#14 Day Two and a Mid-Life Crisis Too


Ok, so I’ve started this late life experiment and am “exploring” the world of TV writing. At the moment, it’s specifically network sitcom. I’ll say, it’s interesting, and pretty fun. I’ve enjoyed watching Fresh Off The Boat, The Goldbergs and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I grew up on sitcoms, but sort of lost interest in my mid-teens. The network sitcoms I’ve watched regularly in the last 20 years are Seinfeld, Undeclared, Andy Richter Controls The UniverseThe Bernie Mac Show, Arrested Development, Scrubs30 Rock and Modern Family (The list was bigger than I first thought, and most of those are more than ten years old). On cable, we’ve watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, ExtrasIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Eastbound & Down, The League, and Louie. And I loved Spaced and The Office (U.K.).

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We’ve also been watching Playing House, which is on USA, and has a different format than the broadcast network shows. Maybe you’d call it a half-hour comedy, since the story progresses, as opposed to sitcom?

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Having a family has given me a different and possibly fresh perspective on these network shows. Or maybe it’s just because my life is so sad I need to laugh. Whatever it is (probably a combination of both), these shows are relatable to me now. And I’ve really come to admire the actors. The talent, the versatility. It’s inspiring. I think Randall Park and Constance Wu (Fresh Off The Boat) are phenomenal. I want to write for them.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT - "Persistent Romeo" - Louis has to hire a professional instructor (guest star Brett Gelman) to give the restaurant staff a sexual harassment seminar after Jessica's attempts fall flat. Meanwhile, Eddie tries to pass off the seminar's instructional tape as a "dirty movie" to his friends in an attempt to impress them and get them to come to his house for a sleep over, on "Fresh Off the Boat," TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, (8:00-8:30 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless) RANDALL PARK, CONSTANCE WU

Having said all that, this new bag feels like the proverbial “Old Dog/New Tricks” scenario. For every dose of laughter, there’s an equal dose of self-doubt, coupled with a heaping tablespoon of regret. I think the only way to survive is to keep my nose to the grindstone, because if I look up and think about it, I’ll be consumed.

Should I have done this ten years ago? Am I too late to the party?

I guess we’ll find out.

Speaking of parties, let’s get back to The Shower Killer Party. (As you can probably tell, I love the strikethrough button. It gets me.)

Day Two was August 3rd, 2012.

I just looked over the call sheet for that day.

We planned to shoot 11 4/8 pages.

The thing that sticks out the most to me from the call sheet is there were THREE SCENES with at least 15 ACTORS in them. (Two with 15, One with 16).

As I’m learning in my sitcom writing class, your Act Two break should be an “OH SH-T!” moment.

Standing on set, looking at 15 (or 16) actors, is definitely an “OH SH-T!” moment. (Especially because it was the first and only time those 15 or 16 people were ever going to do that scene.)

The big scene of the day (4 3/8 pages) was the entrance of FRED, played by my father-in-law, Ted McKnight.

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In the original script, the scene is on page 22, our break into act two. At that point, (hopefully) we had established the characters and their deals, and now it was time to drop them and their problems into a horror movie. In the actual movie, it happens 15 minutes in (roughly 6-7 minutes earlier than scripted). This was to improve the pacing of act one. We ended up cutting a lot. (I regret that I didn’t do a better job capturing the script, but based on what we had, the cuts were necessary. When we get there, I’ll go into more detail, but we did a few thousand test screenings at my apartment, and act one felt slow.)

So in this scene, Fred, the neighbor comes banging on the door, in distress, and things get rolling.

My fondest memory of shooting this scene is Ted’s performance. I felt like it brought a shot of adrenaline to the production. I think we needed it.

We were all a bit stiff during the first day and a half. I was green and we were going so fast that we just had to keep going to “make our days.” I knew of different tricks to try to loosen things up (like improv, or even this thing called “directing”) but we didn’t have time. Fortunately, the actors are all talented (and the script was amazing) so we had a little bit of leeway. But it felt like we needed something.

And it happened. Ted/Fred stumbles in, a bloody mess, out of his mind, and people snap out of their doldrums.

This scene also ended up being pivotal during our festival run. I was constantly checking the pulse/temperature of the audience during each screening. What are they responding to? Are they interested? Bored? Do they hate me? Why did I wear this shirt?

You can feel it. Whether there are 200 or 20 (or less in the case of one festival I won’t mention.) That’s the great thing about going to the movies. The shared experience. Not everyone is having the same experience. (Like when Rachael and I laughed way more during The Nice Guys than the ten other people in the theater. They probably hated us… Do you see a pattern here?) But while they’re sitting there in the dark, focused on the same thing (hopefully), people do sort of act like one larger organism.

And the credit there goes to my buddy Paul Natonek. He delivers a line that was my thermometer/stethoscope. (He tweaked what I wrote, and it’s better and funnier.)

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It gets a GOOD LAUGH. I start breathing again. And I know the audience is with us.

I didn’t know the audience would be there with us when we were shooting. But I knew we had a spark.

 

Author: Alex

A married waiter/filmmaker with two kids.