Ultimate Dallas fans put
questions to Camille Marchetta scriptwriter and story editor
of Dallas.Thank you to everyone who took part. The winner
of the book will be notified this week. Special thanks to
the wonderful Camille for taking time out to answer the questions.
Be sure to check out Camille's site at http://www.camillemarchetta.com/
Q1. How did you get involved for writing
Camille: My agent, Lynn Pleshette,
also represented David Jacobs who created "Dallas."
She showed David a spec script of mine when he was story-editing"Family".
He liked it and promised to hire me the first chance he got.
"Dallas" was that chance and David kept his promise.
Q2. How were storylines decided?
Camille: When I worked on the show,
possible stories were suggested and discussed in lengthy meetings
involving usually Leonard Katzman, Art Lewis,and myself, with
occasional appearances by our executive-producer, Phil Capice.
Each of us would suggest ideas that came from our personal
experiences as well as from watching the interaction of our
characters and imagining how each would react when presented
with an obstacle, a problem,etc. We would defend a story idea
vigorously until either it was shot down or one of us convinced
the others it was brilliant. Once we agreed on the way to
go, we would run the ideas by the studio and network executives,
incorporate their notes, and proceed to script.
Q3. What were the early days like?
was it exciting writing the mini series?
Camille: Working on the mini-series
wasn't fun for me. I wasn't on staff.
I was writing out in the cold, so to speak, as freelance writers
my work would be liked by David Jacobs, by the executives
at Lorimar, by
the network. Also, I wasn't part of the production process.
When I did
join the staff, though, I had a great time. We worked hard,
alot. And watching the show climb in the ratings from an obscure
world-wide hit was enormously exciting.
Q4. I have read Bobby was due to be
killed in the 5th episode, do you know why this was changed?
Camille: Do you find that idea as shocking
as I do? Bobby killed? It seems unthinkable. Apparently, David
initially intended that Pam should be the "star"
of the series, a Capulet stranded among the Montagues when
her husband is killed. But when shooting started, and the
actors began to inhabit their characters, the relationships
among them began to develop in unforeseen ways. It was a question,
I suppose you could say, of "chemistry", not only
between J.R. and Sue Ellen, or between Bobby and Pam, but
between J.R.and Bobby, and between them and Miss Ellie and,
above all, Jock. It was soon obvious to all who watched dailies
-- unedited film -- that killing Bobby was not an option.
He provided such an essential dynamic to the mix of characters
that losing him would seriously jeopardize the show's chances
Q5. How far in advance were story lines planned?
Camille: In the first season, not far
enough. We would develop the stories and write the scripts
in about a 3-4 week process, then deliver the script to the
cast, crew, and director in time for a week's preparation,
followed by approximately a 7 day shoot. Then came editing,
and before you knew it, the episodes were on the air. In the
second season, we roughed out the stories for the entire year
during the show's hiatus, so at least we had a roadmap to
where we were heading, though I suppose the writing/production
process still took about the same amount of time
Q6. I see you penned the original episode for Kristen, did
you know at this early stage she was going to cause havoc
for the Ewings?
Camille: We introduced her to cause havoc; but we certainly
had no idea the
little vixen would end up shooting J.R.
Q7. You wrote the two first episodes
that included Jenna Wade. Did you create this character?
Camille: Yes, I did. I believe I even suggested the story,
that is, that
Bobby's old girlfriend return, though we all talked so much
in the story
meetings, it's hard to remember exactly who said what.
Q8. Were the Jenna and Naldo characters
named after yourself? as in
Marchetta? Did this happen a lot with characters being named
Camille: No. I don't think so. I just liked the names. They
had the kind of romantic quality I wanted for the episode.
Writers do have a tendency (not me) to name their characters
after people they know; but since all names have to be "cleared"
by a research group so that no real person out there in television
land is unintentionally offended, especially one who might
be inclined to sue, the writer's favorites rarely survive
the first draft.
Q9: Which character did you most enjoy
writing for? and why?
Camille: I'm tempted to say J.R. because
his character allowed a writer to push a story in the most
outrageous directions, which is always a lot of fun. But really
I didn't often prefer writing for one character more than
another. If the character's storyline was strong, then the
possibility for drama existed, and writing the script was
challenging and enjoyable. On the other hand, if the storyline
was weak, there was little drama, scenes didn't work, it was
all very frustrating; but one really couldn't really blame
the characters for that. It was the writing staff's fault
for not coming up with stronger stories.
Q10. Did you like Sue Ellen best when she was a) prissy and
wishy-washy, b)drunk, or c) strong and independent?
Camille: What I like in characters
is often quite different from what I like in people. In "real
life" I have a very limited tolerance for "prissy
and wishy-washy" or "drunk" but in a script,
if those qualities allow for tension and conflict in a scene,
and the scene comes alive because of them, then I'm delighted.
