Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday Questions

First off, birthday wishes to my partner, David Isaacs. I won’t say how old he is but we were 9 when we were writing MASH so do the math. Now on to this week’s Friday Questions.

Sandra starts us off.

I was reading one of your Friday questions on MASH movie.

You said "we always had great respect for the movie". Did you like the script of Ring Lardner Jr.?

It is said that the poor guy was cheated out of proper praise, since Altman went around saying that he re-wrote the script and took all the praise - which seems to happen all the time in Hollywood.

And also in the same answer you have said that Richard Hooker earned just peanuts. Was he compensated later for the successful TV show, or just stiffed as usual by Hollywood.

I did mean the screenplay for the original movie. Altman gave it a more naturalistic tone, allowing dialogue to overlap, some ad libbing, etc. But it was there in Ring Lardner Jr.’s script.

Richard Hooker (a pseudonym) sold away his rights to MASH, including TV rights. Remember, at the time his book was not selling well so for a major studio to offer to buy it and turn it into a major motion picture, I’m sure Hooker was happy to make the deal and take the money. Little did he (or anyone) know that a TV series would stem from the movie and that it would be a giant cash cow. Thus he was very bitter and understandably did not want to participate in the series in any way.

Robert Altman was not thrilled with the series either I understand but eventually came around. Robert was also not too happy that his son made way more than him on MASH because he wrote the stupid lyrics to the MASH theme. 

Brian asks:

When I was watching reminiscences about the Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie said that when she saw the script, she had a great guy for the Buddy Sorrell part, which was Morey Amsterdam. Keeping in mind that there are many levels of approval and the writers have their own ideas about who they want when the script is written, do you have any stories of actors recommending someone that may or may not have been your choice, but ended up getting the part?

It hasn’t happened to me very often in television but it happens a lot in the theatre. Especially when there’s no budget for a casting director. I have to rely on relationships I have with certain actors, and I will frequently ask them to recommend people. And for the most part that has paid dividends. I’ve cast a number of these recommendations and they turned out to be sensational.

That said, I’ve become my own casting director. I will go to one-act festivals or local productions and keep track of which actors I thought were great. Then I keep them and their contact info in a file for further use. I’ve hired quite a few actors this way.

Mike Bloodworth queries:

I'm fairly sure that you don't write on a typewriter. But, I'm curious as to whether you use some of the other modern conveniences. For example, do you use "Final Draft" or similar script writing software? Do you have "Grammarly" on your computer? Etc. Are they essentially requirements these days? As someone who still composes in longhand on a legal pad I'd like to know.

I use FINAL DRAFT. It’s pretty much become the industry standard. I used to use MOVIE MAGIC, which was similar and I actually liked better, but FINAL DRAFT has improved and like I said, that’s what everyone uses.

One thing I like about FINAL DRAFT is their tech support has been great. At least for me.

But all of these script writing programs are amazing when compared to typing and always shifting the tabs then needing white out to erase things and “A” pages if you wanted to add to a scene but not have to rewrite the entire scene.

And finally, slgc asks:

Do you ever listen to the current broadcasters of baseball teams whose games you used to call?

I love Ted Leitner of the Padres, but otherwise no. It’s not like I’m boycotting them, I just have other announcing teams I like better.

What’s your Friday Question? And again, happy birthday, Dave.


Sandra said...

Wow!!! my question has been answered. Thanks Ken.

bmfc1 said...

Did you know that a line in MASH inspired a current country hit by Midland called "Drinkin' Problem"?

I don't recognize the episode with that line.

Sandra said...

In many books and articles about Hollywood, one man who is hated a lot is Robert Altman. He was nasty to people. He is said to have cultivated the noted critic Pauline Kael by inviting her to the set, giving her a chair and allowing her to hang out at his office. And it was mainly due to her praise and subsequently her followers praise, that he got rave reviews for his movies.

One instance told in Peter Biskind's book was that he saw Louise Fletcher sign language talk with her deaf parents and used that for some movie. Louise initially thought that she would be cast but then Altman didn't. Then they fell out. Later when Louise was giving her Oscar speech in sign language after winning for "One flew over the Cuckoo's nest", Altman was mocking her signs from the audience.

