If you’ve ever been on a working television set, you know the experience is not as glamourous as it sounds.
Sure, there’s a lot of what is stereotypically known about shooting a television show: bright lights, big cameras, directors chairs embossed with the actor’s names, fancy trailers, people running around madly barking into walkie-talkies, directors yelling “quiet on the set,” and miles and miles of cords and cable. But don’t be fooled — a lot of work goes into creating your favorite television show.
I know you already have an idea of how hard the cast and crew of “Hawaii Five-0” work, thanks to the guest actors, series regulars and directors I’ve interviewed for the “Five-0 Redux,” but I had an opportunity to get a glimpse of what it’s like from someone who worked on set as a production intern. Dana Marks Rachlin gave me an idea of what it’s like to work with the actors, and what a production day and its shooting schedule is like for cast and crew.
My experience as an production and extras casting assistant on various television and movie sets had to do with a lot of “hurry up and wait” where we hustled for a an hour and then waited for four. But for Rachlin, she seemed to have a better experience on the “Five-0” set. She came to Hawaii from Vermont to work on set during season two in order to finish her teaching program and get licensed and certified as an education technology integration specialist.
Rachlin wanted to be exposed to “real world” methods for producing episodic television, so she could instruct teachers and students on television productions created within their schools. She worked on three episodes during July and August of 2011, the last days of shooting episode 202, all of episode 203 and the first two days of shooting for episode 204.
In the nine days she worked on set, Rachlin worked 98.5 hours. She usually worked 12-hour shifts from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., but she was never the first on set or the last to leave.
“There were some days I came an hour earlier if base camp — all the production, crew and actor trucks and trailers — was on location,” she said. “The second assistant director is usually the first on the scene, and they have to stay until all of the trucks are closed up. They are also the ones who have to get the schedule out for the next day ready, as well as finish the day’s production report for the accounting department.”
She said one of her longest days was when base camp was set up at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe for “Ka Meʻe.” Rachlin had to be on set before the actors showed up for makeup at 4 a.m., after being on set the night before until 6:30 p.m.
“It felt like the longest day because we had shot scenes in three different locations and I had to spend long periods of time out on a road near the rifle range where a big scene was being shot.” said Rachlin. “My job was to hold back any traffic that could have disrupted some of the shots.”
Crowd control is another one of the jobs for a production assistant. Keeping noise and distractions down to a minimum is important not only for the actors, but also the sound crew. This can be a challenging job, as it’s difficult to keep cars from moving, planes from flying, and people from talking.
“There I was, responsible for ‘locking down the set,’ which is when you have to make sure that it is totally quiet around where they are shooting so no extraneous noise makes it onto the soundtrack. This can ruin the scene. Most people were pretty respectful, but sometimes there were inadvertent sounds that would emanate from the unit trucks or if on location, crowd and bystander noise.”
Some of the other jobs Rachlin was tasked with dealt specifically with working behind the scenes.
“On my first day in the production office, I spent most of that time in wardrobe hanging up the clothes from 100 extras which had been worn during the funeral scene for Governor Jameson in “Haʻiʻole,” said Rachlin.
Some of the other tasks she was asked to do included “bringing scripts and revisions to actors and crew, running extras back and forth for scenes they were shooting, accompanying actors to and from set, taking food orders and observing many of the procedures that go into the creation of a 23-episode season of a primetime network television show.”
Rachlin learned a lot more than just what it takes to make a television show, as she was “struck by the numbers of people, unseen and sometimes uncredited, that go into making a primetime television series. Quite a few of them work as hard or harder than the actors who star in the series.”
Rachlin not only had to learn all the “jargon” of talking on the radios, like, “what’s your 20?” (where on set are you?), “shooting day for night” (meaning they are shooting during the day, but it’s supposed to be night in the shot), or “watch for lookie-loos” (look out for the public watching shooting), and the always popular “Martini Shot,” which is the last shot of the day before, “and that’s a wrap!” which means the shooting day is done.
Along with all the seemingly coded set jargon, she also had to learn the “unwritten rules” about being on set.
“Being respectful of all of the professionals doing their work was of utmost importance,” said Rachlin. “As a production assistant I needed to make sure that I was as helpful as I could be to anyone (who) needed it. It was an unwritten rule that you didn’t talk to the actors or other professionals unless you had something important to say that related to the production.
“On walkie-talkies, I needed to keep on the correct channel and always be attentive to when I was being addressed, and not talk about anything unnecessary during the production shoot. I also learned that heavy lifting of much of the equipment or furniture needed to be left to the union members.
“It was also an unwritten rule that you did not take pictures on the set or bother actors for those either, of course. I had to sign a form that prevented me from revealing any information about the production or episodes from that time as well.”
Rachlin added it was almost two seasons later, so she could talk about her experience. She was really candid about how all of the actors were incredibly nice, regular people.
“All of them came up to me and introduced themselves when they saw I was there more than a week,” she said. “Daniel Dae Kim and Terry O’Quinn were really standouts to me; DDK came up and introduced himself to me on his birthday and I found him incredibly nice and personable. Terry O’Quinn was heavily featured in the episode I spent the most time on (“Ka Meʻe”) and he and I found ourselves standing next to each other often while he was waiting for his scenes.
“Terry struck up a conversation with me after he found out I was a very big ‘Lost’ fan. After he found out my sons were avid fans as well and that I was a teacher in Vermont (like his sister, it turns out), he told me that we had to get a picture together, which thrilled me of course.
“Alex (O’Loughlin) and Scott (Caan) would often be found in a back room while waiting to go onto set, passing their time playing chess. On my last day on set I was sitting with them waiting to take them to their last scene of the day and had a chance to play with their dogs.”
All in all, Rachlin’s experience was similar to other actors and crew members. “Five-0” is a friendly set, where dogs and newcomers are welcomed, as well as a place where everyone works hard toward a common goal — to produce a quality product that everyone can be proud of and enjoy.
Redux Side Note:
If you want to hear Rachlin talk about her experience on the “Five-0” set, download her “Hawaii Five-0” podcast, where she reviewed the first two seasons of the show with various guests, including yours truly.
According to TNTdrama.com, repeats of “Hawaii Five-0” start Thursday, Aug. 8, with the pilot episode, followed by “‘Ohana.” It seems we’ll have two nights of “Hawaii Five-0” to enjoy every week starting next month.
And it’s been a tough week for “Five-0” fans. We lost one of our “H50hana” members, Mary Beth San Juan.
Those who met her at the fan wrap party in April, or followed her on Twitter, will agree with actor Dennis Chun, who described her as a “gentle, beautiful soul whose light has gone out much too soon.”