jae: (theamericansgecko)
[personal profile] jae posting in [community profile] theamericans
Yesterday, [dreamwidth.org profile] sistermagpie and I got the chance to spend about five hours as guests of the The Americans team that is currently filming season three. It was every bit as amazing as that makes it sound and then some! The guys who took over scheduling my visit (it was complicated to plan since I had to come in from so far and book my flight well in advance) were friendly and responsive from the get-go, and once we arrived at the studio, all of the cast, crew, and creatives we met went above and beyond anything we had imagined.

When we arrived, we were given a set of sheets with information about the day's filming. The top sheet included information about who was in charge (in terms of executive producers, the producer, and the director), a weather forecast, an address of a nearby hospital (just in case!), as well as a list of cast members and stand-ins and the times they had to be on set for which purposes (for hair and makeup or on set ready to perform). It also included special instructions for the various scenes (such as props that needed to be present), and a little bit at the bottom about the advance schedule for the following day's shooting (which scenes they were going to do, etc.). The pages that followed were excerpts from the script for the day's scenes.

First we watched a bit of filming, then we were taken on a long and very thorough tour of the various sets and production offices by a couple of very generous crew members, and finally we came back to watch more filming. We met and briefly spoke to creator Joe Weisberg and Daniel Sackheim, Stuart Zicherman and Molly Nussbaum from the writing staff, as well as Matthew Rhys (Philip), Keidrich Sellati (Henry), Noah Emmerich (Stan), and Annet Mahendru (Nina). We also saw Holly Taylor (Paige), Keri Russell (Elizabeth), and the director for episodes 303 and 304 (we'll let the team reveal who that is as they see fit) up close but didn't talk to them.

What follows are our (completely spoiler-free!) thoughts about what we saw. We've tried to put together a description of the kinds of things that we as pretty hardcore The Americans fans would want to hear about if one of you had been lucky enough to get to do what we did.

• They have two groupings of sets in two different large warehouses in New York. There's a bit of distance between them, to the extent that they need to travel between them with a van.

• The outsides of these buildings are really unglamourous. You'd never know by looking at them that they contain all of these extensive fictional worlds.

• The sets are so intricate! All of the little homey details in the Jennings' living room, with just the right magazines on the coffee table, the period throw pillows, the pictures on the walls, the 80s fireplace. The kitchen with kids' drawings and younger photographs of them pinned to the fridge and the 80s potholder hanging from the stove. The FBI offices with little pinup sheets about employee rights on a bulletin board and the period computers and the bulletin board full of photos of "bad guys" (including the sketches of our Illegals!) and other clues. The Rezidentura with its "marble" (they're actually styrofoam, but you have to touch them to tell--even from close up they're really authentic-looking) walls and statues on the fireplace and the tea set and the enormous Lenin picture. But look up from any of these sets and you're suddenly in a different world: the tall ceilings of a warehouse, with metal beams and suspended lights and sprayed-on soundproofing insulation everywhere.

• The two scenes we got to see filmed consisted of one with Paige and Henry from episode 303, and one with Paige, Philip, and Elizabeth from 304. Episodes 303 and 304 have the same director.

• The sets where they filmed those two scenes were each very small and enclosed, so we (and members of the production team) watched filming as it was occurring on a pair of two screens on the other side of the set. We were each given a headset attached to a receiving device (labeled "WRITER") that allowed us to listen to the various takes, as well as the direction the actors were getting. As we watched, we sat on "director's chairs" that read THE AMERICANS on the back with the show's logo. Directly behind us were the chairs that read "Joe Weisberg, Executive Producer" and "Joel Fields, Executive Producer." Further back there was a second set of chairs with the names of each of the Jennings family.

• There were so many people on set! When you watch the show it's easy to forget that there's so much more to a production like this than just the cast and the writers and directors. We met or saw camera operators, caterers, people in charge of the background actors (i.e. "extras"), props professionals, and dozens of other people whose jobs weren't clear to folks not in the industry, but who were clearly working really hard. To a one, everyone was delightful. This is a terrific team.

• There was a sign up in the viewing area that said: "Please RESPECT THE SET. This is a workplace, please do not eat, sleep, or lounge on set." (Not that there was any time to eat, sleep, or lounge! Seriously, everybody was working so hard.)

