It Sounds Good in Theory
Sometimes the suits and the brass on a production come up with a brilliant idea, but since they have limited experience with actual shooting they can hand a director an impossible task.
Such was the case for me on The Edison Twins. The show had been going over budget, through no fault of anybody on the production end that I could identify. The scripts were just very ambitious. Each episode was given one day of prep and four days of shooting. Now the producers wanted to save some money by doing an episode in three days. How do you do that? Well, let’s get the writers to give us an episode that is all in one location so it can be “block shot”. This should mean that we save all the wrap time and moving time as we go from location to location. Sounds like a great idea, right.
So they hand me a script and tell me that this will be a three day shoot. There’s only one problem. The script calls for a highschool play, with everything taking place in the school auditorium. So far so good. Except we can’t jump from one scene to another and shoot efficiently, because the show starts with an empty auditorium and a bare stage then develops gradually until there is a complete set on stage, actors in costumes, and chairs in place for parents and audience to occupy. Every scene still has to be blocked and lit. Actors still need time to work out their performances and say their lines. Jumping from a scene near the end of the show to a scene near the beginning of the show and back again just can’t be done without at least an hour of set dressing and costume changes. The show has to be shot in sequence, and any efficiency gained by having just one location will be lost by the demands of continuity.
Halfway through day one we were already two days behind schedule on a three day shoot. This may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. By day three, which was supposed to wrap the episode, we still had at least two days of shooting left to do. The three day shoot turned into five.
That was my last shoot on “The Edison Twins”. They had to blame somebody, and the obvious choice was the director. No hard feelings. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. It was a great run, and I was sad to see it end.
And Then There Was The Cave of Mirrors
The Edison Twins was not the only episodic show with inexperienced visionaries making disastrous decisions. I’ll never forget the cave of mirrors on Kung Fu the Legend Continues. That sounded like such a good idea to the writers and the show runner. Wouldn’t it be great to have a cave of mirrors where the climactic kung fu battle happens. I mean, wouldn’t that be confusing if Caine couldn’t tell whether he was seeing the bad guy or a reflection of the bad guy. So at great expense, such a set was constructed. The cave of mirrors. Mirrors everywhere. Triangular mirrors built into pyramids of stalactites and stalagmites. It was beautiful.
The thing is, the camera only sees in two dimensions. It doesn’t have binocular vision. So a mirror doesn’t look like a mirror to the camera. It looks like a hole, the entrance into another space. And what is worse, when you put a film crew in a cave lined with mirrors at all different angles, it becomes very difficult to hide the crew from the audience. When you are watching the kung fu fight, it’s rather distracting to see a thousand versions of the camera crew reflected in all the mirrors.
That shoot was a nightmare. We ended up using dulling spray to turn most of the mirrors opaque, so that we could shoot without seeing the crew. I don’t think I ever saw the completed show, but I sure would like to.