“It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long. If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit. So they cut it down to 3:05.” -Billy Joel, “The Entertainer”
I have been watching Thirtysomething on DVD. There are selections that include comments from the actors and directors, and I thought, “Do I really want to hear that?” Sometimes is nice to simply enjoy something great and not overanalyze it. But curiosity won me over, and I’m glad it did. Rather than pull back the curtain and ruin the facade, as in The Wizard of Oz, it only made me appreciate the episodes more. Like if a great jazz musician says, “See how I used that scale? Then I used this alternate fingering”, etc. and all the more you say, “Brilliant.”
Currently I am pondering how one writer compared writing in the 80s to writing now. He said dramas in the 1980s were written in four acts, now they are written in six (gotta sell some commercials). He said he wished he could write again for Thirtysomething because he was given seven more minutes to tell the story. Seven more minutes.
Why are we in a rush to tell a story? Oh, yeah, to sell commercials. He even knew the seven minutes that were cut in that episode’s re-runs. One example is a man noticing a woman, and his wife noticing him noticing her. He said it was cut because there was no dialogue, therefore there must not be a story. Hello, can THAT be more of a story?!
So I am pondering the importance of breathing room in the context of the creative process.
Another comment from that writer: his outline from the producers, he says, was 1.5 pages long. Today outlines are 14 pages long (for seven minutes less). He said episodes kind of write themselves now, because there’s no time to cover anything that’s not in the outline, or, for example, have a character reflect on the plot twist.
The same circumstance resonates to me with teaching. I work on a phenomenal staff who have proactively decided to set aside minutes at staff meetings to reflect on certain topics. We have found it powerful. And we bring it to the classroom. “The role of reflection has been described repeatedly in studies of teacher effectiveness. (-James Stronge)” Here’s a catch 22: We are given fewer instructional minutes and more standards to cover than ever (think “an inch deep and a mile wide”). Reflection time has shown to increase aptitude of those requirements, and yet reflection itself is not a requirement. Hmm. Just like life, we resist the urge to race from one task to another, and the need for each one to happen faster and more efficiently.
Recently Jason shared with me that a conductor at his gig asked the string players to start their vibrato before they bowed. I loved that. Literally and figuratively. The instrument is already vibrating. You are just inviting the sound to come out. Likewise, and to bring this full circle, two of the Thirtysomething characters were cast to walk into the room in the middle of a conversation. The actors said they took the liberty of writing what might have been the start of the conversation so they could begin down the hall and walk into the scene ACTUALLY in the middle of a converstion. What a concept! They got it right.
As usual, I have no idea if my thoughts will traslate into anything meaningful for Addison Road. My thinking is pretty open-ended. Do you have or make time in your life for reflection? Spritually? Musically, or whatever your craft may be? Do you ever take time to sit in a room and listen to silence, or to enjoy the process (rather than outcome) of your task at hand? I crave more of this in my life.