Field notes: Observations on the set of first season of Street Time
August 7, 2002
Was on the set at 9 am. They had had cast call at 8 am and were already at work. Jennifer Jewell, Stratton's assistant, showed me to the place behind the set of Kevin's apartment where the monitors had been set up, with those tall chairs behind them. One never sees anything going on in the set itself; we just watch the monitors in the next room. People speak in low tones almost all the time-especially when the cameras are rolling. There are long intervals between shots while they fiddle with the equipment.
The first person I caught sight of was Rob Morrow, chatting with someone. Jennifer gave me a chair close to his. The cast was returning from a three-week hiatus and the conversations were about where people had spent their vacation time. Jennifer started talking to Rob about her having gone to Thailand for two weeks. Then she introduced us and he was perfectly friendly. (I had worried a bit because he had refused my request for an interview when I contacted his office in New York, and I'm sure he remembered that I am the same person. Anyhow, he didn't mention that.)
I said something about how important I think television is, that it's my choice for the modality by which world culture can be most profoundly influenced.
Rob: said his morality had come from watching TV and movies.
I said that I'm working on the moral aspects-at least as it pertains to character development.
Rob said his complaints at Northern had to do with the fact that his character wasn't allowed to develop. He said that "He" (Fleishman) changed in all kinds of ways as a result of being in Cicely, but that it wasn't allowed to come out; Josh maintained until the very end that Fleishman would go back to New York without the slightest hesitation. He added that, of course Josh had left the show by the time he, Rob, left it, so he didn't know what he would have done if he had stayed.
I said that he'd still take the same position; I know because I had lunch with Brand and he told me that "character development is an illusion. If you had characters changing, it wouldn't be the same show."
Rob said Street Time is about whether people can change. I asked whether he had specified, before taking this job, that his character would have to be redeemed at the end. He said no, but he knows the way Richard and Marc Levin think and he is sure that's what will happen. (I don't think Richard and Marc are alike, but I didn't say that then.)
His chair was only one chair away from mine, though unfortunately that was not quite close enough for me to listen to all his conversations because everyone almost whispers. I heard him say that "Tu and Debbon are in LA this week." Also that "my father and his wife are coming up next week."
He and Richard were chatting about their vacations. I didn't get to hear where Rob had been but Richard was up in a Canadian park, I guess at a lodge. Also, Michelle Nolden (who plays Kevin's wife, Rachel) joined in and told about her camping trip with a woman friend; they had gone to the dump to watch bears. (Rob muttered "Northern Exposure" but I don't think they noticed or understood the reference.)
Later I asked Michelle whether she is Canadian. (She is.) I asked whether there is any regulation requiring a certain number of the cast to be Canadian. I don't recall her answer, but I think she said that the crew has to be Canadian. (I'm not sure.) Anyhow, Rob joined in and talked about how that's part of the tax breaks. I talked about the US union is forcing all the cast (and crew?) to earn as much as they would in the US, which will destroy the incentive for production companies to come to Canada. (Kim Campbell was mad about that when my friend John Delmar spoke to her a few weeks ago, saying it's Canada's business what to do about incentives for producers to make movies in Canada and it's an infringement on our rights for outsiders to prevent that.) Also, I mentioned that Canada, for its part, tries to protect Canadian culture by doing things that I find offensive - legislating against allowing US cable channels to broadcast here. There's a certain finite amount of bandwidth and all the channel space has been allocated. They could get onto digital, but nobody is watching digital yet. I cannot even get it. Bert, the photographic director, commented that he also lives in a condo and can get digital, which I cannot because the whole building has to decide which channels to subscribe to.
I said we can't get Showtime, which annoys me. Also, I said that if you go to the Showtime web site it will say that this site is only for people living inside the US, which I think it probably their revenge for being excluded from Canada. Rob said that they sell individual shows-you can get the Chris Izaak show in Canada. I said only a year or two later. He said he didn't realize that.
We had been talking about "gray" characters. I said this show is interesting because its characters are morally gray, not all good or all bad, and this violates the rules about playwriting that have been observed since the beginning of time. He said he thought that this is an advance since life is like that. (I know they discuss this a lot. Richard Stratton says we owe a great debt to David Chase for opening the way with The Sopranos, and he is following in that direction.) Rob had made a little speech about how Kevin has a lot of integrity, is devoted to his wife and child, etc. and just believes that pot smuggling is moral and ought to be legal. (I've heard him say this two or three times on TV promotional shows.)
Later I was reading the notes for future scripts and I saw something that startled me. I said to Rob: "You're going to kill your brother-in-law?!"
He said, apparently so. Then he amended that: His brother Peter actually does kill the brother-in-law. I said sardonically, "good; protect your integrity!" But he didn't appear shocked by the script. He said that these people have never been in this situation before. They would have to go to jail unless they killed him. (Actually, Stratton says this really happened to him. He was going to kill his common law brother-in-law and even took a gun for the purpose, but backed out. The guy died in Richard's plane when it crashed. He was trying to steal the load from Stratton.) Actually, I think the show is quite sordid; Kevin is likeable, but he definitely has lots more flaws than Rob is admitting, and his wife and both of their sides of the family are scuzzy characters.
I talked to several people about their jobs - the script girl, the prop guy, the third AD (Assistant Director), the First AD (Dave somebody, whom they call DC; he's a pol sci graduate of Queens). The Director is George Mamaluk. I asked George what is the most creative aspect of directing and he said the prepping phase and the blocking.
Then at 5 pm Rob's scenes were over and he shook my hand and wished me luck. I will see him one more day in this episode, but not more. He has a light load in this episode because he will be directing the next episode and the preparation is very time-consuming.
The set shift took an hour, and then Scott Cohen (who plays Kevin's nemesis, the parole officer) came in and started playing a scene with his son in the bedroom. Then there was another scene with his wife and baby, where he admits that he has been suspended from his job.
On the way out at about 8:30 pm (12-hour days are standard and they were in overtime), Scott introduced himself to me, remarking that I must be the professor they were told about. I said I was trying to make myself inconspicuous but he laughed and said I had failed. He was extremely nice and seemed to be the first person who had much interest in what I am writing. I said it's about the serious uses of entertainment-both for health reasons (which surprised him until I explained the medical advantages of positive emotions and how people use movies for that) and because morals have the same effect-so I am interested in morality in the sense of the quality of relationships. Character development. He said, "We talk about that all the time." I will see more of him than of Rob because I'm going to observe three more days and he will be there on all those days. (I remember hearing Rob say on TV or in a published interview that "People just love Scott Cohen." I can see why. He's very friendly and may even be smart.)
Tomorrow they are going to Niagara Falls to shoot Kevin and Rachel's honeymoon. I can't go on location with them but I'll be back up there Friday.
Saturday, Aug 10
Yesterday was another long day - not as interesting as the previous time on the set because everyone seemed busier and there was less opportunity to chat with anyone. I took knitting this time-not because I want the muffler that I will make, but because it is just the right amount of "presence" to offer. Obviously, I can stop at any instant, so it's okay to interrupt me, and I stop myself all the time, just to watch what is going on. Partly it's to occupy me when there is nothing whatever of interest happening. But mostly it is better than reading, in that people don't have to "respect" my activity by not interrupting, and yet I am not hanging on every word they utter.
One other advantage occurred. Erika Alexander, who plays the tough black parole officer, said she had always wanted to learn to knit, that she even has knitting needles and yarn, and would I teach her? Certainly! She will bring the needles and yarn next week. I said we should not use the nubbly kind of yarn that I am using for my muffler because it would confuse a beginner.
Rob was in the first scenes they shot in the parole office, reporting to Dee (Erika) who is filling the caseload of James Liberti (Scott Cohen) because James was suspended for socking a client. Rob came over and greeted me before going into the set. There was another scene later in the "bullpen" of the parole officer where he encounters Liberti and tries to find out what is going on with Liberti. Nobody tells him anything. Rob's role in this episode is smaller than usual because he is entirely involved in preparing for the next episode, which he is going to direct. He did, however, come in to see the director, George somebody, and suggest a certain way of doing a scene. They talked three or four minutes and George accepted his suggestions. I was right behind them, even watching Rob's face intently (almost rudely staring at him, which I have avoided doing) but even so, I couldn't tell what he was saying. (I can, however, re-confirm my long-standing impression of Rob as one of the most intelligent people anywhere. He is very "present" somehow, all the time.) People speak in very low voices, even when they aren't shooting, but there's an enormous amount of commotion going on all around, with the crew moving equipment and lights and people talking about things about which I haven't the slightest glimmer of comprehension.
In the morning, Marc Levin came in. He seemed almost surprised to see me, but quite cordial. I said I will be coming to watch him edit. He has been hired on as co-producer, which is a full-time job. He seemed optimistic about the prospects for the show, but the details of why he thinks so were preempted when something sent us off into a different conversation. When he and Stratton have worked together in the past, he was the top dog. Now Stratton is the top dog. I think there are major differences between his philosophy and that of Stratton, but that conversation will have to wait a while. I am afraid that if I start popping off with opinions of that kind, it will not help my situation as an observer.
There was a little bantering among the actors at one point. Erika talked about her vacation (I think it was a hotel in Hawaii or possibly the West coast) and about how much she had eaten. (One guy apparently had thought she was pregnant, she had gained so much around the middle.) Scott was wondering where he should take his own family next time. (He had spent the vacation building some kind of structure for his son at a lake. Evidently it was for a toy of his, and the boy was not impressed by his doing the construction for him but just kept asking when it would be done. They had gone to a different lake to swim. That's all I got.) Erika says Rob Morrow had had a bungalow with its own pool, but it was only three feet deep. (I heard from someone else that that was in Hawaii, but otherwise I would not have known.) Scott had a funny story about one of the guys on the crew - the Czech guy, whoever that is - who had asked him, "Don't I know you from somewhere? Don't you work at the video store in Scarborough?" (Scott isn't as famous as Rob Morrow, but his career has been going very well for him lately.) Erika told a joke. Girl goes up and knocks at a door, telling the man who answers that she's looking for a job. He says, okay, he needs to have the porch painted, so he gives her a can of paint and a brush. After a couple of hours she knocks again and says she's finished; she's given it two coats. But as he is paying her she says, "By the way, it's not a Porsche, it's a Lexus."
Richard Stratton was there a while, suggested that I read an article from last week's Toronto Star about the entertainment industry. Maybe I can access that on-line. If not, I'll have Amber pursue it. While we were chatting, a blonde woman came up and talked to him about having "her father" be divorced and dating women her own age. He thought that was a good idea, so I guess that's how it's going to go. Then she introduced herself to me and I was a bit embarrassed because I thought I had been talking to Jennifer Jewell, Stratton's assistant. (The light was poor and she was mostly a silhouette.) It was actually Kate Greenhouse, who plays Karen, Liberti's wife, who has left him because of his gambling.
There is one scene in which Liberti is dreaming about the parolee he socked. The guy comes in eating a ham sandwich and flings pieces of meat into Liberti's face. Liberti starts choking and slugging him, then discovers that it's his wife he's killing. Just then his little boy comes in, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and wearing a big necklace with a marijuana leaf pendant. He says, "Forget about Mom." Awaking, Liberti is horrified. (Richard commented: That's his worst nightmare-that his son will become like the parolees.)
At lunch I sat at a table with Scott Cohen (who plays Liberti) and some other people, including the paramedic, who is kept on-site in case of medical trouble. Cohen was very playful, teasing me about being this "professor who wants to observe. Yeah! Knit one, purl one..." Stratton came and sat beside me. I said that I have gained the impression that the director has rather little to do with such issues as how to play a particular character-that such matters must be decided more by the writers and the actors. He said that's more true in TV than in film. For one thing, in TV there are several different directors. No one director can work alone because it takes a week before each episode to prepare, and a week afterward to edit. I guess the editing goes on a longer period than I had realized. The director is involved and the Hollywood people are involved, and Stratton himself is involved.
