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Bardsmaid's Cave: Set report for the filming of the episode Fight Club

The Cave’s X-Files Commentary Archives:  Encounters with the show
Title: Set report for the filming of the episode Fight Club
Author: bardsmaid

[Original article here]


I arrived about 9:30, assuming safe was better than sorry (the ‘event’ was to start about 11) and waited in line with some other fans. Luckily the arena where the filming is taking place is only four blocks or so from Globe Bearing (a time-warp, walk-into-the-past factory I occasionally have work-related reasons to visit… and with which I am in love for its rich, dark atmosphere, as those of you who know me well are already aware), so I had my route down cold before I ever started, a handy thing when I got around to leaving at 11 p.m.

Actually I parked in a big parking structure designated for XF parking and when I got on the elevator, a man got on with me and he asked me if I was going to the filming. I said yes and he said he’d gotten a last minute call; he appeared to be working security. So when we got to the street he herded me over to a waiting van for the two-block ride. I tried to explain I was just a fan, but he wasn’t particularly listening, so I got in and went with them. The interesting thing is that we were dropped off past security in the area where all the trailers are. Then, of course, I had to get out of there because I wasn’t about to go poking around and bugging people. So I found my way around to where fans were supposed to wait. Met a nice ‘Phile in line–Lia–and it turns out she’s heard of the Cave. So we stayed together. As it turns out, neither David or Gillian was there Friday, though they were both in attendance on Monday.

Anyway, finally we went in and were given little packets with release forms, a few basic instructions and a couple of little candy bars and we went inside to our seats. It’s set up as a WWF-style boxing arena, so the ring was in the middle and there were chairs around it in the lower area for the paid extras (stunt-type people.) We were in the bleachers, so to speak. We had a very nice crewperson assigned to us, Allison, who was our official guide and babysitter and even a ‘host’, as you might have on a TV show, to keep us entertained during the downtimes, because filming is very much a matter of hurry-up-and-wait. It can take a long time to set up a shot, either because cameras must be moved or because the director is conferring with the actors and hasn’t really blocked out that particular piece of action until they’re right there with him. Then eventually there are four to six takes of the scene…with downtimes and adjustments in between.

What really impressed me was the sheer number of people involved in the production. There were cameramen, of course, and people handling lighting and fog machines and other equipment, but in addition there were a lot of people standing around, most wired with walkie-talkies, etc. who appeared to be just watching sections of the arena to make sure things were going as they were supposed to and that the wrong people weren’t in places they weren’t supposed to be. I’ve heard there are about 100 crewpeople. There were people who seemed just to be standing guard over the wardrobe racks–all day–or other specific things. There were security people everywhere, too. And then of course people needed to be fed–including all approximately 300 of us fans who showed up, so there were more people doing food. Occasionally some crewperson would come by us with a big boxful of chip bags and toss chips out to us, or Hershey’s kisses, or something similar. (Made me realize what zoo animals might feel like, though everyone was really nice.) We had pizza and soda available for lunch, and then in the late afternoon there were munchies–hors d’oeuvres kinds of things: carrot sticks and celery and bread and dip and apples and bananas, bagels and Oreos, goldfish crackers, more Hershey’s kisses (must be a crew favorite), granola bars, etc. And soda or tea or coffee. And more pizza later for those who wanted more.

There’s a guy named Barry, a tall African-American man whose job title I haven’t connected with yet, who is essentially the emcee of what’s going on with the filming and I was really fascinated watching him do his job because he’s so perfectly suited to it. He carries a microphone and is in charge of quieting everyone down before filming starts, explaining things to cast or us ‘background artists’, relaying messages, and encouraging us to cheer louder or go for a sixth take on the same scene *with the same energy as the first five takes*, etc. And he does it so well. A very smooth, calming personality but one who demands that you do what you need to to get the work done. Barry is the one to announce ‘rolling’, at which time you’d better be quiet and listen for directions. As soon as he says ‘rolling’, you hear ‘rolling’ echoed back from crewmembers stationed throughout the auditorium, I suppose to make sure everyone, no matter what they’re up to, is alerted to the filming being done. There’s, of course, ‘cut’ when the filming stops, and when they’ve gotten sufficient takes to choose from or get the one they know they really want to use, Barry announces, ‘we have that shot.’ By the end of the day, there’s a lot of cheering going on when ‘we have that shot’ is announced.

There were probably four cameras, one on a big rig with a long, telescoping boom, a couple on moveable carts or dollies, and a handheld one. Some shots are taken from just one angle, but others are taken from two or three, so all the action has to be done again and again to get the shots they need. The next to last shot of the day was in the wrestling ring, a close-up with three cameras shooting and two crewmembers lying on the mat right next to the actors but out of camera-range. I know I’ll snicker over that one when I see it on TV, where of course it will look like just two contestants on the mat but I’ll know those other two guys were lying right there beside them and when the wrestler in red dives for the ropes, he had to be very careful to avoid squashing them on the way.

