Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mr. Special Effects

Hello from Seattle where starting tomorrow I again call the action and pitching changes for the mighty Mariners.  In the meantime, I'm going to dip into the "Best Of" file. 

This is one of my favorite all-time posts so I cart it out every couple of years.  Certainly one of my funniest -- and I didn't even write it.  

I've talked about the need for showrunners to hold down the budget. What I didn’t mention was how difficult that can sometimes be. Hollywood 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 'Kojak.)

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.


Horshack's Mother said...

Did Kelly Gramner know he was expendable? Funny stuff!

Is there any chance a real network will pick up MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE? I thought TBS did everything they could to dissuade viewers. Was a very good show.

It's raining in Seattle this a.m. Does that mean you've landed? Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Kirk said...

This post reminds me a little of the Cheers episode where, in order to keep the gang at the bar interested, Frazier inserts action-adventure movie tropes into his readings of Dickens classics. Did you write that one?

Max Clarke said...

That was a good episode of Cheers, Frasier found a way to insert the teenage mutant ninja turtles or something.

It was the best of times, it was the worst....

Cap'n Bob said...

Let us hope your presence brings some much-needed winning karma to the team. They sucked in July, really sucked.

Frank Paradise said...

Very funny memo Mr. S.E.!

DwWashburn said...

What little humor in the fake memo was lost on me by the needless slam against one of my favorite group, the Monkees. what was its purpose? The writer of the fiction could have just fabricated the story about a similar set being needed in a non existant Monkees' episode without slamming the group or making Michael a cripple.

Kim Ystsc said...

I've been meaning to ask for years: How DO you pronounce Ng????????

Johnny Walker said...

Those easy/safe/dangerous/tricky special effects!

Kim: You pronounce Ng as "Ing".

cadavra said...

Actually, it's more of a guttural sound, like something caught in your throat. I learned this the hard way when I once visited Hong Kong, and kept saying "ing" to blank stares until someone whose command of English was better than most explained the correct pronunciation.

WV: farwa--A hit ordered on someone who lives a great distance away.

AAllen said...

Yakima Canutt lost a nut?