As the afternoon wore on, I became rather depressed. I was seeing all those people (probably about 30 of them, if not more) working like the dickens but paying zero attention to the effect of their work. It is clear that they are technicians, not in charge of their own product. That is even true of the actors, who do not evidently think about whether their acting-or the play itself-has a good or bad effect on society. If something makes good drama, well fine! What more can you ask for? I find that demoralizing. I could not do it. (At least, I hope I would not do it very long. I hope it would bother me.) I think that the only way they can carry on is by avoiding thinking about the impact of what they do. Well, I have to pose those questions. In Hollywood they are going to make a movie about the childhood of Hitler. A few people are nervous about it, thank goodness. Without doubt, if they make the audience sympathetic toward the child Hitler, it will produce some people who admire the adult Hitler. Does that bother anyone? I doubt that anyone on the set whom I have met would be disturbed by it. Someone said to Stratton in my presence that she had attended the screening of the pilot episode, and had brought along someone (maybe her father?) who had been disturbed by the presence of children in the audience. The show has a lot of violence and graphic sex.. Well, maybe not a lot, but some. Stratton didn't blink. Didn't answer, either.
Saturday Aug 17.
I was on the set Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week. It was interesting part of the time and I continue to learn stuff, but I am into a phase of diminishing returns. Spending 12 hours a day there is grueling, and at least 90% of that time is uninteresting. They work between 15 minutes and two hours just setting up and getting ready for a shot that may last three minutes. I don't know how they manage to cope with such a prolonged work day. I am getting acquainted with people and learning more about their jobs, but of course I don't really understand what they are talking about to each other. It is all extremely technical. However, everyone is kind and friendly to me, and I have really enjoyed talking with them all, when it is appropriate. I try not to ask questions when someone is busy. The morale is high, possibly because the ratings are going up. Things look favorable for them to have a second season, but of course no one counts those eggs yet. They won't know until about October.
They start preparing a scene by having what they call "private blocking." That is, the director, the director of photography, the actors, and the camera crew are on the set alone, running through the physical positions they are to take as the scene progresses. Then they have "crew blocking," which means that the rest of the crew can see them run through it and plan where the lights and other such equipment should go. Setting that all up takes a lot of time. Sometimes they use stand-ins instead of the main actors for some of that, such as measuring with a tape measure the distance between the person's face and the camera. Then they have another rehearsal before they begin shooting. And around then one of the ADs yells "Finals!" which means that the makeup and wardrobe people have to go put any finishing touches on the actors. They carry a small plastic make-up kit no bigger than many women have in their purses, and they seem to use a wedge-shaped piece of foam rubber to put powder on. The powder and fixing the hair are the main issue, I guess.
There are about seven or eight tall directors' chairs, the folding kind with people's names on them, which they move between scenes, positioning them right behind the two monitors. The script woman sits very close to the monitor, making notes about each of the shots-the kinds of lenses they use, and what length of shot-and whether they are using one camera or two. The director, the director of photography, and Stratton sit there in the front row, noticing what is happening on the screen and calling when to roll the film (the first Assistant Director plus about two other people yell "rolling!" and everyone else then gets very quiet). Then the clapboard shows on the screen which identifies the scene by number. Then the director yells "action" and the scene starts. If someone makes a mistake, usually they "pick it up"-start over from a certain line and just keep going because they may be able to patch part of that scene into the whole thing when they edit. They usually take the more distant shots first, showing all the people who are in the scene at the outset, and they do that about four or five times in all, though there is usually a wait of 15 minutes at least as they prepare for each take. Then they do close-up (or closer, which they call "tight") shots. If there are two characters facing each other, interacting say across a desk, they will probably use two cameras at a time, so they can get the faces of both close up simultaneously, which they will probably edit later. Occasionally they have used a single hand-held camera for such shots, swinging it back and forth between the two faces as they take turns talking. I think this is to give it more of a "documentary" look.
This show is unique (I am told that repeatedly) in allowing the actors to improvise. Different actors take advantage of this to differing degree. The children never do so, and I think the adult actors tend to stay closer to the script when they are interacting with the children because the kids have been told to memorize their lines and it would be unfair to trip them up with too much spontaneity. My impression is that Rob is, by far, the most liberal user of this opportunity. Every scene that he does looks different from the other takes. For example, there was one scene in which his wife learns that he is taking her to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. (They already have an 8-year-old son and are expecting another baby when they decide to marry.) The script doesn't say anything about it, but Kevin laughs and says "What's the matter with Niagara Falls? Too much of a cliche for you?" The next time, he says "What's the matter with Niagara Falls?" and then bends over to talk to the fetus, saying "Do YOU want to go to Niagara Falls?" And then next time he doesn't say anything about Niagara Falls but just pins her up against the door, nuzzling her.
In another scene, James the parole officer, who is suspended from his job, has a drink in the bar with his boss, the very formal Anne Valentine. She is telling him that he needs a lawyer and he's quite worried about what is going to happen to his career. She suddenly drops the hint that she is going to cover up for him, It's not in the script but he exuberantly and gratefully kisses her. They are going to leave that in, I understand. Everyone laughed when it happened because it was completely spontaneous and natural.
In general I would say that this is not a show for women. In fact, Richard Stratton made the same remark to someone and I had reached the same conclusion already. The two male main characters, James (Scott Cohen) and Kevin (Rob Morrow) are interesting and complex, but their wives are pretty colorless - a matter about which Michelle Nolden has already complained somewhat. She plays a wife whose personality definitely predates the feminist movement. Apparently she has never worked. She does pottery but not much else. Karen Liberti, James's wife, is of upper class origins and even more colorless, though she does have enough spunk to leave him when he gambles and doesn't tell her.
There are two women characters who are more interesting-Anne Valentine, who is the boss of the parole office elite unit, Anne Valentine, played by Allegra Fulton, and Erika Alexander, a black female parole officer who is as tough as nails. Both of those women have spent time talking to me. Allegra is a Torontonian and we know some of the same people-especially peaceniks. Her mother was a friend of Kay McPherson. Erika is a hoot. She is lively and funny and warm. I have been teaching her how to knit, though there is not a lot of time for that. She has been in show business since she was 17, when she went into Peter Brook's play, The Mahabharata, and toured the world for about two years. Later she played in Bill Cosby's show, though I don't think I ever saw her in it. At lunch she was teasing a boy of about 10 or 11 who had accompanied his father, the sound mixer, to work and evidently spends a lot of time on the set. He had decided to give up after two years playing the trumpet but she was telling him how many girls would be interested in him if he continued to play it.
I am picking up a few interesting facts about the culture of the industry. The trouble is, I can't always tell whether it is the industry as a whole or just the local TV industry that I am seeing in any particular case. For example, there is the fact that many of the men wear Hawaiian shirts. That seems to be a local custom started by Bert Dunk, the director of photography, who has about sixty such shirts. But there is also the strange practice of calling each other "sir." At first I supposed it was only the underlings who said sir to their superiors, but sometimes the superiors say sir to the subordinates too. One guy joked that sometimes he says it to women. They say the custom probably came from England, and is definitely an industry-wide tradition, a way of showing respect.
There are some other industry-wide cultural practices too, such as the term MOS, which originated in Hollywood in the days when a number of the prominent directors were German. They would say "mit out sound," so MOS now means, without sound. And the last shot of the day is called the "window" because they used to pay the extras cash on the spot at the end of the day. After the "window" shot, these people would line up at the window to receive their pay. There is also the term "Abby" shot, named after an Assistant Director in Hollywood who is still working in films today. It seems that whenever he said that a shot was going to be the last shot of the day, it never worked out that way. So the "abby" shot is the next-to-the-last shot of the day.
I had a conversation with Scott Cohen the other day about playing negative characters. He said the great thing about this show is that the characters are gray, and I said that is one reason why I am here, since I want to think about the implications of that for the audience. I said that my one main principle is that I don't think it's good for the audience if the character starts out lovable and then turns evil. He disagreed with me, says he would love it if his character, James, turns out to be a villain. We agreed that this conversation is to be continued.
They definitely want this show to shock people. They were laughing yesterday about how Richard Stratton is going mano a mano with Tom Fontana, the director of Oz, which is known as the grittiest TV show being produced now. There was one scene where a woman is sitting on the pot, trying to produce a urine sample, while her female parole officer is watching. Then in another scene two guys are in prison. One is on the can, straining and groaning in terrible pain as he tries to have a bowel movement. Eventually he produces it, then gets up, kneels over the toilet and seems overjoyed by what he has produced. He reaches in, pulls it out, and takes it over to the other guy, who is lying on his bunk, horrified by the approach of this turd-which turns out to be a condom filled with heroin. I watched them making these things up, filling them with flour and streaking them with some kind of stain. They made several, so the director would have a good choice. This was supposed to be performed on a "closed set" but I didn't leave. It was actually hilarious. The guy who was grunting did such an enthusiastic job of it that he broke some blood vessels in his eyes.
Rob had not been on the set very much throughout the week until yesterday, when he began directing the next episode. When he saw me, he was very nice, though-he'd come and speak to me. Once he said he wants to read what I write, so the next day I brought a copy of the manuscript as it stands today and sent it over to him. I always find it strange when a woman walks past and runs her fingers through Rob's hair. He never reacts whatever - nor does Scott Cohen. They know it's a makeup woman. Like almost all the other men on the set, he wears pants that end exactly at the knee. And they have shoes that look like tennis shoes but without heels. They are obliged to wear shoes that cover their toes; I think it is a union safety rule. He has two little wings tattooed on his right heel - I suppose in honor of Hermes. And yesterday he wore a peculiar hat with a yellow band - I imagine that it is to make himself immediately visible.
Yesterday, as he took over as director, he was of course very busy, and he was utterly engrossed in his work, though he did touch me once as a greeting while he walked past. (I was looking down, so as not to appear to be claiming his attention.) His style of directing is entirely different from the other guy who preceded him. I had mentioned to Stratton that the director doesn't seem to deal much with the meaning of the characters or their development, but just looks at things like camera angles and whether something is moving in the background that doesn't look right. He said that's because it is TV, not films. Directors of films are much more concerned with the story and the mood and the characters. TV directors often just direct one episode and don't know the history of the characters, so they leave it up to the actors to manage their own performances.
But not Rob Morrow! He rarely sat behind the monitors but was on the set with the actors throughout their performance, watching them and also the little portable monitor that he had with him (it shows a screen about 3 inches square). He kept stopping them and having them go over it again, saying a particular line in a different way or take a "beat" at a certain point before proceeding further, etc. This was real acting direction. I think it was working very well.
They were going to work until 11 pm or later last night because they were already behind before the episode even started. (The jail scene the night before had lasted until 11 pm so they didn't get started until nearly noon.) I left at 8 pm after sitting behind the monitors for a couple of hours, just behind Richard, Marc Levin (the co-producer) and Rob. I felt I was probably a little too close, intrusive perhaps, being seated right there but it would have been even more awkward to get up and move after the grip had placed me there. They were shooting out of doors, a scene where one character gets out of jail and is greeted by Kevin's wife and her hippie father in a big white Cadillac convertible. Mostly, however, Rob was running around on the set. He did tell me that he received my book and looked at the first page and found it interesting but won't have time to read it for a while. (Obviously not!) And we had to stop quite often because of planes overhead. Once he said "That one is probably my dad. He was supposed to get here at 4 pm, but at 6 pm he was still in Chicago."
I guess that's about it for the week. I did mention to Marc Levin and to Rob what my plan of observation is going to be and they seemed to be fine with it. I hope so. Marc is now supervising production, alongside Stratton. He seemed very friendly to me, came over and sat beside me a while to chat. Stratton is going to Hollywood for the weekend and then will detour through New York state to pick up some stuff from their house near Albany. (His wife and kids were on the set the other day. She is writing a novel and has a nanny five hours a day. In the fall they are going to home school their kids. Well, SHE is, anyway.) I gave him a copy of the outline as I was leaving. (Actually, I think I was being chicken. I had it with me all day and I knew he had said he would love to get a copy, but I was a bit scared he wouldn't like it, so I waited until I was leaving.) Actually, he had mentioned an article in the Toronto Star on entertainment that he liked a lot. I had Amber find it and indeed, it has a lot in common with what I am doing.
