Season six of MacGyver is well under way. With two episodes under their belt, the production team turns toward episode three, The Gun. Still refreshed from their recent hiatus, everyone is enthusiastic about returning for another year, and they are taking advantage of the mild and generally dry weather that Vancouver has to offer in the summer months.
It is Thursday, August 16th, and due to a late shooting schedule the day before, this morning's schedule has been pushed back by a few hours in keeping with the guidelines for turn-around times. The guest actors and crew will report to the location by about noon, with the main cast due to arrive closer to 4 o'clock. Today's scenes will be shot at the Ballantine Pier, a corner of the Port of Vancouver normally bustling with the loading and unloading of freight, which today is being transformed by cameras, trailers, and equipment. The morning had dawned grey and dreary with a persistent drizzle, but by the afternoon the clouds have parted, offering glimpses of sun.
The visit to the set had come at the invitation of Adrienne Allen, the show's publicist, who also happens to be Mrs. Stephen Downing. As the wife of the executive producer, she is in a position to have a unique perspective on the show's production, and she enjoys sharing anecdotes, stories, and insights.
Upon arriving at the location, it is apparent that work is already well under way. Orange traffic cones display the word "Mac" with arrows to direct the way to the secluded corner of the pier. Parked along the warehouses and alleys are rows of trailers, mobile dressing rooms, and equipment, and anchored at the pier is a large yellow and white ship that will stand in as the freighter for this week's episode. The crew is already in place, filming a scene on the deck of the ship, high above the pier. Jerry Wasserman, already known to MacGyver fans from the episodes Collision Course and Live and Learn, joins Jay Brazeau, who had previously appeared in Kill Zone, as the episode's antagonists in the roles of Maddox and Zamora. As the encounter between Maddox and Zamora is shot, Adrienne points out the members of the crew who make the show possible.
The episode is being directed by Bill Gereghty, who used to be the director of photography for the show and has since taken on the mantle of director. Such promotions are common, in fact since moving to Vancouver the series has trained many talented new people into highly efficient teams, only to have them move on to other positions and other projects. Working with Bill on the current scene is Steve Blalock, the stunt double for Richard Dean Anderson and nearly his twin from a distance. Steve works closely with Vince Deadrick, the stunt coordinator, and he is helping to coordinate the preparations for a major stunt that will be filmed later this afternoon.
Also on the deck of the ship are the tightly coordinated teams responsible for the camera, lighting, and sound. The cameraman frames and follows the scene per the director's instructions, but it is the role of the focus puller to coordinate with him and to precisely estimate and adjust the lens to keep the scene in focus. The boom mike operator stands nearby, holding the microphone on a long pole just out of the range of the camera. It's a job that must be done by hand, since a mechanical arm is not capable of moving quickly and precisely enough. Although this episode doesn't call for animals, Adrienne also points out the role of the animal handler who is called to the set whenever animals are involved. Unfortunately, he hates snakes, she says, and the last three times he was on set, the episode called for him to wrangle snakes.
Meanwhile, Kelly Noon, a petite young woman with bright red hair, scurries about with piles of detailed notes. She has taken on the role of script supervisor from Candice Field, and it is her responsibility to ensure that each line, each prop, each costume change, each movement is consistent from take to take and scene to scene. Her job is especially challenging since scenes are filmed out of order and on different days, and a small oversight can result in a humorous lack of continuity when the episode is edited together. A conversation with her brings up one such example, the "magic jeep doors" in the episode Back From the Dead, in which the doors of MacGyver's jeep appear and disappear in the course of a single scene. Several members of the crew admit that they enjoy spotting such slips as well, always easier to notice after the fact.
As the scene on board the ship is completed, the crew begins to set up for the next shot, and Jerry Wasserman and Jay Brazeau return to the entrance of the warehouse where chairs have been set up and snacks are available for those taking a break between scenes. In the upcoming stunt, their roles will be played by dummies, and the hair stylist hurries by, fretting that he is finding little success in getting the hair to stay attached to the faux Maddox and Zamora.
