Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday Questions

FQ’s are ready. Come get ‘em while they’re hot.

McAlvie starts us off.

I hate it when they colorize original b&w movies, because something I can't put my finger on what gets lost. I think its because they actually used the "limitations" of b&w film somehow, and that something gets lost in translation; but I don't pretend to understand the technicalities. Not that you were around then, Ken, but you know the industry, and the people. I would enjoy getting an insiders take on this.

A lot has to do with the lighting. Those movies were lit specifically for black and white. The shadows and contrasts were carefully constructed to evoke moods. All of that gets obliterated when B&W films are colorized.

And then of course is the technical issue that the skin tones and colors in general still look weird.

The only time I will watch a colorized show is when CBS shows “new” versions of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. And they’re always creepy.

Dave Wrighteous asks:

Since Hollywood is always crying poor, and since streaming technology has gotten so good, why don't Hollywood studios offer an "on demand" version of their catalog's? Think of it as a "movie jukebox". The studios would make bank on films they already paid for/made theatrical dough on, and struggling theaters could show say, Raiders of the Lost Ark on a Friday night and pack the house (that'd probably make more $ than the newest crappy, unfunny rom-com). Win/win, am I right?!?

The real reason Disney wants to buy 20th Century Fox is to get their film library. Studios realize that to make money in this streaming age they need content. I expect all kinds of On Demand and pay walls to sprout up.

But to re-release some of them theatrically would not be feasible.  The target moviegoer is in his or her early 20’s and will opt for the newest crappy unfunny romcom. And quite frankly, I understand that. They’d rather see movies made for them.

From Bryan Price:

Ken - I was curious about your baseball announcing in the minors. Seems like it took you a couple of years prior in the stands at Dodger Stadium and then but a few in the minors before you were hired by the Orioles. I'm guessing that is considered a fast route? How did you do it?

LUCK. I was told major league teams preferred to hear major league game audition tapes so after my third season in the minors (which ended on Labor Day) I went to Anaheim Stadium to record a demo. There I met Jon Miller who was calling Orioles games. I gave him a tape and asked if he would graciously critique it.

A couple of months later he called to say that he loved the tape and that the Orioles had an opening and suggested I apply. I did and amazingly got the job. So a lot of things had to fall into place. Of course it also helped that by that time I had had 20 years of radio experience in major markets. So even though I had only done baseball for three years I was already a very polished broadcaster.

But experience and talent without luck will only get you so far. I was verrrrry fortunate.

And James wonders:

In the past you complained about how difficult it could be to write the teasers for Cheers. How difficult was it writing the silent piece that played under the closing theme and credits to Frasier? I often thought those were very clever and often the best part of the episode.

Thanks. Those tags were way easier to write than teasers because we had something to draw from. The tags always related to something that happened in the episode. They weren’t free floating. Plus, they were only 30 seconds and silent.

Some were harder than others but for the most part they were fairly easy to come up with.

What’s your Friday Question? Please leave it in the comments section. Muchas gracias.

48 comments :

Gene said...

What bothers me most about colorization isn't the process itself but the entitled fans who think it's their right to see shows and films colorized. Some people come across so entitled - every project has to be presented in whatever way they want it. Never mind what the creators intended.

People who refuse to watch things in black and white are missing out. If they give it a chance, they'll get used to it. I know the teams behind I Love Lucy are doing it with good intentions and attention to detail, but the process is still artificial looking, no matter how the technology has advanced.

Garrett said...

When you direct an episode, how many weeks do you dedicate to that process? Is there a week for preparation, a week for production and week for editing? On film shows, is the film developed over the weekend and ready for editing on Monday morning? And are you in the room during the editing or do you wait for a rough cut to be put together?

blinky said...

My Friday question is if the guy with the best job in the world commits suicide what hope is there for us regular humans to be happy? I will miss your spirit, Anthony Bourdain

E. Yarber said...

I only had a black-and-white set (remember them?) when they began colorizing movies, and I could still tell when one was on because the picture was obscured with dark blobs. At that time the embalmers justified the process by claiming they had to restore the original film in order to obscure it.

