Why You Don't Block Shoot - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Here in Canada, there's a tendency to block shoot to save money. That's when you shoot several episodes at once. Often, as well, producers shoot the entire season in advance of airing.

If TV creators were artistes, this would make sense. When you shoot in advance, you have a little leeway if you run over schedule. You can pick shots up here and there along the way. And often, you write a whole slew of scripts, or even all the scripts, in advance. That way you can keep the whole show in your head and not be distracted by production. Right?

What if you get something wrong? As you can see from the TV, EH? forum, some LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE fans aren't loving a new character introduced this season. They think he's an unpleasant jerk and not funny.

American shows, and many Canadian shows, don't get too far ahead of themselves in production. That allows them to react semi-nimbly to audience reaction, whether they're getting it from reading blogs (which as DMc points out is risky), or if they can afford proper focus groups and market research.

Next week's show is probably completely finished. But maybe there's time to trim some moments or try to carry the humor with musical "stings." As you move down the season, you can re-edit episodes to de-emphasize the character's story line, or if he's crucial to the A-story, spend less time with him on screen and cut to more reaction shots. When you get to shows you're shooting, you can tell him to play the role differently. Lighten up, eh? Then you get to scripts in the pipeline. You can have him run over by a bus. You can write him differently, or write him out entirely.

TV production schedules are a balance between getting too far ahead and cutting it too close. If you cut it too close, there's not enough time for post. You start running up overtime with the editors, and people start making bad editing decisions because there's no time to think about what you're doing. If you really run over schedule you can miss an air date. The network has to slot in a rerun, and you're fired.

But if you get too far ahead, you can't react to the reactions.

(Oh, and while we're at it -- someone really ought to underwrite TV, EH? The only blog about watching Canadian TV shouldn't be a volunteer effort. How about it, Tim Horton?)

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7 Comments:

The famous example is Ben on LOST ... the actor was originally hired just one episode, three scenes ... no one thought (including him) that it would be more than that ... but he was so good in those three short scenes, it got expanded ...

And then some. And then more ...

By Blogger Joshua James, at 10:02 AM  

Same thing happened on Grey's Anatomy -- Addison was supposed to be three episodes and out (or something like that), but the audience loved her.

By Blogger Lisa, at 10:09 AM  

I know Frasier, on Cheers, was supposed to be in one, possibly two episodes, but was such a hit he stayed, and then went on to yet another of the most successful shows ever.

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:57 PM  

On the other hand, "OMG, you changed something and I LOVE IT!" is a headline that nobody has ever seen on an internet board about a show.

For whatever reason, I've found, the online fans who post on a show tend to be the most reactionary, and they always hate change -- no matter what kind.

The comments on TVEh are enough in one direction, and from a small enough sample that one might easily conclude you're reading the reaction of the Derek McGrath (no relation) fan club.

Brandon Firla is a very funny actor, and might well settle into the role and bring the conflict that any good comedy needs to thrive.

But the idea of reframing or changing stuff just by the reaction of the online message board posting audience? Brrr. Scary. There lies dragons.

Right now it's "interesting." To say it's more than that is qualitively no different than concluding that BSG was in deep trouble because none of the fans would accept Starbuck as a woman.

It wasn't; they did.

More data, please, before we panic and order reshoots.

By Blogger DMc, at 2:23 PM  

The concept of writing it all first and shooting most if not all in advance has always been issues that created a barrier between Canadian series and an audience.

It creates a distance that the audience can sense. They know they're being kept at arms length, almost not wanted on the journey.

Sometimes I think it's done so the folks in charge of the show don't have to deal with their original concept being challenged.

And in the case of "Little Mosque" it feels like there's a message we haven't been getting and now we're going to get it whether we like it or not.

By Blogger jimhenshaw, at 3:32 PM  

I think whether or not the bulk of fans agree with the ones on that Little Mosque post, the point is valid: when a show can't adjust to viewer response, even if it wanted to, even if it ends up amounting to more than 20 angry website comments, that could be a problem. According to their official Twitter account, the whole season is already finished shooting.

(And hey, thanks for the plug, Alex. In Tim's defense I could do more to seek out that kind of thing too.)

By Blogger Diane Kristine, at 6:34 PM  

I can think of lots of successful American cable shows that are finished or near finished with filming their entire seasons before their season premiere airs. If there’s a reaction to some stuff at the beginning of the season, they can re-edit some of the later episodes perhaps, but they’re not typically going to rewrite or refilm anything.

Yes, Michael Emerson’s role was expanded in season 3 of Lost based on good feedback from his initial appearances in season 2. But if he was initially only hired for one episode in season 2, then I don’t see how audience reaction could’ve been responsible for his continued role in season 2; at the very least, he’d already have filmed multiple consecutive episodes by the time his first episode aired.

Kate Walsh made her first appearance on Grey’s in maybe the final minute of Grey’s first season finale. It was a memorable scene but I don’t think anyone in the audience was clamoring for more of her based on that. Her next several appearances were already filmed, because they were meant to be part of Grey’s first season, which was completely filmed before the pilot had aired. By the time the audience saw her in a full episode she probably had already filmed, oh, maybe 10 episodes.

By Blogger Peter, at 10:09 PM  

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