Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Questions

Here are some Friday questions as we roll into December.

sophomorecritic starts us off:

You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it. How many steps were you away in training and experience from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were substituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?

Are you kidding? Have you ever seen one of my CONRAD BLOOMS?? Those guys are HACKS!!

But seriously, no. They are all extraordinary directors. I couldn't hold Scorsese's viewfinder.

I will say this, though, from a technical standpoint: Although I have shot single-camera scenes, most of the time I direct multi-camera shows. It's quite tricky camera blocking four cameras all moving at once to capture all the action, all the angles, reactions, masters, and sizes, not to mention having cameras move in anticipation of characters entering the scene. And sometimes you have large scenes. Five or six actors, lots of movement, and only four cameras to cover it all on the fly. It can be very complicated and daunting.

Seasoned veterans in both forms seem to agree a multi-camera director can be taught how to direct single-camera in about a half hour. On the other hand, single camera directors sometimes need months to get the hang of multi-camera. So if Scorsese wanted to do a CONRAD BLOOM I still could whip his sorry ass.

From Matt:

Several of the MASH scripts in my collection contain the Call Sheet and Shooting Schedules. On the shooting schedule, I've noticed under "Cast. & Atmos." an item called "Mini Mash"

Is this a reference to the Stage 9 set?

Yes. We had the entire camp set up on that stage. Once Daylight Savings ended we stopped filming at the Malibu ranch. There was just not enough daylight to accomplish all the scenes we needed to film. In the summer we had 6 AM to 8:15 PM. But in the winter our window was 7 AM to 4:30 PM.

So if exteriors still were needed we shot them on Stage 9. Did it look great? No. Maybe one notch above the Brady Bunch backyard.

Night scenes looked better. Dark is dark.

In planning the season, we held back the episodes that did not require much outdoor shooting and moved forward the ones that did. And that made plotting out the season that much tougher. We might break a great story but have to sit on it while scrambling last second to get the script ready that was going into production the next day.

And finally, from Michael:

Is there a strong correlation between the episodes you wrote that you feel are your strongest and the ones that were nominated for Emmys?

Not necessarily. I do think the scripts that were nominated deserved to be, but there were others that I felt were as good or better that didn’t get any real recognition.

Of all the CHEERS we wrote I feel our best was called “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. That was the Frasier bachelor party episode (“Everybody have fun tonight… everybody Wang Chung tonight.”). I’m especially proud of that one because we worked off no outline. As an experiment we wanted to just riff and see where it took us. We knew the broad steps but nothing else. I think it came out great.

There’s a TONY RANDALL SHOW we wrote where Tony runs for office against the old incumbent. During the campaign Tony’s opponent dies and still beats him. It was a very funny show.  And ironically, this exact scenario took place in California during the last election. 

The best FRASIER we ever wrote – “Room Service” (Niles sleeps with Lilith) – never got nominated for anything. There were also a few episodes of ALMOST PERFECT that David and I wrote with Robin Schiff that I felt were nomination worthy.

But generally, unless you write for what we like to call a “tuxedo show”, your chances of getting a nod are slim. That is why we thought our agent was kidding when she said we had been nominated for a WGA award for one of our OPEN ALL NIGHT’S. By the time of the ceremony the show had been cancelled and the production company disbanded. We had to buy our own tickets and find someplace to sit. No, we didn’t win. The Guild wasn’t that crazy.

But I will say this, all the drafts we submitted, whether they were rewarded or not, were at least 90% ours. Lots of shows room-write and just assign credits. Others rewrite scripts extensively and keep the original writer’s name on it even though there’s nothing left of his work. There have been times in our career when teleplays we wrote were rewritten and sometimes even made better. But we never submitted those. So I’m proud to say that the awards we lost, we lost because of us.

What is your Friday Question?


Michael said...

Friday question: When turning in first drafts of scripts, how concerned are you about whether they are too long or too short, time-wise? I assume too long is less of a concern, but do you ever turn in scripts knowing they are too short?

AAllen said...

Martin Scorsese did direct The Last Waltz, so he's done multi-camera before.

Unknown said...

"Room Service" is one of my favorite Frasier episodes. Has a "His Girl Friday" feel. John Ducey as the waiter did a great job with a minor role basically saying one word each time he enters the room. His role could easily have been overplayed or underplayed but he did a nice job with a veteran cast.

David said...

Hi Ken

A Friday question.

The Simpsons has just hit 600 episodes, has been renewed through season 30, and the 13 day fxx marathon is ongoing. So what is your current opinion of The Simpsons? It's endurance? The popular opinion of its drop in quality? The movie? And any other thoughts you may have on the unstoppable juggernaut you once worked on? Given the opportunity would you ever go back and write another episode?

Thanks in advance.


Eric said...

Thank you for finally giving Conrad Bloom its due.

Peter said...

I don't know if it's been reported in the States but today here in the UK we had the sad news about the death of the much loved actor Andrew Sachs, who earned a special place in sitcom history with his legendary performance as hapless waiter Manuel in Fawlty Towers. He was 86. Rest in peace. Or as Manuel would say: Que?!

Anonymous said...

Have Mercy! Just heard Phil Spector's "Winter Wonder Land" over the speakers at COSTCO. Somebodys playing it. By the way, is BMI still around?

Gwendolyn said...

Room Service has always been my favorite Frasier episode. Whenever I need a quick pick me up I watch Room Service.
When Niles says "Ditto" I still laugh out loud.

Andy Rose said...

Speaking of directing styles, this week I've been going back and rewatching the first season of Cheers, which I hadn't seen since it first aired. The later episodes (like most shows directed by Jimmy Burrows) had fairly straightforward camera blocking. But these earliest episodes are much more complicated -- lots of dolly shots, zooms and low angles. Is there any particular reason why Burrows started out more cinematic and then simplified?

Jeff Maxwell said...

My wife had three surgeries. After each one, she'd call Room Service for laughs.

If there was a popular vote, and it meant anything, "Room Service" would be a winner.

Anonymous said...

My favorite line from "Room Service"--"You're eating in...the Bathroooom?"

"All the Girls I've Loved Before"--Frasier to the now fully clothed stripper "I hope you know this isn't going to help matters between you and your father."

Good stuff.


Brian said...

Friday Question: You mentioned that your scripts were 90% yours, as opposed to being room-written. What was some of the better "10% material" added to Levine and Isaacs scripts?

slgc said...

Friday Question - You've previously written about how difficult it is to write a series finale. Giving it some thought, off the top of my head the only really great series finale that I can think of was Suzanne Pleshette's appearane in Newhart's finale.

What are your favoirte Series Finales?