This is the third of five posts about working on episode four, Paradise, during season four of Criminal Minds. I spoke with CliqueClack.com about some of my production experiences, and I have a gallery of images from the shoot at Flickr. Please note that I've done my best to recreate my interactions with the cast and crew, but this isn't a perfect, literal translation of the entire experience.
My first day of production on Paradise began just before sundown on a warm July evening. My only scene on the schedule was Floyd's poetic demise, and we were filming up in Griffith Park, on a winding road above the Los Angeles Zoo.
I was beyond excited when I left my house, and drove into the setting sun, blasting Joy Division the whole way. When I got off the freeway and saw a yellow sign marked "CM" with an arrow pointing toward the location, my body shivered with antici . . . pation.
Ten minutes later, I was in my dressing room, putting on Floyd's clothes. A few minutes after that, while I was in hair and make-up, one of the assistant directors pulled me out to go up to the set. "They're blocking a shot, and the director wanted to talk to you about it."
I rode in a van up the hill to the location. Crew members from all departments swarmed all over the place, setting up lights on cranes and getting the cameras into position. Some transpo guys lurked around the 18 wheeler that would be smearing Floyd all over the road in a few hours.
I hopped out of the van and walked toward the cameras. I've learned that, when I'm on the set and don't know exactly where to go, heading toward the cameras is a good default. Someone will usually find me and point me in the right direction, or stop me before I get in the way. After a few steps, I was met by the second AD, who walked me over to our director, John Gallagher. He was talking with the first AD and the cameraman, right next to the cameras.
John is an extremely kind and talented director who masterfully balanced the creative desire to get good work finished with the practical need to keep moving and finish the day's work. He shook my hand, and thanked me for being there (I noticed that there was a lot of gratitude to go around on this set, like everyone was genuinely happy to be part of this show, and genuinely appreciative of everyone's work. It created a really positive atmosphere that I think comes through in the final product. CSI was the same way, with similar results.)
"So you're going to come running down through those woods," he said, pointing to some trees on our left, "and then you get hit by this truck. I didn't want to lock you into something you weren't comfortable with, so I wanted to see how you'd run down, where you'd land, and what you were planning to do with your body, so we can match the stunt double and the dummy to you, instead of the other way around."
I was taken aback. Most directors would have just blocked the scene with the stunt coordinator, and told the actor where to land, how to land, and what to do. It wasn't the biggest thing in the world, but it made me feel like I was a creative partner in the creation of the show, instead of just an employee.
"Oh, cool. I can totally do that," I said. Yes, it sounded as stupid to me then as it does now. Good thing I already had the job!
We walked over to the edge of the woods, where the stunt coordinator and my double were waiting. We talked with them for a second, and then we blocked the shot. I went back down the hill and finished my hair and make-up.
Remember what it was like on Christmas when you woke up before your parents, and had to sit there and wait, knowing that just a few rooms away there was something awesome waiting for you? For the next thirty minutes, I felt that way, while I waited for them to call me back up to the set. When the AD knocked on my dressing room door, I pretty much flew out of the room and landed in the van without touching the ground.
I got up to the set, and took my place for rehearsal. Even though we were only filming me running through the woods, I still needed to do some acting. See, I figured that Floyd was pissed that he'd been interrupted, and was furious that the FBI was chasing him. He'd gotten away with his murders for so long, he fully expected that he'd continue to outsmart the authorities. He'd worked very hard to build his torture cabin, and now he'd have to start over, because of those assholes. So instead of running away and being frightened, (which is a legitimate, but I think less interesting, acting choice) I decided that he'd run away and be angry. I don't know if it reads that way on film as clearly as I thought it might, but these are the things I do as an actor to keep myself entertained.
We filmed the scene from multiple angles. Between setups, I hung out with Deb Fisher and Erica Messer, who wrote Paradise. Though I was working there as an actor, I had a million questions about writing, and they patiently answered them all. Over the course of production, I spent a lot of time with the two of them (Criminal Minds fans call them "The Gruesome Twosome"), finding a million new questions to ask each day. They answered them all, and I grew a level in Procedural Drama Writing by the end of the show.
At one point, there was a setup that didn't need me; it would just be the truck driving past the camera, so I headed over to craft service to look for a snack. While I browsed, they rolled camera, and I looked up just in time to see the truck drive past the camera . . . and see a body come flying out from behind it! It totally freaked me out. I didn't know the stuntman was holding onto the back of the truck and would be letting go and rolling out for the camera, so the whole thing looked real in my mind. It wasn't until several seconds later, when I noticed that nobody else was freaking out, that I realized it was part of the show. For those five or six seconds, though, I was certain I'd just seen someone get run over by a truck. I'd advise avoiding that feeling it it's at all possible for you, as it's very disturbing.
They filmed that a few times, then set up a dummy to be hit at full speed. While they shot that, the make-up crew covered me with all kinds of blood and gore for one final shot where I lay on the roadway and die. It was really late by this point, well after midnight, and it was cool up in the hills. The fake blood and gore was cold and sticky, and I couldn't touch anything without covering it in bloody fingerprints. I've never been a big fan of fake blood, but I thought it looked really cool . . . and I don't think there's an actor in the world who doesn't relish the opportunity to die a gruesome death onscreen.
For my final shot of the night, I got down onto the ground, put my head in a pool of fake blood, and did my best not to blink or breathe for several seconds at a time. "Stupid poetic justice . . ." I muttered at the end of one take.
It took me almost 20 minutes to wash the blood and gore off my face and out of my hair, and when I woke up the following morning, there was fake blood on my pillow and dried inside my ear, but I didn't mind. It was a great first day.
Next: Production Continues