If not, I get fed up with those qualities just as quickly
as the audience.That's my reaction as a writer; as a woman,
however, I love to discover ways to have a weak female character
find reserves of strength and begin to stand up for herself.
She then becomes a "role model" not only for viewers,
but for me as well.
Q11. Did the actors have a say in the
Camille: Not in any substantial way
while I was on "Dallas". Of course, we were what
I call a "happy" show, and very good relationships
existed among the actors, the crew, the production and writing
staffs, so if any of the actors had a concern about the way
his/her character was developing, the writers were always
ready to listen, and happy to be accommodating as long as
we felt the complaint was justified and any change would lead
to more dramatic and interesting stories.
Q12. Were you involved in discussions
for JR being shot? How did this come about?
Camille: Yes, I was.Over the course
of the season, "Dallas" had turned into a substantial
hit, so that as the end neared CBS asked us for additional
episodes. We didn't have a lot of time to meet the proposed
broadcast dates, so Leonard Katzman, Art Lewis, and I went
into an intense huddle trying to come up with stories that
weren't simply "fill" but compelling and dramatic.
Sometimes we were joined by our executive-producer Phil Capice.
As I've said before, we all talked so much and so quickly
that it's difficult to remember to whom to give the credit
for what; but, as I recall, Phil suggested killing J.R. and
while that was clearly unacceptable because by then we knew
he was the lynchpin of the series, the suggestion did head
us in the right direction. The how and the who and the why
evolved out of further discussions.Art Lewis credits me with
saying, "Let's just shoot the bastard," but, quite
honestly, I don't remember who did say it, though I'm awfully
glad someone did.
Q13. What is your most memorable moment
during your time with Dallas?
Camille: There were many memorable
moments. Watching "Dallas" climb in the ratings
to #1 was an incredibly exciting time for me. The reaction
to the shooting of J.R. was mind-boggling and I took great
pride in having been part of the team that caused such a world-wide
sensation. But the most memorable personal moment came when
I left the show.The cast and crew were in Dallas shooting,
but they sent me filmed good-byes and the production staff
in Culver City threw me a party. By the way, one of those
filmed moments still exists. I forget in which episode, but
there's a scene with Sue-Ellen leaving a movie theater weeping
after seeing Greta Garbo in "Camille". There's my
name, up on the theater marquee. I was so very touched by
Q14. I read that you put together a
Dallas bible? What was involved with this? How long did this
Camille: About February, after the
last of that season's scripts was essentially completed, Leonard
Katzman, Art Lewis, and I began discussing stories for the
following year. By the end of the season, in late March, Art
and I had enough material to begin working on the "Bible".
I wrote the first section, which was a synopsis of each characters'
storyline for the coming season, totaling about 40-50 pages.
When I finished that, Art took on the much harder job of weaving
those storylines into blocks of episodes, to give the rest
of us an idea of how they would work together, in what sequence,
and how much time should be allotted to each. We went back
into meetings with Leonard, made revisions, and showed the
end result, about 100 pages, to Lorimar and CBS. Since we
had to begin shooting again in June, I think we must have
finished the Bible by mid-April, early May at the latest.
Q15. Were there any storylines planned
that were changed?
Camille: All the time. The production
staff, as a group, used to watch dailies -- the unedited film
from the previous day's shooting -- together. In that communal
setting, the writers could quickly see which stories were
working and which were not.The interesting ones we expanded,
the dull ones we tried to write our way out of as quickly
as possible. By the way, people no longer watch dailies together.
Since VCRs and videos, the tendency is to watch them alone
at the end of a long day. It's too bad, I think. I always
found that communal response very helpful.
Q16. You wrote the episode Royal Marriage
with Kit Mainwaring revealing he was gay. This was a very
new topic for the time. What was the reaction to this? Why
was this decided to be a story-line and how did you go about
writing it? Was there anything that the network wanted to
change because of public reaction?
Camille: I don't remember who suggested
the episode, possibly me, since it was the sort of subject
I was interested in. Several people I was close to had been
through similar experiences. In any case, I was eager to write
the script; and though it's been many years since I've read
it, I know I was very proud of it at the time. I especially
liked Kit's confession scene, and the subsequent scene between
Lucy and Bobby. Charlene was very proud of her work in it
too, and I think she has reason to be. She gave a lovely performance.
In general, the reaction was extremely positive, though I
remember being surprised by titters from the audience during
a screening. With the benefit of hindsight, I suppose that
was because it was, as you say, a very new topic for the time
and people were uncomfortable with it. But we had no protests,
and certainly no requests from the network to change anything.
Mind you, I don't think that's because we were so very progressive.
If Kit had been a running character rather than a guest, the
reaction might have been different; and, as a rule, networks
don't tend to interfere with a hit until the ratings start
Q17. Were there storylines dropped
and changed due to the network feeling it was unsuitable?