When I worked with executives, i obsevred a love/hate relationship with their studio's back catalog. They could be as tacky in claiming a kinship with the days of great stars and classic movies as any Hollywood Boulevard souvenir shop selling Marilyn Monroe bobble-heads, but at the same time they not-so-secretly resented that they weren't making anything near that class of quality and quietly trashed the greats. I always felt the mania for remakes was a vain attempt on their parts to prove "I could have done that better."

Of course, that degree of crassness was never far from the business. John Ford was still alive in the mid 60s when someone not only remade STAGECOACH but went on record as saying the original had dated badly.

The real money in old pictures has been in home video. DVD was one of the fastest-accepted new technologies in marketing history. At one point, its percentage of studio revenues was growing so quickly that one executive assured me his company might be able to drop theatrical distribution entirely after a few more years. What he failed to realize was that this bonanza was in OLD movies, and the profits dropped once the back catalog had been fully released and fans got all they wanted. Blu-Ray was a futile attempt to get consumers to buy the collections they'd just accumulated all over again, but it never really took off to the same extent.

It's a lot like what happened with the music business. The record companies were screaming about home taping in the early 80s to excuse a declining market. Then CDs were introduced and music sales boomed as people bought their record collections all over again. People in the recording industry looked at massive profits and thought they were geniuses, but it was the back catalog sustaining that wave. By the time streaming took over and hard copies collapsed, you had a generation of people in the business who didn't know how to discover and cultivate new talent.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Not only do I hate how old black-and-white shows and movies are being colorized, but I also hate when they're also cropped into 16:9 as well. Granted, sometimes they're pillarboxed so as to at least preserve the aspect ratio while still formatting it for 16:9 display, but I know more often than not, the top and bottom portion of the picture is cropped out entirely. SEINFELD is one of the worst offenders of this. Remember the episode where Jerry and George brought a bag of oranges to the Japanese TV executives? In the original aspect ratio, you can always see the bag of oranges in frame. In the cropped version, you don't see it, and they have an awkward "insert cut" to a distorted zoom-in of the bag of oranges when it's actually brought up in conversation.

But, I digress. As far as colorizing goes, it bugs me on in the I LOVE LUCY Christmas special, they color the Christmas lights when they're off, but after they're plugged in and come on, they just left them colorless. What sense does that make? But colorizing black-and-white episodes of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is a crime that should be punishable by eternal damnation: part of what made the black and white seasons of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was the black-and-white. Mayberry was sort of frozen in time, that was kind of the whole point, as illustrated in the "Man in a Hurry" episode, and the black-and-white lent itself to that; once the show switched to color (and the loss of Barney Fife), it suddenly felt like Mayberry was starting to catch up with the times, and the show lost a major part of its charm - and this is coming from someone who loves the look of color shows from the 60s.

Mike Doran said...

There's a flip side to this that I find amusing.
Every now and again, somebody gets the idea that you can make a pseudo-black&white movie by shooting in color and simply taking the color out.
The same principle that you cited with colorization applies here as well: the lighting.
Color lighting is such that when you take it out, it darkens the look of the picture.
If you're a '50s kid like me, you might recall how the earliest color TV shows looked on your family's B&W Motorola - for some reason, the picture seemed darker, but it really wasn't; it was just that the lighting had to be different.

Interestingly enough, many critics who denounced colorization when it was introduced actually believed that "decolorization", as I limned it above, was a good idea; Roger Ebert was one of them - and he was wrong about that, Pulitzer Prize or not.



BD Johnson said...

Hi Ken, I've been a fan of your blog for many years and more recently, a podcast listener as well. I enjoy making your blog entries a part of my daily reading routine. (have buttered you up enough?)

Having worked as a Director of Photography and performed many other imaging duties in Film and Television for a number of years, I would point out that your thoughts on why colorized movies don't look right, is not correct. (it is a good guess however...)
To see what a colorized Hollywood movies should look like, one only needs to see a Hollywood movie filmed in color from the 1950's.(Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life comes to mind for example) Those Hollywood lighting styles and techniques remained largely unchanged as the transition from B&W to Color occurred. Yet those old color films seem perfectly normal to us.

