Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Andy Ackerman's approach to directing

Here’s one of those Friday Questions that not only became a whole post, but required a guest blogger to answer it.

Andy (not Ackerman) asked:

What is it like for someone (such as Andy Ackerman) to work on two shows simultaneously with such different approaches to comedy?

Andy directed FRASIER and SEINFELD simultaneously, among others.

For those who don’t know, Andy Ackerman is an Emmy winning director who directed 87 episodes of SEINFELD. He has also directed pretty much everything else. He directed the pilots of both ALMOST PERFECT and BIG WAVE DAVE’S, and directed every episode of BIG WAVE DAVE’S – all six of them.

Oh, and he was one of my mentors. I learned directing by watching him on WINGS.

Anyway, I reached out to Andy to see if he would answer the question and he graciously did. It’s a great answer and also tells you a lot about his personality and approach to life.  Here's his answer:

That's an interesting question from your reader. Here's a possible thought:

I've never really approached a given show as being that different, even though they are different. I suppose, for me, it would be akin to my approach as a parent. Meaning, I've four children, all with their own individual voices, sensibilities, tones, styles, personalities, etc. I may adjust to each one accordingly, when dealing with them one on one. But in the end, regardless of that individual child, I'm still the same parent/guide/coach/director. 

So, to very loosely use that analogy, I basically approach either given show the same way, because I am, well, me. In other words, I just jump in, be myself, and implement whatever contributions I can to help the script, actors, and final product be the best/ funniest it can hopefully be. Whether I'm a parent, or director, or just dealing with day to day life, I rely on my instincts. Frankly, your instincts can be your greatest tool.

It seems to have worked out. My kids are pretty funny.

Again, my thanks to Andy Ackerman. One day we’re going to reboot BIG WAVE DAVE’S and he’ll be my first call.


Peter said...

I guess the main difference is that with parenting you can't fix any problems in the editing.

Ba-dum tish! Thank you, I'm here all week.

Bill Avena said...

You're going to "reboot" a show? At your age? Make sure all the actors are ten times sexier and more pierced, tatted up and goateed, plus you'll need plenty of large spaces for Melty Cheese fast food commercials.

chuckcd said...

Friday Question:
Ken, have you seen the new Muppets show? I have seen the first 2 episodes,
and the second one was hilarious! Maybe I'm too low-brow, but I prefer it to
"Life In Pieces" any day!

Real jokes! To paraphrase Robin Williams, "What a concept!"

Glenn E said...

Great to see today’s spotlight go to Andy Ackerman. Anytime Andy’s name appeared on a Seinfeld or Fraiser episode, I could not help but remember the times his name was subliminally planted on my brain through the end credits of WKRP in Cincinnati, where he worked as editor. (Scholars are still trying to decipher those WKRP end credit lyrics, by the way). Its been a decades-long continuum of high quality so thank you Andy for taking the time to join the blog today.

Andrew said...

I'm the one who asked this question. Wow! A direct response from Andy Ackerman! Thanks so much, Ken. This is a real treat.

Sad thing is, in all my life, not much tops this...

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I know most people say otherwise, but I always prefered the Andy Ackerman years of SEINFELD as opposed to the Tom Cherones seasons. Don't get me wrong, there's a number of great episodes that Cherones directed, but I somehow liked the later seasons with Ackerman calling the shots much better - I guess because I didn't start watching SEINFELD during its first run till the end (I was a kid when SEINFELD was first on, so much of my TV consumption was exclusive to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network), so I think that's why I find earlier seasons to be a tad disorienting. That, and too, even though I know it's a multi-camera audience show, the later seasons had a lot more camera angles and locations than the earlier seasons that felt bottled up in minimal sets (and the audience was much more hyper early on, especially whenever Kramer entered the scene).

Tom said...

Thanks to Andy. As Ken said, it was gracious of him to take the time to comment on the question.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

in response to Mr. Scarborough:

The audience was more subdued in later Seinfeld in part, I think, because they were hardly ever there. in the last two seasons in particular, you can tell that canned laughter has taken over almost exclusively (a few episodes stand out for the noticeable presence of an actual audience, and it really brings the performances back to life). Some of the deleted scenes included on later DVDs are devoid of any laughter, because they never went to post-production, and it's really odd to see the actors break for where they assume big laughs will later be placed.

D. McEwan said...

Great post.

Diane D. said...

An elegantly simple answer, Mr. Ackerman, and how kind of you to share it with the readers of Ken Levine's blog. Here's hoping that BIG WAVE DAVE'S does get rebooted. I saw the pilot for the first time a few months ago (on Youtube, I think) and loved it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Anonymous I think you're right, now I do seem to recall the last two seasons being almost laugh track-only - that would certainly explain why the show had increasingly more camera angles, sets, and locations: all of that would be relatively impractical with a studio audience.

Peter Tolan said...

Andy is one of the great gentlemen of the television business. In fact - he may be THE one.

A lovely, funny man. His directing ability is icing on the cake.

Andy Rose said...

Actually, if you listen very carefully, there are some "bloopers" on the Seinfeld DVD that clearly didn't have an audience, but they went ahead and dubbed in laughter anyway. And a couple where they even redubbed a line or re-edited to make something about the blooper clearer. (In the Mike Douglas Show scene, the cast reaction shots to Michael Richards' antics are edited slightly out of sequence, and Kramer's belch was redubbed to make it more audible.) I get why they did it, but it still annoys me.