Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Questions

Bring ‘em on.

Broadway Becky gets us started:

Why don't they use more Broadway stars in these big Hollywood musical films that are coming back. Case in point: Russel Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway scored huge parts in Les Miserables but there are tons of Broadway stars that are maybe better suited to live singing roles. Now they're making Into the Woods and Meryl Streep gets the lead (big shock). Of course, Ms. Streep is a tremendous talent but in the case of a huge musical, why not throw a bone to the tireless Broadway stars who are every bit as talented? It worked for Glee. They launched film & television careers of tons of unknowns & it worked out great.

Movie studios need movie STARS to open movies. It’s as simple as that. The $50 million dollar safe bet.   Broadway performers may be better but they’re relatively unknown to the movie-buying public. Recognition and star power are way more important to Hollywood than talent.

And thus it has always been. Natalie Wood starred in WEST SIDE STORY even though someone else had to do her singing. Same with Audrey Hepburn taking Julie Andrews’ part in the screen version of MY FAIR LADY. Audrey’s songs were over-dubbed with someone else.

In the Bob Fosse movie version of SWEET CHARITY, Shirley MacLaine played the wondrous Gwen Verdon part, and poor Ms. V. was hired to coach MacLaine.

Of course, nothing compares to the film adaptation of the musical PAINT YOUR WAGON starring everyone’s favorite crooner, Clint Eastwood.

Dan Ball has a question about my post detailing how Bill Cosby worked his writers to death.

How bad would conditions on THE COSBY SHOW need to be in order for the WGA to intervene on behalf of the writing staff? Would the WGA ever intervene in a situation like that?

It’s a tricky area. First of all, the writers are generally well paid. It’s not like they’re working around the clock for nothing.

And reader, John Levenstein, who was also a producer on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT offers this excellent point:

I have discussed this with the WGA. They will never intervene because then they would have to intervene when writers overwork their own staffs, which is usually the case.

If conditions become too intolerable there is always the option of quitting. But sometimes it’s hard to do that. Being on a good, well-respected show has its advantages. Episodes you write will rerun and probably go into syndication thus yielding residuals. Just having the name of the show on your resume might put you in line for better jobs and better salaries. And since over-paying is the most common way of keeping good writers on shows run by monsters, you can parlay that into better deals for your next show. Assuming you live through this one.

There is also the possibility of awards.   Writers will eat a tremendous amount of shit for a chance to nibble on that carrot. 

Barry Traylor is one of the very few people in America who actually pays attention to credits.

I have a Friday question for you. In episode "Fade Out, Fade In" part one and two you and your writing partner are listed as Story Editors. Was that your first jobs on MASH? And just what did the job entail?
That was our first job. We were essentially staff writers. Others above us made the creative decisions. We broke stories and rewrote scripts. However, in that same season (6), the head writer left midway through and David and I took his place. So despite still maintaining the position (and salary) of story editor, we were now essentially the head writers.

I was soooo thrilled to have that job I didn't even care about the money.  But don't tell 20th. 

And finally, from Shawn K:

As 'new media' is increasing in popularity, have you ever considered doing a web series, for a good idea that you've had, but maybe didn't merit a traditional 30 minute sitcom structure?

I would not be adverse to doing a web series if I came up with the right idea. And funding. But at the moment I’m focused on playwrighting; developing my third play. I’ll probably make the same money for writing a play as writing/directing/producing a web series – namely table scraps. But at the moment, I’m having a blast working on my play.

FINAL REMINDER:  This is the last day my book, THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60S), is on sale for only $.99.  To get the Kindle version of this great gift idea, here's where you go.   But warning:  the sale ends tonight.  Thanks.


MikeK.Pa. said...

"West Side Story" is the only musical I can watch mainly because of Natalie Wood. Wood is enchanting and heartbreaking in it. Never seen "Paint Your Wagon" (Lee Marvin AND Clint Eastwood singing?) and not on my dance card any time soon.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

AS others will note, it was Marni Nixon who was the singing voice for both Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn in their respective musicals. Although, legend has it, neither Audrey or Natalie knew their parts were being overdubbed until the movies came out (and both were furious).

As far as having non-singers in a musical, the other Streep musical, Mama Mia proved that having stars and not singers in a musical is more important to the show. Few of the stars had any singing chops.

unkystan said...

How great would it have been to see Ethel Merman in "Gypsy"? Or Angela Lansbury in "Mame"? Thank goodness Robert Preston's Harold Hill is immortalized. Any others?

