Friday, March 26, 2010

H&H Part 6 - They Wait

Jonathan and Kaplan are waiting in our new office, as seen above. It's bigger than the other rooms and the motel put in a long convention table where we can sit across from each other. Sort of like Reagan and Gorbachov during the SALT talks.

With one exception, they didn't try to humiliate each other or throw big phone books at each other. This will come later. 

As mentioned we have only 4 of the 12 scripts needed for the series which begins in late fall. And just to make it difficult the last 4 episodes will be filmed first so that the winter we have now (you can see the snow outside the sliding door) will be shown at the end of the season next winter.

Make sense?  Well, it's not unusual for a movie, but series have some problems with shooting the last episodes before the first ones. And this has to do with two main factors: 

The actors and the writers. 

It takes the actors a while to "grow"into their roles, and I accept that, as they need to find the characters. Whereas a movie is a "one-of" it's not so hard as it's one movie.  But think of a series as 12 movies (albeit 1 hr movies) so it can be hard for some actors to play what they are at the end. They need to play the part awhile so they can make it more real. It's a legitimate request.

And then there's the writers. They too need time to figure out the characters, roles can change as we learn which actors are better than others and which ones the audience seems to like the most. You can never tell what will happen in a series. Maybe a lead actor can drop out, be fired or die. It has happened.

Take Moonlighting with Bruce Willis and Cybil Sheppard. It was written for Sybil but, according to a friend who directed several episodes, it was quite clear from the first episode that Willis was the attraction, no doubt due to the fact that he was and is a very good actor. And Cybil became very "difficult" to work with.

I worked on a series with Stuart Margolin, a great character actor whose biggest role was Angel on Rockford Files. Stuart is smart, talented and wise. Let me explain;

The series had a woman in the lead who was not really very good. However she was the lead. We would have table readings (on tables like the pic above) where the entire cast of any particular episode would read thru the script. Not really acting, just reading. These would include the guest stars of that episode as well as the regulars.

Since Stuart was really the most experienced actor, the others would follow his lead. What you have to avoid here is to not let one actor get stuck on his lines and start suggesting changes. Because what happens next is the other actors take their cue and start asking for changes in their lines.

And this can destroy an entire script in less than 1 hour. Without control, you can end up having to write new lines for even someone with 1 sentence to say.  There's an old actor's joke about an actor reading a new script for his lines; "bs, bs, my line, bs, bs, my line" and so on.

What Stuart taught me was this; after a reading, we would instantly ask Stuart what he thought. He'd consider it for a beat and then say, "I'm alright with it." The others would take their cue, nobody would dare bring up a problem if the most experienced and famous actor was "okay with it."

It was brilliant. 

Because, after the reading, Stuart would wander over to my office or Kim's and, in private, suggest a few changes in his dialog. And more than often, his lines were better than mine.

So, back at the office now, Jonathan has taken time to leave his condo to join the group and  looks his usual gaunt self, Kaplan is Kaplan and Mahon now serves us notice; she needs scripts ready to go in order to plan the shooting schedules.

Mahon is in her 40's, has paid her dues with the company and now has to deal with Kaplan,who has no experience, and they both have producer titles. And it's clear by her words and her manner that this must make her crazy some times.

But she's right. Kaplan assures her that they'll be ready. Jonathan and I glance at each other, knowing full well we don't have the time since 8 scripts have not even been written yet. Then I hear a minor bombshell.

They're bringing in another writer, Rino Tersigne, who I do not know.  My first thought is that he's coming in to replace me. But conversation changes to the printer that we still don't have. Kaplan's senseless answer is 'we planned on it but it's not gonna happen".

I ask what will we give our cast, not to mention the crew. There's silence, then Mahon suggests we use the accountant's printer. I remind them it's dot-matrix with a wide carriage suited for spread sheets, not scripts. Not to mention that Beth, the accountant and her assistant use it all the time.

Mahon says "guess you'll just have to use it when they're not".

I know what you're thinking. THIS is what big time writers and producers talk about??

It's all true, word for word, and I just wanted to give you an idea of what a bad TV show is, how petty and how idiotic it can get.

Next we argue about Software, of which there are two main screenwriting softwares, Screenwriter, which I prefer and use, and Final Draft which they use. There is some compatibility here, but we decide to use whichever ones we prefer.

Besides, we still don't have a printer.

Then Kaplan lies about my overdue check, says it was sent to the company office instead of here. How do I know he was lying?  Remember how nice I was to the accountant and why it was important. Because she writes the checks.

And she told me later that Kaplan droppped off my 2-week old invoice just before he came into this meeting. 

Later I read his rewrite of Kaplan's script and it still was bad, I wondered how he ever got this job and figured it was just his talking and lying skills. Jonathan went to a nearby bar to read over the new drafts, which seemed to confirm the idea that he drank whenever he could. I actually feel sorry for him a little, but then I remember Vancouver.

After the meeting, I hit one of the town bars, it's been less than a week and I already have local friends who are thrilled to know a TV writer but also I appreciate their normalness.  As I walk back to my hotel at night, and pass by deer sleeping on lawns, I see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, great smears of green that undulate across the star-filled sky.

I think it over, yes, there's aggravation and lies and betrayals, but I'm making good money, I'm doing what I love and tomorrow is another day.

(Mon: Preproduction)

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