In a rare work-related outing that got my ass out of the house, I spent an hour this Saturday afternoon touring the new studio digs for Fries With That? Production for the second season begins today, with two episodes being shot each week from now until June. It’s the sort of grueling schedule that makes me glad I’m not an actor, but rather a writer with an entirely different grueling schedule all my own. The first season of the show was shot at Moliflex, down along the Lachine Canal, which used to be a convenient half-hour walk from my home whenever I had the urge to visit the set and see who they cast for which guest role, or how some elaborate prop I made them build for one of my episodes turned out. This time around we’ve moved to the less convenient but much larger Mel’s, which sounds more like a greasy spoon diner than the enormous production facility it is. The increased size of the soundstage the show is shooting on has allowed for several new sets, expanding the dimension of the featured fast food restaurant to include bathrooms, a hallway, and a dingy alleyway outside the rear service door. New locations mean new toys for the writers to play with in their scripts, thus my visit during the lighting check to scout out possibilities for current and future episodes.
I hadn’t been to Mel’s since I worked on Sci-Squad back in 1998, when I had gone to visit that set for the sole purpose of being in the crew photo. That was an interesting experience, because in Montreal you never know what might be shooting just a few feet away. It could be some tiny French Canadian sitcom no one west of Berri Street will ever hear of, or it may be some Hollywood blockbuster throwing around more money than every other production in the city combined. On that particular day, coming out of the control room, I nearly walked straight into Denzel Washington as he was returning from the set of The Bone Collector next door. Although I came within a foot of knocking heads with him, we both escaped injury. Which is a good thing, because I’m sure his phalanx of gigantic bodyguards would have pulled me apart limb by limb had I even touched him. I’d seen these guys when I first entered the building and had, quite naturally, assumed they were parolees from a maximum security prison who just happened to enjoy passing the time by loitering around Montreal film and television productions. I was probably right, but I had no idea they were being paid to do so.
I admit to being vaguely fascinated by what gets shot next door to each other, and especially by what gets shot on the same studio floor. One production wraps, and then something completely different moves in. It tickles me to know that Pulse, CFCF’s local news show that runs daily at noon, 6:00 and 11:30, broadcasts live from the exact same space we used to shoot Radio Active. Yes, none other than Bill Haugland and Mutsumi Takahashi read the top headlines of the day from precisely the spot where one of our actors mooned another during a take to see if he could get him to crack up. The victim of this prank kept a straight face and the take made the final cut, but it makes me wonder if Mutsumi ever flashes some skin at Bill to rattle him during some otherwise dry federal sponsorship scandal coverage. It would make great symmetry.
Now that the bodily functions of the characters on Fries With That? have been acknowledged with the arrival of the new bathroom set that can be quickly redressed to pass for a men’s or women’s room (something I argued for as being highly cost-effective), the writers are all scrambling to have plenty of scenes take place in and around our one cubicle. The challenge will be writing bathroom humour that doesn’t involve anything that traditionally goes on in a bathroom, lest we incur the wrath of our wholesome broadcaster. Personally, I’m more interested in the revamped drive-through window. The technical issues concerning the impractical camera angle have been solved and greatly improved. Now, if need be, we can even drive a real car past the window to encourage some authenticity and perhaps a carbon monoxide asphyxiation or two amongst the crew.
Advance word is that Fries With That? will debut on Sunday, April 4 at 6:30 pm. It will play in that time slot for two weeks before moving to a four-day-a-week schedule, Monday to Thursday, paired with reruns of Radio Active. The first piece of promotion has just appeared on YTV’s website.