Script Spotlight 1: “A War for all Seasons”

I know what you are thinking. Why isn’t the pilot episode the first Script Spotlight post? And that is a fair question. I had considered it as the first post as it seemed the most logical. But I ultimately chose “A War for all Seasons” (09×06) because that script is important to me and to the collection. In 2007, my M*A*S*H collection began with the purchase of a set of 22 scripts on eBay, and “A War for all Seasons” was one of those scripts. So while it may not be the first M*A*S*H script created, it is part of the set of scripts that began this collection. So, let’s take a look at the script itself, review what is in the script, what it tells us about the production process, and compare the script as written to the episode that first aired on December 29, 1980.

The Script

No two scripts are alike. A script sent to a executive at CBS doesn’t need day-to-day filming details. They are more interested in the content of the script. Those are who are working on the set need to know the set requirements each day, the filming schedule, who will be on set, which scenes are shot, and what props and wardrobe will be needed. Each M*A*S*H script tells a story, and this script tells one of the most complete stories available. In 2007, I didn’t know that the scripts I bought were some of the most complete that I would ever find. Since the script belonged to Albert Frankel, the men’s wardrobe director, he was on set each day and received the full paperwork. He also added what appear to be custom made costume sheets to his scripts.

Since this is the first Script Spotlight post, it made sense to show one of the more “complete” scripts and explain what each piece of the script is and how it contributed to the production of the series. It is a fascinating look at the process.

Call Sheets: A two-sided call sheet was created for each day of filming. The front of the page lists the members of the cast required for that day’s filming, the sets to be filmed, and any extras or stand-ins required. The back side of the sheet lists everything that will be required that from a number of departments including camera operation, construction, makeup, police, wardrobe, electrical, music, property, photo effects, transportation, sound, café, fire, and misc. The number of items that were needed each day is mind boggling. For example, one day of filming required 110 boxed lunches for the cast and crew while on location at the ranch.

Shooting Schedule: The shooting schedule is pretty much what it sounds like. It has four columns: Day/Date, Sets/Scenes/Description, Cast & Atmosphere, and Location or Stage. A typical M*A*S*H shoot lasted four days, and the shooting schedule would list what scenes were filmed each day. Similar to the call sheets in some ways in that it listed scenes to be filmed, cast requirements, etc., the shooting schedule was generated first, then the daily call sheets were created based on the needs outlined in the schedule.

Title Page: The title page may seem like no big deal, but it contains many important details about the script. The title and writer(s) are listed. As is the production number (bottom left corner of the page), and the date of the script. This script is listed as FINAL and would have been given to the cast and crew for filming. Revisions could be made during filming, so a REVISED FINAL version would be sent out after the episode wrapped. This was often the script sent to executives as it reflected the episode as it would air.

Cast List: Each script contains a list of the characters that appear in the episode. The principal cast is listed first, then there is usually a space, followed by characters only appearing in that episode. Some of these characters were be recurring such as Col. Flagg. Other characters were simply listed as “Patient” as we see here. For his copy, Albert has placed a check mark beside the characters for whom he provided wardrobe. In this case, it is for everyone other than Margaret and the voice over announcer. An interesting side note, Margaret was listed in the scripts as “Hot Lips” for all eleven seasons.

Set List: Like the cast list, each script contains a list of sets that will be featured in the episode. This page, along with the shooting schedule, informed the property manager what he needed to prepare for the four days of filming. The sets are broken up by Interior scenes and Exterior scenes. What is interesting is that it is not listed here whether the scene will be filmed on Stage 9 or at the ranch. This was likely decided as the shooting schedule was created.

Script Page: The script pages are where the story takes shape. If you have seen a film or television script before, this looks very familiar. The character’s names are centered on the page with their lines under their name. Occasionally you will get a stage direction, as we see here, or the scene will be set in detail. This is where things change. The actor may change a few words inadvertently or notes may be handwritten into the script. You’ll notice that the page number is always at the top right and the episode code number is in the bottom left.

Revised Script Page: Scripts were often revised during the production. There are various reasons for revisions, but some include a line update, a correction of a typo, changes in medical terminology, etc. Revised pages were provided on set daily and were color coded. The original script would contain pages of all one color, but as pages were revised, the new pages were color coded. This revised page is blue and dated 8/12/80. On this page, Albert has underlined characters that he has to arrange wardrobe for. He has underlined Hot Lips here, which is interesting since he was the men’s wardrobe director. But he has also underlined THE CROWD indicating he had dress several extras.

Costume Pages: These pages appear to be unique to Albert’s scripts. Each actor has a page (or two) that lists the scene(s) they are in and the wardrobe required for each scene. The list is detailed down to the boots and dog tags. Everything was planned so the actors would walk into their dressing rooms and have the wardrobe ready for filming. What is most interesting about this page to me is that is appears to be handmade. It looks like Albert used a black marker and a ruler to draw lines, then copied the page to reuse for his scripts. It speaks to his organizational skills and attention to detail that he took this extra step.

Taken as a whole, this one script tells us a lot about how much effort and the number of people it took to create a single episode of M*A*S*H. The need for 110 boxed lunches for one day gives us an idea of how many people were floating around the set. We also get a glimpse into Albert’s world as he provided wardrobe for the men of the series. This is a great example of why I love scripts. While all scripts aren’t this detailed and some scripts provide a completely different point-of-view, this script is a window into four days in November 1980 when a 26-minute episode was filmed.

The Final Episode

Watching an episode of M*A*S*H and following along with the script is very strange. I’ve seen the episodes so many times that I have an idea of what is going to be said next, but I was surprised by the number of variations to the lines in the final episode. By my count, there were only five pages out of the thirty seven where the words on the page matched the final episode 100%. In two instances, I found major differences between the script and the final episode. For example, when Hawkeye and BJ are discussing the artificial kidney machine on pages 11 – 12, and again on page 24, there are lines on the screen that appear no where on the page. This leads me to question whether there was another set of revised pages that Albert missed or didn’t put in his script.

For the most part, the storyline did not have any major changes, nor did the dialogue. I was very picky as I watched, and if one word was changed, I wrote down the page number in my notes. In the scene where Klinger is pitching to Col. Potter, in the final episode, Potter says, “Pitch me that apple.” But in the script, the line was written as, “Pitch me that cherry.” The line Potter actually says makes more sense. These minor changes are a good reminder that scripts on paper may not sound the same when spoken, so the actor adjusted the line. It’s also possible that an actor simply forgot a word or rearranged a sentence which serves as a reminder that actors are human. But the changes on pages 11, 12, and 24 were drastic enough that I have included photos of each page below. Feel free to watch the episode and compare the differences for yourself!

That is the first Script Spotlight! I promise most will not be this long, but I really enjoyed writing about the script itself and rewatching the episode. I look forward to writing one of these a month. As a part of the first week of The M*A*S*H Historian, tomorrow will be the first Press Pass post. Check back tomorrow to learn how M*A*S*H was pitched to the press, and ultimately, the public.

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