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.