Thursday, December 10, 2009

Updates, "LOST" Interview, Mele Kalikimaka Time....

Holiday Greetings 72 Followers and "others"!

I went to our film and video association Christmas party last Saturday night and ran into a lot of people. Since there has been almost no work this year for anyone, "What are you doing" seemed to be the common greeting. I ran into the man who had interviewed me for "LOST" and he has posted it on you tube: (or just put Rick Romer in the search window) I laughed when I saw it again because I couldn't believe some of the things I said. It took the producer 6 months to get permission from "LOST" and he had to submit the questions ahead of time. At least I didn't have to submit my answers ahead of time. Oh well, my 12.5 minutes of fame will live on in cyberspace. I got a lot of strange looks from people at the party while having a glass of wine with the co-executive producer on "LOST," Jean Higgins. It's been 3 years since they dumped me and living on a 40 x 60 mile island does make carrying grudges difficult. The reality is that she is still the most knowledgeable film person I've ever met and I will probably get more Christmas cards that she does. Ultimately, I doubt I will ever know the reason behind my dismissal.

Yahoo!'s flickr gives me daily accounts of each picture viewed and a 28 day viewing graph for the totals. There were over 12,000 views the first month and I average about 400 a day! The views seem to be more seasonal than career related, however. My thanksgiving table has now been surpassed by Macy's Christmas trees as the most popular views of my 30 year career! I recently helped a woman by putting in the lights for all of the Hilton Hawaiian Village trees and managed to cram 4,300 lights in their main tree alone. Against my advice, the hotel workers plugged it into the overhead chandelier which promptly blew out. The chandelier is so big that a worker climbed inside it to drop the cable down to the tree from a new circuit they ran. Unfortunately he used 14 gauge Romex wire instead of 12 and the load kept tripping the plugging strip because it was carrying too high a load. It was nice not to have to be in charge on that job and just put in the lights. Now I'm doing my own Christmas stuff--which I swear I just put away.

The Hawaii Film Office didn't quite shut down. They did fire the director and all of the staff except for one--not unlike chopping off all your fingers except for one. The former Maui film commissioner (each island/county also has a commissioner) is the head of the division that is above the State Film Office so she has been asked to fill in. I tried calling her yesterday and her cell phone message bank was full and she hasn't answered my email all week so I think she may really be swamped. Not a surprise. (UPDATE: She did call, did come over for my Christmas party, and yes, she IS swamped--but they are handling all film permit requests!)

Lately I've heard more rumors of the "5-0" film than the "Magnum" one. I wouldn't put any money on either one right now. George Clooney is going to do a feature here starting next month. The decorator will, of course, being in his/her entire crew and even the job of shopper/buyer will be going to someone else here locally. The politics involved in giving out the local job calls take precedent over actual experience, ability, or the full page ad I have in the Media Index Guide. Their loss--my unemployment extension (again) kicks in next week.

Maybe a little unrealistic of me, but I invited President Obama to visit his boyhood mentor's home (just happens to be the one I live in) when he spends Christmas here later this month. I doubt that it will happen since the mentor is a pretty controversial figure. I know he lived in my house because of the address in his FBI files! Still, if he and Michelle want to pop over one night with 10-12 secret service guys, I could whip up some egg nog or something.

Well, nothing really "Magnum" related to report--in fact, nothing even Set Decorator related to report either! Maybe I should just change the title of this blog so I can ramble more about my exciting life??!!

In case nothing more exciting does happen in the next 2 weeks to report, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season! On the other hand, if I have a picture of me and the President standing in front of my fireplace to post, I will!

Mele Kalikimaka and Hauole Makahiki Hou,

Rick Romer

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

See Post from May 10 about Omega Station - Interesting new comment

Post Halloween Greetings!
I receive an email when someone posts a comment (which is something I think you can sign up for).  Anyway, I just received an interesting comment from the May 10, 2009 post about the Omega Station from someone who was still working there when it closed.  I thought it had actually closed earlier than 1997.

His comment brings up an interesting thought.  With technology changing so quickly in the past decade or so, data storage space getting smaller and smaller, digital having replaced analog, etc., how much of this former technology is actually being saved or preserved?  I realize there are at least 2 schools of thought on the practicality and purpose for saving anything outdated--those for and those against!  As a set decorator we always have a problem with both current "high tech" as well as retro-outdated technology.  Wanting current high tech means it is most likely being used which means having 100 film technicians around tends to be a bit disruptive.  On very RARE occasions they used to let us film inside the FAA headquarters inside Diamond Head Crater (now moved) which looked like a James Bond film set with all the radar screens and scopes glowing in the distance.  We sometimes filmed a Magnum episode at this high tech Japanese / American business place that had those old giant reel-to-reel tape storage machines the size of a refrigerator.  Those old giant machines with all the dials and switches and red lights made for great background set dressing.  It wasn't even all that difficult to rig something up with parts from Radioshack and some stainless steel Formica back then.

Set Dressing would also get stuck with surveillance van interiors as well.  You know, giant reel to reel tape decks, mixers, amps, dangling wires, headphones, clip boards and coffee mugs that barely fit into a large milk truck.  I think the last time I was asked to do one I said, I hate to tell you but an entire surveillance van would now fit into a briefcase--that's how long ago that was.  Today, it would probably fit into an i-pod along WITH the i-pod.  Now in the films and CSI shows, they seem to use a lot of plexiglass and projections and strange colored lights in the background as an attempt to make up for the formerly clunky hardware that actually did something in the background other than glow mysteriously or flash strange computer generated charts and graphs.

The bigger problem is finding the old technology when you want it now--particularly in Hawaii where we don't have basements or old warehouses to store things, but do have salt air and rust.  There are a couple of prop houses in L.A. that carry some of the old technology items for retro sets, but as a society, we generally embrace the trend towards miniaturization and advanced technology.  Even the collection of 78's I have are waiting to go onto cd's so I can get rid of the records.  Given that my last Cuisinart coffee maker only lasted 3 years, the new one broke after 3 weeks and I am about to buy my 2nd weed wacker this year, it's probably good that we keep moving forward since so much of the craftsmanship now doesn't allow for much permanence anyway.  Anyone remember having to go to the drug store to test a tube from the TV or radio that had already lasted more than a decade?

So just some ramblings about technology sets.  I haven't posted on my flickr site for awhile, but I got carried away with visitors and Halloween and looking for work.  

Aloha,  Rick

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Answer to Question, Ebay Item, More on Flickr......stuff!

                                                          I did post an item on ebay (ending tomorrow) that is related to Magnum.  It's a framed print that Archie Bacon, the show's art director for many years, gave me.  I used it in that episode of Paniolo, but I can't find it in a photo.  Anyway, it's never really had a home since I haven't had an office in 3 years so I thought it could go to a better one.  Someone from Austria has asked about shipping--which I haven't looked up yet.  Actually, it's virtually impossible to tell exact shipping on something that's larger than 14" because of all that "dimensional weight" stuff now and then even more complicated with the foreign aspect.  I know about 5 years ago it was $60 to send a similarly sized item to England so I would guess foreign shipping is going to be at least $100 now.  Just come on over and pick it up!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I went to the official opening of what is now being called "Barbarian Princess" last night at the Hawaii Theatre.  It's the first film ever done about the Hawaiian monarchy or the overthrow of it.  From my standpoint, it is also the first and last Victorian period film done here since there is no longer any large source for antique items here without shipping them in.  There are various Hawaiian groups who have been objecting to the use of the term "Barbarian" in reference to Princess Ka'iulani.  Just about everyone watching the movie last night changed their mind if they hadn't already understood that the barbarian reference was from opposition newspaper items of the time who sought to discredit the monarchy during the overthrow in 1893.  I spent a couple of days doing a photo display of the sets and some of the crew during filming for the theatre lobby.  Considering they premiered it on Princess Ka'iulani's birthday you think they might have done something a little more.  Anyway, it sold out and they are already on their 3rd showing as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival.  Unfortunately the film remains unsold and undistributed so don't look for it at your neighborhood 20-plex any time soon.

