Monday, April 04, 2011

What I Learned On My Almost-Summer Vacation

I admit it. The main reason I flew down to LA last week for the pilot of I Hate My Teenage Daughter was to see Eric Sheffer Stevens perform live. (You might have picked up on that detail in previous posts. There were some subtle clues.) But I was also interested in seeing just what goes on behind the scenes during the filming of a TV show. So this was a chance to meet two goals at once! (And sharing that experience with friends was a definite bonus!)

The first thing I noticed as we entered the studio was the set construction pieces all around us, and the black curtains masking so many parts of the set and the studio. We were led to a stadium-style seating area, with approximately 200 chairs set up for the audience. There was a DJ spinning tunes at a sound system at the back of the audience section, lots of upbeat and dance-oriented tunes. A big section of the middle seating area was empty, and those seats were reserved for (we assumed) friends and family of the cast and crew.

The entire audience area was surrounded by black curtains that hung down from a framework, low enough to mask the microphones and monitors that lined the front of the seating, but short enough we could see the sets and equipment in front of us.

There were three sets visible (well, partially; the tops of the sets were visible, while the rest was blocked off by black partitions). Directly in front of us was the kitchen set, to the left was a living room set, and to the right was a coffee shop set. Later we discovered there was a high school hallway and principal's office set off to the side of the seating area. We couldn't see it, but while they were filming there, we could watch on the monitors.

There were many people walking around on the set, and more clustered around equipment. It was clear that there were a LOT of people involved in the filming of this one episode, and I remember thinking how many people would be affected by the decision of the network whether to pick up the show or not. (Apparently FOX has optioned eight half-hour comedies this season, with space for likely two or three of them. IHMTD is the only multi-camera comedy of the bunch.)

It's cold on set; I was glad I had a coat. I always assumed that they kept the studios cold so the heat of the lighting wouldn't be too much for the actors. But apparently it was too cold even for the stars, because Jaime Pressly mentioned the chill, and would wrap up in a sweatshirt between takes.

The first scene was in the kitchen set. Each scene is filmed multiple times, with adjustments to the script and performance in each take. I was impressed with the writers' ability to take note of audience reactions, rewrite/change jokes on the fly, and hand the revised scripts to the actors, who would learn their new lines and perform them - all without an unreasonable amount of downtime. For example, one of the jokes really fell flat in the first scene. The writers changed it, the actors performed it, and the audience gave the new joke one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

After the scenes are filmed two or three times, the director may decide to film just a short part of the scene over - one conversation, a few lines, even some stage business. The actors are careful to start and end in the same spot on set for each section, presumably so they can be cut together later if necessary. The camera work is also decided on prior to filming - as we watched on the monitor, we saw the cuts and changes as they would be in the finished product. The filming seemed to go quite smoothly to me, with the actors knowing their lines and stage direction very well.

There were only a few flubs and stops, one of which was when Eric said a line and immediately followed it with "no, I don't want to say it that way. Go back?" Which they did.

Between takes, or when the scenes were switching between sets, the warm-up guy would try to keep the audience interested and enthusiastic. When he wasn't busy making me look like a creeper, he arranged a dance-off, put together the dating game for another audience member, and auctioned off a pie.

It was a fascinating process, and I enjoyed the experience very much. I'd love to go back again now that I know what to expect! Only this time I'll keep my mouth shut around the warm-up guy. And maybe wear a disguise.

Sorry I don't have pictures of the set/actors/studio, but any recording device is strictly verbotene. Tune in later this week for some pics of my time in LA!


ltklo said...

Interesting, thanks for the writeup. I'm glad that ESS was comfortable enough to ask for a redo when he didn't perform as he wanted. Of course, we expected him to come prepared :)

From what I've heard/read, all studios are like iceboxes. Letterman is notorious for it.

Rumple said...

It always fascinates me to see what goes on behind the scenes. Amazing when you think about it. They spend 4 1/2 hours to give us roughly 22 minutes of show. So glad you had a good time and got a chance to meet ESS and everyone else.


Carol Auslander said...

Hi Kate, Your commentary on the taping brought me right back to the studio and the whole super taping experience - I even felt the cold (my sweater that night wasn't nearly enuf!)

I'm looking forward to seeing your pics and hearing what you guys did and saw on your tour of LA. I'm so glad the weather was good for your visit!

Am about to order your Iona book on Kindle and will comment after I devour it! You know how much I love the Isle of Mull and am looking forward to a visit thru your eyes!!!


lovelure said...

Hi Kate - I've been on vacation so only just got to read your recap. It made me think of one question: do they shoot the episode in the sequence we'll see the final episode? Or do they go out of order (e.g., if they use the kitchen set twice, do they do both those scenes before moving to another set)?

Oh, that raises a second question. Are there multiple sets of multiple cameras (one for each set)? Or do the cameras stay fixed and either just point at different sets? Or do the sets move?