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Archive for October, 2012

“Kindness is free.”
Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall survived bad health as a child. He survived long cold winters in Chicago as a college student. He survived a tour of duty in Korea as an Army soldier. He survived producing stressful TV shows. He survived bad investments that almost forced him into bankruptcy. He survived making a few bad films to make a few more good ones. He survived critics, cancer, and canned laughter.

He did all of that and lived to tell about it. In two books actually (Wake Me When It’s Funny, My Happy Days in Hollywood).

Garry Marshall is a survivor.

I’m not sure why of all of filmmakers in the last 100 plus years Marshall became the first one that I spent an entire month writing about on this blog, but I suspect it has something to do with his incredibly long run as a producer, director, writer, and actor spanning stand-up, radio, television, books and theater. (What no blog? Garry call me—we can play some basketball and then grab lunch at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank and talk blogging.)

If you look at the peaks (The Odd Couple, Pretty Woman, Happy Days, Fonzie, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams) and the longevity of his career—it’s been an amazing run. Factor in how he was able to balance all of that with his personal and family life and you have one amazing life well lived. A true Hollywood survivor.

“The truth is that I always wanted a more stable life than my intellectual idols had. People like Arthur Miller, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Sylvia Path, Anton Chekov and Albert Camus all had unconventional family life. I was a product of the 50s and was charmed by The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and the drawings of Norman Rockwell. Whether they were true or not didn’t matter. I wanted to come home to a wife, children, and a sane family dinner hour. This is probably why I have been married for forty-nine years and have three children and six grandchildren.
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

And he’s not done yet, he just sold a new TV show. As I was looking for a fitting way to end a Month of Marshall (technically started these posts last month) with an exclamation point, I came across the clip below where Marshall is brilliant—though less than kind—as a TV executive giving Louis C.K. a little Hollywood pep talk.

P.S. In light of the Frankenstorm damage to Marshall’s hometown of New York City (and the surrounding areas) it is a good time to be reminded that “kindness is free.”

Halloween P.S.—Here’s a scary picture for you. This is an old Nikon lens that’s older than two of my interns this semester. It had been in retirement for many years until I had a need for it last year when shooting a video project. I originally bought it in Miami or L.A. back in the ’80s. It’s seen its share of battles, but it still captures sweet images. Talk about a survivor…

Related links:

Flaming Rejection
Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1)
Writing & Rewriting “Pretty Woman” (Part 1)

Scott W. Smith

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“The Odd Monks”

“If you pretend the characters can’t speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama.”
David Mamet

“Many Odd Couple fans have their favorite episodes, whether they be ‘The New Car,’ ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ ‘That Is the Army, Mrs. Madison,’  ‘Password,’ ‘The Ides of April,’ ‘It’s All Over Now,’ ‘Baby Bird,’ or ‘The Rain in Spain.’ My favorite is called ‘The Odd Monks’ because I wrote it out of desperation….This episode came at a point in the season when Jack [Klugman] and Tony [Randall] said they were getting tired of the long, complicated scripts we were giving them. The truth was they didn’t want to memorize so many lines. So I offered a compromise. I said, ‘Everybody take the week off. I’m writing the script this week.’ In the script Felix and Oscar go to a monastery and have to take a vow of silence. For nearly forty pages there was no dialogue, thus eliminating the need for two stars to memorize anything. The entire script was based on physical and visual humor, which I had learned from the scripts I had written for Lucille Ball. I think it was not only a funny script but one that varied the rhythm of the show. Sometimes when I watch TV with my wife I’ll come across “Odd Monks” on cable, and I have to sit and watch it through to the end. Jack and Tony, in my opinion, knocked that episode out of the ballpark.”
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

Couldn’t find an online clip from The Monks episode, but the basic concept continues a trend of this blog that started in January of this year after I saw The Artist. That is the concept of movies and scenes played with little or no dialogue. Thought that was a strength of Argo that I saw last week, and also of the old Steve McQueen film The Cincinnati Kid which I caught on cable over the weekend.

