Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nashville's Day in Court

Bill Myers and his unseen handiwork.
One of the busiest days on set for Nashville episode 209 was Lamar's appearance in court for a bail hearing, with Rayna looking on. We were downtown in a working courthouse (Nashville loves the show and bends over to accommodate us). There were tons of extras, awkward filming angles, a lot of important moments (it was one of the show's act outs).

One indicator of how chaotic things got: halfway through filming the scene, it was discovered that one of the flags behind the judge's head clearly said "STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE." Turns out someone in the art department had thought we needed a dark blue flag to replicate a federal court, but hadn't actually read the flag, or expected it to be more tightly furled. We ended up having to cut around it.

But one of the most labored over items in the court also does not appear  in the episode, so I wanted to pay tribute to it here. As I was surveying the scene, I saw that one of the extras was doing a courtroom artist sketch of Lamar and Rayna. It stopped me in my tracks -- it was really good. My reporter's instincts took hold and I asked the man about himself. And I was amply rewarded for my curiosity.

His name is Bill Myers, and not only had he done all the storyboards for director RJ Cutler for the pilot and second episode of Nashville -- he had been on the set of the Robert Altman film Nashville, doing artwork of all the actors of an LA Times article. When Altman saw what Myers had done, he wanted it to be the poster for the movie instead. The studio overruled Altman, but it did end up on the cover of the soundtrack album and the logo Myers drew is the opening title.
I told our cinematographer, Michael Lohmann, and his brother Tommy our first cameraman, because their father Paul had been the cinematographer for Altman on that movie.

Myers turned out to also have been the film professor for our erstwhile script supervisor, Allison Stroud Hughes, ran a local film series, and had hosted guests in his house including Vanessa Redgrave when she was filming in town. So I took him up on his offer for breakfast with him and his lovely wife and saw some of his other artwork, including this cover for the Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings OUTLAWS album.
He gave me and Powers Boothe, who plays Lamar, signed copies of his Lamar/Rayna artwork, and I brought it back to the writers' room and explained the whole backstory.

But when the first producer's edit of the episode came through, you couldn't see Bill or his artwork.

In my list of notes to my boss Dee Johnson, I told her the whole story and pleaded for at least a shot of the artwork. But when she went into the dailies, she discovered something: because Myers had pre-drawn the picture to get a head start, he had Rayna with her famous locks flowing, and in the courtroom scene, Connie Britton's hair was tied back. So it didn't look like he was actually drawing the scene, and it couldn't be used. After all that. And that kids, is show biz.
PS -- there was another piece of art for the episode that also has an interesting story. Rayna's first scene with Lamar is in the prison visitor's room, and since he hasn't seen his grandkids since being arrested, I was going to have her bring in an iPad with photos of them or even a video. But then the Juliette plot necessitated looking at an iPad for gossip columns about the Wentworth divorce, and I didn't want the episode to look like Apple product placement.

So I decided, being the parent of two girls myself, why not have the kids do what kids might in such situations -- make their Paw-Paw a handmade card saying they missed him. I thought it might would actually evoke more emotion while Lamar looked at it.
Callie Khouri previewed various incarnations of the card and signed off on one, so it was the only one brought to set the day filming of the prison visit on our soundstages.

When I looked at it, it rang on my bullshit meter:  a little TOO perfect to be a kids' card. I hate it on TV shows when there's artwork that the art department concocts that's too fancy to seem real. So I asked can we add the girls' signatures to it, to make it more personal? Happuly, Lennon Stella was still on set from filming a different scene, so she came over and added "Love Maddie and Daphne" in an inimitable kid's handwriting. Victory!

Except for one thing. Lennon spelled her sister's character's name "D-A-P-H-E."

Well -- that was a problem. A 10 year old can write her name. So when filming began, I had to sidle up to Powers and say, "When you're holding the card, please make sure your thumb is right HERE." covering up the typo. He obliged like the pro that he is.

View entire episode here:

1 comment:

J. William Myers, Artist and Illustrator said...

Thank you, David, for such a vivid blog. Keep the words coming.

Bill Myers