29 Octobrrrrr 2019

Started by KathyB, Oct 29, 2019, 12:43 pm

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It's been snowing all day, so I thought it was a good day for hot and sour soup. As I was walking to the Chinese restaurant, I slipped on the ice and fell on my bottom. Ouch. I had planned to get the soup and some wontons for takeout, but they convinced me at the restaurant to stay and eat in and get out of the cold. That soup was exactly what I needed. It is darned cold outside.


Oct 29, 2019, 06:15 pm #1 Last Edit: Nov 07, 2019, 07:24 pm by scenicdesign71
On the way home from location last night, I bought a new phone.  My old one was five generations old, and while it wasn't actually in terrible shape, the battery life had dwindled to the point of becoming very frustrating and sometimes quite stressful (e.g. when on location trying to coordinate with co-workers elsewhere, under time pressure, while unable to hold a charge).  I'd been thinking about replacing it for awhile now, and I figured three and a half years was a pretty respectable lifespan by phone standards.

Then I woke up at 4:30am to a text from my boss asking me to cover for our Camera Scenic, who was out sick today.  This means that instead of helping to finish up the three substantial new sets my crew has been preparing for Wednesday, I hung out all day on the set where they were filming, with a walkie-talkie, on-call for instant touchups and such.  Lots of "hurry up and wait," punctuated by flurries of intense activity: a total of two ten-minute tasks over the course of the day, performed while the entire cast and crew waited.  The rest of the time I was either playing with my new phone -- by the end of the day, it had only gone through 35% of a single charge! -- or checking out the monitors to study what was being filmed, more out of idle curiosity than anything.

It also meant I got to report to work at 10am today instead of 6am.  As it turned out, the prep crew ended up working a twelve-hour day to finish up for tomorrow, while the shooting crew (myself included) made it through in eight, so everyone ended up getting out at just about the same time, and I was able to get a ride to the subway with one of my coworkers.

In six whole seasons on this show, this was my first experience as camera scenic.  The hourly rate is better (though not enough to offset the fact that, in this particular case, my day was four hours shorter), and I figured it would be a good experience to have.


Kathy - I hope you aren't too sore from your fall.  It is just a matter of time before it snows here.  I have mixed feelings about its arrival.  

David - What sorts of things did you have to touch up?  How did they come need touching up?  I'm wondering if it was accidental damage or something planned for?
I no longer long for the old view!


Nov 03, 2019, 02:44 pm #3 Last Edit: Nov 08, 2019, 03:53 pm by scenicdesign71
Quote from: DiveMilw 10/29/2019, 11:00:29 PMDavid - What sorts of things did you have to touch up?  How did they come need touching up?  I'm wondering if it was accidental damage or something planned for?

The two little tasks I performed the other day actually weren't touchups per se, but they were planned-for: I was covering a bunch of "light leaks"  for a specific camera angle, and then uncovering them again after the shot was done.

The leaks in question were actually ventilation holes on the top faces of the two long, sleek fluorescent fixtures hanging above the large conference table in the Situation Room.  Viewed (normally) from below, these holes are entirely invisible; but this particular shot began from a high angle, with the camera placed above the lighting fixtures at one end, looking down past them to Madam President and her advisors sitting around the table below -- from which vantage point, these vent-holes were blazingly visible onscreen, hence needed to be masked with black tape.  As soon as that one shot was finished, I removed the tape to prevent the fixtures from overheating (that being the single factor that required doing all this in-the-moment rather than prepping it all beforehand and waiting until end-of-day to undo it: however mild the risk -- fluorescent tubes don't really get all that hot -- we didn't want to leave their only ventilation blocked for eight hours straight).

But while the work itself was neither challenging nor time-consuming -- for this I got an MFA? ;D -- it was more pressure-y than it sounds: ten minutes can be a long time when you've got an entire cast and crew sitting around waiting on you.  You're in a relatively small room crammed with people, including the director, the DP, the star of the show and at least a dozen other actors (among them the original Caroline Thibodeaux herself) -- all dressed to the nines as cabinet members and military advisers, and all sitting around the perimeter of this table, precisely where you're trying to maneuver your ladder as you move down the length of a ten-foot-long lighting fixture, and then back up along the other side of its parallel twin, with your absurdly trifling roll of black tape.  And trying not to think about the dozens more people, producers as well as crew members, who are likewise impatiently waiting all over the soundstage, right outside this one particular "room" of the set.

