On the set with “Rizzoli”

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday star-struck. And who can blame me? There I was on a film set, hanging out with Angie Harmon (Rizzoli), Sasha Alexander (Maura), and writer/executive producer Janet Tamaro. I was there to watch them shoot the TV pilot of “Rizzoli,” which is based on the characters from my crime series.

I have long heard that filmmakers think novelists are troublesome and they don’t want them hanging around during filming. But as soon as I arrived, the whole cast and crew couldn’t have been more welcoming. When the First Assistant Director announced to everyone, “We have the author on the set today,” the crew broke out in applause.

I’d never been to a film set before, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all.

Here’s a view of some of the trucks parked on the street. They were filming in a private residence, which they’d rented as the location for a crime scene, and a lot of effort went into protecting the interiors of the house from being damaged by camera equipment. The walls, floor, and furniture were protected by cardboard and bubble wrap. The property was so large that they were using a different part of the house as Maura’s residence, and yet a third area as a funeral parlor. The house is in Hancock Park, a very nice section of Los Angeles, and the neighbors must have felt like they were being invaded by an army. Imagine looking out your window and seeing this parked outside on the street:

(Not to mention the three fake “Boston PD” cruisers” parked nearby!)

I was impressed by the sheer number of people involved in a film shoot. It really is an army. At one time, I counted sixty people bustling about. Here’s what the “crime scene” looked like between takes, and it shows just a fraction of the crew involved.

As the locations manager told me, “if you wanted to plan a military invasion of a foreign country, you wouldn’t go wrong hiring a Hollywood crew to coordinate things for you!”

The director Michael Robin (above), seemed delighted to have me there, and he’d often turn to me after a take and ask, “Is that how you envisioned this scene?” The work is painstaking and exhausting, and the film crew works a full six hours before they break for what they call “lunch” — even though “Lunch” may be at 4 PM. Then they come back for yet another long stretch. Each scene requires multiple takes, and it took them about seven hours to finish filming what will probably end up as only three minutes in the show.

(I confess: after only four hours, my husband and I wimped out and left the set for lunch and a break. When we got back, the crew was still at it. And they went on to film late into the night. By which time, I was already in bed in my hotel room!)

Not only did I get to meet the actors, including Bruce McGill (Korsak), Lee Thompson Young (Barry Frost) …

… and Billy Burke (Gabriel Dean), here with Director Michael Robin…

I also got to hang out with some of the many other people on the set. One of them turned out to be from Boston.

Detective Russ Grant — a real homicide detective, not just an actor! — flew out from Boston to be a consultant on the set, and to advise the actors how to approach a crime scene. He noted, with some amusement, that Hollywood crime scenes have about ten times more personnel than real detectives would ever get to assist them — and far better lighting, too! We both laughed about this as we stood outside in the front yard. It was after dark, but the film set’s lighting blared down so brightly it was like daylight.

Greg Varela was the medic on the set, and he told me about some of the situations he’s had to deal with during his career in the film industry. He’s attended everything from sprained backs to cardiac arrests to amputations. The equipment is heavy and potentially dangerous, and he said that knees and backs give out early in this business. “A lot of these people live on Advil,” he noted.

Because it’s a film set, you just never know who — or what — you’re going to find sitting off in a corner.

Here’s actor Dwayne Standridge, a man of immense patience, who spent many cold hours in his underwear, playing a corpse. But even corpses need to take a break every so often!

17 replies
  1. demeter94
    demeter94 says:

    I can’t tell you how excited I am. Thanks so much for keeping us in the loop here, and, well, no one will blame you for being a little star- struck. Just, wow. Next year is going to be really great with a new book in the series (though I’m scared for Maura) and the pilot, hopefully to be picked up. Keeping fingers crossed!


  2. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    Wow! What an experience for you Tess and thank you so much for making the time to share the experience with us. You say you were star-struck, but I think the “stars” are the ones who should be star-struck having a much loved and talented author on hand to offer guidance and ensure YOUR characters are portrayed in the way that you created them. Hope we won’t be disappointed – I say “we”, but who’s to know if we will get to see even the pilot here in the UK.
    Fingers crossed please EVERYONE.

    Best wishes Tess.


