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DVDGuy files detailed report from set of Serenity

Thursday 15 July 2004, by Webmaster

Lunch ended, River left (apparently to go talk to some some rather vocal shrubbery, which I didn’t know anything about until today.) And soon we were headed back to the set for more.

I’m sad to report that some of the details are already fading, this flu or cold that I picked up (probably on the plane ride home), no doubt isn’t helping.

Best as I can remember, the next shot was actually chronologically BEFORE our first shot of the day. This gave them a chance to open the cargo bay doors and have moving background people. Probably some kind of establishing shot, because I don’t think any of our BDH were even around. And yes, this meant that we were stuck up inside the tunnel of death again, and we were supposed to wait even longer before coming out. So yet again, I couldn’t really see or hear much of the action...dammit! But I did peak out once or twice to watch them open and close the big, fully operational, cargo bay door. Very cool.

Several takes later and it was "check the gate". Next up they wanted to shoot some close ups of the various booths, with various background players walking/biking around. Maria told all of us in the "death tunnel" to go back to holding. At this point I was tired of missing every thing so I dutifully disobeyed. And just planted myself in an out of the way corner and watched the action. (I’m probably never going to work in Hollywood again... but I noticed I wasn’t the only one with that idea.)

The first scene was a shot where some dude was attempting to hit on a hooker (I think) and there was a bunch of chinese chatter back and forth. Next up was Saxton’s close up, where they shot some footage of people buying and selling stuff in her booth. A few minutes later the extras that had done what they were told were on their way back to the set, it was soon to be our turn for a close up. But first they set up a shot with a bicyclist riding past all the booths. This was took quite a few takes, and it was fun to watch Joss and the DP work out the details. This probably took nearly 30 minutes.

During that time I also chatted with Katie and Jen about their various experiences in Hollywood. They both turned out to be very experienced and have had leading roles in several indie films. Katie said that this was the most organized movie set she had ever been on, including other big Hollywood pictures. She said, never has she been told at check in the specific makeup and hair artists for each extra. I also spent a while chatting with the reptile owner/wrangler. Turns out he’s the guy that brings all the reptiles onto David Letterman. Sorry I forgot his name.

Next up it was finally our turn. The original plan was for me to do the same old walk down the ramp, but with the camera coming into our tunnel. Then Maria decided that she wanted a close up of my tattoo in a shot, so she set up a different and much better position for me. They set me up for the shot, then noticed that the hot lights in the tunnel of death had caused my tattoo to come loose in a few places, so she sent me back into the tunnel. Damn! There went my fifteen seconds of fame.... But wait, just as I was settling back into my same old position, here comes Jake, my makeup artist up the tunnel to repair my tattoo. Man that was fast, he must have been psychic or something. Jake spent a few minutes repairing my tattoo and Maria put me back into the better shot. (Thanks Maria, sorry for disobeying your orders all day!)

The crew then spent a good 20-25 minutes trying different setups with the camera and various props for the shot! Eventually ending up with a tracked shot. I want to keep the details a secret for my local friends and family to find out when they go see the movie (one more way to make sure they go). But let’s just say it included me, a very large lizard of some kind, and a pretty girl.

It was really weird to think that Joss was in a corner somewhere watching ME on his monitor! At the time I wasn’t too freaked out, but in hindsight... whoa! Three takes later and it was over, and Maria "wrapped" me, and told me to go back to holding and change.

I promptly disobeyed. I turned in my prop (a purse... err I mean a European carryall), then wandered deep into the background, under Serenity’s engine and watched some of the filming on the sound engineer’s monitor. They seemed to be shooting a big crane shot of Serenity’s nose. After a while, I sneaked onto the ship for a quickie look around, I saw the main hallway, and "living" area. I hurried back out before I got yelled and moved a little closer to the action, to watch a few takes of the zebra chick walking around with Brian, Jen and some other background. But mostly I spent time absorbing in the whole experience and taking a good close look at Serenity, especially the inside of the cargo bay. No worries, she looks very much the same, just a bit more detailed and a little larger. At one point I overheard a discussion about how Universal is planning on releasing an animated prequel to Serenity that will fill in the details between the end of the series and the movie. Wow, very interesting!!

About 30 minutes later, Maria noticed me, and asked why I was still in costume. I explained that I was waiting for a friend, and she told me to go back and change, then I could come back to the set. I decided it was probably time to obey and just as I was turning to leave, Chris Buchanan walks in! Since I know Chris and Chris knows me (I had a two hour meeting with him a couple weeks after the TV show was canceled. I was trying to save the show via Direct to DVD - see my site for details), I walked right up to him and said "Hey Chris!" Thankfully he remembered me, and for the next 30 minutes we chatted about the show.