Johnny Walker said...

I've said it before, and I've said it again, but I wish someone would study what makes for a successful show and happy staff on these shows. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to ruin someone's life for a few years in the process of creating a show. There must be a way to do it without causing as much pain as you hear about... and plenty of shows apparently are successful at doing just that.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

It's really a matter of getting a lot of disparaging personalities to work together to achieve a common goal, some of them with huge egos. That's a pretty hard mix to achieve.

Even Modern Family has that issue, given that Levitan and Lloyd have run separate staffs since the show's second season.

I've recently finished reading Joss Whedon's biography. An interesting tidbit regarding his days at Roseanne: regardless of the difficulties of the work environment, even staff writers and story editors were handsomely compensated working at Carsey/Werner (up to 3K a week, back in 1991).

I assume that also applies to the Cosby staff, since they worked on the same building under the same bosses.

Touch-and-go Bullethead said...

"Paint Your Wagon" has become the go-to reference for casting non-singing stars in a musical, but I would like to nominate "Man of La Mancha" in its place. All three of its leads--Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren, and James Coco--were dubbed in the musical numbers.

Actually, I like Lee Marvin's vocalizing (I suppose it really should not be called singing) in "Wagon." It sounds right for that character.

Michael said...

It's even worse than it looks. Jack Warner, a true genius (in the same way that Lindsay Lohan is a model for clean living) first wanted "My Fair Lady" rewritten to make Alfred P. Doolittle the star and offered Cagney $1 million to come out of retirement. With that failed, he asked Cary Grant to play Higgins, and Grant replied that not only would he not play him, but he wouldn't see the movie unless Rex Harrison, who of course played him on Broadway, had the movie role. So, Warner asked Harrison to do a screen test. I have read that Harrison replied by having his wife take a picture of him on a yacht, naked, holding a bottle of booze over the most important part, and sent it to Warner, saying that was his screen test.

Mitchell Hundred said...

One could argue that stage acting requires a different set of skills than film acting. Topol, for instance, made a better movie Tevye than Zero Mostel (who originated the role in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof) ever would have. Which is not to say that there can't be good crossovers, but it's not a given.

Also, to be fair, the casting of Eastwood and Marvin did have some advantages. The movie was already burdened with a terrible story, and the leads pushed it slightly from "painfully bad" into "entertainingly bad" territory, which is a bit easier to watch. Not entirely, but slightly.

Curt Alliaume said...

At least the musical At Long Last Love isn't easily available for viewing (although I understand it's on Blu-ray). Not only were leads Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd not dubbed (Shepherd was involved with director Peter Bogdanovich at the time), but all of the musical numbers were recorded live (rather than lip-synched). Shudder.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

@Johnny Walker: Supposedly, Howard Gordon is a prime example of an executive producer everyone adores, and that the Homeland staff is one the most productive, friendly, and stable set of writers there is.

Also, I believe the Breaking Bad staff was also pretty pleasant, with a great boss in Vince Gilligan, and some truly great writers who were also very nice people to get along.

Hamid said...

Another day, another set of rape allegations against Cosby.

No one could have expected that Leonard Part 6 would end up being only the second worst thing he's ever done.

Kate Robinson said...

I'd also add that the stars from the original Broadway run aren't always good fits for the movie role. SWEET CHARITY is a good example. Shirley Maclaine was in her early 30s during filming and could pass for her late 20s, which I thought was more appropriate for the character. Gwen Verdon was already 40 when she first played the part on Broadway. That sort of age discrepancy is less noticeable on stage (the 30something teens and so forth) but on film, with close-ups, it's best avoided.

I do wonder if even Julie Andrews herself imagined that not appearing in MY FAIR LADY would work out for her. She went on the star in MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC was originally played on stage by Mary Martin, who would have been in her 50s at the time the film was made, so again recasting made sense.

Mike McCann said...

Good point about a studio needing a bankable star to increase the odds of a film opening big. However, after being passed over for MY FAIR LADY, Julie Andrews got her big break when she landed MARY POPPINS and then THE SOUND OF MUSIC (where she trumped MARY MARTIN, who was many years her senior). Those films then made Julie a movie star, redefining her for American audiences. So give Walt Disney credit for "taking a chance" on her

On the other hand, would a Justin Timberlake or Hugh Jackman have "saved" JERSEY BOYS (not the way Eastwood imagined it)??

Touch-and-go Bullethead said...

