Friday, October 15, 2021

Friday Questions

Halfway through the month.  Here are some Friday Questions for your Halloween shopping weekend.

Owlchum gets us rolling.

You'll read every once in a while about actors who are so in tune with their characters that they will decline to do a line or a scene stating their characters wouldn't say/do that. I'm curious if you've had that problem in the writing room i.e. a scribe who felt so possessive about a character that he/she actually became too disruptive in finishing script(s)?

Yes, it happens, but let me say this.  Fighting for your script to the point of being disruptive is the fastest way to get yourself fired off a staff.

Here’s the thing:  You’re not going to win.  

The showrunner is not going to put back your material because you put on a full court press.   So you lose the battle and lose the war when you’re out of a job.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re right.  It’s not your call. 

Suck it up.   That’s part of being a professional.  It's happened to all of us.  Multiple times. 

The showrunner points the boat and you all row in that direction.  Someday if you pay your dues you might be the showrunner and you change other writers’ scripts at will.   But for now, don’t jeopardize your job, reputation, and career. 

Philly Cinephile wonders:

How far in advance do you write your blog posts? Is every post "written to order" or do you have a cache of essays that you can pull from if you're short on time?

Both.  I try to have some posts prepared in advance to lesson the burden of constant deadlines.  But I also love the immediacy of something happening one day, being able to write about it, and having it post the next day. 

Friday Questions I usually prepare in advance.  

I probably shouldn't divulge these closely guarded secrets, but what the hell? 

Jeff asks:

Ken, do you get personally annoyed when you watch modern shows and the credits list half the cast as a "producer" or "executive producer"? Are you worried these stars and their agents will next push for writing credits?

You need to write a script to get writing credit.  And if you’re a staff member rewriting a script it’s harder to get shared credit.  This is to prevent people in power from arbitrarily piggy-backing their name on writing credits.

As for number of producers, I don’t mind at all if they’re writers.  More producers mean more working writers.  And you move up in pay grade as your title improves.  So more power to ‘em. 

However, I don’t like all the non-writing producer credits.  “Pod” producers who basically do nothing, managers, and stars.  These are all vanity positions that eat into the showrunner/creator’s potential profit in success, and are often sources of obstruction.  They’re the partners you don’t need. 

And finally, from marka:

I was watching an unnamed movie which was fantastic until the end, which seemed slapped together. It seems to be a thing where someone has a great idea, develops the story really well but then has some disappointing conclusion. Like they just can't figure out how to end the darn thing. Could you comment on this? It doesn't happen all the time, but more than it should it seems.

Most studio films have preview screenings, and if the audience doesn’t like the ending, or the studio feels it’s too much of a downer, whatever — the filmmaker will often scramble to quickly come up with a new ending and shoot it.  So it becomes a mad scramble with other factors that must be worked out.  Which actors are available for re-shoots?  Which sets are still up?  How much will it cost?  How much will we have to cut from the existing film which led to the ending you’re throwing out?  How much time do you have?  When is the release date? 

More often than not what you end up with are band-aids and endings that are “better” in that they address the audience’s concern, but not really “good.” 

What’s your Friday Question? 


Michael said...

First thing I noticed watching "Only Murders In The Building" was Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez all listed as Executive Producers in the opening credits, along with 4 others. I could understand Steve Martin since he co-created the show, but assumed it was just vanity title for the other two.

Curt Alliaume said...

In an interview with AV Club a few years ago, Lea Thompson said of her movie Casual Sex?, "It was a really interesting movie because we basically shot the movie, then they tested it and pretty much reshot half of it. Andrew Dice Clay was designed to be the complete buffoon, then for some reason they made me marry him in the reshoots." (In the case of that movie, I don't think anything could have made it better.)

Brian Phillips said...

Per Marka's question: I was in a preview audience for a movie called "Looters", which had some unwitting marks against it.

1. The title. It was accurate, but then...Rodney King and subsequent events made the filmmakers reconsider the title of a movie with a large number of African-Americans in it. It then became "Trespass".

2. The original ending ended with the most warmly received villain looking like a chump and it got roundly BOOOED. I have never seen the revised movie, so I am guessing that it got changed.

Mike Doran said...

In Re "titled producers":

There's a new book out, Shooting Columbo by David Koenig, which is a chronicle of that classic series's production history, in both of its incarnations.
The chronicle covers the increasing control that Peter Falk demanded - and received - over Columbo ... with special reference to how many of his decisions were damaging to the show.
One example, to serve for many:
Well into the NBC run, Falk took a script away from his hand-picked head writer and gave it to a well-known friend, who proceeded to totally rewrite it into near-incoherency.
I'm not mentioning the names here (you'd definitely recognize the friend), but they're all in Koenig's book.
Mind you, Koenig's account is mainly laudatory of Falk and Columbo overall; however, your opinion of Falk might diminish just a trifle when you read of how high-handed he could get during production (especially when they were under a time gun to get the shows done).
In Falk's case, his titles were not ornamental, as some stars's are: he was handed the reins, and held tight, with results that were at best mixed.
Other stars had varying results, depending on how much control they wanted; some had good ideas, others not so much.
Ken, you likely have star-control stories of your own to share, so I defer to you.

mike schlesinger said...

Levinson & Link often told the story about how Falk would always claim that the directors were know-nothing hacks and he could do a ten-times-better job. Knowing how this would play out, they consented to let him direct an episode, and then secretly called Robert Butler and asked if he would be on stand-by. Butler, a prince among men, agreed. Falk, to his credit, wholly prepared, but was so frustrated by the process that after the first day he gave up. Butler took over, and being a prince among men, let Falk have the directing credit, even though very little of what he'd shot ended up in the final cut.

ScarletNumber said...

marka apparently was watching Blazing Saddles

Mark said...

Some of you know this, but there is a channel on YouTube called FoundationInterviews, created by the Television Academy. There are all kinds of great interviews from actors, producers, and directors. Robert Butler’s interview is excellent. He has great stories from all the shows he directed and a lot of great insights. He’s just a fun interviewee and his video is worth seeking out.

Lemuel said...

Marka, I'll name your un-named movie: ANIMAL HOUSE. Hysterical until the "climactic" parade scene ending.

Steve in Toronto said...

In early 2011, I was the story editor on a family comedy series. A new writer had an Amy Winehouse joke in his outline. I took it out, sent him to draft. He put it back in. Again, I took it out. He insisted that it was a great joke (it wasn't). I sighed and told him we couldn't have an Amy Winehouse joke because, "I was at her show a while ago. She puked on the front row. She'll be dead of alcohol poisoning by the time this episode comes out." He stubbornly put it back in (sticking it in a different scene, hoping we'd miss it, I guess). I took it out one last time, and we never used the writer again. And... two months later Amy Winehouse, bless her tortured soul, was gone. I was not at all happy to be right...

Neil said...


What's your opinion of the proposed Additional Literary Material credit for all participating writers who do not otherwise receive writing credits on motion pictures.

Mitch said...

John Cleese tours doing an introduction and then Q&A of the Monty Phython movie "Holy Grail". He starts the Q&A with, "I don't understand how everyone thinks this is our best movie. We had no ending. We got tired and ran out of ideas."
But I am sure everyone reading your blog has many of the lines memorized from the movie. It's just a flesh wound....

marka said...

Thanks so much for answering my question, Ken.

I actually got paid 20 dollars to go to a preview of Murphy's Romance when I was in college. That was an easy 20, to be sure, and not much critical to say about that movie.

For those wondering I was watching Office Space, which is fantastic but the ending just seemed thrown in. It wasn't bad, but the rest of the movie is a 8 or 9, in my mind (My Dinner with Andre, or Fanny and Alexander are 10s) but the end was like a 5 or6. Still love Office Space, as everyone probably does, just wanted a better ending.

Am I wrong? There certainly are other examples given above which has worse endings!

Mike Bloodworth said...

O.K. Here's a topical FRIDAY QUESTION. As a writer, how would a strike in another guild effect your work? Using the pending I.A.T.S.E. strike as an example, if you are contractually obligated to turn in a script at a certain time would you still turn it in even though it might not be shot?. Are writers idle during a strike? Or do they have to keep working for when production picks up again? Etc.

I know you would never cross a picket line, but where does support for another union conflict with your responsibilities?


MGSweb79 said...

I have always thought Mel Brooks phoned in the unfunny end to Blaziing Saddles. I never minded the parade scene in Animal House and I really enjoyed the footnotes about what happened to each character.

Chuck said...

@Mike Schlesinger: I had learned long ago, also credited to Levinson & Link, that Falk demanded an episode to direct and even staged a walk-out to get what he wanted. NBC and L&L gave in but handed Falk an equally demanding script, "Blueprint For Murder." Falk came under pressure when directing complicated scenes, day and night, at an in-progress construction site. Falk was so put off by the entire process, that he never asked to direct again. In this story's version, Falk did direct the entire episode, beginning to end. So now I'm wondering which of these two stories is true?

