SVU Shoot Day 7

Penultimate Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Episode 8 shoot day recap coming up here.

Today was the longest day so far. I thought it would be going into it. We had a big couple of scenes in the courtroom, an added little bit at the beginning of the day, and two toddlers on set. Turns out the toddlers were the easiest part.

But the courtroom required a lot of coverage, somehow more so than a usual courtroom, with some action in the gallery. It took far longer than we all hoped it would, and I tried to figure out if there was a way that I could’ve saved time with different blocking. The conclusion we came to is that it was a big scene and it ended up just taking longer than we planned.

Consequently, a little bit of a scene we had planned for Day 8 that was moved to Day 7 is now back on Day 8 as originally planned. Does that makes sense? Ah, it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow is the final day! A critical emotional scene, the final scene of the episode, is up tomorrow as well as some squadroom scenes.

Oh, an additional bit I learned: Michael Green, the Director of Photography on the show, was the focus puller (First Assistant Camera) on Tootsie, which has, in my opinion, one of the greatest shots in movie history (it’s about 36 seconds into this trailer – I couldn’t find it online.) The shot appears in every Oscar season montage. I bring this up because the shot required a 1000mm lens set up across the street and absolute precise focus adjustment without the aid of a monitor assist like they have now.

It’s been fun working with greats. Final day recap tomorrow.

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SVU Shoot Day 6

Very short update because it’s late and I need to get some rest before tomorrow and Day 7.

The main cast of SVU returned today after a week in Chicago shooting their scenes for the crossover episode with Chicago PD.

We spent all day on Stage A, which is the Squadroom, otherwise known as Special Victims Unit. It’s a great set that I really love because it’s very permanent. Other sets are meant to be versatile, but the Squadroom feels like an actual police precinct. Oh sure – walls disappear, desks are on wheels and can move easily and things are made of wood not metal. It’s a great space and I loved getting back into it with some longs scenes.

Tomorrow we’re back in the courtroom and other fun stuff. More about that later.

SVU Shoot Day 5

This exercise in recapping each day of production is actually turning out to be worthwhile. Each day sort of blurs together after the fact, so it’s nice to have a place where I can at least recap what happened in a general way.

Yesterday was Friday, the end of the work week so everyone was eager to get the day under our belts and go home. We had another long day in the courtroom with two very key scenes, both pivotal in the episode. We also had to film one shot of Hoda Kotb, morning television personality, for a reprise of a her role playing herself. (She also sort of leaked the premise of our episode.)

Two straight days of filming in the courtroom was tedious, as everyone warned it would be. But still it was fun. The actors and the guest actors are so good, so professional. I’m grateful – there’s enough to worry about, directing episodic TV for the first time. It’s nice that the actors are the least of my worries.

So now it’s the weekend and I’m doing my best to let my brain reset and prepare for the final three days. I’ve done most of my prep for what remains, so it’s just a matter of gearing back up on Monday and finish up strong. Three of SVU‘s  main actors return to New York on Monday after spending most of the week in Chicago on the crossover episode with Chicago P.D. It will be good to have them back.

SVU Shoot Day 4

Shoot Day 4, cryptic recap here. Slightly less cryptic because I’m writing this the following morning.

We filmed all day in the courtroom – the same courtroom from the original Law & Order. I came in early to do my own prep, and a set painter was there doing touch ups on the floor. He told me it’s the original, probably 25 years old, so this is how they keep it fresh.

When the crew saw on the schedule that we were in the courtroom all day, they groaned and wished me luck. Not because the room is difficult to shoot in, but because it usually requires a lot of angles to make sure you film the lawyers, the person on the stand, the judge, the gallery, the jury and other details.

But on the other hand, there are not a lot of different or new ways to shoot the courtroom. After doing it yesterday, I see that it’s not so bad – it just takes time. We finished the day more or less on time and got some good stuff. And I still haven’t been fired.

More than half way through! One more day and then we get the weekend to catch up on life management and prepare for the downhill run of the three days next week.

SVU Shoot Day 1

Okay, five readers, I’m going to do an incredibly bare bones recap of what we did each day shooting this episode of Law & Order: SVU. Consider these more a haiku-like retelling than a recap because I don’t have a lot of time available for updates. But I thought I’d give it a shot, partly for myself to remember.

Today we started early, started with a difficult but critical scene in a dive bar. It was nerve racking doing the first one but hopefully it turned out okay. We moved to the stages, shot on a built precinct that wasn’t our SVU precinct, then filmed interrogation and another scene in the squadroom. Some discussions about cast, photos, and FX during the day.

A big relief to get the first one in the can. On to Day 2.

Here We Go

A brief post here because I have to get up before dawn for a very early crew call tomorrow morning.

Last week I finished up prep for this episode of Law & Order: SVU. I wish I could go into detail, but I can’t because a lot of things happened and I didn’t have time during the week to update as I was going along. Suffice it to say it was incredibly fun and a lot of work with very talented people.

For my own prep, I’ve done overhead diagrams and shotlists for most of the script and have read and re-read the script over and over. Most importantly, I believe I’ve completely consumed the story and understand it from the inside out. Usually I direct projects that I have written, so when it’s someone else’s words, I have to make them my own.

