Directing multi-camera shows can be a challenge in the best of conditions but in New York, it can really be a test.
A number of years ago I directed several episodes of LATELINE for NBC in New York. It starred now-Senator Al Franken and was filmed at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios in Queens. We were on the stage next to SESAME STREET. Maria is really hot... but I digress.
Multi-camera shows are generally on five-day schedules. The first day is the table reading and maybe a little rehearsing. The next two days are rehearsing with just the actors. The fourth day the full crew arrives and you do the camera blocking. And then the fifth day you rehearse with cameras and shoot the show that night.
Shows are either on a Monday through Friday schedule or Wednesday through Tuesday. I prefer the latter and explain why in this post from my dusty archives.
LATELINE was on that Wednesday to Tuesday schedule. Usually, you finish shooting a show on Tuesday night and a crew comes in and strikes the swing sets during the middle of the night. When you arrive on Wednesday the new sets for that week’s show are already going up.
Not in New York.
We’d finish Tuesday night and then Wednesday afternoon a crew would wander in to swap out the sets. This pretty much obliterated any rehearsal. I said to the line producer, “Don’t you have crews in New York that can strike sets in the middle of the night?” He said ominously, “Yes. But trust me, you don’t want ‘em.”
To get around this I just didn’t rehearse on Wednesdays. We did the table reading and I sent the actors home and made up the time on Thursday.
One week however we got Allison Janney to guest-star. This was before WEST WING. She was just a very highly respected theater actress then (which isn’t exactly chopped liver). We were thrilled that she accepted the part but had one proviso. She had a prior commitment for Thursday she couldn’t get out of. We said, no problem, we’ll just rehearse on Wednesday instead.
So after the table reading we get down to the stage at about noon. Soon after the striking crew arrives. In order to get the sets in and out they had to open the big stage door. That’s usually not a big issue in Hollywood because you’re on a movie lot. But here you’re on a city street.
The huge door is rolled open and now we’re basically rehearsing in a loud construction site on a street in Queens, right across from a Gyro restaurant, dry cleaners, and lamp repair shop.
And this is November. It’s like a giant Nor’ Easter blew in.
So picture the scene. We’re all rehearsing in parkas and gloves. Noisy crew guys are hammering and banging and crashing into things, wheeling sets in and out, and yelling instructions to each other. And passersby are watching. A few really curious spectators decide to just enter the stage and stand behind me as I try to block the scenes.
When we got to the scene where Allison was supposed to seduce Al and they looked like two Eskimos clinging to each other during a blizzard I called a wrap.
And then to top it off, one of the spectators was annoyed and said to me, “Hey, is that it?”
I love New York. But there are times I greatly prefer Culver City.