As the preparation between scenes continues, the other guest actors begin to arrive. First is Charles Andrew Payne, who is reprising the role of Breeze that he had played in The Challenge and The Madonna. When shooting one of the scenes for the show earlier in the week, Breeze was supposed to put his hand through a window, but in one of the takes, he had cut his hand and wrist badly, requiring 17 stitches. For the rest of his scenes it has been necessary to hide his hand or to use a double. Today his right hand is still wrapped in a huge bandage and covered with a scrap of cloth that matches his shirt in an effort to camouflage the injury.
Next to arrive is Julie Downing, who is playing the role of Laura. Julie is the daughter of Adrienne and Stephen Downing and no stranger to the MacGyver set, having appeared previously in a small role in The Invisible Killer. The conversation is lively and friendly as the actors wait to be called. There is talk of summer vacations, the popular pastime of catching continuity errors on the show, and then the stand-in for Breeze's character becomes the subject of a matchmaking discussion as Adrienne and Julie are intent on fixing him up with a former Miss Vancouver. Every now and then Charles Andrew Payne wanders by with a huge grin and asks, "Are we having fun yet?"
Bill Crivello, Richard Dean Anderson's assistant, arrives next on the set. As an assistant, Bill's duties can include almost anything that is needed, from running errands, to looking after Richard's dog, to providing transportation to the set. Whether Richard is already settled in his trailer or is arranging for his own transportation today isn't immediately clear, but his first scenes of the day aren't scheduled for at least another hour, and in the meantime the conversation turns to anecdotes from the set.
One of the challenges of shooting on location is background noise. Today they are filming by the water, which means the loud and persistent calls of seagulls are a constant nuisance. Scenes from the previous week had been shot in Stanley Park in the area near where the seaplanes land. Every time Richard had tried to say one of his lines, a plane would fly overhead, ruin the sound, and the scene would have to be reshot. Finally, Richard had broken character in the middle of the take, turned directly into the camera, and said with a mixture of humor and exasperation, "This is the 15th time...!" Richard hates having to dub his voice at the studio afterward. It's tedious and has to be done on his own time, and the production tries to accommodate him as much as possible, but usually it just can't be avoided. Last year there was only one episode that required no dubbing at all, a rarity.
Another common problem is the changeable and often uncooperative weather. The crew prefers to shoot on dry overcast days so that lighting is even and the shadows are softer. In the episode they had finished filming last week, the weather had been bright and pleasant, but the sun had made the shadows on the faces so strong that they will need to be corrected. Today's weather may also be a concern. By this time the sky in the west has cleared nicely, and the warm sunshine is most welcome, but curiously a line of clouds remains anchored almost directly above the ship, and everything beyond it to the east is covered in dark clouds for most of the day. Consequently everything being shot this afternoon will be in bright sunlight with an ominous dark sky behind.
Steve Blalock joins a conversation about MacGyver's unexpected early rise in the ratings. When the show debuted it had a disastrous time slot and stiff competition, and few expected it to survive its first season. Eventually its chief competition was ALF, a sitcom about an alien, played by a puppet. Steve recalls that when MacGyver finally beat ALF in the ratings for the first time, he had hung an ALF doll by a noose outside the window at Paramount Studios to celebrate. As Steve turns back to preparing the next scene, he is stopped by a young boy. The boy and his mother seem to be visitors to the set, guests of one of the production assistants. The boy approaches Steve shyly and asks for an autograph. With a gracious smile, Steve happily agrees, asking gently, "You know I'm not Richard, don't you?" before asking the boy's name and signing the autograph for him.
By now, Dana Elcar has arrived. He is driven to the set in a big black car, and he stops to chat briefly with some of the crew who greet him. Then he turns toward the cluster of actors who have been chatting near the entrance of the warehouse, but he seems to offer no acknowledgement as he searches for coffee near the food that craft services has set up. As he walks away again, Adrienne explains his apparent aloofness. Dana has been losing his sight. He has almost no peripheral vision, and most likely he didn't recognize the voices of the guest stars as he had approached. Although there has yet been no hint of his disability on the show, his loss of vision has been progressing rapidly, and the production team has been discussing how best to address it. They have no intention of writing the character out of the show and are preparing to gradually write Dana's loss of vision into future episodes this season. The sense of family and genuine caring is so apparent on the set as cast and crew alike use a subtle word here, a touch there, to help Dana feel comfortable as he makes his way around the unfamiliar location. Later, when she can approach him head-on, Adrienne makes her way toward Dana and guides him toward where the other actors have been talking.