I went ahead and put in some photos of Princess Ka'iulani in with the set photos as a way of showing her "non-barbarian" aspects and the fact that the movie does certainly honor her.  I didn't see any protesters last night, but there were enough police around to have  intimidated anyone to not even jaywalk--a $120 fine btw.  Someone did ask a question after the movie about when were they doing to drop the "Barbarian" from the title and the director gave a great response and the audience cheered him so I think the title is here to stay.

Mike's question is the first comment under the last post about changes in set decorating now with HD and DVD availability.  I know I've covered this topic before because I did at one point compare doing Magnum with LOST and the "scrutiny" aspects made possible today with DVD stop action and enlargement certainly do contribute to the detail that decorators go to now.  However, I just happened to catch the last half of the 1960's "Time Machine" that was on this morning on TCM.  I remembered seeing that when I was a kid and thought it was such an amazing film.  What I saw today looked like some cheesey amateur production of a low budget student film!  I didn't have to stop any action or enlarge anything to make that determination.  This was a full on Disney (I think) feature film release when it came out in the 60's and yet today it wouldn't fly with any 8 year old.  A lot of it is that we have also become more sophisticated as a society and the level of visual sophistication has increased as well.  Many of the big "spectacle" films of the 50's and 60's look pretty tame now compared to when we so impressed when Moses parted the Red Sea (film shown backwards).  Some things hold up--"The Birds" come to mind.  However, Alfred Hitchcock was aware that our own minds could create better horror than he could on the screen so many of his "effects" were created in our own minds--like when Janet Leigh took her shower with Hershey's chocolate syrup in "Psycho."  Today they have to show the steel knife blade ripping the flesh and red blood squirting out of an artery before anyone is shocked--especially an 8 year old!  So I think the increase in set dressing details today has as much to do with technology (and the ability to scrutinize) as it does with our expectations as viewers.  It certainly doesn't have anything to do with larger budgets!!!

Aloha,  Rick

I continue to post more photos each day on my career pics

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Locations and Higgins' Den Questions Answered

Mike and Susie have both asked separate questions under the previous posts which I will attempt to answer here.

First, I have been posting a lot more career photos on my flickr site   The photo editing tools are great and I'm getting pretty fast at fixing and loading the photos but I still have a couple hundred to go so check back from time to time!  Deciding on categories is the hardest part so I've been using a lot of key word tags.  They are also showing up in google now under my name.  As impressed as I am with what we were able to do here in Hawaii over years past, I am also saddened that most of those sets could not be done today because we have lost so many of those sources.  Well, at least they will live on in cyberspace for awhile!

I heard via a non-LOST source that they are going to auction off items at the end.  Very smart if that is true since $10 lamps I bought at the Salvation Army that would normally have gone into a dumpster will probably bring hundreds since they were used in Hurley's House.  Instead of paying for dumpsters, they can make tens of thousands.  Those lamps were really ugly, though!

Mike asked about the"valuable" ivory tusk on the bookshelf in Higgins' den--see his photo link in the previous post comment.  Well, that ivory tusk is a valuable as all of the small green jade carvings that were also in his den!  Genuine plastic!  It's all about location, location, location.  Put something on a pedestal or put a picture light over a painting or on a bookshelf in an estate set and presto it's ivory and jade!  Looking at the photo of the den set and then looking at a photo of Jack's father's den set on LOST yesterday when I got another call:  "Where did you get his desk?" really reminds me of how standards have changed in set dressing.  The sophistication and layers and detail in sets today compared to 30 years ago is amazing.  People are more consumer aware, have seen more / sophisticated, and have TV sets with larger size and clarity.  Although the plastic tusk and figurines would still look good today!   Those 2 ordinary looking bronze-like vases on the mantel are actually old Chinese gourds that were grown inside a  mold and then hand painted.

I'm not sure I understood Susie's question about locations and elements in her comment 2 posts ago.  Unfortunately I never really used tag labels for these posts so I could just put in "locations" and go back and see what I've said in other previous posts.  I know I did discuss the perils of using your own home as a film location (another bubble burst!).  But here are some more observations regarding locations and set dressing:
DISTANT LOCATIONS:  If you're going to be dressing sets a long ways away from your normal, resident studio location (anywhere from 50 miles to another state), there is that tendency to want to take everything with you.  I've seen many a container of set dressing arrive from L.A. between features from "The Brady Bunch" to Bruce Willis epics "just in case" the decorator might need them.  In the case of the Brady Bunch, the decorator used more of the things I helped him find here than were shipped over which made me feel good.  The decorator on the Bruce Willis epic had a budget that allowed him to practically empty every L.A. prop house of all gilt furniture, chandeliers, and expensive looking items involving a dozen containers or more.  I was only worthy of being a laborer to unload them, so I know first hand!  Ironically, even though most of the items weren't used in the Nigerian presidential palace set, the ones that were used were never seen since the entire set (the first 20 minutes of the film) were cut out since Mr. Willis wasn't in any of the scenes.  That meant no one even saw the 240 shades I put on the light bulbs of the 5' high chandeliers that the bad guys ran by once.

So, way distant locations do represent a challenge even when you do have the money.  Having basic supplies, a resourceful crew, common sense and checking out the location ahead of time for sources is always best.  Being able to knock on a stranger's door and politely asking to rent their dining room set is also a good skill to have.

LOCATION SETS:  that allow normal access to familiar sources are less of a problem.  Private homes present the biggest challenge--particularly if the family is living there and  a full redress is required.  Knowing the abuse than can happen when a film company is there (and you're not) should be a consideration when deciding to use the owner's furniture or objects as key pieces.  As cool as it is to be able to say to your friends, "Meryl Streep sat right here on my sofa!", you might instead be pointing out the stain that someone made on it when something leaked or the damage that was done when something fell.  The good news is that any reputable company would have purchased a new sofa--assuming it was replaceable. I always prefer a blank slate if there is to be a lot of filming done inside someone's home especially if they are "virgins."  There are some homes who rent out often enough that know the pitfalls and aren't overly worried.  There are also those nightmare locations that begin with the owner saying to us "No one told us you were going to take out all our furniture and crash a car through the picture window" and the location manager's cell phone is conveniently out of range in the jungle somewhere.  Set dressers are the first to arrive and the last to leave.  We discretely advise that perhaps their collection of porn we find under the bed might be better off elsewhere or also not mention the bug and rodent graveyard under their sectional after we move it for the first time in 3 years.  This is why having an experienced crew is so important.  As the set dressing crew is also responsible for restoring afterwards, it's always handy to have at least a location assistant at the site.  We are blamed for all sorts of scrapes, and dings, and chips that may or may not have been caused by our film company.  In many cases, replacing food in an unplugged (because of sound) refrigerator or finding broken window glass behind the drapes get dumped on the poor guys who are just trying to put the furniture back in the room.  

STUDIO SETS:  Permanent Sets - Swing Sets  Permanent sets on a soundstage are set dressers best friends.  Other than basic maintenance and restoring after shooting, all we do is cover and uncover them.  The more permanent sets the better.  In case of rain, sickness, script problems, these sets are just sitting there waiting to be filmed.  There may be a lot of pain and angst creating them in the first place, but they can last for years and leave time for other sets.  Magnum was really great for that reason.  Even when other temporary sets were added, the style of the permanent sets was so strong that it was easy just to plug into that look.

Technically there can be swing sets that are "permanent" in that they are taken down when not in use and then set up again if used infrequently.  Even Rick's bar set was considered a swing location set as it always required dressing at the beach location.  Swing sets can just be new sets that are created in space on the soundstage for the particular episode--sometimes even inside permanent sets.  We frequently did that once the large living room set was built and often incorporated actual walls from the permanent set.

