UPDATE: This is not what I do.
My promised follow up post about Peter’s sad descent into the trappings of Draper’s life is nearly half-complete, but I wanted to address something that’s come up in the comments first, because I encounter variations of it every time I teach. Uncle Ebeneezer wrote
On a tangent–a friend of mine read your post and remarked that they doubt that THAT much thought really goes into it. I disagree, but I’m sure you must hear that sort of sentiment all the time and I’m just curious how you usually respond.
He’s correct in that I encounter this all the time–frequently as a back-handed compliment about me putting more thought into the show than the people who made it–but it’s usually the person doing the slapping that has no clue what they’re talking example. For example, in an interview I can’t relocate, Christopher Nolan was discussing the logistics of using an IMAX camera to capture Christian Bale hanging off of a skyscraper in Hong Kong. The joke of it was that between the helicopter, its pilot, safety equipment, those equipped to use it, Nolan and Bale’s salaries, the insurance policy on Bale, the rental cost of the IMAX camera and its crew, every single syllable was costing Warner Brothers $300,000, “so if everyone would quit fucking cursing they could fucking film this fucking shot for under three million dollars.”
And that’s pre-production. So do I occasionally hazard into a situation in which I over-read some last minute practicality? No doubt. But should the wizards with the duct tape see my analysis and note that I missed their wizardry, don’t you think they’d be proud that they’d done their job so well I couldn’t imagine it having been done differently? But if your friends are still unconvinced–and if my students are any indication, many of them will be, send them to the “full credits” listing of a show like Mad Men. John Rogers—friend of the blog and showrunner of Leverage—can add to any of the many things I’ve forgotten, but keep in mind that all of the following people must be paid, eat, have their equipment plugged in and powered up, etc., and remember as your friend’s scrolling down that very, very long list, there are a number of unusual positions, such as:
- hair stylist/background hair stylist
- hair stylist/key hair stylist
- hair department head
- special effects makup artist
- on-set dresser
- art department coordinator
- set decoration buyer
- second assistant camera “a” cameria/ second assistant camera “b” camera
- best boy rigging electrician
- genny operator
- post-post production assistant coordinator
- colorist dailies
- final colorist
I’ve chosen that list a little randomly, but it’s also a little representative of the collaborate work involved in any significant production. Odd as it may seem, the burden of proof that something isn’t in a particular scene should fall to the casual viewer, who thinks television is magic and all you need is a camera, some costumes, and a few pretty pictures to make it work. Granted, that’s true of some reality television — it wear its cheap production for all to see — but for quality, scripted television, each minute of which costs thousands to film, there’s a reason why certain mediocre actors are come to be called “character actors” as they age. It’s not that Benjamin Bratt — and I’m not picking on him — is a good actor, but there’s a reason why people want to work with him. To my knowledge, he’s polite, shows up on time, knows his lines, and is forgo having a potentially short or taller stand-in sit for him in the rehearsals and run-throughs. (That’s anecdotal evidence, but I trust the source, and if I’m wrong, there are a million others I could substitute for him.) Point being:
Shooting quality film/television is very expensive, so it’s all planned out in advance, then modified, script-color-change-by-script-color-change, then ideally handed to actors who behave professionally. In short, the implicit answer to why there aren’t more great television shows is sort of the same as why they aren’t more perfect storms.