Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Magnum, P.I. Filming Schedule & misc. answers to questions

I will save up a few emailed questions from time to time and answer them here as a post so all can see--especially when they are such good questions:  "How long did it take to film an episode and a season of Magnum?" and "What ever happened to Archie Bacon?" (former Art Director of several years of the show).  As usual, I am incapable of short answers...........

Looking at some of my old calendars, I went back to work for the 1984 season on July 30, my crew started on August 9,  I think filming began on August 2o or possibly 27th.  Tom came back to work on September 5th. Filming 22 episodes that season ended on March 28th (library set) and my last day of work was the 30th.  (by contrast today, "LOST" took 3 months longer to film 22 episodes).  My first day back for the 1985 season was July 29th so I would assume things again ended in late March or early April.

Shows were normally "boarded" for 7 or sometimes 8 days.  The 1st Assistant Director would break down the script according to days at a location, proximity of locations to each other, availability of actors, and the estimated page count (time) of each scene.  Before computers, they used strips of paper put into a literal "board" to plan the schedule.  1st A.D.'s should be running this country as their ability to consistently figure out all of these variables is amazing.  (and when they fail, they are fired--unlike our politicians).  The studios who own and/or distribute these shows plan (if not insist) on following this 7 to 8 day schedule.  More time is more money.

There is something called "2nd unit" which is supposed to mean "non principal(s) photography" meaning that there are some scenes that do not involve / require principals ("stars") of the show.  So helicopter shots of Tom driving the Ferrari with classic dialogue like "Life is a lot like pizza............."  or a close-up of a watch on Higgin's wrist, or Tom stitching up a wound, etc. are usually second unit--meaning it's a photo double driving the Ferrari, a stand-in wearing a duplicate shirt and coat and watch for the close-up, and our medical consultant's hands actually doing the stitching.  These 2nd unit shots usually have a separate crew, camera, and may all be done on one day and later edited into the final episode.  The time it would take to set up separate lighting and camera angles just to show a 2 second shot of a watch while using an actor whose time is limited to so many hours a day does not make financial sense.  Nothing else in this business makes much sense, but the money parts do.

There are times that, to appease the studio powers that be (also known by the more technical term as "covering your ass"), shots may be relegated to 2nd unit in order to keep to the original first unit schedule.  Keep in mind that while filming is going on for one episode, the next episode is prepping and there is no time off between the current show and the following one.  In set dressing, for example, while we are shooting we are wrapping the previous episode AND prepping the next one.  And for this amazing ability, I would assume our life expectancy is 10 years less.  Unemployment does have some unintended benefits.........

The answer to what ever happened to Archie Bacon is a bit shorter:  I don't know.  

It's a strange phenomenon in this business.  You work side by side with people 60-80 hours  a week off and on for years.  You know their partners, kids, birthdays, and sometimes more than you care to know about them.  You knock yourself out, jump through hoops, cure the common cold, and cut off various body parts for them. Then they go back to L.A. and you never hear from them again.  Well, once I did get  Christmas card from Fred Silverman, but I think his secretary sent them to everyone even if he hadn't met them.  So that's just how it is.

Archie Bacon was an amazing person and designer.  He was always creating "something" and was really good at whatever he did.  He was also very humble and nonchalant about it.  That alone is very rare in this business now.  I did stay in touch with Lou Montejano off and on for about 5 years after Magnum and we even worked together again when I lived in L.A. doing "Jake and the Fatman."  The person who originally hired me on Magnum (who does read this blog sometimes) is really the only person (besides my original crew) who I do talk with.  Our similar departures from the show were under the same shady shadow of corruption which is still spoken of in hushed tones until a few more bodies are buried.  Sounds like a Magnum plot.

Ok, I can hear some dry rot and termite damage calling to me so I'd better get something done today.  I think I work harder around this house on unemployment than when I do work for a paycheck.  The Midwest work ethic never leaves.




Anonymous said...

Rick, I've been enjoying your blog since it's inception. I have to say I grew up to Magnum P.I. as it was one of my favorite show. Well, OK, the A-Team and Airwolf were close second and thirds. I have a Magnum QUESTION for you in regards to wardrobe, which I know was not your department. I was wondering where they got Tom Sellecks shirts more specifically those banded collar dress shirts; any information at all would be great!

Shawn M.

James J. Walters said...

"1st A.D.'s should be running this country as their ability to consistently figure out all of these variables is amazing."

Indeed! :)

Magnum Decorator said...

I really don't know about the shirts. Jimmy Gilmore just died last year (main wardrobe) and never heard from David M. again. Obviously the Aloha shirts were from here! The 2 main local department stores then (McInerny's and Liberty house) are long gone. I know Jimmy had a lot of L.A. sources so they could have come from there. Sorry.

rubber chicken said...

Thanks again Rick, here's a few more rambling questions...

About the 7 to 8 day schedule, was that always broken up by weekends? Or was it done straight, and then a certain number of days given off between episodes? I could see their being inconveniences both ways, with weekends breaking up the flow of an episode for example.

If the show had Saturday and Sunday off, was every scene we see in the show shot in real life during Monday through Friday? And if so, were there other reasons for this, such as less of the public being around during the workweek to disturb location shoots?

Whenever I see Arch Bacon's name in the credits I picture a super hero nemesis: profoundly diabolical, but funny and amusing as well. Like the Animaniacs Pinky and the Brain fused into one. Thanks for telling us a bit more about him.

rubber chicken said...

Whoops, I see you pretty thoroughly answered my workweek questions in your next post. I guess my last question about the public being around less during the workweek still applies though, if that even qualifies as a question.

NTWS Jon said...

I thought a majority of Selleck's shirts were sourced from Reyn's at Ala Moana Center.

Janet L. Rockey said...

Rick, I'm writing a novel set in 1985 about an actor filming a TV program in Hawaii, and your blog is a huge help in my research!
Thank you so much for these valuable details.