Madame Secretary

Started by Gordonb, Jul 30, 2017, 08:30 AM

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Well @scenicdesign71 we watched the Series 3 finale last night; Elizabeth managed to save the planet from destruction AND managed a weekend in the cabin at the lake with the family - what a woman!

Seriously though, since you reminded us of your involvement I have been watching with renewed interest - particularly those sort of humdrum scenes where "Blake passes Madame S a coffee", for example, when I really notice now and appreciate how complicated even a simple scene like that is from all sorts of design and continuity issues.

So thanks to all the techie folk and we're looking  forward to Season 4.

Chris L

Amy and I have talked about watching this. I just turned on Netflix and watched the first twelve minutes of the pilot. It looks better than I expected. Terrific cast, with Keith Carradine as the president (who I assume will not always be the president) and the always impressive Željko Ivanek as the Chief of Staff. The dialog seemed intelligent and the middle-eastern hostage situation, while not as impressively handled as the middle-eastern segments on Homeland, looked serviceable.

Fortunately Netflix has the first three seasons and CBS All-Access will have the fourth season, so we may be able to watch it there if we get hooked. I think we should give it a try, though Amy has pointed out that we have a pile of 3D Blu-Rays we haven't watched yet. (We may wait until later in the year to watch them, because our 4K TV is most viewable after dark and these days Amy's ready for bed shortly after dark because she goes in to work early.)

Anyway, this looks promising. Anybody besides @Gordonb and @scenicdesign71 watching?
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?


Yes!  I like it - not the most sophisticated show ever, but interesting, and well-performed.
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!


Season 4 wrapped last week, and after a few days of cleaning and reorganizing the shop and other paint spaces on our various stages, our hiatus finally began this afternoon.

:))  (<---I'm repurposing this emoji as "tears of gratitude and wild, semi-unhinged joy and relief".  I love my job, but the hours do take their cumulative toll, and all of us were more than ready for a break).

Then, as we were literally on our way out the door, comes an email announcing that we've officially been renewed for Season 5 -- so it really is just a hiatus, and not The End!  (We'd been optimistically kinda-assuming we'd be back next season... but only kinda-, so it's nice to have confirmation).


Not out of the woods yet, though: some upcoming changes in our art department could potentially spell a turnover in the scenic staff as well.  We shall see... but in the meantime, as of tomorrow I'll be diving headfirst into Alternating Currents -- and then, once it's up and running (barely more than a week from now, yikes!), taking a MUCH-needed vacation.  And NOT worrying about whether I'll still have a job to return to this summer...



Looking forward to rejoining the crew for Season 5 and meeting some new team members later this week!

In the meantime I'm doing a few days' work on Motherless Brooklyn, on which I'm sorry I can't stay longer: it's pleasant work with good people, and I remember really enjoying the novel -- can it really be almost twenty years ago?? -- so it'll be fun to see how the film version turns out, and have a teeny-tiny little connection to it.


Yay, season premiere!  Talky cameos by real (former) Madam and Mister Secretaries!  And a nice (if too brief) guest-star role for Linda Lavin!

Plus an infrequent instance of relatively flashy scenic work that doesn't altogether fade into the background or disappear in the blink of an eye before you can even register it: it was really gratifying to see that all our hard work "blowing up" the Oval Office and "exterior" colonnade sets -- and creating fake structural and cosmetic "damage" that could be restored in a matter of hours -- actually got some decent screen time.

From my worm's-eye perspective, while the work so far this season has had its stressful moments, it has also included several really cool projects -- of which that was one -- that I'm grateful to have worked on.

Last week several of us spent two very busy days painting a huge outdoor mural featuring a 13-foot-high photorealistic face.  (Too realistic, as it turned out: after working for a day and a half from the photo research provided, the designer asked us to go back into it with a freer hand to make the brushwork broader and more painterly).

And then two days later, after they were done filming, we trudged back to the location to blot the whole thing out under two fresh coats of paint, restoring the wall to its former blankness.

But while it lasted, the mural was eye-grabbing enough to elicit a rare note of congratulations from our director/producer; hopefully it'll make it to screen when the episode airs later this year.

Things don't, always.  The biggest scenic cut I can recall over the past few years on this show was an entire built set -- the spectacularly-detailed wreckage of a crashed cargo plane bearing an un-detonated nuke, some seasons back -- which was built from scratch, painted, dressed and filmed with a group of HAZMAT-suited actors tensely huddled around the prop "warhead" as they mimed "disarming" it; but which ultimately ended up on the cutting-room floor: still discussed in dialogue between MSec and her staff, indeed still central to that episode's plot, but never actually seen in the finished episode except in a brief, grainy aerial "satellite" view, literally unrecognizable beneath the heavy photo filters and the bird's-eye perspective.  (I recall it being one of those classic instances where a character describes a piece of photographic evidence as earth-shatteringly important, but the image itself is so convincingly murky that, even after the obligatory only-on-TV "resolution enhancement," you kinda have to take their word that it's showing what they say it's showing).  Perhaps the bomb-squad footage made it onto the DVD as a deleted scene?  One of these days I'll buy the whole series on disc, just to have it, and I'll have to remember to look for that.