What doesn't feel right about those colorized movies is the way they are colorized. To save time and money, only a single color value is assigned to a given area of the frame. Then the luminance tones of the B&W image itself is used to shade that one color's value as it gets lighter or darker. This results in a greatly reduced color palette than what color film of the day was capable of and unnatural color shading as any given color gets darker or lighter. Which results in an unnatural rendering to our eye.

Currently there is very interesting colorizing work being done by some very talented digital artists where they will take an old B&W photo and painstakingly paint in color giving these old photographs extraordinary new qualities and life. (a great example can be seen here: https://boingboing.net/2016/08/03/colorized-1865-photo-of-abraha.html) Again this is the work of artists, not technicians, who will labor for weeks over one single image. Which is not practical for a film that can contain over 120,000 images.

Speaking on the look of things, there is a very interesting VOX Youtube video about why Sitcoms look the way they do. And this one IS all about the lighting. The great Cinematographer Karl Freund ASC, who started in the silent film days, took up the challenge presented by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to make their sitcom look better than anything else at the time. (Youtube link: https://youtu.be/sQvjD2-p98U)

#KBTime said...

I have to disagree a bit on the re-release of old films... without giving away anything, there was a theater that I went to several times in the early/mid 2000s, in a small college town in middle America, which played old films. Just off the top of my head, I recall them running Ghostbusters, Animal House, MASH, Patton, Back to the Future, In the Heat of the Night, The Godfather... granted it was once a week, but people kept coming back.
If it worked there, I'm sure it would work in big cities.

Robert Forman said...

Friday Question:
Im not a writer and have no interest in becoming one yet I enjoy reading your (and Mark Evanier’s) comments about writing and advice to people who wish to become professional writers. So my question for you is just curiosity. Have you ever done any writing for advertising? Is that considered a whole different world? Is there much crossover from advertising writing to television and vice-versa? Is that a field that a person who wants to write for television should look in to? Of course, actors go back and forth pretty effortlessly, but what about writers?

MikeN said...

When Disney made The Alamo with Billy Bob Thornton, they could have done better by keeping their $200 million budget, released the 1960 version, and spent $10 million just playing John Wayne's promo(can't find it, but it has 'How do you measure a man's honor. We hope you'll enjoy our story of The Alamo'

VP81955 said...

Anyone recall the audio equivalent -- reprocessed stereo? Capitol's effect was called "duophonic," other labels simply peddled them as "stereo." RCA's reprocessed Elvis Presley records (Presley tracks released through 1959) sounded dreadful, as were Capitol's attempts to create stereo versions of early Beach Boys issued only in mono. Audiences eventually wised up and demanded the original mono issues.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Is that Jimmy Stewart doing "Come at me, bro."? ;)

Mike Williams said...

It does in London. The Prince Charles cinema regularly shows classic black and white films in the correct ratio. We went as a family to see Hitchcock's Rebecca on the big screen, and it was amazing.

McAlvie said...

KBTime said ... "a small college town in middle America, which played old films. Just off the top of my head, I recall them running Ghostbusters, Animal House, MASH, Patton, Back to the Future, In the Heat of the Night, The Godfather ..."

No malice or sarcasm intended at all, but I can't resist commenting that we have very different perspectives on what classifies as "old films." I'm feeling old quite suddenly.

Ken, thanks for addressing my question, and I'm enjoying the responses just as much. Great gang of readers you have here. I think the photo you used above is a very good example of how the colorization just looks wrong. BD Johnson's point is a good one, because the color version of that photo stuck with much the same shade of green, to an unnatural degree. But I can also see where the added color conflicts with shadow/lighting effect which worked so well in the b&w original. Those shadows were there for a deliberate effect, and the dubbed in color doesn't play well with it. I think that it would still look off even if it were better done, for that reason.

It occurs to me that anyone learning film or photograph could learn a great deal by studying those classic b&w films.

thirteen said...

My favorite Frasier tag was the free-floating one where the clearly puzzled cast sat together and looked screen right, using magnifying glasses to try to read the end credits, which had recently been reduced to the quickly scrolling white-on-black mess that we all continue to enjoy today.