We were in charge of cheering and making the stands look full. Since there weren’t enough of us to fill the auditorium, we were moved around from place to place according to where we needed to be seen. Sometimes we had to cheer and encourage the wrestlers, and sometimes we had to do the motions without any sound because the actors were speaking lines we would have drowned out. So we had to be silent and do our thing and later they add the noise back into the background. A little difficult to keep up that beginning-of-the-fight energy level after a number of takes, but we did pretty well and Barry always told us when we were doing a good job. For some reason, right at the end the energy level was really high. Maybe we were all just ready to wrap and go, but in any event everyone worked hard.

Our group of fans included a lot of college kids. A group had come from UC Davis, but there were local people, of course, and one girl who had flown here from Ohio just to come to this filming. There were also international fans who must have been in the L.A. area, including four guys from Norway, a girl from Sweden and a French Canadian from Montreal. The Davis girls made up trivia questions, and people who got the right answers won XF T-shirts. There were other prizes raffled off during the day as well (a raffle ticket was in each person’s envelope.) Prizes included Discmans, boom boxes, a VCR, and even a Palm Pilot and a TV. Some people chatted during downtimes, some were busy with the trivia contests (everything from “what is A.D. Skinner’s middle name?” to “can you repeat Scully’s half-a-cream-cheese-bagel monologue from *Bad Blood?”…and of course the ingredients topping the famous pizza.) A fog machine was going the entire time to give the arena that smoky look. The floors were laced with big, bundled bunches of thick power cords hidden in traffic areas under little…hmmm…thingies so you wouldn’t trip over them, and there were a lot of lights around that we were warned to stay away from because you could easily be burned. I found it interesting just to watch what was going on downstairs and to try to figure out what people were actually doing when it often looked like a lot of them were just standing around doing…well, not much. But they all had to be there for a reason; I just–obviously–was a clueless bystander.

At the beginning I wasn’t sure whether I’d stay all day because, as I said, a lot of the time is downtime, but it was interesting–definitely an education. So I did stay till the very end and was glad I did, though everyone was tired by then. I don’t know how this crew does it on a regular basis–starting at 6 a.m. and regularly running until ten or midnight…day after day after day. Really amazing that they don’t burn out a lot sooner than they do.

The last scene of the day was one that took a lot of setup time–probably close to an hour, and involved two women standing on a mark without moving for nearly forty-five minutes. I sat there thinking, no way would squirmy me be able to pull that off. There was lots of measuring with measuring tapes and other adjustments. It involves two similar-looking women, one of whom walks up to and recognizes the other. The characters are supposed to be twins, so I think in the end they’re going to shoot and then digitally replace one with a copy of the other and that had something to do with the close tolerances in preparation. That was a shot that was done at least six times, but finally–finally–they got what they wanted.

We were all tired by the end, but it was really interesting, so I’m hot to go down again on Monday when we’re promised that David and Gillian will be there all day. While the technical part of filming was interesting in and of itself, I don’t want to miss the chance to see David and Gillian at work.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at another episode in quite the same way after this. So much time and the involvement of so many people is necessary to put one of these things together that it’s amazing that the story, which always comes through so strongly, isn’t lost in the process. How the actors keep that continuity going in their minds through this stop-and-go-and-wait-and almost-and wait-and-go process is beyond me…but then that’s the opinion of a prose writer who gets to do the whole story process herself.

Well, here I am, back again, your faithful if tired reporter…

Monday’s crew of ‘background artists’ was a little bigger than Friday’s, no doubt because of the surety that David and Gillian would be there. We had about 500 ‘Philes as opposed to the 300 who were there on Friday. Lots of college kids again, but many others, including a high school teacher who’d somehow wrangled the day off, people from scattered places around the country including Ohio, Colorado and Greenwich, Connecticut (she won a T-shirt by popular demand just for coming from Teena Mulder’s hometown) and a woman from Italy and two from Australia who had flown in just to come to the filming. Two South Africans, too, who are now living and working in Boston, and the four Norwegians were back.

