This is the fourth 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 second day of filming was on a location that was very familiar to me. In Montrose, just a few miles down the hill from where I grew up in La Crescenta, there is a wonderful camp called Camp Max Straus. It was established in 1938, and is a nonsectarian camp for underprivileged kids. It's an important place to me, because it isn't just close to where I grew up, it also happens to be where my brother and sister in-law got married a few years ago.
We were shooting what's called a "split," where we start production about halfway through the day, so we could film some scenes in daylight, and get some night shooting done, also. Shooting splits is tough; we spend the first part of the day racing against the sunset, and the second part of the day racing against the dawn. By the time the deepest, darkest part of the night rolls around, a lot of us are on our way to Bat Country, and any production that shoots splits for several days in a row can develop a real morale problem. Luckily for us, we were only doing one split day before we went back into the studio to wrap up the week.
This was my first real acting day, and the only time I'd get to interact with any of the series regulars (in this case, Thomas Gibson.) Even though I've been acting as long as I can remember, and even though I'm certainly a veteran with a lot of experience, I was nervous. There's a certain rhythm that series regulars have with each other and their crew, and as a guest star, I have to find that rhythm and adapt to it as quickly as possible. It's kind of like rowing, I suppose, and I didn't want to be the one guy who was out of sync. I also hadn't been on camera in a long time (running in front of a truck the previous night doesn't count), and though it's very much like riding a bike, I didn't want to waste a lot of everyone's time while I remembered how to do it.
I prepared the scene in the usual way, and though I felt awkward during our first few rehearsals, everything came flooding back to me: how to unconsciously measure steps to hit my mark, how to make sure I'm finding my light without looking like I'm trying to find my light, how to make sure I hit the same position on every take so the focus puller doesn't get any unpleasant surprises, how to remember the lines and keep them fresh every time I say them. I did all this while I was finding the truth of the scene with Thomas. It was a lot harder than it sounds, and I did the whole thing with the voice of self-doubt screaming in my head, "They're all going to laugh at you! They're all going to laugh at you! They're all going to laugh at you!" I managed to pin it to a wall in a closet in my head, though, in a disturbing and poetic display of beautiful violence. Seriously, STFU, voice of self-doubt.
After we worked out the first part of the scene, we added the second part of the scene, which starts when the dad who is looking to stay the night comes into the office. The dad was played by Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris. I guess Tommie is a huge fan of the show, and his people and the Criminal Minds people worked together to figure out a way for him to play a small part.
Um, in that spirit, I'd like to mention that I am a huge fan of How I Met Your Mother . I don't exactly have "people," but, you know, if anyone from that show wanted to get in touch, I'm pretty easy to contact. Ahem.
Tommie isn't an actor, so he was slightly less uncertain about acting than I'd be about actually setting foot on a football field Wait. Check that. He was a little nervous, but not terrified, which is what I'd be if I was ever on a football field. I mean, I'm positive that even the cheerleaders could knock me to the ground and have their way with me with minimal effort.
Or, you know, a lot of effort. It's pretty much up to them. The important thing is that I somehow end up buried under a writing pile of cheerleaders.
Anyway. Tommie was obviously as excited to be on the show as I was. Because I was the only actor he worked with, he ended up talking to me about all the things I'd just remembered how to do. To be honest, sort of teaching him how to hit his mark, find his light, and translating the industry shorthand we all take for granted into plain english helped me get my acting groove back, and by the time we shot the scene, I felt confident and in control.
We tried the scene a few different ways. Once, I was exceedingly friendly and chatty with Hotch all the way through. Another time, I was nervous, but just because I was socially awkward (this was a great take, and wonderfully challenging to achieve; there is a different kind of nervousness that comes from being socially awkward than the kind of nervousness that comes from being afraid the FBI guy is going to discover that you've trapped a couple in your torture cabin and are having your way with them.) I don't know what ended up in the show (I'm writing this before the show airs) but I recall feeling that the best takes were the ones where I was a little quiet and uncomfortable at the beginning, friendly and chatty in the middle, and genuinely willing to help him by the end. Then, once he leaves and the dad comes in, I was impatient, irritated, sarcastic, and rude.