  3. sean
    sean says:

    Fantastic! Thanks for the behind the scenes peek Tess!

    I must say, it took me a second to recognize Sasha Alexander as a blond though.

  4. wrrriter
    wrrriter says:

    Very cool. Reminds me of my days shooting commercials. The crew wasn’t quite as large, but still huge. And the “lunches” were often so good–one studio used to have chocolate mousse pie for dessert. I kept returning to them, not exactly sure why . . .

    Ray Rhamey

  5. Iona
    Iona says:

    Cool, thanks for giving us all a sneak peek! Must have been an awesome experience walking that set! I can only imagine what it’s like to see the images in your mind come to life like that.

    I was wondering… is “Rizzoli” just the working title for the pilot or is it official? For some reason I was expecting a catchy name like the other crime series out there. (Criminal Minds, CSI…) Or are they going for the “Dexter” type of title? 😉

  6. Tess
    Tess says:

    “Rizzoli” is just a working title. They haven’t yet been able to come up with a title they like. So … if anyone has any suggestions, shoot them my way! TNT would love to hear it!


  7. asdotnet
    asdotnet says:

    You have absolutely NO idea how excited I am for this. Trying to keep myself level headed, but SO HARD TO CONTAIN!

    I’ve been a fan of the books for years and just hoped they would make it into, at least, a movie. But the possibility of getting an entire series is just mindblowing!

  8. Oya Canli
    Oya Canli says:

    But I started to like the title “Rizzoli”. First I thought it is strange a little, but I like it now 🙂

    Exciting news indeed. So happy to see the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    I like the idea of using “Rizzoli” as the title – prompts existing fans when the programme is closer to being televised and will help recruit new fans, who are familiar with the character, but for some reason have yet to become fans.
    Jane Rizzoli is the subject of the programme after all.

    Best Wishes – Gordon

  10. Iona
    Iona says:

    Yeah I figured it was a working title. Honestly, nothing catchy really comes to mind, even after thinking about it for a day or so.

    I can of course only speculate about the actual contents of the pilot, but judging by the picture of the victim and the way his throat is slashed, I’d say it’s The Surgeon’s (or then the Apprentice’s) handiwork. But of course you cannot name a show after its bad guy as it is all about the heroine defeating the bad guy. So Rizzoli is the best solution, although I’m not a favorite of naming a show after its hero. You’d have to have a darn good and unique hero in order to name the WHOLE show after him/her (for instance “Dexter” is a pretty extraordinarily odd guy. Also “MacGyver” wasn’t your typical hero either.)

    Well, maybe I’ll come up with something. The only thing I thought was interesting and does describe best what Rizzoli is dealing with is the word “evil”. And the fact that when spelled backwards, “evil” spells “live”… I don’t know, maybe they can do something with that! 🙂

  11. Tess
    Tess says:

    You know, I’m going to open this up to my readers — what to call the show?!!!

    (And yes, the pilot episode is mostly based on the plot of THE APPRENTICE)

  12. techiebabe
    techiebabe says:

    Wow, Tess – I am so excited about this for you! Interestingly, I think I’ve told you I find it hard to picture people, I need them very explicitly described, but even so your description of Maura (as, essentially, a goth) has jarred with me. But looking at those photos, the actors playing Jane and Maura are pretty much how I had imagined!

    I realise it may not be what you’d expected, and it’s your baby, but I thought you might be interested to know that as a reader I think they look exactly right.

    I do hope this is a series we get on release in the UK!

    Merry Christmas and good to hear from you again, Flash Bristow Xx

  13. techiebabe
    techiebabe says:

    As for a title? I’m not sure. But – like with the Alex Cross series I’ve just discovered by James Patterson, I think “Cop vs FBI” might be appropriate – or something of that ilk to sum up the Jane / Gabe tension?

  14. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    This is so exciting! For me, as a reader, of course it is. But I can’t imagine how amazing it must be as a writer seeing your characters come alive! Amazing.

  15. JessWess
    JessWess says:

    Hey Tess
    HUGE FAN!!
    Just wondering if you know when the pilot airs? I want to make sure not to miss it.
    Also SUPER excited about the new book in July! Thanks for being such an amazing storyteller

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