Crashdown Exclusive

Roswell Rocks

“As the winner of the eBay auction to benefit FSMA, I recently had the amazing opportunity to spend a day with the Roswell cast and crew while they were filming at Vasquez Rocks. This was a dream come true, and the fact that I could do it while benefiting such a worthy, yet little known cause made it uniquely rewarding. I hope you enjoy my “diary” of that day, and I urge everyone to make whatever contribution they can to FSMA! – Picaza”

March 8, 2002: After a very long week of anticipation, my day begins with a call from my host, Roswell Co-Producer and writer Garrett Lerner, informing me that Brendan Fehr had broken his wrist the previous night playing hockey, and as a result the day’s filming schedule is in doubt. Since this is to be the last day out on location, and there is only one day of studio work left for Monday the options are limited.

During the following hour I get periodic updates about various scenarios, including the possibility that the entire day might have to be postponed. Unsure if I can adjust my plans, I am relieved when Garrett calls to say the decision is to go ahead and try to film the scheduled scenes. Brendan has a temporary cast and can work, so his day scene will be done first instead of second, allowing him to keep an afternoon doctor’s appointment. The hope is that he will be able to return to film the night scene.

About 40 minutes later Garrett picks me up at our prearranged location, and 15 minutes after that we pull into “Area 15”, the designated crew parking lot, where a shuttle van waits to take us to Vasquez Rocks. It is a beautiful sunny day, but I won’t need the hat I brought because Garrett has an official Roswell one for me!

Thanks to the morning turmoil everything is a little behind schedule, so when we arrived they have just begun filming the first scene of the day. We walk over to where the episode director, Allison Liddy, is set up with her monitors. Behind her, we can watch both the “live” scene and what the camera is actually filming. Garrett gets me a wireless headset so I can hear the audio as it is being recorded, and a “call sheet” so I can see the day’s schedule, as well as have a copy of all the script pages being filmed. I have a chance to meet Ron Moore, as well as several of the Producers, but everyone is busy so I just enjoy the view!

The first scene includes Bill, Nick, Katie, Adam, Brendan, and Jason, and is fairly complicated with 3 separate conversations (Kyle & Jim, Isabel & Jessie, Michael & Max) that flow from one into the next as the camera continuously follows the action. For those not familiar with the general process, scenes are first rehearsed without the camera, and then filmed as many times as necessary until the director is satisfied. Sometimes the actors blow a line or turn the wrong way, sometimes the camera doesn’t follow the action the way the director wants it to, sometimes the lighting or sound is off or disrupted by an unexpected cloud or noise, and sometimes the shot just doesn’t “work” and positions or angles need to be adjusted. And when the director is happy with the primary shot, there are reverse angles and close-ups to be filmed, all with careful attention paid to making sure lighting, sound, props, and the actors themselves stay consistent so the different shots can be edited together later… explaining why it usually takes several hours to film what ends up being a one or two minute scene!

All is quiet when the director yells “action”, but between “takes” there are what seem like a small army of people buzzing around, doing everything from loading cameras, to checking lighting levels, to measuring distances between actors and cameras, to touching up makeup, to reviewing dialog. There is also a steady stream of folks grabbing a quick snack from the Craft Services cart, which is always close by. And as you would expect with that many people, there is a constant chatter, not only about the work at hand, but all the casual conversations of folks who have been working together long enough for it to feel like a huge family.

This is the seventh day of filming for the episode, and Allison seems to have developed a wonderful rapport with the entire cast. She is continuously leaving her monitors to talk with the actors and crew about what she wants for the next “take”, and the energy level seems high. There is also the additional challenge today of trying to keep Brendan’s cast hidden when he is on camera! Finally, after all the reverse angles and close-ups are done, there is a break while the giant crane truck is moved into position for a wide-angle shot. This also necessitates moving all the monitors so that Allison will have a better view… without actually being in the scene! And as I look around I discover that Majandra and Shiri have appeared and are standing only a few feet in front of me. I check my call sheet and realize that while they do not have any lines in this scene, the crane shot will pull back to show them standing and watching the others. Both girls make a quick trip to the food cart and then return to get their makeup done as they nibble. It seems the decision to switch the two day scenes was made so late they had both arrived at their original “call” time, meaning they had been waiting over four hours before being needed on the set.