Thankfully, Samantha Corbin-Miller, Julie Martin and Warren Leight have written a great script – it’s now my job to bring it to life.

Of course you know, my five readers, that this is my episodic network TV directing debut. It would be a lie to say that I’m not at least a little bit nervous. I think I’d have to be crazy not to be.

But when I think about how much fun it is to direct, to work with a dedicated crew and cast, and how grateful I am to have a shot to play on this field – a lot of those nerves fall away.

On set, after the lights are in place and the actors are at their marks and everything is ready to go, the First Assistant Director yells “Okay, here we go!” before the director yells action. It’s that time.

Here we go.

The First Three Days

We just finished up the third day of prep – four more days to go before we start shooting Episode 8 of this, Season 16 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It’s the weekend so I have a moment to write a brief update for you, my four readers. I can’t really discuss the story of the episode, but be assured it relates to law and/or order.

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For real.

Day 1 – The production kicked off with a Concept Meeting. Heads of the departments (costume, props, art, etc), all the producers and the writers sat around a huge table with me and Michelle, the First Assistant Director who ran the meeting. People from the crew read the script aloud, and then after each scene the executive producer and the writer answer questions that anyone might have about the story. It’s a long meeting, two or three hours, but it’s important – it sets in motion the work for each department for that week.

For me, it gave me a chance to ask questions to clarify some aspects of production, but not necessarily story. That comes later.

The rest of the day was filled with meetings – costume meeting, talking with casting directors about offers to guest cast and watching clips of possible actors, meeting with the writer, watching previous SVU episodes and scenes and walking the stages.

I try to walk the stages when I can in between meetings or other work – meaning, I go on the sets and get familiar with them, start planning out shots and setups. I had just gotten the script the day before so I was starting to visualize the scenes. For me, I find it incredibly important and invaluable to actually be in the physical space where a scene take place.

Day 2SVU shoots quite a bit on location, away from their stages at Chelsea Piers. Therefore, much of prep is taken up by scouting. We spent our day scouting various locations throughout Manhattan, which took up most of Day 2.

Day 3 – This day started a little strange. No hot water in the hotel – anywhere in the hotel. Or probably the entire block. I went downstairs and saw water spilling out onto the street and a construction truck digging up the pavement. Camera crews were around – apparently a water main burst on Prince Street and this was a somewhat big local story.

A minor inconvenience, but I made it to the production office without a hitch, thanks to my kind and patient driver Eddie. The major event of Day 3, however, was the Tone Meeting. Tone meetings are meetings between the director and executive producer (who is usually the writer and show-runner) and they discuss the “tone” or intent of scenes, the story, the show. On most shows, it’s a one-day or one-afternoon affair. But at SVU, they break it up over three days and really involve the director and other producers into the creative development process.

This process is quite different than other shows I’ve been on. When I shadowed on SVU last year, I was really impressed by the way show-runner Warren Leight conducted these tone meetings. He takes meticulous attention to detail, scene by scene, with the director about each intention, each critical moment. It’s really great, and on Friday I got to finally be a part of it in a creative way. There are two more of these tone meetings to go.

This weekend – more visualization of the story and drawing of overheads to help plan out my shots. And then, back at it next week!

Day Zero

Today is Day Zero, the day before I officially start work directing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. “Day Zero” is an informal work day, not required at all. But let’s say, hypothetically, you are a first-time director on a major television show. It would behoove you to arrive at the show on Day Zero, hang around the set, become reacquainted with the crew and the actors, and generally get the low down on what’s been going on in the show.

So that’s what I did today. And the amazing thing I discovered is that this is not a mistake. They definitely didn’t accidentally hire me. I was half expecting to show up, be greeted by an awkward pause, and a “yeah, we … boy this is embarrassing… we thought we were getting somebody else… here’s subway fare to JFK, on the house.” So yeah – it’s for real!

At the time of this writing, I’m still without a script (which is par for the course in network TV – they’re putting the finishing touches on it right now) but I expect to get it sometime this evening. They’ve given me a hint of the storyline and I’ve heard some details, but the full thing should come sometime soon.

Then in the morning, on Day 1, we’ll have a concept meeting where the Assistant Director will go page by page through the script with me as well as the producers and representatives from each department. In the meeting we’ll discuss all things that need to be addressed during prep – costumes, props, locations, cast, sets, stunts, special equipment requests, etc. This sets in motion the work for the department in the seven days to come before we start shooting the episode.

The SVU team right now is currently starting a very big and complex episode. This doesn’t affect me directly, but I may have some big show hangover. (That’s not a real term, I’m sort of coining it here.) Other than that, for everyone else this is a normal work day and business as usual. For me, of course, this is all extremely exciting and I’m doing my best to contain myself.

What’s the best metaphor I can use? It’s like going from Standard Definition to HD. Or if you prefer – going from the minor leagues to the majors and being put into the starting lineup. Or, how about, leveling up – everything is faster, bigger, brighter – but basically it’s the same game. Just got to remember your training, your skill, and keep cool.

I’ll do my best to post updates as I go along because I think it’ll be sort of fun to do, a kind of production diary. Of course that will depend on my workload and how much detail I feel is appropriate given that we’re supposed to keep the story under wraps. But I’ll give it a shot.

So it begins. Tomorrow: Day One.

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