But I couldn't even begin to count the instances in which much smaller cuts or changes, or camera placement/focus/etc., have rendered long hours or days of work entirely moot.  It's just the weird nature of what we do: much of our time is spent sweating details which, realistically speaking, stand little chance of ever being seen, and almost none of being noticed even if they are technically visible in-frame*; last week's mural, for example, might well flash by in the fuzzy background of a "diegetic" screen image, e.g., on a laptop being viewed by one of the characters, where it could easily be too small or grainy for us, the viewing audience, to really see.  So when our work does actually make it onscreen in at least a moderately-impactful way -- like the Oval Office carnage -- it's not something we take for granted.

And then again, there are projects, like the mural, which are so satisfying to work on that "screen time" is really just a bonus; if it ends up being largely invisible in the finished scene, or even gets cut entirely, I'll be mildly disappointed, sure -- but still glad I got to work on it.

* The catch being that "almost no chance of being noticed" isn't the same as no chance, and "technically visible" still means visible -- exponentially so, when multiplied by millions of viewers and augmented by HD and pause buttons.


Yay, the episode with the mural aired the other night.  If you watch online, it can be seen briefly on MSec's laptop starting at about 17:35.

Definitely don't blink, though: it flashes by a couple of times, in slightly blurry shallow focus behind a bunch of rioters rioting, for about a second each time.  Still, I guess it does what it needs to: in a wordless five-second scene-intro consisting mostly of the Secretary glancing worriedly at her screen, with little immediate context, the mural's easily recognizable depiction of the character responsible for the rioting (literally looming behind it, literally larger than life, though I could wish his dictatorial glare were featured more clearly) helps tell the story in quick strokes.

The episode's final scene provides a more prominent showcase for a much subtler, more mundane scenic treatment: starting at about 41:40 there are several lingering closeups of a pair of engraved headstones -- low-slung, fairly simple, built out of wood and foam in reality, but I and my colleagues gave them what I must say is a pretty convincing faux-finish, in addition to having sculpted their rough-chiseled edges and aged them overall to look lightly weathered.  (35 years of exposure to the elements, given even minimal upkeep and nothing truly catastrophic like a major earthquake, wouldn't take much of a toll on actual polished granite -- presumably that's what makes it such a popular material for monuments and markers in the first place -- hence "lightly" weathered).

In the foreground of the very last shot, as the camera pulls back, there's also a fleeting glimpse of a taller, much older neighboring tombstone surmounted by a small, visibly weathered angel.  We didn't sculpt the figure from scratch (it's a cast-fiberglass piece purchased by the set decorators); but we did distress, faux-finish and age it -- applying our own homemade, dimensional fake moss, among other things -- to blend with the existing older stones in the cemetery where the scene was shot.  Here again, blink and you'll miss it: the scene fades to black literally just as the angel is arriving onscreen.

Chris L

Yay! Was this the most recent episode? I'd like to see it. I assume the show's on CBS All Access?
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?


Yes it was, and yes it is.   ;D

If you're watching the whole episode, I also noticed a few nice glamour shots of the State Dept. set (which was praised -- just sayin' -- as being eerily accurate by no less an authority than Hillary herself, in an interview several months ago with the 3 Real MSec's [Clinton, Albright, Powell] then guest-starring in the Season 5 premiere).

I'm too lazy right now to go back and find the timecodes, but I remember at least one of these shots occurred somewhere in the Blake subplot.  There was one particularly good view of the oak-paneled Great Hall with its huge plaster-medallioned ceilings.  And I think there was also a nice shot or two featuring the marble-inlay floor of either the portrait gallery or the elevator lobby.

Probably the latter: as lovely as the gallery is, it doesn't really get used all that often, whereas most episodes tend to include at least one walk-and-talk with MSec being briefed by one or more of her staffers, starting from the moment she gets off the elevator and continuing as they make their way -- via either the Great Hall or the sleek, modern charcoal-and-glass West Hall -- to her honey-maple office (or else to the elegantly-appointed Bavarian-cream conference room), at literally the opposite corner of the soundstage: about as far as you can travel without wandering off the set and into the fire lane.



Scroll down for the trailer and a few teasers about Season 6:

I'll just say this: the newly redecorated Oval Office and the Executive Residence (a new set, replacing the Georgetown townhouse occupied by M.Sec and her family in previous seasons) are pretty snazzy: our amazing set decorator has given the place a whole new, strikingly chic look.  (Insert "Bobby and Jackie and Jack" quote here -- but seriously, it's pretty fabulous).


She wins the Presidency, then? Thanks for the spoiler (I'm kidding - I think it was 99% obvious she would win :P)
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!


Oh, I wouldn't dream of spoiling anything that major, but the show's own press — and its S6 trailer — have already let that cat out of the bag.

...Strategically, presumably: in this interview,  one of our executive producers explains their (wise, I think) calculation that viewers already bracing themselves for another insane election year in the real world might not want to tune in for ten episodes of its fictional equivalent:

I will miss our spectacular State Department set, though.  Yesterday I found this video on the show's Twitter feed, showing some of my colleagues disassembling it in June:

Ahem — WATCH TONIGHT! [/plug]


Oh!  I'm in the UK so haven't seen any promotion yet, think we get it slightly later than you :)
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!


Happily, our gazillion-dollar State Department set won't end up in the dumpster after all -- not all of it, anyway: