Friday, October 31, 2008

Where Did the Locations Come From??

Before I get into this, be sure to check out some of the post comments.  People are asking really good questions--and I am giving really good answers!  I don't know how much longer I will be able to keep going back through past posts to answer since they are getting longer with each day!

There are SO many misconceptions about locations, I think I'll address that now since it's Halloween and I've got things to do and locations to haunt!

"Please pick my house to film in!!!"  Ok, do you having a full square block of parking for just the basic equipment within a short walk of your house?  Are you on a quiet street away from a freeway, airport, or other noise?  Do you have neighbors that will agree to the lack of parking,blocked driveways, cable running, lights placement, and maybe even rain towers if called for?  Are you ready for at least a day of prep, a day of filming possibly for 12-14 hours starting at 5:30 a.m., and another day of wrap?  Ok, this is just for the EXTERIOR of your house!  Want people inside?  Do you have room for 25 not counting the actors in the scene?  Can your floors take  many hundreds of pounds for a camera dolly, very hot lighting and sound equipment, and possible damage to your hardwood floors even if they tell you they will have rubber tips on all the equipment?  Do you mind having all of your furniture, pictures, family photos and personal items, moved out and other things brought in that you can't use?  In fact, you will probably be moved OUT of your house and put in a hotel and not allowed back in while they are filming!  So, no, you won't be having a leisurely breakfast with Tom Selleck in your kitchen, sorry!

How do people find your house, business, farm, or back alley?  There is a Location Department with a locations manager.  They  have thousands of photos (now on CD's) of locations that have been used in the past or clients who want filming in the future. The location head reads the script to imagine what they might be looking for.   The director will describe what they are looking for in the old farmhouse, abandoned factory for the big shoot out, or family home on that quiet street required by the story in the script.  First looking at photos and then driving to see preliminary locations is the director, assistant director, maybe a producer, a production designer or art director, the location manager, an assistant location manager, and sometimes a DP (director of photography) all crammed in a van for days at a time.  Sometimes they may even pass a location and like it and direct the location manager to check it out later.   They may find the perfect location for each scene.  However, the schedule and page count at that location can also dictate where they film.  Ok, if according to the schedule, the house and the farm have to film on the same day (each one being only a half day in film time estimation),  then they need to be fairly close to each other since the company (a small city on wheels) has to pack up in the middle of the shooting day and move to the next location.  While they are packing and moving, the are NOT filming.  When they are not filming, they are costing the production company many thousands of dollars an hour in salary and equipment rentals in non-productive work.  So even if PERFECT locations are found, a money producer can say "NO, find something closer to each other.  We can't afford to move that far."  So, once the perfect locations are finally found, the right amount of parking nearby, and they are affordable (more on that later), now the REAL location work starts!  There are City and State rules regarding filming on City or State property.   There is a City and a State Film Department that generate these permits to make sure the public is not overly inconvenienced or interrupted.  Traffic may need to be held, security hired, parking reserved, maybe an explosion happens, rain, we even did snow and ice once downtown on "LOST." With multiple locations it takes multiple permits which are for specific times on specific dates.  The schedule changes (all the time!), the permits have to change and maybe not be approved the second time because of a conflict.  But we're still not the preliminary scout happens with department heads to check out those problems and situations that pertain to their department.  Lighting guys are looking for power access, I'm looking for set problems, construction people are measuring, etc.  Then a few days later there is the final scout which can include 25 department heads and their assistants looking to finalize and minimize any problems.  They don't like problems.  Now as exhausting as this location process is, those people who are scouting are still working on the current episode that is filming during this process and your "normal" work is still going on.  It's called STRESS!!!  Sometimes 24 hours a day and 7 days a week are still not enough time.  And then you are told you can't work any more overtime!