Dana is delightful and friendly and very interested to hear about the events that had made today's guest visit to the set possible. It had begun when a class of hearing impaired students in New Jersey had been assigned the task of writing a fan letter as part of a language arts lesson. The class had unanimously chosen to send their letters to the person who made MacGyver come alive for them each week, and when Richard Dean Anderson sent a personal reply, it was the beginning of a correspondence and a series of science-related school projects that has continued for the nearly three years since then. Dana says that his son, who is still of young school age, has also occasionally relied on the science of MacGyverisms to build models and projects for school assignments, much like his New Jersey counterparts. He also says that he is very familiar with that area of the country. In fact, he had lived in New York City for 13 years, and for part of that time had been a New York City cab driver.
As other actors and crew join the group, the conversation turns to other topics, including travels during the recent production hiatus. Adrienne mentions that she and her husband and family had spent part of their vacation in Greece, and they had run into Richard and his producing partner and close friend Michael Greenburg while they were there. Richard and Michael had been spending part of their hiatus in Greece as well. While they were there, Richard had envied Stephen's large family and had expressed, with some sadness, his regret at not having a family of his own. Lately, she continues, Richard has expressed an interest in settling down, but "just hasn't found the right girl yet". They have joked that he's running out of time to get started on a family, but he is still a very confirmed bachelor, set in his ways and working on his own schedule. His travels through Europe with Michael are an example of his spontaneity and independence. Richard and Michael hadn't really enjoyed the heat and the touristy nature of some of the towns they visited in Greece, and so they had moved on to the south of France instead. He had loved the French Riviera, Adrienne adds, and despite being normally publicity-shy, he had enjoyed the attention of the French women who recognized him from a recent magazine cover that had appeared in France.
Some of the crew wonder aloud how Richard has spent his morning, having the rare opportunity for a late call. Adrienne adds that "he's not a morning person," and that he should be in a good mood today having had the extra time to himself. Tomorrow, Friday, will be the last day of principal shooting for this episode, and it should be a light schedule. Richard is hoping to be "shot out" early tomorrow so that he can catch an afternoon flight to Los Angeles. He has been invited to participate in the celebrity softball game at Dodger's Stadium on Saturday, and he is looking forward to it. In fact, Richard often likes to get away on weekends. She adds that there is another celebrity event coming up in a week or two that he has agreed to attend. He had been asked to be the honorary chairman of a bicycle race here in Vancouver for a children's charity. He wanted to help, but he hates being in the spotlight, and his first question had been, "Do I have to say anything?" Assured that he wouldn't need to address a crowd, he had agreed. He has since gotten together a MacGyver team, and they are ready to race at the end of the month.
Finally the preparations are complete for the next scene. The lighting and sound equipment have been set up along the exterior of the warehouse, and tracks have been laid for the camera that will move along with the action. Pete Thornton is to approach stealthily along the building, and after blocking, direction, and rehearsal, the few seconds of footage are shot. Then the equipment is dismantled and reassembled a few feet away to shoot the continuation of the scene as Pete rounds the corner and continues his approach.
As soon as they finish shooting Pete's scene, work begins to prepare for the big stunt, or gag, on board the ship. As Adrienne explains, MacGyver, Laura, and Breeze are to be trapped inside a huge shipping crate, and when MacGyver rigs an explosion for them to escape, the crate dumps its boxes of guns on the villains, (now being played by dummies), killing them. They had shot all the scenes inside the crate yesterday, using a duplicate three-sided crate that had been set up inside the warehouse. At the crucial moment, the three actors, standing firmly on the ground, had to pretend that they were suspended and clinging to the restraints during an explosion. Today they would shoot the actual explosion, without actors, and then edit the two pieces together.
