Fall 2010

Bright Lights, Big City

1st AD Gary Goldman has been with Entourage, the quintessential L.A. location show, since it started seven years ago. He agreed to keep a production diary for the last episode of the season. This is what the fast lane looks like from the trenches.

Photographed by Claudette Barius

Television - Entourage

Tuesday, June 15

Tomorrow morning we begin prepping episode 10, the final episode of the seventh season of Entourage. We just got the script tonight. Currently, our UPM, Wayne Carmona, is breaking the script down along with my 2nd AD, John LaBrucherie, because I'm on set shooting. So I will go home tonight and also break it down. There are, I've been told, twenty-three locations over a six-day shoot, which is almost impossible to do. We'll see how we can tighten those up and combine one location for three or four others. Looking forward to getting started with director David Nutter; we just worked on episodes seven and eight together. Looks like it's going to be a big episode. We have at least six or seven cameos, including John Cleese, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Tom Brady. No wait, that was last year, Drew Brees is this week. It's going to be crazy.

Wednesday, June 16

Arrived 8 a.m. this morning. Read the script for the episode, then a revised script came out at 10 a.m. Racing out at noon to scout as many locations as we can. The director and the DP and myself met with the creator/show runner Doug Ellin and executive producer/writer Ally Musika, and our casting director Sheila Jaffe to talk about combining locations and cast availability. For example, we could use a scene in a hotel room, a party, a valet scene, a restaurant, and a bar all at the same location.

A note about meetings: Working together with people for seven years allows meetings to be less formal and more straight to the point. It's more like everyone needs to get together right now, let's talk about this, than a standard production meeting. There's uniqueness about being on a show that's been going for so long; you can just flow with it.

Now we're inside the van. We're scouting the J. W. Marriott Hotel downtown, then we'll drive to Smashbox Studios to see if we could stage a photo shoot there for basically a [DVD] box cover of a porn film. Smashbox is very convenient for us because it's right next to our one standing stage in Culver City, which happens to be Ari's (Jeremy Piven) office. So we're hoping this will work, but we're also going to look at a couple others.

We drove to Beverly Hills to scout a wonderful Little League field for a large scene with John Cleese, Jeremy Piven and Perrey Reeves, and a full regalia of Little League people playing ball.

Not far from the field is a hospital, or what used to be a hospital, that we might use. It's the last scene of the episode where Vince comes in an upset state, to say the least. A lot of considerations: Can I make the hospital look like night even if we have to shoot it during the day?

Meanwhile, our UPM, Wayne Carmona, and I are e-mailing nonstop about scheduling possibilities. He prefers to have a scene at Ari's house in the Valley coupled with the Little League. But we prefer the look of the Little League in Beverly Hills as opposed to the Valley. So we'll see how that works itself out.

So it's about 5:30 after our first day of prep. I'm putting together possible days, not necessarily what day something is shooting, but a block of scenes. I'm just starting to look at possible days without being concerned about dates or talent's availability. That comes later.

Goldman and UPM Wayne Carmona

2nd AD John LaBrucherie

Creator/executive producer Doug Ellin

Ellin, Goldman, director David Nutter

Thursday, June 17

A long day of scouting. Two hotels, the SLS and the Roosevelt. It's for a large scene in which Eminem is having a record release party. Vince (Adrian Grenier) comes in and makes a big commotion and they get into a fight.

Another note on locations: Los Angeles is Entourage, and Entourage is Los Angeles. It's about these friends who move here and through the characters Doug Ellin created, we get to see the city through their eyes.

When we started Entourage, we had trouble getting into hotels. We didn't have a lot of money. And now the show has become so popular, locations are much more supportive when we get there. It's important, as in any business, to establish good relationships and then keep them going.

It was a successful day. We saw a lot of looks and a lot of things that could work. Some days you go out, you don't see anything and nothing seems to work. Other days you go and everything seems to work. We managed to put some good combinations of days together.

