it odd that he had so much say, not just in the overall storyline of the season (I imagine every star gets that) but in the story points of each episode, some having nothing to do with Raylan.

As for Nick Searcy, Yost never mentioned him as far as I recall, so I'd take his claims with a grain of salt. Also, I thought he was great as Art, but after reading his twitter feed I've lost all respect for the man - he seems like such a nasty person. Blech.

therealshell said...

What were showrunners called before they were called showrunners ? In the olden days, was Sheldon Leonard considered a showrunner, or did he just hang his name on various telly shows ?

Donald Benson said...

NEWHART actually managed an episode on this theme. We're told that early in their relationship Dick wrote a play for Joanna, in which she'd play one of two young sisters in the big city. When Joanna and the local theater group want to produce it, Dick rewrites the script so Joanna's character is the other girl's mother, not sister. Joanna is adamant that her character still be a young sister, and the play is produced. In the last scene, Joanna repents and ad-libs a nonsensical monologue about being the other girl's mother, but masquerading as her sister so she could be a better mother in the big city.

Peter said...

It was nice to see Mike Farrell recently in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Excellent series.

Frank Beans said...

An earlier commenter already said it, but I was guessing too that it was the episode where Hawkeye removes an appendix as an excuse to stop a gung-ho Colonel from starting a battle that would surely get many more killed, but B.J. objects to the phony surgery on moral grounds. Is that right?