It takes a long time to prepare. Several cameras are set up in various positions, including the roof of the warehouse, so that the scene can be shot from many angles in a single take, and all safety precautions are taken. When all is set, there is a call for quiet. Two identical huge crates are brought in on a flatbed truck, and slowly one of the crates, filled with wooden boxes, is hoisted above the ship. As the crate is moved into position over the ship's deck, someone calls for the explosion. With a loud bang the two right cables are released, the crate swings violently downward, the doors open, and wooden boxes come pouring out onto the deck of the ship. It is all over in an instant, and as "cut" is called, the crew applauds and offers congratulations, pleased that the stunt is a success. Several people turn to ask the crew photographer and some of the guests with cameras if they were able to get a good shot of the explosion. This is a moment they want to remember.
However, the crew can't help but notice that following the explosion, the crate continues to swing violently for some time. Julie remarks that when they had faked the explosion the day before from inside the crate, they had not been jolted nearly as much, and that the interior scene might have to be reshot. Someone else points out that not all the boxes and props had fallen as expected. The art department had spent a great deal of time making detailed models of 500 guns inside the wooden boxes, and there is some concern that the guns might not have shown up properly in the shot. Another person reports that the camera picked up some of the guns floating in the water, something that guns should not be able to do. It will be up to the director to decide whether these discrepancies can be corrected with new footage or careful editing.
The next scene will take place on the deck of the ship as MacGyver, Laura, and Breeze emerge from the crate after the explosion. It takes some time for the camera, lighting, and sound departments to move their equipment back onto the deck of the ship, and the set decorators go about rearranging the boxes, the guns, and the bodies of the dummies, now buried beneath the debris. This allows another long break in the action, but it also means that it is time for MacGyver's first scene of the day. Suddenly, Adrienne looks off toward the corner of the warehouse and announces, "Here comes Richard, on his bicycle."
At first glance, one might be forgiven for mistaking the star of the show for one of the crew. No limo, no escort, no grand entrance, he appears on his bicycle, winding his way along the dock, almost more slowly than walking, scanning the area and observing the action going on around him. He is wearing blue sweat pants, Nike sneakers, and a faded T-shirt with a red, white, and blue design for Human Rights Now. He carries a large paper cup from which he sips occasionally, and as he reaches a small group of the crew, he pauses, straddles his bicycle, and begins to chat with them. After a few moments, Adrienne approaches him to let him know that the guest that he has been expecting is on the set. He puts down his bicycle and his cup and approaches with a broad smile and his arms stretched wide in greeting. "Finally, after all this time!" he exclaims as introductions are made, and when told how much his correspondence has meant to the class of students he has befriended, he replies immediately, "Well, let's keep it going!"
There is a comfortable familiarity about Richard. Though naturally shy, he has had years of experience in the spotlight and has learned from practice how to put others at ease by being the person they expect him to be. The mannerisms are familiar too, the gentle voice, the mischievous smile, the expressive hands. His hair has been trimmed and lightened a bit since the fifth season, and he appears to be wearing tinted contacts which give his normally brown eyes a golden, almost cat-like, appearance. Those eyes sparkle when he speaks, watch intently as he listens, and conversation is easy. Indeed, earlier Adrienne had expressed surprise at the notion that anyone might be nervous talking to him.
At first, the conversation focuses on the students who had become his pen pals. Richard recalls the letters that had been sent and received over the years and some of the gifts that had been exchanged, including an autographed poster and a set of classroom science experiments that had come from the studio, and an original videotape, based on a MacGyver mystery, which the students had written and produced for him. Bill Crivello has joined the conversation by now and he recalls the video. "They were looking for something, right? I remember when that came, Rick said right away, 'Well, put it on, let's see it', and we sat down and watched it together." Richard repeats that he would like to keep the correspondence going, but he urges patience and adds a caveat about the unreliable postal system. Turning to a Canadian crew member nearby he jokes, "We love your country, but your mail stinks!"
Referring back to the earlier conversations about continuity glitches in the show, Adrienne interjects that the students have also enjoyed noticing little slips that make it onto the screen, and she insists, "Tell him about the jeep doors." At first the description of the scene doesn't ring any bells for him. In Back From the Dead the jeep has no doors as it leaves the church, the doors appear as it arrives at the marina, and they vanish again when the jeep pulls away. It seems the sort of thing an actor might have noticed during the filming, but Richard finally asks, "Are you sure it was me driving?" The most likely explanation is that footage of Steve Blalock driving the jeep had been edited between the other two scenes, giving the jeep its magical quality and creating a moment that would have happened when Richard wasn't on the set. Suddenly, he laughs, "I love that kind of stuff!" It seems that Richard enjoys catching those little moments as much as everyone else does.
