Friday, March 02, 2018

Friday Questions

Who has some Friday Questions?

Tom Galloway does.

While there are actors who have prestige (Hanks, Streep, let's say Clooney, Mirren, etc.) it seems for the last few years it's the franchise or overall type of picture that opens, not any of the actors to any great degree. So, while for example you've got the Chrises as "stars" (Hemsworth, Pratt, Pike, etc.) I don't think any of them have done well with movies outside of particular franchises. And unlike Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, etc., I can't think of anyone who can open a comedy these days. 

Kevin Hart maybe if you go strictly by boxoffice performance. But comedy really took a bath last year. Deservedly so based on the material itself. Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Adam Sandler, Rebel Wilson barely made a dent. Who knew? Stars aren’t enough. Audiences want good writing.  Amy Schumer in a movie does not automatically make it funny.

Bob Gassel asks:

I notice MASH never did a flashback to events from before the series started (Hawkeye getting drafted, Klinger first putting on a dress, etc), was this ever discussed, or was it forbidden in the show playbook.

It was a creative choice not to leave Korea. So if we wanted to show scenes from home they were home movies shown in the camp.

Flashbacks were never discussed during my tenure. But there was an episode where relatives of the 4077 members got together for a party stateside. There was some discussion over whether we see any of it and ultimately we decided not to. Part of the feeling we wanted to convey was that these soldiers felt isolated and cut off from the real world. So if they couldn’t be there we didn’t want the audience to be there either.

Someone who calls herself Maris Crane wonders:

On the shows you have written for, are there any characters that you just instinctively got?

I’d have to say Klinger, Frasier, Martin Crane and don’t make fun of me but Diane Chambers.

And finally, from Tom:

Given the high turnover rates in the ranks of studio executives, what is the downside to re-submitting a script a couple of years later that a previous regime had said no to? A) Who would know? and B) Even if they did know, it's a new set of decision-making eyes, no?

Every script submitted to a studio is logged in. Then they all receive “coverage.” That’s a two-page report summarizing the plot, critiquing the writing, and making recommendations to either consider or reject the screenplay.

So to answer your first question, they would all know. New decision-makers rarely look back at past regimes. Either the script was originally rejected or if recommended the new regime generally thinks it must be shit because the old regime was shit.

What's your Friday Question?  Leave it in the comments section.  Thanks.


Stephen Robinson said...

Diane Chambers is an amazing character, played by an amazing actress. There are so many ways that CHEERS, during its initial run, is *her* show. We never know much about Sam Malone (was this intentional?) -- we don't see his family but we do see Diane's. And navigating the for-her "alien" world is something she does with dignity and almost always good humor. Her appearance on FRASIER never fails to crack me up.

Also, frankly, Carla was a jerk to Diane, who only ever tried to be her friend.

JW said...

For the first question, is the second paragraph your answer? It's all in blue.

E. Yarber said...

Executives themselves rarely read manuscripts without someone with more time on their hands going through the work to save them having to wade through obviously unfilmable material. It's true that sometimes people would try to resubmit scripts to the same companies hoping for a more sympathetic result.

When I was reading scripts (AKA When Dinosaurs Walked the Earth), the story department not only kept all coverage on file but made sure to assign any "revised" submissions to the same person who read them before. In the case of a second try, I'd refer to my previous notes and see if the writer had honestly tried to improve his or her work. Nearly every time, I'd report that they'd made only cosmetic changes, such as shifting the position of one or two scenes in the middle of the story. The script itself was still substandard.

One thing to keep in mind is that every time you submit something to a studio or agency, you're asking people to spend serious time considering the work. I always kept in mind that someone had perhaps spent a few months of effort on the pages I was judging and never took my responsibility to be fair to the writer lightly. At the same time, I wanted people to show similar respect to those of us reading them. I could be reading a project that actually had potential instead of rehashing something that already hadn't made the grade.

This wasn't a game where you fished around hoping for someone to be more indulgent than the previous reader. There's an attitude of "I won the lottery!" about breaking into writing that suggests that sales are made more through luck than effort. Unfortunately, the audience is not going to put up with careless storytelling just because you want a career. People are hired for analysis jobs because they've proven that they understand the level of quality needed to sustain a project costing millions of dollars and requiring many people to spend months making an actual film of it.

If you're going to resubmit a script, look at the notes it got. Try to address the problems that a professional saw in it. Use the dismissal as a chance to learn your craft more. My own first scripts were as terrible as any beginner's, but I set them aside and tried something different each time until I started getting the response I wanted. Only then did the money people start seeing my stuff.

cd1515 said...

