It was a good run for us all…
Just as every long journey begins with the first step, each of those journeys must end with the last. The little cable sit-com I’ve been working on for the past five years made that final step last week, bringing the longest run of my seventeen years in multi-camera sit-coms to an end. We still have to wrap the stage one last time, of course, methodically disassembling what was a living, breathing entity just a few days ago -- a show that required the combined efforts of more than 120 people to produce every week.
But this time the sets won’t be carefully packed up and put into storage to await the call for next season, because time has run out for Melissa & Joey.
Shooting this final episode didn’t come easy, for a number of reasons. There was the usual cluster-fuck of confusion in pre-shooting several “fantasy” sequences written to play as bad dreams for the narrative of the show, along with a “poor man’s process” car-crash that required an hour-and-a-half pre-call for grip and electric on the audience shoot day to get the set properly rigged, lit, and ready for the actors.
But that was just business as usual for any work week -- what made this one tough was the unavoidable fact that it was The Last Episode Ever for this show, and the end of what has been the best job I’ve had since shifting from the realm of single-camera shows (features, commercials, music videos and episodics) to the unique world of multi-camera sit-coms. That sense of the looming end hung over the entire cast and crew as the week counted-down towards shoot night. There were long faces everywhere, and more people than usual taking pictures while the sets still stood, preserving the memories.
There was no slackening of effort, though. This being one professional crew from top to bottom, we pushed hard every day to make this final episode as good as it could possibly be -- because that’s what we’re paid to do. At this point, that sense of professionalism is ingrained to the point where I’m not sure we could slack off and do a half-assed job even if we wanted to. It just wouldn’t sit right.
The actors were more relaxed during the rehearsals, though, cutting loose with some very funny ad-libs and sarcastic asides. This was fun for them and us... but when the cameras rolled, they were all business.
We got the pre-shoots done, then moved on to our final live show. As usual, I was out amid the four cameras during the filming with a hand-held obie light -- in this case, a five-cell tungsten Maglight softened with Tough Opal Frost and a single net, then fitted with a narrow twelve inch snoot to keep the beam precisely aimed exactly where a little bit of light was needed.* This show was the first for which I’ve had to be so directly involved during the actual filming on shoot nights, and although it was always a challenge to stay out of the way of four moving cameras while keeping that narrow beam properly focused, it was a very satisfying job to do right.
And so we marched on through the run-down, alternating the pre-shoots that were played back to the audience on monitors with the live scenes until we finally came to the tag. A few takes later, that too was in the can, and the show was over. The actors emerged for the traditional curtain-call, at which point our two leads took turns with the microphone, explaining to the audience what this show has meant to us all. They made sure to thank everyone -- the showrunners, director, producers, writers, grips, juicers, sound, hair-and-makeup, wardrobe, stand-ins, PAs, and all the pre-and-post-production staff -- then invited the entire crew out in front of the lights to join in one last bow for the audience.
A first for me, that.
Then it was all a massive rugby-scrum of hugs and tears as it sunk in that this really was The End -- that this particular collection of actors, writers, technicians, and production people would never again work together. The women wept openly, while the men held their emotional ground for the most part. I managed to keep my emotions in check until it was almost over, but finally lost it while sharing a hug with our dapper little female camera assistant -- who happens to be gorgeous, a black-belt in karate, and very married.
I’ve had many shows cancelled over the years, and although each one hurts, this one is different. The younger people on the crew (and they're all younger than me...) have another five, ten, or twenty years to go in the biz. For the youngest -- the 20-somethings -- their Hollywood journey is just beginning.
Mine is almost over.
Mine is almost over.
I’m not particularly worried about work -- something will come along, unless it doesn't -- but with only a year and a half (534 days, according to the count-down clock I received for Xmas) to go before I exit Hollywood stage-left, I’ll never have another chance to be part of a show like this one. Hell, I might not even manage to land another show at all, but could wind up running out the clock as a day-player -- which means that in many ways, the end of Melissa & Joey has been a rehearsal for my own final exit from the film and television industry.
And if the long goodbye of this past week is any measure, that’s not going to be easy.
So it goes. And now onward, into the wrap...
* The hand-held obie was usually aimed directly into our lead actress’s eyes, which -- given her short stature -- were often shadowed by taller actors, and to counteract the dark eye make-up she favored. For more on the history of the obie light, check out this bio of Lucien Ballard (who developed the obie), and this one describing the evolution of lighting technology from the dawn of the film age. To read some very specific comments from veteran DPs on the usefulness of obie lights, check out this link.