Thursday, June 25, 2009

Never Discussed New Magnum Topic......... SCRIPTS!

Thanks to another excellent email question from Alexandre of Normandy who always has good questions even if I can't always understand his English!  I've never really talked about Magnum scripts before--or any scripts for that matter.

Of all the creative areas such as music, painting, architecture, etc. writing / scripts are probably the most abused art form!  A lot of people don't realize that when a person creates a story in a script, it's not "chiseled in stone."  Is there such a thing as written on water?  Basically once a script is sold to a company, it becomes the property of that company and the scriptwriter is paid like when you pay Home Depot for a sheet of plywood.  Home Depot doesn't have any say in what you do to their former property.  You take the plywood home and cut it up into pieces to make it work for you.  Well, they do the same thing with a script--only there are lots of carpenters doing the cutting:  The director cuts, changes, rewrites according to his/her "vision," the producer changes the script for image, liability or just because they can, and finally the actor changes the script because "My character would never say that line!"  The script could even be changed because the right location couldn't be found, the weather changed, or the time of day changed.  So you have a creative work that has many hands molding it.  Most people wouldn't think of adding another palm tree to a painting or tell a composer to change the key to B-flat, but scripts seem to be fair game for a lot of input.  That said, you can't do without them!

In episodic TV (like Magnum), right about the time you start filming an episode, a new script arrives in your box.  Given that you are up to your neck with the current show, there is a real temptation to just leave the script where it is for awhile.  However, it's not going to go away so it's in your best interest to read it asap for any possible "Are they out of their minds??!!"  problems waiting and to give a heads up if you see an advance problem for your department.  On Magnum there were some directors where I automatically doubled my budget regardless of the script requirements! 

  Before you even finish the new script, colored pages will appear in your box again--these are revisions.  I forget the color sequence they have for 1st revision, 2nd revision, 3rd, 4th, etc. but it's something like blue pages, pink pages, green pages, yellow pages--whatever.  Sometimes they will just say "Pinks are out" (which means they're in!) and that means more revisions.  Sometimes these revisions are dialogue and they have changed "I can't go now." to "I can't go there now."  This generates a new script cover sheet, contents sheet, and then the actual page with the dialogue change--and another tree gives its life for this valuable contribution to society.  Of course they don't tell you what the actual changes are (you have to read them), but 95% of the time, it didn't affect me.  In the pre-cell phone (pager only dark ages), I was once stuck in rush hour traffic on a freeway in L.A.  My pager went off with the production office number and the dreaded "911" following.  Fearing an emergency, I got off the freeway in a not so good area, found a pay phone, realized I was standing in a puddle of urine, called the production office only to find out that they had put "green pages" in my box!  I needed to know this NOW???  This is why P.A.'s (production assistants) are sometimes found wearing concrete shoes and not on land.  So as each new color comes out, you dutifully take your old pages out and put your new pages in your 3 ring binder.  Then they will issue a new, revised entire script and you start all over again with more revisions.  I think we're up to losing a forest by now!   It's very embarrassing to be at  production meeting where we PAINFULLY go through the entire script page by page (while your entire crew is waiting for you to dress a set at a distant location) and discover while everyone else has turned to their blue page, you are still have the old pink page and obviously not with the program.  Wow, I am getting pretty detailed with all this!  Moving on...........

On most shows, the scripts arrive mysteriously from a mainland production office--by mail or eventually fax on Magnum--by the internet now.  However, Magnum was blessed with having a resident writer / story editor / eternally nice person named Chris Abbott-Fish.  (I think the Fish name has since swum away).  She wrote several scripts and rewrote others in residence at the studio. If there was ever a problem with a script, it could be handled (usually) quickly in house.  I always enjoyed our infrequent meetings, but if anyone ever had a smile on their face at that studio it was her.

While I have no script writer inclinations or experience--there is a sort of template they stick to.  God knows I could never stick to any formula the way I go on and on.  There are things like "conflict" and "resolution" and other standard items that need to happen between commercial breaks.  This is nothing new.  I remember in college studying Greek drama and the professor used "Bonanza" as an example of Greek tragedy.  When he broke it down into protagonist and antagonist and the other aspects of Greek theatre that I have since forgotten, there is a formula that is followed to some degree.  Obviously you have to be a good writer to make it original, unique and interesting.  Of course a few "f-words" and a couple of car explosions with really loud dialogue seems to help.  Yeah, I know.........

So while we were shooting a current script, the next script would come out--it would be rare to have a 3rd one at the same time.  Sometimes if there was a really difficult one, there might be a partial script, but rarely.  Casting or production obviously had scripts before the worker bees got them.  We would be too busy prepping the next episode to be able to deal with more than one ahead anyway.  Each script had a cover sheet with all the usual info:  writer, producer, director, production company, name episode number, dates, warnings, etc.  Each script page would have the scene number on the left and ride side of the page and the page number at the top right corner.  Basic action comments HE HOLDS UP HIS HAT or camera CLOSE UP ON HAND or location / time EXT. SURF SHACK - LATER are indicated along with the actual dialogue. A MOW (movie of the week) script is about 100 pages.  An episodic TV script is around 60 pages.  You hear "page count" as a reference to how many pages are supposed to be shot that day.  If you have a 64 page, 1 hour script with an 8 day schedule, you better be shooting 8 pages a day.  That's a lot for a 12 hour day and you better not have any company moves within that day.  So you  might have a 6 page day or an 8 page day depending on what they are filming.  Some pages can go to 2nd unit.  That means an entirely different and smaller film crew will go out and film the Ferrari driving up to the Kamehameha Club with a stand-in driving.  Or a close-up of the bad guys shoes climbing the stairs (also a stand in) or the car crash, etc.  Basically any photography not involving principal actors--or at least it's not supposed to be (but often is).