Well, that's enough rambling on a question I'm not sure I even understood!

The "Cooler Kings" pilot that was supposed to be prepping this month seems to have cooled and another project may be taking its place.  Funny how "The Circle of Life" from "Lion King" just popped into my head.  Maybe because 2 years ago I was halfway through being the lead male dresser for 99 performances--or maybe because the projects just keep almost coming and then fade away?

Aloha,  Rick

Friday, October 9, 2009

I'm on flickr!

It takes awhile, but my career photos are now showing up on flickr  It's sort of a poor man's website, but it's about time I started putting my stuff online.  I made a mistake making my categories too specific and too small.  There doesn't seem to be any way to change or regroup them now.  I'm making the group categories larger now.  I've been listing them by kinds of sets rather than by specific projects and then using tags to allow you to find specific projects.  I have a TV next to my computer that helps break the monotony--although watching 3 Esther Williams movies in a row on TCM was a bit much.

I haven't gotten to any Magnum photos yet.  They are going to premier what is now being called "Barbarian Princess" at the Hawaii Theatre next week so I'm still putting up those photos.  I didn't realize I was making the photos too small so I did go back and change some.  Flickr has a great editing too so I can fix the photos before posting.  This is sounding like a commercial.  Well, it's something until I get a real website going.

Aloha,  Rick

Friday, October 2, 2009

What I Ate For Breakfast......

Has it come to this?  Is this going to become one of those blogs where I post what I ate for breakfast and then people comment "mmmmm, yummy"?  Well, I hope not!  It's just that I have basically mined my mind of Magnum memories with 25 years having passed since I was in my 2nd season on the show.  Most of the questions that have been emailed to me recently involved watches, rings, sunglasses used on the show.  Those all fall into props and outside my area as the Set Decorator.  So I don't really have anything new or even old to add to my working on the show that hasn't been written about somewhere in this blog.  Of course, pertinent questions about the show are always welcome.   Do I also need to mention again I don't have anything from the show left, Eve is not giving tours, and there is no secret stash of Magnum furniture?  

News from the home front includes the Governor deciding to completely eliminate the Hawaii State Film Office at the end of the month!  It's absurdity rivals the city building its billion dollar monorail that doesn't go anywhere.  With tourism listed as our major "industry" in a year of cutbacks everywhere, it is expected the State is looking to save money.  Our already poor public education system (with the highest percentage of students attending private schools in the nation) is furloughing teachers, programs being cut, and others being planned.  Eliminating a proven money making department that has made getting permits easier and solving problems before they arise is unfortunate.  The State also all but eliminated the film tax credit which was directly responsible for the work I had in 2008 in a double blow to the industry.  While the film / TV industry isn't tied directly to the economy in general, investment in the business is.  Given the lack of government support of the industry here, the plantation mentality of the legislature, the bad economy and the false belief that all the good workers are on "LOST", there does not appear there will be any work until mid 2010.  Currently there is another Lifetime film going on but the Jerry Bruckheimer pilot has been postponed again.  I'm not sure there could be any more nails in this coffin right now.  I guess if professional mourners were paid, I might consider continuing to wait for the phone to ring.  The reality is that I have had some success in other areas and I'm continuing to pursue work in them for now.

I hope that within a week or so I will have most of my past work online.  Until I can get up and running, I think doing flickr albums of my photos is a good start.  Working in a field where photos are the only evidence of my work sometimes makes it more difficult to convince others how good I am!  Present tense, of course.

So I'm not sure if this really counts as a posting or just a rant?  If neither works for you, I did enjoy a bowl of granola, a mug of coffee and a glass of carrot juice.  Mmmmm, yummy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm Still Here!

Ironically, not posting for a month I had 3 new followers sign up!  I wrote an article about this blog for the Hawaii Film and Video Magazine ( and I was quoted in our local union newsletter so this probably wasn't a good time not to post anything for a month.  However, any new viewers have a lot of catching up to do so this posting if really for you regulars.

The big news is that I am just about done with scanning hundreds of set photos on most of the projects I have done here and in L.A.--theatre, special events, as well as film and television.  Ultimately these will wind up on which I now own--at least for a couple of years anyway.  In the meantime, my work may just wind up on another blog or picasa web album.  I need to do something to get my work and experience out there.  The 3 categories will be Special Events, Theatre / Stage, and then TV / Film Design Projects.  There's really nothing I can do about getting film or TV work here--particularly when there isn't any.  Ok, I did just turn down being the production designer for an independent film project about skateboarding for $10 an hour (flat rate for everyone).  This was actually a union job that is a new, extra, ultra low rate for low budget films.  Given that I would have to pay someone else $40 an hour to do the construction I am doing on my house--even unemployment pays better than $10 an hour.  I know, "do it for art", well, I'll save that for someone who needs the experience (and the abuse).

Speaking of abuse, this photo is from an African bar set.  It's either from "E.R." or "LOST" that I did at Kualoa Ranch a few years ago.  The rattan bar stools are from Rick's bar set and the round table was the one in Higgin's den.  There might even be a couple of "Hawaii 5-0" things (the wooden beaded curtain for sure) and I know there are some "Baywatch Hawaii" pieces as well.  Most of these things were in storage at the State's Hawaii Film Studio and available for rent.  I'm probably the only person who remembers their origins.  I just wanted to show you that the few abused Magnum things that have survived the termites, purges, and thefts are either very obscure or virtually unrecognizable.   Even without termites, most of us aren't going to stay the same 25 years later either.

Our really wonderful film commissioner, Donnie Dawson, had her photo (more like a mugshot) on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser as one of the hundreds of people whose job may be up due to budget cuts.  There is an attitude among many of the plantation mentality legislators here that we don't need to do anything to encourage film or TV work in Hawaii--that it will always come here anyway.  I guess they don't know that Canada and Australia will give you back a major portion of your expenses as a rebate if you film in their country and many other states will give you major tax or facility benefits.  Ok, pardon my political frustration, but I am working very hard on getting a job that actually gives back some creative satisfaction and not what is happening to the film / TV industry.

And last but not least, to answer Susie's question regarding my watching the show, watching to see how things looked when it aired was a little late.  I mean, what could I do about it after 20 million other people had seen it?  What I mainly watched the show for was to see what they did actually show (or not) so I could use the item(s) again.  I do remember once watching a show and noticing that the color orange really jumped off the screen so I normally avoided it--it used to be an "in" color.  Also, something I learned and continue to do:  use dark books in dark bookcases and light books in light bookcases!  Doing otherwise makes the contrast really jump out.  As far as the treehouse goes, I don't remember the treehouse, but it would have been built by the construction department and I probably wouldn't have had anything in it anyway.  I was much happier talking with Gwen Verdon.

Again, many thanks for your encouraging comments.  I'll let you know when I get my career photos up and running!  Maybe some day my career will do the same.

Aloha,  Rick

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Never Discussed New Magnum Topic......... SCRIPTS!

Thanks to another excellent email question from Alexandre of Normandy who always has good questions even if I can't always understand his English!  I've never really talked about Magnum scripts before--or any scripts for that matter.

Of all the creative areas such as music, painting, architecture, etc. writing / scripts are probably the most abused art form!  A lot of people don't realize that when a person creates a story in a script, it's not "chiseled in stone."  Is there such a thing as written on water?  Basically once a script is sold to a company, it becomes the property of that company and the scriptwriter is paid like when you pay Home Depot for a sheet of plywood.  Home Depot doesn't have any say in what you do to their former property.  You take the plywood home and cut it up into pieces to make it work for you.  Well, they do the same thing with a script--only there are lots of carpenters doing the cutting:  The director cuts, changes, rewrites according to his/her "vision," the producer changes the script for image, liability or just because they can, and finally the actor changes the script because "My character would never say that line!"  The script could even be changed because the right location couldn't be found, the weather changed, or the time of day changed.  So you have a creative work that has many hands molding it.  Most people wouldn't think of adding another palm tree to a painting or tell a composer to change the key to B-flat, but scripts seem to be fair game for a lot of input.  That said, you can't do without them!

