Joel's morning on the set of Kidnapped
Why not? Set visits have always intrigued me: will the sets look as good up close as they do on TV? How do they pull off some of the visual aspects of a show? Is the craft services table as good as they say? I was able to answer all those questions on August 30, when a group of reporters and I visited the Kidnapped set. We also got to have roundtable interviews with stars Dana Delany, Timothy Hutton, Delroy Lindo, and Jeremy Sisto, which was an experience, but not for the reasons you think. So, after the jump, here's the visual story of my morning on the Kidnapped set, complete with the requisite wise-ass remarks:
This is the shuttle bus that took the reporters from our Midtown Manhattan meeting point to the Silvercup East studios in Queens. It was odd how all the "newbie" entertainment reporters, who were working for websites or for freelance purposes, ended up in the back of the bus, like the snotty kids who always threw the spitballs on class trips. The more veteran reporters were up front. We left the meeting point, but had to circle back to get a reporter who got off the bus because she was told she had time. Oops!
One of the other reporters was nice enough to take a picture of me in front of Kidnapped's studio door. By the way, we also noticed that Six Degrees was also being shot in this studio. I have to admit, the scene when I walked in was pretty much what I expected, with lots of grey cinder blok, rigging, wires, and wooden walls held up by planks.
It kind of reminded me of the old datacenters where I used to work, only more drab. It made me wonder how people came to work every day in this environment.
But the surprises would come when I walked inside a little door and inside those wooden walls.
Here are some pictures of the set we were on, which is the apartment of Conrad Cain (Hutton) and his family. The Cains' son Leopold gets abducted, and the show spends the season trying to get him back, revealing the motives and secrets of everyone involved along the way. This is the living room set. It looks drab because of my puny little flash, but believe me, after it's blocked and lit up for filming, it looks great.
Here's the dining room set. It looks all elegant, doesn't it? But if you looked over your head, you'd see that there's no ceiling, just wires and rigging and gray expanse. So, yes, I'm killing the illusion for you. You can thank me later.
The furniture on the set was good for crashing, but I don't know how high-quality it was. But again, it only needs to look like a family like the Cains would have it in their luxury apartment. Who cares if it's Levitz quality if it looks like it was shipped from Paris?
Here is the foyer part of the set, and its sweeping stairwell. This is where I sat for the roundtables, on the opposite end of the conference table from where the actors sat. I liked that because I was able to look directly at them when I asked them questions.
By the way, the stairs don't go anywhere. Above that was just more rigging and wires. I wonder if they have a barrier there so someone going up those stairs doesn't fall off by mistake.
Overall, the foyer set looks beautiful from a distance, but look up close and you'll notice that the "marble" floor in the foyer is linoleum, and the moldings on the walls look like they're made of styrofoam. But on TV, it all looks spectacular.
There were two tables set up to accommodate all the reprorters; one on the foyer and one in the library. So two roundtables went on at the same time, though it seemed like the "foyer crew" got first shot at each star. Also, some of the reporters were able to finagle quick individual interviews with each of the four stars. I was content with the roundtables, since I'd rather do more in-depth phoners later on. But, as you'll see later, there were some things that made me wonder if I picked the wrong table.
Seriously, they were shooting episode seven the day we were there. In fact, we showed up right before shooting started, as I found out when I saw people dashing down the hall between the set and makeup room. So, I'm sure all four stars were really happy to see us before a long, intense day of shooting such an emotional drama. But they were all friendly and accommodating, which tells me that this wasn't the first time they've done something like this.
First up for the roundtables was Dana Delany, who plays Ellie Cain. May I say that I've had a little crush on her since China Beach was on 18 (!) years ago, and boy, she still looks fabulous. Fifty years old and looks great even without makeup...
Oh, where was I? OK, notice that huge microphone in front of Dana? That wasn't set up by the PR folks; one of the reporters set that up so she could record the interview. She had this kludgy Rube Goldberg-esque setup where that mike was connected to a Mini-Disc recorder, which she listened to through headphones. Another reporter had the same setup, except with a smaller microphone (that little one tacked on top of the big one). The rest of us just had tape or (in my case) digital recorders, which we all placed in front of each star as they sat down, and it sounded fine. The only thing I could think of was that those two ladies were doing the stories for radio, where clarity is important. But that wasn't my impression after talking to them.
Anyway, it was hard to get a question in edgewise, as the more veteran reporters were just throwing things out there, rolling right over anyone else speaking on the bet that they'd shut up and defer to them. I guess I was being too polite, since I was the one who shut up if there was a conflict. But I got a couple of questions in. When I asked Dana if NBC is going to give the show a chance because of its serialized format, she answered that "I think NBC is looking for a hit, so they might give us a little more time. It just has to be done well. I don't think it's so much whether its serialized or not; it just has to be a well-done serialized drama, and keep the audience's interest from week to week, which I think we will." She and Hutton will only be on the show for a year, which she says "dovetails" with a project she's working on with Oz and Homicide creator Tom Fontana.