• The crew we talked to all seemed to be working on other shows, too. One of them was also working on Girls, while another had worked on The Affair.

• The set is quite chilly! We were moving around a lot, but we can only imagine what it's like for the cast members to film very sedentary scenes (not to mention scenes where they're not wearing much).

• Both of the scenes we saw filmed began with a blocking rehearsal with each cast member's stand-ins (who seemed to have been chosen because their colouring approximately matched that of "their" cast members), and then the cast members were brought in. They filmed each scene in several takes from a more distant camera angle, and then did several more takes from a closer camera angle, and then yet again from a still closer camera angle.

• Matthew Rhys joked around a little during rehearsal, but never in a way that caused them to fall behind. The joking was also always in character and with his Philip accent.

• Matthew Rhys also does his lines a little bit differently in each take. This is really noticeable.

• Holly Taylor takes direction really well, and is ready to ad-lib if she has to.

• The various stages had signs on the doors describing what was inside (like "Studio 2: FBI Headquarters"). There were also signs everywhere that read "Please close door gently, we take sound seriously. Thank you."

• Different sets are grouped together than you might think: the travel agency is in with both the Rezidentura set and the FBI safe house, for example, and Martha's apartment is in with the basement laundry.

• There was a "craft services" room that served as a lunchroom, and there was so much food there. There were always people coming in and out with various snacks, and the lunch that they were served in the middle of the day was really hearty. (When they ate lunch, Holly Taylor sat across from Keidrich Sellati, just like they do "at home.")

• Annet Mahendru has a little white dog who she brings with her to the set. At one point he got loose from his lead and ran out from the craft services room into the hallway, almost making it out onto the street!

• The bathrooms are all in one hallway, but there is a whole row of individual rooms just in case everyone has to go at once.

• The room where they do their table reads has stills on the wall of various scenes from the show.

• The cast members who were shooting that day each had a little room where they could store their stuff/hang out when they weren't busy. The names on the doors were their characters' names.

We are so excited about season three now, we can't even express it. (!!!!!)

Date: 2014-11-07 04:04 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
I must have missed the announcement it was going to happen!

Sounds wonderful, and a very deserved trip - fan of the show that I am, I wouldn't pay for flights to see it being filmed :)

Date: 2014-11-07 05:13 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: Dude says NO to heterosexuality. (mmm... vice)
From: [personal profile] soupytwist
I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS POST SO MUCH. Eeeeee. How exciting! It sounds like it was just as fantastic as it should be! Eee!

Date: 2014-11-07 05:17 pm (UTC)
dafna: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dafna
OK, fine, I'll be the one to ask. How dreamy is Rhys up close? (Feel free to discuss dreaminess of other actors as well.)

Date: 2014-11-07 08:11 pm (UTC)
sistermagpie: Classic magpie (Default)
From: [personal profile] sistermagpie
He looked...exactly the same, I thought! Though it was funny seeing him changed into one of Philip's standard uniforms on the show.

When I'd first gotten there I didn't know how to find the person we were supposed to see, so I asked a crew member. When the crew person wasn't sure MR, who just happened to be nearby, asked who I needed, looked around for him, and then led me to his office.

As a New Yorker, I of course was bound to pretend I had no idea who he was throughout the exchange--besides being a nice, friendly guy.:-) But I'd say the "nice/friendly" coupled with the later "funny/professional" definitely works in favor of more dreaminess.

Date: 2014-11-08 03:36 am (UTC)
dafna: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dafna
Very cool and it's nice to know he was friendly.

Date: 2014-11-07 06:21 pm (UTC)
umbo: (clark gregg smile)
From: [personal profile] umbo
That is so cool that you got to do this! Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Date: 2014-11-07 07:01 pm (UTC)
goodbyebird: The Americans: Elizabeth and Phillip looking haggard, "You cant live that way." (The Americans show me another way)
From: [personal profile] goodbyebird
Oh very cool! No doubt a memory for life =)

Date: 2014-11-07 07:01 pm (UTC)
dolorosa_12: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dolorosa_12
Wow! What a fantastic experience! I'm glad you both had such a great time.

Date: 2014-11-07 07:10 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] georgley
Agh!!! This is so cool. I'm so happy that you got to do something like this and that it ended up being such a positive experience.

