Ask 411 Movies for 12.02.13: The Q&A That Never Ends
Posted by Chad Webb on 12.02.2013
Did Family Guy make the right decision by killing off Brian? Was live ammunition ever used in movies? Why do shows like Big Bang Theory still use a laugh track? All that and more covered this week in Ask 411 Movies!
An "Ask 411 Movies" column would be nothing without questions, so please toss them my way. Why should you ask me instead of using Google? Well, perhaps I'll tell you something you can't find there, or maybe you just like my conversation and soothing words. You can post any questions or thoughts below in the comments section, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a tweet using the links below:
This week I watched the season finale of Boardwalk Empire, which had a death I really didn't think was necessary, but it was still a good episode. Sad to see my favorite character on the show pass. I also watched Museum Hours and Computer Chess, which are out of theaters but have been on my "must watch" list for awhile now. Both were ok, not spectacular. I also saw Dallas Buyers Club in the theater, which was terrific. And I hope everyone out there who celebrates it had a nice Thanksgiving. Over the holiday, I managed to revisit Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk, which I haven't changed my opinion on (good, not great) and the first two Iron Man movies as well. Even though the sequel had flaws, watching Downey Jr. play that role is endlessly entertaining.
If want to know more about my movie tastes, check out my page on Letterboxd by clicking right here. Also, make sure to look at all the great articles and writers at 411, particularly in the Movie-zone because that's where I predominantly am, but all of the zones.
Paul Walker died this past Saturday in a horrific car crash where he was believed to have been the passenger. He was 40 years old and had a daughter. I won't pretend that Walker was a great actor, or even close to being my favorite. In fact, he was in Meet the Deedles, one of my all-time worst. That being said, he has done several good films that I enjoy. I viewed him as a Matthew McConaughey type in that he could really do excellent work when he wanted to and who knows how he would have improved as he got older. Among the films I liked: Varsity Blues, Running Scared, Pleasantville, Eight Below,. He also had a small role in Flags of Our Fathers. She's All That and The Skulls are guilty pleasures. As for the Fast & Furious franchise, more on that when I review the upcoming DVD soon. This is such a shocking and tragic loss. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.
Jane Kean passed away on November 26, 2013, at the age of 90, after complications from a fall. She was best known as Trixie Norton on The Honeymooners and as the voice of Belle in Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. She was also on General Hospital and had been working in TV, movies, radio, and the stage since the early 40's. My sincerest condolences go out to her family and friends.
Is it true that real bullets were used in the early gangster movies of the 30's until James Cagney was nearly shot during the filming of a scene?
With the scathing report about rampant animal abuse in Hollywood recently a name not unfamiliar with controversy emerged: Steven Spielberg. Other than some undisclosed cash settlements no one really was punished for the Twilight Zone Movie tragedy. Both John Landis and Spielberg seemed to escape w/ their careers unharmed whatsoever. I read Landis actually showed up at Vic's funeral, made a eulogy and was nearly thrown out. True? Do you feel Vic and the two children killed and their families ever received true justice?
1) Ok, let me first advise anyone reading that Googling certain questions (like this one) and using Yahoo Answers or a similar link as a resource is not always the best way to go. Maybe that's obvious, but the reason I mention that is that most of those links and the people who comment will have you believe that no live ammunition was ever used in movie productions because blanks were around long before movies began. Yes, blanks were around, but they were expensive back in the 30's and 40's, so it was a common practice for productions to use live rounds.
One incident took place during the filming of the 1931 gangster flick, The Public Enemy starring James Cagney. Live ammunition was used in a scene where Tom Powers ducks around the corner of a building to take cover from machine gun fire. The bullets struck the wall of the building at the position where Cagney's head had been just a moment prior. This was the last time he would allow live rounds to be used in one of his efforts.
Understandably, live rounds are not used hardly at all anymore, but there are number of articles discussing how real bullets were used during the production of Act of Valor. Click here for one. There have been some accidents though. One of the more well-known tragedies was with actor Brandon Lee (son of Bruce), who was killed during filming of The Crow when a blank fired behind a bullet that was stuck in the bore drove that bullet through his abdomen and into his spine. The gun had not been properly deactivated and a primed case with a bullet instead of a dummy had been used previously. Someone pulled the trigger and the primer drove the bullet silently into the bore.
Another death occurred during the shooting of the series Cover Up. They were filming scenes for an episode where Jon-Erik Hexum's character was supposed to load blanks into a gun. When the scene did not go as the director wanted, there was a delay in filming. Hexum became restless and impatient during the delay and began playing around to lighten the mood. Apparently, he had unloaded all but one (blank) round, spun it, and in what would appear to be a game of Russian roulette, at 5:15 p.m., he put the revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger. The result was strong enough blunt force trauma that shattered a piece of his skull that went into his brain and caused massive hemorrhaging. He would die later at the hospital.
