Thursday, October 11, 2007
LEVERAGE: Production Days 1&2
Rollout -- 6:00 am
You know, the whole point of my stand-up career was to avoid getting a day job. Yet here I am in scenic Chicago strolling down Michigan Ave at 5:45 goddam am to catch a ride on the van picking up Dean Devlin at his hotel.
Here's the short of it. Last spring Chris Downey and I wrote a pilot for Dean Devlin's company and TNT called LEVERAGE. In it, a crew of high-tech thieves decide to rip off bad guys in entertaining and surpising ways. TNT saw fit to order us to pilot this fall. Even more insanely, Dean has seen fit to make this his directing debut. After a somewhat truncated pre-production prep, we're now shooting the pilot episode (for you virgins, the first, example episode meant to sell the show) in Chicago. Hell of a city, by the way.
Somewhere along the way we hired -- and these actors have all been announced publicly -- Tim Hutton, Chris Kane, Aldis Hodge and Beth Xxxxxx (NOTE: she'll be making a formal announcement, so I've dropped the name for now until it's cleared.) They are all very charming and ridiculously talented. Nothing like having Tim Hutton read my words to help me realize I should have written a much better script.
On Day 1, we're shooting a scene in an abandoned warehouse, where our teams arrived to hash out the details of a crime. Assembled up in another section of the same warehouse is the interior of a 40th story office building. This is not uncommon. The most time-consuming part of shooting is moving the company, and setting up lights in order to film. By constructing sets near one another, you save time. Sometimes you can even break off a spare camera and crew -- called the "second unit" -- to shoot some footage even while the first unit is working.
So the idea is we shoot the four-hander, then move over to the high-wire break-in through the window of the fortieth floor office. Oh, and somewhere along the line we'll blow up that very warehouse we're all standing in.
That surely seemed like a better plan at the time.
Filming in the morning spins into gear like a jet engine. As always, I'm amazed on the first day to be reminded of just how many goddam people we need lifting, welding and carrying heavy shit in order to make television. The crew here is sharp as hell, and we do just fine. Six odd hours of filming with the new spiffy Panavision Genesis cameras flies by. Setup, rehearsal, shoot, "once again", shoot, "once again" as necessary, "moving on", "check the gate". Repeat.
At noon, we haul everyone outside. There are a ridiculous number of safety talks, and then we're moved behind the fire line. Chicago's finest stand by just in case the crazy Hollywood people set fire to more than we're officially allowed. The "blow", as is called, goes off in two steps. I believe I promised you coverage, so by further crappy treo powers --
If you squint you can see wee stunt people running just ahead of the explosion. Our actors -- particularly Kane, who's quite the shitkicker - feel cheated that we're not letting them run in the explosion. Not wanting to deprive them of all the fun, we then put them in front of a real fireball, shoot them with a long lens (someone in comments will explain why) and get footage of them escaping from the inferno. Nothing like a little heat blast and that OOOMPH of the air compression wave to help them appreciate the value of the fine stunt community.
We close out the day by returning inside the smoldering warehouse -- to be fair, only bits of it are smoldering -- and shooting some exciting fleeing/running footage. Beth gamely hangs upside-down while cutting through the glass of the faux office. That's pretty damn tough, actually, but she never hesitates to work in a rig even the stunt people are having a tough time controlling. I try to ignore the possibility of one of our leading actors throwing a brain clot and focus on the playback screens.
Roll home -- 8:00 pm
Day 2 Rollout -- 7:00 am
The location for the next set of scenes is a hospital. A suburban hospital's offered us a closed wing to work in. We drive out for an hour in the transport vans. This would ordinarily allow a bit of extra sleep, but there are phone calls to make and schedules to re-examine ...
... screw it, I nap.
... when we arrive, Dean starts outside and works in. We bang out a parking-lot scene, then move indoors. Forty odd crew -- at least -- cram into the narrow hospital corridors around an abandoned nurse's station. We shoot in two adjacent hospital rooms. Now, there's traditionally one set of playback monitors set up for the director to use when composing shots and watching the filming in progress. The monitors are on a wheeled dolly which is constantly relocated for convenience. This assembly's known as Video Village. After the first rehearsal, I seek out where Video Village will be living for today.
That's ... encouraging.
We shoot the morning out in one of the two hospital rooms. Dean's job here is to both do some creative shooting and also get coverage -- enough footage so that the editor is never stranded when putting together an episode sequence. Every director has his own system, but for you newbies you can't go wrong with the Master Shot Method. Start with a wide shot - a "master" -- that establishes the geography of the room for the audience. A "moving master" is considered standard now. That's a master shot combined with some simple but interesting camera movement to engage the eye.
Then move into coverage. Doubles and singles of the each off the actors as they run the scene multiple times. Put all this footage together, and you'll never lack for a shot when editing. Now, this method's out of vogue right now because of extensive storyboarding. When you storyboard a script, anticipating how you're going to cut, it's tempting to just shoot the bits you know you're going to use. In my limited experience though the time you save is often bought back threefold in the editing room, when you realize you don't quite have what you want int he close-up, or you need to re-establish the dynamic of the shot, but you don't have anything to cut away to. Also, sometimes actors find nice moments in shots that theoretically aren't focused on them.
Right before lunch we drive out to an abandoned house and blow it up for a flashback sequence. Those of you interested in action may be heartened to hear so many "blowing up" references. I assure you, your desire for explosions and larceny shall not go unrewarded if you favor us with your attentions. There's also banter and some damn fine acting, buuuut .... you know. Explosions don't hurt.
Afternoon, we move to the other hospital room. We finish out the day and enjoy the rush hour traffic back to Chicago. This evening my co-writer Chris Downey flew into town. He'll be working with us for the next few days, aiding in the rewrite and polish process.
Roll home -- 9:30 pm
That's Day 1 & 2. as always, post questions in the comments, I'll try to get to them. Will do my best to pass on anything usefull to the tourists or Spec-Monkeys.