Archive for the ‘“The Biz”’ Category

“Oh and… kill the background.”

March 24, 2007

On set, I never make a peep when the cameras are rolling. But I just about killed a crucial dramatic scene last night.

The sounds before the actors start acting usually go something like this:

“Picture’s up.” (the picture from the camera is being transmitted to the monitors all over set)
“Sound speed.” (sound is recording)
“Rolling.” (recording picture)
“A marker.” (clapboard numbering the scene for editing purposes)
“B marker.” (used if there’s a second camera; C if there’s a third, and so on)
“Background.” (extras, commonly known as background, start to move)
“Action.” (and the principal actors start to act)

There are numerous variations, but that’s the basic structure. Last night, as I was sitting on the sidelines with three other extras who weren’t being used, the A.D. threw in a little something, almost off-hand, at the last moment.

“Picture’s up.”
“Rolling rolling.”
“A marker.”
“Oh, and… kill the background.”

Instantly, the four of us who weren’t being used in the scene looked around in wide-eyed mock fear, then stood to run away like a gaggle of panicky cartoon elk. It’s a visual gag, so I’m not sure how funny this comes off, but it’s gotta be impressive that four people thought of the exact same joke at the exact same time, no? Not a second’s hesitation from anyone. After sitting back down — the scene well under way — we were all stifling laughter. Which of course made it worse.

Quick, I thought, think of something not funny. Baseball. Baseball’s not funny. Baseball. Pitchers. Right field. Kirby Puckett. Hehe. Kirby Puckett.

Is there a funnier baseball name than Kirby Puckett? Maybe Rollie Fingers, which always reminds me of genitals floating in a jar of famaldahyde. But Kirby Puckett is funny too. At this point I wasn’t outright cackling, but my breathy attempts to cool off were certainly becoming audible. I was just far enough away from mics so that none of the crew noticed, but all four of us came dangerously close to exploding into belly laughs before silently seperating ourselves and staring at the floor.

Meanwhile, I think one of the characters was dying.

On the plus side, I guess I should be flattered that the A.D. used the human “kill,” rather than the inanimate “strike,” which I’ve heard before. “Strike the background,” like we’re props. (We are, but the reminder isn’t always appreciated).



March 20, 2007

On the set of House today, I heard one end of a phone conversation that just plain didn’t make any sense.

“You mean the ragin’ Cajun, James Carville.”
“Oh, you must mean Tucker Carlson?”
“I know who you’re thinking of: Gene Shalit.”
“Maybe Joel Siegel from Good Morning America?”

I tried my best to fill in the other end of the conversation.

-“Hey dude, help me out, I’m thinking of a guy on TV. You know, he’s on TV, sorta unusual looking. Talks about politics.”
-“You mean the ragin’ Cajun, James Carville.”
-“No, no, not him. Not so ugly. And not bald. And with a bowtie.”
-“Oh, you must mean Tucker Carlson?”
-“No, older than that. And with a fro. And maybe instead of being a political commentator like I said before, he reviews movies.”
-“I know who you’re thinking of: Gene Shalit.”
-“No. Forget the bowtie. I guess I made that up too. Sorta like Geraldo, but not Geraldo.”
-“Maybe Joel Siegel from Good Morning America?”
-“No, no, not him. You’re not very good at this are you?”

Michael Rapaport

March 10, 2007

On the set of The War at Home yesterday, Michael Rapaport hit me with a door.  And didn’t apologize.  But I will say this for the man: he makes a mean Dagwood.

So close, so farawhatthehell?

February 20, 2007

I remarked to a friend recently that because of the way the movie business is structured, what with its exclusionary practices and disdain for new talent, I actually feel further from my goals here in LA than I did living in Jersey.

And then LA does something completely out of character. I called a production comapny today…

Me: “Hi, my name’s Roger Taylor. I’m calling to see if you have any freelance script reading jobs available?”

Woman who picks up: “Reading… hang on.”

(I sit on hold for 30 seconds.)

“No, it looks like we have 7 readers already, so we’re pretty well full.”

“Oh. Well thanks for checking.”

“Are you a writer?”

“A writer? Yeah.”

“Do you have anything interesting?”

(clearly stalling) “Um…”

“Call me when you do.”


Okay, seriously? Seriously? I can’t get a simple reading job, I have to struggle and scrape just to get cast as one of 250 extras for some MTV film no one cares about, none of my writer friends can manage to get an agent, but apparently production companies are so starved for material that they’ll ask random schlubs on the phone if they have any good scripts?

stuck downtown

February 13, 2007

Worked on CSI: New York tonight in downtown LA.  They had us park in a ghetto ass parking lot that looked like it was reshaped and gnarled by past earthquakes, and then used as a bathroom by crack addicts.  Everyone else got out okay.  I got a giant purple scrape across my right rear door and a nail through my tire.  I hadn’t changed a flat since I made a video about it for driver’s ed in high school.  Remembered everything okay, but found the factory screwed lugs were on so tight I couldn’t budge them, at least until I gave up and sacrificed my brand new leather shoes that I just bought yesterday by setting the tire iron into place and kicking the hell out of the thing until the lugs loosened.