As we wait for the shot to be set up, Nick comes by and I have a chance to say “hi” and chat for a moment. Bill is busy talking with the Assistant Director, and while Adam, Katie and Jason get the details from Brendan on his hockey accident, Majandra gets her hair brushed, and Shiri grabs Jason Katims for a private word. And then, with the equipment in place, Allison calls everyone to the set, and filming begins again. It takes several tries, and moving the crane truck once, but about a half an hour later the scene is done. Bill announces that since he is not in either of the two remaining scenes or any scheduled for Monday he is finished for the year. There are hugs and tears all around as he exchanges good-byes. This is the first reminder that Roswell seems to be ending, and there is no assurance that there will be a reunion in August. As Bill comes by, I shake hands and add my good wishes for whatever his future may hold.

With hopes he will be back later for the night scene, Brendan is off to the doctor and the crew begins the process of relocating for the next scene, which will be just Majandra and Shiri. And amid the seeming chaos of moving equipment and people Shiri is suddenly and simply standing a few feet in front of me. I seize the moment to introduce myself and talk with her. But too soon Allison comes looking for her, and they head off with Majandra to find a quiet, semi-secluded spot to talk about the upcoming scene. Garrett and I start to stroll over to where the next scene will be shot, and as we walk we are joined by Jason Katims, and then Garrett’s writing partner, Russ Friend. It’s unusual for so many of the writers to be out on a location shoot, but since it’s the last episode the workload back in the offices is much reduced.

The stand-ins for Shiri and Majandra help the technical crew check lighting and camera placement as we watch. Since it’s sunny there is no need for extensive lighting equipment and before very long all is set for a rehearsal. The girls have obviously done their homework, and after a single run-through they are ready. The initial camera angle is facing Shiri, and they “nail it” on the first take. Allison says “print it”, and it’s time to shoot the reverse angle on Majandra. This time it takes 2 “takes” before everyone is happy, but the scene is done in what seems like only a few minutes. There are comments all around about how fast it went… a credit to Shiri and Majandra, Allison, and the rapport between them!

The previous scene having gone so smoothly, it’s still too early to eat “lunch” (the sit-down meal served half way through the filming day), so even though there is no confirmation yet on whether Brendan will be able to return, it’s decided to rehearse the night scene. Jason, Katie, Nick, and Adam are called back from their trailers, and together with Shiri, Majandra, and a stand-in for Brendan they run through the scene several times. In addition to practicing their dialog, Allison has them try several different placements as she experiments with choreographing their actions. Since Adam is not in the first part of the scene he assumes the role of a vehicle that drives up to interrupt the others. He “gets into the part”, adding all the appropriate sound effects, and everyone enjoys his “performance!”

When Allison is satisfied, the lunch break is called. I somehow manage to end up walking with Shiri, and we have a chance to talk a little. I’ve tried not to impose on the cast, but I can no longer resist, and Shiri gladly poses with me for a few pictures in front of “the rocks.” I also can’t resist pulling out a copy of the Applesaucer’s Variety ad I helped organize and just happened to have with me. She tells me how much the effort meant to her, and adds a very touching inscription to my copy. Then we resume our trek back towards the trailers, continuing to chat until Shiri slips away to stop by her trailer.

Garrett and Jason Katims and I are among the first to arrive at the Craft Services tent, and the lunch “spread” is impressive… chowder, 5 or 6 hot entries (beef, chicken, fish, and veggie), 5 or 6 cold salads, assorted condiments and drinks, and a desert selection that includes Bananas Foster cooked to order! I go with the poached salmon and capers, some steamed veggies, the stuffed grape leaves, and a little asparagus salad. We take seats at the end of one of the long, family style tables, and are soon surrounded by cast and crew. The food is excellent (especially the grape leaves!), and the air filled with conversation and laughter, but slowly I began to appreciate what a unique moment I am sharing. Most of these folks have been working together for three seasons, and just under the surface are all the emotions arising out of the realization that this is most likely their last location day, and meal together.

