Glad You Asked Department 8/17/16
by Larry Brody
Regular visitors to TVWriter™ may remember that once upon a time I promised to answer TV and film writing and production questions on a regular basis and that I tried but, well, erm…
My promise kinda fizzled out in the Summer of 2013.
That’s three years ago, I know. Three years of hanging my head and going, “Oy…oy…Oy…!
Three years of guilt!
Today, however, I’m filled with Q and A joy because last week I was asked a question about something that has bugged the hell out of me for years. To be more specific, what’s been bugging the hell out of me is the answer, which I’ve known and understood and have had no reason to ever tell anyone.
So it’s with a smile on my face, a song in my heart, and a new sense of old purpose, that I take advantage of the situation and share with you, the TVWriter™ Crew, the following email exchange:
First, the query, from JW:
I’m writing a short article for Maclean’s magazine…about “Macgyver,” and I was wondering if you would be able to comment for it.
What I wanted to ask about is why you think the TV subgenre of the action show – as opposed to mystery shows that don’t have as much stunt work or chases – seemed to become less prevalent since the 1990s. Were there any reasons – in terms of the costs or who watched these shows – given as to why they were harder to sell?
Let me know if you can help or if you need more information about the article. I have to file it by Friday.
I’m proud to say that I responded well before Friday, and I encourage Maclean’s Magazine readers everywhere to keep an eye out for JM’s article (which may already be out. Dammit, why don’t I know?”).
Of course, after Friday had passed, I found myself thinking about the issue again and – of course – coming up with a much more complex reply, because that’s what people do, right? JW already has what I wrote. Here’s my revised draft, featuring what I should have written:
Thanks for contacting me, JW.
In a nutshell, the reason for fewer action shows is indeed financial. The various action shows I produced all had significant budget deficits and problems, mostly caused because all the action necessitated at least one and more often two days of second unit filming per episode, which means having a second film crew, a second director – usually the stunt coordinator – various stunt people and duplicate vehicles, extra insurance, permits, permissions, security, and more.
Add to that the fact that for some strange reason second unit filming always seemed to go into overtime, adding to the expense even more. The studio suits always thought it was the stunt crew taking advantage of the lack of supervision of most second unit shoots (because there simply was no one around to perform that task), but I’ve never bought into that POV. The way I see it, choreographing and shooting and reshooting and adjusting and re-reshooting are absolutely necessary as well as, yes, time-consuming as all hell.
In the ’80s, on THE FALL GUY, we estimated that the action sequences were adding another 20% to our total working budget for the series and started looking for less $$$-gobbling alternatives. One of them was to buy previously unseen stunt footage shot for major films (think various productions of James Bond) but cut out before the final release. We would put our stars into matching costumes and behind the steering wheels of matching vehicles, roll ’em out of frame, and let movie magic take its course.
It worked for awhile, but I felt like we were cheating the audience, and the stunt co-ordinator was inconsolable. Moping around, weeping a bit now and then, threatening my family, you know how men of action get when they don’t have enough to do, so the bought footage experiment didn’t last all that long and soon we were back on the ever-sharpening edge of fiscal disaster.
An edge that today is skirted by watching lab work and autopsies instead of careening vehicles and monstrous explosions. (Oh, and the stunt co-ordinator didn’t really threaten my family. But I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had.
And that’s it. This was fun for me to write, and I hope equally enjoyable (as well as informative) to read. Now let’s all send out good energy and clap our hands for Tinkerbelle – and for yours truly finding the time and space to address things like before another three years zoom by.
As this department used to say – and, I hope, will again, “My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. But I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!”