Monday, August 25, 2008

Hello, Lied the Agent by Ian Gurvitz

Ian Gurvitz. Hello, Lied the Agent. Beverly Hills, Ca.: Phoenix Books, 2006.

The author, a writer of television shows such as “Wings” and “Becker” journals his writing experiences. Among the things readers learn is how he was developing a TV series for Tony Danza and discovering a competing writer was given the same assignment. He notes that’s how the film business works: people lie.

When a TV concept works, networks copy it. The networks don’t want to be left not cashing in on a good idea. This makes programs similar and dumber.

98.2% of U.S. households own at least one TV. Households own an average of 2.4 sets.

The key to successful shows are their execution. There are many good ideas, but shows need intelligence and soul.

The author does not recommend “how to “ books. He believes most people either can or cannot write.

Studio development executives are sales experts, as they need to convince networks to buy their show products. They need to be flexible to changing network demands.

Programming executives of current shows are liaisons between a show and the studio or network. Many of them are more relaxed. Some, though, attempt to interject their ideas into a show which can cause frictions.

Executives working on TV pilots tend to lack insights on creativity yet they often feel a need to provide their inputs. The author describes many of them as ‘much like a cow pushed out of an airplane might momentarily think it can fly”.

When pitching a show idea, Ian Gurvitz recommends being as entertaining and humorous as possible and then leaving. When seeing friends also waiting to make their pitches, engage in friendly conversation, realizing that, as the author explains “friends don’t want friends to fail; friends want friends to die After all, their success is your failure.”

The author warns that people in the business lie to spare feelings and maintain contacts. “I love it” is the only truly positive reaction. Further, a writer can gauge an agent’s interest by which meal they arrange meetings. Dinners are for their successful clients, lunch for clients with a chance of success, and breakfasts for clients needing a sale soon or the agent will stop representing them.

Networks often recommend changes to a pilot. 99% of the changes are adopted. Few other than Jerry Seinfeld ever get away with challenging a network’s desires.

The next step is producing an outline of the pilot story with the network’s changes. Then a new script is written, remembering that “writing is rewriting”. A multi-camera show script is 45 to 50 pages and a single camera show is 30 to 35 pages. The network will then send more notes. Often the networks wish for something new and for something similar to existing shows. It can be frustrating for writers to handle networks that want edgy and conformity simultaneously.

Casting occurs. Often a network will want an established star in a role, even if that actor doesn’t fit the part. Most stars are “children in adult clothes”.

Ian Gurvitz recommends for actors auditioning for a TV series to be great and then leave, don’t take in a prop, don’t overly compliment producers, don’t overly compliment the script, don’t discuss personal relationships with any producers, don’t change any word in a script, don’t ask what they’re looking for and instead give them your interpretation, children shouldn’t appear coached by a parent, if a part if offered accept it as is and don’t change it, and don’t campaign for more lines or work.

Hollywood describes things in one two ways. Things either went “through the roof” or “ they are ‘in the toilet.”

After the first production week, a series goes into testing before focus groups. Focus group members watch the pilot and turn a dial as they like or dislike what they’re watching. This is followed by questioning the audience in a group discussion. Then an analyst emerges and often predicts a show will fail, which is often correct as 85% of the time they do.

Once a show is picked by a network, it is important what time show it receives. Shows that premiere on a Monday through Thursday behind an established hit show at 8:30 or 9:30 pm have received good time slots. Shows that premiere on Fridays through Sundays or slotted opposite against another network’s huge hit have to quickly fit a strong audience or face early cancellation.

Networks are more prone to cancel shows quickly than in the past. Some shows used to have the support of the networks who gave them time to develop a following.

Premiere shows are sent to critics who usually dislike what they view. The author rates most critics as frustrated novelists or screenwriters who take their anger out in writing sarcastic wordplay reviews.

Ratings determine if a series continues or is cancelled.

A writer (circa 2006) can get $20,004 for a half hour script, $29,482 for an hour script, $41,480 for a 90 minute teleplay, and $50,000 or more for a pilot.

Most producers began as writers. Producers are experienced in the business.

Ian Gurvity states that writing involves taking ideas one has thought about over and over again and transforming them into a story. Much pre-thinking and passion are important.

The author mentions that laugh tracks are no longer used on multicamera shows taped before live audiences.

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

Blake Snyder. Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City, Ca.: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.

This book is presented as an explanation as to what works for screenwriters. It recommends having a main character the audience likes and wishes to go with on a theatrical journey. The main character has to be a hear, someone who the audience sees early on doing something heroic, like save a cat.

A movies needs to show audiences “what it is” or else they won’t buy tickets to see it. Hollywood thus likes the pre-sold franchise, which is a sequel or a remake of a story they know audiences have bought before. People what “Shrek”, “The Hulk”, and “Ocean’s Eleven” are.

A screenwriter should be able to state what a script is in one line. This is known as a logline or a one-line.

A good logline contains irony and a hook that stirs interest in the story, It must present the entire movie.

Four quadrant pictures seek to appeal to the largest possible audience, form the young to the old, male and female.

