Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Everything's Fine...

The Picks 'o the Week

...down on Melrose.

While catching up on the various Hollywood-oriented offerings over at KCRW, I tuned in to a recent podcast of "The Business." The first segment is a great discussion on the importance and process of casting for television with two network casting directors. Casting is crucial to the success of any new show. No matter how tight and well-crafted the script, how tense the drama or funny the jokes, none of it matters if the casting clanks off the rim – that show is doomed. An excellent cast can keep a show afloat despite less-than-stellar writing -- for a limited time, anyway -- but even the very best writing can't overcome poor casting.

It's the kiss of death.

Well there is one remedy – re-cast the roles that aren’t working – but by the time a new show hits the air, several episodes are already in the can. Re-casting a key role at that point is a bit like trying to fix an airplane’s damaged engine while the plane is still in flight. It can be done, but is a very tricky endeavor requiring patience from the audience and a nervous network alike.

Fine-tuning the casting is one of the many functions of the pilot process. On the show I just finished, one of the four principal roles was re-cast after we'd shot the pilot -- the Powers That Be replaced a young actress before we began shooting the scheduled ten episodes. This worked out for the show, which ended up filming a total of twenty-nine additional episodes in that first season, but it was a tough blow for actress who lost the part. Imagine how she felt getting dumped, then seeing the show go on to film for the better part of a year with that other actress playing her role.

Our show made another change mid-way through the first ten-episode order, replacing a non-core actress in a recurring/secondary role. That was hard on her and the crew – we really liked her a lot, and hated to see her go – but it wasn't long before we all understood what a good fit the new actress really was. Whether the impetus for that change came from the show’s producers or their Network Overlords remains unclear, but it was the right call.

This is just one more reason actors really do have the toughest job in Hollywood. Writers come in a distant second in that dismal race, facing rejection and failure based upon the perceived quality and marketability of the words they put on paper. That has to hurt, no doubt about it, but compared to what most actors go through -- standing up to repeated blunt rejection of the most intensely personal kind -- writers have it easy. Actors are constantly being told they're not good enough, that the producers want somebody else -- somebody better -- for the part.

It’s no wonder so many actors go crazy in this town.

The second segment of the show ignited a prairie fire of commentary, largely due to CNN picking up – and in classic cable news fashion, utterly misrepresenting – a sound clip from the interview with Hillary Swank. An interesting discussion between the show host, Hillary, and her producing partner was lost in the subsequent smoke and flames as a mob of outraged (and seemingly demented) fans stormed the barricades in protest.

Like so many goings-on in Hollywood, this one brought to mind the classic novel about life in Hollywood: Day of the Locust -- and reminded me that the word “fan” is often short for “fanatic.”

Still, whether you decide to plow through the post-show commentary of unwarranted vitriol or not – and I don’t recommend it -- the show is worth a listen.

There's more good stuff over at the "Martini Shot" pod-cave, where Rob Long gets itchy while discussing the relative virtues and attractions of candy vs. homework in making television viewing choices, then works up a serious sweat pondering the ultimate harsh reality of Hollywood as recently discovered by Charlie Sheen – that none of us who toil in the shadows of the big white sign are so special that we can’t be replaced.

It’s a lesson worth remembering, and three minutes that are definitely worth your attention.

And now for something completely different. Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”) is the only showrunner I know of who also runs his own personal show-related blog, and it’s an interesting read. When he’s not ripping someone – or occasionally himself – a new one, Sutter likes to pull back the curtain and explain his process of writing and managing the show. He recently posted a few short video clips, the best of which are segments called What the Fuck?, where he answers questions from readers/fans. The lead clip is video from a photo shoot promo that will appeal to civilian fans of the show, but I found the second clip a lot more illuminating. And here, Sutter composes a wonderfully smooth-and-snarky ode to agents and managers.

Those are my picks of the week. Check 'em out...


Penny said...

Regarding the second actress replaced (not the young one) I don't know if you heard the backstory, or for that matter if it is even TRUE; but the rumor-mill said her "people" were demanding that the show include her every week and to be part of the regular cast, publicity, etc., otherwise no deal. Naturally the Powers That Be, simply said "no deal".

Michael Taylor said...

Penny --

Maybe that's what happened. I heard something similar took place over at CSINY, when the lead actress (can't recall her name) who'd been with the show since the beginning asked for a huge raise -- rumor is she (or more likely, her agent) demanded a seven fold increase in her weekly pay. Maybe she was worth it, maybe not -- I was never a fan of that show -- but the producers response was to write her out of the show.

I guess fifty grand a week just wasn't enough...