The routine was more of the same. Amazing to realize that two entire days were taken up with filming what will probably not be more than five minutes of air time when the episode finally hits TV screens (Barry, who I discovered is actually the first assistant director, told us *Fight Club should be airing May 7th.) There were more scenes of fights breaking out in the stands (that involved all of us–some people really got into the role) or us just being background and cheering on the wrestlers while some of the story’s characters meet down on the floor outside the ring. The story involves doppelgangers, twins who create chaos around them when they come into close proximity. Morning started with a scene where two female twins encounter each other outside the wrestling ring. Mulder has been chasing one of them and when he realizes they’re both there and what will inevitably happen around them, he picks up the one girl and hurries her off to get her out of range of the other. David did a lot of takes picking up the actress and carrying her away past the ring; it reminded me of his comments about having to do a lot of carrying and lifting of Gillian when they were filming *FTF. After one take, instead of putting her down he turned around and carried her right back to the starting point, which brought a laugh from everyone in the auditorium. Between takes he’d talk to people around him, or sit in his director’s chair, or once he sat down in the seats where the paid extras sat, outside the ring, and just watched what was going on around him as if he were nobody in particular. One time he spent a good half hour deep in conversation with Tex Cobb, who plays the wrestler who is also one of a pair of these explosive twins. David was on the set both morning and afternoon and Gillian came on to do a scene in the afternoon.

When I think about what we watched/experienced, the things that stand out to me are the vast numbers of people involved in production, the long stretches of downtime while cameras are moved and adjusted and scenes are blocked out and rehearsed and sometimes tape-measured repeatedly to get just what they need distance-wise, and what it must be for the actors to be working a job like this for an extended period–that was the principal thing I pondered Monday. David arrived to cheering in the morning, but after an initial greeting to the audience went right to work and didn’t look up into the stands again. The mere idea of being one person, a human being who can get lost in a crowd of other human beings as if he were nobody in particular, being treated as if he were a god, watched and talked about and occasionally squealed over…and having to be accompanied by security in case some wacko gets out of hand…must be completely overwhelming, and very constricting as well. He can’t just go up and talk to one person without having to talk to 50, or 150, so the only choice is to block it all out and stick to your job. Obviously, this is one man you’ll notice in a crowd, but it took a while of watching before I realized that what was just a little ‘off’ for me was (duh!) that I was watching David, and while Mulder is a very familiar quantity to me, David isn’t. So of course there weren’t all those little Mulder mannerisms we’ve gotten so used to seeing this man exhibit for us on the show. Okay, so this isn’t anything earth-shattering, or shouldn’t be, but it’s what hit me in watching…

Gillian arrived to do a scene that placed her about 8 seats away from me. She comes down an aisle with the wrestler’s twin in handcuffs and when her captive recognizes his twin in the ring and breaks the cuffs, chaos breaks out in the stands and spectators begin brawling. They’d stationed stunt people along the edges of the aisle Gillian was to come down and the rest of us were doing our thing from our respective seats. The scene was set up (over an extended period of time) with Gillian’s body double, so they could get the distance and angles, etc., set up. But finally Gillian herself came up, flanked by security. People who have seen her in person always remark about how tiny she actually is in person, so I was ready for that…or at least, I thought I was. But folks, she really *is* tiny! Especially impressive when I stopped to think that she’s smaller than my own daughter, who’s a pretty small person to begin with; that brings it home. On the first take we ‘background artists’ and the stunt people were so vigorous in our duties that Barry called ‘cut!’ very early on, because people were so far into the aisles that the camera couldn’t see Gillian at all. Every time she came walking down the aisle, though, even afterward (well, from my vantage point as I was ‘brawling’ with Lia, who sat next to me) it seemed like Gillian might be crushed by the goings-on. I would have liked to see Gillian and David actually standing next to each other in person to see what the height/size disparity would be. Gillian, too, was forced to keep strictly to her work, though you could tell she wanted to greet people (again, if she started with saying hi to just one person it would have become an avalanche of greetings), though when she was finished (I was downstairs getting a soda), I could hear her thanking the fans for coming and evidently she signed some autographs, too, before she had to leave.

Amazing to consider what it must take to stay in character and focused on the story itself and the characters’ moods and motivations when it’s filmed in such small snippets of time over long, wearying days…and sometimes not even in sequential order. And to have to act in the middle of this herd of people around you doing their jobs and block it all out as if it weren’t there. I’m sure shooting on the lot is a little more intimate than being in an auditorium with 500 fans as well as lots of extras, but still there have to be a lot of crew around. Imagine if you were trying to do that final *all things scene with dozens of people and cameras and lights and equipment around you. My hat is off to David and Gillian even more than before, especially considering the depth of characterization they give us. Too cool.

I must say I learned a lot about production in the two days I spent on the set, and found myself with a lot of questions to ponder, and things to consider. Amazing to see a lot of other fans and realize that many of them are (gasp) typical TV show fans, up on show trivia and collecting pictures or magazine and collecting autographs, while I’m used to the Cave crowd, where what we find so compelling is the stories themselves and the characters and characterizations. (Scary to think that when you say you’re a fan of TXF, people are going to see you as one of those… well, other people–the autograph seekers, the typical TV show fan.)

In the end, though, as the Bard said, “The play’s the thing.” It’s where the substance is, and it’s the center around which all this other interesting busyness revolves.


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