Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Zany adventures in directing
And then there was LATELINE.
LATELINE was an NBC sitcom in the late ‘90s that starred now-Senator Al Franken. It was set in a late night news show, a la NIGHTLINE. The show was filmed in New York. I directed a bunch of episodes. One in particular had the craziest first rehearsal day ever.
Some background: Multi-camera shows are usually produced on a five-day schedule. Three days to rehearse, one to assign camera positions, and one to shoot. They’re either on a Monday through Friday schedule, or Wednesday to Tuesday. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, which I have discussed elsewhere in this blog but don’t want to bother looking up right now. For LATELINE, we began rehearsing on Wednesday and shot the show the following Tuesday night. This meant that we’d finish a show one night and be right back at it with a new script the next day.
In LA, when a show wraps on Tuesday night, crews come in in the middle of the night, strike the swing sets and set up the new swing sets for the next episode. We arrive on stage Wednesday morning and voila! It’s all done. Elves do it while we sleep for all I know.
In NY the crew comes in to strike the old sets and slide in the new on Wednesday afternoon. I said to the line producer, “Is this a union thing? You can’t have crews in the middle of the night? And the producer said pointedly, “Oh you can get crews. You just don’t want ‘em.” I took his word for it.
So I would have a table reading on Wednesday (where the cast would all just read the script aloud around a table), then I sent them home for the day. We began rehearsing on Thursday.
So I planned on just rehearsing on Wednesday and ignoring the construction crew. Yeah... right.
One other thing I should note: we filmed at the Kaufman-Astoria studios in Queens – a large building that took up a city block. But it was just surrounded by local businesses. Greek restaurants, Laundromats, furniture stores, etc.
And it was late November.
So we begin rehearsing at about 1:00. A half-hour later the crew arrives. They begin dismantling the sets. Saws and drills and hammers and banging. You couldn’t hear yourself think.
Then it was time to replace the sets. Now they open the huge stage door. All stages have them. But in Hollywood the stages open out to the lot. Here it opened to the street. So pedestrians would stroll by, be curious, and just wander onto the stage. We suddenly had an audience of twenty strangers.
And once the big door was open, there was nothing to shield us from the Nor’easter that blew through. The temperature plunged to 30 degrees to go along with the stiff wind. We all had to rehearse in parkas. (Crew guys still wore T-shirts. I don’t understand that.)
And in addition to the hammers and buzzsaws, we now had honking horns, sirens, boom boxes, guys yelling, "Ay, I'm walkin' heah!", and the other enchanting sounds of the city.
Needless to say, we did not get a lot done. That night I went out and got a few stiff drinks. I think Al looked up the qualifications for how you become a U.S. Senator.
Final thought: Of all the LATELINE episodes I directed, that one came out the best. Which is the only reason why I am not a member of Congress today.
Update: Thanks to reader Brian Phillips for the heads-up, here's a very brief clip from the show.