Friday, June 22, 2007

Mr. Special Effects

Once again it's time for a memo from Mr. Special Effects.

Now more than ever, showrunners are implored to KEEP THE BUDGET DOWN! Like that's
ever been easy in Hollywood. This town is notorious for huge mark ups, studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost. Here is an example, in the form of a memo.

And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.


Report from TV Special Effects Department:

RE: Frasier

Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.

Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojack.)

Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.

Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)

So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.

I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.

Loved the script by the way.

Mr. S.E.


Dwacon said...

Kelsey certainly has put a lot of soul into his post-Frasier producing projects.

Tallulah Morehead said...

The carnage that was wreaked during the making of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S still strikes terror in my heart. Even today, when watching that film, I have to cover my face with my hands whenever Miss Hepburn's deadly form comes onscreen. It was hushed up at the time, but George Peppard lost an eye on one of Audrey's razor-sharp cheekbones.

None of the tiny handful of survivor's of the Holly Golightly Massacre will even walk down the south side of 57th street anymore. The very name "Tiffany's" will start them screaming.

Truman Capote wrote an account of the bloodbath that was shooting BREAKFAST AT TIFFINY'S,, but for legal reasons, he changed all the names and locales, and altered the industry from film-making to farming, keeping only his original title: IN COLD BLOOD. Notice however, the one slip he forgot to correct, when he mentions how Perry Smith's singing in MY FAIR LADY had to be dubbed by Marni Nixon.

And let's not forget the poor elephant who lost his left ear, stunt-doubling for DUMBO over at Disney.

Oh the humanity.

Tallulah Morehead said...

And don't get me started on all the people Ray Harryhausen has maimed, frame-by-fame.

Special Defects, they should call it.

brian t said...

Hey, don't scoff at the danger involved in filming Breakfast at Tiffany's - that was some party. I don't know if Cole Porter was there, but that must be where he got the inspiration for Well, Did You Evah? - the one with the line about the doctor who ate his wife and divorced his lunch...

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Something completely different... I just watched The Longest Goodbye on the fourth Newshart Show dvd with commentary by Tom Poston (The Peeper), Suzanne Pleshette, Bob Newhart and Jim Burrows. I am sure Tom Poston's death has been touched upon here (with Tallulah remeniscing about the time she saw him live on Murphy Brown), but I can't find it with the search function.

Anyway, I hadn't realized he was married to Suzanne Pleshette - but hearing that commentary knowing he has since dies was really moving. No special anecdotes or insights... but to have those four together and hear them laughing at the show is just wonderful. I can recommend it to everyone.

Anonymous said...

Love the fact that Mr. S.E. refers to your star as "Mr. Gramner."

Anonymous said...

In watching "The Odd Couple" on DVD, Garry Marshall introduces a spoof of "A Christmas Carol" by noting it was one of the few episodes with Special Effects ("Fog!") because effects were expensive. To avoid a costly flying effect, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall kind of flap their arms while prancing across the apartment. They then decide rather than "flying" out the window, that they'll take the elevator....

Rob said...

Why is it that I behind this memo and the SE stories above, I see a lawyer smiling back at me?

Speaking of lawyers, I was looking up info on the horrible accident here in Louisville at the Six Flags amusement park. On one of the Six Flags investment boards there was lots of speculation about the impact of a lawsuit on the company.

One wag said, "There's no way this person will file a lawsuit. She doesn't have a leg to stand on."

I groaned, laughed inside, and realized that I was going to hell.

Kevin McFarlane said...

During my recent stint as a morning-show host, my board did actually catch on fire. When I turned the microphone on, there was a snap, then a sizzle, then a really stinky smoke began to rise from the board. It took me off the air, of course. But ever cogniscent of our sponsors, I ran to the component rack in the hallway and switched the station to automation. Music played with commercials for about an hour and a half while I tried to record and then insert voice-tracks into the program log. I spent too much time breathing in that plasticky-sickly thick smoke, trying to do my job selflessly. No smoke alarms went off.

Unknown said...

Off the subject, KJR in Seattle ran an audio tribute to Ken Griffey, Jr. since he returned as a Cincinatti Red. Believe I heard your voice on one of the highlights, talk about stoking the memories.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Hey, don't scoff at the danger involved in filming Breakfast at Tiffany's - that was some party. I don't know if Cole Porter was there, but that must be where he got the inspiration for Well, Did You Evah?"

How right you are, and if any further proof of darling Cole's genius is needed, there is his amazing brillience at then getting "Well Did You Evah" into the score of HIGH SOCIETY (I inspired the title, BTW) and into theaters by 1956, some 5 years before the filming of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S in 1961. Now THAT'S genius! Talk about an expensive special effect!

"I am sure Tom Poston's death has been touched upon here (with Tallulah remeniscing about the time she saw him live on Murphy Brown), but I can't find it with the search function."

Ger, look around the begining of May. I wrote at greater length about dear Little Tommy's passing in the May 2 entry in my own flog, under the title "Seperated at Death," below some now-dated blather about American Idol. Just scroll down to Tom's picture and you can read what I said.

Cheers darlings.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the Sopranos episode when Christopher rolled the Escalade (that cost, what, $60K?) down the hillside. I can almost feel the producer's chest tighten when the director shouted, "Okay, let's do it again!"

Jack Ruttan said...

Now I know why my Star Trek spec script didn't fly.

MaJaTo said...

I know a man who could the special effect required for about £10 plus materials: a box of matches, some string, 20 yoghurt pots, a couple of bags of Monster Munch crisps and a shaven orangutan.