With the meal over and still at least an hour until dark everyone scatters… the cast to their dressing room trailers, the crew to the equipment trailers. Garrett, Jason K. and I wander through the lot, chatting. When word comes that Brendan will have to have surgery on his wrist the next day, but will be able to come back and do the night scene there is both concern about the obviously serious nature of his injury, and relief that the day’s filming can be completed. There are about a dozen folks outside the security perimeter, and I assure my companions that it is highly unlikely that they are just a random group visiting the park! Jason and Garrett are a little skeptical, but accept the challenge to head on over to see if I’m right. One member of the group turns out to be an old friend from my trips to Covina, and we reminisce while the others prove to Garrett and Jason that they have far more than a casual interest in Roswell!

With the sun beginning to disappear behind the rocks it’s finally time to head back to where the night scene will be filmed. Garrett and I make a brief stop at the “plumbing of the stars” trailer so I can add another layer of clothing, and then we pass the make-up trailer just as Shiri and Majandra are going in. Katie is watching as Jason, Adam, Nick, and a few crew members are tossing a small football around. When someone takes a tumble going for the ball there are a few nervous jokes about getting Brendan back and losing someone else!

The lighting truck which provides the back-lighting from a 100 foot tower has been moved into place sometime during the break, and it’s turned on just as we walk past. When we get back to where everything is set up the stand-ins are on the “marks” determined during the afternoon rehearsal to assist the lighting techs in getting everything ready. Since it’s a relatively long scene at just over 3 pages, the plan is to be ready to go as soon as it is dark enough to film. We settle into our director’s chairs behind the camera monitors just as the cast begins to arrive. Brendan is last, and after getting a quick update on his wrist Allison calls for a rehearsal. As in the morning scene, keeping his cast hidden adds some complexity to her task!

The first three quarters of the scene involves everyone except Adam, and with the other six moving and talking it takes quite a while and several equipment moves to get all the shots Allison wants. The temperature has dropped quickly with the sun gone, and there are portable gas heaters set up on either side of us. Between “takes”, while lighting is adjusted, cameras angles refined, and dialog reworked these heaters prove to be powerful magnets, and we are constantly surrounded by the cast as they too try to keep warm. It is an amazing opportunity for me to be with them and share their company. The conversation is mostly casual, and just as at lunch, the stories and jokes and teasing are laced with references to past days on location.

After several hours there is a short break to reset the lighting for the final Adam and Katie part of the scene. It’s time for Nick to say good-bye. Like Bill, he won’t be back on Monday so there are more tears and hugs before he disappears into the night. Jason, Brendan, Majandra, and Shiri are also done and heading out, but they will all be back Monday, so for them it’s just goodnight. I’m still huddled by a heater behind the monitors when, to my complete surprise I see Shiri coming towards me. The idea that she has sought me out to say good-bye is a total surprise, and creates a memory I will long cherish!

I’m snapped back to what passes for reality by Allison calling the last scene to action. It takes Katie and Adam a couple of tries to get their movements and dialog coordinated from both angles, and then “it’s a wrap.” Garrett and I surrender out headsets and head back towards the trailers, where we hitch a ride back to his car. The drive back to my car is filled with conversation about Roswell… mostly about the direction the story has taken at certain times, and how it will play out over the last few episodes. Too soon it’s time to say good-bye, and I offer my host my sincere thanks, which somehow still seems inadequate for the fun I have had! Garrett admits that he’s enjoyed himself more than any time he’s ever been on a location shoot before, and I’m glad he too will have some great memories! For me it’s been an amazing day, and the 2 ½ hour drive home seems to fly by as I relive it, scene by scene!