Monday, March 05, 2007

Television as a collaborative effort

I don't know how often I think of television as a collaborative medium - sure, OK, it's not like I think that whatever is written down in the script is magically transformed into what I see on the screen, but guess I tend to grant the writers on a TV show with most of the credit for what I see. In most movies, I tend to credit the director - since the rise of the auteur in the 1970s, it can be hard to look beyond the "A So-and-So Film" credit.

Obviously, any creative effort that involves more than one person must be collaborative in some way - no one person can do every single job on a TV show or a movie or in a professional kitchen. I always kinda assumed that that's why so many top chefs seemed to be a nightmare in the kitchen: someone with a strong artistic temperament forced to depend on others to make his or her creations.

A few weeks ago I started renting Foyle's War from Netflix. I've seen most of them before (I was going to say all, but looking at tv.com, it's clear that there are quite a few episodes I don't recognize), but I haven't been terribly excited about anything on Masterpiece Theatre (and there is no Mystery! right now) and I was in the mood for some wartime mystery.

There is an interview with series creator/writer Anthony Horowitz on the DVD, and the interviewer asks him how he came up with the characters, the idea, etc. One of the things he says is that Foyle really didn't become the character until Michael Kitchen took the part and made it his own. It's not a new idea to me, and there have been a million "What if this other actor had played the role?" what-ifs out there forever.

I've also been watching the cast and crew commentaries on Heroes, available online. Last week, it was the director, the writer and the main character of the episode "Company Man." They talked about their choices in making the show and how it all came together in the episode. It was really interesting to hear the director talk about all the old film noir he watched before going into the show, and his camera choices, angles, etc. - and then to read Couch Baron's guest recap of the show on TWoP, where he specifically comments on the great directing choices. (Incidentally, Couch Baron is another of my favorite recappers on TWoP, lest you think I have only one.) Plus I have a long history of listening to the Battlestar Galactica podcasts from SciFi.com, with all its behind-the-scenes info ...

I guess the whole idea of how relevant director and actor are to the process was really brought home to me recently when I bought a copy of the "Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers" audiobook on eBay. It's a book written by the writers of Red Dwarf, with the same general characters. It's a completely different spin on things, however, and the only real contributors are Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. It's not a bad book, but it's not the same. Chris Barrie does great impersonations, but the characters are simply different. It really emphasized to me how much an impact an individual performance can make.

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