Cap'n Bob said...

When they colorized a film noir movie you know the clowns were running the circus.

Gary said...

Ken, here's a Friday question: An old sitcom staple is for one character to believe he or she is a talented writer, and could be a great success at it. But when you hear a sample of what they've written, of course it is hilariously bad. The DICK VAN DYKE SHOW did this with Laura taking a night course in creative writing, and so did THE ODD COUPLE with Felix writing a series of terrible poems.

My question is, have you ever had to write something into an episode that is intentionally bad, as if done by an amateur? And for a professional writer is it easier or harder to write something that is supposed to sound bad?

Michael said...

Friday question: Maybe there was one that I am forgetting, but was there ever any thought of doing a MASH episode where Frank wrote a letter home to show his perspective?

E. Yarber said...

KB- If you'll scroll back to the May 22nd post here, you'll find lots of agreement about the pleasures of seeing vintage films on the big screen. LA has a few places that show old movies all the time... I even moderated an evening at the Aero in Santa Monica a while back. The question today is whether you could sustain such re-releases for more than one or two theaters at a time in a business geared for a "What's new this weekend?" crowd. Personally, I'd rather see 2000 theaters rolling out a Buster Keaton epic tonight, but mine is a voice commenting in the wilderness.

Speaking of retro programming: tonight on CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, Charlotte Rae demands Al " Schnauser" Lewis remarry her. You'd suspect that such a premise would center around the Gunther Toodys instead, but perhaps Hiken was already suspecting that Joe E. Ross was not going to eclipse Phil Silvers as a leading comic. Ooh, ooh!

Covarr said...

I recently found someone who does a lot of colorizing work on black and white content seemingly for fun: http://pop-colorture.com/

His work is miles better than most of what studios pump out when they colorize things, but I would assume also far more time consuming (and therefore expensive to do at the scale of a full episode or movie). I didn't know how to feel about his choice to color the opening credits to Young Frankenstein, though, a movie that was filmed in Black & White purely for artistic reasons.

Keith Nichols said...

The Lewis Powell photo is indeed well colored, but even more striking is how contemporary he looks. Hard to believe he's been dead about 150 years—–he should be in a 2018 Abercrombie & Fitch ad. As for colorizing, the story of colorizing "Citizen Kane" is of interest (http://tinyurl.com/yba2zmyj). The colorizing project didn't complete, but enough was done to rile the people who could get it shut down. I wonder how the scenes containing large black areas would have looked. Budget constraints limited building all of some large interiors, so they built and lighted enough features here and there to convey the grandeur of the scene and made the intervening areas black.

Fran in NYC said...

Ken,

I don't think I've seen you post a comment about Nell Scovell's book "Just the Funny Parts". Have you had time to read it. It's very good, I think.

Fran in NYC

Robby Brown said...

I agree with you about “The Andy Griffith Show” b/w seasons. The “I Love Lucy” Christmas special was actually originally filmed in color.

Robby Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mork said...

I've got a baseball-adjacent question for you, Ken--what are your thoughts (if any) on baseball cards? Did you ever collect them, either as a kid or adult? Do you think they're good for the game, bad for the game, just plain dumb? (For all I know, there's an entire chapter about this in "The Me Generation", now available on Kindle, but it's been too long since I read it...)

BTW, I grew up just down the road from Lowell, where "Our Time" is playing next weekend; I'm hoping you'll still be in town for Saturday night's show so I can say 'Hi'!

Andy Rose said...

I suspect that is much like the debate over whether vinyl is preferable to CDs or celluloid to digital cinema. Most people who argue about this could not pass a Pepsi Challenge over whether a color movie they're not familiar with was originally filmed in color or colorized later. (Especially for films made on lousy stock or 2-strip Technicolor.)

