Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mr. Special Effects

Yes, this is a re-post.  But it's one of my favorite posts of all-time.  And it was written by my partner, David Isaacs.   Meet Mr. Special Effects. Here's the set up and David's "memo".

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 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.


Scooter Schechtman said...

Kind of reminds me of Robert Klein's character in "Hooper" who gets punched by Burt Reynolds at the end.

Corey said...

I've got to say that I'm proud of you, your accomplishments, and your "Mench-ness"... (did I just make up a word?), let alone being able to continue blogging from so many nice global locales.

What I find really impressive is how you've dedicated yourself to giving back (considering how you've bumped around, DJ'ing, baseball announcing, television writing, cruise ship entertainment, heck I see nothing wrong with you wanting to ride off quietly into the sunset).

But no! In your blog you write about: mentoring people, writing style, business partnerships, character development, and bad car rental stories . (Sure you make a buck or two on your writing class', shill the heck out of your books, but hey, it's only business).

Not being in the business, I found your "how-to" on directing enlightening (bet there's at least few high school drama teachers who are thanking their luck stars right now you came along to help make their umpteenth presentation of Guy and Dolls so much better).

What gets me is that after all these years of pouring out your soul to millions and millions of faceless people, distilling and giving away so much of your knowledge and experience, continually writing from places that serve drinks with umbrellas, a feature like "Friday Questions" gets more comments than your directing tips. Maybe you should write about how to be funny while sea sick in a typhoon.

Larry Stone said...

Mr. S.E. suggests an interesting question. Are there under studies ready to step in if the actor behind a major character in a hit show is suddenly unavailable? I always wondered.

Larry Stone said...

For example, suppose something happened to one of the actors voicing THE SIMPSONS. Is there another talent standing by for the part?

Paul Duca said...

When will we hear about Spider and what happened while filming BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

You've often talked about how you and David Isaacs originally writing, "Good-bye, Radar" as the Season Seven finale, but it got held over till Season Eight and was turned into a two-parter for November Sweeps, so I'm curious, were there any major differences in the original script and the two-parter that made it to TV as far as the overall plot goes, or was it basically the same, just stretched to spread over two episodes?

Art said...

Someone I know who worked on MORK AND MINDY ages ago has told me about there being "Oh, my god! Do the idiots who write this stuff ever think about what anything's going to cost?" meltdowns over a script that called for a full-size vehicle to fall through a floor. (She said ulcers got back under control when they figured out a way to cheat the gag for a lot less money.)

Powerhouse Salter said...

I've sometimes wondered why sitcom explosions never show cast members riding fireballs like in an action movie.