Friday, September 24, 2010

Could I direct RAGING BULL?

Here are some Friday questions.

sophomorecritic starts us off:

You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it. How many steps were you away in training and experience from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were substituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?

Are you kidding? Have you ever seen one of my CONRAD BLOOMS?? Those guys are HACKS!!

But seriously, no. They are all extraordinary directors. I couldn't hold Scorsese's viewfinder.

I will say this, though, from a technical standpoint: Although I have shot single-camera scenes, most of the time I direct multi-camera shows. It's quite tricky camera blocking four cameras all moving at once to capture all the action, all the angles, reactions, masters, and sizes, not to mention having cameras move in anticipation of characters entering the scene. And sometimes you have large scenes. Five or six actors, lots of movement, and only four cameras to cover it all on the fly. It can be very complicated and daunting.

Seasoned veterans in both forms seem to agree a multi-camera director can be taught how to direct single-camera in about a half hour. On the other hand, single camera directors sometimes need months to get the hang of multi-camera. So if Scorsese wanted to do a CONRAD BLOOM I still could whip his sorry ass.

From Matt:

Several of the MASH scripts in my collection contain the Call Sheet and Shooting Schedules. On the shooting schedule, I've noticed under "Cast. & Atmos." an item called "Mini Mash"

Is this a reference to the Stage 9 set?

Yes. We had the entire camp set up on that stage. Once Daylight Savings ended we stopped filming at the Malibu ranch. There was just not enough daylight to accomplish all the scenes we needed to film. In the summer we had 6 AM to 8:15 PM. But in the winter our window was 7 AM to 4:30 PM.

So if exteriors still were needed we shot them on Stage 9. Did it look great? No. Maybe one notch above the Brady Bunch backyard.

Night scenes looked better. Dark is dark.

In planning the season, we held back the episodes that did not require much outdoor shooting and moved forward the ones that did. And that made plotting out the season that much tougher. We might break a great story but have to sit on it while scrambling last second to get the script ready that was going into production the next day.

And finally, from Michael:

Is there a strong correlation between the episodes you wrote that you feel are your strongest and the ones that were nominated for Emmys?

Not necessarily. I do think the scripts that were nominated deserved to be, but there were others that I felt were as good or better that didn’t get any real recognition.

Of all the CHEERS we wrote I feel our best was called “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. That was the Frasier bachelor party episode (“Everybody have fun tonight… everybody Wang Chung tonight.”). I’m especially proud of that one because we worked off no outline. As an experiment we wanted to just riff and see where it took us. We knew the broad steps but nothing else. I think it came out great.

There’s a TONY RANDALL SHOW we wrote where Tony runs for office against the old incumbent. During the campaign Tony’s opponent dies and still beats him. It was a very funny show.

The best FRASIER we ever wrote – “Room Service” (Niles sleeps with Lilith) – never got nominated for anything. There were also a few episodes of ALMOST PERFECT that David and I wrote with Robin Schiff that I felt were nomination worthy.

But generally, unless you write for what we like to call a “tuxedo show”, your chances of getting a nod are slim. That is why we thought our agent was kidding when she said we had been nominated for a WGA award for one of our OPEN ALL NIGHT’S. By the time of the ceremony the show had been cancelled and the production company disbanded. We had to buy our own tickets and find someplace to sit. No, we didn’t win. The Guild wasn’t that crazy.

But I will say this, all the drafts we submitted, whether they were rewarded or not, were at least 90% ours. Lots of shows room-write and just assign credits. Others rewrite scripts extensively and keep the original writer’s name on it even though there’s nothing left of his work. There have been times in our career when teleplays we wrote were rewritten and sometimes even made better. But we never submitted those. So I’m proud to say that the awards we lost, we lost because of us.

What is your question?


Carson Clark said...

Ken, I'd love to see you plot out the time frame of a television season. When does the writing start? When do the actors show up? Do you get a kid in school sized Christmas break? Carson

Ben Scripps said...

They did the whole "film director moves to TV" thing on an episode of Saturday Night Live back in the mid-eighties.

They had a sub-plot on the episode hosted by George Wendt where Francis Ford Coppola had supposedly been brought in to replace Lorne Michaels. Halfway through the episode, Coppola barges into the control room and personally replaces Davey Wilson, the director. Davey tells Coppola that directing television is completely different from films, but Coppola says he can do it; they then proceed to a murder mystery sketch "directed" by Coppola where every single shot is blown and every important reveal is missed. Good stuff, but it was in that "Terry Sweeney/Danitra Vance/Randy Quaid" season, so it only very rarely made the rerun circuit.

D. McEwan said...

"Are you kidding? Have you ever seen one of my CONRAD BLOOMS??"

Actually, I saw all of the episodes broadcast. Mark Feuerstein is a total cutie.

I remember that Tony Randall Show episode also.

DwWashburn said...

R/e the Mash set, I remember an early episode where it was leaked that the war was about over. When they would show the celebration exteriors, they always had the jeep and the people walking around one tent over and over. It looked like the set wasn't more than 20 feet wide.

Anonymous said...

"It's just like being in the writers room without anyone attacking you"

Hi Ken,

The above comment is from your Saturday post.

Could you please elaborate more on the politics, relationships and attacks that occur in a writer's room? Good, bad, etc...

Jose said...

Hey Ken,
Do tv writers typically get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or?
this is for a small beat in my 30 Rock spec.
i didn't know how to look this up. thanks

Stephen said...

On the subject of being nominated for episodes you have written, do award committees base their decision on the script or the finished episode? Or both?

sophomorecritic said...

Thanks for answering.

How do you ensure writers aren't slacking off on weeks where they're not writing the screenplay? What specifically are they doing on weeks when the show isn't written by them

Michael said...

I still think of the Frazier bachelor party episode of Cheers when I hear the Wang Chung song on the radio.

Couple of more questions for the Friday queue:

1) Any writing jobs do you regret not accepting?

2) When you wrote for The Simpsons, did you approach it like a live-action show or did you try to include things that only could be done in animation?

Splenda said...

On Frasier, how hard was it to come up with the soundless scenes that were played while the credits rolled?