Camille: Not that I remember
Q18. What was your favorite episode?
Camille: I'm not sure I have one, but
I do have favorite moments, for example the scene in which
J.R., after having learned John Ross is truly his son, goes
into the nursery and picks up the baby. The tenderness in
J.R.'s face in that moment gave the character a whole other
and much deeper dimension.
Q19. How was it decided who wrote which episode?
Camille: We knew how long it took each
of us to write an episode; so, after figuring in Leonard Katzman's
directing schedule and our particular preferences for stories
we worked out a rotation, Leonard Katzman, Art Lewis, and
I, bringing in freelance writers often, with Art and me alternating
story-editing duties, which could either involve substantial
rewriting of freelance scripts for one reason or another or
making only the few changes always demanded by production
Q20. Did you meet the cast of the show?
Camille: Oh, yes, I'm happy to say.
When the show was being shot on the lot in Culver City, where
I worked, I went down to the set probably once a day at least,
more if my episode was being filmed. I went to the various
locations, too, even to Dallas, though not so often.And of
course the cast sometimes dropped by the office when they'd
finished their days work.
Q21. There is a book by Lee Raintree
which covers the mini series. You
wrote Winds of Vengeance where the family are held to ransom.
The book changes this story with the rape of Sue Ellen which
was excluded from the actual show. Do you know the story behind
Camille: Lee Raintree's book was a
novelized account of "Dallas" episodes and my guess
is that it was based on first drafts rather than final shooting
scripts. It certainly came long after the episodes were filmed
and shown. The book was no doubt commissioned by Lorimar and
its point was to profit from the success of the series by
extending its commercial franchise into the publishing arena.
I have no idea why the author chose not to follow the filmed
version of the story. Nor do I know why the story was changed
before it was filmed. I was not on staff at the time. I wasn't
part of the discussions. And I didn't do the final draft.
David Jacobs did. What I
do know is that in the early stages of a production there
are always profound disagreements among all interested parties
(writer, production company, network, and endless people within
each group) over which way particular stories, especially
ones involving difficult subjects like rape, should evolve;
compromises are inevitable and necessary, or nothing would
ever get done.
Q22. Why did Dallas change from self
contained episodes to a continuing drama?
Camille: The writing staff was watching
dailies one day and we heard Sue Ellen announce that she was
pregnant. While you would think we might have realized the
ramifications in advance, I can honestly say it was only then,
when we heard her say it, that we realized it would be impossible
to deal with that subject in a single episode, that it would
take many to play it out.We spent the next few days mulling
over this problem and as our discussions turned up more and
more interesting story possibilities, we decided to present
our case to the studio and the network for continuing in a
serial format.It took some convincing, but we won
Q23. Why did you stop writing for the
Camille: Prior to "Dallas",
I had only written a television movie that was never filmed
and an episode of a short-lived series called "Lucan"
(in which Stefanie Zimbalist made her first appearance), so
I was eager to explore other possibilities and expand my writing
range. Of course, had I had enough experience to know how
unique "Dallas" was, how rare such a happy combination
of personalities and talents, not to mention success, I might
not have been so anxious to go.
Q24. You were involved in 3 of the
major prime time shows? How did these differ in writing styles.
Camille: "Dallas" was the
first of these shows and so I think its writing had a freshness
and a sort of innocence that the others lacked, and it made
an attempt to deal with issues (the politics/morality of business,
sibling rivalry, breast cancer, etc). More importantly --
for all the melodrama of its storylines -- it was grounded
in reality, in real emotion, in real relationships between
people. The latter especially, I think, gave it the universal
quality which made it so popular worldwide and which manages
to engage people even now, so many years later. "Dynasty"
of course thrived on split-second character shifts, on a complete
disregard for logic, on outrageous camp. That of course was
what made it so much fun to watch, but it made me, a very
practical, logical person, heavily dependent on the more irrational
members of the writing team to provide a forward thrust to
the stories. "Falcon Crest" falls somewhere between
the other two, I think, not quite so real as "Dallas",
not so camp as "Dynasty".
Q25. Can you tell us what a Dallas script meeting consisted
of? what was it like making decisions for the characters?
Camille: Script meetings were part
of a process. When we weren't actually writing, Leonard Katzman,
Art Lewis, and I would be talking, usually about possible
storylines. These meetings were sometimes formal, sometimes
informal, taking place whenever, wherever, always involving
great flights of fancy and a lot of laughter.When we had decided
on a storyline, we would meet in a more formal session, in
someone's office (with a freelance writer if one was going
to write the show), and work out the steps of the episode
together, scene by scene, act by act.When the writer delivered
the written outline, after we had reviewed it, we would meet
again to discuss changes with him/her, then again after the
first draft script came in, then again -- just the staff --
with the director to discuss production changes. As for making
decisions for characters, I've always found it an intriguing
process. It's necessary to get inside their heads and hearts,
to understand them as you probably don't even understand yourself,
to make their reactions to a circumstance, a problem, a tragedy
believable, real. Sometimes I even get the feeling that they're
acting quite independently of me.