It is very rare that a location had everything I needed on Magnum.  If we did film inside a home, like we did in the episode where Tom went back to Virginia and Gwen Verdon played his mother (I spent the whole morning talking with her--I didn't care how busy I was!) I might get lucky.   That house had appropriate furniture and things which could stay.  Sometimes we try to get old photographs of the actors to "personalize" the set.  Keep in mind when an actor opens a door on a location and walks into a room.......that same door might have been taken or duplicated so the actual room is now on the sound stage maybe 4 days later.  Filming in a home with fixed walls, low ceilings, and having to worry about their floors, walls, heat, noise is not as desirable as filming on a sound stage with "wild walls" (that move), no noise problems, AIR CONDITIONING!, etc.  When homes were not appropriate inside from a set dressing  standpoint (but worked for every other department) then we had a lot of work.  Sometimes the rooms had to be painted or walls added.  Unfortunately this was done by the construction department that for some reason always thinks that the 1 or 2 days we have to prep the house is ALL theirs!  Many times I have hung art work on walls that still had wet paint because the painters had just finished and the company was moving in to film!  We would move out the owners items, construction / paint would move in for a day or so, and then we would have very little time to unload our 5-ton truck (or sometimes 2) and dress the set.  Sometimes we couldn't even get our truck near the location because grip and electric had gotten there before us and were unloading their equipment at the same time. These were daily occurrences and somehow things got done.  Many times I thought that what went into getting a set dressed was MUCH more interesting than the story that was being filmed there!  But does anyone listen to me..........?    Aloha

Thursday, October 30, 2008

History of The Studio Facility and Permanent Sets

Ok, now that you are spoiled by all the photos, here is a plain old boring text one!  I'm one of the few people who probably remembers the studio facility history.  The area of the studio is located in what was known as Fort Ruger.  It was an army military post (like Pearl Harbor still is for the US Navy).  Ft. Ruger was actually built before WWI and included Diamond Head and it's large interior crater.  Side note:  Diamond Head is not an extinct volcano but only "dormant."  Since it hasn't erupted in 10,000 years, I wouldn't worry about it!

Over the years after WWII, the State (only since 1959) of Hawaii acquired more and more of Ft. Ruger.  The need for a military base in the middle of Honolulu was a little extreme especially since this area had become the most expensive part of town.  A large portion became a cemetery, the military housing area became Kapiolani Community College, the old base theatre became Diamond Head Theatre (where I spent over 8 years designing), and so on.

"Hawaii 5-0" began filming in 1968 in a mosquito infested warehouse near Pearl Harbor.  It quickly became a hit show (for 12 years!) and was able to move to an unused Ft. Ruger portion on 21st Avenue on the back side of Diamond Head.  I believe the current studio site on 18th Ave. was being used by the National Guard.  For reasons unknown to me, the studio and the National Guard switched locations at the end of 5-0's 1976 season and moved into a new studio facility built by the State on 18th Avenue and Diamond Head Road.  There were small bungalows for offices (still there--barely), a large "Butler Building" sound stage on a concrete slab (now used for storage by "LOST"), and the paint, construction, and set dressing storage area located in a long, old, tin roofed structure (torn down and replaced with a new building).  There was also a large parking lot and huge back lot.  Thus began the Hawaii Film Studio facility.  You can google this location and see for yourself.

Hawaii 5-0 aired its last episode in 1980.  I actually had worked on the last episode of 5-o as a very low (and VERY young - lol) set dresser.  Jack Lord tried another series called "M-Station, Hawaii" about a submarine--both sank very quickly.  Glenn Larson pitched a story about a private-eye investigator.  Did you know that Tom Selleck was on the "Dating Game" TV show and was rejected BOTH times??!!  Shows you what a mustache and short shorts can do for your career!  Anyway, they did a pilot and waited to see if it was picked up.  The story goes that Tom painted his landlady's house since he was basically out of money.  As you all know, the show was picked up and off it went into television history.