Richard asks if the visit to Vancouver has allowed time to enjoy the tourist spots of the city. He notes that the weather has been cooperative for the past few days and adds, "If the weather were like this all the time, I'd stay up here permanently. But in the winter it gets so cold and wet, and you can see your breath, and it doesn't help the arthritis." Referring to the relatively small area of the peninsula that makes up downtown Vancouver, he remarks, "You can see downtown in about an hour," and he asks if there will be a chance to get outside the city. He recommends a helicopter tour that runs over the city and up the coast, but he warns not to try it when the winds are strong. He adds that he had taken the helicopter tour himself, on a windy day, and it was "humbling."
He goes on to share another out-of-town experience he had had just a few weekends earlier. He had decided to ride his bicycle from Vancouver to Squamish, a little town about 40 miles up the coast. He jokes again about growing older and admits sheepishly that the mountain roads had proven to be more of a challenge than he had expected. "My legs cramped up, and I came home completely exhausted and dehydrated," he confesses as he adds that he wouldn't recommend the trip, at least not on a bicycle.
By this time, one of the production assistants has appeared and waits politely for a moment to interrupt. Nodding toward the PA, Richard says, "I know why he's here." It is time for him to prepare for the next scene, and he excuses himself to head off to wardrobe and makeup.
After he is gone, Adrienne fills in the rest of the details of his bicycle trip to Squamish. Richard often rides his bike away for the weekend, she explains, taking camping gear with him for overnight stays. This time he had not taken his camping equipment and had planned to stay at a cheap hotel in Squamish instead. However, when he arrived there, he decided there wasn't much reason to stay, but he was too tired to try the ride back on the same day. Then he met up with a Chinese tour bus and struck up a conversation with the driver. The driver had recognized him as MacGyver and readily agreed when Richard asked if he could hitch a ride for himself and his bicycle back to Vancouver. However, when the tour director returned, his insistence on strict adherence to the company policies made that option impossible, and he refused to let Richard ride along. Consequently, Richard had no choice but to start back on his own, and the round trip was too much for him. Speaking like a worried mother, she adds, "He nearly ruined himself."
Soon Richard reappears. He is wearing the same sneakers and watch, but he has changed his sweat pants for jeans. He is wearing no shirt at all, but he has a short sleeved turquoise shirt that he has looped through his belt loop, letting it hang down at his side. He joins the conversation of a few crew members and eventually hands his shirt to someone who hangs it up until it is needed. Then he makes his way up onto the ship and sits near the bow, alone most of the time, just watching the activity around him. Since this is his first scene of the day, it is unclear if it will be shot without the shirt, but Adrienne explains, "No, he's just sunning himself."
Richard remains on the ship for some time, then at last he returns to the pier. It is then that Adrienne suggests, "Let's get him over here so we can take a picture of you together. But I'll have to get his shirt since I know he won't have his picture taken without it." She collects his shirt from where it has been hanging and brings it to him. He slips it on, buttoning only the middle two buttons, and follows her to a spot conducive for photos. Both Adrienne and Chris, the crew photographer, snap a few photos, and when Chris calls out, "Rick, you're biting your lip," Richard answers, "I'm nervous!" With the photos completed, Richard offers a hasty, "We'll talk more later," as he returns to the deck of the ship.
Preparations are finally completed for the only scene of the day that involves Richard, the scene in which MacGyver, Laura, and Breeze survey the damage on the ship's deck. The huge crate from which the three actors will emerge is now sitting on the deck. Strewn all about are the many wooden boxes, now smashed and spilling their contents of hundreds of guns that the art department had spent so much time to create. Sticking out from among the piles of guns is the arm of one of the dummies, clutching a gun in its hand. The director, assistants, lighting, and sound people are all getting ready, and Richard, Julie, and Charles take their places inside the crate. The scene calls for the end of the crate to tip slightly, then lower onto the deck as the actors walk to the doorway. They are directed to look around and realize what has happened, then Breeze has a line, Laura has a line, and MacGyver is to say, "He was right." It seems simple enough, perhaps a total of 30 seconds on the screen, but it must have taken nearly an hour to shoot. In the end, most of the scene will not make the final cut.