(for those who don’t know me, I buy about one pair of shoes every two years, so this was a pretty big deal, and I didn’t relish the idea of using them for manual labor… or whatever the foot equivilant of manual is).

I was quite proud of myself when, prior to jacking the car up, I remembered to set something (a cement brick, in this case) behind the diagonally opposite wheel.   That is, until I forgot it was there when I was done and backed up into it.  Because what I needed right then was another flat.  (nothing popped, thankfully).

These are random thoughts

January 26, 2007

Just read Dave Eggers’ most enjoyable A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and thought the following:

He got there first. Like me, like my writing, what it was supposed to be, but with a more interesting story and more aggression, a manic streak at least twice as manic and flights of fancy gooier in their fanaticism and looser grammar, oh how I’d kill for that looser grammar and– How the hell did he have sex with 34 women? I haven’t had sex with 34 women. If I’d been born in my proper damn generation I could have had a bestselling memoir and lots of tragedy and sex.

Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky… it’s sort of about old people. There should be more things about old people. They’re neat.

On the set of Las Vegas two days ago:

Girl: “So, you have myspace, right?”
Me: “Uh.. yeah.”
“Do you have your headshots up.”
“Oh. No. I’m not an actor.”
“Well what are you?”
“What am I?”
“I’m a writer.”
“You’re too young to be a writer.”
“And too handsome.”
“Oh. Thanks.”
“You should be in front of the camera.”
“All writers have leprosy.”
“What? Can you write a part for me? Like a short?”

On TV writing

January 7, 2007

“The feature world, which I remain involved in, is not a medium, generally, where you’re able to write about character in the depth I like to write about character.  There are characters now on ER whose growth I’ve been writing about for years. … And subject matter is different in television.  The kinds of things we can write about seriously are more appealing than most of what you’re offered to do in features.” — John Wells, ER, The West Wing.  From Pamela Douglas’ “Writing the TV Drama Series.”

Ms. Douglas, former writer for Ghostwriter and Star Trek: TNG among others, expresses much the same opinion in her book.  On the surface, it makes perfect sense.  Movies usually don’t run much longer than two hours, while television shows can last, in some cases, hundreds of hours, so of course we get to know TV characters better.  It’s logical.  Almost obvious.  Except it’s false.

Do I know Jack Shephard from Lost or George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life better?  George Bailey, easily.  Which titular character has more depth: Veronica Mars or Annie Hall?  Tough call; one could argue either convincingly, but I would side with the latter.

Most enlightened people have by now acknowledged that TV is pretty great and getting better.  But for TV writers to argue that television is all about character and real life and Important Social Issues while film is about masturbatory fantasies for 12-year old boys is self-serving, dishonest, and requires extreme selective memory.

Yes, TV shows have more time to work with.  But they also lack a captive audience, and can’t risk losing viewers.  With a traditional four act structure (3 commercial breaks), shows must build to climaxes or major story turns every 10 to 15 minutes, assuming there’s no tag or teaser.  Some modern shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Lost have a full six acts, so that none last for much more than 8 minutes.  When you’re trying to cram 5 major turns into every episode, who has time for characterization?  And, indeed, when characters are being forced to make all these Big Decisions several times a week, how can they maintain coherence?  (HBO shows may not have this problem, but the six or so Sopranos episodes I’ve watched have shown such a complete lack of dramatic structure that the freedom, in that case, is actually a hindrance.)

There’s also the issue of stopping points.  Feature writers know they only have about 120 pages to work with, so they select only those moments most integral to their characters’ personalities.  TV series last as long as they can.  While a handful of great shows were cancelled before fulfilling their potential (Firefly, Freaks and Geeks), most drag on longer than they perhaps should.  Veronica Mars explored its characters pretty fully in its first season and had to awkwardly create more mysteries to continue.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to its logical conclusion at the end of season three.  Gilmore Girls managed a great four year run before it started recycling old arguments and was forced to have Rory and Lorelai act out of character to keep the drama fresh.  That’s not to say any of these series turned bad, necessarily; rather, exploring the growth of Veronica, Buffy and Lorelai wasn’t the writers’ main concern when certain choices were made.  Keeping the series alive comes first.

In the end, arguing about depth of character seems a bit ridiculous, because a good story, no matter what its length, will reveal as much character as necessary.  The play ‘night, Mother lasts only 90 minutes and takes place in real time.  How much could we possibly learn about Jessie and Thelma in that time?  Exactly as much as we need to know.


December 20, 2006

I don’t really get starstruck, but I do find certain types of behavior funny coming from celebrities.  So it was with utmost pleasure today that I heard the following exclamation, provided with utter sincerity by the very friendly and approachable Jennifer Love Hewitt (this was not a line from her script):

“How is that a penis?”

It’s probably best out of context.