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07 September 2009 @ 05:42 pm
Finding the Holy Grail, Parts Two and Three: Supernatural on Location (no real spoilers)  
Finding the Holy Grail, Parts Two and Three: Supernatural on Location (no real spoilers)

In my last post, I danced for having finally seen Supernatural shooting on location, even though it was night and I never actually saw Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. This post really picks up from that one, because before I left Vancouver, I managed to see filming twice more in daylight, and this time, got to see the boys at work!

I did get behind the scenes photos from both locations on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 1 and 2, including shots during filming on the first one, but I won’t post those photos until the episode (it’s 5.06) airs. [The photos are now up, since the episode has aired: see links at the bottom of this article!] The shots aren’t particularly spoilery – how often have we seen the boys walking to or from the car and talking? – but I’ll defer to the production folk, who really don’t want to see the fans spoiled before episodes air and who asked me to be discreet. All of the shots were taken from public rights of way adjacent to the filming; we were very careful never to trespass or intrude, and made certain that the crew knew that we would stop taking pictures and leave whenever they asked. They asked us to stop shooting photos before they began filming at the second location and we obliged, so I have no shots of the boys from there, but they never asked us to leave.

Without giving anything away, I can talk a bit about what I saw in terms of how things were done, and I will share one funny story from the crew and some observations of antics between takes.

Both of the locations were out in the country; no surprise, given how often Supernatural calls for lonely, isolated locales. Both locations were private homes in Delta and I won’t give away the exact addresses, because the people who live there shouldn’t be bothered. In a very sneaky move, though, the two locations were actually serving as three locations: one of the houses was doing double duty, being shot from the front as one character’s home, and being shot from the rear as a different character’s totally different house!

We reached the second location around noon on Wednesday while they were still prepping the area for the shoot and before most of the trucks arrived, so we got to watch a lot of the process. It was fun to realize how much additional set dressing the production brought to the location; even the weathered mailbox on its patch of weeds beside the driveway was a prop! It fit so well and looked so much a part of the landscape that we took for granted it was a fixture of the house until an idle toe poking at the weeds while we were chatting with a PA betrayed that the patch of weeds was attached to the base of the mailbox!

Across the street from the house and its mailbox was a short stretch of fence that was also a prop, and also looked as if it had been part of the landscape for the last thirty years. While we watched, the director asked Dave the carpenter to extend the fence a little and add some end character to it. Dave took a board into the ditch and jumped on it to break it artistically rather than simply sawing it off, and we watched him add the broken board to the end of the fence. The greensman brought over pots of long-stalked grass weeds, and placed them along the new stretch of broken fence to make it look as if it had all been there for years. Magic! The Impala parked right by that fence and the director shot the car from behind the fence, but Dave laughed later that the camera never even got near the new bit we saw him add at the end.

Speaking of the Impala, they brought two Impalas out on a flatbed to the second location. One was a beautifully polished and detailed hero car; the other wasn’t quite as happily shiny, and had a few maintenance issues in the paint job and the way the passenger door hung slightly off track. They used the second car to pick and mark the position of the Impala in the shot, and left it there during all the set-up work, including having two guys sit inside as doubles for Jared and Jensen while the cameras were adjusted; then they replaced it with the hero car, and after a bit, Jensen and Jared took their places. So even the car has an on-set double!

At both locations, they were using fog machines to add creepy fog to the ambiance. Considering that the weather was bright and sunny, the addition of creepy fog was particularly amusing. The smoke/fog machines were about the size of medium fire extinguishers, and used a vegetable oil base to produce white smoke. Each of the PA’s with a fog machine also carried a wooden paddle with a broad fan base on the end, and would set the machine on the ground and wave the paddle to waft the smoke in the direction of the shot. It was funny to see these strategically placed guys waving their fans to blow smoke across the scene!

