Monday, July 30, 2012

Uhhhh... actors.

And then there's actors.

First of all I feel for actors as they get judged by how they look, how they talk and generally if they can bring audiences to laughter or tears. Writers just have to give someone a screenplay and then they get paid. Much easier on the ego.

I'm gonna get a comment from Chris on this but I'm coming from my own experiences with actors.

You may have heard about the Modern Family cast above went into the new season and then promptly pulled a strike of sorts. They obviously planned this and made sure everyone was in solidarity. The show was successful,  the network was making plenty of money and besides, the Friends cast was getting $1 million per episode each!

The Modern Family cast was making around $60,000 according to LA Times, nobody knows for sure but they wanted a bigger piece of the pie as they feel that they are responsible for the success of the show.

You're reading this from a writer who's worked in episodic. What do I think?

First of all, they're nowhere near the Friends phenom, nor even close to Seinfield and there really isn't a breakout star from the show except for Ed O'Neil. He made his rep in the sitcom Married With Children and is probably paid more than the others as he has the street credits. He's paid his dues.

The other cast members are good but are basically character actors, none of them have the presence of Ed O'Niell or Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad, or James Gandolfini from Sopranos.

Whatever the asking price was it seems it'll be around $170,000 to $180,000 each episode with some increases if they stay for 9 years. I guarantee it won't be around for 9 years. Why? Because it's a novelty show, a 1-note premise that will eventually tire.

Maybe this sounds like I don't like actors. I like some and not others. A veteran director friend of mine said once that if you want a good actor, they're gonna be "good". Not exciting particularly, nor outstanding, but they'll say the lines and stand where you want them to.

But if you want a great actor, well, these people are a little crazy and that's why they're great. Classic example is Brando, there's Robert Duval, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and a handful of actors. These guys give classic performances like some actors dream of.

A lot of actors are really insecure and I think it comes from a business where you're judged on your looks more than anything else. While actors who know their craft are usually easy to work with, those who aren't all that good can be hell. And if they somehow become stars it's super hell.

There's an old actor joke where the director tells one actor that the scene is all about him and then the director tells the other actor the same thing.  The joke infers that they will go at each other, in words and action, to overpower the other. I've seen it with actors and with comedians and it isn't pretty.

But one thing is missing in the demands.

What about the writers?

This may come as a surprise to some of you but actors don't make up their lines. After 40 years in the business, I still get asked this when I tell them I'm a writer. Their answer is always "I thought they make up the lines".

There's a great quote from Norman Jewison, who directed Cher in Moonstruck where she won an Oscar. She thanked her hairdresser.

Jewison was known to have said: "Well at least she didn't do it all by herself".

So how much does the actor bring to the table. To their credit they must figure out what or who they are on screen and it's not easy. I've been to some actor schools and watched and would never be able to reveal myself the way actors have to. I do appreciate the abilities and craft and when it works, it works great.

So does this ensemble cast deserve more money? Ask someone in Kansas that question and you'll know what to expect. But here in Hollywood; they do deserve it because their helping to make the show a success and you can bet the writers are making far more than they are. And once the run is over, they're out on the street again more often than not carrying the brief bit of fame that they had.

Bottom line is "who's more important - the actor who's hired to play his/her part or the writer who created the show and it's characters?"

And by the way when I say actors, I mean that in the British term, male and female, the term actress comes from a French word, actrice. But come Emmy or Oscar time, they even  occasionally mention the writer who gave them the words.

Because without us, they wouldn't know what to say.

(Thurs: Actors Pt 2 - good actor/bad actor)


  1. Well said, Jim. I did say a good word for writers in my last post.

  2. Seriously though there are actors – and then there are actors! An actor is a person who puts the flesh and blood onto the bones of the characters the writer creates; the writer, not a bunch of them. These people, in Modern Family, are really doing one joke after the other; such is the nature of the American group written sit-com. They have found a little bit of power so they are holding the producers to ransom. This is because producers learned their lessons after Seinfeld and Friends took them to the cleaners. Since then actors have had to sign away their future before they take the final audition for a series. It must be a little unnerving to be living in single apartment in Hollywood and go to the final audition. By then you have signed the contract and on it will be your relatively astronomical fee for the next ten years or so with incremental raises each year. They have signed their life away for money which, when the series turns out to be a huge world wide success, doesn't seem so astronomical after all. Gone is the chance to do any Ibsen or Shakespeare and you are sentenced for the next so many years to mediocrity; so maybe we shouldn't judge them too harshly.