Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Directing in New York

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.


VP81955 said...

Ken, I'm sure the creators of "Hope & Faith" also cited New York shooting conditions as a reason for that series' failure, rather than the dreadfully dumb scripts.

wv: "Kralogro" -- want your kralos to be the envy of the neighborhood next summer? Then use this.

wv2: "pollygra" -- take it when you want to get it on with Polly (it's recommended by Sen. Bob Dole).

olucy said...

Your last post about Late Night and Allison Janney guest starring led me to rent the show on DVD, for which I must thank you. Funny stuff and has held up over time. She was *great* in her guest star role. And all during the goofiness with Franken's character I just kept thinking "and now he's a US senator."

kent said...

On an unrelated subject; oddly enough I saw PIRATE RADIO on a flight home from Copenhagen last September and highly recommend you all see it. (Especially if, like me, you're an old fart from the sixties.)

Mike said...

You aren't kidding about Maria. I met Sonia Manzano when Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications had their 15th anniversary gala and I was responsible for wrangling the celebrities (or in some cases "celebrities") in attendance for the big opening introduction/walkthrough. Out of everyone there, as a child of Sesame Street, I found it nearly impossible to talk to her and even harder not to call her Maria. I also had to gay it up quite a bit so that it would be somewhat less creepy if she were to notice how much I was staring at her throughout the evening.

John said...

Just be glad the Biograph Studios in the Bronx are no longer around, or they would have had you rehearsing outside with the lovely din of the Cross Bronx Expressway in the background.

Anonymous said...

You din'y discuss the question. Why they don't do it.

“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.”