Script-to-b’cast a race vs. deadline

'It's very tough to find a compelling story' sez Breech

Each episode of “The Practice” represents countless combined working hours from conception to completion, requiring the collaborative talents and efforts — conceptual, technical, managerial and otherwise — of hundreds of men and women on the show’s cast and crew.

Executive producer Robert Breech, who also acts as senior VP of David E. Kelley Prods., is often described by those in the know as Kelley’s right-hand man in the creative realm. He often spearheads storyline discussions with the show’s staff of 10 full-time writers.

They eventually flesh out the ideas, research them with case histories and legal experts until they are legally sound, and, Breech says, hopefully strong enough to work dramatically.

No simple solution

“It’s very tough to find a compelling story that has legs for four acts to really sustain itself and grow. Those stories are not easy to find or develop. There’s no formula for it,” he says.

A couple of weeks later, a small handful of A stories, many in their third or fourth draft, are given to Kelley, who spends from one to four days working it into a structured, four-act episode that fits the show’s style, vision and ongoing themes.

“Sometimes David does just a polish on what we provide him, but often he does a complete rewrite,” Breech explains. “We have given him a beefy A story and he has chosen to compress it to its barest essentials — or even make it a B story — and create an “A” story entirely of his own. Every show has gone through his pen in varying degrees. He’s the special voice through which all of our stories have been filtered.”

When Kelley comes back with the episode’s final script, the production staff and producers hit the ground running, including co-executive producer Gary Strangis, responsible for creating the framework for prep.

While no one method works each time, Strangissays, “You almost have to get into a routine because you have so many people counting on some sense of order.”

Days one and two of prep include a rapid-fire succession of creative and technical meetings, including sets and locations, and a cast concept get-together. During the latter, the episode’s director, producers, writers and casting directors discuss story and characters, make note of what themes drive the episode and brainstorm ideas for casting.

During those first two days, Breech also runs a director review meeting to go through a script scene by scene.

“For instance, a director may not understand legal technicalities at the core of the story, or why a character does something in the third act,” Strangis explains.

Afterwards, Breech, the director and Kelley have a story meeting to address concerns from the director review meeting. It’s here that Kelley decides if revisions are necessary and makes changes.

Casting and location scouting begin on the third day of prep and often carries through down to the wire. Simultaneously, departmental meetings are taking place with the director. Generally, the sixth day of prep brings the technical survey and afterwards, on either day six or seven, a full production meeting is held.

The big event of prep day No. 7 is the tone meeting. Supervising producer Christina Musrey explains the three-hour discussion:

“We go scene by scene and talk about intentions with the director where we are going in terms of the emotions of characters and what significance these scenes may have for future shows.”

During the eight days of shooting, Breech and the episode’s supervising producer, (Musrey and Joseph Berger-Davis alternate odd and even episodes) work with the director from shot to shot, supporting the plans and decisions that have been made over the week.

Kelley is generally not on set during photography.

Breech says, “David gives total delegation for the execution of the product. He has a lot of trust in his colleagues. This is a true collaboration in every sense of the word.”

Once the episode is in the can, the post-production machine takes over. The editors cut for six days, then the director uses four days to complete a cut, after which Breech takes four days to finalize the cut that Kelley watches.

Kelley’s notes generally require about a half-day’s work, which Breech executes with the editor to create the picture lock.

“David’s comments are always invaluable,” Breech says. “He’s very ruthless with himself, even when it comes to having to cut away his own writing to get to what the story should be.”

About a week later, after the episode has been through the final stages of post, hopefully, “Practice” is made perfect.