Friday, July 25, 2008

Back from the set!

Ah, it's been a busy two weeks, I tell you.

As may have been mentioned before here, Susan Green (of "Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion") and yours truly (best known 'round these parts as half of the apocrypha editorial team) are putting together "Law & Order SVU: The Unofficial Companion" for 2009 publication. And we've just spent the last two weeks on the set while an episode called "Lunacy" filmed.

We really couldn't have been been better treated, from everyone involved -- including the director, the writer (who regularly gave up his director's chair so I could sit in it) to the crew (yay for Teamsters!) to the actors themselves (even if they did require a little chasing down to interview). We went from meat-locker temperatures in the studio (located in beautiful pylon-infested North Bergen, NJ) to muggy, mosquito-filled days in Flushing, but were always made welcome and treated like we were supposed to be there.

I will say it probably took about three days, though, to feel at home in any real sense. There's a rhythm to how everything works -- as in any office -- and inserting yourself and waiting for things to happen isn't always the best way to get around. We'd get driven in from Manhattan in a van with extras or background actors to the studio and then there'd be a lot of waiting around while crew set up the shots, the stand-ins helped the director block the scenes, the actors came in and rehearsed, the shots were taken, then taken again, then taken from another angle, then done in close-up, ad infinitum, until the director yells "Cut! Print! Check the gate!" and you get to move on to the next scene. We were given "sides" every day, which are small paperback book-sized mini-scripts of just the scenes to be done that day, just a few pages.

Most days they did perhaps 5 pages of dialogue, which you look at that and say, "Gee, we should be out by lunch with this little to do" but there's no way to convey just. How. Long. Everything Takes. "Law & Order" shows still use film (as opposed to video or digital video) so it's fairly old-school with lighting and big rigging and it takes an incredible long time to get everything just so. Then there are a hundred things that can go wrong, from the boom being in the shot, to an actor bobbling his lines (very rarely with the regulars), to someone walking in the wrong direction in a shot, to a director just wanting to do things a little different once he sees how it looks in the monitor.

There are eight million details to consider, too -- what kind of mugs do you want to use in this scene? where should the blood spatter appear on a shirt? is the A/C turned off during filming (too much noise)? Is someone sweating? Why are people still talking when we're about to roll? Can you hear that helicopter/airplane/boat noise in the background? There's tons of slang -- I learned what the real meanings of "dance floor," "video village," "honey wagon" are. And then there are the union regulations.

All of this is going into the book in one form or the other, in much greater detail. The episode, as mentioned, is called "Lunacy" and airs as the third episode in the new season, whenever that kicks off. And it's about a dead Belgian lesbian astronaut. What more could you ask for?

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