I just went up for the afternoon today. There were several kids on the set-Scott Cohen's son Liam and his child care worker (a fancy babysitter who works through an agency for people who need child care while in town) plus Stratton's two boys. The sound people and Antoinette, the script woman, found the distraction quite difficult but they didn't directly tell the parents that the children should be excluded. One of Richard's boys actually did the slate work all afternoon, which is contrary to union rules, I believe, but nobody criticized that either. The thing I called a "clapboard" is actually called a slate. It tells the exact location of the pieces of film and sound to be synchronized later.
The most interesting thing of the day was the visit of Rob Morrow's wife, Debbon Ayer, to the set. She came in, led by Fil, Rob's assistant, and took his seat right near me. It took me a second to recognize her, though I had seen her in a film. She shook hands with me and started questioning what I am doing. She's actually an exceptionally pleasant, easy personality. Really lovely-not just physically, but in her personality, which has a silky smooth tone - her beauty is more than skin deep. Rob was working extremely hard all day and looks quite serious most of the time. He is rarely behind the monitors, but is near the actors all the time, coaching them. I noticed that Scott did not take direction all that well; Rob suggested at least five times that he ask "Why?" with a particular tone or intense demand, but Scott kept saying it in an offhand way instead.
Today Rob was wearing a red jersey with "Stay back 200 feet" on the back, and a soft cloth cap on backward. He came in to sit by Debbon for a while. Their interactions are sweet. Fil went out and got her a sandwich. Debbon said they live downtown (I think in the Summerhill or Roxborough Street area in Rosedale) and she loves it because there are good specialty grocery shops nearby. She said she doesn't particularly care to shop for clothes, but she loves good food. This was only the second time she had been to the set. She said that Tu is at home. "She drove me here and then took the car," she joked. Rob's father and his wife are in town, but they are off sightseeing by themselves. She said she knows her way around Toronto quite well by now.
While Rob was sitting beside me, I asked, "Is my being here a problem?" (though I was pretty sure he didn't mind). He seemed almost surprised by the question, assured me it is fine, "unless it's a scene where people are naked or something." I really am lucky; everyone is extremely kind to me and accommodating. They offer to go get coffee for me, and so on. They all seem to like each other too. I am often a bit uncomfortable because of knowing that I get in the way (especially because of my disability) but people assure me they don't mind. I spoke to Jennifer Jewell today about paying for my food, for the scripts , and for the videotapes they are making. She wouldn't hear of it. Actually, I am sure these things add up to $200 or more, already, and I am not through yet. I am very, very willing to pay but I won't get the chance.
Unfortunately, they are short of headphones, so I don't get to hear as well as I would like. The First AD alternates from one week to the next. DC is working on editing last week's episode, so his job is done by a woman, Kim, who talked to me a while today. However, Scott Cohen didn't look at me, which made me wonder if there is something on his mind, or if he may even not like for me to be there or something. Probably it's nothing except being busy. He was in every scene today.
Marc Levin came in to sit behind the monitors and read scripts. I think he is not as keen to shock the audience as Richard is. I sensed that he disliked the amount of violence that is coming up in the next episode, and he definitely was not enthusiastic about some lines in today's show. James comes to bring his kids home and finds Karen's father there. Evidently he resents him bitterly. The older man gives some golf clubs to the boys and they are putting around on the living room rug. Then it comes out that Karen is going to go to law school and that her father will pay for it. As he is going out, James says, "Golf is a fag's game" - with the intention of insulting his father-in-law. I don't know where the line came from. It wasn't in the script that I read, and Rob was having the children say some version of that over and over (he does that with a lot of lines, whereas other directors never do much directing of the actors) so I imagine the line was Rob's idea. Everyone seemed to think it was a very risky thing to say. So Marc had them do it again at the end, saying instead something like, "Golf is a country-club game"-as if that were also an insult. There was more improvisation this time with the children than I had seen before. Rob had them try a whole bunch of different lines. I thought they didn't encourage that with child actors, but Rob seemed to do so.
When Rob came in, Marc questioned him at length about the meaning of certain lines in the next episode. I don't know why, because I don't think Rob had anything to do with the writing, and it's not the episode that he is directing, and in fact he couldn't always give a very good answer. I still think there's a big difference between Stratton and Marc Levin. Both deal with prisoners and other deviants, but Marc Levin's objective is to show that they are really good people whose circumstances have made it impossible for them to behave entirely well. It's because he was a "red diaper baby," I think-his parents were old leftists of the most conscientious kind. I used to know some highly principled leftists but haven't known many like that for years. Marc's goal is to show the goodness in people who appear to be bad. But that's not Stratton's goal. He is a real jailbird himself, a criminal - and he didn't do those things because circumstances forced him to do so or limited his range of choices. He did those things for fun-for the adrenaline rush. And the characters he writes about are not particularly good people-not in my opinion, at least. Yes, there are lots of people who are worse, but his characters are definitely not very deep. There's no comparison, for example, between the shortcomings of Joel Fleishman and Kevin Hunter. But I will wait a while before I say that either to Rob or to the other two men who are responsible for the show. I believe that the only way to make Kevin or James attractive is to let them enjoy their risk addictions. To play them as unhappy people misses the point. They are doing their risky life style because they love the thrill of it, but the way they play it, you'd never know it. And they aren't convincing as victims of circumstance. They could be convincing as thrill-seekers, but the writers and producers probably think the audience would turn against them if they showed such motivations. Maybe so. There is a tension there, definitely. But I could root for them, I think, despite my own conscience, and I would enjoy them a lot more for it.
Phyl, Rob's female assistant, sat by me and talked after Debbon had left. She is paid by Street Time, but works for Rob and Debbon personally. Actually, she doesn't have much to do. She says she mostly waits for him to give her a job to do. Most stars build into their contract a deal whereby the show pays for their personal assistant, up to $700 per week; if he wants to pay more, he tops it up himself. But they don't use her much at their home either because they rely heavily on Amanda, the assistant in New York who has worked for them three years, officially working for Rob's company Bits and Pieces Pictures-the one that produced Maze.
Phyl says she used to be a personal assistant for Maury Chaykin, the co-star of Nero Wolfe. She says he is a wonderful, sweet person. Unfortunately, the show has died because A&E is having financial problems and has decided against producing shows. Today is the day when they are selling off the furniture for the set. She said that the attention was always devoted to making sure the set and the clothes were all perfect, so there wasn't even much time left for the actors. The actors were excellent-especially Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton. Phyl says he, Tim, put his life into that show. Pity. I really liked it a lot and I am sorry it won't continue.
Monday, Aug 26
Rob Morrow gave me a 15-minute massage today! It felt great!
He was extremely busy because this was the final day of shooting the episode that he is directing, and he is amazingly focused.
When I got there at 9:15 am they were well along into shooting the scenes that Rob was in. This was the first funny scene I think they have done. No, that's not true; the heroin condom scene was plenty funny. Anyway, Kevin's son is studying for a test and evidently one question is about how the baboons choose the leader of the pack. It's the baboon with the largest molar. So how do they find out who has the largest molar? The baboon dentists have a look and let them know. So Kevin and Rachel have their won check their own teeth to see who has the larger molars.
At lunch I sat with some of the crew people who were talking about how the omnipresence of violence in entertainment is destroying civilization. It was surprising to realize that they believe that themselves. I did not want to press them too hard, but I wondered why they are working in the industry if they believe that. Some kind of cognitive dissonance is going on.
Unfortunately, the observing in general wasn't really worthwhile. I am not able to hear or see what happens on the set except via the monitors, and the sound is not good enough. I had headphones once but they seem to be in short supply. That would make considerable difference.
Phyl said that she and other crew people felt unfairly treated by the producers, who forced them to take a three-week vacation almost without pay. She couldn't afford it, but fortunately, Rob had some work that he wanted done around the house so he paid her to do it. I don't know what it was.
Anyway, as a gift to the crew, Rob had a couple of masseuses come in with their equipment, and everyone was encouraged to go get worked on. I did, and I felt the Chi in my back really warm up. Felt great. His assistant, Phyl, kept assuring me that I should go too because I am now part of the crew and he was giving it to all of us. I'll bet Rob himself didn't find time for a massage, though Phyl says he really likes his massages. He had done that once before for the crew, just before the premiere of the pilot.
Wednesday Aug 28
Yesterday I spent a half day on the set.
Someone mentioned that Fil - not Phyl as I had guessed, but Filomena - is going to Europe for two months so Rob is interviewing people for her job. She hadn't held it very long. I think someone said that she or a previous person felt that Debbon and Amanda didn't always keep her informed about what was going on-her being the person in her job, whether or not it was Fil herself or her predecessor.
For the rest of the week the crew will be on location-today at a pizza parlor, and two days at a farm in Brampton where they will shoot the scene with bikers and biker girls. Monday will be Labor Day and so I won't be on the set again until Tuesday.
I gave Scott Cohen a copy of my manuscript. He seemed pleased but surprised and I explained that the table of contents would make it clear why I want to interview him. He said I could interview him any time I want to-he wouldn't need to read it for that purpose. Nice to know. I think he was in every scene that was shot yesterday. Grueling job.
The director's job fascinates me. The new director yesterday was Nick Gray. I don't know his background. I am not sure he has directed before, but he was running into problems because the actresses he had picked for the biker girls were getting cold feet and he didn't know how he was going to get someone in time to be able to shoot on schedule.
Mostly the TV directors sit behind the monitors. I have said that already. I just didn't know much about when the monitors are on and when off. I learned on Monday that they are showing things live most of the time, not recording it. It's like what I have at the front and back doors of the apartment building, where you can see what is going on, but it is not necessarily recording what happens. So when Rob was directing and acting in the same scenes, he had a special guy come in and record stuff on a third monitor-I guess it recorded exactly what was on the other monitors but it actually recorded rehearsals, etc. Then Rob would run out and look at that third monitor to see how he had done and decide whether to do a retake, etc.
What interests me is the task of directing, which in principle is infinite in the number of things one could pay attention to. The regular directors seem just to pay attention to the looks of the screen image. Rob was paying attention to two or three times as much stuff, including notably the actors' performances and ways of improving those. He was all over the place, running from one thing to another. Yet at each moment he seemed perfectly focused on the one single thing he was attending to, stripping away everything extraneous from that problem. No chit chat, no side comments-just focused on what had to be handled, and then on to the next thing. I was talking to Amber today about that kind of multitasking proficiency and she said it was like when she had been a waitress -=-- you have to focus on the spoon for that table, the soup for the other person, the comment coming from the kitchen, etc one thing after the other. Keep the whole thing in mind. She said she would get a huge adrenaline rush whenever she did it well. (I never did it well; I was a terrible waitress.) I am sure now that the ability to do that must be part of the whole risk-taking personality, which I think Rob has. (He rides a motorcycle, has sky-dived, etc.-not to mention the fact that actors ten to have the Big T personality type.)
I can imagine myself writing a section of a chapter on "the deployment of attention." Different kinds of tasks and interactions require different kinds of attention deployment. Acting is not like directing. The attention of the actor is sequential. The task is to stay in the moment, so that you don't look as if you knew what was going to happen, even though in fact you did know exactly what was going to happen. I have seen Rob on TV interviews appear to interrupt his own train of thought as a new idea or piece of information occurred, and react as if it were entirely new, whereas I suppose he had planned to talk about that very thing. So that's the ability to act-to stay present sequentially.
