Not that you need to know these things to be a writer. But it just seems a pity to me that this great oral tradition is dying. One of my favorite moments happened during my first week at Cosby.
Saul Turtletaub (father of director Jon) and Bernie Orenstein had sort of taken me under their wing -- having a stand-up around, rather than a film-school grad, reminded them of the old days of writing. During a run-through, Saul turned to Bernie and asked "Didn't we use that joke on That Girl?"
Beat. "You were on That Girl?"
We then did the math, and realized that Saul and Bernie had started their first writing job together one week before my birth. I was, literally, their career.
Thirty-odd years of solving every script problem -- and more importantly, every practical shooting script problem -- imaginable. Couple that with a ... hmm ... chaotic shooting process, and it was boot camp. One of the best things to come out of staffing was learning that for many, many situations, there was a shorthand to help codify and communicate a problem in the script that was often tantalizingly just out of reach, just at the edge of your writer's "something's ... off" radar.
So, put these in your toolbox. I'll be collecting more as we go. All origins recorded as they were explained to me.
"a Bono": a place in the script that, no matter what joke you put there, it fails.
Sonny Bono once opened a restaraunt up near the studios, called, of course, "Bono's". It failed, quickly. That's unremarkable. But then, every restaraunt that opened on that corner after Bono's also failed. Something like a DOZEN of them, and all flaming out spectacularly in six months. That corner was cursed, and so the script term "a Bono" was born. It's hard to really explain a Bono to you unless you've seen one, but they're real.
"A Nokamura": When a large number of jokes are all predicated on a single, earlier joke. This can entail great risk.
Based on a Cheers episode. A day-player was named "Nokamura". A vast chunk of the second act's jokes were based on people mispronouncing, repeating, etc. the name "Nokamura."
But the problem was, on tape night -- the first mention of "Nokamura" didn't get a laugh. This meant the rest of the jokes wouldn't work. The rest of the show was shanked.
The worst thing about a Nokamura is that when the first joke fails, you as the writing staff know what's coming. All you can do is watch in horror as your show unravels, the Nokamura too deeply entrenched to require anything but a complete between-tapings rewrite.
(Note: We have recent e-mails suggesting the origin of this term was actually The Bob Newhart Show. We are investigating)
"Up and Back": When the characters or plot go through high drama/high action scenes, but neither their emotional arc nor the story arc are advanced.
Pops up a lot in action movies or sitcoms, where the focus is often on the gag rather than the story. Usually delivered in a regretful tone while looking at the scene breakdown on the whiteboard. "Kind of an up and back, isn't it?"
"The Rake Bit": Something that's funny, goes on too long so it's not funny, then goes on so long that it becomes INCREDIBLY funny.
Goes under a couple different names, but of writers my age, this seems to be the most prevalent. Based on The Simpsons ep that was a Cape Fear riff. Sideshow Bob climbs out from under a car and steps on a rake. It smacks him. He mutters. He then steps three feet away ... onto another rake. He mutters. ad-near-infinitum.
"a Squiggy" or "the 'hello' gag": From Laverne & Shirley. Can only be defined by example.
Laverne (crossing to door): "What sort of degenerate freak would agree to that?"
Squiggy (door opens): "He-looooo."
This is a variation of but distinct from ...
"the Gilligan cut": When you cut directly from a character declaring there's no way he's going to do something, to him doing it, for comedic effect.
Also called "the flip joke", but I've heard this usage, and it's more interesting nomenclature. Thanks to Jacob at Yankee Fog.
(previously listed as "the red dress", This name comes from the way it was always described to me: a burly guy saying"There's no way I'm going to get into a red dress and pretend to be your wife". SMASH CUT to ... you get the idea.)
"a Van Dyke": leaving a scene, usually a party scene, early and then starting the next scene with a phone conversation which elaborates and expands the previous scene while also introducing new information. A nice bit of shorthand.
From, of course, the Dick Van Dyke show. You'd leave the party scene at the point of, say, Laura downing her third drink and Rob realizing she was out of control. You'd then come back to Rob on the phone the next day, talking to Buddy: "Yes. Yes, all of them. And a pony! What? The producer I'm trying to impress was there? Why didn't you tell me!"*
"on the roof": A character or bit that hasn't been written out yet, but is on double secret probation before shoot day.
I'm proud to say, this is my own little contribution to the lexicon, which I've learned has travelled to other shows. Based the old joke:
A guy has his brother watch his cat while he's on vacation. First day out, he calls his brother.When, after the table read, a day-player just isn't up to snuff, or a bit lays there, a lot of times you know it'll never see the light of day on the shoot, but you just haven't come up with anything to replace it -- yet. That bit/actor is "on the roof."
"How's my cat?"
"Sorry, Bill, the cat's dead."
"Dammit, don't tell me that! Now my vacation's ruined!"
"Well, what was I supposed to say?"
"Ease me into it! Tell me that the cat's gone up on the roof, and you can't get it down. Next time I call, tell me the cat's still on the roof, and it won't come down. Then, when I call the last time, tell me the cat died, so it's not a shock."
"Fine, fine. Sorry."
"Okay. So, how's Mom?"
"... Mom's up on the roof and she won't come down."
Well, there you have it. I've contacted some of my older writer friends, and we'll see if we can't build the list. Any other staff writers, feel free to toss me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and submit terms I don't know.
Hopefully this is a nice change of pace from the usual "start the scene late, leave early" entry in all the other screenwriting blogs. Enjoy.
(NOTE: Hey Defamer-ites and others. For those looking for more Jargon, you can get to the second post through the homepage of Kung Fu Monkey. For a quick tour of the site and some of the readers' favorite bits, go to Index-Fu.)
(NOTE on the NOTE: We're now up to three posts on this. Please hop to the main page and check the index, particularly if you want to pitch a new one, to see if it's already covered.)
*(Oh, and if those names mean nothing to you and you're a comedy writer, go learn a little history You're part of a tradition, for chrissake).