I remember thinking that it was strange that a little guy like me would be so obviously rude and nasty to a huge guy like Tommie, but when I discussed it with Erica and Deb, we thought that it illustrated just how fucking insane and dangerous Floyd really is.
"You know, it's a little-known fact that serial killers have mysterious super strength." I joked. "It's one of the onlys way they can get people into the back of the white van with no windows . . . or get the Chicago Bears' defensive tackle out of the motel office. Yeah, a lot of people don't know that."
There was much rejoicing.
While we filmed this scene, I learned that Thomas Gibson, though he plays a very serious and obviously-haunted character, is extremely funny and charming when the cameras aren't rolling. He doesn't goof off, which would be unprofessional and ultimately annoying (I've worked with people who goof off, and it's never a good time) but he clearly enjoys himself. We had a lot of fun together, and I will admit that I envied the people who get to work with him every day.
When we finished, I was satisfied with my performance, and felt like I could trust John to put together the best parts of the best takes to create a memorable scene. One of the best moments of the day, though, came when Joe Mantegna came onto the set, and totally slimed Tommie Harris. I guess Joe's a Bear's fan, and he seemed to think it was rather cool that Tommie was working on the show.
In fact, just about everyone in the cast and much of the crew was excited to be working with Tommie. I kind of felt like I was on the outside looking in, because I've never been much of a football fan. Oh, don't get me wrong: I enjoy watching close games, I love the playoffs, and I've even seen a handful of Superbowls in my lifetime that weren't over by halftime, but I won't drop everything to watch a random football game the way I will for a hockey game or a good Premiere League matchup (that's real football, soccer to us Yanquis.)
I suppose I've never really cared about football because I've never had an emotional reason to care about a particular team. When I was a kid, the Rams were sort of local, but they were in Orange County, and unless you live in Southern California, you probably don't understand why cheering for a team that plays behind the Orange Curtain is something we Angelenos simply do. not. do.
. . . we had the Raiders for awhile, but fuck the Raiders.
After I worked with Tommie, though, I had a reason, however tenuous, to feel a connection to a team. I can't say that I "know" one of the Bears, but I can certainly say that I worked with one of the Bears, and though I'm certain he's forgotten me by now, he was so kind to me, I'll cheer for his team.
I'm sure all you die hard football fans are laughing at me about this, but it's true, and when I explained this rationale to Tommie, he seemed genuinely surprised and pleased. Now that I think of it, what sounded crazy to me was probably mundane to a guy who regularly plays in front of thousands of people, many of them wearing nothing but paint and hard hats. In the middle of winter.
So if any of you Bears fans are wondering why the team is 4 and 3 this season, it's because I'm a fan. You know what other Chicago team I really like? Yeah, that's right: the Cubs. Sorry about that. (Yes, it's all about me. I have the ability to make teams lose, simply by cheering for them. It's my gift. It's my curse.)
Anyway, back to work: We had lunch shortly after we completed that scene(it was actually dinner, but when you're on the set you call every first meal of the day "lunch" and every second meal "fucking second meal" because it means you've been there for 14 hours and will probably be there for at least a few more), and then I had a few hours to kill while I waited for it to get dark, so I could run through the woods.
Anne was in the area, so she came over to the set and hung out with me for a little bit during lunch. I don't usually let people come visit me on the set, and I don't usually go to visit sets, because it is axiomatic in the entertainment industry that if you are not working on the set, you are, by definition, "in the way." Since we'd just be hanging out around base camp (that's what the area where the caterer, dressing rooms, makeup trailer, camera and grip trucks are) I wouldn't feel like we were "in" the dreaded "way."
"So how's it going?" She asked as we settled down to nom nom nom nom nom on the best on-set catering - vegetarian or otherwise - I've ever had in my life.
While I told her every single detail about how much fun I was having, and how great the cast and crew were, and how cool it was to finally have a football team to care about, and how proud I was of the work, and how weird it was to be filming in the same place that my brother got married, she ate her entire meal. I think I stopped to breathe . . . maybe three times.
