< Bad News (casts)

Transcript

Friday, February 24, 2012

BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Saturday evening* the Academy Awards will honor the best acting and filmmaking of the year, at least Hollywood’s consensus on the best. One category that will be conspicuous by its absence, at least according to Bob, is the best dramatization of a newscast, because most years there would be no – plausible nominees. Here he is to complain more about his pet peeve.

BOB GARFIELD:  You know what Hollywood is really good at faking? Gunshot wounds.

[GUNFIRE]

Also, ocean liner sinkings.

[PEOPLE SCREAMING]

D-Day landings.

[GUNFIRE]

Car chases.

[ENGINE SOUNDS]

And even ill-fated moon voyages.

[APOLLO 13 CLIP]:

HOUSTONThis is Houston. Say again, please.

LOVELL:  Houston, we have a problem.

[END CLIP]

BOB GARFIELD:  They can do train wrecks and surgery and ballet, bank jobs and death camps and Spider-men. But damn if they can get the evening news!

ACTRESS PLAYING CORRESPONDENT:  Whether suicide or homicide the sport and the city lost a well loved and once revered hero.

[END CLIP]

[CLIP FROM ROBOCOP]:

CASEY WONG:  This is Media-Break. You give us three minutes and we’ll give you the world. Good morning, I’m Casey Wong with Jess Perkins. Top story, Pretoria. The threat of nuclear confrontation in South Africa…

[END CLIP]

[CLIP FROM DRIVE]:

ACTRESS PLAYING TV REPORTER:  In related news, an attempted robbery turned tragic today when the owner of a local pawnshop opened fire on an intruder. The armed robber was pronounced dead at the scene. He has been identified as…

[END CLIP]

BOB GARFIELD:  That last clip was from Drive with Ryan Gosling who stares and mumbles and drives fast fairly convincingly, but when he takes refuge in the diner after a pawnshop heist, verisimilitude runs off the rails. When it comes to faithfully depicting the look and feel of a newscast, Hollywood nearly always – can’t.

I asked New York Magazine film critic David Edelstein if, for instance, movies and TV shows ever get the style of news copy right.

DAVID EDELSTEIN:  Mm, no.

BOB GARFIELD:  Do they get the cadence right?

DAVID EDELSTEIN:  Never!

BOB GARFIELD:  Do they get the set design right?

DAVID EDELSTEIN:  [LAUGHS] Twenty years ago right.

BOB GARFIELD:  Lighting?

DAVID EDELSTEIN:  Mm, no.

BOB GARFIELD:  The hair, wardrobe, anything?

DAVID EDELSTEIN:  Nn-no. The people who write these movies know nothing about how information is dispensed on television. All they want to know is what – the dramatic beats, what they have to get across in the scene, what their protagonist or antagonist has to hear, the information that the audience has to know. They don’t actually care about anything else. They don’t care enough even to learn it, and it can be learned in a couple of minutes.

BOB GARFIELD:  It’s not just that movies and TV shows get it wrong. They get in wrong in so many ways. Take, for instance, the courthouse steps trope, in which a reporter manages to snag a dramatic sound bite live on the scene, such as in this episode of Law and Order SVU.

[CLIP]:

[REPORTERS ASKING QUESTIONS/OVERLAPPING VOICES]

REPORTER:  Miss Von, Miss Von.

[SEVERAL REPORTERS AT ONCE]

MIKKA VON:  No comment.

REPORTER:  Miss Von, what do you have to say to Vincent…

MIKKA VON:  No comment.

[SEVERAL AT ONCE]

REPORTER:  Are the mushrooms from Prochik’s lab?

REPORTER:  What is the defendant’s connection to the victim?

MIKKA VON:  Why don’t you ask the defendant? Hint: It’s about water.

[END CLIP]

BOB GARFIELD:  As Fred D’Ambrosi, news director at WUSA in Washington, DC points out, almost all live shots are extremely brief reporter stand-ups, introducing packages that have been taped and edited earlier.

FRED D’AMBROSI:  You know, we always shoot stuff in advance and then repackage it. Even in Morning Glory, when Harrison Ford rolls up –

[MOVIE SOUNDTRACK UP AND UNDER]

-in front of the Governor’s house, they’ve got 500 people in the control room but like one guy with a live truck and no, no live truck operator, just him and the photographer, and somehow they’re magically live. The Governor like comes to the door, and –

[MORNING GLORY CLIP]:

GOVERNOR WILLIS:  Pomeroy!

HARRISON FORD AS CO-ANCHOR MIKE POMEROY:  Gary, how are you?

GOVERNOR WILLIS:  What the hell are you doing here?