A block comedy can be filmed on one block. It does not require moving cast to different locations and can be filmed cheaply.

A logline should indicate if a film is a four quadrant picture that can be filmed inexpensively.

A script should have a killer title that let one know the concept of the movie without doing so on the nose. The title should pass the “say what it is“ test.

Many in Hollywood despise the term “high concept”. It was a term popularized at Disney by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner. The author suggests the one sheet, or film poster, can tell what a movie is. High concept movies that could draw audiences on the logline and the theater poster have been around for decades, including the Preston Sturges 1940s movies and the Alfred Hitchock movies.

A screenwriters needs to know how to make twists to stories.

A screenwriter must know how to categorize a script, i.e. know what genre it is. The author sees movies as falling into one of the following categories: Monster in House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, The Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized, and Superhero.

The Golden Fleece has a hero discovering himself on an episodic journey.

Out of the Bottle is a fantasy fulfillment movie. It is a Cinderella or oppressed hero that the audience cheers for who learns a good moral lesson.

Dude With a Problem is about an ordinary guy facing an extraordinary situation.

Rites of Passage are about life transitions. A hero fights uncontrollable or incomprehensible forces of nature and emerges happy and better for it.

Buddy Love stories are primarily a movie creation, as in a movie needs the interactions of a hero with another character. Laurel and Hardy were among the first of the notable buddy movie stars. The usual formula is two people who hate each other are brought together to try to overcome a conflict, decide they are better off without each other, and, in the end, events create a catalyst where they realize they do need each other.

Whydunit movies explore the “why” something happened. The innermost motivations of the human character are exposed. A surrogate for the audience helps the audience play detective as the audience seeks to learn the why something happened. Often the why reveals something dark about us as people and forces the audience to explore the won lives.

The Fool Triumphant places an underdog besting a more powerful bad person. The bad person usually represents an establishment the public enjoys ridiculing, such as business people or government leaders. The Fool initially appears unable to achieve success. Usually, there is an insider who marvels at the unexpected chain of events.

Institutionalized involve common goals among several characters. The stories are told in a group setting. The story is often presented through the viewpoint of a newcomer to the group. This allows for a presentation and evaluation of how the group operates. Often the conclusion is a shock when one person makes an insane sacrifice for the good of the group.

Superhero films are the opposite of Dude With a Problem films. A hero, different from all others, has to cope with others who are jealous of the hero’s superiority. The audience builds sympathy with the emotionally misunderstood tortured hero. This type movie caters to the audiences’ fantasies of greatness and their realization of realities.

Blake Snyder explains these are the laws of screenwriting physics that show what works. One has to know these rules before one can truly feel originality in moving away from the rules.

A logline must include an adjective describing the hero, and adjective describing the antagonist, and a compelling goal with which audiences can identify.

The author states he usually comes up with an idea for a movie first. Still, the person that the movie is about, the main character, is critical, and the who has to serve the what.

A logline should be amp, or have it effect maximized. The logline should maximize conflict, maximize emotions, and be the most demographically pleasing (which often means including character in his or her 20s).

The hero has to have a basic primal need for the motivation driving the hero in the movie. The stakes have to be real and simple ones that an audience identifies with.

The author suggests never writing a script with a particular actor in mind. A script should be left for open casting. A screenwriter can never presume an actor will fulfill even a pervious commitment to appear in a movie.

When writing a biographical screenplay, the screenwriter needs to make the lead character someone the audience roots for.

When writing animated screenplays, the screenwriter needs to have a lead character who an audience identifies with, learns something from, has a story worth following, deserves rooting for to win, and has primal and realistic stakes.

After knowing the logline, pick a hero and antagonist, amp the goal and the conflict. A screenwriter then needs to consider the screenplay’s structure.

Movie structure consists of 15 beats. These are the Opening Image (page 1), Theme Stated (page 5), Set-up (pages 1 to 10), Catalyst (page 12), Debate (pages 12 to 25), Break into Two (page 25), B story (page 30), Fun and Games (pages 30 to 55), All is Lost (page 75), Dark Night of the Soul (pages 75 to 85), Break into Three (page 85), Finale (pages 85 to 110), and Final Image (page 110).

The Opening Image (page 1) provides the first impression of the movie. It should show what things are like before the beginning of the movie. The Final Image should show how things have changed.

The Theme Stated (page 5) presents, in a carefully written script in an offhand comment, the movie’s thematic premise.

The Set-Up (pages 1 to 10) is where the move needs to grab the audience’s attention. The major characters are introduced during the set up, and the audience learns something important about them. The audience needs to be able to understand why characters are called back into the story. Running gags could be created. This is the thesis before the action starts.

The Catalyst (page 12) is what starts the action.

The Debate (pages 12 to 25) requires the asking of a question and then presenting its debate.

Break into Two (no later than page 25) is where the audience learns something should happen. The hero must being a journey.

B Story (page 30) is the booster rocket story that carries the movie’s theme. Often it is a love story. It allows breathers from the main story. Often it involves new characters not seen in the first 10 pages. The author says every script must have a B story to allow discussions of the theme and to cutaway form the main story.

