The Casting Couch
My secretary called the usual agents and managers to get people for a casting call. My production company was looking for a new face for a pilot show. It was meant to be an evening soap opera of sorts. But not just families and the love and break up drama. And our company thought there were enough cops, mobsters, gangs, doctors, nurses, vampires and ghosts on tv. So we wanted to do something different.
We also didn’t want a beauty pageant. It would be more regular folk who worked at regular jobs in regular towns, but had something special about them.
So we wanted character actors who’d be quite happy doing a crowd piece. Each week we’d highlight a house and tell some secret about their past, their sex life, or their health that showed how they were different from their neighbours.
Yet also showed how hard they were trying to blend in. How they went to HOA meetings, school PTA meetings, did their errands, attended street fairs and bbqs, and kept up a front of respectability and friendliness. And how often they had to scurry to cover things up so noone knew their issue. How even in their family, they kept things from the youngest kids so they couldn’t tell anyone, like their teachers or playmates and their parents.
It wasn’t all about addictions or family violence either. Though that might have to come up…
Some of what was covered would depend on the actors and what we could pull from them emotionally and what would suit their looks as well. Who was available. What made sense.
From the faces of the available actors, we’d design the show and it’s themes. It was going to be a blast. We were looking forward to it.
We put the call out for a metropolitan crowd.
And that’s what we got.
My partner took the ladies and checked them out on how well they followed directions and what type of story we could tell about them. I took the men. We found out their talents and hobbies that we might be able to use to flesh out their characters.
Then we got the favourites into a room together and did some improvs in small groups, so we could see who related well together. Who had chemistry.
Until we had 10 family groups. And a small support cast for deliveries and errands, the village characters off their street. The people they would necessarily run into each week.
And finally we had our cast.
It looked like we’d have a fun show! We were really excited to get going.
The Director’s Chair
I was so excited that the producers had picked me for this new project. They gave me some license over who my crew was, now that the actors and premise of the show had been picked. I was looking forward to the process.
First I picked a designer for the costumes that I had worked with before. She was an expert and had won several peer and fan awards for her work. She was worth the extra money for her talent.
Then I picked a set designer who was not only a carpenter, but an awesome tech head. Anything I could envision, he could produce. What he lacked in experience, he had in innovation and creativity.
Next I went after a few writers who were very talented in their fields, and each came from different genres, so we could come up with a really cool, mixed format in the show. Mixing the pot often brought out something new. And the producers had said they wanted new.
I brought in the producers’ team for the sound and light stage boards. They were the house specialists that the producers favoured over any others. And I was fine with using them. Their talent was worthy and there’d be no fight in the office if I usd them. I also had an FX director and a stunt director for the pizzazz that would make the show larger than life. We didn’t want people who just sat there and drank tea.
And lastly, I hired the musical team. A composer for the show’s soundtrack. What he couldn’t create himself, he went out looking for classic music to fill in the spots. I preferred having some recognizable songs the audience knew and some new stuff they might enjoy. And I hired a musical director to practice with any actors who could bring music and dance into the production.
My team was picked and I sent in their CVs to head office and waited for approval. Fortunately, they trusted me and agreed with my choices.
The team was a go and we went into meeting and plans.
The writing team went into gear and started throwing ideas and story lines at the producers and I.
There was a real buzz in the air. And my time was no longer my own.
The Writer’s Circle
We had been collected to work on a specific production and were kind of surprised by the variety of expertises we had at the table. It looked like we’d have some fun! We were looking forward to it.
The head writer was from the drama or soap opera world. She was well known and rewarded for her craft. It was her job to take our suggestions and collaberation and make something smooth come out of it. And we had to respect her CV if nothing else. She had been head writer of a few long lasting shows. Longevity is a good thing when it comes to TV. It gives you street cred to say that shows you worked on lasted for 10 seasons and were at the top of the rating charts. Well they’d have to be to get the funding for a new season. So even if you don’t watch soap operas, you presume she is a good writer and had good actors under her umbrella.
Her assistant writer was from the cop and criminal world of writing. Again, it might not be your cup of tea, but he had spear-headed shows that had won awards for writing and we had all heard of. So it wasn’t a surprise to us that he had been picked for the team.
Then it got a little unusual.
We were surprised that a comedian, known for writing his own shtick was hired to bring a comedic tone to some of the show. Even though it was not technically going to be listed as a comedy.
And another surprise was that they hired a speech writer. Though when you think about it, it makes sense. Dramatic effect can be added to with a good soliloquy here and there. But these were hardly the usual in TV production. Politicians tend to use them and big business people as well.
We also had a person who came from the porn industry and was known for really raw sex scenes. Since it was an adult show… but porn? lol I might hang around to watch taping, when they let me!
So the common themes of drama and effect were noted by the circle. They seemed to be important to the studio. Which was fine by us juniors who were hired. We were there as idea people. We came from different backgrounds and cultures, To flesh out the characters from a place of knowledge.
We would have tech and special area advisors, but mostly it would be us. Ready and willing to fight for our characters and our plots. To add authenticity. And so excited to be given a chance to work with these people on an innovative production.
It could be a winner or a bust though. New isn’t always accepted well. We hoped the audience and production company liked our work.