The pilot was shot at different locations around Honolulu.  You usually don't build many sets for a pilot because you don't know if the studio (in this case Universal Studios) or network will get the go for a series.  One of the locations included a famous old estate called the Marx Estate which was owned by the State of Hawaii in Nuuanu Valley (which could be another blog in itself).  Higgin's den was filmed there in the pilot.  The Anderson house on Kalanianeole Highway (aka "Robin Master's Estate) was becoming off limits for interior filming because the Spanish tiles on the staircase had been damaged during 5-0.  Ironically the very last episode of 5-0 (the one I worked on) was filmed at the Anderson Estate--am I making TV trivia history or what??!!  So the influence and style of the sets that were ultimately used for the show were based on these 2 locations.  The Spanish Colonial style of architecture, rough plaster walls,dark trim and windows, all came from the Anderson Estate and the brick and French doors of Higgin's den came from the Marx Estate based on the look of the pilot.  In actuality, Tom's guest house entrance was actually the old boat house of the Anderson Estate which was pretty much in ruins.  It was very rare that you ever saw him enter his guest house from the outside--he usually just headed off in that direction and then they cut to him entering onstage.

  Anderson's also had a large servants quarters near her cheesy chain link fence so the show added the gates.  Eve was fond of animals and later it was not unusual to see calves, large dogs, and other animals inside her house. My crew and I were the only ones actually allowed inside her house so we could place plants and furniture on her upper lanai (balcony).  She inherited her house from her grandparents and it was truly a magnificent estate--and I do mean was.  She was paid extremely well for its use as a location whether we used it or not.  Later, it became a nightmare for her since people thought either Tom Selleck, Higgins or maybe even the illusive Robin Masters actually lived there.  She still has old shade cloth and other barriers to keep the view private.  I always thought that was strange since she would rent out the grounds for parties and weddings and certainly could have made a lot more money letting people on the grounds like the "real" Southfork Ranch did on the TV show "Dallas" after the show ended.  

As you must know, all permanent interior sets (Higgins's den, entry hall, living room, Tom's guest house, bedroom, Rick's interior office, and even the interior of the helicopter) were all filmed inside on the 18th Avenue soundstage.  Ironically it's been named the "Five-O Stage" even though 5-0  only filmed there 3 years and Magnum did all 8 there.  More trivia!

Ok, I'm having way too much fun with this.  As your reward for reading all of entry, I'll have some photos of a very rare set (that almost killed my crew--literally) coming up soon--Robin Master's Library.   Aloha

More Agatha Info

I think I've got the photo upload thing down, but I didn't want to take any chances and add more to the previous post and lose them all.  So back to Agatha's set...........

Again, there was much discussion about what Agatha would have in her house.  In the end they pretty much trusted me to "go for it" and I did!  Looking at these photos now, I can tell you it would be impossible to do this set here in Honolulu today.  Even with the number of things I again brought from my own house, you would never find all these things in town today.

You can see how much detail and work went into constructing these sets.  All those windows were custom built, painted, and then I covered them all up with my drapes!  Because of the size of this set, you can see that above the set they used "headers" or sort of fake beams to help hide the overhead lighting and allow the camera to shoot a little wider without worrying they would see the top of the set.  Looking at it now 24 years later, it seems odd the way the drapes I stapled up are on the INside of the arched window.  There should be some curved molding around them.  Oh well, too late now!  Again, the pedestals on either side of the fireplace, the portrait of Queen Victoria (my great uncle was a guard for her BTW),  the bench with arms, the marble top commode in front of the window, the burgundy side chair, that huge oriental rug (later stolen from me) and some of the smalls all came from my house.  I would never do that again today!  

This set was only used once as I recall.  A lot of work but a wonderful episode.  I think that there could have been a spin-off of Magnum staring Gillian.  "Agatha, P.I."??  Maybe not.  She was capable of a lot more.  I have many happy memories of her.


More Agatha Photos

I thought I had uploaded more photos but only one showed up.  Trying for some more.........

Agatha's Living Room Set

This was one of my favorite sets as Gillian Dobbs was one of my favorite actresses.  I first met her in 1975 when I designed the sets and lighting for "The Music Man" at the main theatre here in Honolulu just up the hill from the film studio.  Trust me, she wasn't acting--Gillian WAS Agatha!  Not that she wasn't a good actress, but her character really was herself in real life.  I don't think the producers really knew what to do with her.  She was a bit odd, but a perfect romantic foil for the stout and dour Higgins.  She lived here in Honolulu.  Other guest actors and actresses were always picked up at their hotel and driven to and from the studio.  I would see Gillian sitting outside the studio on a concrete bench waiting for her bus that went by the facility on 18th Avenue.  She never complained, but I always felt sorry for her.  In this business, the squeaky wheel gets the oil and Gillian never squeaked very much.  After the show she didn't do anything that I was aware of.  Marco my Magnum expert told me she had passed away.  Her character of Agatha will live on!

