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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Genevieve Cautiously Stuck Her Head into our office. I say cautiously, because Chris had just bought me a pair of Randall throwing knives for my birthday and we had a thick straw target set up next to the office door.

She caught me just as I was about to throw, saying: "Irwin called."

"Shit," Chris opined - rather loudly.

Startled, I threw harder than I intended and the one-pound blade speared through the target like it was Wallace and Gromit's favorite soft and smelly cheese. And it kept going, slicing through the drywall behind it until only the butt protruded.

Nonplussed, Genevieve glanced at the wall on the other side. "Didn't come through here," she said. "Now, I was telling you about Irwin's call."

Chris sighed heavily. "Guess it's my turn in the barrel," he said, reaching for the phone.

"He's not there now, silly," Genevieve said. "And it wasn't Irwin who personally called, but Alice at his office."

Chris grinned broadly at this reprieve. There was nothing in this world of Code Red television that Chris and I hated more than talking to Irwin (The Towering Toupee) Allen, master of our show and holder of our work contracts.

"What did she want?" Chris asked.

"To remind you that Larry Heath can't make Dailies today, so Irwin wants to make sure that you boys cover for him."

Deep sighs from both of us. We hated Dailies. They were almost a big a waste of time and energy as one of Irwin's interminable staff meetings, none of which had anything to do with us since we were story editors and our job was to edit same and maybe get a little writing in of our own.

"What are they screening?" I asked.

"The big fire scene from last night," she said. "You know - the Fireworks story you guys fixed."

We both brightened. Although the script wasn't one of ours, we'd come up with a budget necessitated switch from an old restaurant to a garage/warehouse. The action promised to be as thrilling as a TV fire can be.

"That's not so bad," Chris said. "The Chief said the department was going to pull out all stops for the big fire scene." He was speaking of our tech advisor Chief (ret.) Joe S. Weber, from the LA County Fire Department.

Dissolve To: Me and Chris at the Dailies. As promised, they were screening the big fire scene. It was a night shoot and the flames were fabulous against the dark LA skyline. Our special effects maestro, Joe Unsinn, had done us proud, laying gas lines throughout the building, all of which he managed from his portable board. Hit this switch, flames shoot out windows. Hit that, and they explode from the roof. But, all well under control.

Also as promised, the LA County Fire Department had done The Chief proud. Ladder trucks up the wazoo. Cherry baskets that could crane well over the two-story structure. And a whole motorpool of other fire fighting vehicles. Hoses played water where the director wanted it to go. And up on the roof, stunt men in firemen rigs did their daring best to put on a helluva show.

We sat back and relaxed, prepared to enjoy a really good Hollywood fire. When it comes to fire and explosions, nobody in the world can do better than a good, professional Hollywood crew. As if to prove the point, at that moment there was an explosion, and a guy caught fire and tumbled screaming off the roof. Of course, there were airbags waiting just off screen for him to fall into, and some fellow stuntmen to put out the flaming asbestos suit he wore.

Then, to our amazement and horror, the reel suddenly ended. There was a buzz in the room. What the fuck? Not to worry, they're just changing reels.

But, that wasn't the case. Some family dialogue scene with Lorene (Greene) and Julie (Adams) was next. Great acting, but what the hell happened to our fire? A scene that could easily have gone a whole damned act had been reduced to a few minutes. In fact, now that I thought back on the script, the scene was SUPPOSED to go a whole damned act.

But, apparently the director thought he had enough, and had ended the shoot. No variety of angles, no close ups, even on the burning stuntman. The whole fire had been basically shot from where the director had stood - at very, very safe distance.

"What the fuck's wrong with the guy," Chris whispered. "He did the whole sucker in long, master shots."

Hell if I knew.

We repaired to our office, discussed the matter, then started getting depressed. Broke out the scotch and had a belt or two. Then we headed out to lunch at the Kosherama, one of our favorite places. Owned by a Chinese couple it had excellent Chinese food, plus great Deli food. Pastrami on rye for Chris, Chinese beef bowl for me. And lots and lots of beer. After all, we had to keep up our image.

Whenever we entered Kosherama, the head chef shouted, "The two beers boys!" Meaning, the first thing we did when we sat down was order two beers. Drain one, then work on the other until food and more beer was brought.