Mike Doran said...

For Mike Schlesinger and Chuck:

The "Blueprint For Murder" director story was new to me (it's not in David Koenig's book), so thanks for the new intel.

As to why it doesn't appear in Levinson & Link's book (Stay Tuned from 1981), recall that Peter Falk was still alive (and active) at that point: then, now, and ever, discretion remains the better part of staying employed.

There are reasons why so many scandals don't become common knowledge until after the scandalizers have passed from the scene.
(Just imagine what we don't know about the Bad Guys of today ...)

@jackzullo said...

My guess is their name recognition brought investment.

Darwin's Ghost said...

Ken, have you watched Jolt on Amazon Prime? As a fan of action movies and Kate Beckinsale, I watched with high expectations.

Boy, is this one shitty movie. How the fuck did such a terrible script get the greenlight? Normally I'd recommend against watching lousy movies, but this one has to be seen to be believed. It is so bad on so many levels.

Here's one of the worst things about it. You know how in some movies you'll see a character violently attack someone and then you see it was just a fantasy in their head? Think of the scene in True Lies where the Schwarzenegger character punches the Bill Paxton character, and then a zoom out reveals it was just his fantasy. Funny, right? Well, now imagine that kind of scene happening about 50 fucking times.

The premise of the movie is that she's a bouncer with a uniquely violent temper that she can only keep in check with a self administered electric shock that's embedded in her skin. The filmmakers think it's really funny and clever that we keep seeing what she'd like to do if she didn't have the electric shock restraint. Again and again and again. And again.

The turd icing on this shit cake is a twist that's so obvious, you can see it coming all the way from Pluto.

I'll be amazed if you last 30 minutes before switching it off. It stinks worse than Rush Limbaugh currently does.

Brandon in Virginia said...

However, I don’t like all the non-writing producer credits. “Pod” producers who basically do nothing, managers, and stars.

This is something I've noticed in the credits of a few primetime game shows...either the host or a celebrity serves as EP (Lebron James on The Wall comes to mind. I have a hard time believing Alec Baldwin sits in the producers' meetings on Match Game, although I know Lebron "delivered" a large cash prize to one couple in a promotional video. I miss the days of Mark Goodson or Merv Griffin types cranking out the shows, but those days are long gone.

Wm. Adams said...

I assumed it was Stripes. The first half is a comedy classic. Everything after the "boom-chaka-laka" scene seems like it was made up on the spot.

Bob Paris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PolyWogg said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for answering some of my previous FQs, and I'll ask another. I'm curious what happens for pay if a show "re-uses" a script from another show. Back about two writer's strikes ago, when TV was scrambling, Jake and the Fatman used a script from RipTide. In it, Jake goes to his high school reunion, relives some glory day memories on the football field, and solves a murder. There was minor tweaking, but it's identical to a RipTide Ep that also had Joe Penny in it, but in the original Perry King played the football hero and Joe was just along for the ride. I don't know how often that can happen, probably rarely, but when does "homage" become a "writing credit grievance"? And who gets paid?

I was prompted to ask by the "kids doing MASH cast photo" -->

aka PolyWogg

James Van Hise said...

There's a movie where you can see that the ending was truncated. The Burt Lancaster Island of Dr. Moreau ends with the main character fleeing the island in a lifeboat with the cat girl, but she seems to be acting oddly, cut to The End. Turns out the original filmed ending had her attack the hero in the boat, but that was abruptly and clumsily cut out.

Alan Gollom said...

Hi Ken, I watched a couple of episodes of a new comedy called Ghosts and I think it is one of the funniest new sitcoms in a long time. It's clever, has interesting characters and what seems to be a good premise. On Rotten Tomatoes the critics are rating it highly but the audience is rating it very low, which indicates to me that it is too intelligent a comedy for today's audience. I wonder if you have seen it yet and if so, what do you think of it. . . Alan

mike schlesinger said...

Chuck and Mike: There are always multiple versions of any story. In this case, I asked Robert Butler about it, and he confirmed the version I related. However, he did refute another story I'd heard, which is that Falk asked again and started to shoot a second episode, this one with his old pal John Cassavetes. Allegedly Falk gave up again and Cassavetes finished the episode. Butler said THAT story was crap. So I'm inclined to believe him on the first one.

Bob Paris said...

Your daughter Annie is a comedy writer, as is Gary David Goldberg's daughter Shana. While writing structure can be taught, funny can't. When Annie was growing up did you have any inkling that she inherited your sense of humor or ability to write comedy?