Here are some photos of her living room.  There is much to tell about this set and I will have to do that in 2 parts.  As you can see, there are some photos of some of the carpenters actually building this set.  My only complaint was about the fireplace.  I think it was left over from another set but it seemed so dark and rustically inappropriate for the more fussy feminine nature of this set.  Well, with all that I packed into this set, it wasn't all that noticeable!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Higgin's Bedroom Set (on stage)

Well, now that I have photos that work, I can talk about this set.  Whenever a main character of a series is given a "personal" set that is not part of the permanent sets (like Tom's guest house or Higgin's den that are in virtually every episode), the dilemma is deciding if it will ever be seen again.  If it is to be seen again, then the show needs to own or at least have permanent access to the items used in it so it can be duplicated again later.  There was never enough room on the small soundstage (or even a large sound stage) to leave every set standing indefinitely "just in case" it's used again.  In the case of Higgin's bedroom set that wasn't done until well into the series, I thought I would use many things from my house which is a large old home here in Honolulu not unlike something Higgin's might have lived in at one time.  In this case the sofa, chair , bench at the end of the bed, personal pictures of my grandparents, the wall candle holders, bronze statue, and lamp all came from my house.  We bought the bed (later eaten by termites) and rented the other items which were returned after this set was shot. 

 There was much input from the producers as to how cluttered, how personal, and what his bedroom would say about the character of Higgins.  I've always felt that any set should tell a story even before we know who lives there.  Do they read a lot, collect things, are they religious, are they sentimental, a romantic, an egomaniac?  All of these things can be indicated by their environment (set decoration) before we even know much about the character.  In the case of such a well established role of Higgin's the caretaker of the Robin Master's estate, we see that he is very traditional, fairly ordered, obviously living in a past era of English tradition.  There is a vase of mine that I used in this set.  I don't think it is visible in any of the photos (I'm sure I have more somewhere I will eventually dig out).  The vase was made out of copper and on front it says (above) "The Sun Never Sets...........(below) "On the British Empire."  This sort of summed up Higgin's formality and memories of past glories (imagined or realized) in life.   By this time in his life, the sun had set on the British Empire and Higgin's was now a loyal caretaker.

The textured walls that were used for the interior sets of the Master's estate were made of plywood, then covered with hand troweled joint compound (wallboard plaster), then painted, and then a sort of ink substance applied and wiped off that gave an aged, rough plaster look.  In some cases an additional "dust age" was used of diatimacious earth inside a sprayer.  You did not want to be around when this was sprayed!  The stock moulding of the set was produced at Universal Studios molding (moulding for those of you in the UK) department and shipped over.  The set walls were usually 10 feet tall since the camera seldom saw over 8 feet.  Small sections of ceiling could be place overhead when needed, but seldom were.

Hey aren't people supposed to comment on these blogs??!! anyone out there?  Ok, time to scan some more photos................Aloha

First Photo Attempt

Having a few problems.  Not sure how to make these big enough to see detail, but I'll figure it out.  This was a set we only did once or twice of Higgin's personal bedroom.  It was actually built inside Robin Master's living room set.  I can't believe how much stuff is mine!  That lamp on his dresser is destined for a local auction here next month.  Maybe I should try selling it on ebay?  At least it really WAS used on the set unlike some of the stuff on ebay.  Well, expect more photos soon.  Just need to see what this one looks like before I do more.  Thanks for looking.  Aloha

Where Did Everything Come From on the Set?

I had intended to start posting some set photos today.  My scanner suddenly says I have to install the software that I already installed a couple of years ago.   I need to find or download it again since I must have a forgetful scanner.  Must have learned that from me.

Given the range of sets on Magnum from back alleys to mansions to huts in Vietnam villages--where did all that stuff come from (and what happened to it after)?

