Friday, June 17, 2011

How to break into TV and other questions?

Welcome to Friday Question Day. So without any further adieu…

VP81955 asks:

When you had a guest star whose background was essentially in film, with next to no TV experience, was it difficult to guide him or her through the somewhat different technique of television acting?

Since single-camera television is the same process as features, the only adjustment is that the shooting schedule is accelerated. So that’s pretty easy.

With multi-camera comedies it’s a little different, because they're shot like a play in front of a live audience. But most actors come from a theater background so there too, the adjustment isn’t very major.

The only two examples that come from personal experience are both from FRASIER. Michael Keaton, a wonderful actor, did an episode we wrote. And I thought his facial expressions and performance was a little too nuanced. On the big screen it would have been perfect, but on the small screen there were some subtle moments I felt were lost.

The other example, also from an episode my partner David Isaacs and I wrote, was when Aaron Eckhart guested. In fairness, he came in in the last minute so really didn’t have time to settle in. But he had a tough time. Fortunately, we just re-shot until we got it, and ultimately on camera he was his usual stellar self.

On the other hand, Laura Linney was also on that episode and from moment one it was like she had been doing multi-camera all her life. I love Laura Linney, by the way. And that’s one of the many reasons why.

Anonymous has a question. Usually I don’t respond unless you leave a name but it’s a question many have so I felt it should be addressed. Still, leave a name.

I would be interested to hear your take on the best route to writing for TV. I think most people who are trying realize the traditional route of specs, networking, working towards a writing assistant gig, etc. But I'd be curious as to what your take on the current climate is. Is a spec as worthwhile as it once was? Is it worth working towards a writing assistant gig as those, numbers-wise, are harder to get than a staff job? Is it more worthwhile to put shorts on the internet, do stand-up, or get a play produced? Everyone always talks about the cuspiness of the TV industry, but it seems like the advice given to writers at panels in LA and whatnot hasn't changed all that much.

I would try all of those methods. Anything you could do to get yourself noticed in a positive way.

Specs are as important today as before. The only difference is that now agents and showrunners want original material in addition to specs from existing shows. It used to be if you had one good spec for SEINFELD that would serve as your calling card. Now you need at least two, usually three samples and at least one being a pilot, screenplay, or one act play.

Oh, and one other tip: on the cover page of your script, it’s usually a good idea to leave a name. I’m just sayin’.

From Kevin S:

During the filming of 'Cheers', what was the protocol for making sure all the glassware (mugs, wine & martini glasses) were clean and sanitary for each week's use by various cast members?

The unsung hero of CHEERS was our prop master, Frankie Bellina. Can you imagine what a nightmare CHEERS was for a prop person? All those glasses, mugs, pretzel bowls, bottles, etc. Frankie was the best. Every glass was always washed and ready to go. He was so organized so that every scene change he had the exact right amount of glasses and mugs and knew exactly where each went. I don't know how he did it.  Writing and directing pales by comparison.

These are things you don’t think about while watching a show but talented dedicated professionals are behind the scene busting their humps.

I’d toast you, Frankie but I misplaced my mug.

And finally, Carol needs help (and a Valium):

I somehow volunteered to write some 'skits' for this fundraiser my theatre (Dead Playwrights Repertory - shameless plug!) is doing, and now I'm panicking. They will be Shakespeare related, and hopefully funny. Can you give me some calming words of writerly wisdom to help get me started? (or a rich Hollywood patron to support us so I don't have to do this?)

I’m still looking for a rich Hollywood patron to support me. First, off, relax. Once you finally finish you will realize the task wasn’t as daunting as you thought.

My advice would be to get something down on paper fairly quickly. Even if it’s very rough. But it’s always so much easier to fix when you have something already on paper.

So dive in. And try to fool yourself into thinking this will be fun and liberating. Good luck with it.

What’s your question?  Or should I say, what's your name and question? 

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