In episodic TV (like Magnum), right about the time you start filming an episode, a new script arrives in your box.  Given that you are up to your neck with the current show, there is a real temptation to just leave the script where it is for awhile.  However, it's not going to go away so it's in your best interest to read it asap for any possible "Are they out of their minds??!!"  problems waiting and to give a heads up if you see an advance problem for your department.  On Magnum there were some directors where I automatically doubled my budget regardless of the script requirements! 

  Before you even finish the new script, colored pages will appear in your box again--these are revisions.  I forget the color sequence they have for 1st revision, 2nd revision, 3rd, 4th, etc. but it's something like blue pages, pink pages, green pages, yellow pages--whatever.  Sometimes they will just say "Pinks are out" (which means they're in!) and that means more revisions.  Sometimes these revisions are dialogue and they have changed "I can't go now." to "I can't go there now."  This generates a new script cover sheet, contents sheet, and then the actual page with the dialogue change--and another tree gives its life for this valuable contribution to society.  Of course they don't tell you what the actual changes are (you have to read them), but 95% of the time, it didn't affect me.  In the pre-cell phone (pager only dark ages), I was once stuck in rush hour traffic on a freeway in L.A.  My pager went off with the production office number and the dreaded "911" following.  Fearing an emergency, I got off the freeway in a not so good area, found a pay phone, realized I was standing in a puddle of urine, called the production office only to find out that they had put "green pages" in my box!  I needed to know this NOW???  This is why P.A.'s (production assistants) are sometimes found wearing concrete shoes and not on land.  So as each new color comes out, you dutifully take your old pages out and put your new pages in your 3 ring binder.  Then they will issue a new, revised entire script and you start all over again with more revisions.  I think we're up to losing a forest by now!   It's very embarrassing to be at  production meeting where we PAINFULLY go through the entire script page by page (while your entire crew is waiting for you to dress a set at a distant location) and discover while everyone else has turned to their blue page, you are still have the old pink page and obviously not with the program.  Wow, I am getting pretty detailed with all this!  Moving on...........

On most shows, the scripts arrive mysteriously from a mainland production office--by mail or eventually fax on Magnum--by the internet now.  However, Magnum was blessed with having a resident writer / story editor / eternally nice person named Chris Abbott-Fish.  (I think the Fish name has since swum away).  She wrote several scripts and rewrote others in residence at the studio. If there was ever a problem with a script, it could be handled (usually) quickly in house.  I always enjoyed our infrequent meetings, but if anyone ever had a smile on their face at that studio it was her.

While I have no script writer inclinations or experience--there is a sort of template they stick to.  God knows I could never stick to any formula the way I go on and on.  There are things like "conflict" and "resolution" and other standard items that need to happen between commercial breaks.  This is nothing new.  I remember in college studying Greek drama and the professor used "Bonanza" as an example of Greek tragedy.  When he broke it down into protagonist and antagonist and the other aspects of Greek theatre that I have since forgotten, there is a formula that is followed to some degree.  Obviously you have to be a good writer to make it original, unique and interesting.  Of course a few "f-words" and a couple of car explosions with really loud dialogue seems to help.  Yeah, I know.........

So while we were shooting a current script, the next script would come out--it would be rare to have a 3rd one at the same time.  Sometimes if there was a really difficult one, there might be a partial script, but rarely.  Casting or production obviously had scripts before the worker bees got them.  We would be too busy prepping the next episode to be able to deal with more than one ahead anyway.  Each script had a cover sheet with all the usual info:  writer, producer, director, production company, name episode number, dates, warnings, etc.  Each script page would have the scene number on the left and ride side of the page and the page number at the top right corner.  Basic action comments HE HOLDS UP HIS HAT or camera CLOSE UP ON HAND or location / time EXT. SURF SHACK - LATER are indicated along with the actual dialogue. A MOW (movie of the week) script is about 100 pages.  An episodic TV script is around 60 pages.  You hear "page count" as a reference to how many pages are supposed to be shot that day.  If you have a 64 page, 1 hour script with an 8 day schedule, you better be shooting 8 pages a day.  That's a lot for a 12 hour day and you better not have any company moves within that day.  So you  might have a 6 page day or an 8 page day depending on what they are filming.  Some pages can go to 2nd unit.  That means an entirely different and smaller film crew will go out and film the Ferrari driving up to the Kamehameha Club with a stand-in driving.  Or a close-up of the bad guys shoes climbing the stairs (also a stand in) or the car crash, etc.  Basically any photography not involving principal actors--or at least it's not supposed to be (but often is).

Feature films might only do 2 or 3 pages a day and have a 150 page script.  And you wonder why you pay $10 to see a crappy movie?  It's not all going to Nicole.  A TV show with  lot of permanent sets can go faster--the lights may already be in place and it's a routine for the actors.  TV sitcoms with only 1 or 2 sets often do a taping in one night in front of a live audience--or at least they used to.  These are sometimes called "3 camera shows" where they might actually be using 3 cameras at the same time--a wide shot "master," a close up, and maybe a side shot or a "2 shot."  Obviously nothing is live / "one take" anymore so even if they mess up in front of an actual studio audience, they can always do another take or two and still finish on time more or less.

Ok, drifting off of scripts now so I guess it's time to close another time busting block buster of a blog post that sort of had something to do with "Magnum, P.I."!

Aloha,  Rick

P.S. Keep in mind that a "One Hour" script is really only about 50 minutes or even less for commercials.  As was once said to me, "TV shows are the filler between commercials."  That reminds of of a t-shirt I never wore to work:  "Theatre is Art.  Television is Furniture"  Well, that was before the digital era so I may have to draw you a picture to explain.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stage Design and Production Design without Intermission (sorry. it's another 5 acts!)

Hey, just because there weren't any pictures to go with the Sharon Stone Shower Scene Posting.......well, never mind.  The second part of Susie's question involved set decorating and stage design.  I did cover some of this earlier in my blog, but I do have another take on it.

I knew I wanted to be a stage and lighting designer while I was still in high school.  I actually made my first prop when I was 12 and my older sister played the part of a maid in the senior class play.  Our school auditorium was built in 1920 with old lumber and mining money and rivaled any movie palace complete with 1425 seats, intricate plasterwork, huge chandeliers, and a large fly system.  I was always building things like a guillotine for Halloween that scared so many kids away my mom got mad at me.  I had little or no encouragement with these projects until my drama teacher encouraged me to leave for the University of Minnesota--which I did 12 hours after graduating from high school.  My joke was there wasn't an earlier bus.  Basically, there is a path for lighting and set design in the theatre through college.  Learning construction techniques, painting, sewing and even courses in make-up, fencing, history,theory and all sorts of background courses gives a basic and fundamental background for design.  Adding art and architectural history and college is a way to learn the basics.  However, there is no substitute for the actual DOING.

The same is true, of course, in film design.  While I've never actually had a film class, there are obviously film schools--but they are more devoted to the making of films, directing, editing and basic production techniques.  I doubt that there would be a degree in production design or set decorating or being a gaffer or grip.  Film and TV work is more based on "doing" than learning methodology, history, etc.  There is actually a hierarchy in most departments to begin in a lower capacity and work your way up.  I think you will find that most decorators or designers have had some sort of design background training either in the academic or professional world.
Ironically after putting myself through 7 years of college primarily by being an outside designer, no one has ever asked me if I'd graduated from high school.

