Friday, June 17, 2011

How to break into TV and other questions?

Welcome to Friday Question Day. So without any further adieu…

VP81955 asks:

When you had a guest star whose background was essentially in film, with next to no TV experience, was it difficult to guide him or her through the somewhat different technique of television acting?

Since single-camera television is the same process as features, the only adjustment is that the shooting schedule is accelerated. So that’s pretty easy.

With multi-camera comedies it’s a little different, because they're shot like a play in front of a live audience. But most actors come from a theater background so there too, the adjustment isn’t very major.

The only two examples that come from personal experience are both from FRASIER. Michael Keaton, a wonderful actor, did an episode we wrote. And I thought his facial expressions and performance was a little too nuanced. On the big screen it would have been perfect, but on the small screen there were some subtle moments I felt were lost.

The other example, also from an episode my partner David Isaacs and I wrote, was when Aaron Eckhart guested. In fairness, he came in in the last minute so really didn’t have time to settle in. But he had a tough time. Fortunately, we just re-shot until we got it, and ultimately on camera he was his usual stellar self.

On the other hand, Laura Linney was also on that episode and from moment one it was like she had been doing multi-camera all her life. I love Laura Linney, by the way. And that’s one of the many reasons why.

Anonymous has a question. Usually I don’t respond unless you leave a name but it’s a question many have so I felt it should be addressed. Still, leave a name.

I would be interested to hear your take on the best route to writing for TV. I think most people who are trying realize the traditional route of specs, networking, working towards a writing assistant gig, etc. But I'd be curious as to what your take on the current climate is. Is a spec as worthwhile as it once was? Is it worth working towards a writing assistant gig as those, numbers-wise, are harder to get than a staff job? Is it more worthwhile to put shorts on the internet, do stand-up, or get a play produced? Everyone always talks about the cuspiness of the TV industry, but it seems like the advice given to writers at panels in LA and whatnot hasn't changed all that much.

I would try all of those methods. Anything you could do to get yourself noticed in a positive way.

Specs are as important today as before. The only difference is that now agents and showrunners want original material in addition to specs from existing shows. It used to be if you had one good spec for SEINFELD that would serve as your calling card. Now you need at least two, usually three samples and at least one being a pilot, screenplay, or one act play.

Oh, and one other tip: on the cover page of your script, it’s usually a good idea to leave a name. I’m just sayin’.

From Kevin S:

During the filming of 'Cheers', what was the protocol for making sure all the glassware (mugs, wine & martini glasses) were clean and sanitary for each week's use by various cast members?

The unsung hero of CHEERS was our prop master, Frankie Bellina. Can you imagine what a nightmare CHEERS was for a prop person? All those glasses, mugs, pretzel bowls, bottles, etc. Frankie was the best. Every glass was always washed and ready to go. He was so organized so that every scene change he had the exact right amount of glasses and mugs and knew exactly where each went. I don't know how he did it.  Writing and directing pales by comparison.

These are things you don’t think about while watching a show but talented dedicated professionals are behind the scene busting their humps.

I’d toast you, Frankie but I misplaced my mug.

And finally, Carol needs help (and a Valium):

I somehow volunteered to write some 'skits' for this fundraiser my theatre (Dead Playwrights Repertory - shameless plug!) is doing, and now I'm panicking. They will be Shakespeare related, and hopefully funny. Can you give me some calming words of writerly wisdom to help get me started? (or a rich Hollywood patron to support us so I don't have to do this?)

I’m still looking for a rich Hollywood patron to support me. First, off, relax. Once you finally finish you will realize the task wasn’t as daunting as you thought.

My advice would be to get something down on paper fairly quickly. Even if it’s very rough. But it’s always so much easier to fix when you have something already on paper.

So dive in. And try to fool yourself into thinking this will be fun and liberating. Good luck with it.

What’s your question?  Or should I say, what's your name and question? 


Anonymous said...

Ken, in many quotation books, I think you will find Anonymous gets quoted quite a bit. You should give me some credit.

Steely Dan said...

"And I thought [Michael Keaton's] facial expressions and performance was a little too nuanced. On the big screen it would have been perfect, but on the small screen there were some subtle moments I felt were lost."


I'm curious as to whether you have the same reaction when watching one of Keaton's movies on TV. Do the nuanced characteristics of his film performances still work when viewed on the small screen? Or is it just that his nuanced performance felt small when compared to the rest of the "Frasier" cast playing things bigger in comparison?

Byon Whisses White said...