Fun and Games (pages 30 to 55) presents the promise of the premise. This is what is shown on the movie posters and presents the audience wants to to see the film. This is the heart of the movie.

The Midpoint (page 55) is usually a peak or a false peak from which the hero collapse or a down from which all collapses around the hero, even if it is a false collapse. This is where the stakes are raised.

All is Lost (age 75) is the whiff of death, or a “false death”. Sometimes the mentor dies. In a screenplay, this would be a symbolic death.

Dark Night of the Soul (pages 75 to 85) is the darkness before the dawn for the hero.

Break into Three (page 85) is where the hero comes up with a solution.

The Finale (page 85 to 110) is where both the A and the B stories wrap-up.

The Final Image (page 110) shows that things have changed.

The author suggests creating a board and examining all these beats. He suggests first examining the major turns. Look at where parts are missing or are overloaded. Make certain there are no black holes where the story doesn’t connect from one section to another. Be certain the hero has a showdown in the eternal light of act three. It is recommended to color code the board according to story and characters.

If there is an anti-hero, make the enemy worse. When there is an unlikeable hero, have the hero do something good.

The exposition or backstory can be told by doing something humorous or entertaining, what the author calls the Pope in the Pool.

Dumbo, Mumbo, Jumo should not be used. This means an audience will believe one piece of magic per movie.

Do not lay too much pipe, which is providing too much background information about about the story. The audience prefers getting to the story.

Avoid the Black Vet and don’t use Too Much Marzipan, which means to avoid getting stuck on a good idea and overusing it such that the repetition destroys its effectiveness.

Watch Out For That Glazier means not to use slow approaching danger. This bores audiences. Danger should be shown as an immediate threat.

The Covenant of the Arc requires every character, except the bad people, must have an arc, or be changed by the experience of the story.

Keep the Pres Out is a rule that the press should not be a part of the story. Keep the action contained among the characters and the audience. Breaking the fourth wall separates the story from the audience.

Avoid an inactive hero. The hero has to proactively lead the story.

Don’t talk the plot. Dialogue has to be natural. Show the plot rather than tell it.

Sometimes the bad guy has to be made badder.

Turn, Turn, Turn states the plot has to move quickly and with increasing complexity towards its resolution.

The Emotional Color Wheel means a move should use all the emotions of an audience. Good movies have scenes showing lust, frustration, and something scary.

“Hi, How Are You I’m Fine” means to avoid dull dialogue.

Dialogue should reveal character.

Take a Step Back states a screenwriter should check that the story and characters are complete.

Every character should have a Limp and an Eye Patch, or a unique manger of speech and some visual clue that makes remembering the character easier.

Is It Primal? reminds the screenwriter to keep motives basic. The hero wants love or not to be eater, etc. and the audiences empathizes with that.

A screenwriter should think of a screenplay as a business plan with a noticeable logline and great title. Getting an agent is luck but it’ll happen when it happens. Meet people, call them, and be prepared to hear people aren’t interested. A lot emerges from networking. Go to film festivals, classes, producer’s seminars, screenwriting groups, review movies for papers or online, and set up a web page. Screenplay contests are a waste of time. Don’t do something stupid to get attention.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Screenwriting for a Global Market by Andrew Horton

Andrew Horton. Screenwriting for a Global Market. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Many American filmmakers may not fully understand that many American movies are viewed worldwide. Screenwriters should note that their abilities of selling scripts are not limited to American companies. Many films are created across the world and then are viewed in many nations. Screenwriters need to be aware of this global market, both in terms of selling screenplays and to note when writing them.

The author recommends that screenwriters should become familiar with this global market. He recommends visiting foreign countries, learning the spirit of the people in other cultures, writing collaboratively with foreign writers, attending foreign film festivals, and surfing the Internet for information about different places across the world.

Andrew Horton suggests that a screenwriter should seize the one moment or image that constantly appears in one’s hand and try to discover what is driving that moment or image. That opening up of a persistent thought can be expanded into a screenplay revolving around this encompassing thought.

One will learn there are cultural differences in filmmaking itself. In Germany and the former Yugoslavia, it is not unusual to simultaneously film a movie and a television miniseries.

The foreign market responds to both Hollywood formula scripts and experimental scripts.

Screenwriters must realize that the traditional manner which American filmmakers use to present stories has not basically altered since American films began dominating the global film market since World War I. Kriston Thompson calls the “classical narrative technique” as a series of easily understood causes and effects that create emotional responses. Progression, clarity, and unity are the three main parts of these causes and effects.

The elements of Hollywood movies are easy-to-follow characters who have goals, an easy to follow unifying plot, a proper pacing in the story, resolved endings, and a set genre.

The author writes it is alright for screenwriters to tackle controversial or difficult topics. He does not believe there have to be three acts. Screenwriters are advised there is a global market for strong children’s films. Screenwriters should not screenplays can both entertain and have an important message. The author notes not all screenplays have to end happily.