2) Because this tragedy would take a long time to explain, I will keep the summary of it short for those who are not aware of the incident. Basically, On July 23, 1982, a helicopter crashed during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie in Santa Clarita, California. The crash caused the deaths of three people on the ground: actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, and injuries to the six passengers. Director John Landis had violated many child labor laws at the time to get Renee and Myca working, and this information was discovered after the incident. This led to years of criminal and civil action and many new policies and procedures with regard to filmmaking in general. For a more detailed account, click here.
As for the funeral, Landis actually showed up at each of them from what I have dug up. I didn't see anything about Landis almost getting thrown out, but George Folsey Jr. who was the producer and someone who collaborated with Landis often back then, apparently read his statements in private to actor Steve Shagan, who was a friend of Morrow's. Shagan exploded in outrage and said: "Why don't you just run the trailer?" he asked sarcastically. "Let's set up a screen right here. We can even sell tickets. . . . You're not going to read that thing. . . . there has to be a time and place where somebody isn't selling tickets!" They both ended up reading statements, which are reported to have been self-serving. Folsey said: "If there is any consolation in this, it is that the film was finished. Thank God. This performance must not be lost. It was Vic's last gift to us." Landis said: "Tragedy can strike in an instant, but film is immortal. Vic lives forever. Just before the last take, Vic took me aside to thank me for the opportunity to play this role." At Renee Chen's funeral, Landis received cold stares from the relatives.
As for whether or not justice was served, that's a toughie. It was an accident, but it could have been prevented. I do know that all of the families settled out of court for millions, but it goes without saying that you can't put a price on something like this. Money means nothing compared to the loss of a loved one. I do think that Landis, Folsey, and the others involved in violating child labor laws should have been punished to some extent. They are at least partially responsible. From what I understand they were just reprimanded and acquitted of manslaughter charges. However, I have read that Landis thinks about the incident every day and that it had a huge impact on his career. Make of that what you will.
1) At the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, I've read that Fox/The Simpsons were planning on killing one of the Simpsons characters this or next year. Do you think that with the death of Marcia Wallace, those plans will change? Or do you think they will change the story so that Miss Krabappel is the one to die? I don't watch the Simpsons so maybe they already did something.
2) On the same subject, do you think Family Guy made a right decision to kill (SPOILERS) Brian on November 24? Did the show really need a character killed off?
3) Staying in the happy subject of character death, when an actor wants to leave a show, who decides if the character dies? Or if the studio is mad at the actor for any reasons, can they decide to kill him as a lesson to the other characters?
4) I recently watched a clip of Big Bang Theory without the laugh track. It was really different experience. Why are the studios still using the laugh track? Do they think we need a heads-up where to laugh?
5) Why would a show prefer to use laugh track instead of a live audience?
6) A more personal question, do you avoid spoilers for a movie or do you want to read everything about the movie before seeing it?
THE FOLLOWING ANSWERS CONTAIN SPOILERS TO VARIOUS SHOWS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
1) I would guess that Marcia Wallace's death will not change the original plans for the season. I don't watch The Simpsons either, but I'm assuming if they intended a character to die, that will still occur. As for Edna Krabappel, it has been announced that her character will retire and that Marcia Wallace's final episode will air late in season 25 or early in season 26.
2) I'm not a huge Family Guy fan, but my brother-in-law is and I can usually rely on him to fill me in on funny clips so I know enough about the series to say that I don't think Brian should have been killed off. From what I read, they did this to "shake things up." Personally, I think it's stupid because we're talking about a cartoon show here, not Sons of Anarchy. Imagine if they have killed off Lisa Simpson in season 10 of The Simpsons, or Velma from Scooby-Doo in the middle of that original run. People don't tune in for twists and turns, they tune in for reliable humor.
3) When an actor leaves a show, the decision could come down to any number of people, or one person: the showrunner. If the showrunner and creator is also one of the writers, they have more pull. Of course, you also have to consider that if the fate of a character is debatable, producers and network execs could weigh in also. Take Dexter instance. The powers at Showtime made it very clear that he would not die, so he didn't. There is no concrete answer to this. It depends on contracts, how much power the showrunner/creator/writers are given, and so forth. Certainly a studio/network can kill off a character because they are angry. I'm not sure it would be a lesson to the other actors, but I'm sure it has happened. I will research this one further.