Personally I think it would be very difficult for someone who hasn't been trained in stage design and certainly in lighting design to function on any higher level of design for the theatre.  Yes there are famous artists like David Hockney doing things like faxing thousands of sheets of paper that are then assembled into "art backdrops" for opera, but this isn't practical for most stage productions.  There is a certain "design vocabulary" that is involved with stage design that doesn't really exist in production design.  A VERY large percentage of film and TV design are based on duplicating a modern (or period) realistic set.  Yes, there is creativity, yes the set can say something about the character, but most of the looks you see are realistic and contemporary or sometimes realistic and period.  Yes, there are exceptions, but they are the minority by far. 

I went to dinner one night here with the production designer of the Flintstone movie.  He had to design the silverware, housing, cars, and basically everything to fit the "prehistoric" look of the movie.  This concept is very rare and unique in the business and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his creativity.  So was "The Madness of King George" that year--and it won the award.  The joke was that all that the "George" designer had to do was take down the rest room signs at Windsor Castle and collect his award!  I'm sure he probably had to do a little more than that, but certainly nowhere near the creativity and uniqueness that went into the Flintstones--which brings me to a somewhat controversial topic.

In general, there is the feeling that theatre "stage sets" are more flimsy, phony, and "artistic" and somewhat looked down on by film/TV designers.  Stage sets are seen from a distance, look fake, are less detailed and are not really taken seriously.  In defense of that misconception, stage sets often have to last for years and certainly for months at a time.  Film/TV sets often only last a matter of hours and can be just as phony--but look "real" and have Will Smith or Jennifer Aniston in front of them. Personally, I always felt that this "competition" or attitude of superiority was ridiculous.  The two art forms are very different and no different than an apple looking down on an orange--yet it is still there and exists.  I referred earlier in a posting  to the "secret society" of theatre people who work within the film industry.  In my observation, a film/TV person would certainly boast of their "famous" background in that industry if working in a theatre environment, but a stage designer would not do the same in the film industry.  Obviously there are exceptions, but I know for a fact that one of the designers on "That Show I Can't Talk About" had his stage background held against him.  I certainly never mentioned mine.  So basically it would be much easier for a stage designer to become a set decorator or production designer than the reverse.  It is much easier for a well connected production designer with little talent to surround themselves with a team of talented art directors, set designers, and assistants along with a talented set decorator and become "famous" for their big features.  I know of this personally.  However, you better know what you are doing when working in the theatre 'cause it's just going to be you for the most part.

As a final note to this PhD thesis, the trend more and more in professional theatre design is toward "engineered design" than the more traditional design forms.  If you have seen any broadway shows or the larger touring productions, it's becoming more about turntables, lifts, cantilevers, mechanics, and special effects that will "wow" and justify your $120 ticket.

Even within my career as a stage designer you can see the range of design in that medium.  The 2nd show I did (and first musical) for the last theatre I worked for as resident designer was for "Follies."  It was a fantasy plot about some old vaudevillians who meet the night before their old theatre was about to be torn down and relive their past lives, loves, and performances.  It was a chance to create the crumbling theatre proscenium of an earlier time and use some traditional design forms like "drop and wings" in "Loveland"  If you look closely that the raised relief design around the proscenium you will notice some clothes hanger shapes.  That's because they ARE decorative clothes hangers that  literally fell off a truck on the freeway.  The truck kept going, but I stopped, risked my life, and picked them up--and there they are!

The last show I did before leaving the theatre to work on "Magnum, P.I." was "Deathtrap."  You can see the difference in design, realism, and details with all of the set pieces.  I personally carved the fireplace and most of the beams in styrofoam, did all of the scene painting, found all of the set dressing items, and was also the lighting designer (and set designer, of course).  To be honest, working on "Magnum" was a big step down in the creative design department, but a major increase in the paycheck department.  That's life.........

Aloha,  Rick

P.S.  The woman in the black pant suit lower right was Sue Gerben, the mother of Kevin McCollum who went on to produce rent and other Broadway hits.  She knew she had cancer and went off to Paris to die.  Kevin was 8 years old.  If I'd never met the guy next to her, Wally White assistant to Buck Henshaw, I would never have worked on Magnum. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Steamy Shower Scenes w/ Sharon Stone........

Pretty good headline!  This is actually a Susie from Canada question in the previous comment about filming shower scenes.  She also asked another good question and I will post some pictures with that answer soon.

Shower scenes are always tricky for various reasons:  It has to look like a real shower, there has to be room for a camera, the water has to be real, the actor(s) have to look like they are naked, the faucets, shower head, and sometimes even the drain all have to look like they work and last but not least in black and white the chocolate syrup has to look like blood!  Well, only in Hitchcock's "Psycho" for the chocolate sauce part.

So the actual construction can be of the masonite shower board, plastic tile or actual ceramic tile.  Unless it is a large shower or unless it's just an overhead shot, or something close enough that can be done with the shower door open, one (or more) of the walls have to be wild to see what's going on--or not as the case may be!  99.9% of the time the actor(s) are not really naked.  Sometimes uninhibited women will go topless.  Onetime on "Mighty Joe Young"  Charlene Theron lifted up her t-shirt at lunch, but that has nothing to do with shower scenes.  In the case of actual (or partial) nudity, all non-necessary people are cleared from the set.  That's called a "closed" set and only the actual cameraman, director, and sound people might be there.  I did the last season of "Dante's Cove" a couple of years ago and there were lots of "closed sets" even though everything was "simulated" and the actors were wearing socks that weren't on their

The running water, drainage, and steam are all controlled by special effects--even the heating of the water.  The actor might turn the faucet which may or not actually control the water flow depending on what the scene is.  The actual purchase of the faucets and shower head (as well as the other bathroom fixtures such as towel bars) are all set dressing.  Sometimes special effects or the art department construction might install them--sometimes set dressing will and special effects will then hook them up. There are fog / water filters for the camera--although sometimes the fog is desirable for concealment purposes!  Showers have to be built up unless the stage has a drain or pit for the water to drain.  It's similar when a sink is also used, but with obvious less complications.  So the next time you see an actor turn on the water on a set or take a shower, you'll know there is a lot more work involved.

Next week we'll continue our plumbing discussion with staged toilet simulations.  (no we won't!)
Aloha,  Rick 

Friday, June 12, 2009

Exterior Sets

Did you know that 95% of all blogs are abandoned ?  I just read that in the paper.  I'll try not to let that happen to this one!  Mike and Marco have asked about other shows and exterior sets so I can certainly ramble on about that subject.  I have been working a lot on my house again.  No, it's not San Simeon, but ever here of Mrs. Winchester?  Well, meet Mr, Winchester!

A lot of people don't realize that Set Decorators also deal with a lot of exterior items as well.  Greens still does plants, trees (real and fake).  Sometimes they will wrap "tree skins" around telephone poles or street / stop lights to cover them up if it is a period show and they would be inappropriate.  Set dressing might include mail boxes or even parking meters besides the obvious park benches or even magazine stands, newspaper boxes, and fire hydrants--noe working, of course.  Any signs are always the Art Department.  One time I called the Chicago police department to ask what color their street signs were because I was the designer on a show that was supposed to take place in Chicago and we had to cover up the Hawaiian names on the street signs downtown.  It is not uncommon for the director to order street signs cut off if they are in the way and be welded back later.  I don't know how much trouble they might get in for that or if anyone even notices the weld later.

Set dressing also covers garbage and dumpsters.  One time we were doing an alley set (I think it was Magnum) and we had bags and boxes of garbage all over.  Well, a trash company came along and picked up half our "set" before we noticed!  We were dressing the day before shooting so there was no reason not to think our garbage wasn't real--instead of "reel."  There was some actual dumpster diving that day.  We always had to have security on those kinds of sets all night.