Ang Lee has been successful in combining fight scenes popular in Asia with character development popular in Europe. His films have successfully used overlapping genres, action plots, shown personal growth in the main characters, shown romance with tragic detours in the midst of the action, developed strong and intelligent female roles, and combined tragedy with humor.

The Coen brothers use rapidly moving funny dialogue, strong secondary characters, incorporation of background music into the story, and use brief and concise scenes.

Harry Sinclair writes long treatments for improvised scenes that were then rewritten into a final written script. This blends the works of actors, directors, and screenwriters.

Some popular Brazilian and Mexican soap operas, instead of being broadcast in foreign countries, sell the scripts to foreign companies who reshoot the soap operas for their own countries. Some American TV series are adapted from British TV series.

Andrew Horton suggests it is possible and often advisable for screenwriters to create scenes that intermix crises and difficult times with humor.

The Cinderella story has been successfully retold in other stories. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a movie that retold this type story.

“The Sopranos” successfully mixed dark comedy into drama, presented violence with a point regarding a character’s life instead of showing gratuitous violence, presented a nuanced protagonist with nuanced secondary characters, and presented the multiethnic side to northern New Jersey instead of limited the view to Italian Americans.

Filmmaker Michael Rabiger advises screenwriters to have the courage to write simple stories without gimmicks.

Lew Hunter agrees with William Goldman that great screenwriting consists of “structure, structure, structure” yet adds it should also include “conflict, conflict, conflict”. Richard Walter states “nobody wants to see a movie about the village of the happy people.”

Richard Nougmanov recommends a screenwriter establish the movie’s premise, situation, genre, and character within the first ten minutes. This is Act 1. It is important to set the world being presented in this first act. The main character does not necessarily have to appear in this first act. The starting plot has to be presented, yet this can be presented by a supporting character. Act 2 presents the movie’s intrigue. Unexpected revelations are made to the starting plot that takes the protagonist into new directions and beyond a point of no return. Act 3 is where the protagonist learns about the obstacles being faced in the story. This is about 30 pages long. The midpoint, which is the high point, occurs in Act 3 where the protagonist discovers and learns how to overcome the hurdles that exist in the upcoming battles. Act 4 is where the villain strikes back. New obstacles are placed in the path of the protagonist’s goals. The hero reaches bottom and either must quit or rise again. Act 5 is the confrontation, or the final battle.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Steps to Stardom: My Story by Paul Picerni

Paul Picerni. Steps to Stardom: My Story. Albany, Ga.: Bear Manor Media, 2007.

This autography describes actor Paul Picerni’s life and steps towards acting stardom. It also provides lessons to beginning actors with lessons learned in life while acting. The author, born Harold Picerni, would undergo a few name changes until reaching fame as Paul Picerni.

The book tells how, at age 14, Paul Picerni’s school principal told his family that he was a “born actor” after appearing as the lead in his school play. He states he instinctively knew from then on that he was an actor and that a career in acting was his goal.

Paul Picerni, at age 17, first appeared in a play “Me, Him, and I’ at the Annandale Payers in Annandale, N.Y/ He then joined the Wyncote Players in Wyncote, Pa. and, under the stage name Henri Duval, appeared as the male lead in a series of plays.

While in the Army in 1943, Paul Picerni auditioned for and was accepted to the Special Services theatrical group, the Pine Tree Bandstand. He performed a new show every week. Later in the war, he flew in 25 combat missions as a bombardier. He would help destroy the famed bridge over River Kawi. He also describes his shock when he learned after the war that one of his bombs also killed 55 American prisoners of war who were imprisoned near the bridge.

Paul Picerni learned an industry lesson early in life when a friend was fired from NBC. The lesson is to watch out for untalented managers who fire talented people beneath them in an attempt to hide their lack of abilities.

After the war, the author attended Loyola University, performed the leads in college plays, and became their first Drama major.

Paul Picerni became the halftime and pre-game Master of Ceremonies for the Rams football team when they moved to Los Angeles in 1946. He could continue this position for 29 years. Among the innovations he helped create was including baton twirling routines into the shows. These have since become a sport staple nationally.

Advice the author gives is that it helps to know the right people to make connections as well as to be prepared to grab opportunities when they arise. This happened to him when he was offered a movie role if he could obtain a Screen Actors Guild card and it was a priest involved with the film who was able to make that happen.

The author’s works in plays led to movie roles. Having been a bombardier in real life helped him get the role of a bombardier in “Twelve O’Clock High”. That led to a larger role in the movie “Saddle Tramp”. He then received his acting breakthrough in an apt title movie “Breakthrough”. He auditions for a small role, agreed to read for a larger role that had already been cast during subsequent casting, and wound up getting the larger role that had been previously cast. He notes his memorable scene where his character talks about how death is what war is about was cut but the studio head, Jack Warner. The Army had assisted in the making of the movie and Warner feared the Army might think the scene was inappropriate as the nation was then involved in the Korean War.

Fortunately, that role led to Paul Picerni being placed on contract at Warner Brothers. He began work at $250 a year and worked there for seven years with a final year income of $1,500 per week.