The first location on both Tuesday and Wednesday was very close to Boundary Bay Airport. The land immediately north of the airport itself used to belong to Defence Canada, and during World War II had been the site of training barracks for communications and signalmen. The barracks are long gone but the base roads remain, and the fenced property is now controlled by either Delta or the Ministry of Transportation. Supernatural uses that area a lot, and have nicknamed it the North 40. (Riverview Hospital, the second most often used location, is teasingly referred to as "Stage Five.") All of the crossroads scenes, for example, were shot at the very same crossroad in that North 40 complex, just redressed to look different, and those roads have been used for every driving stunt from the truck in Route 666 to crashing the Impala at the end of Devil’s Trap to stopping the bus in After School Special. Almost any time the boys walk down an empty road, it’s in that complex because they don’t need to worry about controlling or restricting traffic on a live road. Any business locations they have to build that are supposed to be in the middle of nowhere and therefore don’t actually exist (since real businesses don’t survive in the middle of nowhere) – Harvelle’s, the gas station in Lazarus Rising, the diner where Sam was kidnapped in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1 – are built there. Because the house was so close to that complex, the circus – the collection of equipment trucks, makeup and dressing rooms, and trailers supporting the production – was located in the complex. We got a good feel for how important the teamsters are to the production, because they were constantly ferrying people and equipment between the circus and the location house in vans and small trucks. We also got a little fun thrill on Wednesday morning when Misha Collins arrived, driving himself in a white SUV with California plates, and gave us a wave when he was directed past us toward where the circus was parked!

Most of the scenes at the first location were interior ones, and several were supposed to be taking place at night. That setup was fun to watch: they had blackout curtains on metal frames that they simply set up against the outside of the windows to block the light indoors. Voílà, instant night!

At the second location, the circus was located in a field directly across from the house where they were shooting, basically in the front yard of a second farm. I failed to keep count of the number of trucks and trailers that pulled in, but it was an impressive total and an amazing sight as later arrivals – including the boys’ trailers – were backed into position in the midst of others already parked in the field. There were easily 130 to 150 people on site by the time all the cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs had arrived.

We saw them shoot one very brief scene with the Impala by the fence, which took two takes only because the first one was ruined by sirens in the distance (sound carries a long way in the country …). While the crew moved all the cameras and other equipment across the street into the yard of the house to film the next scene, the actors had a bit of a break, and we got to see Jared first romping with his dogs and then tossing a football with some kids and other members of the crew. Genevieve was also there, and part of the happy fun. Jared got teasingly scolded by the costume lady for the extent of his dishevelment, since he’d pulled out the tails of his costume shirt for cooler, freer movement and been slobbered on by dogs. Jensen, still neat as a pin, got in on the football action, catching the ball with one hand. The dogs were all having a field day, given all the room they had to run. In addition to Sadie and Harley, there was one that looked like a blue heeler mix, and a white ball of fluff that might have been Icarus, easily holding his own against the three bigger dogs. As soon as the camera setup was complete, playtime was over and both of the guys returned to duty, filming a scene in the yard of the house. There were more takes on that one, with more camera angles used.

They ran out of daylight and wrapped early, at least for the boys; there was a night scene that wouldn’t include them still on the schedule. We got waves from them as they were driven off, in separate SUVs. We saw a crane with powerful lights setting up at the back of the house to do some additional shots, and Dave told us that there are rules that someone has to be up in the crane with the lights at all times. He said that those guys are the ones who really suffer on the location shoots, because once the lights are properly positioned, the crane has to stay in its exact position and the guy up in the cage can’t come down. He laughed that guys would string a hammock up there, and would drop a rope to be supplied with food and drinks. Oh, and they’d have an empty can for, ummm, bodily needs.

I promised one funny story, and this one came from Dave, the carpenter. We met him at the first house location, and when he saw us over at the second one, he came by to say hello and tease us about not being tired of watching yet. He told a funny on Jensen from Monday’s shooting in the studio. As background for this, you need to know that a fellow called Eddie Greens is the lead greensman on the show, the one who brings in bushes, trees, flowers, grass, and weeds to dress up sets and locations. Eddie is known for being meticulous in his work, a really detail-oriented person, and is also famously mild-mannered and soft-spoken.

As Dave told the story, he was watching shooting in the studio on a scene where the boys go into their latest motel room, chatting on the way. They’d recreated part of the motel exterior in the studio, to handle the transition from outside to inside, and there was a bush next to the door. Dave said he saw Jensen idly pluck a leaf off the bush and shred it in his fingers, and got an idea. When he saw Eddie, he told Eddie to go along with the gag, doing what Dave said to do. When the scene ended and they called cut, Eddie walked past the door behind Jensen, did a double-take at the bush, and then said loudly, “Goddammit, there’s a leaf missing!” Dave said that Jensen spun around with the guiltiest look on his face for just the couple of seconds it took for him to realize that he’d been had, and that everyone got in on the laugh!