One of the most amazing exterior stories popped into my head when I was thinking about this.  When we did the pilot for LOST, they shipped a real plane over on barges that had been cut up in one of those airplane graveyards they have out in some desert.  We did the main crash site on a beach with very little depth.  In fact, the actual road went right through the set and we covered it with sand.  They would have to hold traffic whenever we filmed.  Of course the cars would drive slowly because they thought it was a real plane crash.  No one had ever heard of LOST or knew anything about it so there weren't really many people that interested.  When the pilot ended, the entire plane and parts had to be taken off the beach as the permit only allowed them to leave it for filming the pilot.  It was stored at a nearby small airport.  When the show was picked up, they re-erected the plane a little further away with a little more depth to the beach and allowed the road to go through without covering it with sand.  The plane and the pieces were again set up.  The BIG no-no with the state and all the environmental people was that NO plane parts could wind up in the ocean.  We eliminated a lot of the insulation parts and other things that might blow in the water anyway.

So when the actual show started filming, the pilot still hadn't aired and no one knew anything (or cared) about the show.  The first season was fairly easy with the permanent sets being either the plane crash site or the "caves" which were built in an old warehouse right on Nimitz Highway.  Then the flashbacks were the only real sets we had to worry about.  Anyway, as we got closer to winter surf season, there were concerns about the plane crash site.  In the winter here (so-called winter!), the storm generated surf comes from the north and causes the northern facing short to have large waves.  Right now you could water ski in Waimea Bay and in the winter you would be killed by 30' waves.  So there was concern because the waves started actually coming closer and closer to the plane.  We had to move plane parts sometimes.  Of course the State had people watching us so we had to comply.  Given that they seemed to be making up the show as it went along, the writers actually put into the script that the characters were going to have to abandon the plane site and move before it washed into the ocean--which it was literally about to do.

So there was this script written about them about to pack up their belongings and leave their original camp.  There was nothing about what they were going to do when they got to wherever they were going.  So the time for the move came.  They had already shot them leaving the plane site with the water coming right up to the plane and gave the impression it was washing out to sea--which of course couldn't happen.  The new beach site was several miles away outside Haleiwa.  You cannot control beach access in Hawaii--no one can own the beach--but you can control access through the land.  So the new location was fairly protected from people trying to watch and was surrounded by land owned by the Bishop Estate and leased to the police.  So they had planned this shot with all the rag tag people carrying their worldly possessions struggling up the beach right at sunset.  It was really breathtaking with them in silhouette and the sun setting behind them.  All they needed was Moses and the Red Sea parting.

Because this was all we were expecting the scene to be, there was no one from the Art Department there.  Well, all of a sudden the director / producer announced he wanted to see the beginnings of their camp site!  This would normally have involved the production designer, art directors, much decision making with producers, etc.  Since this kind of thing happened on the show, my crew and I were scrambling for tarps, palm fronds, plane parts, and anything we could rig to start creating a camp site.  Did I forget to mention that the sun had gone down by now?  The topics have very short sunsets and we could barely see what we were doing.  And WHAT we were doing was creating permanent sets for the next 2 seasons in locating the various characters tents and the look of the camp--in near darkness, with almost no materials, and with absolutely NO discussion about the "look" we were creating!  Nor would it have been our responsibility to have done so.  Anyway, we pulled it off and the rest is history, as they say!

BTW, the production designer was furious but there was nothing he could do.  My department and I couldn't exactly stand there in front of the whole company and dozens of extras and refuse to do anything.  It's not like it was brain surgery, but they were already starting to obsess about things on the show and here I was pointing my finger arbitrarily and creating what was becoming one of the most important sets of the series.  Well, not to take all the credit, it was only the early beginnings of what later became much more developed and designed and planned and obsessed over just trying to make it look like it all wasn't.  Typical.

Ok, that's my story.  Back to my nail gun and paint brush............

Aloha,  Rick

Monday, June 1, 2009

Random Thoughts.......oh no, without any photos!

I'm going to have to write an occasional "non visual" post since my photo supply is nearing the end of its run.  That doesn't mean the blog will end, but original set photos of  mine will.....unless that rumored "lost treasure" of possible photos are ever found.  Garrison Keillor only posts photos of himself and he seems to do ok.  We're both from Minnesota, after all, but I'm better looking--I think that's supposed to be "average" according to his monologue.

Saturday was my last 2 performances of "Mama Mia" after 3 weeks of literally very close working relationships with mostly naked men and almost naked women--not as erotic as it might sound as I was so busy getting them out of or into their clothes as fast as possible.  When it all ended on Saturday night with goodbyes and cards and hugs, as the line from a song in "Chorus Line" goes, "I felt nothing."  Ultimately, I was only Dresser # 5 dressing #16, #17, #18, #19 and #20 in the show which opens tomorrow in Reno and then weekly in other towns across America for more years to come.  It seemed like I should have felt something more, but I didn't.

Saturday morning before work, I had breakfast with "the woman who temporarily replaced the woman who replaced me on 'LOST'."  We had spoken on the phone and dumped on each other about our experiences on the show a few times, but had never met.  Sitting under the same Hau tree that Robert Louis Stevenson sat under 100+ years ago, we had a great breakfast overlooking the ocean at the Hau Tree Lanai.  It almost seemed irreverent to talk about our "LOST" experiences in such a beautiful setting.  Well, SOME of them were actually good!  Mostly it was just nice to sit and talk with another set decorator which surprisingly doesn't happen more than once every few years.  I had to laugh at our different upcoming potential work projects:  She is deciding between which of 2 series she has been asked to do.  I have only a rumor of a low budget possible movie this fall about children who fight space aliens with the only weapon that works.....snot!  Well, she was very nice, extremely good looking and she paid for breakfast!  That was a good start to the day that ended after 11 hours backstage in a windowless, black box of a theatre.  Well, at least the air conditioning was a comfort.
Tomorrow I call unemployment and see if I qualify for another round.  My ship has run aground more than once, but there's a full moon and high tide coming!  OMG, that was really terrible!  There must be some more Magnum photos here somewhere............

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Hallway to.........somewhere?

First, thanks for your continued comments about this blog.  Even though I've been hearing lost of applause each night while backstage on "Mama Mia," somehow I don't think it's intended for me.  So I'll take what I can from all of you enjoying this blog!

Here is a hallway which looks like it must be from the Robin Masters' estate.  Where to and why I don't know.

You can see the fake beams above going down the hallway.  These are called "headers" and act as masking for the lights and also to block the view of the catwalks above.

It's funny that my first 2 impressions of seeing these photos are:  1.  Wow, that was a lot of carpet we used!  and 2.  There isn't anyplace on this island you could now find (buy or rent) anything in these photos.                                                                                                                     I guess I've complained enough now about that subject.  A lot of those paintings were generic ones we used time and again.  They were really just prints with that stuff called "modge podge" trying to give them some depth or fake brush strokes. 

 The only real problem I see with trying to film in this hallway is that the camera would either have to be at one end following someone walking down the hallway away from the camera, or at the other end watching someone walk towards the camera.  If the camera wanted to follow someone walking down the hall, one side or the other of the walls would have to be removed for the camera to track from the side.  Somehow, I don't think we would have done that!  Sometimes if the floor is uneven, 2"x12" planks are put down so the camera dolly can roll smoothly for the shot.  They can also lay "dolly track" for more uneven terrain and also for smooth curves if needed.  This is usually done on exterior shots only. More popular now is the "hand held" shot where an operator has the (now much lighter or even video) camera in a harness and follows the character.  It gives a more realistic or "gritty" look to the action.  It's also a lot less time consuming in setting up a shot. I can't tell you how many carpets we had to clean, repair, or replace in locations we filmed because the camera dolly leaked oil onto the carpet!

Well, not much more I can think to say about this brilliant hallway except to answer your questions--especially where did the hallway go?