Feature films might only do 2 or 3 pages a day and have a 150 page script.  And you wonder why you pay $10 to see a crappy movie?  It's not all going to Nicole.  A TV show with  lot of permanent sets can go faster--the lights may already be in place and it's a routine for the actors.  TV sitcoms with only 1 or 2 sets often do a taping in one night in front of a live audience--or at least they used to.  These are sometimes called "3 camera shows" where they might actually be using 3 cameras at the same time--a wide shot "master," a close up, and maybe a side shot or a "2 shot."  Obviously nothing is live / "one take" anymore so even if they mess up in front of an actual studio audience, they can always do another take or two and still finish on time more or less.

Ok, drifting off of scripts now so I guess it's time to close another time busting block buster of a blog post that sort of had something to do with "Magnum, P.I."!

Aloha,  Rick

P.S. Keep in mind that a "One Hour" script is really only about 50 minutes or even less for commercials.  As was once said to me, "TV shows are the filler between commercials."  That reminds of of a t-shirt I never wore to work:  "Theatre is Art.  Television is Furniture"  Well, that was before the digital era so I may have to draw you a picture to explain.


Ordell said...

Very interesting blog post again. Thanks for that.
I'm going watch the 4th season of Magnum P.I. later today. I watched Magnum back in the 80's already and it's still one of the best shows you can watch.
Greetings from Germany/Europe and keep up the great work Rick!

Magnum Decorator said...

WOW--someone actually read all of this posting?! Well, thank you--I will send you your achievement medal later. As you start watching Season 4, my first, just remember that I didn't know ANYTHING I've written about in this blog when I started that season! Now, this should be required reading!

Thanks again and Aloha! Rick

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Rick. This is the stuff I was wondering when I had asked the question about decorators either working in a bubble or being involved with the cast/directors/writers. Interestingly enough, I just caught some of a program (one of those ones that talks about past hit shows) which featured Belisario, Chris Abbot and Roger E. Mosley. They both said how great Chris was. Of course, those shows always say either how great someone is or how horrible. They never say things like "they were okay". Anyways, Mosley spoke of the episode 'Operation Silent Night' where T.C spoke about Kwanzaa. Originally, it was Higgins who had the lines about Kwanzaa and Mosley let them know that if any one was going to speak about Kwanzaa it was going to be T.C. This would have ment another piece of paper in your mailbox but no set changes.

Magnum Decorator said...

Glad that somewhere in my 10,000 word essay on scripts, I might have answered your question! I never got involved in the whole "star" thing. I did my job, they did theirs, and we all got a paycheck. Of course theirs ultimately was 1,000 x more than mine--but are they REALLY happy? Ok, yeah, they probably are. The wolf may be in my front yard, but he hasn't knocked on my door yet. Does anyone even say "the wolf's not at my door yet?" Maybe it's a Minnesota thing.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rick,

Remember, there are stars everywhere. Some are on the big screen, some the small screen, the office, the class, the neighbourhood and even the household. Hey, we even have some that are decorators... As for happiness, we are all in charge of our own. In between all that, I think it's okay to have MINIATURE obsessions to things like a TV or broadway show, a sport, a game. These little obsessions should also change frequently as enjoyment is the spice of life. As for the wolf being at the door, it often has to do with living to your means. Don't ask me how to do that because I'm not very good at it.(You are really close to being Canadian!). Just remember that you were part of a very entertaining show and that is part of why you are blogging with people from all around the world (oh ya, I forgot, it's also because your in between shows and finished working on your house.) And you thought you were the only one who could run on off topic.

Ordell said...

Thanks for the medal Rick. - *laugh*
Yes I read the whole post and usually I don't read much blogs. I didn't notice it was this long, I just read and enjoyed it. :)

And yes, I know the 4th season was your first. I watched the first 3 seasons on dvd the last coulpe of weeks. And I will look at the 4th, 5th etc. much closer to the details and will think to myself, "hey, this was Rick who brought that chair in, from John's Consignment Center". You know what I mean. :)
Thanks for sharing your memories!

Jill said...

Thanks for the awesome blog! I get excited when I see your name in the Magnum credits. Your posts are like having a personal link to history. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Hey Rick,

Are you out there? It's been a month. Hope all is okay. I have two questions. 1)Did you used to watch the episodes to see how things looked on camera or did you have another preferred method of checking out the look? 2) I would like to hear about the tree house in the episode 'Going Home'. You know, the one where you spent the whole morning talking to Gwen.(She was a perfect choice for Magnum's mother. She gave a great character.)Thanks. Susie

Sr.Martínez said...

Reading your blog is always entertaining, Rick. I've been a fan of Magnum P.I. since I was very young (I think I was six or seven years old when the show aired in Spain) but what makes your blog interesting is not just the inside info but the fact that you spend your time talking about things like the script. Thanks for that, man and keep on working!

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