Michael: I have always previously seen that Cary Grant story being about "The Music Man" and Robert Preston, not "My Fair Lady" and Rex Harrison. Grant's reason for turning down "My Fair Lady" was that he was a Cockney, just like Eliza Dolittle, and so casting him would be nonsensical.

Harold Hill, Henry Higgins--easy to get those names mixed.

chalmers said...

Robert Morse got to reprise his role in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

Though Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are fine film actors and were tremendous on as "The Producers" on Broadway, the film version did not work at all.

I agree with Mitchell Hundred that Zero Mostel would have been similarly inappropriate for Norman Jewison's film version of "Fiddler." Even on stage, Mostel would sometimes get bored and break into Zero Mostel schtick.

That might have prompted Zero's acceptance speech on Tony night after the show had already won numerous awards. Zero cracked, "No one has thanked me yet tonight, so I guess I'll thank myself."

If you have interest in "Fiddler's" long history and cultural resonance, I'd definitely recommend Alisa Solomon's book, "Wonder of Wonders."

Mike said...

Hamid, the new rape allegations make no sense. She is not alleging rape, but that Cosby drugged her, and then sent her home without raping her.

Holly said...

@Kate Julie Andrews did know she lucked out in the switch up. When she won her Golden Globe for Mary Poppins she thanked Jack Warner (for not casting her in My Fair Lady)

Rinaldo said...

In fairness, some of the names mentioned have musical stage creed. Meryl Streep was associated with musicals before working on film -- she sang opposite Christopher Lloyd in Brecht & Weill's Happy End, and her performance in Elizabeth Swados's version of Alice is preserved on video. Anne Hathaway's first successes were onstage in musicals; she won a prize for this while a teenager in New Jersey, and I saw her give a splendid performance (opposite Brian Stokes Mitchell) in Carnival. She put all that aside for a while in order to gain credibility as a screen actress, and it seems unfair that this is being held against her now.

Stoney said...

The all time hack singing role has to be Marlon Brando in "Guys And Dolls"! Frank Sinatra would later refer to Brando as "Mumbles".

Andy K said...

I have a Friday question regarding "producers". On a show I usually watch there are producers, executive producers, produced by, associate producers, etc. Does it take that many people to "produce" a 60 minute drama? And, how can one tell from that who is the showrunner?

Mike Schryver said...

I've always assumed the problem with the Lane/Broderick PRODUCERS movie was the directing. Everyone's projecting to the back row, even in close-ups. Isn't it the director's job to fix that?

chalmers said...

No doubt that Susan Stroman did not handle the adjustment from theater to sound stage well.

However, she was a film neophyte. The three other major creative forces in the group have Hollywood resumes that range from extensive to legendary. It seems that someone should have pulled things in a bit, even if it meant a tough conversation with Stroman.

But I think bringing back nearly the entire Broadway gang (though sadly not Cady Huffman), prevented them from making changes necessary when shifting to film.

Dan Ball said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken! (AND with the help of an Arrested Development vet, too, no less!) That's a great way to start a Friday...after I finished handed in my two feature-length screenplays for grad school this semester! (One's a two-hour Star Trek pilot and the other's a Western.)

Here's another Friday question: What's the quickest amount of time you and David had to turn around the most amount of writing?

I've heard--maybe he told you too--when Nick Meyer got Star Trek II on a Friday, he had the weekend to turn it around and do rewrites before they started shooting Monday morning. I thought about that a lot when I was hours away from my deadline and didn't have a third act for the Western or seventh and eighth acts for Star Trek.

Mike said...

Have a Cheers question I figured you could answer: When did the Charles brothers step down as showrunners? I had been under the impression it was after season six, but Warren Littlefield, in "Top of the Rock," said they dialed back their involvement toward the end of season two, and were barely involved by the start of season three. I noticed a few other mistakes in that book, so this may be one of them. But I figured if anyone knew for sure the answer, it would be you.

Cat said...

I'd also like to know the answer to Mike's question about the Charles brothers. And I'd like to know why they never created more shows after Cheers.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike Schryver said...
I've always assumed the problem with the Lane/Broderick PRODUCERS movie was the directing. Everyone's projecting to the back row, even in close-ups. Isn't it the director's job to fix that?"

You bet. This was a case of keeping the Broadway director instead of getting a movie director, and it was aBIG mistake.

Greg Ehrbar said...