When I take my knitting, that is a definite strategy for managing the deployment of attention, not particularly for my own comfort but for the ease of relating to others. I can look down when I don't want to put any pressure on them to pay attention to me or talk to me. Yet I know that they know it is okay to interrupt knitting, should they want to do so. For example, when I want to approach someone for an interview, I definitely do not want to run up and claim their attention. I want my interaction to be exceedingly laid back. So I knit and if there is a moment when I can casually hand Scott Cohen my manuscript as if it had just occurred to me, then I will. Otherwise I may wait a week or so, just to deploy the right degree of attention. I have been able to do that so far, but now I will only be going to the set once a week or so, and I think I am in better position, since I have taken two weeks already to demonstrate my hang-looseness. I don't know about Rob. I think he is a bit more cautious than Scott, but if I get interviews with Scott and Richard Stratton and Marc Levine, that would be the best time to approach him. I want to give him more space than they need. I think that's a realistic reading of his personality.
Anyhow, the deployment of attention is a way of characterizing particular jobs, particular personalities, and particular social situations, such as the need not to crowd another person. I was at dinner at Jennifer Welsh's tonight for my birthday dinner and I mentioned that, but I don't think the idea was familiar to the other dinner guests. I think it's an interesting idea but I don't know where to work it into the book. Maybe it just doesn't belong. Somehow it is slightly relevant to entertainment, though, because for example one could say that knitting is a form of entertainment, but that's not what it means at all. It's a mechanism for precise attention deployment. I might be able to do a section of a chapter comparing different media in terms of the potential they offer people to handle their attention vis a vis other people. For example, there are people who don't want to be particularly engaged with others and so they keep the TV on all the time. When they want to keep a certain distance from others, they can look at the TV momentarily and thereby change or drop the subject. Hiking, I used to be able to join in with other people on the trail or just wait until someone jumped over the log, and that would give me a chance to drop back and join in with another couple of hikers. You need an excuse to join in or to withdraw from social interaction. Going to get another drink allows you to circulate at a party. The placement of my chair too close behind the directors at the monitors was uncomfortable because it made me feel intrusive. They used to say not to have too many chairs if you were giving a party because you want people to have to move around more instead of getting stuck. But I sure don't see how to develop this into a section of a chapter on Entertainment.
I sent a memo to Jennifer Jewell today about the psychoanalytic lecture on The Sopranos. She has or will circulate it. I don't know that anyone has time to see it, or would even want to. Still, it seemed to me a good thing to do. Erika Alexander said she was interested and if I got the information to her, I may as well get it to some other people as well.
Re Tuesday, 3 September
I was on set from about 9:20 am to 5 pm. Jennifer met me as I arrived, said she had posted my notice about the psychoanalyst's lecture on the Sopranos, but it is going to happen on the same day as Rob's 40th birthday party in New York. Lots of people are going down for it. (It's a secret.) I only had one person express interest in attending the event-Corey, the assistant to Nick Gray. Stratton said the program looked interesting but that he was going to be away.
I should have got there by about 8:00 am. There was a scene between Kevin and Rachel in their bedroom, but it was over by the time I arrived. Then they shot a scene in the parole office waiting room where the Meth Monster comes in, agitated, to see Liberti. He knocks Liberti down, overpowers and grabs a gun from Skouras, then runs out. Kevin is sitting in the waiting room watching but has no other important thing to do. It took all morning. Then Rob came through to talk to Stratton before leaving, saw me and waved, but was "wrapped," as they describe being finished for the day. Actually, I think he was going back to finish work editing the episode he had directed. The afternoon was all Liberti's. I think Scott's role seems to be bigger than Kevin's.
The rest of this episode will be shot on location, so I won't be observing again for over a week. Fortunately, I intercepted Scott and asked about the interview he had offered. He gave me his phone number and I will call to set something up. Actually, I would have left earlier except I wanted to wait to ask Scott for the interview.
I had a conversation with a man named Bob who was taking Bert Dunk's place for the day as Director of Photography. Bert has an eye infection. This Bob was originally from Egypt, had been exposed to more British films than Hollywood. He says the Brits allow more time for the development of a character and motivation, compared to the many quick shots they do in Hollywood-style productions.
Jennifer got permission to let me borrow the tapes for the pilot and the first six episodes. I taped them all in one sitting and will return them to Marc Levin, though he is out of town and won't be back until Monday. By and large, I like them. They had left out a few things-notably Kevin's fling with the dental assistant in his office. For that I am glad. I don't think they could easily retain our affection for Kevin in that circumstance. But I agree with Stratton that Episode 5 is heavy-handed, not very good. Interestingly, they also took out the line about Doris the blow-up doll from that episode. It is amazing that masturbation is so taboo that even Street Time cannot mention it. (There is, however, one scene early on when Rachel asks Kevin whether he had sex with men while in prison. "I can't imagine Kevin Hunter having no sex for five days, let alone five years!" He laughs and explains it in terms of "Mrs. Palmer and her five daughters" or something obscure like that.) I think they also left out a passage from the pilot where Sean asks Kevin what prison is like and Kevin says it's not really a great place.
The other day I forgot to enter notes about one conversation I had with Erika, who told me that Rob had gone sky diving with his sister. I knew that much but I didn't know the rest-that when he jumped, he had such a great feeling that when the guy told him it was time to pull the cord, he just did nothing.. So the guy had to reach around him and pull the cord for him! Amazing. But he told Erika that he doesn't feel any need to jump again.
I spoke with Jennifer about getting to observe editing. She said it's best for me to see it when the director is cutting. Actually, I don't know that Nick Gray would particularly like having me around. He's the one who will be editing next.. That's just a hunch based on no evidence except that he's not paid any attention to me. Not that I want him to, but I also don't want to push his buttons. I told Jennifer I would leave it up to her. She doesn't know the guy who is going to be directing the next episode.
I just read the next episode-Number 115 -- and I don't think it's a particularly good one. Let's see whether they can perk it up a bit somehow.
Observed on the set from 8:30 to 5 pm. Rob came in at 8:30 and headed straight for me. He suggested that I write one of the chapters on how different Street Time is from any other television production, in its democratic, inclusive way of listening to people. It's not necessarily the best show ever written, he said, but it is remarkable for the improvisation. So he suggested that I should sell that chapter separately to a magazine, which will give me publicity for the book. He said he was trying to convince them to publicize it on that basis, but they haven't done so. I wasn't very swift on the uptake but he's quite right. It's an excellent idea and I will tell him so on Monday. I said something about how I really don't pester people, as a matter of policy. "You're not pestering anyone," he said. "I'm about to," I said, and then asked for an interview. "Sure," he said. "I'll be glad to sit down with you. It's best for me if we do it on the set sometime when I am here anyway." So whoopee! I had put it off a long time so as to make sure I wasn't pushing too hard, and it seems fine. So far, everyone I have asked is quite willing, though finding a good time is difficult.
Jennifer had called me after my conversation with Lisa Ghione, saying that I should always go through her and not through Lisa. It seems that Lisa will have to tell Showtime about it if I go through her to set up appointments with the actors or producers and Showtime won't like it. I am not supposed to have the scripts, for example.
I sat behind Richard a while. He said that the ratings have gone up again, and that the Showtime guys are very pleased. There is no reason why they wouldn't get another season, but they never know that and it doesn't pay to guess.
Erika came along in the afternoon and saw me knitting, commenting ruefully; "The best laid plans ..." "Well, I could invite you over to the house for dinner and teach you," I said. "I'd like that," she said. "Do you cook?"
"I used to," I said. "But not so much now, though I can cook simple things like steak. Do you like buffalo steak?" "I don't know. I've never had it. Or we could go to a restaurant," she said. So now I will figure out how to invite her for dinner and make it work out without Amber's help. I don't think I should expect Ken to do the job until I have tried it out with him first.
There was a scene in which Kevin is talking with James about whether he could move his family outside the city.
There was also a scene where Dee (Erika) is interviewing a parolee who is an anti-abortionist Christian fanatic. Scott crept up behind her with a plastic snake and gradually moved it alongside her face until she saw it and screamed.
Scott himself was having fun today. In the scene in his office he put up a sign saying he was Number Six - only in sixth place. The comment was obscure to me until someone explained that he has been named the sixth sexiest man on television. Someone else laughed about how Rob Morrow was going to be difficult to live with, since he wasn't even on the list. By then, Rob had left for New York. They are having a 40th birthday party for him in a Korean restaurant. He had asked that it be someplace where he could smoke a cigar after dinner.
Erika's manager was in town for the film festival and came to the set with her. I chatted a while. She says Erika is very well known among African Americans. I should think so. She has an extraordinary personality.
I want to be on time on Monday because the first scene is the one in the Hunter apartment where Kevin tells Rachel what Goldie has done. I don't think that was in the script that I read; it must have been added recently.
I asked Antoinette about how different this show really is; she has had enough experience to really know. She agreed that it is exceptional in allowing the actors to have considerable input and freedom to innovate. And she thinks it really helps the quality of the show. I asked why it isn't done more often and she said it is mostly because Richard Stratton has no ego problems; he can allow people to make suggestions without feeling threatened. But, she added, it is necessary for someone like Richard to be present to keep it on target because sometimes the actors haven't even read the whole script for the episode they are working in at the moment.
Monday Sept. 16, 2002
Conversation with Rob Morrow
We talked about The Sopranos, which is just starting its fourth season, and about the various books that have been published about the show. He said the New York Times has a list of four or five, reviewed in one article. I said I had read the one by Gabbard and had attended his lecture. (I offered him the book but he declined it, said that he hadn't even got around to reading the manuscript of my book. I said I didn't expect him to have done so.) He said he rarely watches that show - or any TV, for that matter, except the West Wing. (I said, "Me too.") He admires The Sopranos but doesn't enjoy it. I said I don't either because of the meta-emotion of guilt. He asked what a meta-emotion is. I said it's when you have an emotion and then have another emotion about that emotion. It's the best explanation for why we enjoy tragedy. The emotions themselves are unpleasant, but we may feel pleased with ourselves for having the qualities required to go through it. But me, it's the opposite with The Sopranos; I empathize with Tony, at least a little bit, as for example when I am rooting for him instead of the FBI. But then I feel guilty for having done so.
He mentioned the controversy over the filming of the youth of Hitler. I said he's talking about the very chapter I'm writing now. I said that there's an antinomy involved: it is true that watching people portrayed sympathetically will induce some people to emulate them. But it is also true what he had just said - that there is value in seeing that we ourselves are capable of those terrible actions too. He mentioned an article he read a long time ago by Robert Stone in a book of Stone's essays, in which he speaks about distancing ourselves from executioners (there was an example of executing someone one the spot in the Vietnam War). People say we could not behave in such a way, but we could, and it's important to recognize that. Dramas can show that side of our own potential to us. He gave as an example George W Bush, who is demonizing Saddam Hussein to justify war against him.
I spoke of how my main interest is in how to develop a culture of peace, and said that my profession is as a peace researcher. (That seemed to impress him favorably.) I talked about how I see as a major step in that direction the reduction of the culture of blame - the notion lying behind 95% of all TV crime or war shows that what we have to do is find the guilty party and lock him up. He said something (I can't remember what) indicating a general agreement with me, and then I said that if we don't just lock up or punish the "bad guys" we have to figure out what else to do with them instead. Hence my interest in this show. What should be done with Kevin Hunter?
He said that, so far, Kevin hasn't done anything that he couldn't accept. They may be trying to build up an empire, however, and empires are built on dead bodies, so the future may become harder to accept. So far, people can empathize with Kevin.
I asked what he would do if asked to portray someone doing something terrible. "Like sodomizing kids? I would just refuse to play it," he replied.
I said, "But you have already played a bad guy - John Wilkes Booth."
He said that was true and that it wasn't a very good movie, but in Booth's mind he was a hero, just doing what needed to be done. So when he was playing the part, he (Rob) said he tried to show how a sane person could get himself into thinking that way.
At various points he talked more about how he is shaping Kevin and he said it as if he has control - that he won't let him become a bad guy. Michelle was standing by us at the time. He smiled and said it's even hard for him to allow Kevin to miss the birth of their child, though he knows there is a good dramatic reason for it. (Kevin gets arrested while she is in labor.)