We were loaded and ready to go!
Cameras and the Continuity Chair
It’d seem like these jobs would have little control over anyone. i mean every one tends to boss them around. They even have special jobs reigning them in, like the editor and director.
But you’ll never guess how much confusion can occur when these jobs don’t get done right. So don’t pee in the wind and get them mad at you.
There are so many factors that effect these roles in the industry and they have their own awards and unions as well.
They have their own “stories” within the script and one little error can blow the whole movie. They have their own marketing team that hunts down all the advertisers and placement agreements get made that cost more than the show or movie ever will.
Imagine, if you will, a breakfast scene that has baked Alaska, instead of scrambled eggs and toast. Or a shot that shows only the jam and not the people talking at the table. Well, not quite, obviously. But you get it, right?
They are perfectionists. And they rarely get the notice of the world. I mean, when at a movie or watching tv at home, do you read who does the shots or what is the name of the person who does continuity? Did you even know that job exists?
Imagine if, in one shot, you see the woman has a pink blouse, then the next she wears a puce one? Yet it’s supposed to be her having one date or dinner with friends?. Or it’s supposed to be a really poignant moment and yet on the screen, all you see is an ant going across the table? The movie had better be about ants then. 😛 How about if he comments on her beautiful smile, yet all you see is her ear? Wouldn’t that be weird?
It’d be a topsy turvy world if they were listed before the actors and producers, but their job really makes or breaks a show. Movies are shut down when they are on strike, trust me.
But never mind, take your pee break. By all means. LOL Nothing to see here.
No matter who you are, or what you believe in, there are things that happen to everyone.
You are born, you grow up, you mate, you decline and you die. In a drama, you look for things that people identify with. In a comedy, you look for things that make people laugh. That most often happens when they understand what is going on, when it’s real to them. When it’s plausible.
And there are things in populace stories that endlessly fascinate the audience: war, crime, magic, technology and science.
If you want people to stay hooked, then you need to show them sexy, nude bodies. Preferably having sex. It’s the go-to for shows that cannot hook you without being ribald. It’s the sign of an unintelligent script, if you cannot turn onto an episode without seeing sex or nudity. Yet it has become common.
The most funny script writers show people’s quirks. The things that make that being unique. And tweak them until they are hilarious. It’s even funnier if it’s done in a way that makes that quirk endearing, rather than you laughing at them, you laugh with them. You see more than just their struggle. You see their growth. You cheer for them. You cry with them. So it’s deeper than a pratfall. But you feel the pratfall when it happens.
Kids and animals are horrible to work with, because they cannot be corralled in any meaningful way. So you make the scripts more open to ad libs. Give the actions and words a buffer zone. And let the cameras run. Kids and animals steal the show.
Keeping these things in mind, you get a good story.
But even then, you aren’t guaranteed a success. It’s like there’s a wave behind the seasons as to which shows get the air time and which don’t. Something you loved last year you might not like this year. It could be that another show has taken over the wave, or it could be that that show has lost it’s momentum. And no amount of money changes that.
Saddest part is that really good stories, actors and writers go to the dump every year. So what do you do with that? … Move on. If it’s a classic format, at least you can try again later. If it’s pop, it’s toast though. Unless, in the future, you can do a decade review? A tribute?
What is the biggest boss of them all on TV and movies? The wave.
If you don’t fit into that wave, you have no place held for you in media. It really is that simple.
People want something interesting. Someone they are fascinated by. They follow stories of the rich and famous to see how the other half lives. Then find out that they have issues too. The stories about the upstairs/dpwnstairs and the places where they meet are the most favoured.
They want to see pretty, beauty. Like high fashion, high art and awesome food they’ll probably never taste. And the gorgeous settings/ houses the rich live in and offices they work in. They want to fantasize that they might end up there.
They want to see people they relate to. People they might meet in their real lives. The stories their neighbours, friends and family members might tell.
They want to see people who they might be able to have sex with and marry,
And they want people who are way out of their reach.
They want to see diversity. They are easily bored and want stimulation.
They want truth, not stereotypes.
They want to feel as if they are seen by the media. And finally, that is coming into being. Long after the days of feminism and the civil rights movements’ and their haydays.
You see the changes in the language. It’s less about the glamour of old Hollywood and the Christian Church and more about the metropolis. The women don’t all sound like they went to Vassar and the men don’t all sound like they went to Harvard and Yale. You can hear “street”.
You see real people in the street. The shopkeeper, the pub owner, the local restaurants and diners, and even the beggar on the corner. TV has finally caught on that you cannot hide reality and expect people to believe in your show these days. Yes people want escapes, but that doesn’t mean they want fake.
Is that the product of the counter culture we have around us everyday? Or did the film producers finally step outside the studio and look around?
And you can see the world citizens as well. Travellers go around the world, collecting interesting stories and seeing how they relate to what goes on in our neighbourhoods. They collect folk arts and show us what beauty is in many lands. We have become cosmopolitan. Urbane. Might as well, since we can so easily travel. It’d be weird if we were told one thing then travelled and found out it was all a lie. All propaganda.
This state of being is growing in the past 20-30 years.
The world is at our doorstep. So close you can grab it. But not without a fight. There has been a real media/cultural revolution, hasn’t there?