Thursday, March 5, 2009

In which we get the Final Pieces, and make a Trial Fitting

All in all, as we motor over to WLEX, we're feeling pretty good about the upcoming studio session. Costume works, makeup works, set folks are feeling good, there's a character starting to emerge, got a couple of fixed bits to build the rest of the show around, Bob n Nathan are in the car and everyboy's laffin n jivin n having a Good Time as we pull into the parking lot, troop up the steps to the night entrance

And we can't come in.

Seems that no one let Elmer the night guard (okay, I don't remember his name after all this time, but I always thought of him as an Elmer) know that we were expected. Therefore we aren't on his list. And if you're not on the night list, You Shall Not Pass.

We are not going to get all diva about this. Well, some of us are thinking about getting all diva about this, but others of us who have some experience with rent-a-guards know that about all a rent-a-guard is going to get for a post order is "show up here at 1800 hours, go home at 0600 hours, don't fall asleep". So if we aren't on the night list, one certain n universal truth is it's not Elmer's fault.

So after a huddle, we decide that the Cute One is the best positioned to smile, bat eyelashes and ask if perhaps he might check with Mr. Bill and see if we are expected? Nathan proposes a quick round of Rock Paper Scissors to determine who the Cute One is, but Barb's beat him to it and is charming Elmer. I don't know how she does this, and honor her for it; I can spend a week in Baltimore without any Charm City lint rubbing off on me. It doesn't take long for Barb to convince Elmer to check his sign-out sheet and by gum Mr. Bill still is on property but he's not answering his phone there. One of us manages to wonder if perhaps he could be paged? and by gum he can be and by gum if Bill doesn't bust out all over from the studio profusely apologizing for the mixup, secretary was supposed to leave word, this isn't the way he hoped to get started tonight, well no harm done, glad to see that Security's doing their job (Elmer very proud with this last one), and if I'm not very much mistaken that there studio door is only about fifteen or twenty feet behind that there Elmer. Anyway, after establishing that Bob is here to apply makeup only at no additional charge to Bill, Barb Bob n Bill are off to find some privacy for changing and makeup and Nathan and I step into El Casa de Monstrepiece.

It's cold. And it's not just the AC, which is cranked down to meatlocker mode ("It's the lights, you know. They're very hot," Bill explains. "Ah," I respond). The studio guys are on the floor, watching us, and I would not characterize this first meeting as friendly.

We came to find out later why, when we were all happy family. This evening, we are squarely in the category of Them, which is not the place to be on this fine September eve. I attempt to engage folk in What We're Going to Try Tonight; I would probably have had more luck talking to the weather map, except that we're not supposed to acknowledge The News Set, remember? So, let's look around and see what's what: there's the chair and it looks pretty good; there are a couple of the bookcase flats behind and doctored a little, good enough; there's the console teevee and it's a nasty piece of work, excellent; there's some interesting junque I didn't expect, very nice. There are the three pedestal cameras and hello! here's a minicam, didn't expect that. Got a triax cable dork hanging out the back of it that approximates a garden hose. Nathan's a photographer, he wants to try some lighting on the set; no chance, monkey boy, it is what it is. This seems, well, incomprehensible to Nathan: lights are meant to be moved around, but no one will have any of that. I mutter that we need to pick our moment, lost that one already, and then remark that the set looks pretty good.

One of the guys allows that they really didn't know where any of this stuff went, so they just put it together as best they could. I'm surprised: I left plans, elevations and a painting with Katie n Jerry that showed where everything goes. Katie n Jerry, oh well, that explains everything. Stepping in doodoo here, boss. Well, I just happen to have another set of the drawings here if you'd like a production copy -- but really, this looks better than what I thought and we're certainly happy to work with this. It's just a working rehearsal, right?

A little easing of tension. Oh, you're the Designer. I'm the Director. My name's Keith. Having a label is better than Not Having a lable. The rules are that it's Keith's studio, we don't touch anything, if we need anything we talk to Keith and he talks to the crew. Fair enough, we play by the house rules. The Designer thinks everything looks Fine so far, let's see what it looks like once Barbara gets on the set --


Barbara. My wife. She's the host.

