Monday, June 30, 2014

Scenes I'd like to see

Cellphones are a writers’ best friend and worst enemy. Now it’s so much easier for characters to contact other characters. If you want someone to know something you can convey it wherever he is. That’s the good news. The bad news is that people talking to each other on the phone is static and not very interesting to watch. And thanks to cellphones we do it more now than ever. In fact, it’s worse. People now communicate via texting. That’s really dynamic to watch – two people in different locations tapping phones with their thumbs.

So it only stands to reason that show producers take a little creative license to find ways of getting people to confront each other in person and not just on their devices. And let me say that I too have been guilty of this. On several occasions on CHEERS we would have somebody come from the airport directly to the bar to see Frasier or Diane or whoever. They wouldn’t check into the hotel first, then call the bar to make sure the person is even there before grabbing a cab and barreling across a town they don't know?

So I’m hyper aware of the convention. Nowhere is it used more often and more glaring than on SUITS. Now I love SUITS. It’s one of my favorite shows. And one of the many things I like about it is how sleek and cool the show looks. And they understand that face-to-face confrontations are way more compelling than phone spats. But in a world where people lock themselves in their office and talk to everyone by phone (including their assistants only five feet away), how do you get characters together? SUITS does it in a variety of ways and these are the scenes if they were to be played for real. If you’re not familiar with the show, Harvey (played brilliantly by Gabriel Macht) is a super-slick cocky lawyer and Mike (Patrick J. Adams) is his genius protégé. This season they are working at different firms and at odds with each other. These are typical conceits the series does:


In the heart of the skyscraper business district. Harvey gets out of a towncar. He crosses to the building where Mike intercepts him.

MIKE: Got a minute?

HARVEY: What are you doing here?

MIKE: We need to talk.

HARVEY: You couldn’t phone me?

MIKE: I wanted to do it face-to-face.

HARVEY: You couldn’t make an appointment?

MIKE: I wanted to do it now.

HARVEY: How long have you been waiting?

MIKE: 45 minutes.

HARVEY: You don’t have better things to do with your time?

MIKE: I do but I wanted to get this out of the way.

HARVEY: What did you do for the last 45 minutes?

MIKE: I just stood here, sent a few texts.

HARVEY: Building security didn’t find it odd that some guy was just loitering outside the building?

MIKE: Well, I got a cup of coffee from the corner.

HARVEY: So you left your post?

MIKE: Well, yeah, for maybe two minutes.

HARVEY: What would have happened if I just arrived during those two-minutes? Would you have stood out here all day?

MIKE:  I would’ve just waited and caught you when you left.

HARVEY: So you’d stand out here for another ten hours? Boy, your clients sure get their money’s worth when they’re billed by you.

MIKE: Will you let me talk?

HARVEY: What if I said, “I’m busy. I really can’t now. Call me.”

MIKE: Harvey!! Jesus!

HARVEY: Alright. Fine. What is it?

MIKE: My client is going forward with the lawsuit.


MIKE: Pretty much. So I’ll see you in court.

HARVEY: You couldn’t text that? (TAPPING HIS PHONE) “My client is going forward with the lawsuit.” Yep. It can be done.

MIKE: I wanted to see the look on your face.

HARVEY: They also have this thing called “Face Time” now.

MIKE: Okay. I left my wallet at home and the office is 25 blocks away. Could I borrow a few bucks or your Metro card?




The skyline of the city is behind him as he works at his desk late into the night. He’s the only one on the floor. Harvey taps on the door.

HARVEY: Got a minute?

MIKE: What are you doing here?

HARVEY: I need to talk to you.

MIKE: How did you know I was here?

HARVEY: I waited outside the building for three hours and you never came out.

MIKE: How’s you get past building security?

HARVEY: The guard was drunk and asleep.

MIKE: Okay. That I buy.

HARVEY: So here’s the deal…

MIKE; How’d you get in the elevator? There’s a key after business hours.

HARVEY: I waited until someone else who had a key came along and shared the elevator with him.

MIKE: How long did you wait for him?

HARVEY: Another hour.

MIKE: The guard never woke up?

HARVEY: He could be dead. I didn’t check.

MIKE: The firm is locked. How’d you get in?

HARVEY: I promised the cleaning lady a car.

MIKE: Why didn’t you just call?

HARVEY: It was after 9. I didn’t want to be rude.

MIKE: So what do you want?

HARVEY: Nah, It can wait until tomorrow.

MIKE: No. You’re here already. What is it?

HARVEY: My client won’t be bullied.


HARVEY: That’s it. My client won’t be bullied.

There’s a knock at the door. It’s Alicia Florrick.

ALICIA: Mike Ross?

MIKE: Yes. Who are you?

ALICIA: Alicia Florrick. I just flew in from Chicago and thought I’d come to this empty office building at midnight to see if you were here.

MIKE: I am. So what do you need?

ALICIA: Do you know how to get to the Wellington Hotel?



John Leader Alfenito said...

I like "Suits," too. But, every time I watch I wonder HOW they shoot the Pearson-Specter office scenes with all that reflective, floor-to-ceiling glass everywhere. Must be a lighting and camera blocking puzzle for every scene.
Plotwise - I think it's time to move on from the "Mike never went to law school" secret and get back to the original idea of Mike's super-powered memory.

Carol said...

Thanks. Now every time I watch a television show, I am never going to NOT notice people talking when they would, In Real Life be texting or phoning.