I can't wait to find out which scenes you got to see when those episodes actually air!

Date: 2014-11-07 07:12 pm (UTC)
cadma: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cadma
This sounds amazing!! Does it mean the people who make the show are reading this community? Also I'm intrigued by the enclosed sets -- can you say if one of them is the laundry room?

Date: 2014-11-07 07:32 pm (UTC)
sistermagpie: Classic magpie (Default)
From: [personal profile] sistermagpie
Closed set doesn't refer to a specific set being always closed, it just means that when they're shooting that particular scene the set will be closed--iow, there's no extra people allowed. In the case that we saw I assumed it was because one of the characters was supposed to be naked at one point in the scene, so the actor would be in limited clothing.

Date: 2014-11-07 07:58 pm (UTC)
sistermagpie: Classic magpie (Default)
From: [personal profile] sistermagpie
Ah! Duh, that never even occurred to me. Sorry cadma!

Date: 2014-11-11 08:14 am (UTC)
cadma: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cadma
No problem! I didn't know about closed sets either so it's all interesting.

Date: 2014-11-11 08:27 am (UTC)
cadma: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cadma
It didn't occur to me they would know about it but I guess they would be interested in what's out there. They sound like they like sharing what they do.

Did you see this article?

Date: 2014-11-07 07:54 pm (UTC)
selenak: (The Americans by Tinny)
From: [personal profile] selenak
Lucky lucky you! Thank you so much for this report!

Date: 2014-11-07 08:52 pm (UTC)
astridv: (Default)
From: [personal profile] astridv
I'm so happy for you that it turned out as awesome as it promised to be. Fan heaven!

Date: 2014-11-07 10:36 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh, my. You are so lucky.


Date: 2014-11-08 11:40 am (UTC)
robbie: los angeles skyline logo (hollywood)
From: [personal profile] robbie
Oh, I'm so glad it was as awesome as you'd hoped!

It's so funny how I'm blase about movie/TV sets and forget how it's very much different (and pretty magical) for people who aren't used to being on a set. I haven't worked in TV in ages, but I remember when I first stepped foot on the set of "The Young & the Restless," I was shocked at how the sets looked bigger on TV and the actors looked so much tinier (mostly thinner) IRL.

It was always so interesting to watch people act, do the different takes, etc, and see if they did it exactly the same each time or changed it up, like you said Matthew Rhys does, and see how the director would talk to them to get what he or she wanted if the actor was doing something different than they'd hoped for. I'm guessing things move a lot slower on a set like "The Americans," though I don't mean like they're lazy; just that they're doing one hour a week rather than five and have a bigger budget (I'd hope), so more care can be taken with each scene.

A soap is not quite the same as a filmed or 1-camera show because Y&R shot on tape and they had 3 cameras running at once, though they did sometimes go back for closeups or retakes. In the booth, the show was actually being edited live up to a point, because there was a technical director (TD) switching from camera to camera on the director's finger-snaps. So when they went to the real editing room, some but not all of the work was already done for them.

Anyway, enough about me and my obsession with movie and TV productions. I'm so happy you had such a good experience and get to share it with other fans of the show! And after it airs you can talk about the spoilers and how the scenes you saw fit in. ;-) What a super-cool experience!

Date: 2014-11-09 01:46 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] treonb
This is really cool! I'm intrigued about the ad-lib part, but don't want to get into any spoilers. Can you update more when we get to those eps?

Date: 2014-11-10 01:08 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] treonb
You're right, it's not spoilery at all. But wow, it does sound amazing to see all those little things behind-the-scenes.

Did they mean to voiceover the entire scene? Do they do that?

Date: 2014-11-10 01:22 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] treonb
When I vid, I'd love to have that ability to mute out background noises. I know they must have a way to do it, I just have no idea how.

Date: 2014-11-09 02:02 pm (UTC)
alisonx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alisonx
Thank you for the write-up.
I'm so glad you guys had a great time!!

Date: 2014-11-13 12:45 am (UTC)
quantumreality: (americans1)
From: [personal profile] quantumreality
SQUEEEEE! That is so awesome that you got to actually see the show being filmed :D

Date: 2014-11-17 01:37 am (UTC)
katiac: (Default)
From: [personal profile] katiac
What an awesome eexperience! Thanks for the great write-up with so many cool details!


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