They begin with rehearsals so that lighting and sound can make their adjustments. Richard questions the fact that MacGyver is doing nothing to save the men who are buried under the pile of guns. He asks, "Aren't we supposed to be the good guys?" Then he begins joking, "Look, I see an arm, and there's a leg over there! Anybody see the head? Yeah, he's dead. Better check the carotid artery!" He fumbles over the pronunciation of "carotid", but stresses the word, as if it has been an inside joke. Then, since they still are not ready for a take, he goes on, asking if the scene doesn't remind anyone of a certain movie. He holds his right arm up, in an imitation of the final scene of Deliverance and begins singing a rendition of "Dueling Banjos." He has everyone laughing, but when they are ready to begin, he is completely professional again. He isn't sure how to say his line, and tries it a few ways for the director. Then rehearsal is called and they go through the scene. When Richard comes to his line, he gives a very exaggerated impression of John Wayne, and everyone breaks into laughter again as they set up for the actual take.
Finally, they begin to shoot the scene. The crate is lowered, the actors appear, Charles speaks, Julie speaks, and as Richard is about to say his line, the seagulls become louder and louder. He pauses, waiting for them to quiet down, but they don't, and the director cuts the take. They set up again, action begins, and the results are exactly the same. Richard pauses for quiet, then closes his eyes and drops his head in defeat, and the cameras stop again. At least three or four more attempts are made, always with the same results. Finally, when the scene comes again to Richard's line, he pauses, then looks up into the sky and calls out an ear-piercing and quite convincing seagull impression. Again there is laughter and the tension breaks. There is one more take, and at last they are able to complete the scene with only minor interference. Then comes another pause as they set up again to take the close-up shots.
In between scenes, Richard tends to be somewhat subdued. Often he wanders off by himself, once he waits patiently as his makeup is touched up, other times he stands alone, looking out over the side of the ship, watching the scenery. The unique clouds have remained for most of the afternoon, and it seems that a shower is falling to the east where the clouds are still dark. With the bright low sun shining from the west, a spectacular double rainbow forms off the side of the ship that crosses the water and ends somewhere in North Vancouver. The crew gradually becomes aware of it and pauses to admire it. Richard stands alone for quite some time watching it from the side of the ship, until Julie comes over to him and begins joking with him, playfully grabbing for his belt and making him laugh.
Finally they are set up again, and everyone returns to their places to shoot the scene again for close-ups. There are two cameras, so the scene must be run through at least twice more to get all three close-ups. This time the scene goes without incident, and they are able to move off the ship again. Before they finish, however, they call for quiet once more, and the sound man lowers his boom mike over the side of the ship in order to capture the sounds of lapping water that can be edited in later. At last everyone begins to file off the ship. Richard picks up his bicycle again and slowly loops around the area at the entrance of the warehouse. Once he's sure that he won't be needed again soon, he rides off around the corner toward his dressing trailer.
In the meantime the director has made the decision that the interior crate scene following the explosion will have to be reshot. This means a longer day, and because the afternoon light is fading, they are bringing in floodlights and doubling up the scenes. On the pier near the ship a scene is being shot in which Pete Thornton orders the crane operator to lower the crate. At the same time, inside the warehouse, the second crate is being readied for the interior scene. The actors will need to be prepared, but it is not necessary for them to stand in place as the lighting and camera crews get set into position. This is the job of the lighting double, and the doubles for MacGyver, Laura, and Breeze take their places in the crate to be lit and focused.
