Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Questions

Let’s dive into some Friday Questions, shall we?

Marcus starts us off:

Did Crystal Bernard actually play the cello on Wings? If so, did she learn it for the show or know how to beforehand?

No, she didn’t play the cello. But she was a terrific singer and I think had some hit songs on the country charts. She also starred on Broadway in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at one time. Crystal is immensely talented but alas not a cellist.

B Smith wonders:

I was watching an episode of MASH last night (for the zillionth time) and as those two choppers came in during the opening titles, it occurred to me that there had never been an episode that actually featured two helicopters. Presumably the expense dictated just using one, but am I right?

We might have used some stock footage of two helicopters if there was a big triage, but we never landed two choppers on that chopper pad. Certainly the expense was a factor, but also if we had to land two helicopters we could use stock footage and cut to when they landed and establish through camera angles and different people on the choppers.

One other factor: When we went out to the ranch to film the exteriors we would get one day per episode. And we would shoot 8 ½ pages. Trust me, that’s an insane amount for one day. So the less complicated we could make things for everybody, the better. One helicopter more than sufficed on most occasions.

From Breadbaker:

I was watching Cheers, Season 1, Episode 7, Friends, Romans, Accountants, an episode written by you and David, of course. In the episode, the bar was filled with accountants as extras, nearly all of whom never said a word. At the end of the episode, when they're hoisting Norm for having told off the boss, the band is playing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", but no one is singing, which honestly feels unnatural. Was this because if the extras opened their mouths they'd be paid more and that would blow the budget? I imagine in Season One of Cheers, it was difficult enough to get that many extras into an episode, as the show was hardly a hit.

Here’s why: That wasn’t supposed to be the ending. Norm’s toga was supposed to catch on the door as they hoisted him out and it would remain as he went up the stairs supposedly naked. But we couldn’t get the trick to work. So what you saw and heard was a patched together ending. We added the band playing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in post production. There’s even a stock shot of Boston at night to kill a few seconds and button the scene.

Some things work, some things don’t.

That’s Baseball, Suzyn.

And finally, from Vincent Saia:

When (Robert Pirosh) and George Seaton were working on A DAY AT THE RACES they took the script out and performed it a theater in front of live audiences, as was A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (which Pirosh and Seaton wrote an early non-used draft for). Monty Python also did that with their sketches. Would you like to see that done for comedy movies and sitcoms?

Multi-camera sitcoms essentially do that, performing in front of a live studio audience.

Here’s the problem with movies: you want your movie to be visual, to take advantage of locations, and perhaps have scenes with large crowds. You can’t really recreate that in a theatre.

There often is a rehearsal period before a movie is shot, but that usually just involves the director and actors.

Monty Python primarily did sketches so it was easy to include them in their stage act. Unless your comedy is just a string of set pieces I don’t think a theatre audience would be of much help.

But what they do do in movies is test screenings – see what the audience thinks after they see the film. And often the film will be re-edited or even new scenes shot based on the audience feedback.

What’s your Friday Question? Please leave it in the comments section. Thanks.


Frank Beans said...

It also could have been a hilarious ending if instead of waking up the stairs, Norm tried to sneak back in to retrieve his toga--of course, drawing the attention of the entire bar.

[Bar patrons]: NORM!

[Diane, quizzically, looking directly at his ding-dong]: Norman?

Nah, he probably wouldn't have gone for it.

Dana King said...

And here I always thought it was because accountants were such introverts none of them would sing.

Curt Alliaume said...

On the other hand, Johnny Galecki really does play the cello on The Big Bang Theory.

Vincent Saia said...

Thanks for putting my question up, Ken.

Ron Rettig said...

I've read that Lucile Ball also took her "I Love Lucy"concept live before theater audiences in S F to test it and prove to CBS that it would fly and get CBS to put on the schedule.

blinky said...

Speaking of the helicopter on M*A*S*H... The ones that land in the opening look more like the model Chuck and PT had in the classic TV show Whirlybirds. Was that the actual type of chopper they used in Korea? Or was that the helicopter you could get.
In Vietnam they had totally different models as seen in Apocalypse Now.

E. Yarber said...

The MGM Marx Brothers stage shows were never intended to become a regular substitute for test screenings. The reason for them was that the team was considered finished in the business after DUCK SOUP, and had to prove to their new studio (and themselves) that they still had the ability to connect with an audience. It was an extraordinary step to take, but they had everything riding on A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and couldn't afford to take any chances.

ScarletNumber said...

Crystal's biggest solo hit was called "Don't Touch Me There", which reached 25 on the AC chart in 1999. He biggest C&W song was "Have We Forgotten What Love Is", which reached 56 in 1996. Either of these would have been more impressive if they came pre-Wings.

David said...

Hi Ken,

A Friday question.

What do you think the odds are that there'll be another writer's strike in the next year or two?


Patrick Wahl said...

Lots of questions about producer credits. Pick one or two, or just use this to generally explain what those credits mean. There are Executive Producers and Producers. Does either one rate higher than the other in the producer pecking order? How much involvement in a movie does a person need in order to get a Producer credit? How varied are producer duties? Pretty common to see an actor get a producer credit. Do they actually produce anything, or is that a condition of an actor making a movie? Or maybe just to gain some favor with a star and maybe get them involved in some project down the line?

