Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday Questions

Let’s dive into some FQ’s, shall we?

Charles Jurries has one about having to throw out your whole script and begin again.

With time and practice, does it get easier to do a Page 1 rewrite, or does it hurt the same every time?

Well, it never gets easier. It always hurts.


If I throw out a script because I know what’s wrong and now have the fix, it can also be energizing. And in those cases, the writing goes way smoother than the original draft.

Chances are if you have to throw out a whole script you were struggling with it from the get-go. Something wasn’t right. You were always fighting the story. There was always some virus in there you couldn’t eradicate. Rarely are you surprised when ultimately you have to start again.

But if I might make a suggestion – before you dive back in, step away from the project for awhile. You’re probably too close to it. Put it in a drawer (if you have that luxury) and let it breathe for awhile. You’ll get a new perspective when you tackle it later on.

Mike Doran wonders:

I've read that members of the Writers Guild can register a pseudonym, which they can place on a screenplay in lieu of their own names, when they wish to decline credit for a bomb, but still keep any payments (past or future) due them for the project.

When Mannequin II was made, were either you or Mr. Isaacs made aware of this option (if applicable); and if so, would you have taken that route?

No, we never considered it. Honestly, we thought that no one would see it anyway and to take pseudonyms is a real slap in the face to the creative team. Most of them were lovely people and they did pay us well. We saw no reason to insult them.

We’ve never used pseudonyms.

Larry Gelbart did once. For the movie ROUGH CUT, the writer is listed as “Francis Burns.” (That’s Frank Burns for you MASH fans.)

From CD:

Do you think the presence of cell phones today makes it harder for writers to come up with weird scenarios for their characters to be confused in?

Do you wish you had cell phones around when you were writing Cheers, MASH and other shows like it?

Here’s the downside. No longer can you get plots from characters unable to reach other characters or call for help. How many misunderstanding movie and sitcom plots have their been when one character gets hung up and doesn’t show up for something and the person he’s supposed to meet mistakes that for a snub and is pissed and thus goes off and does something he otherwise wouldn’t do, which leads to complications?

Another oft employed plot point. Someone calls for somebody who isn’t there. The person taking the call takes the message. Then he either doesn’t give it to the intended person or gives it wrong, thus leading to complications.

You look at the movie 1917 where someone has to get a message to the front lines or the whole troop will be wiped out. So he goes through a harrowing journey to complete his mission. Today you call and leave a text. So in 2020 that movie would be over in 1917 seconds.

On the other hand, cellphones solve the common problem of “How does this character learn this information we need him to learn?” Now, wherever he is, he can be briefed. So unless that kills a whole movie, it eliminates a lot of hoops.

MASH and CHEERS were of a time and place.  I wouldn't want to go back and rework stories to accommodate modern technology.  

And finally, from YEKIMI:

Has your daughter/son-in-law come to you yet with a script that she wants your opinion/help on? Or do you tell her/him/them to work it out between them? And if you do help them out, do you charge them a "consulting fee" or would she cut you off from the grandkids?

When Annie & Jon were writing spec scripts trying to break in I would give them notes the same way I gave my students notes when I was teaching at UCLA and USC. Mostly they were story notes. I never pitched a joke. Everything in the script had to be theirs because if someone hired them they would expect the same level of work.

Once they broke in and started working on shows (which I believe is eight years now), I never read their scripts. They deal with their showrunners and the demands of whatever show they’re on, and I stay as far away as possible.

And no, I never charged them. If I did I was afraid they’d find someone who offered a better price.

What’s your Friday Question?


Jim Briggs said...

I get annoyed watching scenes where one character shows up at another's home/work/wherever to talk about something that in real life would be taken care of by a quick phone call. Is there some other way around it that could be used as well?

Mike Doran said...

Thanx for your answer to the pseudonym question.

Ever since I learned about the provenance of 'Cordwainer Bird' (aka Harlan Ellison), the subject of TV aliases has fascinated me.

In the case of film/TV, the reason always seems to be to serve as a red flag, so friends will know that the cheesy elements of the production weren't the writer's doing.

I read in Peter Fischer's memoir that when a couple of Columbo episodes turned out less than well, 'Lawrence Vail' got the credit.

Going back even farther, when Richard Levinson and William Link lost control of their first Ellery Queen pilot (the one that ended up starring Peter Lawford), they tagged it as by 'Ted Leighton'.