Now I have to sit down with my Movie Magic Scheduling and really hammer out how the days are going to look, show the director the page counts, and where it doesn't work. So I'll sit in front of the large screen with David and move pieces around and try to make the schedule work. We have a seven-day shooting schedule, which is what the producers wanted, and we have two or three outstanding scenes as we're waiting for some guest stars to let us know when they are available. I also frequently check in with Denis Biggs, our exec producer, to make sure he is aware of any changes. He knows the 'bigg' picture and nothing gets done without his approval.

I'm calling my UPM, who has to stay on set [to finish off shooting on a previous episode], and go over each day scene by scene. At this point, because Entourage is such a location-oriented show, instead of just talking about where we're shooting and if it fits, the conversation turns creative. Is this the right place to shoot the scene? Yes, it fits in the day. Yes, it's close to this other place. Yes, it's affordable, we can shoot there. But is the look right? And at this point in the game, that is more important to us than almost anything. We'd rather make a company move that's farther away than shoot someplace that's just not right.

Watching at home, people might say, oh, we don't even know where you are. But the cast knows where they are, and the extras know where they are, and I think that really contributes to the cast's ability to come across the way they want to. My job as assistant director is to put the cast in an environment where they feel most comfortable to—as we say on the show—kill the scene. To really, really nail it.

Friday, June 18

Today we're filling loose ends, finding locations for scenes we haven't found yet. And sometimes those loose ends are the hardest ones to find. We've learned over the years that you find an anchor for your largest scenes and then build around that. One of the scenes is Vince (Adrian Grenier) in a hotel room. Whatever hotel we use for shooting the large Eminem party scene in is going to be where the hotel suite is for Vince.

So we decide we're going with the Roosevelt for three separate scenes. We'll shoot Ari's wife (Perrey Reeves) at a bar there in the daytime by the pool; we'll shoot a nighttime, day-for-night scene inside the hotel for the Eminem party; and another day-for-night scene with Vince in his hotel room. Vince and the party are connected, but we are catching Mrs. Ari at the hotel, without the audience knowing that it's really the same hotel. Smart L.A. people will know that it's the same hotel. But this is what you have to do when you're a location show. We've learned over the years that you have to combine locations and make them work.

We also had to schedule a scene in which Eric (Kevin Connolly) meets Terrence (Malcolm McDowell), his future father-in-law, at a restaurant. So we had to check out five restaurants during the day. And I was very forceful in trying to make a restaurant work that was closer to another location. But it's all about the creative, and you can't force a location to work just because it's close. A company move is a company move, and you have to rationalize that. So we looked a little bit out of our immediate zone for another day of shooting and found a wonderful location for two people having dinner, Morton's.

Now it's time to get down to some nitty-gritty stuff with just pumping in the information into the schedule. What are the props? What are the elements? We finally have a production draft of the script with scene numbers. The most demanding thing about being a 1st AD is really knowing the script. Every nuance, every prop, every storyline, and every location. You just have to know that so you can react intuitively.

Monday, June 21

Sitting in the office around 4:30, we just found out that West Hollywood, which is notoriously challenging to work in, has refused to give us a permit for the Gil Turner's liquor store on Sunset where we wanted to shoot. We already shot scenes in which the liquor store was mentioned in dialogue. So, the creatives and producers decided we need to find another Gil Turner's. How do you find another Gil Turner's? We called them and asked, "Is there another liquor store you're friends with that we can put a Gil Turner's sign up on?" So we found another liquor store and we're going to put a Gil Turner's sign up there. Disaster turned to no problem in a small amount of time. Only the people in Los Angeles will know. But the references will be intact, which is good.