Ron Howard and his crew came in. Ron was in the middle of his transformation then from kid actor (he debuted as a tot in The Music Man) to accomplished director. Despite his youth, he'd met and worked with everybody who was anybody and he regaled us all with stories about our favorite old stars, including the late John Wayne, with whom he'd worked on The Shootist, Wayne's last film.

He told us that Wayne was a wonderful guy and a generous star, who took Howard under his wing and gave him professional advice.

"Just get yourself a walk, kid," Howard said in a perfect imitation of The Duke, "and you'll have it licked."

In the middle of Ron's stories, I glanced over at Chris. He had a worried look on his face. I knew he was thinking about the screwed up fire scene. I caught his eye and shrugged.

What the hell. Not our problem, right?

Chris caught it and shrugged back. Not our problem.

Rarely had we both been so wrong.

Dissolve To: An inconvenient morning. What day it was, I don't remember. What I do remember is that we hadn't even finished out first cup of coffee when the film editor burst into our office. The guy was usually calm and cool, but now he was frantic. Practically hysterical.

"It's too goddamned short," he hollered.

Chris bleared at him through hangover eyes. "What's short? Who's short? The Beach Ball? Big fucking surprise. Everybody knows that." Chris was speaking of Adam Rich, the kid who had been foisted on us by the brass at the Anything But Class (ABC) network.

"No, no," the guy babbled. "Not the kid. The show. The fireworks episode."

Chris shook his head. Winced. Felt his forehead to see if he was feverish enough to get sick and go home. But I was in better shape and caught what was going on.

"The fourth act fire scene," I guessed. "Not enough footage to fill the act."

Now the light dawned (painfully) for Chris. "How short is the son of a bitch?"

The guy held up one hand with a full boat of five. Then the other, with three more displayed. "Eight fucking minutes," he said. "God damned director. If I had him here I'd ring his fucking neck."

Eight minutes! Oh, man. If you figured that a one hour episode consisted of only 44 minutes of story (the rest were ads), that was one helluva a hard hole to plug.

If we had known just hard, we'd have thrown up our hands, and... I don't know... cried? Weeping can be a good thing, I'm told; but I'd still be back at TBS Studios trying to fix the director's screw-up, if we had taken the time to rain salty tears into nonexistent beer.

Now you're probably thinking the same thing we did: The obvious solution was to write something they could shoot that would fill eight minutes. But, eight minutes is a long, long time in filmland, folks. Where every setup takes a whole gang of people to erect lights, squads of Foley people for the sound, make up the actors, who also have to learn new lines on the fly. And if it is a dialogue scene, you usually had three cameras on it, so you could have close-ups and different angles. It's more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

"Okay, no reason to panic," I said. "Let's call the director and see what we can work out."

"Fuck the director," the editor said. "He's off to screw up somebody else's show." In other words, he was unavailable. TV directors tended to be nomadic, moving from one program to the next. Today Magnum P.I. Tomorrow The Incredible Hulk. The next day... My Mother The Car?

"Let's call the producer, then," I said. "See what we have to work with."

I called the producer, with Chris and the editor hanging over me and the speaker phone.

And, oh, man, it really was panic city time.

"Boys," the producer said, sounding almost as scared as the editor, "we are not only up the creek where the waters run smelly and brown, but we are drowning in a whole ocean of the stuff."

Quickly he outlined the problems. Lorne and Julie were off doing some charity thing. Adam Rich had timed out. (the hours of juvenile actors are legally limited". Plus, for technical reasons that I forget, we couldn't use any of the standing sets. Also, with no access to a director, we'd have to use a second unit.

"So what do you have?" I asked, my heart sinking.

"I can give you Andy and Sam," he said. (Andrew Stevens and Sam J. Jones, regulars on the show) I can get you a fire department car, and that's about it."

I thought - a car? Maybe we can work something out with that.

"Locations?" I pressed.

"I got fuck all cleared," he said, "except maybe the warehouse. But we burned that bastard to the ground." He went silent for a minute, then, "I can give you the area around the Venice Boardwalk," he said. "But just driving privileges. We can't get out of the car, because I don't have any clearances with any of the stores or houses."

"Oh, man," Chris said. "We are truly and royally fucked."

"Do what you can, guys," the producer begged. Then he added, "I've got a one minute public service thing with Lorene giving folks fire safety tips, if that'll help."

In other words, seven minutes to plug, not eight. "Gee, thanks," I said, not meaning it and not even bothering to pretend.

