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Monday, February 02, 2009

Q. I have a scene in my spec pilot that would play better in the rain. And maybe thunder. Is rain an expensive effect in TV?
One mistake aspiring writers make, I find, is to worry too much about the production budget, and often in incorrect ways.

Some things look expensive and are: car chases, stunts, explosions. Robots that turn into cars. Dinosaurs. Dragons.

Other things don't look expensive, but are. Every time you take the cast to a new location, it involves a company move. That means the entire company has to wrap up all of their stuff, put it in the truck, take it out again at a new location, and put it in place.

Every time you put an extra character in a scene, that increases the number of setups the director needs to cover the scene. Each new setup means the d.p. gets to fuss with his lights some more. It's hard to get in and out of a new setup in less than half an hour.

Time is the real cost. TV shows just don't have that much time in the schedule. You have a crew of, let's say, 30-60 people, all of them on the clock and hoping you go into overtime.

Cats. Cats are really expensive. The cat wrangler doesn't get all that much money, but cats never do what you want them to do, and the whole crew is sitting around while the little carnivore is not doing what you want him to do. Dogs are better -- at least they want to do what you want them to do. But any kind of animal on screen that isn't a person sitting on a horse is going to eat up your day. That's why characters on TV so rarely have pets.

What's not expensive? Rain. If you are shooting indoors, rain is a pipe with holes in it, stuck just out of sight above the window. In you are shooting outdoors, rain is provided by a rain truck, which is just a tanker truck, some hoses, and a variety of nozzles. The camera doesn't register rain at a distance, so the crew just has to slick down the street with water and then provide rain up close.

Granted, you can't shoot rain in the sun, which is why most rain scenes are at night.

Thunder, on the other hand, is practically free. It's a sound effect; the sound editor has it in his computer, and he can give you fifteen different thunder breaks inside of a minute. Sound editors are super fun to work with.

Oddly, real rain rarely registers on camera. You can shoot in a drizzle, and no one will know. Only big gloppy raindrops show up.

You know what else isn't expensive? Extras. While producers will always try to get you to knock some of the extras out of a scene, a regular TV budget can stand a few scenes of your stars walking along a busy street. Don't be afraid to put a (non-speaking) guy selling knishes in your scene. They can always take him out later if they have to.

It's good to keep your pilot "small" and easy to shoot. But don't go overboard and write nothing but two-handers in rooms. No one wants to see that on TV. Focus instead on fitting your story into fewer locations with fewer speaking characters, and flesh out your world with an appropriate number of extras and all the rain you like.


Thanks for answering so fast, that's really useful.

I'll have to save that post somewhere and keep referring to it.


By Blogger Neil, at 10:00 AM  

I attended the taping of a sitcom pilot with Fred Savage once. He was a single rich screenwriter with a cat. I don't think there was a single scene where that cat did what it was supposed to. Eventually they just lived with a shot of it leaping away from him as he tried to pet it.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 11:08 AM  

I attended the taping of a sitcom pilot with Fred Savage once. He was a single rich screenwriter with a cat. I don't think there was a single scene where that cat did what it was supposed to. Eventually they just lived with a shot of it leaping away from him as he tried to pet it.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 11:08 AM  

Useful tips, but don't you think writers should ignore the weather, unless they have a really good reason to dictate it? (ie. reasons that are essential to the narrative, that tie into the theme or the character's emotions, etc.) I set the first feature length screenplay I ever wrote in Northern Canada, for reasons that weren't much better than "snow looks cool." I thought I was writing for a miniscule budget. I got my first on-set experience as a PA shortly after, and realized that setting every last exterior shot in snow would be a huge pain in the ass. Think.. the crew wouldn't even be able to walk around without completely disturbing the set! Now, movies like The Thing wouldn't exist if writers/filmmakers stayed away from snow completely, and I don't want to live in a world where The Thing doesn't exist. But the weather should never be arbitrary, even though it often seems to be in real life. So my approach to the weather is to always questions whether it NEEDS to be a certain way, and if it doesn't, I don't mention it and if it ever gets produced the art department can figure it out.

By Blogger Zack Mosley, at 4:50 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:24 PM  

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