Tuesday, June 22

Extremely busy. Started tech scouting at 7:30 in the morning with the keys of all the departments. Smashbox Studios, a hospital set, two or three walk and talks around Century City, the CAA building—front and back, a Little League baseball park, the Entourage mansion (don't tell anyone, it's in Encino), Ari's house, the Roosevelt Hotel. At each stop, the director takes us through specifics of the shot and what we're looking at, and we have a few minutes to answer some questions. Grip and electric talk and we move on. There is definitely a benefit to working together with these people for years. Production designer Chase Harlan, costume designer Olivia Miles Payne, key grip Marc Christie, gaffer Skip McCraw, and DP Rob Sweeney. You cannot overestimate the power of good communication. It's invaluable to the budget and quality of the final product, not to mention the simple enjoyment of working together.

Now our 2nd AD, John LaBrucherie, comes in and really gets busy. Notes are taken all day long. I give him the long form Movie Magic schedule. I still work on Movie Magic format. You talk to a lot of other ADs and a lot of them use the old Movie Magic, they think it's better. Anyway, John takes the schedule and really starts taking notes on equipment, extras, props.

Got back to the office at 5 o'clock. We're still working without an approved, production draft of the script. For Entourage this is very rare. We've always had scripts well in advance, so this is not the norm. We have a meeting with our writers, Doug Ellin and Ally Musika, and David Nutter and myself are going through the script, scene by scene, having what one would normally call a tone meeting. But because there were so many questions about the script, it was an overall script conversation.

Wednesday, June 23

Because there was a complete rewrite of the script happening, we were unable to have a production meeting today, the day before we start the episode. You can't go into a production meeting without having a full script and shooting schedule. We didn't really know how much the script was going to change. The company already had a general idea because of the tech scout, but the pressure's really on to get this script out.

We get another revised script at 1 p.m. The heat's on now because the cast that's working tomorrow doesn't have a script and doesn't know what their scenes are. But because they have a good relationship with me and with Doug, we're able to calm them down, let them know where the scenes are, what's going to happen, and almost exactly how many lines they're going to have.

It's 9:05 p.m., still at the office. Yet another bunch of blue pages come out, which means I have to do another schedule. Had a couple of meetings with the director over the phone about the order of shooting tomorrow. Also talked to my UPM to review some additional equipment requests. A scene is now in a car driving and not inside on a stage. So we'll need a tow rig driver, insert car, etc. Talked to the locations people, made sure they knew that we needed police support for driving said vehicle. And because the call time switches tomorrow, I get my 2nd AD on the phone. He's going to have to call hair, makeup and wardrobe, and call the cast and the transportation department. And even the caterer. So he's got some work to do after my work is done.

Thursday, June 24

Our first day of shooting; it'll be at the Entourage mansion. It's not a stage; it's a real house. One of our cast members was really nervous because he needed some time to learn his lines because the script hadn't come out yet. Doug usually has at least eight or nine scripts ready at the beginning of the season so we can see where we're going; as I said, this is very rare. So I was able to talk the actor through the scenes and actually give him the option to choose which two of the three scenes to do today. If you empower the actor to let them know that they can be involved in that decision instead of just telling them, they feel much better about coming in in the morning. And the way we work as a department, it's really about what's in front of the camera that's more important. And what's in front of the camera? Our actors.

7 a.m. on set rehearsal. Cast only, no extras. That makes it a bit easier. There's a good vibe on set. We didn't have time for a production meeting, so we did it during lunch to go over the entire script and talk about all the elements with our key department heads. The meeting was about an hour and 10 minutes long, the longest production meeting I've had all year. There are definitely some loose ends out there in how we're setting up some of the larger event days that we have, specifically the Eminem release party. This will take significant planning and there are some unanswered questions as to exactly what it's going to look like.

Friday, June 25

We start with a huge restaurant scene with Eric having dinner with Terrence at Morton's Steakhouse. Thirty-five extras, including food and waiters, etc. It's three-plus pages.

