Directing the Sitcom

Joel Zwick’s Steps for Success

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About the Book

This guided tour of the American situation comedy is given by one of the most prolific directors of the genre. Brooklyn native Joel Zwick began his career in the late 1960s at La MaMa, a New York experimental theater club, before moving to Hollywood to become a successful director during the sitcom’s golden age.
He describes the 10 steps of sitcom production and outlines the five-day process, from the early “table read” to the final shoot in front of a live audience. Behind-the-scenes anecdotes include personal and professional experiences with actors Tom Hanks, Penny Marshall, Robin Williams, Jamie Foxx, the cast of Full House and many more.

About the Author(s)

Joel Zwick lives in Tarzana, California.
Rosario J. Roveto, Jr., has been a member of the Directors Guild of America since 1990. He has worked in theater, film and television and lives in Garden City Park, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Joel Zwick and Rosario J. Roveto, Jr.
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 184
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, glossary, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6556-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2517-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Foreword by Tom Hanks 1

Introduction by Rosario J. Roveto, Jr. 3

Joel’s Approach to the Sitcom 9

Step 1: Preparation

Day 1: Meetings and Rehearsal 28

Production Meeting: Prep and Execution 28

Mechanics of the Production Meeting and Making Decisions 29

Special Equipment 34

Visualization of the Set 35

The Table Read 36

The Pilot: How You Can Help Shape a Show 38

The Table Read for Your First Time Directing a Show 41

Putting It on Its Feet 42

Rehearsal Advice for the ­First-Timer on a Show 42

Rehearsing Joel’s Style and Actor Resistance 43

Step 2: Staging

Day 2: Building a Solid Foundation 47

Staging: Set Notes for Camera and ­First-Time Advice 47

Staging: Applying the Learned Scene 50

Staging: The Physical Manifestation of the Story 53

Disciplining the Physical Excesses of an Actor 58

Step 3: Dialogue

Day 2: Engaging the Actors 60

The Importance of Dialogue 60

Pacing and Cues and Acting Styles 62

Rules of Comedy and Directing Actors 64

But I Didn’t Study Acting … 67

Sense of Humor 68

Step 4: Fine Tuning the Acting

Day 2: The Tools of the Craft 69

Time Management 69

The Importance of Props 70

Lines, Movement and Placement 72

Step 5: Writers’ and Producers’ ­Run-Through

Day 2: Final Preparation 75

Writer-Producer ­Run-Through 75

Making Animals and Actors Work 78

Step 6: Applying Producer Notes

Day 3: How to Improve the Play 82

Preparing for the Network ­Run-Through 82

Step 7: Network ­Run-Through

Day 3: Performing for the Network 87

Importance of the Network ­Run-Through 87

Step 8: Shooting the Show

Day 4: Preparing for the Shoot 90

The Shooting Draft and the Technical Crew 90

Definition of Framing and Composition 91

Camera Shots and Coverage 98

The Proscenium and Its Multiples 104

The Importance of Resets 106

The Short Wall 111

Pass Coverage 113

Conceptualizing the Story with Four Cameras 115

Commercial Breaks 119

Traditional Camera Blocking with ­Stand-Ins 120

Specialty Shots: Do You or Don’t You ­Reinvent the Show? 121

Is Shooting Comedy Formulaic? 123

Step 9: Adjusting the Shoot

Day 4: Accomodating the Network and Producers 128

Network Notes and the Changing Industry 128

Step 10: Final Shoot

Day 5: Performing for a Live Audience 133

Show Time 133

The Booth vs. the Floor 139

The Director’s Cut 145

Conclusion

Making Comedy Fun: The Life of a Sitcom Director 149

Separating Your Style from the System 156

Glossary 159

Index 169