You might wonder: why would this task fall to the scenic artist rather than an electrician or a set dresser or, for that matter, some random unskilled PA?  In actual fact, the on-set dresser did jump in to offer a much-appreciated hand, since he happened to have a roll of tape on him and another ladder close at hand.  But the original plan had been to use pre-cut circles of self-adhesive vinyl, pre-painted the exact color of the fixtures so as to remain invisible on-camera.  And as a general rule, in addition to painting/staining, drawing/writing*, sculpture, and anything else thought to require a modicum of quasi-"artistic" eye-hand coordination, scenics are also technically responsible for applying almost anything sticky that gets affixed to the surfaces of scenery or props for visual purposes: wallpaper, labels, self-adhesive vinyl graphics or signage, contact paper -- even just "camouflage" like these pre-painted circles (or the various box covers I described in an earlier post).

As it turned out, the sticky-vinyl circles were an imperfect solution -- not quite big or sticky enough to go on as quickly or easily as one would wish -- while the color-match was a complete non-issue, due to both the overall darkness of the set and the silhouette effect produced by this specific camera angle.  Anything dark would have sufficed, and 2" black masking tape proved to be the fastest and easiest solution.

And when push came to shove, I wasn't about to refuse help from a friendly dresser.

Nevertheless, it was otherwise an uneventful day at work, and a mercifully easy introduction to Camera Scenic-ing, since we spent the entire day on just this one standing set -- which has already played in nearly every episode of the show for almost six seasons, hence no longer holds any major surprises for any of us, "prep" crew or "shooters", in any department.

The day before, by contrast, had been spent on three different Manhattan locations, each of them new to me (including a brilliantly-scouted Tudor City street scene directly overlooking the U.N.), and each scheduled as "Prep/Shoot/Wrap" (i.e., in and out in a single day, including any prep work before filming and any restoration afterward), with the prep scenic "crew" -- me -- coordinating with the camera scenic to stay one step ahead of her and the rest of the shoot crew.  (After they finished filming at each location in turn, none turned out to need any scenic restoration -- so, to my pleasant surprise, I actually didn't have to stay late).

And the day after my easy-Camera-Scenic-101 experience, they filmed on three entirely-new stage sets (which we'd spent the previous week creating); then moved to one of our regular stages for a single scene in our standing Oval Office set; and then moved again to a largish new location in Brooklyn that we've definitely never used before, which three of us had spent the morning preparing while the camera scenic -- back on the job after her thankfully-brief bout with whatever bug this is that's been going around for the past several weeks -- travelled with the shoot crew.

* Over the years, for example, I've been responsible for all of "Alison"'s fashion sketches, and her occasional notes and doodles on the wall-sized chalkboard in the McCords' Georgetown kitchen (which almost never ended up being glimpsed on-camera, but we nevertheless updated it every week with shopping lists, reminders, and inspirational quotes from "Henry" by way of St. Thomas Aquinas and the like); a passel of hand-lettered bar and café menu-boards (some have been done by other scenics, but if you see one onscreen, there's probably a better-than-even chance it's mine); and countless "homemade" picket signs (in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, Burmese, Malay and/or Tamil, and others I've long since forgotten) reacting to a whole gamut of fictional geopolitical events as depicted in the series. (These signs tend to number in the dozens, occasionally even hundreds, for any given protest or rally scene, so I personally have only made perhaps 10% of them, but they're always fun to do).  Not to mention what remains probably my favorite solo project: designing and rendering, in both two and three dimensions, the immortal Giggle Doodle® ("moves just like a real robot clown!"), beloved mainstay of Whiffle-Whaffle Toys, Inc. (I know, it sounds like some entirely different show -- think "American manufacturing" and it snaps back into place, sort of -- but it was one of our most fun sets, filmed at the office/warehouse of a party-goods wholesaler in, believe it or not, Inwood:  uppermost Manhattan standing in for Peoria, IL).


Thanks for all the wonderful detail, David.  I always knew a LOT of work went into making a TV show but I never even began to imagine what the true scope of the work entailed.
I no longer long for the old view!


David - this is fascinating stuff. We're still 'Madam Secretary' fans but as a result of our patchy and unreliable internet here in SW Turkey she is still Madam Sec rather than Madam Pres. 

Sometimes, especially when the storyline focuses on the McCord children, I find my attention drifting from the plot and I find myself closely examining the set(s) and when I do I am always astounded at the level of background/set detail. 

It's not something I had appreciated until I 'met' you and I had no idea of the lengths you have to go to to make everything perfect. I'll be watching out for Situation Room shots in the future!