[BECKY FULLER WHISPERING ON PHONE]

MIKE POMEROY:  I’m wondering how you feel about a few things, specifically Governor, I’d like to know how you feel about the Attorney General’s filing racketeering charges against you this morning, charges of corruption, money laundering and steering government contracts…

[BECKY & TV CREW TALKING ON PHONE]

And there’s a hooker or two in there as well, isn’t there, sir?

[END CLIP]

FRED D’AMBROSI:  And I’d like to get a story like that sometime.

BOB GARFIELD:  Yeah Fred, not likely. Morning Glory falls in the sub-category of Hollywood movies about TV news. Harrison Ford plays a hard-bitten network anchor suddenly miscast as a morning show host. He plays opposite co-anchor Diane Keaton who, I must say, nails her character cold.

[CLIP]:

DIANE KEATON AS CO-ANCHOR COLLEEN PECK:  [LAUGHS] Coming up next, you’ve heard her sing. Well, today you’re going to hear about her sweet tooth. Join us as we bake brownies with Celine Dion’s personal chef - all that and more, coming up on - Daybreak.

[END CLIP]

ROGER MICHELL:  We did a kind of boot camp with Harrison and, and with Diane.

BOB GARFIELD:  Morning Glory director, Roger Michell.

ROGER MICHELL:  We took them to sort of a school for presenters, and they learn how to read a teleprompter, how to change cameras, the basic grammar that we take for granted about news presenters. And Diane, particularly, loved it and responded to it and sort of loved kind of peering behind the façade.

BOB GARFIELD:  Ford, whose character is supposed to exude mega gravitas, was not so quick a study?

[MORNING GLORY CLIP]:

HARRISON FORD AS CO-ANCHOR MIKE POMEROY:  Federal authorities have been planning this raid for weeks. As this reporter has learned, the indictment contains 15 counts of racketeering and using undue influence. Mike Pomeroy, Daybreak. Back to you in the studio.

[END CLIP]

BOB GARFIELD:  While Michell does not believe, as I do, that Ford sounded less like a news anchor than a random stroke victim, the director does allow that mimicking TV news’ natural unnaturalness is no easy trick.

ROGER MICHELL:  You know, it is very, very hard to pitch it correctly, just like to get it absolutely right. There are lots of – there are lots of tells, aren’t there?

BOB GARFIELD:  That’s what Brian Spicer says too. He’s the inveterate TV director who’s worked on such series as Terra Nova, V, Burn Notice, Castle, CSI and 24. For Spicer, one big problem is that newscasts use newscasts for relaying information and dramas use newscasts for – drama.

BRIAN SPICER:  And people are more interested in seeing drama on television than they are being told what the story is. They rather see what the story is and see it unfold through drama, rather than exposition.  

BOB GARFIELD:  The other big problem, he says, is logistical.

BRIAN SPICER:  Sometimes I think on the work schedule that we have every script starts off with expositions, and it’s up to the writers and directors to turn the exposition into drama, and sometimes they run out of time. You know, they’re backed up on delivery dates and writing and sometimes we can’t always get the script the way we want it before it comes out.  

BOB GARFIELD:  And yet, despite all the logistics and so forth, one show does manage to fake TV news with uncanny precision every broadcast. That would be the Onion News Network.

[CLIP]:

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

THE TV ONION REPORTER:  And in a surprising announcement this morning, U.S. Deputy Surgeon General Greg Paulson stated that, quote, “It’s fine to smoke cigarettes if you only smoke while drinking.” The Deputy Surgeon General has called a press conference…

[END CLIP]

BOB GARFIELD:  Carol Kolb, head writer for The TV Onion, says Hollywood’s problem is:

CAROL KOLB:  I think maybe someone just isn’t studying it enough. One thing is just use real newscasters. Go to the people that actually do it. It will sound real-er. Another thing is just sort of camera angles or the cuts. Think about what type of news story you’re actually doing. If it’s a breaking news piece or maybe if it’s a news magazine piece, they all have a different feel. And just sort of think about these things when you’re filming your million-dollar movie.

BOB GARFIELD:  Million-dollar?

CAROL KOLB:  Uh, billion –

BOB GARFIELD:  Million-dollar?

CAROL KOLB:  Billion-dollar, billion dollar.

BOB GARFIELD:  Well anyway, 70 million, such as Battle: Los Angeles, which features a particularly unlikely live remote from Santa Monica Beach –

[CLIP FROM BATTLE: LOS ANGELES]:

REPORTER:  And I’m just now being told that one of the Coast Guard cutters issued a May Day. It is difficult to…

BOB GARFIELD:  - in the midst of the most realistic alien invasion ever.

[CLIP CONTINUES/CLIP OUT]

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

 

*Correction: The Academy Awards were held on Sunday evening.