Oh. You mean the Talent. I get the distinct impression that "Talent" is not a Nice Word in this Environment. And on cue, Barb sweeps in, Bob in tow, with cigarette in cigarette holder that has appeared from somewhere (Bob thought it would add a Certain Something, so he scored it on his own personal wherewithal during the week). Sudden paleness, and it's not because the guys are overwhelmed by star power: the Studio is a No Smoking Zone and if Bill sees her smoking there will be Hell to Pay. "Oh, he's a poophead," pronounces Millicent. Bob snickers, and so does one of the studio guys -- the biggest guy, and sure enough on cue Bill sweeps in, zeroes in on the cigarette and announces in the tone of voice that is normally used for very small children and very smiling foreigners that we probably didn't Know that the Studio is a No Smoking Zone and we might Hurt the Cameras if we Smoked. It's Nathan's turn to snicker, Millicent waves the holder and announces that of course it's not lit, darlings, so no cameras will be hurt in the taping of this show. I point out that if she's only going to use it as a prop, well then the Actor might need the Prop to Improvise, and we don't need to actually have a cigarette in the cigarette holder. Bill's not so sure; Whatever the Talent Wants comes from one of the guys, but I don't think there's the same edge that was there earlier; I for one am starting to get a little tired of whatever game we're in the middle of, but I remember the house rules and ask Keith: So, when do you think we can get started?

Studio Guys leap into action. The big guy, whose name is Doug, picks up the minicamera; seems the thing weighs around forty pounds, and he's the only one strong enough to carry it. One guy is eyeing Barb critically; seems he's audio and he can't figure out where to put the little lapel lavaliere mic, finally decides it looks like one of the necklace geegaws and puts it there. Two others plus Keith are also eyeing Barbara critically: huzza buzza huzza buzza bluescreen. I'm interested, come over and mention to Keith that I had some ideas for using the blue backing in bits ... Keith cuts me off: No way, there's too much fringe from the costume. Huh; seems to me a remarkably fringeless costume. Keith explains: the black lace trim plus the particular blues used in the foundation make it impossible to get a clean separation from the blue wall, either there will be a hard black line around the image, like a bad Japanese monster movie, or parts of the inserted image will bleed into the costume, or both. In any case, very bad and not gonna happen. Well, there goes about half of what we could have done. Nathan's turn to sidle over and murmur Pick your battles; I'm sussing out the battlefield when big Doug says, "Oh, I don't know, Keith; I've got a couple of ideas. Let's try it." They go off to consult.

Fussing ends; Bill, Keith, and a couple of others retreat to the control room, the rest disport themselves behind cameras except for a young woman who announces Clear the set, Talent on set. And counts down, Three -- two -- one -- and -- Action.

Barb/Millicent sits there. Nothing.

There's an audible snap from the little speaker, and then Keith's voice: We called action! Barb: So? What, no warmup, no warning, no preparation for me? Just -- act? It doesn't work like that, I need a couple of minutes. Keith explains: Basically his production clock is governed by his needs for prepping the broadcast; they assume that the Talent is doing whatever he/she needs to do while they're doing whatever they need to do. As far as they're concerned, if a light doesn't blow up, a microphone buzz, or a camera fall down they're good. If the set or the Talent falls down, that's not their problem. The exchange is professional, no diva tude, just tell us what the rules are and we'll cope; I'm thinking simultaneously This is not going to go well and Hmm. That little exchange is interesting. We could use that. And If the set falls down, that's not their problem. Well, it wouldn't take much to knock the set down ...

We're rolling tape for about an hour. In the first few minutes, what we were trying to tell Bill all along became obvious: Barb, and very likely no trained actorperson, cannot be spontaneously zany on her own without interacting with someone or something. The little toys and greebly set things help; Nathan and I start handing things to her, and Bob gets into the act as well, and gradually the character starts to emerge. At one point Millicent gets up and starts to move around, and Doug follows her; his camera goes up on the floor monitor, and he's got a pretty good eye, he's finding some interesting compositions. Millicent heads for the News Set, Bill comes on over the talkback system Remember -- don't go on the News Set, Millicent heads to the control room window and makes a face at everyone. The floor guys laugh audibly. Keith calls a wrap, asks how long it will take Barb to clean up, and Bill calls a meeting in the conference room. Off go Barb n Bob to clean up, off goes the set to the rear storage area, off go we all to said conference room.

Bill is not happy with the evening. It wasn't zany enough. Before we can speak, Keith says he thought after we got going he got some good stuff. Camera guy Doug and audio guy Jeff both opine that they thought whatever problems were not insurmountable, and they had some fixes. Allies. This is a Good Thing. Barb said that she's not entirely comfortable with being completely on her own, she felt better when she could talk to people and interact with people. Bill allows as to how that was, well he wouldn't exactly say Good but ...

Pick your battles. I'm in. I allow, and probably descend into Intense Steve mode, that this was a Rehearsal, and Rehearsals are supposed to disclose what works and what doesn't. It seemed to me watching the monitor that we got more good out of the interaction between Barb and the crew; maybe we could play this. Maybe we can hit the spontaneity that WLEX has seen all along (looking at Bill) by playing off of Millicent's ill fit with the teevee professionals. Maybe what we have for the first show or two is a Bad Teevee Show, where everything goes wrong because the Talent doesn't cooperate. Maybe the Crew tries to direct her and she won't take direction.

