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Exclusive interviews with the cast and production team of the hit tv series Dallas.
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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 Dallas?
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 do, hoping
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, but laughed
alot. And watching the show climb in the ratings from an obscure drama to
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 of success.
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 after writers?
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 character development?
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 it all.
Q14. I read that you put together a Dallas bible? What was involved with this? How long did this take?
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 to slip.
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 requirements.
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 this book?
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 show?
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 finally was?
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 persevere.
Q29. Were there any plots you had difficulty writing?
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 a movie.
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 projects are?
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 news.
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