A few notes:

• Marni Nixon also appeared as Sister Sophia ("she waltzes on her way to Mass"). She started dubbing for non-singers with Margaret O'Brien, but it was Deborah Kerr who overturned Hollywood's dictum that Nixon never reveal her work or "She'd never work in this town again" by publicizing her expert work in "The King & I." Nixon has a fine memoir (but buy Ken's books first)

• Jack Warner hired almost the entire stage cast for the movie version of "1776" and Tommy Steele played his stage role in the film of "Half a Sixpence."

• The 1973 musical version of "Lost Horizon" starred nonsingers Liv Ullmann, Peter Finch and Olivia Hussey -- who were all dubbed -- but Bobby Van and Sally Kellerman did their own singing. Kellerman took the role for that reason, always loving to sing (which she does today).

• Bill Lee, the "male Marni Nixon," sang for Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, a year after he sang for Yogi Bear in the big-screen "Hey There It's Yogi Bear."

• Betty Noyes dubbed Debbie Reynolds' singing of "Would You" in Singing in the Rain, even though Reynolds' character was supposed to be singing for Jean Hagen. Noyes also sang "Baby Mine" in Dumbo.
• "The Sound of Music" was written especially for Mary Martin. Far from being considered too old for the role, she was actually praised by Maria Von Trapp as being an accurate choice for her. No reflection on Julie Andrews, who redefined and cemented the role. The first stage version was very sugary, which was improved for the movie.

D. McEwan said...

Mary Martin wasn't considered "Too old" for Maria when she did the show on Broadway? Oh really?

Here's what her dear friend, Sir Noel Coward, wrote in his diary on December 16, 1960 [Bold face mine]:

"I went to The Sound of Music with Ginette. It was embarrassing at moments, owing mainly to the late Oscar's lyrics being sawney and arch, but the music was lovely, the sets superb, the story straightforward, and the performance fine. Mary Martin, although much too old to play a roguish young postulant, was wonderful, and at moments, genuinely moving. There were too many nuns careering about and crossing themselves and singing jaunty little songs, and there was, i must admit, a heavy pall of Jewish-Catholic schmaltz enveloping the whole thing, but it was far more professional, melodic and entertaining than any of the other musicals I've seen."

Qhen Warner Brothers shot The Bad Seed, though not a musical, they brought out the Broadway leads, to shoot a script that had only the barest "Opening out," and because Director Mervyn LeRoy had loved it on BRoadway, he let them give their Broadway performances, untempered for film, so again, we have Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormick playing to the last row of the top balcony while photographed from three feet away. The result is a horror movie that is unintentionally hysterically funny for all of its grotesque over-acting.

Jimmie said...

THE BAD SEED also had to tack a new ending onto the story, to demonstrate that Patty McCormick's character had paid for her crimes, in this case, apparently, by God himself. They couldn't get Production Code approval for the movie, otherwise.

George R said...


Please agree with me that Aaron Sorkin is an idiot for calling the media "morally treasonous".

You have to admit, aside from the horrible proposed violence, it's pretty entertaining to have Hollywood unintentionally entertaining people through angry e-mails, revealed showbiz salaries, and the like, don't you think?

PS - Accusations of sexism over Jennifer Lawrence's marginally lower percentage points are absurd, she's not starving but there are many woman who have actually encountered sexism who are probably starving!!!!!! That's one of the reasons why I laugh at people who say this particular leaked info is "serious"

Todd said...

I have a question for you, Ken. Well, perhaps more of a conundrum, so please bare with me.

I'm a fairly successful young-ish character actor. I'm not a name, but I'm recognizable. I love acting and I've been doing it since I was a kid (I was a child actor, but I'm a normal guy, I swear!). But, more and more I've been getting into writing. And as I see myself getting better as a feature comedy writer, I find myself dwelling on what's next. First of all, for me, writing is damned difficult. I've always been fairly ADD, and while I pride myself with creating original and surprising ideas, structuring a story is like pulling teeth for me, whereas the actual writing of the comedy is a breeze and a pleasure. But either way, it's a struggle for me to get to the final product. I suspect more of a struggle than most writers who are worth a damn. And from what I know about the writing side of this business, most of the gigs going to writers are for assignments or adaptations and not specs. But writing is such a long, but fulfilling slog for me, I feel like I absolutely HAVE to be head-over-heels in love with the idea for it to be worth it for me to put in the time and effort. And I'm worried that would cut me out of a lot of work and/or present some problems with a lit agent wanting to sign me. Coupled with the fact that I also have no desire to give up acting, I'm just not sure how to market myself.