I'm sure others of your readers can come up with samples of their own.
(Who knows, there might be a book in it …)

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for answering my question.

Mike Doran said...

Pardon the digression, for a possible future Friday Question:

The next time that we need to discuss Trumph The Insult Comic President*tm*, could we get a heads-up?
His Nibs's latest Declaration of Political Incontinence is all over the media just now, and it's not helping my acid reflux one bit.

Also, there's a Bigger Picture to consider - several, as a matter of fact; details on request.

But that's up to you, Ken, and if you want to spike it all here and now, no one can blame you.

But I humbly ask your consideration for the future.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

If story characters from the past had cell phones...

Yesterday, I was listening to the OFFICE LADIES podcast (about "The Office") and they were discussing an episode where all of the characters were stuck outside of the Office's building (Fire alarm went off). In order to kill time they interacted with each other by playing a game of "Who'd you do?" and "Desert Island Movies"
BUT, they noted that had the same situation have arisen on a show today, the characters instead would be all on their separate phones with no interaction.

Think about how some other shows / movies would've played out if the characters had today's smart phones.

Ferris Bueller - His Mom would have Life360 on his phone and would be able to track him to Wrigley Field. (though maybe Ferris would've left his phone at home ... he's too smart)

George Costanza wouldn't need to wait to get to a pay phone so often to get in touch with his girlfriend or Jerry, and Kramer wouldn't always get answering Jerry's line.

No one would ever just stop by to say Sheriff Andy to complain about Deputy Barney. Just a text message would suffice.

The WJM News desk wouldn't wait for Murray to write up the news. They'd just read it on Facebook or Twitter.

On the plus sides, Roseanne, Sanford&Son, Good Times, Petticoat Junction would never change...They were too poor to get a good cell plan. They wouldn't be on unlimited minutes.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Just yesterday on the Podcast THE OFFICE LADIES about The Office TV show, they discussed an episode where all the character were stuck outside of the building waiting for a fire to be put out.
In the meantime they all interact with each other by playing games such as "Desert Island movies" and "Who'd you do?"

They then said, if the show was written now, all the characters would be on their own cell phones, never speaking to each other.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

In regards to the first question, I recently had accidentally deleted a spec I was writing from my computer without even realizing, and I was unable to recover it: no file recovering software could detect it (yet, ironically, it kept finding my script for my experimental film from 2015, which I deleted from my hard drive years ago), and evidently it had been a while since I deleted, as I had cleaned up a bunch of old System Restore points that did not go back far enough to find a previous version of it.

I hadn't had that much already-written, but I wrote enough to feel like this may have been a total loss . . . but, with a little luck (and maybe a little help from above), I not only was able to remember what I had already written to start over, but everything else I had yet to write came pouring out of my brain faster than I could type it. Now, it's finally completed, and I'm ready to figure out how to get it submitted, since different producers/studios seem to have different steps in this process.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Ken - I'm wrapping up my CHEERS binge on Netflix. I noticed former KLOS disc jockeys Mark & Brian sitting down the bar from Norm in S9 - E10 Veggie Boyd.

Any other stories of famous people as bar extras?

Unknown said...

Another example, the Home Alone movies. "AHHH Where's Kevin???" He just texted, he's still at home. End of movie.

Green Luthor said...

On the subject of cell phones solving plot problems, I'm reminded of an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. (Never a good thing to be reminded of.) Bradley Whitford and Amanda Peet's characters get locked on the roof of the building. No problem, they can just use their cell phones, right? Apparently not; they couldn't get any reception at all. On the roof of a multi-story building. In Los Angeles. Because clearly that would be a cellular dead zone. (Not that anyone ever had trouble getting a signal inside that same building, of course.) That's some lazy writing there. ("No signal" can be used to get around the cell phone "problem", of course; I can buy if you're hiding from Jason Vorhees in the middle of a forest away from any population centers. But Los Angeles?)

But then, a great deal of that show was (pardon the pun) Aaron Sorkin phoning it in.

Chris said...

I saw an episode of NCIS a number of years ago (the only one I ever watched because holy hell...) and the team was in rural northern California looking for a serial killer. For some reason their tech person was back at HQ, so they're at the local police station and they call her up to ask for a list of all the hotels in the area.

Now, maybe this was just at the cusp of everyone having a smart phone. Maybe service up there was truly horrible so they had to use a landline. But they're standing... in the police station... with the police chief in the other room... they have the internet... but they have to call HQ to find out something they could have learned by checking out Yelp?