We spoke about how (in my opinion) this is not a feminist show, except for Dee, who plays a strong woman. He said he wants to make it more feminist - he wants Michelle to be equal to him and a partner, the way they had been before he was sent to prison. I mentioned the scene in Niagara Falls on their honeymoon when he tells her that he's not going to inform her of anything except what she needs to know. He says, "You ought to see what it said before I changed it." I said that is what I had seen - the script but not the tape. He said he had changed it so he only told her that she has her job to do and he has his. I said it was possible to interpret even his initial statement in the script (which sounded very patriarchal) as meaning that he wanted to protect her by keeping her from knowing things for which she might be held responsible.
Michelle said that it's possible for a woman to be strong within a domestic kind of role. Rob said he had pressed Kate Greenhouse to play Karen as a very decisive woman when he was directing the scenes where she leaves James. But, he said, the reason why it's not more feminist is that there are no women writers. Yet! The "yet" was said in a deliberately pointed way. (I don't know whether Richard `s wife Kim is going to get to be one of the writers, but I know she is interested in it. That would be next season anyhow, and no one can say whether there will be a next season.)
I said that people watch The Sopranos and Street Time for a vicarious rush, but they are downplaying the pleasure Kevin derives from the thrill. They are trying to make him do his criminal deeds as a victim of circumstances, not for the fun of it. He sort of denied that, saying that Rachel tells him in one scene that he's enjoying this, and he concedes that it's true. I said that if they displayed his enjoyment fully, people would like watching it, but they would also draw the wrong message from it. I said that shows like this one and The Sopranos satisfy risk-taking needs and also challenge ethical limits. I mentioned Gandolfini's statement about possibly quitting because he gets letters from people saying that they want to be just like him.
I mentioned having seen almost all the films that Marc and Richard had made together, and that they had made the bad guys into people with whom one can empathize, but that those were Marc's films, not Richard's, and they are two different people.
He said that he tells the network people that both guys need to work together to balance each other.
When Rob came up to me after shooting his first scene of the morning, I said that when I receive advice that is delivered by a guy with wings on his ankles, I know that I ought to obey, so I will take the advice that he gave the other day. He laughed and said, "the messenger of the gods?" (He has a tattoo of small wings on his right heel.) I said thanks for the massage also, and said that I had told my friends that Rob Morrow had "given" me a massage that day. He said he loves massages and, in a good week, will have one every week, though usually it is more like once a month. I said that I like shiatsu.
A lot of this conversation occurred between takes of the scene between Kevin and Rachel in their apartment, where Kevin finally tells Rachel what her brother Goldie has done - stolen the load, along with Freddy, who had set up the whole problem for Goldie in India. She is appalled, but glad that he has finally told her.
There were two main topics of conversation on the set. One was about Rob's 40th birthday party, which took place in New York on Saturday night. I gather most of the cast went down for it. It was a surprise that Debbon arranged in a Korean restaurant. People evidently had a wonderful time.
The other item of conversation was Scott's identity as Number Six. Apparently that nickname may stick. It was, I guess, the National Enquirer that named him as the sixth sexiest man in America. Someone put a label on his chair saying "Number Six."
Rob left in the late morning (pausing to hug Scott on the way out and laugh about the surprise party) and we went on to do two more scenes. One was with Scott, who drops in on Michelle and tells her that he knows Kevin is breaking the law and that he will get caught. He says that he is not the enemy, as they suppose, and they'd better hope that it's he - not someone else - who handles the situation when he gets caught.
After lunch there was a scene in a motel room where Peter tells Goldie the truth about how Freddy set him up. They get a bit rough in that scene and Goldie's shirt got torn. They sent off to wardrobe for a second shirt exactly like that one but didn't have one. So there was about 45 minutes lost and they decided what to do. They sewed up the shirt because otherwise they would lose all the work they had already done on the scene. It's a rough scene, filled with the profanity that is so typical of Street Time. At one point Alan Kroeker, the director, said that he counted 19 "fucks" in that single scene. Bert Dunk, the Director of Photography said, "Oh? They must have missed one." It is hardly elegant writing when they improvise sometimes.
We had a discussion about editing. I said that Michael Ondaatje has a new book about Walter Murch, the guy who re-edited Welles's film, A Touch of Evil, to conform to Welles's original intention. He has also re-edited Apocalypse Now. Bert Dunk said that Murch himself had written a book about editing and that he will bring it to me. He had just come across it yesterday. I asked Alan whether I could watch him edit and he said he is only going to be here one day, so I wouldn't get to see what I need to see. However, when I asked Jennifer, she said I should watch Marc edit the episode that he is going to direct starting tomorrow. That makes sense.
At one point I referred to myself as an "anthropologist" doing "fieldwork" and they are all my "tribe." That seemed to make sense to Alan. He is from Winnipeg but lives in Los Angeles. I asked whether there is much difference between work here in Toronto and what goes on in LA. He said it's about the same. What varies is the quality of the set and the mood, depending on the nature of the guys at the top. There are sometimes people hungry for power at the time who don't like to share information, so people on the set don't know what is going on and there is a lot of chaos. He said this is a nice group, and it reflects the personalities of the people at the top.
I left at 4:30, though the shooting was not over. It is the final day of episode 115, and tomorrow Marc Levin will begin directing episode 116. I will try to interview him by just capturing him on the set whenever he has some free time.
Rob said to speak to his assistant and he would find time for me sometime when he is going to be here shooting before or after lunch. I offered him the list of questions that I had made up but he waved it off and just said to read the questions to him during the conversation. I really do like him, and it seems mutual. It's extremely easy for us to talk together. That is not surprising; it feels like a fulfillment of what I expected, somehow. I think he is easy for anyone to talk to, but in addition, in some sense his values and mine seem compatible, even almost synergistic.
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
I didn't stay for the afternoon because my hip was hurting. However, I had an interesting time.
This is episode 116 and Marc Levin is directing it. They were already having private blocking when I got there at 8:15 am. It was a scene between Kevin and Rachel, where she demands that he include her as his working partner and he agrees, telling her that if it works out, they will make a minimum of $40 million.
In between takes Rob came out and sat by me to talk. First he said that he saw a new show last night that was very very influenced by Northern Exposure: Everwood, about a doctor in a small town in Colorado. He and Marc got into a discussion of it because Marc had read some review saying that they should get rid of the teenage son but Rob said he is actually good. There was also a conversation about the new season of The Sopranos, which will start here tomorrow. Reviewers have said it is not great. The head of HBO has said that, of all the new shows being aired elsewhere, Street Time is the one he would most like to have on HBO. They joked about how they should quote him in Street Time publicity. They also had a conversation about someone whose name I didn't recognize - I think they said "Treat Williams." This guy may have been connected with the Everwood show, but I didn't intrude to clarify that point. Rob said he had been rollerblading (on the boardwalk??) at Santa Monica listening with headphones to a DVD of Treat singing, when he saw Treat coming toward him, also rollerblading. They stopped and talked. I may have this wrong, but it was something like that. [Later: I have seen an article in the Globe and Mail television magazine about Treat Williams and the Everwood show. The author did not mention the similarity to NX.]
During the next interval between takes, Rob came in again and started glancing at the New York Times. I asked, "Did you do Yom Kippur"? (Yom Kippur was yesterday.)
He said, "I'm a bad Jew. But I did call my mother and she prayed for my sins. I am going to have to decide what kind of discipline to follow. Are you Jewish? The most obvious thing for me would be Judaism, because I was actually Bar Mitzvah'd (perfunctorily). My wife is Episcopalian. She said she would convert, but I don't think it's right to ask her to do that. And I'm not going to convert to Episcopalianism. There was a scene in this show where art imitates life. Our son Sean asks `What are we?' and I said `What do you want to be?'. I can imagine that conversation happening in our family later."
A woman who is shadowing Antoinette, the script woman, said, "Religion doesn't become important to people until they are forty. Except that people want to teach their children some religion." He nodded.
Then a woman came in and he said something to her using a fancy word (I can't remember what. Maybe "alacrity.")
I said, "You have a wonderful vocabulary."
He said, "Pretentious."
I said, "And I think I know how you got it. There was a scene in Northern Exposure where you are finding similarities between yourself and Jack the ghost."
He looked puzzled. "I don't remember any ghost."
I explained that it was the ghost in his cabin, and then he recalled it. I said that in that scene, Joel mentions that Jack used to learn ten words a day, and that he, Joel, had the same practice. I said that I had guessed that probably the writers had got the idea for that similarity about it from observing Rob. He said that, yes, he had once tried to do that - maybe not necessarily ten words, but a few anyway. But mostly he has a big vocabulary because he "just likes words."
He said that there were quite a few ways in which his traits were used as a basis for Joel's traits.
I can't remember the transition here but at some point he referred to the dispute between himself and Josh about whether Joel could change. "Ultimately, I won out, after he had left the show."
I considered saying something about that transformation, but decided against it. I don't think his big transformation into an Eastern mystic was at all convincing, but today was not the right time to say so - especially if it had been his idea and if he liked the way it was written. His comment also made me wonder whether he had been thinking of something like an Eastern religion as an alternative possibility for himself personally when he said he needs to find a "discipline." It might make a certain amount of sense, in a way, if he actually doesn't want to practice Judaism, but I wonder whether it is founded on any knowledge of, say, Buddhism (which is probably the most plausible choice of all the Eastern religions for him to adopt). These are just questions in my mind, maybe lacking any basis beyond wild speculation. And it wasn't even that he seemed to have decided against Judaism. He just seemed open minded in general on the subject.
He and Michelle left, after hugging Marc Levin and welcoming him back onto the set as director. I think he's a good director; he was involved with their motivations and intentions at a pretty deep level. He scratched out a lot of the script and went over with them such matters as Rachel's motivation for saying a particular line.
I asked Marc what he plans to do during the hiatus. He laughed and said that is an optimistic way of putting it. And that for him, this is a hiatus from his normal life in New York. He will just go back to that.
They were getting set up to do the next scene, which takes place in the Liberti apartment, but my hip was hurting badly and I had only been there three hours. I had not brought any heavy pain medication, so I decided to quit for the day. Anyhow, I need to do some work at home in preparation for tonight's Peace Magazine editorial meeting. I am going to have to find some kind of soft pillow to take up there. My butt hurts a lot after I have sat for a while. I need to go again tomorrow, but then there will be a week's delay before I go again. I saw Jennifer Jewell in her car as I was on the way to my own car. She doesn't seem to be trying very hard to set up interviews for me. There is not a lot of time left, either - especially since the way she put it, they expect just to do short conversations on the set, not even in the trailers for any length of time. I don't know how seriously we can discuss a topic in ten-minute chunks of time amid distractions.
Wednesday Sept 18
Last night David Assael returned my phone call. I told him about my current activities with Street Time and he said he had been trying to get a job writing on that show. He met Stratton and likes him. He said "That might actually get picked up." He had run into Rob at the Directors Guild after the pilot was shown (there was a party, I think) but Rob didn't recognize him because, of course, David never was on the set of Northern Exposure. I am not sure that Rob even knows much about the writers of NX. David said he will call me again in a couple of days to talk about how he can get on as a writer. I had been thinking about how to get Rob interested in producing a series based on peacekeeping and nonviolence, and David thinks that is a great idea for a show. He had told me so a couple of years ago, when he even suggested that I write up something to propose. I couldn't do that then, but now I have a wonderful feeling that everything I am doing is somehow being brought together by an organizing force - that I am being used to create something, which is presenting itself to me.
Today I came in to the set at about 10 am. The first scenes in the morning were at the parole office between Dee and Samson, a professional basketball player. Hints of eroticism. Then there was a scene between Kevin and James, also in the parole office, where James is saying that Kevin apparently just can't stop himself from running drug deals and jeopardizing his family, probably going to jail.