Next, we're going over to Burton Way to do a driving shot with Vince's girlfriend Sasha Grey. You like to pick your driving scenes close to the last location you were shooting at, so while we're shooting our interior scene, the grip/electric and transpo can be outside rigging the car. We've shot on that strip before. It's a wide and safe and not trafficky. The L.A. police officers will let us drive for as long a distance as possible, getting us through traffic. One of the great things about being on a show for so many years is the familiarity that we have with the officers. They know that we're not going to do so many takes that it will disrupt traffic for too long. And they give us a little leeway and know we're going to get it done and get out of there.

Now we're on the driving shot towing Sasha in a Mercedes convertible. We do a lot of car-to-car, which means the car is not being towed; we're on a camera car, and we're shooting a car that the actor is really driving. But for this scene we did tow Sasha because we wanted her not to worry about the driving aspect of it. We do two cameras off the back of the camera car looking straight at her. Then we'll continue to tow her and then switch cameras and go handheld in the car with her. The director reads the lines to the actor and we listen to her over the Compdecks.

Next a company move to a stage with 35-40 extras for three large scenes, including a huge photo shoot that we set up. And then a huge dramatic scene at the end. Amazing the speed with which this crew moves. You've got to communicate what's next to the crew so that they can move ahead and be ready to go. Rob Sweeney is the DP, he's amazing and I really should be mentioning him more.

We shot a scene that was very cool tonight. Lots of high drama for a comedy show like Entourage. Vince and Sasha really have it out and the background actors need to react, listen, and be present, which is the hardest thing to teach the background to do. A lot of background just do what the assistant directors say—go from point A to point B. But good background listens to what the actors are doing. And if the actors are making a scene in the middle of a public place, they would react. If their reactions are too big, you take them down, if the reactions are not big enough, you take them up. But you keep it real the whole time. How would people react to an argument on a stage, or an argument in a restaurant? Some people shy away; some people look at what's going on; some people whisper to their friends; and some people laugh. Overall, a good night.

Monday, June 28

First scene call time is 6:30 a.m.; first shot 7:45. Vince in a hotel room with room service, hears there's a party downstairs. He goes down.

10:30, we move downstairs to the lobby. Big scene of the day, 4½ pages, Vince and Eminem get in a fight. Just reviewed with the crew the shooting order, rehearsed with stunts what we're going to be doing. And note to crew from Eminem's people—nobody takes pictures.

On this show, it's very important when you have a large amount of extras for the 1st AD (myself and Vern Davidson) to talk to them and let them know what we're doing, and really get them excited. Entourage's background work has been phenomenal over the years, and a lot of that is because we empower the background to really understand what's going on in the story to react to what's happening and not just stand there and wait to go home. We're working with a number of our 2nd ADs, 2nd 2nds, additional 2nds today, and all of them are on their game, bringing in the background, changing them over, and generally taking good care of them.

On large days like this, I insist on having my 2nd AD, John LaBrucherie, up here. He's set some of the finest background I've ever been around. Most days John is prepping for tomorrow. But when there is a large number of extras, I make sure to give him the appropriate amount of time to be prepared so when this day comes, he knows he needs to be on set.

So we're in the ballroom for the big stunt rehearsal of the fight between Vince and Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem. We thought that Eminem was going to be on camera with his three or four large security guys. At the last minute, they decide it would be better if they weren't on camera, so audience members wouldn't know who Eminem's security people were. So we had to call central casting to rush over four big guys.

This is kind of a classic Entourage party, teeming with people. In creating this party you need the look of sexy Hollywood. You can't just say 'party' and then show up and there it is. So I'm working with the director, the costumer, the production designer, and speaking with Doug and Ally. Production designer Chase Harlan drew some things up for the director to approve, like a general look. You do have some parameters of the room that you're already in. There's a large stage in the middle with five or six dancing girls all costumed in cool leather outfits, and a raised DJ stand that also looks great. And there are 12 high-definition monitors showing Eminem's most recent music video.