VincentS said...

MAJOR crush on Crystal Bernard.

Mike Bloodworth said...

The SAG rules used to be that extras only got paid for dialog if they were specifically asked to say something and they sign a contract. If an extra volunteers a line they don't get paid. They also don't get paid if the vocals are part of a crowd scene. e.g. shouting at a protest, cheering at a sporting event or in the case of "Cheers" the whole bar singing. Although, the rules may have changed since then.

Marcus said...

Thanks for answering my question! In all honesty, I was expecting you to say yes. Ms. Bernard certainly did a fine job miming her cello playing.

Hambone said...

Ken, what are your thoughts on this?

therealshell said...

I have lived to a ripe old age, and "this" is probably my favourite pronoun.

John H said...

Speaking of the scene in "Friends, Romans, Accountants" where Norm is hoisted up, is it me or does he clearly say "What the f@#k?"

Anonymous said...

After A Night at The Opera, the Marx Bros performed/tested scenes on stage for
A Day at the Races; Room Service; Go West, and A Night in Casablanca

They were NOT considered finished after Duck Soup

Breadbaker said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken, and for providing the correct story.

The first two Marx Brothers films, The Cocoanuts and Animal Creackers, were film versions of their stage shows. After the next three for Paramount, which didn't attract as much box office (though of course now considered classics), they hooked up with Irving Thalberg at MGM, who suggested they do the stage shows to get the timing down for their next films in front of a live audience, much like they had for the first two films.

I don't believe Monty Python did this at all. They filmed their shows for the BBC and then did live versions as stage shows just because there was money to be made and they liked performing live.

E. Yarber said...

Hector Arce, GROUCHO Perigee 1979 Pg. 222:

"No matter what face-saving statements were made to the contrary, the Marx Brothers were generally conceded to be through in films... DUCK SOUP was a failure, the verdict of future students of film notwithstanding, and the new officers at Paramount weren't beating on the brothers' door with new offers."

Arce worked with Groucho in his latter years.

Stephen Kanfer, GROUCHO Knopf 2000, Pg. 183

"For Paramount, as for all studios, public opinion was the final arbiter, and it was negative. DUCK SOUP's fast start gave way to indifference and downright hostility; it had, in Variety's term, 'no legs." The manager of a Nebraska movie house filed a devastating report; "Evan a small toe knows when there is a flop. This was sure it."

Pg, 193, regarding the stage shows:

"A lot was riding on this film; if it failed it would surely be the Marxes' last."

Tends to suggest they were considered finished at the time of DUCK SOUP, and the films that followed A NIGHT AT THE OPERA were a result of OPERA rebooting their careers.

In fact, the link in the comment above that's supposed to refute that analysis only says that Paramount used the weak returns on DUCK SOUP as an excuse not to renew their contract. Guess it looks like a better argument if you don't check it.

And yes, they tested scenes from other movies in theaters after the initial run with OPERA... because after OPERA the brothers decided that improved their performances. My brief comment simply stated the reason for the original mini-tour, which Thalberg suggested after Groucho said he felt that THE COCONUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS were successful at the box office because the brothers had played the shows on Broadway before the films were made.

I think this is the last time I'm going to try to annotate a blog comment I spent two minutes writing.

Storm said...

I was all happy for a minute because I thought Crystal Bernard's song "Don't Touch Me There" was gonna be a cover of one of my favorite songs from The Tubes!

It... is not. Very much not.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

You said, "When we went out to the ranch to film the exteriors we would get one day per episode," which prompted a question....

Intellectually, I knew that M*A*S*H wasn't filmed entirely on the ranch, even though it often felt like the entire show was filmed on location. So I'm curious. Obviously, the mess tent and the Swamp scenes were filmed on the ranch, because you could clearly see the rest of the compound from those two locations. Were any other "interior" sets on the ranch, or were the rest -- CO's office, clerk's office, pre-op, post-op, OR, tent interiors that weren't the Swamp, kitchen, etc. -- all interiors?

Jen from Jersey said...

I have a question about Wings. After Season 2, was it decided to take the show in a different direction? It’s not so much about continuity, but it seems that characters’ backgrounds completely changed: Lloyd is married with kids. Roy is a widower. Helen’s sister is married with kids. Different theme song. Why such a shift?

Anonymous said...

A question about writing credits and pay. I know that when the credits read "Levine & Isaacs" (with an ampersand) that means you two split the money. But if it's "Levine & Isaacs and Smith" (A-N-D) that means you two as a team wrote some and Smith wrote some. Do you then split the money three ways? Do they pay more? Does the team get its full union scale AND Smith get the same? I.E. does it cost the company twice as much for that script?


Chris said...

Hi Ken

I have been reading back through old post as I am still fairly new to the blog.

Something that comes up from time to time. "Scoring". Eg You have said Lilith was meant to be a small guest role, but you lucked out. "She scored really well" and you made her a regular

Who is doing the scoring? Is it a questionaire the studio audience get? Or ring around poll?

Assuming it is the former, what sort of questions are in it and there must be other people doing it too (execs?), or is it literally the actors potential regular gig hanging on the mood of whoever happens to be in the audience on the filming day of that one off guest appearance?