Amanda Bestor-Siegel ’12, ABC Television

On Monday I went to the studio where “Private Practice” shoots – Raleigh Studios, in West Hollywood.  As soon as I arrived I met Gregory Van Horn ‘87, the wonderful production designer who I was shadowing for the week.  He brought me upstairs to the fourth floor of the office building, which is where all of the “Private Practice” production offices are.  Raleigh is also the home of two other TV shows, “Castle” and “The Closer,” so the three shows all have office spaces and a number of soundstages for shooting on the lot.

Gregory first brought me around all of the different offices so I could meet the many different people who work behind the scenes on the show in the production, props, set decoration, accounting, and several other departments.  I also met everyone in the art department, which was to be my home for the week – Kevin, the show’s art director, Cate, the set designer, and Ditte, the art coordinator.  All of them were so welcoming and helpful throughout the week – they really went above and beyond in showing me around and answering the many questions I had about art department work and the TV industry in general.

I spent Monday getting to know the many different places at Raleigh.  Gregory and Kevin first brought me down to Stage 1, one of the many soundstages that Private Practice has.  There I was able to walk around the set for the practice, and get a close up look at all of the incredible work the art and set decoration departments have done.  Gregory and Kevin explained to me how the backdrops work (essentially, these are very large blow-ups of photographs of L.A. that get placed behind windows on the set, and which can be altered with lighting to portray either daytime or nighttime).  They also showed me some of the work they’ve done for this season in particular – for example, the surface of the reception desk in the practice was changed this season to one with a more shell-like design on it – and the different walls and glass windows in the practice that can be moved to create additional room and visibility for the camera.  Finally, we went to one of the most exciting places on set – craft services!  This is the very long table on set that has all of the food you can ever imagine, which the cast, crew, and production staff can snack on throughout the day.  Throughout this brief tour, I asked Gregory and Kevin a lot of questions about the different art-related jobs (production designer, art director, set designer, set decorator, etc.) so I could get a sense of how they differ and what areas I might be most interested in.

After the brief tour of Stage 1, we went back up to the art department office.  I looked around at many of the drawings and collages that have been pinned up around the office and in the hallway.  For example, all of the main characters have their own poster in the hallway that shows drawings and photographs of their houses, along with details like carpet materials and wallpaper color options.  I was also given the opportunity at this point to read through all of the scripts for the rest of the season (episode 5.17 had just aired, so there were four to catch up on after that).

Gregory had a friend visiting the set in the late morning, so the group of us went back down to the lot at this point for a complete tour of all the different stages.  It was amazing getting to see all the sets in person and to see how complex all of them are, because there are definitely some details you miss when watching TV.  “Private Practice” has five soundstages at Raleigh (in addition to a stage at the Sunset-Gower Studios, a short drive away).  Stage 1 holds the practice, Stage 10 holds the hospital, Stage 14 holds Addison’s and Sam’s (two of the main characters) Malibu houses, and Stages 7 and 9 contain a number of different character’s houses and smaller rooms.  In addition to getting to walk through all the sets, I also learned a bit about etiquette on TV/ film sets – for instance, always keeping your phone shut off, walking very quietly (or just standing still) when the camera is rolling, and not entering or exiting the stage when shooting is taking place (there is a red siren light outside the door of each stage to let you know when this is happening!).

After the grand tour of all the sets, it was time for lunch.  Monday was a double-up day, meaning the show was shooting two different episodes at the same time.  During lunch we went to the production meeting for the new episode that had just started filming (5.21), so I got to see how the AD’s and production office schedule the shooting days and communicate with the many different departments in making sure that everything gets done for the episode on time.  After the production meeting, I left Raleigh to go to ABC Studios in Burbank and fill out general internship paperwork for them.

On Tuesday morning, Kevin brought me down to the set to watch a bit of shooting on the hospital set.  I got to meet Jim, the first AD on the show (who basically runs the set during shooting), as well as many other people who work on the set.  I was amazed by the number of people who work on shooting – from lighting to sound to camera operators, grips, hair and make-up crew, costumes crew, etc.  There were many people scattered throughout the set, some working right next to the shooting and others (like the Director of Photography and the writers of the episode) watching the shooting on TV screens that show what the two different cameras are shooting at the moment.  Kevin and I stood with Chuck, the video playback technician (whose job is awesome – he makes the medical equipment monitors in the hospital rooms show different images and stats for patients as needed during the scene) and watched the shooting of a scene in one of the patient rooms.