Aloha,  Rick

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mama Mia, I've been working hard!

Maybe that should read I've been working hard on "Mama Mia," the touring ABBA musical.  I went to the bank last week and waved my first paycheck in over a year to the tellers (who thankfully all know me).  Of course this has nothing to do with Magnum, but it is the reason I haven't been posting lately.  The show is over this next Saturday and has been a lot of fun backstage with this Broadway touring company.  Besides tearing clothing off of people and cramming them into new costumes, I get to polish shoes and steam 9 wedding suits 8 times a week.  College finally paid off!

I'm not sure if I posted this picture before, but it does symbolize people as well as a TV set--things aren't always what they appear to be.  Ok, back to work........most set walls are made up of "flats."  In the theatre they are made of 1x3's laying flat with canvas (actually unbleached muslin) stretched over them.  In TV (and some film) they  are usually 1x3 (sometimes 1x2) on edge and covered with 1/8" "door skin", also known as luan, also known as 1/8 ply.  I did talk about this in an earlier post, but now an earlier post can mean months ago.  You can see how simple this method actually is, but also how well it works for easy set up / take down as well as versatility and reuse.  Remember the wall "off sets" when walls are joined overlapping that sort of yell "IT'S A SET" in case you didn't know.  Even the permanent sets on Magnum were built this way, although they weren't braced with these temporary steel braces or "jacks."  A lot of this terminology came from the theatre / stage use.  Of course the flats can be covered with plaster, texture, wallpaper, or that ever popular "V-groove" paneling so popular back then.

Since I digressed in the beginning (and there may be more of this as the photos are just about gone), I tried to link this blog into my"LOST" bio--something I didn't know that I even had.  It's not to discuss that show, but maybe they will enjoy some of the general information I've been able to pass along about television production in general and not be sued by Disney for divulging "sacred" LOST info into cyberspace (like I know any).

I see I have picked up a few new followers (WELCOME and thanks!) even though I haven't posted much lately--but there is still a lot of info here to read.  I really do need to get going on the promised sound stage floorplan.  I'm afraid it's not going to be all that detailed or even to scale. I suspect that some of you could probably draw a better one with all of your knowledge of the show better than I can.  At some point in the next few postings, the well of photos is going run dry.  I keep hoping there are more set photos stored away as negatives, but I have a few termite repair battles to fight before I can spend a lot of time crawling around looking for them.

Hope you all have had a great 3 day weekend and took a little time to remember what it's supposed to be about--even as I grilled hamburgers on my one day off this week.  Unfortunately it looks like there will be a lot more days off again soon!  Maybe I can put my new found shoe shining skills into practice?

Aloha,  Rick

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hard to believe this is my 68th post.  I don't have a whole lot of pictures left--maybe I'll just start all over?  I can't even make stuff up because Marco will expose me.  I could always turn it into one of those blogs where I tell you what I had for breakfast and what kind of weather we have--but even those subjects are the same each day!

                                                                                                                                                           In the meantime, here is another mystery set.  I sure must have liked it because there are a lot of photos.  I seem to remember it has something to do with a house of ill repute, but I'm not exactly sure.  I am sure that it's pretty tacky and that's my walnut screen out of my entry hall--also that it's a set on stage.  I can't even think of anything clever to say about it.  It could be because I just repotted about 2 dozen palm trees in the hot sun and I'm overheated.  These kind of sets didn't come along very often--ones where there was no specified or defined look and I could have a little creativity.  Although 20 years later, I'm not sure what is very creative about this set?

Aloha,  Rick

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Omega Station (see Mike's last comment question)

Given that I tend to give long answers and that someone else might be interested, Mike had asked about using the Omega Station in Haiku Valley on Oahu for locations.  I don't have any photos, but I do have a little info--although please correct me as you probably know more if you've done research.  The Omega Station was run by the Coast Guard and was sort of an almost science fiction, 1950's (?) state of the art concept.  Long before satellite tracking, ships and submarine's needed to know where they were on the planet.  This facility generated a huge, ultra-low frequency that could be tracked by ships around the world.  I think it might have been used with 1 or 2 others somewhere for triangulation or something.  Anyway, this large, windowless building built in a (then) isolated bowl shaped valley which used the natural contour like a giant dish.  Somehow they managed to string a cable across the valley and suspend this device above the bowl shape for broadcasting.  The cable is gone, but the "stairs" are still there-- which are actually a 3,000 ft. ladder that makes my palms sweat just looking at it.  It was restored for public use by the public, but there are a few "liability issues" like getting blown off it while climbing or falling a couple of thousand feet down.  

Anyway, there was a bit of secrecy about this place and it was really isolated with a small road up to it.  The very first thing I ever worked on in film was a really crappy movie called "Vacation in Hell" or something like that.  I carved a giant pig statue as they were allowed to cover 2 sides of the Omega Station with fake steps and turn the whole thing into an Aztec Temple in the jungle.  It was probably used at some point in 5-0 and Magnum, but that was before my time.  In the mean time, they built the most expensive freeway ever built through Haiku valley in the 80's and 90's.  It took all of the 80's and 90's to build it. I saw a thing on the History Channel las week that H-3 is considered the "most beautiful" freeway in the world.  We just called it the freeway to nowhere since it connects Pearl Harbor with the marine base in Kaneohe.  Anyway, one of the concerns early on was that the radiation from the Omega Station would be harmful.  At one point they were going to enclose the freeway after it emerges from the giant tunnels on the windward side at a couple thousand feet up with steel mesh.  Well, by the time they got that far, they didn't need the station anymore so the mesh idea went away. 

     I do remember being told that when they used to film there, you could stand on any hill and hold a fluorescent tube in your hand up in the air and it would light up!  So I'm sure there was something to the radiation concerns.

I went through the building remains a couple of years ago on "LOST."  Very sad.  Vandals had destroyed all of this wonderful old "high tech" equipment and controls that had been left behind.  Given that the station generated it's own power to create this huge signal, all of the major copper and reusable things had come out of there.  However, it still retained a lot of controls and guages, switches, and things that had mostly been smashed.  We were able to use some of the damaged things on "LOST" but had to return them since they technically still belonged to the government.  There is just a very small road in and nothing is marked, but there in the middle of this jungle is this huge old building that looks like a Jurrassic Park set.  If you have a death wish and want to see the station from above, you can go slow while on the H-3 while up about 2,000 feet in 70 mile an hour traffic and look down and there it is.  I'm sure it would cost more to tear it down that would be practical so it just sits there.  When I was filming there with "LOST", we didn't actually use the station, but another old wooden warehouse building located further up the hill from there.  They may have since used it, but I haven't watched the show in 2 years.  Are they really battling aliens on Mars now?

So, once again, I turned a simple question into a PhD. thesis, but that's just me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Special Effects, Dust Aging and Jack Faggard

Well, as usual, no idea what this set was supposed to be.  Was this another part of the WWII Chinese Jewish Synagogue set?  Jack Faggard was an old time Hollywood special effects man and about as nice as anyone in this business ever is--not to mention RARE in this business.  He always had a story or a kind word and always kept his cool--which is good since he was also in charge of the explosives!  Ok, so he blew out the windows and Christmas tree of that family one time, the rest of the time he was great.  He did the bullet hits, explosions, fog,  smoke, fires (from entire buildings to camp fires), and even tiki torches because gas was used.  Normally the paint department handled "dust aging" which is blowing (usually) super fine diatomaceous earth on everything.  Special effects also does spider webs which are usually made by spinning and blowing rubber cement and then dusting with talcum powder.  Oh no, are there no secrets left? So it's quite a diverse department.  One of the guys he trained went on to win an Emmy on "LOST" for special effects, Archie Ahuna.  Jack was not one of those people who didn't like to share, he was really good about teaching and showing everyone.
     So another mystery set turned into yet another explanation / education.  That one photo with the dramatic lighting is one of those "accidents" that happen once in awhile with photography and is suitable for framing!  I think that might have just been work lights or someone left the door open.  You can see why they like smoke or fog in the air for some scenes.  Also at rock concerts now that no one can smoke in the arenas, they blow out fog so the lights show up better.  Notice no one is wearing a mask!

