At this point in the season we were well over the production hump and had an established daily routine. Of the writing staff members, I was always there first in the morning, for a couple of reasons. Stories about the density of L.A. traffic are known far and wide and are quite true. There are certain windows of opportunity, however, where you can miss the busy times and arrive at your destination with relative ease. I would typically leave at around 6AM, which would get me to the studio by 6:30 — moderately painless. Arriving early would afford me some nice “quiet time” to catch up and reflect on things. It would also provide an uninterrupted period in which to make script rewrites, of which there were quite a few in “Map of the Mind.”
Because our soundstage, Stage Three, was between my office and the parking structure, I would often see some of the busiest members of our crew already hard at work — our set decorators, Debra Combs and John Lieberman, and our prop guy, Bill Belt. Sometimes I would pop in to chat and to find out what they were up to. I was often accused by Chris of being the first to arrive and the last to leave, but these three always seemed to have me beat. They were responsible for the overall look and detail of each set. And DETAIL is the operative word here. The detail of well dressed stage can mean the difference between a room that looks real and one that looks like a set. Often the minutiae are noticed only by the actors and don’t even read on the screen — from notices on a bulletin board to a character’s picture I.D. My favorite example was The Chandler ashtrays. They were your garden variety glass trays with the Chandler hotel logo nicely rendered on them. But since these items were, for all intents and purposes, invisible to the home viewer I’ve often wondered if the unseen features were meant to be more of a signature than a noticeable highlight of the prop. A personal expression on the quality of the work perhaps by the people who made them. Certainly these crew-members deserved to take their bow. They never failed to impress me.
Arriving in my office on this day I knew I had my hands full. No time for a quiet cup of coffee on the bungalow steps. I had to dive right into it. Some big changes needed to happen to “Map of the Mind.” It was determined that the script as it had come in did not focus enough on our main people but rather more on the guest stars who were the inmates. It was essentially a story where two of our characters are stuck on the inside of an asylum and the other two are trying to figure out how to get them out. It also lacked a strong sci-fi element and the parallel-world angle needed to be pumped up a bit. David decided that to instill a greater sense of main-character involvement Diana needed to have her mind remapped.
I came up with the notion that it should go beyond a simple high-tech lobotomy. We needed to ask the question, how is this world different from our usual run-of-the-mill oppressive-government world, and what does that difference do to our story? I suggested that on this world the logic and creative functions of the brain’s hemispheres were reversed and as a result the remapping should effect Diana in an unusual manner. It seemed like an interesting premise, though the results seemed a little close to some of the concepts addressed in Requiem. We decided to move ahead with those foundational changes anyway, feeling there were sufficient differences between the two stories. With that in place I was forging ahead on the rewrite, with a number of smaller alterations to follow.
As the morning progressed Bill and Chris had arrived and settled into their own routines. Bill’s first order of business was usually putting out any fires that were going on in and around the set. Not that there were that many. Most problems that needed tending to were little ones and often didn’t even qualify as problems. Occasionally we would get a call from the set asking for a line change. I was always impressed by the way the actors respected the writing staff. They were never pushy about changes that needed to be made and more times than not they were right to ask for the adjustments. Especially Cleavant and Kari who had been in their roles the longest and knew their characters better than anyone. Often times they would catch something that we missed. I was always happy to personally head out to the stage to make the changes with them. For one thing it got me out of the office but it also gave me a chance to work more directly with our stars who were always wonderful. Sometimes being cooped up in the bungalow on a daily basis I felt a little removed from the process. These occasional sojourns made me feel more like a team member.
When we were in production on the backlot lunches were always catered. On these days Bill always found a reason to head back to check up on things. When Chris and I would challenge him on these little impromptu inspections he with a flair of indignation but with a twinkle in his eye pointed out that it was an important part of his job. He needed to keep a close eye on his people. Chris and I knew he was doing it for the free lunch. We, of course, being his right and left hand men had to accompany him. Besides, Salvatore the caterer always had a terrific spread.
On this day, however, Bill’s presence was mandatory. Unfortunately there was a fire he had to put out. The Universal backlot is much more than a vast collection of fake buildings. It’s also an integral part of the Universal Studios tour. As such there is a constant stream of trams providing visitors with a narrated overview of this historic locale. Though tram traffic was typically routed around any productions in progress, often times the tourists would get a peek of a company hard at work creating television magic. Today a crew member decided to enhance the visitors’ experience by mooning one of the passing trams. Though seemingly funny to most of us on the inside there were some complaints filed and Bill had to do some damage control.
After the damage control (lunch) we returned to our bungalow and me to my cave (office). I had another handful of notes and changes to make to the script, including the addition of Rembrandt’s riot-rousing speech to the inmates of the Oakwood Remapping Institute. Pre-production for “Map of the Mind” was a week away we were getting dangerously close to the deadline. Meanwhile, Robert took the time to stop by the offices himself to stir up his own brand of trouble. He’s a very upbeat individual and was a lot of fun to have around.
By six Bill and Chris were both gone. I would usually hang back a while longer. Again to miss the traffic, to finish up my work of the day and frankly because I loved being there. Besides, this was a particularly busy time for me and my next script, A Thousand Deaths was next on the docket. I clocked out, so to speak, at around seven-thirty — anxious to get home so I could start the process again early the next morning.
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