I've also always wondered how visitors to, for example, the Keaton's home, always knew if they were in the kitchen, so they knew to come to that door, instead of the front door, which would have been more logical.

Scooter Schechtman said...

My favorite cloud to shout at has been People And Their Phones. Once I tuned into "How I Met Your Mother" and there were four people at a restaurant with four cell phones. And you bet those phones came into play.
Go to Youtube and find Louie CK's opinion on cell phones.

Rita said...

@Carol: That thing about people knowing to enter through the Keaton's kitchen door because that's where everybody is used to happen regularly on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, too.

Brother Herbert said...

What I find annoying about two characters talking on cellphones is that one always hangs up without saying goodbye or anything. That person just presses "off" or clicks the phone shut. We never see the guy on the other end saying "Hello? Hello?" and/or calling back because he assumed the call was dropped.

Paul said...

Great post, Ken! One show that I think has used cellphone conversations efficiently (and couldn't work without them) is 24. They have managed to make the phone conversations not static and boring by using split screens and keeping the characters constantly moving.
Of course, they also have the best cellphones in the world, as they never lose coverage or the battery never dies.

Kevin said...

@Rita, My memory of RAYMOND was that only the extended family (Frank, Marie, and Robert) came in through the kitchen. What I thought was strange was that Frank and Marie's house was across the street (that was the impression I had from the show) so they would have to bypass the front door and go around to the back to come into the kitchen.

Emmett Flatus said...

But, it is painfully obvious that producers and (possibly) writers have little understanding of where cellphones will actually be able to receive a signal. Concrete enclosed basement of a building?? Probably not.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Best cellphone show ever was GOSSIP GIRL (in its first season, when it was good).

Though THE GOOD WIFE had some great cellphone moments, too (Alicia standing on the roof of Owen's station wagon because it was the only way she could get a decent connection).


bill said...

I thought House of Cards handled text messages pretty well, having them popup on the screen in a visually interesting way. I have no doubt we'll see more of this. there was no slow down in the tension the way House of Cards handled it, in fact it ramped up the tension nicely I thought.

D. McEwan said...

Very, very funny column. I chuckled aloud throughout.

SharoneRosen said...

and why, now doesn't Mike just take the bar? Does one have to go to law school to take it?
Have Mike go to some fly-by-night-in-a-strip-mall law school and take the damn thing... just wondering..

Kendall said...

I love Suits. And I love profanity. But for some reason, when the characters on this show curse, it seems out of place, like they just want to point to the fact that they're a cable show and can say "shit" and "goddamn."

Anonymous said...

Can you write one for Orphan Back next?

Jeff said...

In sci-fi, it's usually the old "Captain, you'd better come down here and see this."

Absolutely no reason they can't describe it over the intercom, or put it on the viewscreen. Usually it's not even something the captain really needs to know about, but he's the lead, so he has to be in the scene.

Anonymous said...

Lol it is funny. Love Suits though.

Stars Original show Power has actually been using text overlays for texting in the last couple episodes. It is a bit weird but it works because they have created a level of tension with phones buzzing at inopportune times or texting with people around.

Although I don't want a world full of texts on my screen in movies and tv.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man said...

"Mulder, it's me."

The first time I remember seeing regular cell phone use by TV characters was on THE X-FILES.

Best use of text messages on TV?


McAlvie said...

I love the show, too, but it's very unrealistic in an astonishing number of ways. Of course, if it was realistic, nobody would watch it. Most lawyering is reading and writing. Boring stuff. Also, if you've spent much time in and around real office workers you know that a large percentage of them are slobs, and lawyers usually have stacks of books, binders and paper piled everywhere, yes even in this digital age. It's not very sleek and glossy. And those glass-walled offices would be like working in a fish bowl. You'd think, if you rose in the ranks to rate a corner office, a little privacy might be nice.

jbryant said...

Kendall: The funny thing about the frequency of "shit" and "goddamn" on SUITS (and other cable dramas) is that those are clearly the strongest acceptable profane words for basic cable (although a lot of people on TV now call each other "dicks" too). It makes it seem like all cable characters have an extremely limited profanity vocabulary. But I love SUITS, so I let it go.

diego said...

in the recent kevin costner movie DRAFT DAY, director ivan reitman realized they had a lot of scenes that were just long phone conversations. so he did a cool thing where the characters continually overlapped each other's space visually past the splitscreen line. i think he even shot some of the scenes a little wide so he could crop his frames however he wanted in post. it brought the old splitscreen convention to life and allowed the characters to sort of interact and enter each other's headspace, as you do during real life phone calls.

Anonymous said...

Ray's house is longer from front door to kitchen door than it is in the perpendicular direction. So it looks like it would be a setup of door on one side, maybe garage, if any) in the back, with the kitchen door on the other side.

So Frank and Marie coming in that way makes sense.

For the Keaton's it seems to be mostly Skippy who uses that entrance, and perhaps his house is just facing that way.

MikeN said...

Suits has to stay to its theme, so staying with Mike's a fraud is a necessity. Psych had this problem where they totally left out the fake psychic part for many many episodes, until suddenly Jules caught him.

I'm feeling even stronger about my statement before that Ken Levine could write for Suits. Not only is legal knowledge not necessary, I think it is part of the show's bible that legal niceties are to be ignored in service of the plot, no matter how egregious. Like ending-of-Teen-Wolf level absurdity.