So we booted the editor out, got Genevieve to brew us up some really strong tea, got ourselves so caffeinated that our ears buzzed and got to work.

There was one slim bit in the script that maybe we could use. Adam Rich's character, Danny, goes missing late in the third act. He's afraid that the illegal fireworks scam is going to be blamed on him. Anyway, he shows up on his own soon enough - ending Danny's third act arc.

Chris saw dim light at the end tunnel and was pretty sure it wasn't a train. "What we maybe can do," he said, "is stretch the missing Danny business somehow."

He parted his hands to show how much the looking for Danny search would have to be stretched. "That's not seven minutes," I said. I pushed his hands as far apart as they would go. "That's seven minutes," I said.

But with no other possibilities in sight, and zip time to come up with something else we tackled the job. These were the days before the wondrous invention of the PC, so we went at it with a couple of IBM Selectrics, a sharp-edged ruler, scissors, and library paste.

We'd type up a little scene of Adam and Sam in a car looking for Danny. We'd tear script pages at likely spots and paste in the scene. I knew the Venice area better than most cab drivers (See Tales Of The Blue Meanie)so I could pick out driving locations off the top of my head.

Plus the producer had said we could get a couple of extras for our guys to question. You know - Andy or Sam roll down the window and show Danny's picture to some extra dressed as a Venice Beach denizen. And the denizen shakes his head - no.

Mind you, he doesn't say no out loud. He just shakes his head in a negative manner. Or points wordlessly if he has maybe seen the kid. The reason being is that if he says even one word, he is no longer a nonspeaking extra, but an actor with lines, no matter how few. The cost goes up from maybe one hundred bucks, to over six hundred bucks. So, no speaking allowed.

Meanwhile, Genevieve had to retype the script while we worked, putting in new scene numbers and page numbers, etc. A script is like an architect's drawing. And in many cases just as complicated.

We finished a little after midnight, gave Genevieve a lift to her car, which was parked on the backlot (yes, we made sure she got beaucoup overtime), and went the hell home; feeling more than a little like round-heeled Hollywood hacks. We hadn't made a good script better, because it was shit to begin with. But at least it was enough shit to fill the hour.

Time passed. Don't know how much time, but it seemed longer because of all the leaks that sprung in Irwin's dike. He was always mad about something. Taking people off this job, putting them on another. Then hitting the roof when the first job was ignored. He spread poisonous rumors about his employees, then chastised people for mongering those rumors. If you have ever had a boss like this, you know what I mean. If you haven't - Well, God Bless.

Anyway, we were back at Dailies. Place is packed with Suits. Network Suits. Studio Suits. Suit Suits.

They were rolling footage of the previous day's shoot. A nice scene with Lorne and Julie.

Lights up. Reel change. A spokesperson for the show explains that the next reel was also shot yesterday, but by a second unit... and for a different episode.


Darkness descends.

The scenes begin to unspool. In a series of cuts we see Andy and Sam in a red fire department sedan, driving around what appears to be Venice Beach. I recognize different landmarks as they go. They stop the car. Roll down the window and show something to a cute hippie type chick. There's an insert of a picture of Adam Rich. Scene continues. The hippie chick shakes her head, no. More driving. More stops to show the picture. Sometimes we hear Andy or Sam ask something aloud - Have you seen this kid? But mostly it is silent.

It begins to dawn on me what we were watching: The second unit garbage we had provided to plug those seven missing minutes.

But, Chris doesn't get it yet. He's stirring in his seat. Muttering to himself. Appalled at what he's seeing.

Then, in his patented Chris Bunch stage whisper that can be heard for miles, he says "Who wrote this shit, Cole?"

I jab my elbow into him and hiss, "Shut up, Bunch.... We did!"



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    


Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?


  1. Golden and hilarious, as always, Alan. Please tell me you're going to collect all of this into a book at some point? Either electronic or dead tree? This stuff is priceless.

    It's amazing to me that any television gets made at all, given the chaos that you're describing. I am sure some things have improved with technology, but because there are people and money involved, it seems likely that other -- unfortunate -- aspects, remain as-is.

  2. The only thing technology has improved is the Suits and no talent directors ability to screw you faster and in more ways.

    I really did have a good time. But, you can probably see why these days I mainly stick to books. The only bonehead here is me.