Reading how he was over rated due to being cosy with Pauline and stealing others ideas, it wouldn't surprise if he had gone around trying to take credit from the writer.

Wouldn't be the first time a director has done that to a writer in Hollywood ......

Andrew said...

Off-topic, but there's a great interview with Jerry Seinfeld in the NYT today.

Janet Ybarra said...

It's interesting since we've been talking reboots, remakes, and revivals, that although the term didn't exist at the time, you could have called the MASH series a reboot from the movie.

That's particularly so since from Day One the series--even as a straight comedy--I think had more to say than the film ever did.

Now, I like the movie on its own merits, but when you consider the end result is a football game, there wasn't much there. It was a simple entertainment.

The series, however, was truly a work of art.

And it's funny to say that, in this case, the "reboot" outdid the original.

Covarr said...

Most modern scriptwriting software these days is pretty good. I'm a big fan of WriterDuet for its unparalleled real-time collaboration features, but it's hard to go wrong with almost anything even remotely mainstream currently on the market.

Except for Celtx, which is only really a good choice if you want your page counts to come out wrong.

Rays profile said...

You looked at LOCAL productions? Having done some, I now have retro stage fright.

kitano0 said...

Altman has to be one of the most over-rated directors, ever. Most of his work is unwatchable, in my opinion. He sure did get a lot of mileage from the "over-lapping" dialogue technique used years before by other truly great directors like Howard Hawks.

Janet Ybarra said...

Ken, have you gotten a chance to see Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer as an announcing team for the Orioles? If so, what do you think?

Michael said...

Interesting article about how the proliferation of streaming services has led to elimination of Hollywood middle class, with most of the money being spent by them flowing to established stars and showrunners and how little a lot of the working actors and writers are now getting paid compared to than in the past.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Glad to see there are other heretics here who don't like Altman. I did enjoy the atypical GOSFORD PARK, but that cast didn't need much directing.

I understand "Richard Hooker" is/was a doctor who served in Korea and wrote from experience. I recently saw a movie from the 1950s called BATTLE CIRCUS, with Humphrey Bogart as a surgeon in a MASH unit and June Allyson as the nurse he pursues -- today it would probably be called a comedy-drama. It seems uncomfortably close to MASH. Any opinions?

Mike said...

Who else but you are the best for Oscar talk, so here goes....

2 new producers are gonna "produce" the Oscars. You think its gonna make a difference?

Also any thoughts on the host? Jimmy may not return they say, since "they" believe he is too political.

Peter said...

When I watched Altman's The Player, there was one scene that seemed to be a dig at Martin Scorsese for having made Cape Fear, the implication being that he'd made a commercial film. It came off as rather smug. It was a good film otherwise, but I didn't like that Altman appeared to be ridiculing an infinitely superior director and peer.

Ironically, some years later, Altman directed The Gingerbread Man, a thriller based on a manuscript by John Grisham, and it was dismissed by critics as "junk" and a mediocre genre film.

Ted said...

Don't know if you saw this

E. Yarber said...

Thinking about the Richard Hooker situation reminded me of a similar case involving the crime writer David Goodis. Goodis sued United Artists Television on the grounds that THE FUGITIVE was derived from DARK PASSAGE, a novel about an escaped convict trying to clear himself. The story had been previously been filmed by Warner Brothers as a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

The Court found for UA on two counts: That Goodis's contract with WB ceded his future rights to spin-offs and sequels (just as Hooker's did); and he'd failed to secure a personal copyright on the story when it was serialized in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. The judgement turned out to be a key precedent in intellectual property cases that followed. Unfortunately the thing took so long to decide that Goodis was dead and THE FUGITIVE off the air by the time the conflict was resolved.

Brendan said...

I saw this article recently on Fast Comany and thought of things you have covered in this blog about writing:

What are you thoughts on their assessment that the so called “New Golden Age” of television is actually making things worse for television writers?

Jeff said...

NYT obituary of H. Richard Hornberger (real name of Richard Hooker).

Ted said...

Last month there was a post where you said that you liked Hannah Gadsby. You recommended it to us.