Q26. Dallas ended very badly, would
you consider writing a 3rd Reunion Movie? If not for TV perhaps
even for the internet so us fans can have a final farewell.
Camille: I'm becoming more and more interested in the idea
of writing for the internet. But I don't own any of the rights
in "Dallas" and so couldn't write a movie based
on those characters. I'm not sure who does own them. Probably
Warner Brothers, who brought you the last few movies. You
might ask David Jacobs.
Q27.What do you think the shows downfall
Camille: What is amazing to me is not
that "Dallas" ended but that it lasted as long as
it did. In the early days, when CBS was moving the show around
the schedule so often that each week we lost almost as many
viewers as we gained, we had no great hope that it would last
a season let alone so many years. But while I suppose most
fans have strong opinions about just what mistake led to its
being taken off the air, which character's departure,which
disappointing storyline, I tend to think it was inevitable.
A hit show can spin around and around a central point, a producer,
a star,whatever, only for so long, held together in that force
field. Despite hard work and good luck, its elements will
always eventually spin apart. Like me, people want to move
on, to try something new.Then, too, all the stories get used
up, get used over and over. Everyone starts caring too much
about money. The RIGHT blend of old-timers who know the characters,new
writers to infuse fresh ideas into the mix, fresh characters
to replace those who leave, can prolong a show's life, but
that blend is hard to achieve; and, in any case, the center
just can't hold forever.
Q28. What advice would you give up
and coming writers who want to get involved in writing a show?
Camille: Take a script-writing course,
for the contacts if nothing else; write a good script, not
a spec script for any particular show, but something original
and heartfelt; use everyone you know to get the script to
an agent, a producer, an actor; don't give up. Success comes
to those with talent, and luck, but above all, to those who
Q29. Were there any plots you had difficulty
Camille: There were no plots that I remember having particular
difficulty writing, though the structure of an episode like
"Rodeo" presented quite a challenge.
Q30. Were there certain topics that
you would refuse to write?
Camille: The problem didn't arise for
me. I was on staff, helping to develop the topics, so none
got through (or were even suggested as far as I remember)
that I found objectionable, though, because I'm a bit squeamish,
I tried never to write the episodes that dealt with serious
illness. In general, while I think I would agree to explore
any subject, I would never consciously write something I felt
would contribute to, or imply my support of, intolerance --
racial, religious, sexual -- any kind at all.
Q31. Titans is a new Dallas style show on NBC. Do you think
there is room for a Dallas style show nowadays?
Sure, if you mean by that a serial
show with strong male as well as female characters, storylines
devised to appeal to both sexes, issue-oriented stories with
reality lurking under all the melodrama, plus a dash of glamour
for kick. However, I suspect that superficially such a show
would appear quite different.Times after all have moved on.
Q32. Dallas is still one of the most
talked about shows on television. It
has recently been stated it won't return for another movie.
Do you think Dallas might return at some stage? It amazes
me why such a popular show can't get a network to finance
Camille: A new version of "The
Fugitive" is back on the air, so who knows?
Q33. I love your books. What do you
prefer, writing a novel or writing for television?
Camille:Thank you. That's so good to
hear. Writing for television, when it's going well, is a wonderful
communal experience. It also happens to be financially rewarding,
and, as I've said often, a great deal of fun. Writing a novel,
at least for me, is none of those things. Still, I love doing
it. I love being completely on my own. I love not having to
run my ideas past a committee, no matter how enlightened;
not having to compromise ever. It's both terrifying and satisfying
having to take responsibility for everything - even the mistakes.
Q34. What was a normal day like for
you when you were involved with Dallas?
When I had a script to write, if it
was a quick deadline, I might stay home for three or four
days, until it was finished. Otherwise, I would show up at
the office at about 9.30, and in the course of the day, depending
on when different events were scheduled, attend story meetings,
production meetings, dailies, rewrite a script, visit the
set, go to the location, show up at the network for a conference.
It was all work (even lunch was usually a meeting), but I
have to say, except for the writing which is always solitary
and hard, it was all fun too. I'd leave the office at about
6.30. It was a very civilized routine, and not a common one.
On other shows I've stayed as late as one or two in the morning.
Leonard Katzman was an excellent organizer.
Q35. Can you tell us what your current
I'm writing another novel, my third.
I hope to finish a first draft by the end of the year. Watch
my website for news.
Special Thanks again to Camille. Be
sure to check out her site and join the mailing list for upcoming
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