Casting and Waiting
Casting didn’t begin until November of 2010. While they clearly wanted to rush into production, the casting process was brutally long. As the screenwriter, I had nothing to do with it beyond waiting for updates—and they were few and far between.
Going into the assignment, I knew that they had wanted to cast the great James Earl Jones. They had worked with him before. I had the pleasure of writing a specific role and storyline just for him. Sadly, he was unavailable.
The first names they confirmed that had been signed were Eriq La Salle (ER, Logan) and Anne Heche (Donnie Brasco, Volcano). Needless to say, it was a thrill to finally see things moving forward—and especially knowing and respecting the actors that had just been attached.
Weeks went by with random updates here and there. Christian Slater had a scheduling conflict, so Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) was signed instead. With James Earl Jones unavailable, the great James Brolin signed on to take over the rewritten role. Then came Billy Zane and Bruce Boxleitner. Things seemed to be ramping up, until production was delayed for many more months, leading into April 2011.
Once production began, it was an on and off again affair where they would shoot for a couple of months and then go on hiatus until other lead actors’ schedules opened up.
That April, I was thrilled to be invited to the set by my producer. This would be my first trip back to Los Angeles after moving back to Wisconsin in 2006. All of my business before then had been handled through email, conference calls, and by my manager in Los Angeles.
The Set Visit
Going back to Los Angeles was a dream trip—especially given the fact that I was returning to visit the production of a screenplay I had written.
Before the set visit, I was going to make my first return to the studio I still call my second home today—Sony. One of my hopes, wishes, and bucket list dreams was to return to the Sony VIP gate I had worked at years before as a security guard—only this time as a guest.
It was a surreal moment as I pulled up to that gate. My name was in the system and as the security guard printed my pass, I mentioned, “I used to work this gate.” He was surprised and thrilled to hear my story. That remains to be one of the pivotal moments of my life. A little dream come true in the wake of a much bigger one just ahead.
My producer then picked me up at my hotel the next morning and we were off on a trip to the production company’s studio lot in Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles—a community surrounded by green hills and rock faces.
The studio was impressive. A former furniture warehouse now adorned with sets and sound stages. What impressed me even more was learning that this company owned everything I saw. Production vehicles, trailers, equipment—everything. Nothing had to be rented and for a company that has so much output per year, it proved to be one of the smartest collection of investments I’ve seen. Drastically reducing budgets for each and every production. But that was just the beginning.
He led me to their new backlot, which is basically a city facade consisting of two adjacent streets and blocks. It was bigger than Disney’s backlot. Certainly bigger than Sony. And it was made specifically for Blackout.
After a quick local bite to eat, we headed into the hills to go to set. When we arrived, we realized that we had just missed a trailer moment. They blew up a van moments before our arrival. As we pulled up, the fire crew was dowsing the van with water. We had missed it.
It was an hour and a half until they shot the next scene. As the sun went down below the hills, I was introduced to the set producer. It was a warm welcoming to say the least.
My producer and I then sat in the car for an hour, talking about family and business, and then headed up the trail.
It was here that I saw my first shot. It was exactly as I had written it. The dialogue was word for word from my draft and I would soon learn that this was the case throughout the night. Surreal to say the least. Here were actors dressed in Special Forces tactical ware, hiding in the shadows, reconning an enemy location, and saying the very words I had written.
I had been told by my producer that the director, Bradford May, was crazy. He meant that in the best of ways, so it was pretty clear to me that the boisterous man barking orders and calling everyone “his lovelies” was indeed Mr. May—or as I would soon call him, B May, the name he went by on set.
Our visit was unannounced, so B May was surprised to see my producer—who was also the executive producer of the miniseries—on set. He lit up—hugging him and grasping him with pure glee and emotion. Picture Al Pacino, at his over-the-top best, mixed in with a little Dean Martin. That was B May, a director with TV credits from now-ancient shows like Hawaii Five-O of yesteryear. This guy was old school.
His energy was electric. I had met many directors in my time in Hollywood, but B May had this electric vibe about him and it fueled the crew—his lovelies. When my producer introduced me as one of the writers, B May lit up once again, grasping me like I was his own son. Brian Bloom and another lead actor came up, in full Special Forces apparel, and joined in on the conversation. Bloom, a produced screenwriter himself (he co-starred in and wrote the big screen version of The A-Team), made a noticeable extra effort to shake my hand and show added appreciation and respect once he heard that I was the screenwriter.
After more introductions and warm welcomes, the conversation went to the production.
As my producer, B May, and I walked over to craft services, the conversation continued. B May was imploring my producer that they “needed to make more of this sexy stuff.” Great drama mixed with practical action—no computer graphics. As they went on talking about certain locations and certain sequences, it was a thrill to hear that everything they talked about was my stuff. My sequences. My dramatic scenes. My action. But as a writer, once you hand over that script, “my” doesn’t apply anymore because it is a collaborative art form. It was B May’s. It was the actors’. It was the crews’. It was the additional writing of the production screenwriter brought in after me. But the great thing to realize was that they were referring to it as ours—and I was part of that.
As the night went on, it was a thrill to see the guns, the stunts, the explosions, live fire, real pyrotechnics, and air rams launching men into the air. Each and every image was one that I had conjured. Each and every word was one that I had written. It was a true dream come true to hear those words and see those actions. Words can’t describe the feeling.
It would go on to be one of the greatest nights of my life.