And some time ago, years ago.... you asked us to listen to Louis C.K. talk about voting against Trump.

I was just going thru her tweets and found this

What bad times Louis C.K has fallen, that he is being ridiculed along with Trump by Hannah.

I don't know just... just wanted to share this with you......

Mike Doran said...

Robert Altman had two reputations:
(1) Actor's Lamb.
(2) Critic's Pet.

Here in Chicago, Roger Ebert always went on autopilot whenever a new Altman film came out.
In turn, Altman always gave Roger all the time and space he needed for a guaranteed positive writeup.

One of Altman's pre-fame movies was Countdown, made for William Conrad's B-unit at Warners.
In a recently published biography of Bill Conrad, it is revealed that Altman was fired from Countdown for battling Jack Warner over changes in the script; Conrad had to film the ending himself.
Years later, at an Altman retrospective, Roger Ebert showed Countdown as an example of how studio hacks like Bill Conrad had held his hero back in that phase of his career.
Ebert then went on to praise Altman's "touches" in Countdown's ending - which were in fact Bill Conrad's work (but Roger didn't know - or care).
Take your own lesson from that …


"Richard Hooker", who was Dr. H. Richard Hornberger, made his own separate deal for a series of original paperbacks using his MASH characters; Pocket Books put out an even dozen of these during the '70s.
They are not well thought of …

Dhruv said...

I just read that article which some readers have posted. It seems unfair that writers are making less than before, whereas the showrunners and these so called "big talents" like J. J. Abrams and Damien Chazelle are paid millions.

I hate the fact that still the content creators - the writers - are short changed and others like these producers with "awards" are paid big.

One thought that this new platform will help writers get good money, but no.

Just finished Joe Eszterhas' book where he repeats a hundred times that writers who create the stuff for others to work on, are the worst paid people in Hollywood.

Nothing has changed.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Thank you, Ken. As for Altman, based on the interviews on the M*A*S*H DVD, he didn't rewrite the script as such. He used the script as an outline, encouraging his actors to improvise much of their dialogue. That's one of the reasons Ring Lardner has said he didn't recognize his screenplay. Ironically, in the movie the only actor actually trained in improv was Roger Bowen. He was part of the very FIRST Second City cast as well as the Compass before that. I've previously ranted about non-improvisers improvising, so I won't rehash it here. In all of Altman's movies the "written by" credit is always kind of amorphous.

P.S. Get it together DODGERS! 0-2?! Not good. Let's get a win tonight.

Myles said...

WriterDuet is definitely superior, more stable, and less-buggy than the "industry standard FD." I wouldn't be surprised if it became the industry standard one day. It comes at a better price, is way better to collab on which is what TV writing is all about, is more convenient, has tons of nice features and you don't have to buy a new version every year. I strongly encourage everyone to try it for free and then buy the pro version if you like it. Well worth it.

Myles said...

This article is such a great (and sad) read. Would love to see your thoughts on it Ken.

Kirk said...

I've read before that Altman didn't like the TV version of MASH, but never that he "eventually came around". Does that mean he ended up liking the show? If so, I'm curious what changed his mind.

71dude said...

FQ: Did you meet the late great James Karen when he guested on CHEERS?

VP81955 said...

I'm a WriterDuet guy, too. Used to work with Final Draft, but when I fell on hard times, the only computer I possessed was/is a Chromebook laptop -- and FD is incompatible with Chrome. WD scripts can be converted to FD, but apparently any difference is imperceptible. Never heard any complaints from people who have read my pair of romantic comedy feature scripts. WriterDuet's basic version is free, but I've since upgraded to the Pro version.

Janet Ybarra said...

Since we're talking about the origins of MASH, I thought I would post this, a remembrance from a real surgeon in Korea:

DyHrdMET said...

A few weeks ago, you mentioned that for shows taped in front of a live studio audience, sometimes scenes are shot without the audience and I believe you said they're shown to the them for audience reaction. Is the audience told about it ahead of time? For example, if there are a few quick flashbacks or cutaways that are pre-taped, is the audience told "the actors are going to pause mid-scene so you need to look up at the monitors for a little bit, then the actors on stage will resume" (or something similar)? And are they ever upset that they're not getting to see every single second of the show performed in front of them?

