First off, thanks to Kevin Drum for saying this was one of the three funniest blogs he reads on a regular basis. If only I'd written one damn funny thing recently for all the minions who flooded here. I'll toss up a link to Crazification Factor to amuse them, and now dive back into the film geekery.
We're still casting, which entails an awful lot parsing out the reality-shift between what agents say ("She read the script and loved it") and reality ("She intends on maybe reading the script, or at least her parts of it, as soon as you declare your intent to provide many, many filthy American monies.")
This hierarchy of casting -- offer only, offer dependent on a meeting, meeting, audition. etc. -- is one of the many oddly codifed status systems in Hollywood, somehow both rigorous and undefinable. It is dedicated to maintaining egos and power balance for all parties involved.
Actors start at the bottom: auditioning for the casting director, who then passes you up the line to an audition with the producers. A small mark of your status as an actor is that you will agree to read, but for the producers. Then, a finer shade is a only meeting with the director/producer, but then, hey, you're a nice guy, you'll read just to see how it goes, wink wink. When you're bigger you'll go for a meeting only when there's an offer on the table, with one or both parties then given the option to bail depending on how the meeting went.
Finally there's "offer only". You're guaranteed the part at price X, you make the call once you've read the script. If you say "yes", we live with you, for better or worse, never having seen you read the words. That ... can be stressful.
This system can then be modulated in order to tune the social dynamic. I once had an actor come in whom I certainly didn't need to read for the part, but in order to show his enthusiasm for the project he brought in prepared text to audition with. He moved himself subtly down the ladder in order to change the dynamic with me as the director. Agents will try to get you to agree to a meeting instead of an audition so they can crow to their client about how they've advanced within the caste system thanks to the agent's canny skills.
Casting also means that I spent a bit of time breaking out sides from the script. When actors audition, they rarely get the whole script (this is changing, with the advent of PDF's and online script services.) Also, when we cast a wide net on a character, we'll see 20-30 actors a day. Got to keep those reads short to be reasonable.
So we pull out five odd pages of dialogue and scenes for each character, which the actor reads when he comes in to audition. This material is tricky -- we usually don't want it to be just one scene, we want to get a sense of how the actor can lay into the different shades a character will present in the show. I'll often take few minutes to rewrite some of the material, so each character gets a titch more material in each representative set of sides.
These pre-production days are when we hire the various humans who actually make television, as opposed to those of us who just make shit up for actors to pretend.
Our Production Designer is already off in Chicago, looking for locations. Thank God for the web, in these situations. She's set up a secure web page where she posts photos of all the locations she's found. We can then review the shoot possibilities while still handling the LA-based responsibilities before the actual shoot. Our Director of Photography has arrived and is reviewing the storyboards, consulting with Dean about directing choices, and is assembling what's known as the camera package. This is the camera/lighting equipment rented from the big camera companies on a production-by-production basis. That way you don't have pricey cameras sitting around depreciating, you didn't waste money on cameras you don't need for a specific gig, and you can always get the newest shiniest tech. For those few who read this blog and aren't aware, a DP is the person who's the camera expert, whose knowledge of lighting, lens and film stock (or digital limitations), not to mention shot composition, define the look of a movie or TV show. Many Directors are fairly knowledgeable in this respect, but keeping up on the tech is brutal, not to mention the fact that a Director has a thousand other responsibilities per minute on a shoot.
Essentially, as a Director I can say how I want to move the camera -- "Start low, then crane up to reveal the car." I can describe how I want that to look, the tone, etc. "That chromed-out Private Ryan feel." Whatever absolutely insane shit I want to see on my monitor. But it's the DP who figures out how to move the camera, what camera lens and what lighting will actually match the vision I've described. They'll often frame the shot, too, based on their decades of experience. To be blunt, it is one of the purest amalgamations of technical expertise and artistic vision in the industry.
Or, shorter version, as it was explained to me on my first gig: "The DP is the guy who leans over and whispers to the Director, '... yoooou don't want to do that.' "
I spent a chunk of yesterday meeting with the 1st AD (Assistant Director). The 1st AD is the brain/spine interface on a set. First, the AD breaks down the script into boards. This is a list of all the scenes in the movie with the associated sets. He then orders them into the most efficient shooting schedule. "We have five scenes in the Hotel Bar. Let us shoot them all in a row, on the same day. This would bring us much pleasure." Then he arranges the shooting schedule based on these boards, coordinates all actor schedules, tech arrangements, staff requirements ... everything. Everything. When the Director is looking at the shot through the monitor, the 1st AD is making sure everything and everyone is in place (and quiet) for this shot. He's also anticipating the lighting change for the next shot, tracking down which talent and equipment will be necessary for that, figuring out how best to take advantage of the spare minutes while the camera isn't rolling, mentally changing the next day's schedule based on whether you're making your shots for this day, coming up with Plans B through Q just in case one of a thousand things goes wrong ... good 1st AD's are notoriously unflappable savants. They run the set.
Today we reviewed the video inserts. Every time -- every single stinking insignificant time -- you see something on a video screen on a TV show, that screen is built by a graphic designer, who then has to animate it to create the illusion of actual functioning software, cameras, whatever. Each shot then has to coordinate visually with its function in the script. For a heist show, it's a bit tricky. For Global Frequency, of course, it nearly frikkin' killed us.
The above folk are just a few of the dozens of people -- all of them far smarter than I -- necessary for delivering a television pilot unto network humans. Setting aside the image you have in your head of actors and directors, or maybe all the lawyers and agents wrestling with legal contracts measured by the pound, the shoot itself is surprisingly ... heavy-machinery oriented. For the uninitiated. you've got actors and directors working on making their little moments under heavy lights being watched by heavy cameras running on yards of metal tracking among false walls that are often rebuilt multiple times in a day. We need trucks, construction crews, and technical experts for most of the equipment. There's a lot of hammering, spot-welding and jigsawing going on while we "make art."
The example I always use: filming is like building a house in a week while crazy people run around inside the construction site.
All this, again, for both the best show you've ever seen, and the crappiest, dinkiest little show you've ever seen.
By the way, this is why I always chuckle when I read pundits slamming Hollywood types as "unserious" or "lightweights." Every TV episode and movie is a 14 hour-a-day contracting job spot-welded to a start-up advertising agency, trying to accomplish the Big Project under brutal deadlines, worth tens of millions of dollars in competition with other ten to a hundred million dollar competing projects. It is ruthlessly capitalistic without any of the clarifying efficiencies of a pure marketplace. Most academic think tank writers and guys whose Mommy got them every job they've ever had (cough Goldberg cough) wouldn't last thirty goddam seconds in "La La Land."
When we next meet, we'll discuss why the hell we're shooting the pilot in Chicago. Ask any questions in the Comments, I'll get to them when I can.