After watching shooting, I went back up to the art department office.  Gregory showed me all of the set drawings that Cate makes for the show, and he explained to me how they represent different types of walls and sets on the drawings (for example, walls that need to swing out to make additional room for the camera are marked differently than walls that remain stationary).  Gregory also showed me “Perspective,” a production design magazine made up of different articles written by production designers about their work.  I spent some time reading different copies of the magazine, which was really fascinating as far as learning about how different production designers approach their work in both film and TV.  After lunch I went back to the set to watch some more shooting, this time on the Malibu set.  Watching shooting on the Malibu decks is really interesting because it’s incredible how much of the work is done in post-production (the entire beach and ocean are created by a blue screen right in front of the constructed deck).  I continued to meet a bunch of the people who work on set and learned more about how they got involved in their respective areas of work. 

Greg VanHorn and Amanda

After watching shooting I went with Kevin and Gregory to Stage 7, where they were working on a smaller personal project.  We walked around the set for Violet’s and Pete’s (another couple on the show) house and Kevin and Gregory talked to me more about the different jobs in creating the look of each set (for example, if a lot of greenery is required on a set they might hire someone specifically to place the greenery).  Tuesday was a pretty light day for the art department, so at 5 pm when everyone went home I went back down to the set to watch more shooting at “Malibu.”

On Wednesday morning I got to go on a bunch of set decoration runs.  First I went with Jill, the buyer, to the props house at Universal Studios and to Alpha, a props house devoted specifically to medical props.  The Uni props house was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.  It was enormous, containing different floors for drapery/ fabrics, furniture, and every kind of fixture and small prop you could imagine.  I walked around with Jill and saw the process through which she marks any items that the set decorator, Melissa, might want for the show.  Jill also showed me around the set lots behind the props house, which can be rented out to people who are filming, such as the western town and the European square sets.

After Uni we went to Alpha, where Jill was getting a few boxes full of different pill bottles to fill a new medical cabinet on the hospital set.  Spending the morning with Jill was really fun and also really informative, because she taught me a lot about the differences between the art, set decoration, and props departments and unions, and she was very helpful and eager to clarify all the questions I had about the different jobs that exist.

Almost as soon as I got back to Raleigh, I went right back out again with Ditte to the sign shop at Uni.  Kevin has a lot of graphic design experience, so he designs the new signs and posters that are frequently needed on the show sets.  The sign shop at Uni then renders them into signs, so Ditte and I went to pick up a number of the finished renders.  I continued to have some really great and informative conversations with Ditte about the different art-related jobs in the industry, and how Private Practice compares to other shows (for one thing, its shooting schedule is very efficient!).

In the afternoon I helped Kevin and Ditte tape up new signs outside the patient doors on the hospital set.  I learned that the art department isn’t allowed to actually affix the signs onto the set, because that’s the painters’ job.  I hadn’t realized until this week how segmented the different unions are and how specifically the jobs on the show are divided up between people, so it was really interesting for me to see how many different people create the look of the sets at every stage.

At the end of the day I stayed late again to watch shooting, this time in the practice.  It was a very large scene with all of the main cast members, so shooting took a longer period of time.  Once again, everyone on set was very kind and it was interesting to see all the ways the set can be changed between takes to accommodate filming the same scene from different angles.

Even though my Princeternship was only originally going to last three days, Gregory was very generous in allowing me to come in on Thursday and Friday as well to continue observing everything.  On Thursday he and Kevin brought me to Sunset-Gower to show me around the other sets they have – Charlotte/Cooper’s home, as well as an extension of the practice (it’s interesting how the same building in TV-world is actually split up on two different sets in the real world).  They pointed out some of the parts of the set that we rarely see on TV, like the bathroom in Charlotte/Cooper’s home and the shelves in Pete’s office.  On Thursday afternoon, I went back to the art department office and read many of the old scripts of the show.  It’s fun to see how episodes I’ve already seen translated from page to screen, and all of the scripts in the art department office have set lists and drawings in the back as well that taught me more about how set plans are visually notated and organized for each episode.

On Friday morning, the art department received the list of new sets that needed to be created for the final episode.  Gregory, Kevin, and I went into downtown L.A. to the L.A. Center Studio to look at some possible sets to use.  Like the backlots at Uni, L.A. Center Studio has a number of sets in the building that can be rented out for different shooting needs, like a courthouse, a jail set, an office space, and much, much more.  After walking around the sets here and choosing some to be used for the new episode, Gregory and Kevin took me on a brief architectural tour of downtown L.A.  On Friday, we received the new script for the season finale, so we spent the end of the day reading through it (it was a very exciting goodbye present for me!).

I cannot express how amazing this week was and how grateful I am to Gregory, the art department, and everyone else I met at “Private Practice.”  I came into the week with a very strong interest in art department work, but I needed to learn more about the different jobs that are available in the TV/ film industry and which I would be most interested in.  Everyone I met was incredibly accommodating and open to answering all of my questions and teaching me about what they do on the show, and I came away with even more excitement about possibly going into art department or set decoration work after graduating this year.  Thank you, “Private Practice!”