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Sunday, April 18, 2010
Moments of Grace
A small pod of dolphins welcomes Bonnie to their home...
The pilot is finally over, after three punishing weeks of unrelenting labor. This wasn't a particularly tough one, but every pilot is a steep, all-work-all-the-time climb up a very long and rocky slope -- a grueling trek that leaves the everyone staggering with fatigue by the end. For the set lighting crew, the process of making a multi-camera pilot (sit-com with a laugh track) passes through four distinct phases: a week of roughing in the lighting on each set, another four or five days tweaking and re-lighting to accommodate the inevitable script and blocking changes, a day for blocking and pre-shoots followed by the shoot in front of a studio audience, and finally the wrap. Each phase has its own unique rhythms and plus/minus equation -- a blend of good and bad aspects that eventually become almost ritualistic in their familiarity.*
Thanks to the stack of non-disclosure agreements every crew member must sign before any pilot or show these days, I can't tell you much about this one -- but that really doesn't matter. It was a typical multi-camera sit-com pilot, with the difficult task of introducing seven main characters while weaving and resolving two plot lines beginning with a "cold open" and ending with a rimshot tag for one last laugh. If you think that's an easy thing to do in 22 short minutes, you've never tried it. A good sit-com script is a work of artful craft similar in some respects to a haiku -- lean and punchy with absolutely no excess fat.
I'd never heard of any of our actors and you probably haven't either. Suffice it to say they were all good, including one who was simply spectacular -- and that actress is going places, whether this pilot gets picked up or not. Someday, we'll all know her name.
Right now I'm so tired I can hardly remember mine -- and as usual, I'll need a week to recover from this pilot. But one of the good things about every pilot is getting to meet more interesting, engaging new people, and this one held true to form. The photo above features our set decorator, a former extreme skier (and mother of three) from Montana who now surfs the Southern California coast on her time off. This photo represents a true moment of grace captured by an English tourist who was in the right place at the right time to snap the shot, then was nice enough to share it with her via e-mail. In this brief encounter, the dolphins suddenly appeared, surfed the wave, then veered off to the right and vanished into the wide open Pacific.
What's this got to do with making a pilot or the film/television business? Nothing, really. It's just a gentle reminder that those who do the hard work required to make television have lives and interests far beyond the bright, tunnel-vision confines of a film set. But I'll remember this photo -- and the smile on Bonnie's face as she told me her story -- long after I've forgotten all about the pilot we worked on together.
* If you're interested in a more detailed look at the process of making a pilot from the inside, start here at the first of four posts describing one I did a couple of years ago.