@Joseph Scarbrough: Most people, unfortunately, don't understand aspect ratios. My dad bought a 16:9 set before he had HDTV cable. The TV was set to stretch the SD video to the edges of the screen, making everyone look like they weighed 400 pounds. I reset it properly one day when I was visiting, and Dad was furious that I wasn't letting him see shows "in HD." I tried to explain to him that stretching a 4:3 picture to 16:9 doesn't make it high definition. He finally said, "I paid for that whole screen, and I expect there to be a whole picture on it." At which point I realized I wasn't going to win the argument.

VP81955 said...

Yep. Al Lewis moved on to "The Munsters," a passable sitcom at best, but it was "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" compared to the abomination that is "It's About Time," the next destination for Joe E. Ross.

Ken Levine said...

Mork,

I will be there next Saturday night.

And about Nell Scovell -- I love Nell and will soon have her guest on my podcast. Stay tuned.

Garry said...

@Robby: No, the I LOVE LUCY Christmas show was filmed in black-and-white, like the rest of the series. It's been colorized twice, though. Originally in 1990 and again in 2013. Both colorized versions left the "flashback" scenes from the pregnancy episodes in black-and-white. CBS aired I LOVE LUCY on its daytime schedule for years after the series ended, but chose to keep the Christmas episode out of that rotation. By the time the series finally went into syndication in 1967, the Christmas show had been forgotten. That's why it was never included in the syndication package.

This pertains to nothing in today's post or in the comments, but today (June 8th) marks the seventieth anniversary of Milton Berle's television debut in THE TEXACO STAR THEATER. I never liked Milton Berle and never found him funny, and those old TEXACO kinescopes are pretty tough to make it through. The man did as much as anyone in those early days to sell a hell of a lot of television sets, though, and even if he didn't stay at the top very long, he was the medium's first major star. For that reason, I think the anniversary deserves to be acknowledged.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Blame living oxymoron, Ted Turner for mainstreaming colorized movies. He was of the opinion that no one wanted to watch B&W movies any more. Or at least his target audience didn't. If worse comes to worse you can always reduce the color to zero on most T.V.'s including HD's.
M.B.

Stephan said...

It's entirely possible to produce colorized material that's almost indistinguishable from material actually filmed in color. Colorization to that degree of detail and accuracy is prohibitively expensive, though, so what we get on those colorized LUCY and DICK VAN DYKE episodes is a compromise. Done well enough to pass for color, but too flat, unsubtle and cartoonish-looking to pass as real color. A show or movie actually filmed in color has countless gradations in each color seen in each shot. These colorized shows and movies don't have that. They utilize broad expanses of color, lacking any gradation, and depend on the shadings and shadows on the underlying black and white image to provide the missing subtle detail. That doesn't really work that well, though. The result is that Crayola-like look that colorized movies and TV shows always seem to have.

Edward said...

I like colorization in most, not all cases, and said so when that was a topic a few months ago. I do watch some, but not that many, B/W shows like Twilight Zone but the vast majority of shows would be improved by modern colorization. TV shows that were B/W for a season or two then switched to color seems to get a pass as there is no argument regarding the intent of the producers. For TV it was economics that kept many shows in the dark ages of B/W.

B/W works where the viewer can focus on the story such as a drama. Musicals, Westerns, and comedies would be improved. Not so sure that Horror/Sci-Fi would, but it's a case-by-case judgment.

DwWashburn said...

The best colorization that I've seen came from Sony home video when they took sixteen Three Stooges shorts and added color. They really took the time to get it right and it shows. My wife is not a Stooges fan but when I got those DVDs about 15 years ago I had her watch two shorts and she started laughing. I asked her why when she didn't find the Stooges funny and she said that the color made them look more modern. So not all colorization is bad.

Unknown said...

I’m a little late to the party but two comments on colorization - one of the taking the surprisingly pro side.
First, I’m surprised that no one is commenting on how all the colorizationists (colorist did not seem right) are usually just guessing. They don’t know what color a dress or divan was. And they are not art directors so they are not serving at the directors vision. And more importantly these films were not just lt for b&w, they were fully envisioned for it- two shades that would clash in color would be put next to each other because they would produce evocative shades of grey in context. So I’m supposed to believe so trainspotter fifty to a hundred years later to tell me what colors it should be when I probably wouldn’t trust them to pick me out a necktie.
However, on the pro side, many lucious black and white prints of movies that were decaying were struck only so they could be colorized. A nice side effect is that we now how those nice work prints

Wally said...

FQ: Watching M*A*S*H 2-parter where the front encroached upon the 4077 and everyone moved, except for Radar, Hawkeye and Margaret. "Produced by" listed 3 names. Were there 3 Line Producers or - in the evolution of credits - did that credit mean something else at the time?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Andy Rose I blame part of it on consumer retail for painting this misconception that something is in a widescreen format automatically magically makes it "HD." Not so. You can have something in 16:9 and it's not HD; likewise, you can have something 4:3 in HD as long as the height of the aspect ratio is 720p or 1080p or higher - I know, because even though I have a camera that films in full 1920x1080 HD in 16:9, I frame for and edit in 1440x1080 4:3 - it's still HD, just a different aspect ratio. Never been a fan of 16:9.

Kirk said...

Outside of the usual aesthetic reasons, my problem with colorization is that it confuses people as to what they're watching. I don't just mean that a person might believe a colorized film was originally filmed in color, but sometimes even the opposite. I known a few people who insist to me that The Wizard of Oz must be colorized because some of it is in black-and-white!

VP81955 said...

Looking forward to that. I am a fan of her work, in particular the splendid first season of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."

VP81955 said...

Ted Turner gets a bad rep -- he did far more for classic movies than colorize them (a practice actually initiated by Hal Roach for his "Topper" in 1985). Here's proof:

https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/438472.html

VP81955 said...

When I was a kid, I thought color film had either been invented or perfected at the time the film's color scenes began.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Shooting accurately in B&W is not merely a matter of lighting. It also involves set design and costumes. Everything has to be checked for how it will look in monochrome (gray scales are your friend). For example, my costume designer would photograph potential costumes in B&W and then send them to me for approval. Many of the compliments I treasure most on "Biffle & Shooster" are from people who love how authentic it looks. (And a couple have been shocked when they began watching the outtakes and realized they had indeed been shot in color.)

Dan said...

I haven't seen a Cheers episode in a while, so I don't remember the silent bits at the end. Is there something on You Tube that can jog my memory?

Diane D. said...

Dan
The silent bits were at the end of Frasier, not Cheers, and they really are great. You can see Frasier on Netflix.

Gene said...

Joseph Scarbrough: "As far as colorizing goes, it bugs me on in the I LOVE LUCY Christmas special, they color the Christmas lights when they're off, but after they're plugged in and come on, they just left them colorless. What sense does that make?"

There's actually a technical reason behind that. When the lights were off, they photographed grey in black and white. When they were on, they photographed white. There has to be an existing color value there in order for any overlaid color to be visible. Adding color over white has no effect, and I know that the I Love Lucy team was not allowed to alter any element of the picture (hue, saturation, contrast, etc.) in order to potentially improve the colorization.

Bert Ehrmann said...

Just listened to your Podcast about failures. My question is, how different would your career have been if AFTERMASH would have been a colossal hit on the level of MASH rather than a failure? What would you have missed out on writing in the 1980s if you were doing AFTERMASH instead?

-- Bert

Michael Carr said...

Hi Ken,

Curious about something. You were in radio at the same time you were writing for TV. I am really surprised, given your abilities to create comedy, that you were not asked to participate in the morning shows of your stations. Now the whole morning zoo format perhaps was a little after your time, but look how Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Corolla got started. Launched from a morning show. And I think they contributed as writers on the show they were on. Could that have been an avenue for you to get into other writing assignments?

Miss Patty said...

Hi Ken,
In the Cheers episode, Tortelli Tort, Carla mentions that she grew up in Federal Hill. It turns out that Federal Hill is a neighborhood in Providence, RI where over one in four children are exposed to unsafe levels of lead. Do you know if it's part of Carla's back story canon that she suffered from lead poisoning as a child, which could partly explain her violent tendencies? If so, bravo, Cheers.

David Briggs said...

In season 1 of MASH, there was one episode that used a jazz version of “suicide is painless”. Any reasons why a show might do this?
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