The author’s first movie while on contract was “Operation Pacific”. On that picture, he learned to accept the reality of inevitable rewrites as he watched his role downsized to build the role of the star of the movie, John Wayne. He realized this made sense as the viewing public wishes to see the hero be a hero and not the secondary cast. He learned a lesson that he passes on which is to “give the star his due”. Never hold it against an actor when he gets his due.

Contract actors then usually worked 40 weeks a year and were then laid off for three months. Paul Picerni, though, was never laid off during his Warner Brother years.

A tip the author provides is, whenever a group shot is taken, to stand to the right and let others stand to your left. That way, when publications list the names of the people in the photograph, since they usually list the names from left to right, the person on the left of the group shot will be listed first, or will receive “top billing”.

Paul Picerni appeared in “Force of Arms” that used real combat film from World War II. Of course, the actors had to replicate most other war scenes.

One of Paul Picerni’s favorite roles was in the movie “Mara Maru” with Errol Flynn. Paul Picerni writes how Errol Flynn arrived everyday without wearing underwear and socks, would get these items from wardrobe, and then wear them home. Once he ever wore a suit home. Paul Picerni asked him what he did with all that extra clothing. Errol Flynn replied “nothing. It just gives me pleasure to steal from Jack Warner.” During the filming Errol Flynn received a note reading “It’s been brought to my attention that your phone bill has exceeded $5,000. Please take care of this ASAP. Jack Warner.” Errol Flynn wrote back “I’m willing to forget about this is you are.”

An acting tip that Paul Picerni passes along is one he learned from observing Karl Malden. Madden arrived on sets ahead of time and reviewed his use of props. Paul Picerni adopted this extra effort of preparation into his acting.

A filming tip that the author provides is to have the crew working in sync. During the taping of a car going off a cliff and then exploding, the usual procedure is the assistant director yells “roll ‘em” followed by the cameramen verifying the cameras are up to speed by yelling “speed” and lastly the directly yelling “action” for the action to begin. The prop people once thought their scene began with “roll ‘em” and the car went over the cliff and exploded without being filmed.

The author filmed “House of Wax” with his head being placed into a working guillotine where it was carefully time to drop just after he removed his head.

Television was forcing movie studios to cut costs, including the expenses of contract actors. He was the next to last contract actor, with Doris Day being the last, to be let go by Warner Brothers. Fortunately, he quickly found work in a series of movies.

Paul Picerni appeared in “To Hell and Back” with Audie Murphy. He notes that Audie Murphy did so many remarkable things as a soldier in World War II that they had to tone down his movie scenes for the viewing public. This movie was Universal’s largest grossing film until “Jaws”.

The author appeared on the TV show “Dragnet”. Jack Webb had a unique manner of handling actors. He didn’t want them to memorize their lines. He wanted them to read their lines from a teleprompter. This created the unique robotic line delivery that became a “Dragnet” trademark.

Paul Picerni did a number of TV shows. Some were shown live, which was a problem when mistakes were made in front of 50 million viewers. He recalls the terror of forgetting his line of a live “Red Skelton Show”. Fortunately, his career survived despite his initial panic that it was over. Thus, he advises actors to never fret mistakes. They happen, and people should learn to move on.

Paul Picerni also advises actors to be both brave, but smart. He had to do a fight scene where the actor attacking him used a real knife. He had to do a scene with a lion and was forewarned the lion would swipe at him if he didn’t keep looking into the lion’s eyes. An actress he was working with accidentally threw a knife into her own toe while filming “Rawhide”. Recalling how some actors have died during shoots, he advises taking sensible risks.

Paul Picerni’s most famous role was starring in the second lead as Lee Hobson on the TV series “The Untouchables”. The show involved 12 to 14 hour working days, six days a week.

The author learned he got the role because various Italian American groups disliked the portrayal of people of Italian descent on the show were portrayed as being violent criminals and they feared stereotyping of all Italians. In addition, some did not like there were no Italian actors playing Italian roles on the show. Pall Mall cigarettes was a sponsor of the show and Italian American leaders of the longshoremen’s union were refusing to let Pall Mall cigarettes pass through the docks. Mobster Johnny Roselli asked Desi Arnaz of Desilu Studios “how ‘bout getting an actor like Paul Picerni”. Thus, instead of getting someone like him, they brought him onto the show on the second season.

An acting hint Paul Picerni mentions is to realize there are many different ways an actor can perform a role. He advises an actor not to impose one’s interpretation of how to do a role onto another actor. That will only upset your fellow actor.

“The Untouchables” was a rating hit but a financial loser. ABC paid the Desilu production company $65,000 an episode yet it was costing $65,000 an episode to make. Desilu intended to make its profits on syndication, yet ABC would not allow any episodes to be syndicated until it was off the air. After four seasons, it was canceled and sent into syndication.

Paul Picerni offered to allow his residuals to be bought out by Paramount, who bought the rights to “The Untouchables” from Desilu. Paul Picerni, in retrospect, is glad they turned down his offer, as the show was so successful in syndication that he eared five times more than what he offered to accept.