I thanked him profusely for arranging this once-in-a-lifetime experience for these fans. I asked him (1) how it was going, was Universal liking it? Are they 100% behind Joss? (2) Are they making editorial changes and overriding Joss? (3) Is Universal going to be pushing this as hard as "Chronicles of Riddick" and "Van Helsig"? (4) Are they going to destroy the sets afterword? (5) I asked for clarification on the "springboard to a series" comment that spread around the internet earlier this year. I asked him about the DVDs and how my company could be involved. And we chatted about a bunch of other less interesting things.

His answers in brief were roughly as follows (Chris: I apologize if I remember anything wrong, as I’m having a little trouble differentiating between exactly what you said vs. my thoughts about what you said, so please correct me if I’m wrong): (1) It’s going very well, "Universal is very happy". They like what they are seeing. They are 100% behind Joss, the fact that they were willing to use the "legendary" Stage 12, for a middle to low budget Hollywood movie is highly unusual. Normally for a movie of this level, they would have sent production to Mexico or Prague. But they wanted to make sure Joss would have the best talent and resources available, so they let him use Stage 12, right in the heart of Hollywood. He proceeded to point out several people around the set, and what they had done in the past. I’m telling you people, we are getting the best of the best for our BDM. Thank you, thank you, thank you Universal! (2) The studio execs are staying almost entirely out of Joss’s way. (At this point in our conversation Joss walked up to his director’s chair about 5 feet from us, and I think I caught an acknowledging nod from him at this comment from Chris.) (3) Hard to say at this point whether Universal is going to push Serenity as hard as they have some other shows. But they would really like to create a new strong franchise. Even though Serenity isn’t exactly the same league (budget-wise) as VH and CoR, it’s about the only big summer movie Universal has planned for 2005. So they may end up promoting for lack of anything else. Cool! (4) They will not destroy the sets when they are done filming, they will "fold" them. Which basically means they will fold the sets up into parts and store them for the hopeful sequels. Who knows, maybe they will just decide to film episode 2 instead of folding everything... Hey we can always ask for a second miracle! (5) Which brings me to my next point, which is, what was meant by the "springboard to a series" comment, are we talking a TV series or a series of movies. Chris said he thought the reference was to a series of movies. The actors are all under contract for 3 pictures should the first one be a success. (Okay everyone, get busy with the guerilla marketing!!)

At this point, Maria walked by and noticed I was still in costume and she have me a bit of a dirty look but since I was chatting with basically her boss, she didn’t say a word. Actually I’m probably painting Maria in a bad light, but actually she was amazingly organized, as friendly as was possible considering she was trying to keep 70+ extras all in the right place at the right time. She even did some directing.

As our conversation was winding down, I asked him if it was okay if I could walk into the cargo bay and he said ’sure’, and he followed me in. We got into a discussion about the differences, between this and the original Serenity set, you could see them, nothing dramatic, just subtle details and finesse. You’re all going to love it.

Chris was way nice to take 30 minutes out of his hectic schedule to chat with me and I want to thank him publicly! "Thanks Chris!"

Time to actually get out of my costume and back to holding room, where all of my fellow Browncoats were gathered around our table. Saxton whispered to us that we should stick around. I said goodbye to Jen and Katie, and as soon as all of the normal extras... err background had left, Audrey took us back to the set where a very nice guy named Michael gave us a complete tour of the entire ship, hallways, cockpit, kitchen, infirmary and more... It was very very dark, but oh what an experience! The detail that goes into these sets is amazing. Brian and I even sneaked away from the group long enough to sit in Wash’s pilot seat. Yes, I am officially a total Sci-Fi geek now! But I’m in good company... *cough* Joss *cough* (Yes Bob, I got to tour the ship!)

A couple of group photos in the cargo bay, and it was all over.

As we were walking out, I heard Saxton (?) say something about how she was flying, and I just smiled because I felt exactly the same way.

We chatted for a while with Victor, who was with us the whole time and is now an honorary Browncoat, then we drove back to the hotel. We then carefully pealed off my tattoo and drive it to the Glendale Kinko’s and laminated it. (The Kinko’s employee didn’t even think that was weird... only in L.A.)

’Nuf said, I’m still flying. It was a mighty fine day indeed.


PS Pictures coming tomorrow. And a public apology to those that I owe posters to, I was supposed to get them sent off today, but between work, being sick, and writing this blog, I’m running a day or two late. Sorry!

PPS To the powers that be. Thank you so much for this experience, it was one of the best days of my life. Am I beeing a bit overly dramatic? Yes I suppose, but it’s very much the truth! And if you ever decide that you need any more extras, I’m always available.