As the preparations are underway, Steve Blalock and Vince Deadrick reappear. Their job should have been completed after the big explosion was filmed on the ship, but Steve explains that they were on their way out when they got a call to come back, and he had had to call his wife and tell her that he'd be home late again. This time, he says, Bill wants to shoot the interior crate scene by actually suspending the actors in the hanging crate and shooting up at them. This means bungee cords for each actor, and Steve has brought one for a fitting for Julie, who is excited at the idea of being involved in a real stunt. Steve also has Richard's bungee cord, which he will bring to him in his trailer. Asked if Richard will be doing his own stunt, Steve answers, "Are you kidding? Ever since we threw him off the bridge he can't get enough of this!" The reference is to the scene from The Invisible Killer in which MacGyver is supposed to be thrown over a swaying suspension bridge. However, Steve clarifies that he, as the stunt double, had in fact been the one who actually took the fall over the bridge. The scene had been shot at the Lynn Canyon Bridge, just up the river from Capilano, and after Steve had completed the more dangerous fall, Richard really had been suspended high above the river for the scenes that take place afterward. "And he loved it!"
Soon Richard reappears on his bicycle and takes a few more loops around the pier before striking up a conversation with members of the crew who are finishing Pete's scene near the ship. It has been a long day for most of the crew, and the reshoot will make it longer. Adrienne's day, too, is coming to an end, and after more than five hours on the set it is time for the set visit to end as well. Before leaving, there is one more opportunity to talk to Richard. There are promises to continue the correspondence, words of thanks, gifts exchanged, warm hugs, and a final farewell. Then, all too soon, the day on the set comes to an end.
Exiting the location, Adrienne points out some of the vehicles and equipment that weren't apparent on the way in. She identifies Richard's dressing room, a large white trailer with reddish striped markings on it and a satellite dish mounted on the roof. She explains that they had gotten the satellite dish for him so that he could watch sports in his dressing room during his breaks. She also mentions that they had gotten exercise equipment for him, which is often brought on location so he can use it in between scenes. Richard has had his share of injuries and operations, especially on his back and feet, but he is doing fairly well now and continues to remain active. He still plays hockey about four times a week at several of the local rinks. He travels with his celebrity team, too, although it is very hard to arrange for him to have the time off. Often they will try to arrange a few Fridays or Mondays off to allow him to travel. Adrienne isn't certain of his upcoming schedule, but there is possibly a hockey game coming up in December in Philadelphia.
It seems that the production goes out of its way to accommodate Richard's interests, but Adrienne never gives the impression that Richard has made demands. In fact, the feeling is more like a family. The meeting of Richard and Michael with the Downings in Greece was not so unusual. She describes another encounter at Richard's On Richards, a popular night club on Richards Street downtown. One evening, Stephen, Adrienne, and Julie Downing and three of Julie's friends had been eating dinner at a restaurant when Richard showed up and joined them. He had asked the girls where they were planning to go next, and when they had no plans, he suggested they go to Richard's On Richards. They spent the evening there, and Adrienne says, "He was just like a big brother, taking turns dancing with each one of them."
She recalls another evening when Richard's "big brother" side came out. The party to celebrate MacGyver's 100th episode had been held at the Science World building, a spherical museum in downtown Vancouver filled with hands-on exhibits. At the time of the party, they were shooting episode #102, Hearts of Steel, the second episode featuring Mayim Bialik. "She must be all of 14 years old, Richard gets along great with her, and she just adores Richard," Adrienne remembers. For the big celebration, Richard had invited Mayim as his date for the evening, and the two of them had a fabulous time, playing with all the gadgets and buttons and puzzles at the museum.
The attempts of the production staff to accomodate Richard's preferences don't always mean that they are in agreement, Adrienne confesses. Most of the costume choices are Richard's decisions, and production has rarely been able to change his mind when a difference in taste arises. "What can we do?" she asks with a smile. He can be rather particular about his clothes, she adds, and "he only wears 100% cotton or 100% silk, none of those blends." He also will only wear Nike sneakers. In fact, he and Michael Greenburg have an exclusive arrangement with Nike, apparently in return for the advertising they get from the show. As Richard's taste in clothes has changed over the years, so has MacGyver's. In the early seasons, the iconic brown leather jacket was Richard's preference, but during the fourth and fifth seasons he had gone through a phase in which he only wanted to wear black leather. Recently, he has been more open to change and to wearing more colors, and there will be a variety of jackets appearing this season, including a new favorite blue and green suede.