I can say from my own observation that Supernatural really is a happy set. There were smiles and lots of laughter evident in the moments between shots from the crew as much as from the boys. Dave the carpenter fixed my friend Sandra’s broken purse strap. Dylan the PA was happy to talk about what they were doing, and even to point out good vantages and angles to see things better while still staying on public property and out of the way. Scotty the Impala wrangler backed up and posed the car for us to take pictures on the road, when he saw us watching him. Almost everyone we talked to on the crew was lovely, and even the one hard-nosed guy was just concerned about keeping the location set safe and the guys unstalked, sentiments I can understand especially after hearing about some of the liberties taken by certain fans who abused access to the set. We learned in the course of Wednesday that one PA had been fired just the day before after allowing a fan access to the set when it turned out that the fan wasn’t the well-mannered friend the PA had thought she would be, and Scotty had gotten into trouble while we watched for having allowed two fans to sit in the Impala (we saw that happening and wondered about it; now we know).

We chose not to go back to the second location the next day simply because of the logistics. We knew they’d be filming the driving shot of the boys arriving in the Impala at the house, something I’d have loved to have seen, but we also knew that because of the angle of the shot, we wouldn’t be able to use the BC Hydro right-of-way that we’d watched from during the initial shooting at the house. There was no safe public place we could stand to see things from the opposite direction, at least not one with any decent viewing angle. That, combined with the nearest legal parking spot being at a splash park about a mile and a half from the location, made us decide to give the company a break. They were probably very relieved that we didn’t show up again! We knew they’d be spending the rest of the week on the Supernatural back lot (which is actually the former Watchmen set!) and in the studio, so there would not be any more chances to catch filming before I flew home on Saturday.

Still and all, the two days and one night when I got to watch them shoot rank high in my memories. I will share the photos from 5.06 once the episode airs, and beg your indulgence in the meantime. I hope you enjoyed sharing this little glimpse behind the scenes with me!

I’ll be writing up my account of the convention and posting it, along with photos and stories from my own little freebie location hunts. I apologize for the amount of time it will take before everything is up, but hey – I’ve got to get back in the swing of work and of writing up episode commentaries, now that the new season is about to begin!

Happy Thursdays …

ETA 9/12/09:  I've been reminded by friends that I left out a few details, so -- here they are, better late than never! First off, Amanda informs me that the heeler-mix-looking cattle dog belongs to Clif, the boys' driver/bodyguard/friend/actor, and is named Buddy. There was a little funny moment when Jensen was throwing a ball for Buddy to fetch, and Buddy -- being oversupplied with enthusiasm and undersupplied with focus -- lost track of the ball in the long grass. Hilariously, so did Jensen, and he gestured to us, querying with hands, shoulders, and face if we saw where the ball went. None of us could point him right, because we hadn't been looking at the ball either!

Becky also reminded me that when the boys first appeared in costume to shoot the brief scene with the Impala, they took no obvious notice of the dozen or so fangirls standing on the BC Hydro right-of-way. When they neared the Impala, which was parked on the shoulder, Jensen pulled down his suitcoat sleeve and polished an imaginary spot off of the trunk. Then he walked to the driver's door, and realizing there was a lineup of traffic waiting to pass, he proceeded to very showily wave them all through. Then Jared tossed something to him (a candy of some kind) and he started trying to catch them in his mouth. He and Jared clowned around a bit before actually getting into the car - still taking no obvious notice of us. It was really cool!!! And obviously for our benefit!

Thanks for the reminders, ladies!

ETA:  Since the episode has aired, the photos are now up!

Day one photos (from the house where the babysitter died, including shots of Jensen and Jared), are here.

Day two photos (all the setup at Jesse's/Julia's house) are here.
 
 
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bardicvoice: Strobe headlights by <lj user=fuesch>bardicvoice on September 9th, 2009 02:36 am (UTC)
Thanks, Robin! Glad you enjoyed it; I know that I sure did!