So Long, 2013

Greetings, five readers – this is the final post of 2013, lest I make a liar out of the title there.

I just got back to LA after three weeks shadowing up in Portland on Grimm. Professional tip: If you shadow on a network television show, make sure you weasel your way into doing it right before Christmas or at the end of a season on a show that’s sure to be renewed. You will be the undeserving beneficiary of network and producer munificence as they thank their cast and crew for hard work throughout the season. You, as a guest, will be awkwardly included in this somehow which will include, but not limited to, invitations to wrap or holiday parties, lavish food spreads, and general merriment all around.

So yeah, it was awesome. I managed to do that for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit this May during its season finale, and now at Grimm. I am the master of shadowing, is what I’m saying.

Aside from all that, the production of the show was incredible to watch, especially because I could see Norberto Barba, master of the craft, at work. He is one of the Executive Producers of the show, and the only one actually on location in Portland at their production offices there. The other showrunners writers and editors are in LA while Norberto spearheads the execution, hands on. Norberto’s influence on the show is obvious – the visuals are more akin to a motion picture than to a network television series, owing in part to his background as a filmmaker (and fellow AFI graduate), and his overall artistic talent.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the episode because I don’t think I’m really allowed to, but maybe I will when it airs. The show has a lot of night shooting and obviously a significant load of computer-generated visual effects – as well as special effects (practical on-set effects, like fog or fire). Because of that, there is a VFx supervisor on set during days when there are CG effects shots scheduled. The director and the production team make sure shots and sequences will be okay for the VFx team afterwards. The VFx supervisor also makes sure to take photos to reference the lighting set-up to be recreated afterwards in a virtual workspace.

There are also a number of stunts in each episode, and the director works with the stunt coordinator on the action, on when to use a stunt double, and on what angles will help capture the story beats and action elements.

For a film nerd, this is all pretty awesome to watch – it’s a big toy box for the directors who get a chance to work on Grimm. And the crew is as good as any in Los Angeles – just with more beards. The camera operator Tim Spencer, in particular, is incredible and came to Grimm via his work on Battlestar Galactica – which in my opinion has some of the best camera work in television history.

Aside from the sub-freezing temperatures and constant lack of sun, Portland is a terrific place, a visual gem and a great backdrop to a really great series, co-created by my friend David Greenwalt (just shamelessly dropping that in there). Here’s to hoping it keeps going for a while.

I guess this is probably the space wherein I reflect on 2013. Filmmaking wise, the following happened:

  1. Got picked to be an NBC Directing Fellow;
  2. Shadowed on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit;
  3. Directed a short film in India that’s going to come out some time early 2014 (see video below!);
  4. Moved back to Hollywoodland;
  5. Our Oak Creek: In Memoriam short film was buzzed up by the good people at Upworthy, resulting in a whole mess of hits;
  6. Our Yale Visual Law Project film The Worst of the Worst started making the rounds at film festivals and law schools, and helped contribute to the emptying out of Northern Correctional Institution;
  7. Shadowed on Grimm in Portland.

That’s not a bad year, considering I lived out of a suitcase for most of it, including the first two months traveling around the world on our honeymoon. I suspect 2014 will have a little more stability, which is good because I need to get a hefty amount of writing done. Who knows – but I am glad to be back in Southern California for now.

Okay, five readers – that’s it from me in 2013. More to come in the New Year.

Video, as promised:

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Portland

Well, shoot, I guess I didn’t update at all in November. Disregard the final sentence of the previous post.

Anyway, I’m in Portland, Oregon shadowing on Grimm. I have been a faithful viewer since it premiered three years ago, so it’s awesome to be observing production on a show I’ve been a fan of from the start. I’m shadowing Executive Producer-Director Norberto Barba, the same director I shadowed on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit back in May. Here in Grimm land, he runs the show and directs at least a couple episodes per season and this is the last one of the calendar year, the halfway point or so of Season 3.

So far it’s the usual prep on a TV show – scouting, casting, creative and production meetings, reading and re-reading the script. But much much colder. The crew is incredibly friendly and welcoming, as most crews are. But my sense is that because it’s Portland there is much less cynicism than your standard LA or New York-based production. People seem to be genuinely happy to be working here. So I’ll be hanging around until they finish shooting this episode in a couple of weeks. Hopefully I’ll update some more in between.