Saturday, March 28, 2009

In which we hit our Marks, our Stride, and the Lottery

This week's movie is an exciting noir classic from Producers Releasing Corporation. Actually, it was neither exciting nor classic, but it was from Producers Releasing Corporation. In fact, the next couple of months will feature a slogfest through the catalog of Producers Releasing Corporation, which according to Wikipedia is "one of the humbler studios along Poverty Row." In a way, it's kinda cruel to make mock of PRC; no doubt the employees were doing the best they could do with what they had to work with, and no doubt were pleased as proverbial punch that they had jobs n all in cruel times, and no doubt none of said worthies so gainfully employed thought for one minute that their work would survive down through the generations to be displayed with a heaping plate of 80s 'tude on local KY teevee; but honestly, if we weren't paid to sit through the thing we would have been out washing the car or chunking rocks at our neighbor's rooster or some other activity that would have been a far more profitable use of our time than trying to figure out how to wrap some alleged entertainment around an exciting noir classic from Producers Releasing Corporation.

In fact, watching the tape resulting in a remarkably pristine note pad as I recall ... no grist for the mill, nada, nil, naught, nix, ni. One or the other of us basically said, "Oh let's just trash the damn thing and be done with it." This seemed to yield enough grist to produce something that could be show-like, and at least get us out of the rut; if we didn't get out of the rut soon, we'd be phoning in the bad puns and saying buh-bye to teevee land after a few more weeks. So ... a show of Millie as a Hard Boiled Dick seemed promising enough, and the premise started to write itself sorta -- always helpful when you're writing in your spare time and to deadline.

We still didn't really have Millie's voice, but it was starting to emerge. Dick Cavett opined once that one can't write comedy without writing for a particular comic and that particular comic's delivery, and went on to demonstrate how a basic joke would morph for Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and somebody else. We found this to be true in practice: until we found Millie's unique voice, the rhythm of her words, the particular sounds and words that were hers, writing and performing the show was a wrestling match with the paper right up to the show close. For this show, I was "hearing" Millie channeling Phillip Marlowe, Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe; and it was coming out in a faster-paced torrent of words than normal. Rococo words, too; Millie was channeling S.J. Perelman channeling Messrs. Marlowe, Goodwin and Wolfe. The script was getting a little more interesting than the post-opening scripts.

The open called for Millie investigating a murder, with a stage heaped with victims: Millie would rattle on, we'd roll Keith's new opening sequence, we'd come back in with more victims heaped around, and then roll the first segment of the movie. When we dropped the scripts off Thursday, I talked Keith through this sequence because if we were going to heap the stage with victims we'd probably need a few camera guys as set dressing. Keith was fine with this, and pointed out that if this was going to be a noir bit then we probably needed noirish lighting. This was fine with me, you want some suggestions? let's try some stuff when we place the set. O-kay. Oh by the way, Keith added, do you have anything in mind for the opening sequence? Nope, that's yours, do what you think it needs. Keith had something in mind.

When we came in Saturday night, the studio energy level was definitely up. The guys hustled the set in before they broke for lunch, and there seemed to be a bit more clutter to it than usual -- not a bad thing, somebody's been set-dressing. Everybody, including Barb n Bob, came back in at 12:30, and looky here a ladder has appeared! there's somebody up on it! and he's -- moving a light! After looking at the monitor, Keith and I wonder what it would look like if we -- turned off a couple of lights? So we start turning off lights, Keith checking back with the engineer to make sure we aren't breaking any station rules, and after a few minutes we end up with something that's definitely ... different.

Keith has decided that this will be a locked down one-camera shot, so he lines the shot up and we start decoratively arranging camera guys as helpless victims around the set. The guys are quite insistent that Floor Manager Tracy be the most prominent victim, and that she be decoratively arranged so as to be visibly ... protruberant would be a good word. They compete to be decoratively arranged near Tracy, so that they can try to break her up during the shot; it would seem that Tracy is easily amused and has a distinctive giggle. We haven't seen this much interest n life yet for this show, so Barb ices the cake by telling Tracy that whatever she does, she must-not-giggle. This has the desired effect of Tracy manfully trying to hold it in through the camera rehearsal, but not quite making it. The whole thing looks very silly -- not at all what we had imagined, but very silly and very playable. The whole show is going to go in a different direction tonight than what we thought -- and then Barb gives Keith the cue for the New Open.

Oh, that scamp Keith! He has been very busy in the edit booth, and has swiped the opening titles for Miami Vice, editing in Millie shots culled from the fateful first camera runthrough and the first couple of shows and matting the titles for this week's show over the Miami Vice graphics. Apparently none of the floor guys were in on this; we're all seeing it for the first time and howling with laughter. Keith is beaming, until one of the poopheads in the control room points out that he really needs to start the countdown clock because we've got less than two minutes to air. So we hurriedly get everybody back into some semblance of the victim positions, remind Tracy most severely that under no circumstances can she giggle, Keith suddenly remembers that with everybody laying dead on camera he's got no floor manager to count into the show so I put on Tracy's headset and do the hand jive for everyone and we're doing it for real, Tracy merrily mph mph mphing through Barb's monolog.

It occurs to me that if we went from Keith's open back to the studio and then back to the movie, we're taking something away from Keith's open; so I mention to Keith that it would be OK with us if we just went straight from his open to the movie. He's locked and loaded with tape and film cued up, so he's fine with that; and so it goes. Barb asks why we didn't come back to her, I tell her, she's fine with that as well, and we're madly dashing for the next setup.

The rest of the show chugs along just fine. Everybody's having a good time, we're getting good suggestions for the bumps, everybody's contributing. Any semblance between the show we're broadcasting and the show we dropped off on Thursday is purely accidental. This calls for post-show pizza, and while we're celebrating it occurs to me that Halloween is coming in a couple of weeks, as is Fall Back Night. It also occurs to me that we'll be live at the time that humanity supposedly Falls Back. So while we're congratulating each other and thanking Keith for his open, I wonder how hard it would be to tape the open of the show and then play the tape back live later on in the show. Keith say this is fairly easy, and did I have something in mind?

As a matter of fact, I did.


  1. The Falls Back segment was the one that really sealed it for me as a fan... incredibly funny idea that I used-stole later (kinda) as a radio DJ in Dallas.

    OH! Costume contest! That one girl painted her Shockwave Transformer WHITE!!! If I hadn't been poor and was able to collect Transformers I'd have told her off, Shockwave was my favorite.

    (Luckily for me, I have a grudge against the Transformers precisely because I couldn't afford them when they first came out... there fore had no vested interest in Michael Bay's explode-a-thon.

  2. Barb say: Millie approves, darling.

  3. As for Michael Bay, the back of our collective hands to him, the creature. Sometimes I contemplate the lot of the folks who work for Digital Domain: to move from James Cameron walking the corridors giving orders to Michael Bay walking the corridors giving orders -- well, it would make a case study in crazymaking.

  4. I just love that scamp, Keith!!