"Hey, look," I said, "my food is cold. Turns out I talk a lot."
When we finished eating, there were about ten minutes left in the lunch break, so I walked her over to the set, introducing her to the cast and crew when we passed them. They all said nice things about me. It was kind of embarrassing.
When lunch was over, Anne had to go home to feed the boy and the dogs. I walked her to her car.
"I'll probably be rolling into bed around 4 or 5," I said. "I'm in the last three shots of the day."
"Okay," she said. "Have fun!"
"I love you," I said. "It was a real nice surprise that you could come by and visit."
"Yeah, that was kind of awesome," she said. She got into her car and started it.
"Drive safe," I said.
"I will. I love you!" She rolled up her window and pulled away from the curb.
I walked back to my dressing room and worked on my scenes for the following day while I waited to get back to work. A couple of hours passed. I took a little nap. Another hour passed. I read whatever the current issue of Wired was. Some more time passed. I recalled a famous actor once telling a reporter, "I act for free. I get paid to wait." There was a knock on the door, and I was called back to the set. It was about 2:30 in the morning.
Look, working at night usually sucks. You have to be quiet when you're not rolling, you have to be quiet when you are rolling (unless you're in the scene) and working nights means that you're not going to see much of the sun the next day. While we were waiting between setups, I talked about this with Thomas and Shemar Moore.
"Have you guys done a lot of nights this season?"
Thomas nodded slowly and Shemar joined him. "We've done so many nights. We're only a few episodes into the season, and it already feels like we've done more nights than we did all of last year."
"Man, that's got to be tough." I said.
"It is," he said, simply.
I realized that, though I'd been mostly resting for the last four or five hours, these guys had been working non-stop for all of them. Thomas had the same call as me, even. I decided that I wouldn't bug them, and just let them conserve their energy. Shemar closed his eyes and leaned up against a tree.
"I heard you grew up around here," Thomas said to me after a minute.
"Yeah," I said, "this is pretty much my hometown, and my sister-in-law used to work at this camp. My brother got married to her here, actually."
"Was it a good place to grow up?" He said.
"Mostly," I said. "It's one of those places that feels really far away from everything, but it's only 25 minutes to Hollywood, and even closer to downtown."
"Do you have a long drive home tonight?" He asked.
"Not really," I said. "I'm in Pasadena, just about twenty minutes down the freeway. Actually, I think La Crescenta is 20 to 25 minutes away from everything. It's a space/time continuum thing. Worm holes on the 2 freeway and such."
One of the assistant directors called us back to the set before I could devolve into babbling geekery, and for the next hour or so they chased me through the same three hundred yards of woods for several different angles. Each time, I reminded myself that Floyd was pissed, and determined, not afraid. I didn't know if anyone would actually see it, but it was important to me.
"When this is all cut together," John Gallagher said to me between setups, "it's going to look like they've chased you for a hell of a long way."
"Oh that's good," I said. "Because I feel like they have!"
Around 3:30, we finally finished. I was home and in bed by 4. I think I was asleep by 4:03.
It was a tremendously satisfying day's work, and I felt great about everything we'd done together. In fact, The following day, I wrote in my blog
I can safely say that working on this show, with this cast and crew, creating this character, has reawakened my slumbering love of acting ... I miss the camaraderie of being in a cast, and I'd forgotten how good it feels to discover interesting moments with the director, writers, and other actors. I work best while collaborating, it seems.
Before Criminal Minds, I can't recall any television work where I felt like I was truly collaborating with the production to bring the show to life. There's always a sense of collaboration among actors, because we work very intimately with each other. Most, but not all, directors share that sense of collaboration with us, but there's always an implicit understanding that they will have the final word on things. Producers and writers usually watch, but only talk to actors when they don't like something. Criminal Minds was completely different: from the very first minute of the very first day, I felt like we were all working together toward a common goal. I felt like my input and contributions truly mattered to everyone involved. I felt like I was . . . well, I guess I felt like I owned part of what we were doing together, and that felt really great.
Next: The Big Day Begins