Delany thinks writer and executive producer Jason Smilovic is good at keeping everyone -- even the cast -- guessing about the season-long arc. "It's fun, because he claims he has told the person who is the mastermind behind the kidnapping, but I thinking he's doing it to screw with us," she laughs. Also, I asked if she did anything in New York that we'd never expect her to do, and she said "You will find me dancing at Lotus about 4 in the morning." By the way, she said she was still single, but finally "ready to get married," Like most people, she's looking for someone who is "smart, funny and kind." So, if you want to meet Dana Delany, gentlemen, you know where to go!
Here's Timothy Hutton, Oscar-winner and Brand Name Actor, who plays Conrad Cain. His character is the one who hires the shady private investigator Knapp (Sisto) to retrieve his son, and there may be more going on with Conrad that meets the eye. He said that they only know what's going to happen about two shows in advance, and joked that Smilovic gets "annoyingly giddy" with the fact that the actors don't know where the story is going. Hutton liked the fact that the part will only last a year, with a new case starting up if there is a second season, since it'll free him to take other opportunities if they come up.
Delany, who's known Hutton for 25 years -- they met at the old Cafe Central in New York -- decided to have a little fun with Hutton as some reporters were taking pictures of him at the end of his session.
I think it was after this that one of the reporters, who sat right at the front of the table and shot out the most questions, saw my frustration and encouraged me to "just get in there." Very nice of him to do. When I told him that I didn't want to just jump in and ask the same question I asked the last person, he just shrugged and said, "Eh, nothing wrong with repeating yourself." Indeed, he asked all four stars if they could reveal what they were doing in the episode they were shooting at the time -- besides the fact that is was Christmas -- and most didn't really want to say anythng, for fear of revealing too much of the story.
Delroy Lindo was probably the most thoughtful and animated of the four. His character, FBI Special Agent Latimer King, gets drawn into the Cain case because of the involvement of Leopold's bodyguard Virgil (Mykelti Williamson). Lindo is primarily known as a movie actor, who occasionally does one-off roles on TV. So, I asked him what made him commit to a series, especially in a role that will carry over if the show goes a second year? "I wasn't offered anything in film in the last couple of years that truly excited me. There were literally two things that were interesting to me," he said. "I have to say that I consider this to be somewhat of a gamble, because things have been said to me, the intentions people have for the show and the character, and I am taking people at their word. And now we will see to what extent it unfolds."
One of the reporters asked him if it's better to play on TV because the roles there are less stereotypical. Later, when I talked to that reporter, he told me he meant that the stereotypes in question were the "determined FBI agent,' or the "gruff boss," or whatever. But I think Lindo misinterpreted the question, and tried very carefully to answer in a thoughtful but politically correct way. "In terms of the films I have done, I'd like to believe on some level, I've done a range of things. The challenge there is to make the role three-dimensional. One is always trying to stretch against the stereotype and make something that will be more interesting for the audience and spend time with." When I asked him about this question on the red carpet of the show's premiere, he did admit he misinterpreted the question, thinking the writer was talking about racial stereotypes. I dunno, I think he did a good job addressing the question pretty well, no matter what its original intention was.
Finally, we spoke to Jeremy Sisto, who plays Knapp. He wasn't feeling all that well, but he was game, and very press-conference savvy, pointing to people who were trying to get their questions in, and driving the pace of the roundtable overall. He spoke to lots of private investigators who work on kidnapping cases, and he's amazed at how these people work with "the whole sort of world of dealing with people who are amidst such a crisis, and who are dealing with such emotion while at the same time trying to reach into their spirits and sort of lift themselves up and do what has to be done to help these people. It takes a certain constitution."
I've got to admit, at this point, I felt as worn out as Jeremy did. I never realized how tiring it was to try to blurt out questions to actors about what their character's motivation was or whatever. After Jeremy left, I had some time to kill before getting back on the shuttle bus, so I walked around a little.
These lights are what the studio uses to simulate sunlight streaming into the foyer set. Believe me, the picture doesn't convey just how bright these lights were. The effect on film is very realistic.
Other things that looked phony up close but very realistic on film were the backgrounds the studio used outside the windows. On film, it looks like a New York skyline view from the Cains' apartment overlooking Park Avenue. But up close, it looks like a pretty basic drawing. Ah, the magic of TV.
Just want to prove that we were in the Silvercup studios (heh). And yes, that's in the men's room.
When I came back from the bathroom, I walked onto the wrong set. I never took note of the letter designation for the set we were on and there was no sign that says "Press visit here," or something like that. So I ended up walking a few doors too far. I will say that I at least made sure the "Recording" light wasn't on before I walked in. I may have a bad sense of direction, but I'm not a complete rube.
I got some food from the craft services table (not a bad spread, though the coffee could have been better... hey, it was free), waited some more for the individual interviews to get done, and then we all crammed back into the shuttle bus and went back to Manhattan. Overall, a pretty good experience, even if I had to compete with ten other reporters for people's attention.
It was then on to a Yankee game, where I showed my friend Mark all the fun pictures I took on the set. He was just happy he took a day off from work (which I understand, since I used to work with him). I just chuckled to myself, knowing that, even though the studio was a bit drab, once you walked past the fake walls, you can see the "magic" happen. That's definitely something you can't get in a datacenter.