First, the studio did have a small set dressing storage area behind the construction mill.  It was an old military building with a tin roof and more than a few holes.  We had rats, cockroaches, and centipedes besides all the set dressing.  We kept a basic stock of items there from crates, barrels, old gas pumps and rustic things stored outside to kitchen items, drapes, office and desk equipment, basic chairs, dishes, etc.  Most of these items were fairly nondescript and could be used over and over with not much fear that someone would say, "I saw that coffee mug 3 episodes ago!"  Well, maybe YOU would have, but most viewers wouldn't!  lol

Second and most important source was a place called The Consignment Center.  I would give anything for that to still be here, but the owner, John, passed away in 1990 and soon after so did his establishment (with great scandal).  If you had a chair (or a house full of items) you wanted to sell, you would take it to this consignment center.  Your chair would be placed on sale for say $100.  If it sold, you would get $60 and John would get $40.  Now imagine a HUGE space packed with thousands and thousands of items from antiques to junk--that was The Consignment Center.  I think half the things there belonged to people who had long since moved away or had died.  John was a real character and was very successful at making deals.  The best deal he ever made was to allow the decorator from "Hawaii 5-0" and later Magnum to rent these items that technically belonged to other people for 15% of the value for a week.  We would pick up the items, use them, bring them back and John would get a check.  If we damaged or lost anything, he got another check for the full price.    A true "win-win" situation.  Once in awhile John would get a call from someone who saw a painting or sofa they owned that showed up on a set from Magnum.  Instead of apologizing or offering them compensation right away, he would start with, "Yes, isn't that WONDERFUL?!"  Usually the person would then agree that it was wonderful that Grandmas chair was seen by millions of people not knowing John had just made 15% on it.  In some cases they might not be so happy and I would be warned not to rent any more of their items.  The stock there kept rotating so that it seemed an almost endless choice and was a perfect arrangement since I seldom needed (or wanted) an item again since it might have been seen already.

Third, and most unbelievable now, was C.S. Wo.  The Wo family has had a virtual monopoly on furniture stores in Honolulu for more than 30+ years.  Even now, all major furniture stores (even with different names) are still owned by the Wo family.  Today if you want to buy something, it all comes from their warehouse.  Even walking in to one of their stores with cash, you cannot buy anything off the floor and plan on 24-48 hours to even pick something up at their giant warehouse.  However, in the "good old days" I could walk into their main store on Kapiolani Boulevard with my crew in the 5-ton truck, pick out anything I wanted right off the floor, and out the door it went!  No one even believes me when I tell them that today.  So any high-end looking furniture, lamp, pictures etc. were almost certainly from this store.

Having to buy everything would have meant storing or trying to sell it later since it would not be able to be used again in most cases.  It also would have been a lot more expensive than paying 15 % a week to rent--which was usually all the time we needed it.  If we did need it longer than a week, we would just pay another 15%.  This also applied to a dozen other places from Chinese to antique or a lamp store.  In cases when I would do a set for Higgins or Agatha, I used many of my own items from my house.  At the time it seemed like a good idea since they would be available again if needed and were appropriate for the characters.  In spite of the sense it made at the time, it was used against me 3 years later in a political move to get rid of me.  More on that one later!

Sorry, no pictures yet, just more words!  I promise to get my scanner going soon.  Aloha

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What is a Set Decorator?

This always puzzles people.  Sometimes I'm called a "Set Director."  That sounds more important, I guess, but the title really is Set Decorator.  Back then, it was pretty much just a Set Decorator and an Art Director who designed and created the look all of the sets.  I used to describe it as "flesh and bones."  The basic location, construction, set walls, paint, architectural detail (molding, trim, doors, etc.) or "bones" were the domain of the Art Director.  The furnishings from garbage bags, crates, boxes as well as furniture, lighting fixtures, books, rugs, drapes, personal items not touched by the actors were the "flesh" and the domain of the Set Decorator.  Of course we would discuss the style and look, but I was considered a department head and I would personally meet with the director and discuss the possibilities of what it was the director wanted.  Because Hawaii doesn't have any prop rental places, it was my responsibility to find all of these items (preferably rented) for each episode. Sometimes this included trying to talk the Director or Art Director out of what they had asked for because I knew it didn't exist here.   There was seldom the time or the money to bring something in from Los Angeles.  