Scott W. Smith

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Only three more days left in my Month of Marhsall, where I’ve been finding bits of wisdom from writer/director Garry Marshall. Long before his success in films (Pretty Woman), or as the creator of TV shows (Happy Days, Mork & Mindy), he was a comedy writer for some of the biggest names in the 60s; Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas, Joey Bishop, and Dick Van Dyke.

One cost cutting technique he learned from the world of sitcom writing (that some filmmakers today would call “containment”) Marshall calls the ‘stuckinna” plot.

“Another favorite formula of sitcom producers was the ‘stuckinna’ plot, in which the main characters would get ‘stuck in’ something because it helped reduced the number of sets and kept production values down. These stories might find characters stuck in a bath tub, a basement, an attic, a bus, or anything that would be conducive to physical humor. Jerry [Belson] and I wrote a two-part Dick Van Dyke episode called ‘8 1/2′ in which Dick and Mary got stuck in an elevator and were held up by a thief played by Don Rickles. The episode was nominated for a Writers Guild award, which goes to show you that just because an episode is cheap productionwise, it’s not without merit.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 81-82 

It worked for Charlie Chaplin when he got stuck in a cage with a lion, or in a cabin with a bear.  It worked for Hitchcock in Lifeboat.  And it worked for Rodrifo Cortes in the film Buried based on Chris Sparling’s script, where Ryan Reynolds is the sole actor on screen set inside a coffin. Embrace your limitations.

Update 6.23.13—The Stuckinna plot worked when Lucy was stuck in the assembly line.

P.S. Another more subtle comedy tip in that Marshall quote is the title 8 1/2. While it wouldn’t resonate as much today, back in ’60s it would have been instantly recognizable as a humorous play on the 1963 Fellini film 8 1/2.

Related links:

Screenwriting Quote #124 (Chris Sparling)

Writing for Low Budget Films (includes a list of films shot on one location)

Scott W. Smith

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You can file this one under, “What they don’t teach in film school”:

“Penny [Marshall] and Cindy [Williams] would plow through writers, leaving me constantly looking for replacements. Sometimes I would go over to Happy Days and entice a writer or two to come and take a spin on Laverne & Shirley. I pretended it was an easy breezy show to write for, but most of the writers on Happy Days knew better. When you hire actors or actresses for a series, you look for people who have well-rounded-lives with supportive friends and family. But when hiring writers, you look for people with no lives so they will be willing to stay as long as you want them to in order to get the script rewritten before the cameras roll. I searched in comedy clubs, workshops, and bars for writers with no lives who would work late on any episode, difficult or not.”
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

Now Garry didn’t exactly say how Penny and Cindy would “plow through writers,” but he did comment that it was once bad enough that one of the writers wanted to run over the show’s stars with his car when he saw them in the studio parking lot. I have no idea how indicative that is of TV writers today, but here’s a somewhat related quote from the podcast Scriptnotes:

“Your passion is writing. You like the idea of writing screenplays, but that’s not what screenwriting is. Screenwriting is a job where you write and also get punched in the head a lot.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II)
Transcript of Scriptnotes, Ep. 54

So…even if you’re a working screenwriter—not all days are happy days.

Related Post: DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)

Scott W. Smith

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 “Happy Days was for me the quintessential television success story. I had followed my instincts, and they had turned out to be right.”
Garry Marshall

The early 70s were not happy days. A sweeping snapshot of the United States during that time might look like this; Viet Nam, Watergate, oil crisis, rising drug use, Taxi Driver. Gritty stuff. Of course, the 70s weren’t all dark days—but it wasn’t best time to launch an upbeat show about the happy days of the 1950s. In fact, Garry Marshall’s original pilot for Happy Days died after it first aired in 1971.

But it now only found new life three years later, but the series ran from 1974-1984 for a total of 225 episodes. Here’s what changed to bring a dead project to life.

“My friend from Korea Fred Roos was producing a film with George Lucas called American Graffiti about the 1950s. They wanted to see my 1950s pilot because they were thinking of casing Ron Howard as the lead of their movie. They liked Ron, cast him, and American Graffiti was a big hit. Then a play called Grease hot Broadway, and it further reinforced the popularity of the 1950s. The executives at ABC called Eisner, and he remembered my pilot about the 1950s. Happy Days was repitched as a midseason replacement and given a second life three years after it appeared on Love, American Style.
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

Of course, I should point out that when Marshall was picking a setting for quintessential America in the 1950s he picked the Midwest— Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Knowing that Happy Days appealed to people from eight years old to eighty makes me smile even today. I always wanted to be remembered as the Norman Rockwell of television, Happy Days represented the part of me that wanted to make mainstream America laugh. If television was the education of the American public, then Happy Days was recess. And I always loved recess best.”
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood

Happy Days not only had an emotional and creative payoff for Garry, but when he went through some financial difficulties later in his career that put him on the edge of bankruptcy there was a thing called cable TV that came along and not only exposed Happy Days to a whole new audience (including his own grandchildren), but it brought him a whole new income stream. Happy days indeed.

Scott W. Smith

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“Fonzie began as a secondary character with very few lines. When he started drawing so much focus, we had to adjust the scripts.”
Garry Marshall, Happy Days creator

You can’t base a month of posts on Hollywood legend Garry Marshall without touching on one of the most popular TV shows he created—Happy Days. Especially, when his book is called My Happy Days in Hollywood. The show was not only a hit for 11 seasons in its first run, but helped coined one of the most popular phrases in television:

“People come up and ask me all the time about the phrase jumping the shark and if I find it offensive. The expression comes from a late episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie uses water skis to literally jump over a shark in the ocean. It was certainly not one of the shows I am most proud of. But I love the phrase jumping the shark and the way people use it today to signify a TV series nearing the end of its run. In 2009 I did a full stage tour of the Happy Days musical, which I wrote with Paul Williams and produced with Happy Days executive producers Bob Boyett and Tom Miller. One of the big jokes in the musical is when someone notices Fonzie is in a bad mood and says, ‘He hasn’t been the same since he jumped the shark.'”
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

I was in high school when that first aired and spent many happy days watching Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, Tom Bosley and the rest of the gang. Tomorrow we’ll look at the difficulties Marshall had in getting Happy Days produced, and why it was finally given a shot three years after it was written. When using the phrase jumping the shark in connection to Happy Days, it’s important to point out that Happy Days was one of the most viewed shows of its era.

P.S. According to Wikipedia, the phrase “jumping the shark” was created by Jon Hein, but if you dig a little deeper and read the LA Times article by Fred Fox Jr. you’ll see what Hein did was popularize the phrase that first came from his roommate at the University of Michigan, Sean Connolly, back in 1987 when they were sitting around drinking beer and talking about TV programs. For what it’s worth, 30 million people watched the original Jumping the Shark episode when it first aired on September 20, 1977. May all of your less than successful ideas be seen by 30 million people.

And that episode was actually in season five. Jumping the Shark doesn’t necessarily mean a show is dying. Happy Days had a six-year run after Fonzie and his leather jacket and hopped on a pair of water skis. After binge watching both Friday Night Lights and Mad Men in the past year, there were plenty of places where they both jumped the shark—both not only survived, but continued to find their way. The weekly demands on television writers and producers is tremendous—so give them a little grace before you dig their graves.

Related link: jumpingtheshark.com

Scott W. Smith

 

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I’m going to be flying by memory today, but feel confident I have my facts straight.

There’s a scene in Pretty Woman where Julie Roberts and Richard Gere are having a conversation in their hotel room one morning. On one of the director’s commentaries Garry Marshall says that scene was edited down from either a longer scene (or possibly two scenes). This caused some continuity problems because Julia Roberts is eating food. So one second she’s eating a croissant, but after the camera cuts away to Gere and comes back to Roberts she is now holding a pancake. Marshall talked about the editor not wanting to cut the scene that way because of the continuity problem. But Marshall justified cutting it that way because it worked best for scene flow and was the best performance. Then on the commentary he said something to the effect of, “I will always protect the actor.”

I had seen Pretty Woman two or three times at that point and never noticed the continuity problem until Marshall pointed it out.  I imagine cutting for performance and protecting the actors are a couple of the reasons Marshall has been able to work with some of the finest actors of the last 40 years.

(Couldn’t find that scene on You Tube, but if you know where a link is of that scene send it my way and I’ll include it.)

Scott W. Smith

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