In between takes, all three major actors hung out behind the monitors, chatting. Mostly they were talking about George W. Bush and the probability that he is going to war. Then there was a conversation about some new bacterium that has killed eleven people in the US. Rob called it "Listeriosis," I think. Another time, he was sitting near me but reading a book called "Understanding Your Toddler." It's quite a heavy tome - much more serious than Dr. Spock's handbook.
I gave my card to Erika so she can phone me when she knows her schedule. We'll do a dinner/knitting lesson/interview session next week. When she saw "emeritus" she asked what it meant, and then we talked about the different types of retirement. I said I work as hard as ever, mostly on my magazine. So of course she wanted to know about the magazine and I gave her a copy. Rob came by just then and I showed him the magazine too. Later I left a copy for him in his chair. He looked at the table of contents, pronounced it interesting, and took it home with him.
Scott proposed that I interview him at lunch, which I did. It was a good interview, though in such a crowded room the acoustics were terrible. I hope I can understand enough to transcribe it.
There was very good news today from Hollywood. Street Time got the highest ratings last week of any Showtime program. Still, they don't say anything much on set about whether there will be a second season. Obviously, the ratings improve the odds. I am optimistic, myself, but I guess they have seen it fall apart too many other times to allow themselves to hope for much. They are going to have a party on about October 18 to celebrate the ending of work on the season. It will be Canadian Thanksgiving, but that does not seem to put anyone off much.
Later in the day Rob was in a conversation with Bert Dunk about sled dogs - Malamutes, which have replaced huskies in sled races. It turns out that Rob has attended the start (or is the finish?) of the Iditerad race twice. I asked why. He said he had been invited once, while he was playing in Northern Exposure. And the second time was when he was trying to get funding to do an IMAX movie about the Iditerad. But it won't happen because he couldn't get funding.
I was on the set four days this week (Tuesday, Wednesday, yesterday, and today) but they are a blur. I can't remember much - probably because I didn't keep notes immediately after getting home. I think my second interview with Scott was Tuesday. Mostly the crew was on location - some of the time in Burlingame at an airport, working on Episode 116, which Marc Levin directed. Episode 117 began yesterday, with George Mamaluk directing. Rob had said he would be available for my interview at noon, but he took a nap instead. (At least he didn't lie; he told me that himself.) Then he said he would do it today at lunch, but his new assistant, Sharon Edwards, said he has some other things to do. He had asked her to look up the addresses of a couple of places that he wants to visit this afternoon. She suggested that I go to his trailer on location (a restaurant on Prince Arthur street) next Wednesday, when he will have a couple of hours between shots. That will be okay, I guess. He said again today that he "promises" to give me an interview.
Yesterday he asked how much time I need with him - minimum. I said an hour. He seemed a little surprised. I think he expected me to say less. Actually, I need more, but more depends on WHAT he says than on how many questions he addresses.
We talked about what he is going to do after shooting this season, and he says he is working on an independent film about a boy. It's not a child's film. He is also writing other screenplays. Then we talked about Maze. He says he can see flaws in it now, but couldn't before. As I recall (memory here is hazy) he thinks that Lyle Maze doesn't know what he wants strongly enough to make it dramatically powerful. I said that it would be hard, since it's about a guy who had given up hope of ever being loved. And I said that the thing I like a lot about the film is that the guy has a deep personality. I think that pleased him. Bert Dunk wanted to see the film and I promised to bring my copy to him, but I forgot to do so today.
I sat in Rob's seat because there wasn't room behind the monitors for my own generic "Cast" chair. I apologized but he said I may take his seat whenever I want to. Then I told Rob and Richard about showing the tapes to my friends. Rob asked the "demo" of my group. I said they are mostly intellectuals. He said he had wondered how intellectuals would regard this program. I said that they confused him with Scott. He said they knew that would happen; they both have dark hair, they are both Jewish. In an ordinary show they would try to differentiate between them, choosing a blond and a dark haired guy, etc. but in this case they "embraced" the similarities and played them up. That's why they made that poster showing them facing each other in profile. He wanted to know more but I said I'd tell him later because he had to go back to act.
I talked to Richard separately about it and mentioned the fact that nobody had pointed out risk-taking as a major motive for James and Kevin. I see that as the most important psychological dynamic. He didn't disagree, but he didn't stress it as much as I do. Instead, he said that Kevin's "tragic flaw" is hubris. That surprises me. I looked it up to see whether it might have a different meaning for him than for me, and it says "arrogance and insolence, based on excessive pride." I don't quite see that as characterizing Kevin, except insofar as he has inordinate confidence that he's not going to get caught and sent back to jail. He is ignoring all kinds of cautionary messages from James and even from Rachel, though admittedly, Rachel is pretty ambivalent herself. She has asked to be a partner in crime and agrees that $40 million is ample incentive to justify carrying on this operation. I told Richard that people in my group readily explain Kevin's backsliding into smuggling as resulting from all the pressures in the "system," not from any character flaws in his personality. Richard says that he comes out of prison and reacts weakly. I agreed that Kevin seems weak, unable to assess the situation and extricate himself from it. I asked whether he intended for Kevin to seem weak and he said yes.
When I have time, I will ask Richard whether he thinks of hubris as his own tragic flaw as well.
Yesterday there was a love scene between Kevin and Rachel. They had returned home from seeing his father, who had a stroke and is dying. Kevin put Sean to bed, then there was a sex scene where they were "spooning" because she is in her ninth month of pregnancy. They had a closed set so I couldn't watch the monitors, but I joined Owen at the sound mixing station and listened to the scene, which was plenty erotic with just the audio. Very sweet.
Yesterday I think I picked up an interesting clue about Rob. There are pouches on the outside of the chairs. His held a paperback book that I got a chance to skim while he was away in his trailer. It was by a psychiatrist named Weiss - a used book published in 1988 with a title something like "Many lives..." He had bought it, according to the bookmark, in Los Angeles at the Bodhi Bookshop, which says that it sells new and used books. Obviously it's an Eastern religion shop. That makes sense of his statement a week or so ago that he needs to adopt some "discipline." The book is close to being schlock - not at all academic, and full of stories about past life regressions involving one single patient named Catherine. I would be interested in it for maybe five minutes, but his bookmark was toward the end of the volume, and later he sent Sharon in to pick it up for him. She says he often takes a nap during his noon hour, and spends a lot of time in his trailer reading. He is plenty friendly when he is on set, but he does not wait around much when he could leave and sit in his trailer. She says she knows to avoid interrupting him, if possible.
Today there was a scene involving a La Maze course. They were supposed to breathe in that special way while holding onto a frozen icicle stick to create pain. After it was over Rachel tells him he's not going to know what to do when the time comes (because he wasn't paying attention, she told me later, but she didn't explain why during the scene). He says "Sure I will." The instructor comes by and he says to her, "When she goes into labor I'm supposed to go to the freezer and get out a frozen popsicle and squeeze it, right?" That is a classic Morrow improvisation. The scene didn't have much in it until then. Another change: When they get up to leave, she says she thinks she will cancel the sitter because Sean ought to go with them tonight. Her parents will be there and he ought to have a chance to say goodbye to his Uncle Stevie, since he may not see him for another five years. Kevin seems doubtful and says he will think about it. She says that she definitely is going to do it. This is a change from the script, obviously invented to make Rachel look stronger and more of a feminist than she has been looking most of the time until now. She isn't waiting for his opinion in this scene. I wonder whether that's Rob's or her innovation. I should have asked Michelle afterward, since I had a chance to do so, but I had my mind on other matters and forgot that part.
There was another comment during the scene that puzzled me. She seemed to be rather hostile to him. Not only did she say that he won't know what to do when the time comes, but when he put his face on her belly and talked to the baby, saying "We're ready for you, little angel," Rachel improvised, "We, we, we!" which seemed like a hostile remark to me. One thing troubles me. If the actors are having interpersonal difficulties, it sure seems likely to show up in the lines that they improvise. Have they thought about that problem?
Richard, Marc, Scott, and Rob were talking today beyond my earshot, but it seemed to be about some reactions that the Hollywood people had expressed to one of the scripts. Richard said, "They see all those asterisks and they don't understand." Evidently he thought the problem (if there was one) had been handled but they hadn't realized it. I tried to eavesdrop but couldn't. I told Rob I was trying to and he said "That's okay."
Sharon brought Rob's New York Times early in the morning and put it in the pouch on the outside of his chair. After the La Maze class he came and sat down to read. Then he asked me, "What do you think of Fidel, Metta?" He said he is going to have dinner with him next month, along with his business partner, who has already had one dinner with Castro. I said that I despise him but I had almost lost control of the magazine because of it. He asked why. I said because I had printed an article that was critical of Fidel, and that was too much for my friends and the magazine's supporters to bear. I did say, though, that they are doing a very good job with agriculture now. The Russians used to give them oil almost free, but then they cut it off under Gorbachev and so they couldn't run their farm equipment or pesticides, so they have converted to organic farming, in a way that is sustainable.
I said that whereas the intellectuals in Cuba generally hate Castro, Canadian intellectuals - at least those on the left - generally love him. He asked why. I said because he stood up to the US. Lots of leftists call themselves democratic socialists but they don't really believe in democracy. I said that I am making a point of objecting whenever someone says something anti-American in my presence. He said he doesn't necessarily approve of "reductive" language, but he thinks there's a lot to be said that is critical of the United States. I said, Okay, but I don't like sweeping categorical statements. You are American and I am a dual citizen. I wouldn't let it pass if someone said something critical of Jews in my presence. He said, well, there's a lot to be said that's critical of Jews too. They've made some mistakes. But he was on his way back to the set to act again and we never pursued it further.
I had invited Erika Alexander over for dinner, but I didn't know that she is married so I didn't mention her husband. She agreed to come on Sunday afternoon, but then I got a message on my machine suggesting instead that I come for lunch Sunday and stay an hour and a half or so, and that her husband Tony would cook for us. I have to return her call and work out the details. I don't want to press her to come unless she wants to.
Last night I had a terrible charley horse in my front right thigh, and a lot of new pain in the knee. I suppose it was a charley horse; I don't know what else it could have been, but the pain was excruciating. Today the knee was dreadful. I have to use a cane for every step and even so, I am not sure that I won't fall. I left the set early, therefore, thinking I should come home and rest it, since Rob wasn't going to give me that interview today anyhow. I told Richard that I'm not sure I can come back to observe anymore. He said, "Well, you've seen a lot anyhow." True, but I would like to feel I had completed what I set out to do. I think I will try to get a cortisone shot, and also look into the injection of collagen into the knees. Maybe one or the other intervention will suffice to get me through the next six weeks, when my second hip surgery is scheduled. Unfortunately, this is Friday so I probably can't do much until Monday.
I was on set all day. It was a parole office day, with Erika, Scott, Allegra, and Rob Wilson (is that his name? He is Ennis, anyhow.) In some ways it was a revealing day, but I think everyone would be uncomfortable if I wrote about what I observed.
The first scene was in Valentine's office. She gives new cases to Dee and James, then tells them they have to decide what to do about Skouras. He is the parole officer who raped the Indian woman. She killed herself, sure that she could not get justice by charging him. By her suicide, she eliminated the necessary evidence against him, so he may lose his job if Dee and James tell what they know, but he will not be prosecuted. Valentine tells them to think about their careers. Nobody likes a rat. Yet Dee cannot let go of the desire to punish him. They kept editing out extraneous material as they did successive takes, and even so, Erika came to Marc and said she thought the scene was "hollow." She decided that probably she should not say a word in Valentine's office, leaving us uncertain as to what she felt or would do.
In an upcoming scene, the script calls for Dee to take the punishment into her own hands by following Skouras into the toilet, drawing her gun, forcing him to disrobe and suck the pistol, promising never to seek another job in law enforcement. I said it seems unlikely that she would fire the gun, right there in the parole office. Marc said that Erika has the same doubts. But she could tell him that if it went off in his mouth, it would be inferred that he had done it himself, in response to his trouble over Skyhawk.
