Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Conversation with Dean Butler--Part 2

You formed Peak Moore Enterprises while you were still acting on Little House. Had you always been interested in production?

Peak Moore was not originally designed to be a production company. It was designed to be a holding company. I moved from job to job and the employers always changed, but with Peak Moore I was always employed by the same company. I was employed by Peak Moore and Peak Moore was hired by NBC Productions in the case of Little House and guaranteed to provide my acting services. So, Peak Moore was under contract to NBC, not me.

What I liked about it is when I wasn’t working for NBC and I did something for FOX or CBS or something at Universal, I still only had one employer. When asked who do you work for, I work for Peak Moore Enterprises. For an actor that is very comforting because for most of the time as an actor you are employed. If I form this company I’m always employed. I always worked for Peak Moore Enterprises and I still do.

In the mid 90’s, it became the structure from which I started working as a producer. And in more recent years we developed the brand name, Legacy Documentaries. It’s a division of Peak Moore. When you hear Peak Moore Enterprises it has meaning to me because it’s all related to family things, but it doesn’t mean anything to anybody else and it doesn’t describe what I do. Legacy Documentaries says something about what I do. We say, “Legacy Documentaries captures life’s defining moments”. The message is that he creates stories about people.”

Were you interested in production at all when you were on the show?

During the years that I was on the show I was always as interested in what was going on in the editing room or on the scoring stage or in the writers’ offices as what was going on on stage. I loved the process of it and I still love the process of it. All these people did such interesting things. All those other people were the ones who really made the show happen. The writers, the editors, the producers, directors, the composer, costumers…all these people had a huge impact on what the audience saw each week. The actors play the smallest part in the process of making the show in terms of time. Actors generally get too much credit when a show succeeds and too much blame when it doesn’t. When your face is on the screen that’s the way it goes.

I always felt like all the toughest creative work had been done before I even got a script. The writing is done, and by the time I get the script it’s set in stone. There’s nothing I’m going to do to influence that, nor am I being invited to influence it. You don’t really have a lot to say there, so your job is to execute the script as it’s been given to you and do your best to deliver what the writer and director are trying to accomplish. Then it goes to the editor once the film is developed and they see how they want to cut it. The editor is shaping the performance. The performance doesn’t happen on the stage. It doesn’t appear in a continual flow the way it appears when you watch it. The performance is literally cut together by the editor who must use the footage he’s been given and find the best way to tell the story. In the case of Michael Landon as a director, Michael didn’t give editors a lot of choices on how to cut it. He shot things in a way that really dictated to the editor how he had to cut it. Editors didn’t have a lot of options. Today—certainly on television and always in movies—directors will shoot three or four versions of scenes with elaborate coverage that encourages far more complex editorial construction of movies and television .

Michael’s show was cut on a moviola so you were literally dealing with holding the film in your hand and taping it together. That was a very deliberate process and I loved watching that happen. The sound effects people would get a hold of it and they would build all the sound effects reels. Then the show would go to David Rose and he would go away for five days and write a beautiful score and he would come back with a sixty-piece orchestra and play this gorgeous music, and oh my god, we have a show here. You didn’t really feel like you had a show when you came off the stage. You knew you had the pieces, but you didn’t have a show yet. It didn’t become a show until all these other people got their hands on it. And that process is really exciting to me.

While I didn’t get the chance on Little House to have any responsibilities beyond acting, I appreciated and respected what was being done there because the outcomes were always wonderful. We had a very skilled group of people working on the show who understood Michael’s vision and they delivered that vision for ten seasons, and Michael got all of us to deliver it too.

My work now puts me in every phase of the process and I love it.

Is too much involvement a good thing?

You need to have other people to see things you can’t. If you work totally alone inevitably there are things that are going to get missed. It’s tough when you don’t see mistakes until it’s too late to fix them. In the very end, it’s all done, it’s in the can and you send it out. You relax a little bit and after some time has passed you watch it again, and you see that you missed something. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time it’s part of the process. In today’s world it’s not all bad because it gives people who are watching what you’re doing an opportunity to see it, find it, comment on it, talk about it on blogs. It becomes more of a participatory thing for people.

The most recent thing that I finished yesterday, I watched it today I saw a mistake and it’s too late. I can’t fix it now. I can fix it in the next run of the show, but I can’t fix it now. It’s just part of it and I have to live with that.

Many years after Little House on the Prairie ended, the show became available on DVD. You had a hand in producing some of the bonus content for those DVDs. Can you tell us how you became involved in this project?

I was contacted by Imavision to come and do an interview for Seasons 6, 7, 8 and 9. Patrick Loubatière—who you know from France—is Imavision’s expert on Little House. I’ve never met anybody who knows more about Little House the television series than Patrick does. So I sat down with Patrick for an interview. He asked great questions and these interviews have showed up on Seasons 6, 7, 8 and 9.

I realized after sitting for that interview that I had a perspective as a participant that Patrick could never have. I would also have access to people that Patrick would never have. As much as Patrick has gotten to everybody, I knew I could touch it in a way, because I was there, that he never could. He could ask questions but I could tell people what happened and frame things from that perspective as an insider. I contacted Imavision up in Montreal and pitched them a few ideas hoping they would be intrigued. To date, we’ve probably made about 5 hours of content; virtually all the bonus content that is in this Mega-Pack that’s coming out we’ve made and most of it’s brand new. Some of it’s been released in France (about 3 hours that we released 2 years ago) because Imavision controls French territory. This is the first American or domestic release of this material as part of the 60-DVD set that is coming out in November. The majority of the bonus content is ours and I’m very proud of that.

Do you know if all the other bonus content from the single season DVDs will also be part of this Mega-Pack?

There’s a bunch of commentaries from earlier seasons. I think they’re giving people everything that they’ve got.

I hope people want to see this content. We had fun making it. Particularly the interviews with actors that no one had done before: Katherine MacGregor, Richard Bull, the Labyorteaux boys, Merlin Oleson and Karen Grassle. We were able to talk to them and they would talk to me. That was the advantage I had that other people covering this might not have had. They knew that we would not do anything that wasn’t positive or respectful of the work that was done years ago. I can’t speak for how true it is of other shows, but people love the programs that they’ve been on. For an actor the shows become part of who you are. As a cast we are all extremely protective and supportive of Little House and I believe we will always be that way.

Continue to Part 3
Go Back to Part 1


Anonymous said...

The mega pack sounds wonderful, I only wish I hadn't already bought all of the single seasons out on dvd. I am saddened to say I probably won't be making the investment and I am really bummed that I won't be seeing Dean's interviews (Please Dean consider releasing them separately !!).

I am learning a lot about the wonderful and talented Mr. Butler. A great interview Cheryl, I am so proud o you.

Your friend,
Lorrie Rumpf

Cheryl said...

Thanks Lorrie. As you know, it was thrilling to get a chance to talk to Dean and I'm so grateful that he was able to make the time to discuss his passion for keeping Laura's legacy alive.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic job Cheryl. I, like Lorrie, am very proud of you and so happy for you that you got this interview. Thanks Dean! We love ya!


Cheryl said...

Thanks Laurie. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I can't wait until I hear from the Wilder Homestead about my DVD. It will be like Santa is coming early this year.