I'm out...

Roger Owen Green said...

FQ: Did you ever work on a show that was entertaining enough, but seeing years later, is much funnier because of events unrelated to the show? Or conversely, much sadder. (I imagine comedies featuring the Twin Towers would fall into that latter category.)

Tere's an episode from the 3rd season of Mad About You in which the main characters, Paul and Jamie, experience the worst in people from NYC. Then in the outro, mayor Rudy Giuliani extols the qualities of the city. It's hysterical now because that Rudy was your basic pol protecting the image of his city. Now he's a fruitcake.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Unknown I believe Chris Columbus has expressed his disappointment with how advances in modern technology ended up dating HOME ALONE the way that it has, because he and John Hughes wanted to make sure that the movie looked as timeless as possible, so that people would still be watching it ten, fifteen, twenty years later, and it still hold up well and not look dated. Unfortunately, that's not the case whatsoever.

Breadbaker said...

Shakespeare doesn't work with today's technology, either, but you can still enjoy it. It doesn't even work with yesterday's technology, but I haven't seen it diminishing in volume of performance (quite the contrary). If you were rebooting Cheers (please don't) you'd simply incorporate the changes in culture the internet and the smartphone have given us. The Cliff-like character would be castigated for Googling every fact that came out of his mouth, or would be claiming "and I knew that; I didn't have to Google it." The Sam-like character would be using dating apps. The Carla-like character would be constantly on her phone texting instructions to her kids. The Diane-like character would be proud of not having a phone at all.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

The 1976 DOCTOR WHO serial "The Brain of Morbius" was originally written by (former script editor) Terrance Dicks before being rewritten by (then-current script editor) Robert Holmes. Dicks didn't care for Holmes' revisions and wanted to take his name off the story. When Holmes asked who the story should be credited to, Dicks said he didn't care, telling Holmes to put it out "under some bland pseudonym." Lo and behold, the official credit read "THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS BY ROBIN BLAND."

Markus said...

The cell phone problem is the same issue that Star Trek has always had: easy technological solutions to plot problems. Need to get somewhere fast? Warp Drive. Need to talk to Headquarters lightyears away? Subspace communications. Need to get to the planet surface? Beam me down. So a lot of the time, in order to make the plot work to begin with, something breaks down or some field or radiation makes stuff impossible to use. Warp Drive can't get to speed due to such and such, Subspace Comm blocked because of such and such, Transporter unusable while such and such. Otherwise a given story would be solved within a minute.

And as such, this is of course a chance to make use of the "unavailability" of the ubiquitous technology and find creative ways to deploy it. Sure I'm good, I have my cell phone with me. But oh no! No reception, the battery is dead, the glass is cracked, the phone has been stolen, etc. what do I do now... - I think this offers more possibilities to wrap a script around than the total absence of any cell phone technology.

There's a German "romantic comedy" TV movie with a basic boy and girl develop a relationship plot. At one point, boy wants to call girl to talk recent hassles over. Her cellphone rings, but in trying to grab it, she accidently pushes it and it drops deep into a bucket of gooey pink paint she's using to paint her place. Phone keeps ringing, she struggles to retrieve and use it, can't manage to make it work before boy gives up. Fun little scene that has potential within a plot, I think.

Cedricstudio said...

Friday question: Tonight I watched 'Arthur' (the 1981 original starring Dudley Moore). Writer Steve Gordon was nominated for an Oscar and deservedly so. However, the writing strikes me as a bit *too* perfect, at least by modern standards. What I mean is, characters constantly toss off sparkling banter that I find way too sharp and clever to be believable. Hobson the butler is especially witty, almost supernaturally so. Every time he opens his mouth out comes the perfect stinging quip (John Gielgud won an Oscar for the performance). Yes it makes me chuckle but it also takes me out of the movie. Nobody speaks like that in the real world and it strikes me as artificial. Do you think that's a fair criticism, or am I putting too much value on "authenticity"?

Keith V said...

For some hilarious "updated for current technology" situations with well-known characters,check out the "Modern Seinfeld" twitter account (@SeinfeldToday). It's been around for a while, but here's an example: "George thinks his GF is faking a gluten-intolerance, feeds her real cookies, sending her to the ER. Autocorrect ruins Jerry's relationship."