“The Shield”: You have the right to remain silent on the set
We had to hold up outside “The Shield” set until the red light indicating live filming stopping flashing. When it did, we could enter, and we hung out with the shorts-and-T-shirt clad crew behind the sets (picture a framed but unfinished house) while another scene was shot, visible to the crew on monitors showing it from two different angles.
I was fascinated by the verbal countdown to filming. If I’m remembering it correctly, someone started counting down from five, saying only “five” and “four” out loud. Someone yelled “Rolling!”, and the cameras presumably clicked on. Someone with one of those famous film clapboards called out “A-mark!” and clapped the slate together, followed by someone doing the same while calling out “B-mark!”
A booming voice shouted “Background!”, which was the signal for the extras to start walking through the police station, pushing buttons on a copier, shuffling through papers, pretending to be joking with co-workers, all while not really saying anything, so as not to drown out the actors who were the focus of the scene.
And then the word you’ve heard in so many, many, movies about movies: “ACTION!” We visitors all held our breath and prayed fervently not to sneeze or drop a pen. A cameraman slowly wheeled a camera forward, just outside of the action. After only a few minutes of this, the other famous movie-call came: “CUT!” And we could breathe again.
Then we were allowed to walk through the “Shield” set. As you know if you watch, the fictional police unit is set up in a converted church, and the rooms of the set reflect that. There are stained-glass windows, pews, and even the Stations of the Cross on the walls. We climbed stairs to the rooms above the main police room, with its checkerboard tiled floor and beat-up desks, and we silently peered down on the action as two or three more scenes were shot.
Not that I’d give away any plot even if I knew any, but the actual action was about as thrilling as spying on the receptionists at your dental office as they do their filing. No one was shooting or strangling anyone, these were just scenes of office work, though surely when we see them on FX they’ll be infused with dramatic dialogue and character development.
Located just behind the wall of the main police set are giant cages, representing the lockup, in which four extras playing bad guys lounged in (presumably fake) sweat-stained clothing, occasionally clinging to the cage walls. We also walked through the interrogation room and numerous other offices. I was impressed both by how dingy the set was created to look (peeling paint, scarred floors) and how accurate it seems (police recruitment posters on the wall, criminal-record files in the cabinets). We’d had a chance to speak to star Michael Chiklis, creator Shawn Ryan, and his cast earlier, but as we left the “Shield” set, Chiklis’ stand-in, a cheery lookalike named Brad, waved to us from one of the set’s rooms.
To the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ set, STAT, with a McDreamy martini
We then headed a few doors down to one of two multi-room “Grey’s Anatomy” hospital sets we’d visit that day. The first room we stumbled into was an operating room with a table featuring a bloody resident: A mannequin posing as a patient who just wasn’t doing too well. Not only was his belly carved out (and lined with something red, for extra guts-appeal), one or two of the fingers on his left hand were crudely broken off. (Perhaps he was a member of the Japanese yakuza.)
While we examined our bloody friend, a much more pleasant visitor stopped in: Actress Chandra Wilson, who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey on the show, clad in her blue scrubs. The interns on the show may be terrified of Bailey, but Wilson (who’s a tiny five feet tall) could not have been nicer, accepting congratulations on her and talking about how she was actually in labor with her most recent child while filming scenes for the show, only heading to the hospital the next morning, when her water broke.
As with “The Shield” set, “Grey’s” featured realism at all corners. So much so that a certain reporter — OK, it was me — pushed open a restroom door only to find out it was a fake restroom, behind it were only the backs of more sets.
I live in Seattle, and let me tell you, I saw more images of my city at the set of the fake Seattle Grace Hospital than I’ve ever seen in the real Seattle. The walls and lockers featured schedules for King County libraries, signs advertising events at downtown’s Pike Place Market, and posters for the Spirit of Washington dinner train. Native American artwork of a style frequently seen in Seattle decked some walls, giant photos of the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and the city skyline hung on others. The poster that caught most people’s eyes was one for Gay Bingo, a real Seattle event.
Copies of Seattle Magazine littered tables and racks (I spotted an April 2004 copy — just like real doctors; the magazine selection is kinda vintage). Even the takeout menus pinned to various bulletin boards were for real Seattle restaurants (the 5 Spot and 727 Pine, among others). “I feel like I’m home,” I crowed to a writer from a different city, later getting my comeuppance when a crew member confessed the show rarely shoots anything in the real Seattle. (Although a strip club Courtney Love reportedly once danced at is just down the street from the studio.)
More realistic props helped add to the illusion that this was a real hospital. I spent perhaps too much time studying a “Cosmetic Wound Closure” chart on one wall. I also perused Seattle Grace Hospital’s posted telephone directory: Dial extension 5352 if you want to reach mental-health administration!
A second block of Seattle Grace rooms were located in a set across the way from this one. That set included the main nurse’s station, the main elevators (they’re fake), and trauma rooms, including the one where Burke was taken when he was shot. Other cast members wandering through the set and taking time to talk to us included Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh, Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers, Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight and James Pickens, Jr. My favorite conversation was between Oh and Pompeo, and began when a reporter asked about a rumor she’d heard that Isaiah Washington was leaving the show (don’t pass out, fans, no one uncovered any truth to the rumor).
Oh shrieked and turned to the nearby Pompeo to ask if she’d heard this rumor. Pompeo hadn’t but she gamely teased her co-star, whose character is of course dating Washington’s character. “What’s Cristina Yang going to do?” she playfully asked. “Meredith could give her a few pointers on how to move on. We’ll have to go to a bar, have a drink, and I’ll tell you the inappropriate things to do when drunk!”
Pieces of “Anatomy”
- A reporter asked Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey, costumed in scrubs with a pager clipped to his waist, “What happens if someone calls the number on your pager?” Dempsey confessed he wasn’t sure, but that “Somebody’s gonna be upset about it.”
- At the party ABC threw for actors and critics the night before the set visit, one of the drinks offered was a “Steamy McDreamy martini.” Dempsey allowed that he didn’t attend the party, but if he had a chance “I would certainly taste it.”
- Katherine Heigl was asked if Izzie will return to the surgical intern program, and she didn’t sound hopeful. “You kind of have to lose a bit of your soul [to pursue surgery],” Heigl said. “[Izzie is] never going to sacrifice a piece of her soul to be a surgeon.”
- Ellen Pompeo was asked the hardest thing about playing a doctor. “Surgery scenes can be kinda gross,” she allowed. “It smells. They use animal parts [to depict human organs].”