Aloha, Rick

P.S.  The latest photo is of me on the "LOST slave ship at the end of the 1st season.  I'm the one with the flesh.  How prophetic it became as time went on with that show..........  Those chains became much shorter!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bullet Hits or BANG BANG Shoot 'em Up

Sorry it's taken me so long to post.  The only 2 times I have been kayaking in the past year have been to scatter friends' ashes off Lanikai--which I did this past Monday again.  It's a beautiful place to spend eternity, (it even means "Heavenly Water")  but it's creating a bad association for me with kayaking!  I think I'd better just go for personal enjoyment reasons soon.

Well, we have to take the good photos with the not so good ones.  This was not one of the better sets, but the only thing I remember about it was that we not only shot it on film, we actually shot it up.  It's interesting to see what goes into bullet "squibs" for a gun fight.  Each gun shot blast is a separate wire to a small powder capsule attached to a wall surface or object (like a break-a-way vase or bottle.  Each one of the circuits running to each object or hole-in-the-wall to be "hit" gets connected to a positive side of a circuit.  Crudely done, it can be nails pounded into a board wired in series.  Then taking the negative side of the circuit on a separate nail, you just run the negative nail down the row of positive stationary nails completing each circuit for just a second.  As each circuit is closed, it fires the one squib it is connected to and BANG.  Or as the case may be, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, depending on how many squibs are used.  The order of the BANG locations matched the order on the crude little nail board so it appears that someone is firing an automatic gun across a wall.  Single bullet hits can be done the same way.  The person shooting obviously has to be aiming the fake or empty gun in the direction of the bullet hits for this to work.  Not sure if I have made this understandable or not?  Another way to do bullets are with small dust hits.  On people you can even have small, remote controlled squibs or blood packs to simulate their hits as well.  Of course there are times when we wish they would use real bullets on certain people, but that makes resetting a scene and clean up more difficult.  To reset a scene, another wall or portion or panel of a wall has to be already there, painted, wired, and loaded so they can try for another take without having everyone stand around waiting.  Well, looks like I made a boring set sound more interesting describing bullet hits.  These are all controlled by the special effects team, by the way.  Many times as a decorator, our department might supply the breakable objects made from "sugar glass" for them to use.  They are VERY expensive and fragile--although it is fun to break a bottle over someone's head once in awhile!

Aloha,  Rick

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hypothetical Answer to Mike's Hypothetical Question - Magnum Movie

I decided to "elevate" Mike's comment question to a blog post since it's a good one and will let me rant and rave more!  Also, since it's not about a set photo as usual, here is a picture of Tom I found in a drawer at McClain's that sold off everything last weekend at about .15 cents on the dollar.  A dealer even came from the mainland to fill a container because things went so cheaply.

Anyway, there would be no reason to contact me about the look of any of the sets.  Any decent Hollywood Art Director or Set Designer would be able to pull the basic design (interior and exterior) of any of the sets that were seen on Magnum.  Screen grabs, blow ups, and production stills taken by the studio during filming would all provide more than enough information to re-create as much as they want of the show's original settings.  If they want to do that at all.

As to the expense of new, original vs. recreation, it might cost a bit more having new sets designed as a Production Designer and staff would have to be employed, but not significantly more than another team going over hours of DVD's looking for set views and drawing plans.

And now a few words from the blogmeister............(ok, more than a few).......

When a producer or studio purchases the rights to a property such as "Fantasy Island" or "Hawaii Five-0," they aren't necessarily buying any obligation to re-create a museum replica of the original.  Obviously there is some obligation to have 5-0 take place in Hawaii instead of Maine and "Fantasy Island" not take place on Fire Island, but given time and societal changes that have happened in the 20-30 years since these TV shows first aired and the current film tastes (car explosions, f-word, computer effects, and MTV editing, etc.), one would assume a recreation would not be practical if you wanted to make your $500 million opening weekend at the multiplex.

I mention those 2 shows because I did do a pilot for "Hawaii 5-0" in 1997 and I was the decorator for the pilot and (only) 13 episodes of the "new" "Fantasy Island" with Malcom McDowell in 1998.  Granted these were TV to TV and not TV to film revivals, but they will serve as examples.  

With 5-0, the only original cast member involved was James McArthur.  Ever young at heart, he looked more like Albert Einstein with a mop of gray hair than the clean-cut, subservient Danno of the original series.  One version of the MANY scripts we went through had McGarret in his deathbed filmed from the rear, passing the torch to Gary Busey and Russel Wong. (sniff)  Originally the police office sets were going to be super-modern, futuristic on a high floor of the recently created First Hawaiian Bank tower downtown.  When they finally found a director for the pilot, they decided ultimately on a more retro look built inside the old post office building--ironically across the street from the now revered Iolani Palace which was just another public building when it was the TV home of the fictional 5-0 state police.  After that it was just another cops and robbers show that was so bad (mainly because of you-know-who) that it never aired at all.

The other revival show, "Fantasy Island," was a bit closer to the original series.  There was still the plane that landed (an amazing feat on the fish pond at Kualoa Ranch!), a bell tower, the mysterious Mr. Roark (this time in Armani suits), a beautiful tropical hotel, but no annoying "boss, boss, deplane, deplane" person (although we did have a portrait of him in the hotel lobby in the pilot).  The show was produced by 2 famous Hollywood producers ("the 2 Barrys"), Sony Studio, and had 3 famous stars as regulars.  

Problem #1 - it was aimed at a "young and trendy" audience, yet it aired on Saturday night.  Young and trendy audiences are not at home on Saturday nights--but did anyone ask me that?  The now older, not-so-trendy original watchers didn't like the new version and watched something else.

#2 - there were 2-3 "fantasies" per episode and most of them were "bummer" fantasies.  Unlike the original where they fulfilled positive dreams and aspirations, one woman on ours asked for "ultimate knowledge" and promptly discovered her sister was sleeping with her husband.  Bummer.  A REALLY strange fantasy (on the kinky side) was this woman fighting in an all woman's army unit in WWII against other all woman Japanese soldiers.  The producers actually thought the USMC here was going to help them with equipment!   Can you imagine the military actually wanted to read the script ahead of time?!  (duh) I was the one who got the call from some general on the mainland since I was relying on all their tents and equipment for the battleground set.  Basically he said, "Are you out of your mind?"  So, big surprise, no military help.  I saved the day (again) by using this theme  party company that did "Mash" parties with vodka in the IV bottles for their party equipment.  I know, wrong era, but no more absurd than the women to women combat troupes were.  That might even have its own series potential?!  General Mylie Cyrus?  Maybe not.

So, moving along, what I am getting at finally, is that there is no reason to think that there would be a re-creation of what we all lovingly remember (some better than others) of the original Magnum series.  I would assume that they would build all interiors on sound stages in L.A. and could even do the exteriors in Mexico or Australia where it is cheaper to film.  I would hope the Thomas Magnum character would at least have a mustache and wear a baseball cap (and not shave his head and wear an earing),  but you can be sure he won't be wearing his former jogging shorts!  I read somewhere that Tom Selleck had said he hadn't been approached at all about the possible film.  And why would they any more than they would contact anyone who worked on the original series? Maybe Tom playing Russell Crowe's father?  The main ticket buying demographic today did not watch Magnum in the 1980's.  They were born in the 1980's.  Hey, I don't make this stuff up!  

I guess if a picture is worth a thousand words, I'd better stick to photos.

Aloha,  Rick