Diane was also my favorite character. Show wasn’t nearly the same without her.

leemats said...

Ken, I think Tom's question is missing.

Y. Knott said...

The first question is just formatted incorrectly. The second paragraph is Ken's answer -- read it as if it were in black text, not blue text.

Christopher Lansdown said...

Regarding: "New decision-makers rarely look back at past regimes. Either the script was originally rejected or if recommended the new regime generally thinks it must be shit because the old regime was shit."

If they thought that the old regime was shit, wouldn't they look at older scripts on the theory that the old regime couldn't tell a good movie from a dead gopher?

And could one get at least new coverage with a change in title, so that the old script wouldn't match the logs?

E. Yarber said...

Thinking about the script coverage issue reminded me of a story from those days. Hopefully it'll put the matter in perspective.

Critiquing scripts was usually an academic matter for me. I was paid the same to be positive or negative, though my honesty and sense of quality gave me the credibility to keep getting work. One day, though, an agency accidentally sent me a script by someone I knew. He was a nice guy who had done me a favor or two, but he wasn't a writer.

I didn't want to be the one to drop the axe on his screenplay, so I called the story department at once and said I had a conflict of interest where this project was concerned. "The agent wants coverage tomorrow," the assistant told me. "Do the best you can."

So I threw a softball. I said there was some potential to the premise, but the author hadn't exploited it as much as necessary. Even this lukewarm dismissal wasn't enough. Twenty-four hours later, the agent's assistant phoned me. "Did you REALLY like that script so much?" he asked. "We thought it was total crap." I explained the situation and everyone agreed I was much too kind to work in Hollywood.

The lesson is that if your work falls at the first hurdle, it's not like it had much chance of getting past the second, or third, or all the offices it would have to pass through. And as the answer to the first question makes clear, even if weak writing gets to the screen, audiences will still give it a pass even if the studio system doesn't.

Cap'n Bob said...

The problem with the first question, and what makes it confusing to some, is that it isn't a question, it's a statement.

Tom Galloway said...

For whatever reason, Ken left off the initial question part of my question, which was "Do movie stars exist any more? At least in the William Goldman definition of someone who can open a movie? The only one I can think of these days would be Tom Cruise in an action-adventure movie and even then he seems limited to franchises."

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Great reply E Yarber

Chris said...

Friday Question:

Was rewatching Bosch in anticipating the release of the latest season and noticed that at some point Titus Welliver becomes a producer. Know that this is not unrare for a star to become a producer as an inducement to stay on the series.

My question is, does this ever happen to a writer?

Alvaro Leos said...

Tom, my answer is "no". And as I've heard it explained, it's because we look at acting in a different way. Back in the day, the iconic actors (John Wayne, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, etc.) all played variations on the same character. So when you went to see a John Wayne movie, no matter what he played, it was still recognizably John Wayne. In the past several decades, actors have considered it lazy to do that--great actors are supposed to "lose themselves in the character". Great for acting coaches, but for the average viewer it means having a favorite actor in a movie means you have no real idea whether or not you'll enjoy the character. So a given actor can't really open a movie today.

Craig Gustafson said...

I'm not sure if this is a Friday question, or just wondering if it's something with which you'd agree. I made a point this year of watching all the Oscar® nominated live action & animated shorts. The only comedic live action short was the Australian "The Eleven O'Clock," a Monty Python-wannabe sketch about a psychiatrist seeing a patient who thinks he's a psychiatrist. It's pretty well done, but irked the hell out of me because it's a sketch about logic which ignores logic. The entire thing could be stopped in the first minute by examining the real doctor's diplomas and the photos on his desk (which is done as a denouement.) The only reason it isn't done is because an Academy Award® nominated film needs to be longer than a minute and a half.

McAlvie said...

Bob Gassel asks:

I notice MASH never did a flashback to events from before the series started (Hawkeye getting drafted, Klinger first putting on a dress, etc), was this ever discussed, or was it forbidden in the show playbook.

I always thought it would have been interesting to have seen Hawkeye's reaction when he first arrived. When you become invested in characters, you can't help but wonder what they were like before. But I think BJ's arrival did a good job of giving us that perspective.

Lisa said...

Ken, how much is a partner with a "created by" credit from a decade ago (one season, 13 episodes, hasn't worked since) worth to a writer with no credits? Is the benefit of having that name/credit attached worth the frustration if the experienced partner does little to no work, is uncreative/unfunny, and has totally different tastes than you?