Keith jumps in. That's all well and good, but he's going to be too busy directing and his crew are going to be too busy crewing to have time to Act. And they wouldn't know what to say or do, anyway.

Doug and Jeff: But it's not like there's anywhere she can go. If it's limited, and we knew what's coming ...

Time to break through the defensive line: If there's a rundown, or a script, at least for the first few weeks, that breaks down what's going to happen in the scene -- and we run through it a couple of times -- and we keep it simple, so that nobody who's got a "part" would have to "do" anything beyond what they would already do -- nobody has to memorize lines or learn blocking, just do what they would be doing, the only difference is that we'd see them doing it.

Bill: No script! No script!

Keith: You know, a script would make it a lot easier for us.

Steve: It's not for the run of the show. It's just for the first few weeks, to settle everything down and establish the direction. We all have real jobs with real commitments, I don't have time to do this beyond October anyway. (To Bill) We all want this show to succeed, right? At least for thirteen weeks. Tonight was good, we all know what we need to do now. And we all know we've got a Show, we've just got to work some kinks out. That's what we do, we're all professionals here.

Bill allows that he was seeing some Showlike stuff after everything started to sync, sorta kinda. So he sets some rules: He wants advance script approval; we'll go with script for four weeks only, but no credit; we'll have a debriefing after every show where he'll give us notes; and if it doesn't shape up after four weeks, we'll go to the Old School format.

We can do this.

Let's wrap up; let's talk about the opening. Keith wants to do a real opening sequence, I like the idea of a cold opening. Keith really wants to do a title sequence, I like the idea for the first few weeks of viewers being supremely puzzled by what they're watching. We go back and forth, and realize that we don't have enough material for an opening sequence anyway, so we'll table this for a few weeks while Keith thinks through what he would put together; fair enough. Bob doesn't like the way the makeup looked on camera, it looked too much like street makeup; he's going to push it a little. Bill doesn't want anything too weird, somebody chimes in with How can you be too weird with a monster movie show? Keith wants to know what our theme music will be. Theme music? We'll get back to you. A couple of other housekeeping things, and we're done.

Keith comes up after the meeting, hands me a videocassette: it's our first movie, he thought we might need it. Well, thank you Keith, this will be very helpful indeed. He tells me there are seven positions in it; say what? The crack sales team has sold seven commercial breaks, and he hasn't figured out exactly where they're going to go. I ask if I can indicate where they could go in the script; he'll take it under advisement; I say the only reason is that we might want to tie certain script bits to certain scenes in the movie; Keith say oh, I see, okay, if you do that we could work with it but I have to know by Wednesday -- we're going to format the movie on Thursday.

I tell him I hope that we didn't offend him or get off to a bad start tonight; he and his people are professionals and we're not about to tell him their jobs. Keith say he had heard from "some people" that we were Difficult to work with, but after we got going that didn't seem to be the case so he wasn't worried. I ask if the minicam would be part of the regular camera complement; Keith not too sure about that, it was assigned to the news truck usually, had to put in a reservation for it, can't really say if it would be available ... I say I have an idea for the opening: what if we recap what actually happened tonight? what if Millicent is locked out of the building because no one knows she's coming? And she starts in a blank studio, rags on people, starts the movie in a huff, and pieces of set come in through the whole show and they're not right, upside down, doesn't work, fall over, whatever? Doug is with us, he likes it: they could light the hallway, do some location shooting, it would be fun. Keith doesn't know, I press on: we could have the same interaction with Elmer, it would be fun. Keith say: Elmer would never do it. Doug say: He would, it'd be fun. I say: If Elmer agrees to do it, would you try to get the camera? Keith make up his mind: If Elmer agrees to do it, he'll do it.

We collect Barb Bob n Nathan, and all of us head for the parking lot: the guys have to get ready for the 9:30 "Details at Eleven" news cut-in into the network programming. Elmer's all smiles, Well didja do your little show? Sorry about th' mixup there when ya came in. We're all smiles, Yeah it went pretty well, don't ya think Keith? Oh, by the way, we were wondering ... ya know, it really was pretty funny that we couldn't get in. We were thinking ... would you mind ... if we did that for the actual show? Barb would come up to the door in costume, she'd try to get it, you'd say she's not on the list, she'd just push right past and go into the studio? It'd just be a real quick thing, and if you're not comfortable with it that's okay ...

Elmer thinks it over, and allows as to how if it was just the one time, and he didn't have to get all make up n such, he'd probly do it.

I look at Keith. Keith smiles. Doug say, Told ya. This could be fun.


  1. Man. THIS brings back memories.

  2. On the edge of the recliner here, keep them coming!

  3. Hehehe - don't you just love Keith?!! Can't wait for the rest of the story ...