Monday, June 8, 2009

"Sometimes A Kiss Is Not Just A Kiss - Followup"

I was writing about the second thoughts I had concerning requiring a ten year-old actor in my sitcom Best of the West to behave in an age-inappropriate manner for the sake of a laugh, the behavior being to passionately or at least (hopefully) stimulatingly passionately kiss a teenaged girl (the actress, as I recall, turned out to be twenty-three).

A number of readers believed my concerns were unnecessary:

Frequent commenter, “Anonymous”, opined: “If it makes you laugh, it’s funny.”

“Joe” commented: “Nothing is inappropriate if it’s funny.” (“Joe” quotes Eddie Haskell, whom I wouldn’t trust about anything.)

“Boyscribe” offered the “Violence is worse” perspective: “One wonders…if you had written a drama about a boy in the west who killed someone ala ‘Robocop II’, would there have been the same objections?”

“Steve MacDonald” supported my original decision. And berated my retrospection:

“Trust your decisions and don’t reconsider things you can’t change.”

I thank everyone for trying to make me feel better, for reminding me of “the bigger picture”, and for encouraging me to stop second-guessing myself, although if I took that advice, I’d have considerably less to write about.

My primary concern was not whether kissing is good, or better than violence, or whether the moment I had crafted was funny. For the record, I believe kissing is good (except for the inappropriate kind; you’ll have to decide for yourself what that includes), that it’s light years better than violence, and that the situation I had concocted was unquestionably funny.

The question – and I’m saying that writers need to factor this into their decision-making – is, “What does what I’m asking the person to do doing to the person I’m asking to do it?” Writers may not want to submit to this consideration, fearing it may interfere with “the most compelling method of telling the story”, but the argument is, you have to. Actors are people. (Despite the response to that claim in The Producers: “Oh, yeah? Have you ever eaten with one?”)

We’re not talking about a novel here, where you can make the characters do anything you want them to do. Characters in novels don’t go home to their families after work. And they don’t carry those icky “work feelings” along with them.

My example was about a kid. Kids represent a special category, as recognized in the law, and in the hearts of their parents. You’ll notice that in current entertainment, children come in for some brutalizing treatment – kidnapping being the most prominent atrocity.

I have a theory about why “threatened children” plays such a prominent role in contemporary storytelling, especially threats to the children of the rich. There’s nothing you can take from rich people they can’t easily replace. Their only area of vulnerability is their children. Children represent “the irreplaceable treasure.” Though not wealthy themselves, people on the lower economic levels can readily identify.

“You can take my prized lawnmower. But lay off of the kids.”

To penetrate the emotions of an increasingly jaded audience, children are frequently required to pay the price, and by “children”, I mean child actors. Judging by the harrowing activities kid-actors have participated in, apparently neither the kids nor their guardians are complaining. I guess they’re happy to have the job. Which’ll help pay for the therapy bills down the line.

It’s not just child actors who are exploited. All actors are exploited. The scene says they cut off a guy’s ear, they cut off a guy’s ear. And you never hear a peep out of anybody. Not even from the guy whose ear’s getting cut off. Except maybe, “Am I screaming enough? I was thinking, ‘My character’s a tough guy’, so I’ve been holding back. I could give you more if you want.”

What about sex? Well, there was a time, reaching up to the sixties, when there was a noticeable “nude gap” between American movies and the films produced in other countries. European movies were regularly “outnuding” us, making American movies seem backwards. I don’t know if the studio bosses went to Congress, tearfully claiming,

“We can’t compete!”

but, somehow, the American “Movie Code” was abolished, and off came the shirts. And the pants. And everything else they had on.

Did the actors mind the mandatory exposure? You’d have to ask them. Actors are a different breed. Normally, they’d be called exhibitionists, but they’re doing a job. They go into a trance, and whatever behavior comes out, it’s not them doing it,

“It’s my character.”

I do recall one naysayer. Some superstar actress during that period was quoted as saying, “When I’m naked up there on that seventy-foot screen, it’s not the character’s breasts the audience is staring at, it’s mine.”

That actress couldn’t see the distinction. And, to take a considerably lesser example, neither could I.

I was once featured as “comic relief” in a Canadian-made movie called, The Merry Wives of Tobias Rouke. Don’t bother looking for it. It never got finished. The production ran out of money during the editing process, and the raw footage ended up in the trunk of the director’s car.

(If you want to see me in a movie, you can catch my performance – or at least the “trailer” for that performance – in Ivan Reitman’s Cannibal Girls on YouTube.)

I was standing chest-deep in a pond, attired only in a pair of flaming red “Long Johns.” The director thought the scene would play funnier if I took the “Long Johns” off. I told him I didn’t care for the idea.

The director hoped he could “wait me out”, claiming a series of “technical delays”, in hopes that I’d finally be worn down and surrender my underwear. I shivered in that water for over an hour, minnows nipping at my submerged body parts. The pressure was uncomfortable, but I stuck to my guns. (I also thought of the damage those minnows would have done had I been standing there “unprotected.”)

Why did I refuse the nudity request? It didn’t seem right. And I don’t mean for the character.

I imagine, if this had happened in the States, I’d have immediately been replaced. But in Canada, I kept my job. Because there’s more respect for personal integrity up there? I don’t think so. There’s just less actors.


A. Burk Short said...

Think I remember the Cannibal Girls trailer; pretty sure I couldn’t take my eyes off your character’s breasts. As for the years of therapy, thank your lucky stars you didn’t write “Hair.”

Joe said...

Incidentally, the Eddie Haskell quote came from an episode when he had played a rather nasty prank on Beaver. He uttered that line as his defense.

For the record, I think this individual situation -- which I dimly remember as not being a particularly lurid example of the osculatory arts -- was not inappropriate.

growingupartists said...

Earl, you're right about industry standards. But what's Hollywood and Lorne gonna do...decide to invest well-earned money into the Christian right's view of good character? Sheesh!

Then you'd have Kirk Cameron directing every action, every intention for the good of society, and where would horror be shown then? If Kirk had his way and aligned with your vision, not only would there be more cowboy movies than a modern kid knew what to do with...

but, no kissing actresses unless they're your wives. And even then, it has to be a mutual decision. Do we want to air this for gandering? Expensive in the long run. And, could lure more Taliban viewers which would ruin the whole "nothing to respect about you" vibe.

Unknown said...

Great series though. Seriously funny writing. Tracey Walters saying his favorite song was about a girl named Mary-Lee: "Row, row, row your boat..."