We never see enough of Michael Keaton, on film or TV. I thought he must still be hauling in the big-$ from pimping at the morgue with Henry Winkler and Shelly Long...there was some type casting! As a TV watcher with many, many years of experience, I have no idea what too nuanced means. To the untrained eyes, Keaton was his usual brilliant self.

M's vs. Phils: are ya here this weekend? 3 games, over/under on total runs? What'cha think, 16? 14? Hey, I've got your signature call, borrowed from the great detective-astronaut, Martin Crane, "Poppity pop pop pop!" Good for those signature pop ups, of which there's no shortage.

By Ken Levine said...

Unfortunately, I'm doing the M's-Phillies weekend. They're going to have to somehow win without me. I'll be rejoining them soon in Anaheim.

Anonymous said...

Michael Keaton was hilarious as Ken in Toy Story 3. His facial nuances were spot on!



Damon Rutherford said...

"So without any further adieu…"

Should be ado, not adieu, yes?

Cap'n Bob said...

"Unfortunately, I'm doing the M's-Phillies weekend."--K. Levine

I think you missed a "not" in there.

Not to be a whiner, but I've asked a bunch of questions that haven't been addressed. Is there a protocol on who gets answered?

VP81955 said...

Too bad you're not doing the M's and Phils (thus missing the MLB debut of Mr. Ackley), and apparently not heading east to D.C. to see the M's meet the red-hot Nationals. (It's weird to write that phrase, but wonderful.)

Max Clarke said...

Laura Linney did an interview with Alec Baldwin the time Alec guest-hosted Studio 360. She talked about her comfort acting on stage. For Laura, being on stage was like being in her living room.

By Ken Levine said...

Yep. Should be unfortunately I'm NOT doing this weekend series. Wish I were there. Looks like it's going to be great. Folks in Seattle, go cheer on our Mariners.

There's no protocol for whose questions I answer. I answer as many as I can.


Paul Duca said...

Why hasn't Tallulah Morehead become your patron, Ken?

Pat Reeder said...

Some suggestions for the person with the question about writing the Shakespearean skits:

1. Stick with the familiar. Even the teenagers know the plot of "Romeo & Juliet" from seeing 100 "updated" versions. Save the "Troilus and Cressida" jokes for your English Lit teacher.

2. Building on tip 1, search the Internet for famous Shakespearean quotes. I understand he wrote more than you can shake a spear at. Dropping in warped versions of famous quotations with bad puns, or using the real quotes in ridiculous but oddly appropriate situations, will give you some surefire laugh lines.

3. Ken is right about getting something down on the page. It helps counteract writer's block if you're not staring at a perfectly blank page. Even my idol, George Kaufman, used to type his name on each new page so it wouldn't be blank. (Note: before going into production, remove your name from the dialogue).

4. Remember, there have been thousands of other Shakespeare parodies written before. They can provide you inspiration and confidence that you can do this job (at least as well as some of the others). Plus, if all else fails, you can steal from them. Being careful, of course, always to call it "research."

That joke was stolen from Tom Lehrer.

Johnny Walker said...

"Try to fool yourself into thinking this will be fun and liberating."

Haha. Very good.

Jenius said...

Hi Ken,

The Keaton discussion reminded me of something I've been thinking about for a while from an acting perspective.

Do you think the increasing size of our screens at home has affected that "nuanced" performance, or casting for TV? HD has changed many aspects of production, like makeup and lighting. I just wonder how much is technology, and how much is the evolution of comedy/acting style.

Makes me want to see that episode on a big HD screen...Have you done that yet? (Sorry, that's two questions.)

Bradley said...

I've been a big fan of the blog for some time now. And I would be first in line to buy an "Almost Perfect" DVD set. Anyways, I have a question about "Mary." I've only seen what's posted of it on YouTube, but think it's absolutely wonderful. I'm wondering if you have any ideas why it didn't fly. I can't help but think if it aired today as a single camera show, it would be a huge hit.

PS: Adventures in Paradise is my all time favorite "Frasier" and one of the reasons I wanted to become a writer. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post! I do have a question, if I may ask. I recently started watching episodes of Cheers again and there are many aspects about the show I found interesting, one thing that struck me as peculiar which was the camera angles and how on many episodes there will be scenes where you can clearly see the edge of the set and background of the studio (i.e. one being the episode where 'John Hill' has a heart attack and in the scene where 'Carla Tortelli' visits him in the hospital room you can clearly see about a foot off the set to the left). Is there any reason for this or was it just an error in production?