This is the sixth and final post 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. At the Criminal Minds Fanatic blog, a reader named Stacy created a series of screencaps of my scenes from Paradise. Flickr user heath_bar put together a cool photo mosaic of screencaps, too.
In our last installment of How Long is This Damn Thing Going to be, Anway, I'd just written a short post for my blog during a break in production. Shortly after I posted it, I was called back to the set. We were ready to block my second scene in the cabin, where Floyd comes back for round two.
William was in the chair, Robyn was on the bed, and I was in the doorway to the bathroom when we started. Stacy cleared out the set and gave us an actor's rehearsal with John.
On the first run through, I came into the room, said, "That would really be something . . ." and walked right up to Robyn.
"Wait," I said. "That's not right. I haven't left myself anywhere to go. Sorry."
I took a few steps back, and delivered the line again. This time, I stayed in the doorway and just pointed to her. Yeah, that felt better. Then, when I said, "I have to say, I didn't think it'd be you . . ." I slowly walked up to her, like I was stalking my prey, enjoying how terrified and weak she was. I picked up the bat and used it to punctuate each line. (Some of that was in the script, some of it was just following my instincts, but I really like the way it came together when we filmed it.) Then I walked back over to him, taunting him the whole way, enjoying his suffering. When he sassed me, I reminded him who was in charge, with the old bat to the gut move. You know the one.
At least, that's how we rehearsed it the first time. The second time, I had an idea.
"John," I said, "What if . . ." I leaned down and got close to William's head and lowered my voice. "What if I I get kind of conspiratorial when I talk to him about what always happens? It's like I'm letting him in on it, like I'm really toying with him, because I've gotten away with it before, I'll get away with it now, and he's powerless to stop me."
"I love that," John said.
"I think I have to try to headbutt you if you do that," William said. "I can't just sit here and take it."
"Well, let's try it and see what happens," John said.
We reset, and when I leaned down to whisper at him, he lunged at me. It was scary, because if I'd gotten a few inches closer, he probably would have broken my nose. I stayed in character, though, pulled back, and raised a finger. "Easy!" I said to him with some amusement, like you'd tell a dog who wouldn't let go of the Kong. "I have to say I did--" He lunged at me again, and I let the anger take control. "EASY!" I said. I did not like it that he challenged my authority.
We continued rehearsing the scene until that beat was finished.
"Yeah, that's great," John said.
Stacy invited the crew back, and we went through the same routine as the last scene. Again, we filmed it quickly, in just a few hours. Again, I was impressed by the professionalism and speed of the Criminal Minds crew. Again, I was envious of the people who get to work with them every day.
Now, quickly doesn't mean easily. This was an intense scene, and I wanted to be sure that I didn't over-complicate it, over-act it, or miss any beats. There are few things worse than watching an episode when it airs and realizing that I completely missed something that would have made a performance more interesting. I can't watch myself too closely when we're filming, though, because people don't do that in real life and it makes performances seem too studied and self-conscious (for a perfect example of an over-studied, self-conscious performance, watch Rebecca Pidgeon in . . . anything.) In this instance, it was a real gift that I was working with such talented actors, and a director who I could completely trust and rely upon to ensure my performance hit all the right notes. I was able to lose myself in Floyd's head while we rolled, and just let him guide me. If I felt icky when we cut, I was pretty sure I'd gotten there.
Next, we shot the final scene, where Ian breaks loose and attacks me. I only recall a couple of things about shooting this: It disturbed me so much to pull Robyn's dress up her legs. I don't recall exactly where they cut on air, but I'd usually get up around mid-thigh before I stopped. I've known her since we were kids, and finding the real rage/hatred/sexual energy that Floyd had was even more difficult than it would have been if we didn't have a prior relationship. In some ways, it helped, because we trusted each other more than the average pair of actors would, but it was still uncomfortable for me. When the scene was finally over, and she was untied from the bed, she sat up, and we hugged each other. Tightly. For a good long time. I'm not sure who needed it more, to tell you the truth.
The stunt was pretty straight forward, and William's double made sure I didn't get hurt when he slammed me into the wall. I knew I was working on a show with a real budget when the wall didn't shake or fall down. There was a moment of supreme hilarity when I shoved him off of me, and then wailed on him with the bat. It was, obviously, a break-away bat, which is foam rubber molded around a flexible shaft. It looks great, and is safe, but it can get deformed pretty easily. Picking a random example: if you use it to hit the guy on the floor, it may bend and look really funny when you pull it back for the second hit, still acting as enraged as ever, causing the entire crew to laugh at you.
In the original script, Floyd was supposed to cut Abby's leg when sliced the tape around her ankles, but that was cut out on the set to save time. After watching the episode, I don't think we needed it.
