Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Stroll Down Wisteria Lane

I first saw Desperate Housewives while watching GoTV, the Bessemer-funded mobile video network sold through Sprint and other wireless carriers. As a fan of the series, I accepted a friend's invitation onto the set yesterday to observe the filming. The experience stirred in me a newfound respect for Thespians of the Small Screen.

Most striking was the herculean effort exerted by the crew to produce each minute of footage. Five days a week they work from 10am to at least midnight in tight, dark, cluttered spaces, mostly waiting their turns (sometime hours) to contribute one step of a strictly serial process--a light meter reading, a dress fitting, snacks, transport to and from the outdoor set, landscaping, script re-prints, shopping for props, or a walk-by (for background activity)... The celebrity housewives show up only for their scenes, but most of the crew stand by 14+ hours a day with surprisingly good cheer. Clearly, these people enjoy their work, and it shows.

Just as impressive was the resource efficiency. Desperate Housewives must consume more studio real estate than any other TV series due to the number of homes they portray both inside and out, but even so all the indoor sets are compressed into two warehouses, surrounded by wardrobe, prop, food, and changing trailers. The camera angles and artifically sunlit paintings positioned outside the windows successfully convey spacious suburban sprawl from inside a studio where small sets are actually built back-to-back--in reality, the housewives snake their way through tight-fitting spaces to navigate the set.

When shooting outdoor scenes, the caravan of trailers convoy to Wisteria Lane, an outdoor set eerily reminiscent of my old Menlo Park neighborhood--except that the fake wisteria put our natural ones to shame (and without the water or maintenance).

In every set I saw signs of extraordinary attention to detail. For example, in Bree's characteristically meticulous kitchen, the pantry is stocked with evenly-stacked, carefully labeled tupperwares. The books on the shelves of each home are selected to suit each character. And just the right amount of background activity (pedestrians, cars, bicycles) completes the illusion.

I couldn't help but admire the culture of the Desperate Housewives production, where passion for the "consumer experience" drives a scrappy, team effort that every startup should strive for.

24 comments:

  1. When are you going next? Take us with you, please, please, please :-) My family and I are huge DHW fans.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like Wisteria Lane too. Do you think the women are portraying modern day witches or just typical housemoms? Because of "Wisteria" in the title. I was also wondering if you regularly have time to watch Wisteria Lane and how in the world you got to cut and paste a counter on your site?

    ReplyDelete
  3. awww I like a lot that the detail in a program it`s very Importabnt thing I can Understand very welll the efort of the cre, I`m Graphic designer and some times I take extra time just to make some design be perfect simetricall even If no one see that I know that It`s perfect not just look perfect and those things is what make something nice to something wonderful, and I do see somethime things that amaize me like the books i`t make you say "wooo,. of course she read that" well nice blog!! i like it a lot

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Ahhh the perks of being a VC!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow just 2 warehouses??? Thats efficiency.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous12:17 AM

    es muy interesante como por ejemplo
    rebajas

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mostly I love frankness. So road-occlusions/carpentry-kings aside, that level of attention to detail backed up by actors that love what they do is a breath of fresh air. So many sitcoms seem forced rather than done out of love.

    ReplyDelete
  8. If I were in "showbiz", I know I'd prefer the behind the scenes work. I gave up a chance to be a professional set artist (for stage theatre, of course, not TV) when I was just in my teens and have often wondered where that would have led me, although I don't regret the choice I made.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If you think that that is something -- you should see shooting a commercial! It is surprising how much, how very much goes into this stuff AND the number of people it takes to make it happen.

    Have you ever seen Project Greenlight?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'd been to a few local filming sets in my country and nothings as big compare to DHW which is huge and popular everywhere round this globe!
    I bet it's one hell of an experience to be able to know and learn how's it's actually done behind the screen.

    cheers

    ReplyDelete
  11. Overproduction.
    Son works HSN 24/7 live TV. talked to Tony Little who said his Geico commercial took 8 hours to produce. Was about 2 minutes of footage from his HSN pimp of his machine. What a waste of money by egotistical producers and advitisers. All they had to do is buy 1 minute of the film from HSN, put in the tagline and move on.
    Of course someone (you and i) will pay for this.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I always thought it a bit twisted that it's the writers, the camera men, sound crew, and anyone else who handles the grunt work gets just about no credit at all as far as the public is concerned.

    It's the glamorous celebrities that show up to their five lines and then sit in fancy trailer (oxymoron?)that recieve all the recognition.

    Excuse me while I shed a tear for the gophers on all the sitcom sets.

    ReplyDelete
  13. people are just looking to have a goodtime and get away in their mind. For some people shows work, other music, some working out. We all need some way to get out of our lives as the world is often too stressful.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm not a 'soap' fan but this show really caught my imagination and my wife and I watched the first series avidly; maybe it's because I'm an admirer of Teri Hatcher or something... The second series has just started this week in the UK but we haven't had time to watch the episode we taped yet. Mark D

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have to say, it is very hard to criticise DH, it is a truly fabulous show and i really enjoyed reading all of u'r behind the scenes information, despite being completely aware of the shows brilliance i didn't even think before to notice how carefully constructed it was. Nice reading u'r blog anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Amazing. And I'm probably the only person in US who doesn't watch the show...

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have not seen the show but David your addiction to technical details is really impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I enjoy DH - more than I ever thought I would!
    www.ticketquota.com

    ReplyDelete
  19. I want to be one of those people behind the scenes. If they need help tell them to ask me :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous2:29 PM

    Oh, it's a GREAT show!

    Very deranged...

    I don't think I've ever encountered someone who goes into detail NOT about the show...but about the crew and THEIR work!

    Must've been a pretty cool experience!

    </afterthought>

    ReplyDelete
  21. Maybe im the only one, but I cant stand the show. I feel like it is soap opera wrapped in legitimate acting. But that doesnt change the meat of the thing.

    Bathroom Review

    ReplyDelete