Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I kind of knew I was in for an awesome time when I was having a chat with Mr. Donald Glover on the library set, just outside the study room, and Chevy Chase walks up eyes wide, huge grin on his face, and shouts “Hello, I'm Cybill Shepherd’s vagina!” just before shaking my hand.
You think I’m kidding. I have proof of this. Click to hear this with your own ears!
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. As you may know after some 15 years writing about film here on AICN I don’t delve into TV too often. One notable exception was when I got to visit Frank Darabont and crew shooting The Walking Dead pilot (Part One and Part Two), but other than that I’ve kept out of that world.
However, when the opportunity to visit Greendale Community College came up I latched on to that offhand “Sure, we can make that happen” comment like a lamprey and wouldn’t let go until the lovely publicist Gina Lang made good on her promise.
And made good she did. When I was in LA for the big Hero Complex Raiders of the Lost Ark screening last week I was able to spend a day hanging out at Stage 32 on the Paramount lot.
Now, I’ve been on a lot of movie sets, but a big difference visiting a TV set (especially for a show I’m a big fan of) became immediately apparent when I arrived. It was surreal, like I was stepping into an episode of Community. It was kind of storybook-like, actually. Dorothy stepped into Oz, I stepped into the Greendale study room.
There were only two set visits that were at all comparable for me. One was when I went to the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix set and got to walk around the great hall and sit in Dumbledore’s chair and the other was the many weeks I spent on the set of Return of the King. Having that line between reality and fiction blurred is fascinating and I felt that very same head-swimming on this visit. Instead of geeking out seeing Orcs walk around it was seeing remnants of the paintball insanity from last season or the vent where Annie’s Boobs lived.
All that is to say that I was doing my very best to keep my geek-out internalized, but goddamn it’s hard to do when you walk into a stage and are suddenly transported to a fictional location, seeing Alison Brie sitting on a table, legs swinging, looking intently at her iPad. (PS I later found out she was watching Love Potion Number 9.)
There is very little that I can give away about the plot since my visit was during an episode a good four or five eps into the season, but I was there for a funeral scene. Oooooo, mysterious! Who’s funeral was it?!? Guess you’ll just have to wait and see!
The only hint I’ll give is that Chang leaves this funeral with a transvestite on his arm, taunting Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger with a “Hey, Winger! Going home alone? Gaylord!”
I’m most comfortable observing during a set visit. I like watching filming and typically hate it when I go on a set visit and have to sit in some room doing rounds of interviews, but for some reason on this visit it was actually a brilliant experience. I guess it’s because the interviews I got are fantastic. Keep an eye on the site all this week as I post them up one day at a time. My chat with Chevy Chase is a surprisingly frank and honest look at how he fits (or doesn’t) in the group, not just as his character Pierce but as Chevy himself. And I got everybody in the group as well. Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover and Ken Jeong, sometimes overlapping. There’s one interview in particular that is impossible to transcribe, but hilarious so I’ll be posting the full audio for you guys.
So, I did a ton of interviews and didn’t see as much actual shooting as I usually like, but I did see enough to get a feel for the rhythm of filming a network comedy show. A typical film will have a pretty standard formula of a master (wide) of the whole action and then coverage (close ups, inserts, over the shoulders) so the editor can have a lot of freedom cutting a scene together. This repetition usually means shooting a film takes quite a long time. On this show (and episodic TV in general) it’s a bit different.
I didn’t see a lot of coverage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t typically get different angles. Director Joe Russo was shooting a scene with McHale and Jacobs sending quick jabs back and forth, as they are wont to do, and it was interesting to see his approach. They’d run through the full back and forth a half dozen times without cutting and then Russo’d go in and get specific lines read different ways. All without cutting.
So if there was a quick three or four joke back and forth between Winger and Britta they’d film a wider shot of the two of them doing their thing and then go in and pick up different readings of one of the jokes. Because the cast is so funny this allows for a lot of different variations. In particular I saw Ken Jeong play each take completely differently… which did mean he ended up kissing a man, by the way.
I can’t talk plot, but I did want to throw out two quotes I heard from Chevy Chase’s mouth on this visit. One of them was written by Harmon and his staff and the other is just Chevy Chase. Can you guess which is which?
Quote 1: ”Did you know that the Canadian Mallard is the only water fowl that eats its father’s head on the way out of the womb?”
Quote 2: ”I can’t find my crotchless panties. You’re not eating them, are you?”
I use this to illustrate a point. It became obvious very quickly that all of these people are their characters. Maybe not beat for beat, ideal for ideal, but so much of their characters are written for their own particular voice that it wasn’t easy to find a distinguishing line between performer and character.
In my brief conversations with Gillian Jacobs I saw a lot of Britta, from the way her eyes would open wide in reaction to something mundane I’d say about good burgers in LA or her off-screen playful sibling relationship with McHale. McHale had Winger’s snark down pat, Glover had Troy’s enthusiastic innocence, Pudi was really like a well-adjusted Abed, a geek through and through (we got excited about Beastmaster together in our interview), Chevy Chase… well, I’ve already illustrated how much like Pierce he is (I won’t tell which one was the real quote and which one was scripted! Wait a few episodes into the season to find out for yourself!), Yvette Nicole Brown is kind and motherly, but can pull out the sass when needed and Alison Brie… both she and Annie are just plain adorable. I want to marry her, but I don’t think my inceptioning via fist-bump worked. Next time!
That only contributed to the surreal feeling of the whole visit. My adult brain knows that Joel McHale is not Jeff Winger, Danny Pudi is not Abed, etc, but there’s a little bit of that magic that makes all true movie and TV fans want to fully believe in what they’re watching still hanging around in the brainpan. At least enough to fuel a sizeable geekout.
Before I left I said good-bye to McHale, who was about to shoot a scene standing over Chevy Chase in a hospital bed after Pierce fakes yet another heart attack to get out of trouble, and was a little taken aback by a very sincere thank you from him for coming to visit and for writing about the show. Their publicity budget is next to nothing and while the show has a sizeable following it’s not the highest rated show on TV.
That “thank you for coming here” vibe was felt throughout my visit, but it took McHale saying it to really kind of send of it home.
These statements are always a little hard to respond to, but I replied to the heartfelt comment with my usual go-to… If I geek out over something and write nice things about it there’s nothing to thank me for. They’re the ones doing all the hard work, all I’m doing is appreciating it and shouting my love through a big megaphone.
Wait a minute, that was dangerously close to a humblebrag, so I think I’m going to cut it off before things get too crazy up in here.
Many thanks to the entire cast and crew for being so inviting with a special nod of thanks to Gina Lang and Dan Eckman!
Stay tuned for my one-on-one interviews with Danny Pudi, Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong, Yvette Nicole Brown and Donald Glover as well as the epic bit of craziness that began as a three-on-one between me, Alison Brie, Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs and ended up descending into chaos as Pudi, Jeong, Glover and Brown crash the interview.
The interviews start rolling out later today and won’t stop until I’m through ‘em all! Keep an eye peeled!
And while we’re at it, Season Three premieres this Thursday on NBC. Set the DVR, order the DVDs, watch this shit or the stupid network will take it away and I will be sad and hate you forever. Yes, you. I know you don’t want that. I don’t want that, so let’s all be grown ups and watch this super funny show, okay? Okay.