When the scene was over, John got together with Robyn, William, and me. "I just wanted to say thank you for a great week's work today," he said. He didn't have to say that, but when those scenes were over, we'd left it all on the stage, as the saying goes, and it was really awesome of him to acknowledge that.
I had a pretty long break after that scene, while they got set for the BAU to kick in the door and ruin Floyd's good time. I spent sitting it in video village with the writers and some of the other producers. I asked Erica and Debra so many questions about the story, I can't recall all of them, but I remember how excited they both were to have gotten the truck crash at the top of the show pretty much exactly the way they wanted it.
"You write that scene, set it at night, in the rain, and figure that it's going to end up being cut by production to save money." Debra said. "When it's on TV, it's a minivan, in the afternoon, and the sun is shining."
"But we figured that we may as well go crazy and put it all in there, and hope that they'd only cut a little bit of it," Erica said. "Maybe they'd just take out the rain, or not let us crash the car or something. I can't believe we got all of it!"
While I talked with them, I was stricken by how much they love writing for this show. I got the feeling that they don't take it for granted, care deeply about each episode they write, and want everything to be as good as it can possibly be. For this episode, particularly, they wanted to tell a story that was disturbing and scary, "Like a horror movie," Deb said. Based on the feedback I've gotten from people who watched it, I think they succeeded.
Video village was set up pretty close to the actor's chairs. Paget and Thomas were sitting down between setups, and I don't remember how it started, but we ended up talking about geek stuff. I think Paget mentioned that she and I had done the Celebrity D&D thing to Thomas, and somehow that lead into Doctor Who.
"Who's your Doctor?" She asked me.
"Tom Baker, of course," I answered.
"Mine too!" She said.
We both looked to Thomas, who had become very interested in reading his newspaper.
"I told you, we're nerds," she said to him. I may have swooned just a little bit.
They went back to work, and I went back to waiting. The only thing left for me to shoot was some inserts of my eye, peeking through the hole in the wall. It was, admittedly, an anti-climactic way to finish work on the show, but when it was done, and Stacy announced to the crew, "That is a picture wrap on Wil Wheaton," the applause from the cast and crew blunted the sadness I felt. My adventure was over, and it was time to go back home.
I went back to my trailer and, with a heavy heart, changed into my regular clothes. I signed out for the last time, and on my way to my car, I ran into Debra Fisher.
"Do you have time to see the writer's room?" She asked. I'd been asking to see it all week, but there had never been an opportunity to get away from the set.
"I sure do!" I said. The melancholy I'd been wallowing in moments before was replaced by a familiar excitement.
We walked through the stage and out the other side, up a flight of stairs, and into their production offices. For the next twenty minutes, Deb showed me where she and Erica write their scripts, including the white board they use to plot their episodes.
"Is it okay for me to photograph this and put it online?" I said. "This is really cool."
"Sure!" She said.
I pulled my camera out of my backpack and took some pictures.
When I got leaned in to take some closer shots, I saw something really awesome. The last line on the whole thing said "Floyd gets away."
"We originally wanted Floyd to get away," she said. "We thought it would be really cool if the last shot of the show was a couple checking into a new roadside motel in a new location. You'd see Floyd check them in, and the camera would crane up to see the No Vacancy sign flicker on."
"Oh man, that would have been awesome!" I said.
"We thought it would be cool to have Hotch really screw up," she said, "but we couldn't sell them on it."
"Do you guys write extended story arcs?" I asked. "I haven't really watched much of the show."
"Mostly it's pretty self-contained in each episode," she said, "sometimes we'll have something carry over, but the network likes us to keep things confined to one show."
She showed me volume after volume of books, filled with crime reports, autopsy results, criminal psychology, and other things that they have to use for references.
"I bet that's some disturbing stuff," I said.
"You don't even want to know," she said with a wry smile.
She walked me down the hall, and I got to go into the actual writer's room. I felt like I'd been granted access to the most secret, most special, most magical place in the world. It wasn't a room for relaxing or building a fort; this was a room for creating, and I could feel it. I wish I could describe exactly what it was like in there, but I was sworn to secrecy. I hope it'll be enough to read that it was filled with evidence that the people involved in the creation of Criminal Minds love the show and work very hard to make it awesome.
I lingered in the room as long as I could, but eventually Deb had to go back to the set, and I had to go home. We headed out of the production offices, and back down the stairs, where Erica Messer and John Gallagher were standing outside the stage door. I thanked them both one final time, and began the long, lonely walk across the parking lot back to real life.
On the way home, I reflected back on my week as part of the Criminal Minds family. I guess I could have enjoyed the satisfaction of a job well done, but there would be time for that later. As I left Floyd Hansen behind me and headed back to my real life, all I could think about was how much fun I'd had, and how much I already missed it. If you've ever gotten on the bus and watched summer camp recede into the distance behind you, you may know the feeling.