4) Charles Douglass is credited with inventing the laugh track and the "laff box." It was first developed for radio broadcasts, but began to be used on television in the 50's. The history and debate on laughs tracks is a lengthy one, but I'll try to sum it up. Adding sounds like this post-production is called "sweetening" by the way. As the utilization of this grew, controversy arose. Some people hated it, others thought that a show needed laughs otherwise the audience would not know what is supposed to be funny. Not everyone used it. For a history of the laugh track and a list of those who didn't want to use it, click here.
The fact is, some networks are still using them because a large portion of people still believe they are useful in giving an audience pointers on when to laugh. Personally, laugh tracks do not bother me. My wife HATES them. I look at this way. We tend to laugh out loud with increased frequency when we are with/in a room with a large group of people who are also laughing. For example, The Hangover was a funny movie, but I laughed as many times as I did because the whole audience was uproarious. Of course, we could always find something funny, but not laugh out loud, just experience the emotion inside. The laugh track gives the illusion of a large group of people laughing and enjoying themselves together, thus the viewer at home might react more. For me, I enjoy a show basically the same with or without the laugh track. Certain shows incorporate this wonderfully (The Big Bang Theory), others overdo it (2 Broke Girls) and it comes across as forced or contrived. It can be super annoying when done sloppily.
5) There are multiple reasons why they started using a laugh track instead of a live audience. The main one is that a live audience wasn't cost-effective anymore. Odd as it may seem, live audience members couldn't always see or hear the show from where they were sitting, hence the response was skewed at times. As someone who has been to an Saturday Night Live show, I can say this is true since I was sitting off to the far side. It was also ten times simpler for them to just increase the budget for post-production and worry about integrating audience laughter afterwards. Some shows still use a live audience, but they are few and far between.
6) I avoid day-by-day updates on movies. This includes, script changes, rumors, on-set photos, and so forth. I peruse casting updates and general "this project has been greenlit" announcements, but that's about it. I prefer to go into a movie without knowing anything. That being said, I love trailers when they are done correctly. More often than not these days, trailers reveal too much information (see one example below) about the movie and thus the desire to see a specific title has dwindled. Honestly I don't understand why anyone would want to read about each and every development on a movie before it comes out. To me, this ruins the excitement and element of surprise. It seems that this obsessive reporting on big blockbuster projects causes some of us to have unrealistic expectations on said movie, but I digress. I have heard some arguments that people should enjoy a good movie regardless of knowing spoilers or not, but I don't think that is 100% true. Yes, I have read books and seen the film adaptation where I know the ending and it is still worthwhile, but seeing a novel or comic come to life could be different in other ways from what was on page. Knowing little about a film and taking a chance on one that moves you can be the most rewarding experience.
Chad, in case no one has said it yet, thanks for keeping this column going after Leonard left! It seems to be developing nicely into your style and I look forward to continue reading. My only minor complaint is that I miss the section of who's passed away recently as it was always nice to see respects paid to people who may not be as well known. Especially this week being a big fan of the Cannonball Run movies and not seeing anything about Hal Needham. Again, a minor complaint, but otherwise you're keeping the spirit of this column alive unlike some of the other Ask411 sections on this site...
Marcia Wallace's death got me thinking about other regular or recurring characters whose actors have died during a series' run and off the top of my head I could only think of Coach on Cheers and Nick Yemana on Barney Miller. Any other notable occurrences of this happening and how the series handled it in the storyline? Thanks again!
This one slipped by me, but I am answering your question this week. I did start off this column by including celebrity deaths, but over the past handful of issues, I simply forgot to do it. I would remind myself to look into deaths of the week when I write the column, but then I wouldn't. But as you can see it has returned this week and I will definitely try to keep on it.
As for actors who have died during the run of the series they were on, there are have been numerous examples of this. Here are a few I have selected, but for a longer list, click here.
*Paul Hennessy on 8 Simple Rules…, played by John Ritter. Ritter suffered an apparent heart attack while on the set of the show rehearsing, and was rushed across the street to the hospital. Turned out he suffered an aortic dissection, and he died. The character was killed off for real, no official reason given except for he "collapsed while buying milk."
*Livia Soprano on The Sopranos was killed off after actress Nancy Marchand's death.
*NewsRadio: Phil Hartman passed away shortly after production wrapped on season 4. His character Bill McNeil suffered a fatal heart attack in the first episode of season 5.
*Christopher Reeve portrayed the characters Dr. Virgil Swann on Smallville. After Reeve's death in 2004, Swann was mentioned as dying sometime in between the events of the show's third and fourth seasons.
*Another recent example is Cory Monteith from Glee, who played Finn. When he died of an apparent overdose, it was decided that his character would also pass away. Creator Ryan Murphy and Lea Michele worked on the memorial episode entitled "The Quarterback." The show never stated how he died.
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"The plural of Chad is Chad?"
--From the movie Recount