Francis Dollarhyde said...

I'm not joining in on the Robert Altman pile-on here. There's anecdotal evidence the man could be an asshole, but he was also the most consistently brilliant film director of the 1970s. MASH, BREWSTER McCLOUD, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THE LONG GOODBYE, THIEVES LIKE US, CALIFORNIA SPLIT, NASHVILLE, and 3 WOMEN are straight-up masterpieces (and IMAGES is not bad). In under a decade that's a staggering run. I'll grant that Altman's post-1977 filmography is very spotty (like Coppola, Friedkin, Bogdanovich, and Hal Ashby, Altman peaked in the 70s), but every once and a while he made something top-shelf (STREAMERS, SECRET HONOR, THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS). And if Altman *did* take a dig at Scorsese in THE PLAYER, I don't think it was necessarily malicious - Altman and Scorsese were friends (Scorsese contributed to some Altman biographies and oral histories). And while I get that Altman is an acquired taste, I don't think it's necessarily "heretical" to criticize him, because it's not like every prominent film critic loved him. (Ebert and Pauline Kael did, but Richard Schickel didn't).

VP81955 said...

I attended a season 2 filming of a "Mom" episode at Warners -- the ep just after Alvin (Kevin Pollak), who got Bonnie pregnant with Christy before abandoning them, returning to their lives and rekindling his affair with Bonnie, had died of a heart attack while in bed with her. That episode -- which had yet to air -- was shown to us before the current ep began. (BTW, no one associated with the series told us not to divulge the "spoilers," though I didn't out of respect to my fellow "Mom" fans.) For the non-live scenes, they were shown to us without announcement -- such scenes include those with juveniles (for state child-labor laws) or those that can't be replicated on a set (the episode closed with Bonnie dreaming she and Alvin re-created the famed beach lovemaking scene in "From Here To Eternity").

I've personally never been upset about such things; this is a TV episode, after all, not a stage play.

VP81955 said...

Sorry that Ebert maligned the considerable talent of arguably our greatest radio actor. (And with apologies to James Arness, William Conrad was the definitive Marshal Dillon.)

Mark Levine (no relation) said...

I'd heard that Neil Simon was similarly screwed out of the money for the Odd Couple series after he sold the movie rights -- did you know if that's true?

Mike Doran said...

The Odd Couple story goes like so:
In '66, when Odd Couple became a hot property on B'way, Neil Simon's then-agent was convinced that movies based on plays had a short shelf life - therefore get what you could while you could, meaning the movie payday.
Conventional wisdumb held that Odd Couple had few long-term prospects - it seemed an unlikely prospect for a series, and home video did not yet exist (at least in the foreseeable future).
Mr. Then-Agent sold Neil Simon on making the quick killing on Odd Couple - and then all at once the whole economy changed.
Not the first time that "Experts" outsmarted themselves - nor the last.

Waiting for your World's Serious comments (assuming someone doesn't beat me to my long-in-reserve line about That Man In The White House).

Teri McG said...

Lordy I'm old. I remember picking up side cash in the late '70's/early 80's by typing scripts for aspiring writers on an actual typewriter - putting them in format and working from typed and hand-written taped-together scraps. I may be wrong, but I think the going rate was maybe fifty cents per finished page. It kept me in pot pies and ramen.

(tab tab tab carriage return carriage return tab tab tab tab)

Johnny Walker said...

The story around MASH’s script credit is usually told the other way around: It was Lardner who complained that Altman had disregarded his carefully crafted script, but when the Oscar nomination came along he changed his tune and, when he won, decided Altman had filmed it after all. Aside from Altman hiding microphones everywhere and encouraging the actors to improvise, I think he also cut the sentimental scenes out of the script (that were in the original book), which vastly improved the whole story.

I’m a big Altman fan (sorry), and I don’t buy for a second that legends like Kael and Ebert were “bought”, or otherwise influenced by Altman being nice to them. What an insult to their legacy. (And talk about trying to shoe-horn events to fit a narrative.)