 Because there were no breaks between the episodes, I was constantly prepping the next episode while dressing and shooting the current one and wrapping the previous one.  I was allowed an assistant. I had what was called a Lead Man who coordinated pick-ups and returns and ran the crew who are called Swing Gang.  These people were not listed in the credits (although they are in feature films).  A funny item was that most of the Magnum sets were designed on a paper napkin at lunch or maybe just a piece of paper when Lou Montejano was the Art Director.  Kenny Sato, construction coordinator, was so used to those drawings that he could build a whole set from them.  Later, Archie Bacon did actual drawings and included more detail, but certainly nothing like the pages and pages of floorplans and elevations that are used today.

Most of the directors really knew what they were doing, what they wanted, and stuck to it.  We had one director who was always changing his mind or rejecting things.  In those days the director seldom saw the set we had prepared before he walked in to shoot it.  I would be there to "open the set" and show him around.  I can say "him" since I don't think we ever had a woman director.  This problem director would complain about something like a bedspread and say he couldn't possibly shoot that scene and then go back to his trailer to rest.  It was later explained to me that he had a hangover and needed to rest.  I eventually got wise to him and when he would reject something, I would have 2 or 3 more waiting.  I always doubled my budget when he directed.  One of the best ever directors was the famous child actor Jackie Cooper--what a pro!  His episodes were always wonderful to work on.  Each director would do usually 3 episodes per season.  I think we still did 22 or 23 new episodes each season.  Another favorite director was Russ Mayberry.  You could trust him on a scout when he said "I will only see from here to there" and meant it.  When most directors said "from here to there" you had to do it all or they would complain that we hadn't done our job.  In this business it is rare for someone to say "Thanks, you did a great set."  Mostly the only thanks you get is that you weren't fired that day!

Well, that's what my job was and how it worked back then.  Tom, even when he became an Executive Producer, seldom interfered with us or the sets.  He trusted us to do our job as he did his own.  Aloha

Welcome to my "Magnum P.I." Blog!

I recently disposed of some items on eBay that I was given during the years I worked as the Set Decorator on  "Magnum, P.I."  I was really surprised at how much interest there still is in the show in the USA and especially in Europe.  It was suggested that I share my stories and photos with the world (Thanks Marco!)  I've never done a blog before so please stay with me while I get set up.  

I worked for a theatre up the hill from the film studio where "Hawaii 5-0" and later Magnum were filmed.  The Set Decorator who did all 12 years of 5-0 and the first 3 years of Magnum before retiring was Buck Henshaw.  He was an amazing and talented man (more on him later) who was born and raised here in Hawaii.   He used to hire me to build and fix things--like building Higgin's "Bridge on the River Kwai" and crashed jet tail sections among others.  That was my foot in the door.  When he retired after Season 3, I was hired as the assistant to the decorator who replaced him at the beginning of Season 4.  After 5 episodes he was fired and I was suddenly the decorator on a top 10 TV show!  There were a lot of politics involved at that time which I may not go into, but in any case, I did the rest of season 4, 5, and 6.  Then I was fired and hired back a month later as the assistant to the person who had replaced me.  Yes, politics again.  I stayed in that position for season 7--which was the worst year of my life in many ways besides that job.  I did not go back for the last year, Season 8.  My same crew and I did go on to do other Hawaii shows like "One West Waikiki", "Jake and the Fatman", "Baywatch Hawaii," and "LOST" where I did the pilot and first 60 episodes.  My crew is still on the show, I am not.  So that is a brief history of my start (and end) with the show.  I will be posting some pictures and getting more into  some of the background and history of things with the show.

  I will answer the #1 and #2 question I am asked BEFORE I am asked it here:  Yes, Tom Selleck was as nice as you have heard and No, he is not gay.  My office was next door to his for 4 years and the walls were very thin so I know!  Ok, thanks for tuning in and I look forward to sharing some very happy memories and times from the show.  Compared to how the business has changed in 20+ years, that show really was a wonderful experience!  Aloha