They work over every scene constantly, changing and polishing it with each take. Clearly it helps. Every take seems to improve.
Marc was grumbling about the attitude of Pancho Mansfield, who is on the set this week, and who has told him they can't do it this way again next year. Yet there was at least a one-hour conference with Pancho, who wanted them to re-do the scenes from an earlier episode involving the anti-abortionist guy. Nobody in LA liked that, Erika says. So they have written some additional material to improve it. Pancho was involved in writing that, and it worked very well, yet he is not assimilating his own experience. Marc sent him off to write the new script himself. Evidently it is just a matter of pride, but this conflict goes on all the time. Marc said they had had three different people who were supposed to control them - Steve Kronish, who had a nervous breakdown, Mike Pavone, who saw that it was working well and decided he wasn't needed, so went on vacation in San Francisco, and now Pancho, who had initially been supportive, but who now feels that his authority as top executive is being threatened by this anarchic way of working. So Marc was saying that he might tell him, you won't have to fire us; we will quit. I hadn't heard that before, but he seems to be thinking that Showtime has sold their rights to Columbia TriStar, and so they could take the show and sell it to someone else as a way to continue next year. He mentioned that Rob has a good friend (Jerry somebody, I think he said) who has even more authority than Pancho. I don't know whether he is in Showtime or Columbia TriStar, but one or the other. Somebody else said that they will know in November whether there will be another season or not.
I had one big question on my mind since the interview with Rob last Wednesday: was he to be complicit in the murder of Freddy? The answer is no. The network evidently prevailed, but Richard said that he thinks that is a good way to handle it. The way it is written now, Kevin meets with Freddy and reaches an agreement with him, then leaves. And then Peter kills him anyway. Richard says Peter is becoming one of Neitzche's men "beyond good and evil"; he just takes matters into his own hands. In any case, that may be what saves Kevin in the long run. They can violate him (and will do so in the scenes tomorrow) which will put him away for at least a year, but he won't get life, as Ennis was planning to do.
In one scene today, Ennis rushes in to James's office, saying that Freddy (their rat, who was going to be wired while conversing with Kevin) had been shot. James realizes that this means there is no evidence to put him away for life, as Ennis had been boasting. So he rushes to Valentine to get a warrant to violate Kevin. He says Kevin has plenty of money and could run away as soon as his baby is born (imminently) so they had better put him in jail. After that, if Ennis has enough evidence or wants to flip him or whatever, fine - "but for now, he's mine!" They had two different scenes initially, but the cast kept talking it over and decided to combine it and make just a single scene. It was very kinetic, exciting that way.
One of the women in the crew told me that they have made some changes because Kate Greenhouse doesn't want to kiss Scott because he has a cold sore. My informant thinks that is not the only reason. She says Kate is uncomfortable with love scenes. I am going to look at episode 9, where they were supposed to make love and she gets undressed and finds the money, which breaks up their marriage. She tried several ways of avoiding that sex scene. The final episode is completely different from the script. But later today they were supposed to have a love scene in his office late at night, and she is trying to limit that and postpone it. Nevertheless, Marc decided to go ahead and shoot it today. They could have an intimate get-together without actually kissing. They could have sex. (I find that bizarre. His office has glass walls. Someone might come in. But my problem has to do with the believability of the activity, while her objections are different.) Antoinette says that she would only expose certain parts of herself, and wanted to be covered up as much as possible. Today the wardrobe woman came to talk to Marc about the office sex scene, saying that Kate is adamant that her hair has to be down loose. Presumably it is to cover her face when she is bending forward. Antoinette says that is part of the same syndrome, but Marc didn't think that would ruin the scene.
I asked what Kevin is going to tell Rachel and Sean about what happened to Goldie. He will tell them that he's in Nepal where he cannot be reached. Anyhow, Rachel's father gets busted, Kevin's father has died, and Rachel goes into labor, while worrying about Kevin. Indeed, James comes to handcuff Kevin while she is in labor and before the midwife arrives, so he assists her. When the midwife comes, he takes Kevin away to jail, the baby is born, and Rachel is crying. These scenes are intercut between scenes of James and his wife making love in his office. We see Kevin in an orange jumpsuit. End of season.
I will be there tomorrow to see all this happen. I asked Marc about when I can watch him edit and he said probably week after next. Jennifer was more cautious, saying that my presence is still a touchy subject. The Showtime people would certainly not permit me to be on set if they knew, so she wasn't sure Marc would let me watch the editing. So tomorrow is probably going to be the last day that I observe them shooting. There is another day of shooting on set next week, but probably I will not go. It's the editing that I need to see more than shooting now.
I had thought that Erika and I would have a knitting session, but she was in a scene in the bar until 6 pm and then left. I will call her before she leaves town and get her LA phone number so I can interview her by phone.
When I came home I watched the West Wing. It's the third episode in the season, but all of them have been inferior. Sorkin doesn't keep us clear about what is going on. I can't even follow the story. There's too much elliptical dialogue. There was an article in the paper about how West Wing has "jumped the shark." I think the point is, all writers run downhill after a while. What is the mechanism for keeping it alive and fresh? I think this Street Time process might keep it going a very long time because the cast are always talking about whether their character is supposed to know some particular fact that would make a difference in the way they act, or whether the scene is alive or not. They actually do improve it. I suppose if the script were perfect they would not need to change it, but they do have a good sense of what is working and what is not, and I think that's probably going to extend the likely longevity of the creativity. Of course, they don't usually create an entire new scene out of nothing, but occasionally they have done so. I don't think this would work without Richard, and yet Richard is very accommodating. I know that he has sometimes fought for a particular story line (I remember reading the scorching letter that he wrote to Kronish about Episode Five) but just as often he says that what the network is demanding is not a bad idea. For example, he was satisfied that Kevin does not become culpable for Freddy's murder.
In the afternoon Marc was talking about how they (the network people) have not even tested the show after episode six. People here believe that it has improved since Episode six. That's when Kronish left, I think. But they don't have any good feedback except that the ratings were going up. They haven't heard about ratings for a while. One week it was not broadcast. Now they are doing rebroadcasts; I guess they finished the entire summer season and are playing it again.
Yesterday I was on set all day until 6 pm. I am just now getting over the emotional upheaval. It was the most dramatic day so far, as far as I was concerned.
It started off slow; I was there ahead of everyone. When Richard and Marc came in, they were accompanied by Larry Grossman, the NY parole officer who is the consultant and on whom many of James Liberti's traits are modeled. They stood outside discussing the scene that was upcoming in the Hunter apartment later in the day - mostly whether the marshals accompanying Liberti would release Kevin's handcuffs and wait until the midwife arrived. He said that, yes, they might do such a thing. I should hope so!
Marc, Richard, and Rob were engrossed in conversations again about the demands of the "big boys" - especially Pancho, who is still in town. Marc and Richard evidently had dinner with him last night. He is issuing demands for next year - that "his" screenwriters be involved in a heavy way, and that they stop revising the script as they go along. They showed him that it was exactly the process that he had just been involved in with them that day, so he backed down somewhat. They said if he wasn't going to go back and promote them as the people to continue the series, then they would both quit together. He hmmmed and hawed a while but ultimately said okay. There were 60 people fired at Showtime yesterday - all of them people on other shows, not Street Time, but Pancho has to go home and see if he still has a job.
Yesterday I learned that it was Pancho who insisted that Ennis be brought back into the story as the person who pushes them into busting Kevin.
At one point I had a conversation with Rob, who was again highly focused on his acting for the day, since the scenes were to be some of the most demanding of the whole series. I didn't have a lot of time to visit with him but I did thank him for the interview and he said he plans to go back and re-read the chapters I gave him. I asked how they reached the decision on the matter he had discussed with me - whether to allow Kevin to be complicit in the murder of Freddy. He said it was a network decision. He wasn't sure whether or not he shouldn't have gone ahead, since his karma is leading him in that direction. I said I was glad they had not made him culpable; he said that they must have been right, if I agreed with them.
I told him I had gained some insights from our conversation that will inform the chapter on ethics that is coming up. He asked whether I write every day and I said no, that I have to waltz around a topic for a week or more prior to getting anything clear enough to write. I asked about his writing. He said he's been working several years on writing what he wants to produce as a major film, though he may have to settle for producing it as a much smaller film. It seems to be one of the big projects of his life. I asked what it was about and he asked whether I know the name Gurdjieff. I said yes. He said it uses reincarnation for the metaphor to explain how people go through a particular (experience or theme?) over and over again, working through the karma, until they get to a point where they can evolve. I said I would like to see it - and then I quickly said that what I do want to see are the scripts he wrote for Northern Exposure. He said he had never written any. I said that the Library of Congress has them. He said, "I swear to you, I never wrote any such thing!" Then he went off to act.
Every scene was in the Hunter apartment. In one, he and Rachel were talking about how they could leave in a hurry if they need to. She says she has the passports. He says they have tons of money all over Europe. A phone call informs them that her father has just been arrested after $1million was found inside a painting at the airport. Kevin leaves, and she immediately goes into labor.
The scene that drives me crazy occurs when Kevin returns, finds her on the birthing ball, assures her that he will get Don out soon, since they have hardly anything on him. She says the baby is coming and they both seem very happy. Just then, Liberti knocks on the door and barges in, followed by two marshals in bullet-proof vests. They immediately arrest Kevin, handcuff him, and throw him down, despite the fact that he tells them that Rachel is in labor. She is distraught, stands up, and her water breaks. There is a horrible yelling scene where she enters into a contraction and is horrified because she is also bleeding. James and Kevin and yelling at each other. James goes to phone the midwife, but Kevin is held down by the two marshals and can do nothing for her except shout "Look at me, Rachel. Breathe! Breathe!" After two or three minutes of shouting abuse, James gets her to the couch to lie down and says the midwife assures her that the bleeding is nothing to worry about. Still, she is distraught and in agony. Eventually he tells the marshals to uncuff Kevin, who rushes to comfort her. End of scene. We know that as soon as the midwife comes in ten minutes, they will re-cuff him and take him to prison, but for the moment he is able to be the loving husband she needs.
The acting was superb, but the scene appalled me. There were several other women present with me behind the monitors. I said to one of them, Jack Knight's mother, that this would not happen in real life. When men come into the presence of a woman in labor, they immediately drop all their other conflicts and issues, get very quiet and solicitous, and devote all their attention to her. No man - at least no decent, normal man - would yell and carry on that way, They would not have handcuffed Kevin in the first place - certainly James would not, since he knows Kevin now and likes him, and he certainly knows he would not run away while Rachel is in labor. The women agreed with me. I said that all the women in the audience are going to hate James. They agreed, though they were far less agitated than I was.
When it was over, all the actors and James and Marc were high with enthusiasm. I know that I was going beyond the role of an observer, but nevertheless, when Rob came by me I said, "That was a despicable scene. You are going to lose all the women in your audience." He seemed astonished, then said to Richard, "Maybe she has a point." Richard listened indulgently to me, but did not really let the message in. Cast solidarity kicked in and they were all in a celebratory mood, congratulating everyone on how good it was. Rob stopped looking in my direction (he was one foot away from me, but he never looked at me again).
Richard and Marc took our insurrection genially, saying that they like having people show emotional reactions. It proves that the show will be controversial. We "love this," Marc said. But they dismissed our opinions.
Scott came through. He hadn't heard me voicing my objections before, but now I said, "Scott we all hate you now." He swore at me and walked off.
Well, he can say "fuck you" to all the objections, but if I had been a regular viewer I would decide never to watch Street Time again. He had become irredeemable, in my opinion. Even though they let him release James in the end, he had put the woman and the baby through a terrible, unnecessary trauma, had stomped around her house yelling like a storm trooper and "taking charge" of the situation when she was moaning, "Get away. I want my husband." I broke empathy with him irreversibly. I would never give him a second chance. He never had to handcuff Kevin. If anything, he should merely have informed him that they were going to arrest him as soon as the baby is born and that they would wait outside in the hallway until that time. Richard says the police would have arrested him and taken him without delay-that they had "humanized" James by having him allow Kevin 10 or 15 minutes with the cuffs removed. Sorry. That may be how "real" cops work, but if so it means we need a complete overhaul of our criminal justice system, and it certainly means that James has become a villain instead of one of the heroes of the show. "Good guy turns bad" is a terrible story line.
