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!

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