After being a series regular, an actor faces the problem of being typecast. Paul Picerni found work on episodes of a few series and then was cast on the soap opera “The Young Marrieds”. The show was live. After each show, the actors received the script to be memorized for the following day. He did around 250 episodes over two years. The author notes the show was cancelled because ABC needed their soundstage for a new show, a Joey Bishop evening talk show. Ironically, after the show was cancelled, ABC decided to shoot the Joey Bishop Show elsewhere.

Paul Picerni notes while filming several episodes of the TV series “O’Hara, U.S. Treasury” that Universal Studios padded the costs they charged producer. One example was a heater than cost around $900 an hour.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mouse Tracks: The Story of Disney Records by Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrber

Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrber. Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records. Jackson University Press of Mississippi, 2006.

This is the only book (as of circa 2006) on the history of the division of Disney that produced records. Many of the records were taken from Disney movies. Included in the history are tidbits about the personalities in the Disney music world, including Walt Disney. When novelist Ray Bradbury suggested Walt Disney run for Mayor of Los Angeles, Disney replied “why should I be Mayor when I’m already king?”

The book credits Disney’s successes in multiple fields with their hiring talented people and then inspiring them to succeed. Brothers Walt and Roy Disney continually sought to conquer new challenges. They successfully took black and white cartoons, added color, then added symphonies, then added special effects, and continually sought new methods of creativity. The Disneys had good business senses, and they tied merchandising of products to their movies.

Early Disney movie music was licensed to established record companies. Some record companies hired Disney talent to record versions of Disney movie music and others used their own talent. In 1936, Disney and RCA Records became the first venture to release the actual film soundtracks from several Disney films as records. Even then, it remained more common until the late 1940s for a record to re-record its own versions of music from moves. In 1938, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became the first feature film to release a soundtrack album.

The music rights to early Disney music were sold to the Bourne Music Company. Funds from this sale helped raise money to complete the movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Bourne Music Company continues to hold the rights to these songs, including “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

The Walt Disney Music Company was established in 1949. Merchandising, including records of “Cinderella” was released ahead of the movie’s release in hopes of raising interest in the movie. Roy Disney separated Disney studios from its merchandising operations. Jimmy Johnson was the first President of the Walt Disney Music Company that resulted from this corporate restructuring.

The decision to release “Cinderella” before “Alice in Wonderland” changed the course of Disney history. “Alice in Wonderland”, when first released, was a commercial failure. The studio would have been financially troubled afterwards if prior profits from “Cinderella” kept it operating. Fortunately for Disney, “Alice in Wonderland” would appear in theaters off and on for 23 years and eventually became very profitable. The next Disney feature release, “Peter Pan”, was a commercial success.

Disney and ABC Television invested in creating Disneyland. ABC added the TV show “Disneyland” to its lineup in 1954. Disney launched the TV show “Davy Crockett”. Disney Music released a record “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” that sold a million and a half copies in two weeks. A second version sung by series star Fess Parker almost sold a million copies.

Walt Disney Records grew with various recordings from Disney movies and TV shows. The Official Mickey Mouse Club records were created. This was followed by Disneyland Records. Walt Disney recorded a non-soundtrack record “Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland”.

Several Mouseketeer TV stars released solo albums. Darlene Gillespie released the first solo recording by a Mouseketeer. Jimmie Dodd ultimately released the most.

The album “Old Yeller” was the first album to contain both music from the movie and story narration by the star of the film, Fess Parker.

Sterling Holloway provided narration to Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” film as well as several Disney records. His “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Disneyland Records released numerous records as a label with no connections to a movie or TV show. Releases were intended for adult audiences included collections from the operetta “Parisian Life” as well as the children’s and family markets. “Walt Disney’s Christmas Concert” performed by Ludwig Mousensky and the All Mouse Orchestra was released in 1957 for the family and children’s markets.

Rising production costs made Disneyland Records a financial loser in 1957. This upset Walt Disney as he was this as lost money that could have been invested in movies and TV production. Walt Disney recommended leaving the record business.

Disney remained in the record business. It created Buena Vista Records for its recordings for adults. Buena Vista is the name of the Burbank street where the Disney Studio exists. Buena Vista would also become the movie label for Disney films for the adult market, such as “The Big Fisherman” released in 1959. The first Buena Vista album was a studio cast version of the movie “Say One for Me” that mixed more traditional music with a pop sound meant to appeal to the teenage market.

Mouseketter Annette Funicella, who had never sun before, was pushed to try singing by Walt Disney. She recorded successful records for both Disneyland and Buena Vista Records in addition to appearing in Disney films.

Selections from Disneyland albums were released on the Little Gems label as 45 and 78 singles.

The album of music from the 1961 Disney movie “The Parent Trap” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Soundtrack. It lost out to “West Side Story”.

Disneyland Records, in the early 1960s, developed many recordings for children that had no ties to Disney movies or TV shows. “Western Songs for Children” and “A Rootin’ Tootin’ Hootenanny” were among the most successful of such recordings.

