As mentioned, a fair bit of the last three weeks are simply off-limits. Agents and talent do not care to have their intrigues discussed, nor do I think it wise to reveal some of the unsavory mechanizations by which I have availed myself of fine acting humans. Also, unlike a show in active production, pilot pre-production's an odd bear -- the director does an enormous amount of feature-quality location scouting and storyboarding, while the script's already been polished within an inch of its life. In Chicago, Dean is insanely busy while in Los Angeles I am busy primarily arguing with people on the phone and then watching actors say lines. And yet still filling 12 hour days with this nonsense. For a better look at Prep of a show in production, go to Denis' blog here and backtrack.
That said, there are some interesting bits in the process. I had the usual thrill with clearances. The clearance process is when the legal department checks out your script and sees where it may cross with actionable coincidences in the real world. For example , in my script a children's toy named "Mr. Flopsy" is brandished by a drunk dad. Nothing more than a funny name. The Legal Department informs me, in all seriousness, that there is indeed a Mr. Flopsy-brand bunny rabbit doll, and we need to change the name.
They also check character names, according to some arcane ruleset that after ten years I still have no real grasp of. For example, in the Global Frequency pilot, I had to change the detective's name from "Sean Ronin" to "Sean Foley", because there were thousands of Sean Foleys in the US, there were only a few Sean Ronins in the San Francisco area where the show was based. Therefore, there was no chance a viewer could legitimately believe we were basing our Sean Foley on any one Sean Foley in the real world, but they could be misled by the rarity of the original name into believing we were specifically parodying or targetting a real-life Sean Ronin. The name "sean Ronin" was too rare. While my Deputy Phelps set in un-named state is plainly not meant to be any one Deputy Phelps, as soon as I mentioned the city "Chicago" casually in dialogue one could reasonably believe that we were referring to a Deputy Phelps of the Illinois State Police -- who is real and therefore ineligible as a character name.
Yes, it's as mind-numbing as it sounds. And there are paaaaages of it.
We also took actors to the network tests. These are the final auditions for actors, the pass before the executive humans at the network. After winnowing our choices down to three or four for each role, we arrange a network test session. At this audition, the actors go in one after another, bang out auditions to a half-dozen network execs sitting five feet away from them, totally unreactive. This sounds harmless and straightforward but for two issues. First, Network Tests are always tightly stackedtime-wise. So the actor is sitting in the lobby, waiting to be called in for the final audition which may mean millions of dollars, and they are staring at a lobby full of other actors who are essentially incrementally different versions of themselves. No, not unnerving at all.
Second -- before actors can go into the network test, they need to have signed test deals. These are the contracts setting terms of employment just in case they get selected to star in the show, and that show then gets put on the air. As a producer you want these deals in place before the actor reads, because if you're negotiating with an agent who already knows you want their client, you're fucked. At the same time, agents know they have you by the nuts on a test deal, as you want to hire their client, but you have no legal hold on the client until the test deal closes. They can't even audition for network until the contract's closed. If your actors don't sign their test deals, you are left with a bunch of network executives wondering why you scheduled a session with no actual actors auditioning. It's the sort of mutual blackmail lawyers love, and almost always you've wrestled on these terms right up until the actors are signing their contracts while sitting in the lobby waiting to go in and audition. Again, magnificently stress free.
All said and done, though, we have an excellent cast, I'm in Chicago now (flew in Monday night), and we should be able to jump in quickly tomorrow with actual production notes, documents, and maybe even the occasional crappy Treo video.
Again, feel free to ask any questions in the comments, and I'll see what I can do about answering them. As to what we've got planned for first day of shooting -- a preview via crappy Treo cam: