Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I actually received this stupid note

This is one of those “what’s one of the stupidest notes you’ve ever gotten?” posts.

In the late ‘90s I was directing a sitcom that starred the junior senator from Minnesota. At the time, he was just Al Franken. When I see him on CNN acting very senatorial, it’s odd to think that at one time I was telling him, “stand over there”. But he was a pleasure to work with and very funny. I’m guessing he’s the funniest U.S. senator, although in fairness, I haven’t been in a writing room with Orrin Hatch.

Anyway, the series was called LATELINE and it was essentially a fictional version of ABC’s NIGHTLINE. You saw the behind-the-scenes machinations of a network news program. So we had very elaborate sets. A big newsroom, a control room with multiple monitors, and a TV studio. In addition to the four film cameras used to shoot the show, I also had four tape cameras to shoot the fictional show and provide different angles for the control room monitors. We shot this in front of a studio audience and for certain scenes that meant I had eight cameras rolling simultaneously. As a director, I was in heaven. So many fun toys to play with! And like I said, Al was great. Always on set. We never had to break while he went and voted.

After the first season, we shot the show in New York. Normally on the third day of production you have a big network runthrough. Reps from the studio and network attend and give you notes. But they were all 3,000 miles away. So someone devised a system whereby I would shoot the runthrough and beam it back to Los Angeles via satellite.

However, the regular camera crew didn’t come in until the following day to start blocking. So we had no cameramen and no one to switch from camera to camera. We were confined to one tape camera and that’s it. We brought in one of the tape cameramen and I gave him instructions to just follow the action as best he could.

I didn’t envy him. There were scenes in the newsroom with people spread way out. There were scenes that intercut between the on-air studio and the control room. The only way to capture even a portion of what was going on was to have an extremely wide master.

So I do my first network runthrough. Back in Los Angeles the executives are watching. The satellite transmission is up and running. We of course, can’t see or hear them. We have no idea what their reaction to anything is. But the runthrough goes pretty well I think. The poor camera guy is so far back he’s almost in a different borough, but that’s the only way he can show everything.

So we get the call from L.A. with the notes. The network honcho says, “Gee, I’d really like to see a few close ups”.

It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. What a fucking idiot! I delicately explained that when I actually shoot the show I will have four cameras and two passes, meaning I will cover the scene from eight different angles. None of them will be from the bleachers. That seemed to satisfy him.

But I can just imagine him going back to Burbank and reporting back to his superior that he saved the show.

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