The soundtrack album of the Disney movie “Mary Poppins” was a very successful Buena Vista Records release.

Disneyland released its first interactive recording in 1965 with “A Happy Birthday Party with Winnie the Pooh”. Accompanying instructions told of games that could be played coinciding with songs.

“The Jungle Book” story and soundtrack from the movie was a Gold selling Disneyland record in 1967.

The Mike Curb Congregation had several hit Buena Vista records in the early 1970s.

Disneyland/Buena Vista Records made an agreement to release albums from some Rankin/Bass Production television specials and with the Peanuts TV characters. The Charles Brown Records was created. A “Star Wars” read along album was released even though the movie soundtrack was released by competitor Twentieth Century Tox Records.

“Mickey Mouse Disco” released in 1979 was a surprise success, achieving Double Platinum (two million sales) level. This album spurred the company to release more original music without a film connection.

The soundtrack to “The Black Hole” in 1979 was the first digital soundtrack ever released.

Read-along records of the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.” were successful, which led to more movies producing read along album versions.

The Charlie Brown Records section of Buena Vista released several book and record sets from Charlie Brown television specials and one movie, “Snoopy, Come Home”. An album from the TV special “It’s Flashbeagle. Charlie Brown” became a Gold record.

Disneyland Records became Walt Disney Records as compact discs (CDs) emerged. Several previous vinyl hits and movie soundtracks were released as CDs. The CD storytelling of the movie “The Little Mermaid” was a hit.

In 1994, the soundtrack to “The Lion King” became the first animated movie soundtrack to reach #1 on Billboard charts.

Hillary Duff appeared on the Disney Channel TV series “Lizzie McGuire” and her recordings on Walt Disney Records reached #1 on singles, albums, and music video charts.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Film: A Concise History by Andrea Gronemeyer

Andrea Gronemeyer. Film: A Concise History. London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999.

Thomas Edison presented the first Kinetography movie in 1891. It could be seen by one viewer at a time.

The Skladanowsky brothers presented the first general public viewing movie, what they called “living photographs” in Berlin on November 1, 1895. The Lufilmiere brothers followed in France on December 28, 1895 with the first Cinematographe movie whose quality was so much better than many credit the Lumiere brothers with the first modern movie technique.

The first Lumiere movie showing attracted an audience of 35 people. Positive newspaper reviews sparked the beginning of movie showings.

George Melies, an actor, decided to create movies that showed fairy tales, comedy, and magic tricks. An accidental shutter jam led to the discovery of the first use of trick photography.

What are called the Childhood Years of movies lasted until World War I. Movies then ranged from one minute long to full length features. They were shown mostly in pubs and cafes. In the United States, Nickelodeons showing films lasting 10 to 15 minutes were shown for five cents admission.

The United States reached a totally of 10,000 Nickelodeons, which were more than existed in all of Europe. Chase films were popular Nickelodeon fare.

Nordisk in Denmark formed in 1906 and Cines in Itary were among the first large movie producers. Nordisk’s 1907 film “Lion Hunt’ showing the actual hunting and killing of two lions generated protests. The protests brought the film publicity and the movie sold 260 copies. Nordisk’s full length film “The World Slave” was one of the first erotic films ever.

Companies that could afford and use better filming equipment turned out to be more successfully. The film production industry shifted from selling movies to renting them. The shift drove out many small companies out of business.

The Compagnie de Films d’art arose in 1907 in France to produce films that were more theatrical. Unfortunately, many theatrical gestures struck audiences as being comedic.

The Brighton School filmmakers in England sought to bring more expression into films.

Independent Italian filmmakers from 1903 to 1914 focused on presenting historical events. Giovanni Pastrone was the first filmmaker to use artificial lighting in movies.

Early American film producers were entangled in numerous legal suits between MPPC, Thomas Edison’s company, and numerous rivals. The rival independents produced feature length comedies and epics. They also introduced the stay system where leading actors were featured in many films of the same studio. Edison’s company focused on Westerns. In 1914, half of all films distributed internationally were produced in the United States.

David W. Griffin produced films that, for the first time, combined shots at different lengths, had insert cuts, and introduced the use of establishing shorts for introducing scenes. He was also the first filmmaker to use a crane while shooting.

In 1917, the German government partially owned and directed Universum-Film AG. This company produced movies for German audiences in 2,000 theaters.

The first World War divided the European film market, which hurt the European film producers. The United States became the leading film producer in 1916 and has maintained this position of the world’s leading movie producer ever since.

During World War I, many European films had political content. American films had more commercial appeal. The largest studios were the Big Three: Paramount, Loew’s, and First National, followed by the Little Five: Universal, Fox Film Corporatobn, the Producer Distribution Company, the Film Booking office, and Warner Brothers.

Mack Sennett gained fame for slapstick films. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy were early comedy stars. Their comedic spontaneity was not as successful in later scripted sound films.

