Thursday, July 19, 2012

Behind the scenes at a film studio

As they say, “write what you know,” so for my next new mystery, The Sinister Sitcom Caper, I drew on my experiences as a page for Paramount Pictures. I created a fictional movie studio for my book but used some of the impressions and experiences of my Hollywood experience.

When I was at Paramount more than a decade ago, the pages had two main jobs: giving studio tours in the day and ushering audiences for sitcom tapings in the evening. At that time the tour consisted of a two-hour walk through the main areas of the 65-acre lot (in the current tour, the guests ride in shuttle carts). As the group walked, I talked about the history of the lot. As I talked, I walked backwards so I could face the group and make sure nobody wandered off (while doing this I only tripped over something once).

At some of the soundstages I was able to take the group inside to see an actual TV set (very few movies were shot on the lot and the ones that did were closed to visitors). A couple of sitcoms let tour groups come in and watch rehearsals.

Paramount has a huge backlot built to resemble various neighborhoods in New York City, including a “subway stop” that goes into the ground (and nowhere else). Trees, mailboxes, lampposts and signs can be added to “dress” the streets. The overhead pipe system can create “rain” or “snow” on cue. Cars can be driven onto the streets for a shot. Occasionally my tour group could watch filming on the backlot.

Shooting a 20-minute sitcom takes a minimum of three hours--the usual time was four hours. Some of the long running shows moved quickly and were fun to watch as they were made.  In some shows (which were not funny), the actors kept forgetting their lines or the writers revised the script between takes. I remember one especially lengthy night for an unsold pilot. After five hours the show had not finished, most of the audience had left, and the pages were sent home. That show is probably still taping.

 If you ever visit Los Angles, I highly recommend taking the Paramount tour and, if you can, making reservations to watch a sitcom taping. It's a terrific way to see the entertainment industry up close. 
Sally Carpenter
"The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"
Eureka! Award finalist


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