Even if it's this big a scene, we usually use two cameras, but because this scene also includes a large fight, we asked for three cameras, and our UPM agreed. We keep the music playing and do everything to keep the energy up. We call ourselves the loudest set in Hollywood, meaning that as a crew and cast, we do not demand quiet on set. We've figured out over the years that the cast and the background respond better if we let them keep up a general din. I like to do what we call "speech" the extras. I personally go in and get the 150, 200 extras quiet, and know what is going on today. So that when we actually say 'rolling,' you can see the fire in their eyes, and that these people are having a good time. They really feel the energy of what we're trying to do.

The 2nd ADs block the extras, then we block the scene with our actors, and have the extras watch what's happening so they can react and do what they would do in real life.

Now my priority working with the director is making sure he knows that I know what the exact blocking is for the actor. So that if the actor has any questions, I can also answer it while the director's working with the camera people, or I can work with the camera people and let them know what the actor will be doing while the director is working with the actor. I need to be on the exact page of making sure what the director wants.

The hardest part about shooting a fight scene like this is rehearsing it. Once you get the rehearsing down, you're off and running. It's piecemeal all during the day, and the director and I are pushing to get another piece of the rehearsal in. With our stunt coordinator we just kept rehearsing the fight scene because once we start shooting, David wants it to go on as long as it can.

Wednesday, June 30

Celebrities are a regular part of the show and sometimes their real life crosses with the world of Entourage and it's fun to see. Mark Cuban is doing a scene at the Entourage mansion where he's come to talk to Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) about a tequila company. He's agreed to be in probably more scenes than he thought he'd be in, and tonight's the night of the NBA draft. At one point he asks very politely if he can take a couple of minutes to make some phone calls. "It's the NBA draft, and we're allowed to start talking to players at 9 p.m., I need to see about a few things." Everyone on Entourage is a sports fan, so it was pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 6

Today's the last day of shooting, so it's a little like the last day of school for the cast and crew and everyone's a little antsy. 10 a.m. call time at a Little League field on Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills, with three-camera coverage. We wanted some morning light and knew we needed some nighttime shots that day too, so we couldn't start at the crack of dawn, and they didn't even want us to park trucks there until after rush hour.

We're at the field with John Cleese, five principals from the cast and more than 100 extras. We have two full baseball teams that we put together and created uniforms for, 8 years and up, plus coaches, plus their families. There's a park around this particular field, so we needed to populate that. I was responsible for figuring out how many extras we really needed.

We've already generally established the way the director wants the scene to look, and that way we can spread our extras out and place the players on the field. When we have this many extras we get some additional ADs out there to help us out. So we sort of play zone defense with our extras. One additional 2nd takes the field, another will take the stands, another will take park right and another will take park left. And we just spread out our extras. Once they're spread out, the director can see the population and also at the same will jump into a blocking rehearsal with our second team, the stand-ins. This is just a huge thing. The actors are not tied in to what we've just blocked, and can always change it up and decide I wouldn't do that, or I would do that, but it's just a general idea of what the director wants to do. And usually it's pretty close to what we end up doing.

We're wrapping the baseball field and when we're on our last shot, I send the grips and electric to start working with the DP to start building the camera truck, camera car, because we're going to be towing Jami Gertz for a scene where she's on the B-side of a phone call with Ari.

While we're lighting and shooting a car rig for 25 minutes, the rest of the company is loading up into the hospital, and I send my other assistant directors, the 2nd ADs and 2nd 2nds to go up there and start setting background. We get the background populated in there so when the director walks in, he can see a populated hospital room.

So we're inside the hospital room now and David Nutter, who's shot tons of ER and X-File episodes, certainly knows what a good hospital room looks like. You need people waiting and worrying about their injured friends or family members. Even though Entourage is a comedy, this is one of the few times we've had to tell everybody, 'No smiling.' And here's a time where we just wanted to play that down with a sincere scene. So that's interesting.

We have our medic on set to advise us what some cast should look like and a medical advisor to help us out. We have to consider the bruises that both Drama (Kevin Dillon) and Vince have on their faces. Like everything we do, the director really wants it to look real. And this, essentially, is the last scene of the last episode of season seven. See you next year!


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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