American film sales became so large that many European companies decided it was better to distribute American films instead of making their own movies. Still, a number of European avant garde films were produced and aimed towards the intellectual audience. A number of French and German impressionism films, showing dreams, thoughts, memories, etc. arose. Cimera pur or “absolute film” arose, using abstract scenes and surrealism. The Soviet Union produced a number of avant garde and montage films with political themes.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” in 1929 was one of the first films to use music as an element of the film.

The economic crisis and Depression that began in 1929 hit the film industry later than most other industries, as movie entertainment remained a low cost diversion for audiences. “The Jazz Singer” was the first generally distributed movie with sound. It was released in 1927 and audiences developed an interest in more sounds films. The costs required to create sound films were high and silent films remained competitive for several years. The changing industry led to their being five major studios: Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO as well as three minor studios: Universal, Columbia, and United Artists.

England responded by placing a quota system to guarantee that a minimum number of films shown to British audiences were produced in Britain.

German films often had various political messages. When the Nazis began regulating films in 1933, films had to meet their criteria or be censored, or else they were prohibited from being shown. A number of German film personnel left Germany.

French filmmakers in the 1930s made use of deep focus shots with movable camera to create “poetic realism”.

British filmmakers in the 1930ss found value in producing documental films. Several social ills were explored, although financial backers of these films arrange to mute some of their criticisms.

American filmmakers continued successfully producing commercially successful films. Audiences during the Depression appreciated musicals with dancing scenes, gangster films, horror, and screwball comedies.

A number of anti-Hitler films were produced in America in 1939 to 1941. These were designed to awaken audiences to the emerging threat of Nazism.

Television emerged as a major media source in the 1940s. Privately owned networks emerged in the United States. England and West Germany adopted publicly owned networks.

After World War II, a number of neorealist movies were produced in Italy. These films intended for the audience to be analyze characters and to distance themselves from the characters. This was different from the typical films then that sought for audiences to build empathy with characters. Many of these films sought to criticize the Italian Fascism that had existed just a few years prior. Italian audiences desiring entertainment and to forget the past turned more towards viewing American films.

Film noir films began being produced in 1946. These films were pessimistic about society and focused on crime and murder.

Femmes fatale films gained popularity. Female characters displayed erotic tendencies towards male heroes. These films were designed primarily for male audiences.

The U.S. Supreme Court found movie studios were illegally monopolizing ownership of theater chains. The studios had to divest themselves of their interests in these theaters. Studios also were no longer allowed to book block groups of films to independent theaters where sold of the films were presented to them sight unseen.

American tax law set lower tax rates for independent films that then were sold to film distributors.

Alfred Hitchcock emerged as one of the most notable film directing careers in the 1950s and for all time. He was known for creating suspenseful films.

Color movies gained prominence during the 1950s. This increased the importance of the costume designer. Film noir films, which capitalized on the use of visual darkness to display storyline darkness, faded away along with most other black and white films.

Two thirds of movie attendees in the late 1950s were aged 17 through 23. Movies thus were targeted towards this audience.

Numerous distinctive film directors emerged in the 1960s. Federico Fellini of Italy directed films that often had themes centering around male sexuality and conflicts over Catholicism. Michelangelo Antonioni of Italy directed films on complex relationships. Ingmar Bergman of Sweden directed films exploring psychological issues in characters. Jacque Tati of France directed satires of obstacles met in everyday life. Robert Bresson of France directed films on environmental challenges to people and often used non-actors. Akira Kurosawa of Japan was the first Asian director to have films become popular in Western markets. Satyajt Ray of India directed films that achieved crossover success in Western markets.

National academies produced many technically taught filmmakers who arose in prominence in the 1960s and afterwards.

The journal of film theory “Cashiers du cinema” emerged. Director Francois Truffaut observed that many film directors had noticeable trademarks. Director Jean Luc Godard was known for his unconventional plot cohesion and jumps in continuity. Truffaut and Godard were among the directors classed as Nouvelle Vague. In 1968, Truffaut and Godard split with the Nouvelle Vague movement with Truffaut becoming more mainstream while Godard became more politically revolutionary.

The British Film Institute of the 1960s produced films that attempted to be socially relevant and critical of working class conditions.

West Germany provided subsidies, tax credits, and tax relief to filmmakers. 26 German filmmakers in 1962 declared in the Oberhausen Manifesto that Germany would produce more modern movies. Several films dealt with the youth movement, reactionary parents, and broken marriages that were then part of the German culture. The New German Film Movement emerged in the late 1960s with politically leftist films.

The 1960s saw the emergence of auteurs, who both wrote screenplays and then directed their films.

The 1970s saw many films presented for the youth market. The general press became more aware of independent filmmakers, some of whom found commercial success from the increased audience awareness of their market.

The 1970s were also known for the blockbuster films that were among the most commercially successful of al time, such as “The Godfather”, “Star Wars”, and “Jaws”. “Jaws” launched the career of director Steven Spielberg, who is one of the most influential directors ever.

The 1980s saw the rise of younger movie stars in youth oriented movies, some of whom were labeled “movie brats”.

Computer animation which arose during the 1990s introduced new abilities in presenting movies.