So at 6 pm I left for home. They would be working very late that night, since there were other scenes to shoot, but I had to prepare for the showing of episodes 5 and 6 to our group at 7:30. I was so agitated! It has felt as if I had been in a train wreck. I was able to suppress some of the anxiety until after my guests left, but then it came up in full force during the night. I writhed in stress. I'll bet my cortisol levels were sky high and I hardly slept a wink. By 5 am I decided to get up, sit in the dark and do calisthenics with my arms. (There are not many exercises I can do with my hip and knee disability.) I flailed away physically for half an hour or so and went back to bed, only slightly less tense, until I got up and read the paper at 7:30. Still I was feeling extreme stress. It continued until after 2 pm today, when I finally decided I could do some work. This reminds me that I must keep my emotions in mind as the meter indicating how I feel about the ethics of the situation.
The experience made me think about the conditions under which a character becomes irredeemable. The surprising thing is that my own reaction was so strong, after I had sat through all kinds of other unpleasant scenes. I have to think through what I mean by guilt. Yes, it is easy for me to say that the goal is to eliminate a "culture of blame," by not just pegging certain people as blameworthy and treating them as if this categorization and punishment were the whole name of the game. I believe that is generally true, but whatever theory I have about when violence and abuse are justified must also include the Zillmann "dispositional theory," which is indeed a theory that requires standards for defining good and evil behavior. I am not enthusiastic about dispositional theory precisely because it raises questions about what a protagonist justly deserves.
It would be easy just to say that imitation occurs in a "monkey-see, monkey- do" way (which to some extent it probably does) but the main way that a TV show influences people is through imitation of those specific characters with whom we empathize - especially those with whom we cathect.
Aristotle was preoccupied with the bad effects of having unpleasant things happen to good people. I think we can live with that. I think we just cannot live with having good people turn into bad people. But we can tolerate that to some degree, as we do when we continue to empathize with Kevin (or Tony Soprano or even Hitler if that new series is produced). The question Rob asked me was, when do we give up on good people? What makes them irredeemable? I think it must involve the question whether their victims deserve the treatment or not. He says he can stand having his character kill someone if "it's me or him." I am not sure that's the (whole?) criterion. If the other character is good, then Kevin as a killer is blameworthy; if the other character is bad, then Kevin as a killer may not be blameworthy - but if and only if there is no other way to stop his guilty behavior. (If "it's him or me" that is a special case of the more general rule that action is needed to stop his guilty behavior - stop him from killing someone who is either innocent or at least less guilty than he is.)
Dee shot Dugan. We didn't mind. She was protecting a bad guy from another bad guy. That's justifiable, so she was not guilty. She says later that she doesn't have any guilt, doesn't even think about it. This is not a wonderful outcome, and if we are searching for a solution to the problem instead of blowing people away, we will avoid that. But still, she is probably right that she doesn't feel remorse, and we are glad she does not.
What makes James's action different in the Hunter apartment? First, he already knows Kevin well and has every reason to know that he is not dangerous. He can immediately see that Rachel is in labor and he knows her and has had a friendly relationship with her. He can be sure that Kevin is not going to flee that situation and certainly not use a gun on him or the marshals. And he knows there is a baby being born imminently. Kevin deserves to be arrested, but Rachel does not (well, we viewers may think that she does deserve it to some degree, but he is not there to arrest her), and certainly the baby does not deserve a brutal birth. This is an unnecessary assault against people who do not deserve it. We cannot forgive that.
So you can't just say what specific actions are immoral. It depends on who is doing those actions to whom, under what circumstances. We have to include some of the moral principles that are involved in jurisprudence.
What makes a person irredeemable? It is not the severity of the action so much as the fact that he knows it is an unnecessary action against a comparatively innocent person. The element that gets glossed over too readily in movies is the question of necessity. There is rarely any attention given to whether the action is truly necessary or whether there is some better alternative. That certainly is the case in the brutalization of the Hunters - there is no discussion about the consequences of these actions for innocent (or even relatively innocent) people.
The trouble is, people admire James. Viewers like him. That is why they might emulate him. If he were an anonymous character, the scene would probably have less serious consequences. But as it happens, there will be people who will violate the understandings that women are to be treated as sacred objects of absolute respect when they are in labor. That is why the episode is far more contemptible than any previous ones showing the use of violence toward culpable characters.
It is true that occasionally we may have a tragic story in which a good person harms an innocent person by mistake, so that we do not give up on him. The story about the two guys in World War I who spare each other until one thinks, mistakenly, that one of them is firing, and so he fires and kills the guy who has just spared his life. The terrible thing is that this perpetrator is, himself, a victim too, for he will have to live with the knowledge that he killed a benefactor and that is a terrible thing to have done. We don't break empathy with him. In fact, it is a terribly poignant story for we pity him. It gets at our hearts in a way that lots of movies fail to do, including for example, Apocalypse Now, which does not draw upon our empathy much. There's more violence in Apocalypse Now, and most people are victims of circumstance, but not the hero. He could refuse to take the journey. He kills a bad guy, but feels no remorse, and we feel nothing much for him, one way or the other. The message is supposed to be a simple one: War is bad. But everyone is a killer, and everyone is a victim, and there is little basis suggested for either an alternative or for anyone to reclaim innocence. In a way, the movie justifies the behavior of everyone. They are all in a predicament not of their own making, so there are no good guys and bad guys, and nothing good will come of this evil.
I spent the afternoon watching the editing of episode 118. It was a small room with a guy (Don Cassidy) sitting at the table in front of the computer and some TV monitors. Marc Levin was sitting on the couch watching and making suggestions for Don to perform. It seems to be a Macintosh, though I didn't look carefully or see any logo. The bottom part of the screen has a colored grid that runs across it. Apparently, as the scene numbers are constantly running, all the takes of the same scene are synchronized and stacked up on each other, like about five or six time lines, each represented by different colors. As he decides where to start and stop a segment, he does it by dragging a line to the left or right. That shows the corresponding scene on the monitor. If he wants to choose a different take, he evidently does it by selecting one of the colored strips from a higher part of the stack. He can rearrange these scenes just by selecting them and moving them around by, I guess, clicking on them.
There were several interesting scenes because it was the final episode of the series. In one scene James and the family are celebrating Timmy's birthday at a wall-climbing place. He invites Karen to go to the big police ceremony for his recognition. Later he is being awarded the plaque for saving Skouras's life. Karen shows up and stands in the doorway. Then there is a family party in a restaurant and James's brother, a priest, is there, asking about their marriage troubles.
There are a couple of scenes in the art gallery with Don Goldstein, Rachel's father. Kevin and Peter are there, packing money into pictures for shipping. Don tells Kevin to be smart and quit while he's ahead, since there's about $40 million profit in hand. Kevin doesn't say what he's going to do. Then James and Dee arrive to check it out, Kevin and Peter go out to see them. James meets Peter for the first time, reminds Kevin he's not supposed to see his brother, but he says they are handling family business re the will, etc.
Soon at the customs office we see the dogs sniff out the money in the pictures, which will be used in the case against Kevin and Don.
There is a scene with Valentine about what Dee and James are going to do regarding Skouras. They have to make up their mind soon, she says. There's another scene in the bar that I watched being shot, where Ennis arrives and tells them he's closing in on the case against Kevin with the stool pigeon, Freddy.
There's a scene with Kevin and Peter at the post-funeral events with their mother, and also in her back yard. The DEA guy is watching next door. They are going to take care of her after the death of their father.
There's a scene which I saw shot with Kevin and Rachel when he massages her feet and she is talking about hoping for a different kind of life for the baby. Then he goes out to take a phone call from Freddy. (Freddy has returned to town from Paris to cooperate with the DEA. He and Ennis discuss it in a car.) Then Kevin comes back and talks to Rachel about it. Freddy wants to meet; wants peace. She warns him to go to a public place to meet Freddy.
So he goes to a Middle Eastern restaurant/bar. Wears a recording device, warns Kevin by a gesture that he is wired. Kevin proclaims that he is not in the hashish business, shakes his hand, and leaves. Then Freddy goes to the dressing room of the belly dancer, opens a bottle of champagne. Peter comes in, wearing a slight disguise, and shoots him, then leaves. Ennis arrives. Phones James.
I didn't see one missing scene that I had watched being shot in the parole office where James gets Valentine to issue a warrant to violate Kevin, since the stool pigeon is dead and the case against Kevin and Peter died with him.
There's a ridiculous sex scene with James and Karen. She shows up at his office at night after the award ceremony. He shoves the stuff off his desk and they fuck, fully clad. It was about as unromantic as anyone could imagine. The editor said something about "fucking like animals." But that is too generous, in that animal passion has a certain erotic quality (well, it depends on the animal, I guess, but lions are extremely erotic) whereas this scene was devoid of both romance and physical passion. He was mechanical; she was an ice queen. I couldn't help comparing it to the sensitive lovemaking that Kevin and Rachel carry on.
All this was pretty brief because it was intercut with some other scenes as a montage toward the end. Don has been arrested. Peter has killed Freddy and taken off for parts unknown with Pia. And James has arrested Kevin in that famous scene that upset me so much. But watching the editing was extremely validating for me. As soon as it began to appear on screen, Marc said that he wanted to cut it as much as possible because "all that screaming and yelling is over the top." It sure was! But he had to show some of it because it is so crucial. Rachel's water breaks and our favorite storm trooper has to call the midwife, who asks how far apart her contractions are. They needed to leave that much in, but he cut more than half of it out. Hallelujah! Only I am sorry in a way that the women in Hollywood didn't (and won't) have any input into the discussion. In some previous episodes, the women had intervened and I am pretty sure they would have done so this time too. But we will never know now!
Then there's the montage of clips winding toward a conclusion. Kevin faces James and asks how justice was served by preventing him from being present at his daughter's birth. James reminds him that he violated himself, and that unless he cooperates with them, he will never see the light of day, never see his family again. Kevin looks somber. Interspersed with these shots, we see the actual birth, with the two midwives present. (Michelle did a terrific job of that!) And there's Kevin being issued his orange jumpsuit in jail and being led to his cell, where he sits on the cot really thinking things over for the first time, I guess. And interspersed with these scenes, there are James and Karen fucking on the desk. We see Rachel at home alone, holding her new baby. Finally we fade to black on Kevin lying down on his bed in jail.
I think the whole episode works pretty well - though if they had shot the childbirth/arrest scene differently it could have been a wonderfully powerful scene instead of the nerve-wracking truncated shouting match that we do see there. At least that scene ends with a nice touch as Kevin is finally allowed to comfort Rachel, who is not only in hard labor but distraught at all these disasters, which she had foreseen.
Nevertheless, though Kevin has never demonstrated any insight about the true nature of his lifestyle, during the course of the series I think everyone will have come to like him. Initially, I didn't like him - mostly because of the prostitutes in the pilot episode. And I felt he was unbelievably malleable in accepting his crooked brother and brother-in-law. But over time, his sweet nature won me over. I love the relationships he has with Rachel and Sean.
James, on the other hand, has become less likeable, to my mind. His stupid conclusion of the marital rift by this crude sex scene is hardly endearing. And his treatment of Kevin's arrest is a completely classic case of police brutality.
I could probably get an interview with Marc tomorrow, but I am not sure I want it right now. I think it might be better to wait until I have done the conversation with Richard. That may not take place until after my surgery.
The remaining tasks for me to do re Street Time are: type up the last two discussions of the tapes. And organize the scripts in the binders, then read them along with viewing, making notations about all changes. That should put me in a good position to ask sensible questions of Richard when I get a chance.