Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Mr. Special Effects

 This is one of my favorite all-time posts so I cart it out every five or six years.  It's certainly one of my funniest -- and I didn't even write it.  

I've talked about the need for showrunners to hold down the budget. What I didn’t mention was how difficult that can sometimes be. Hollywood is notorious for huge mark ups. Studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost.

Here is an example, in the form of a memo. And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.

Report from TV Special Effects Department:

RE: Frasier

Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.

Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojak.)

Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.

Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)

So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.

I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.

Loved the script by the way.

Mr. S.E.


DanMnz said...

And kids on Youtube will do it for free

Mibbitmaker said...

"And that's why you don't do stunt work on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'!" - if, instead of "Spider", it was J. Walter Weatherman from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

Lemuel said...

There was HOOPER, where stuntman Burt Reynolds has to fly a rocket car across a canyon. He succeeds, then winks at the camera and clocks pesky director Allen Klein. Oh Burt, you devil.

Steve Faul said...

I worked in radio for 20 years. Trust me. Just leave a can of Coke next to the board. It's just a matter of time before you have all the explosions you need. By the way, there's a product placement opportunity here. Just spitballing an idea.

scott said...

Are you putting us on?

scott said...

Are you putting us on?

Mike Bloodworth said...

I asked this as an F.Q. a couple of months ago. But it's worth repeating. Do you have any real life examples of being discouraged or even prohibited from writing and/or producing an episode because the cost?


iamr4man said...

Many years ago I witnessed the filming of a stunt for the TV show Police Story. The scene involved a car chase wherein a car would come roaring down a hill and crash into another car in the intersection. The thing took basically the entire day. Lots of standing around, talking, getting cameras ready. Catering trucks, people running around with clip boards. Finally after waiting around for hours the big scene was filmed. The car came down the hill at about 20 mph and crashed into a parked car. When it was done everyone applauded, and the stunt man driver came out of the car smiling. I’d seen more exciting crashes just driving about.
When the show aired I noted that the film had been speeded up to make the crash seem more exciting. The scene lasted just a few seconds. God knows what it cost.
When you live in LA you have a lot of opportunities to watch movies being made. This experience made me avoid such opportunities.

SummitCityScribe said...

"That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojak."

As Kenny Bana would say, That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

HOOPER was really fun - a celebration of stunts and the people who do them.


Anthony Adams said...

I know nobody asked, what's happening but Joe Buck is killing it.

Necco said...

I find no humor in this. It's just pointless. What did I miss?

NFL News said...

That's really sarcastic and amazing. I wish you post regularly.