Likewise, the changes in hair style and vehicles have come from Richard as well. He had wanted a change from the jeep, and so they had gotten him the classic yellow truck. This season, there will be another vehicle added to the collection, a vintage 1957 Chevy. Initially, the shift to lighter hair most likely came from a wish to hide the first hints of grey. As the seasons went on, his hair grew longer and more blonde, and though it has been his own choice, Steve Blalock, as his stunt double, must make the same fashion choices as well. Adrienne admits that she definitely welcomes the sixth season addition of color in the wardrobe and a return to shorter hair.
Near the crew parking area, Adrienne points out MacGyver's yellow truck, parked and ready should it be needed in a scene. She also refers to his bicycle, his other favorite means of transportation that is frequently on the set. Sometimes it remains on set and provides an easier get-away during location filming. Sometimes he actually rides his bike to work, depending on the location and how hard the day will be, but Adrienne isn't certain if he might have ridden his bicycle today to the pier. When he is in Vancouver, he lives at the Hotel Meridien in the heart of downtown. Since he's always working and is rarely at home, it never made sense for him to buy or rent a place in Canada. He still keeps his very reasonably priced apartment in Hollywood, however, for when he returns to California.
She also shares some of the plans for upcoming episodes this season, including another Serenity-related episode that is being written especially for Richard, since the first one, in which he got to wear a mustache, ride a horse, and be a cowboy, had been his favorite show. Serenity had been filmed in a recreated little western town near Calgary, and the producers are looking into the possibility of returning to that location again in October for the sequel. Although Richard doesn't specifically request particular story lines, she explains, "We like to keep him happy," and so the writers will often incorporate his interests, such as hockey or skiing or race cars into a story. She also mentions that plans are in the works for a pilot for a spinoff series using the three Colton brothers, although it is proving to be a challenge to get all three actors together at the same time.
She speaks too about the audience reactions to some of the shows. The studio gets a lot of mail, especially about controversial topics. Many people had written to complain about the treatment of the rhinoceros used in the filming of Black Rhino, not realizing that the hapless rhino had been a mechanical recreation. Another episode that sparked many letters was Passages. One man had written to say that he had learned about many religions and many views of the afterlife, but had never heard of a ship before. As the publicist, it is Adrienne's job to take care of most of the common fan mail, which she will respond to, or pass on, or turn over to a fan service for a reply, but anything controversial is given directly to her husband, Stephen Downing, and he answers it personally. Often, she says, after Stephen replies, the people will write back with a thank you or an apology.
Although the visit seems to have come to an end, there is more to come. The production will be shooting on location tomorrow, but Adrienne extends an invitation to join another guest for a private tour of the Bridge Studios the following morning, and the invitation is readily accepted.
The next morning, Adrienne explains that the shooting yesterday afternoon had wrapped very shortly after the set visit had come to an end. They had been losing light and time, and it just wasn't possible to complete the reshoot of the interior of the crate as they had hoped. In fact, she says, her daughter Julie had actually made it home before she did last night. With such a tight schedule and only eight days of principal shooting per episode, sometimes it just isn't possible to complete all the scenes as planned and creative editing must be used to tie the work together smoothly. In the case of the exploding crate, the exterior will swing much more violently than the interior, but hopefully careful editing will make the discrepancy less noticeable.
The Bridge Studios in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby includes the offices and sound stages that Paramount uses for the production of MacGyver. The exterior of the lot is very familiar to fans of the show as the Phoenix Labs. The little guard booth at the entrance has appeared in the episode The Black Corsage, and the recognizable buildings and orange ironwork have appeared in many episodes. The buildings are arranged in long parallel rows, flat and low, maybe two to three stories high, and overhead is an array of orange-red open metal work. Adrienne explains that this had originally been where San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was built in sections, and it then becomes obvious that the open ironwork mimics the style of the Golden Gate Bridge. Later, the buildings had become a studio, but the "Bridge" name remained. It is mostly used now for MacGyver, but occasionally movies and other television productions are done here as well. Recently they had finished filming Bird On A Wire, a movie starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn and featuring a number of local actors familiar to MacGyver audiences, including a bit part for a young Christopher Judge. As she drives onto the lot, Adrienne points out a few buildings and landmarks. A street sign clearly identifies the first road as "MacGyver Way". The parallel offices line a wide central street edged by labeled parking spaces, first for the Executive Producer, then for Richard Dean Anderson, both empty today. Richard used to drive a jeep to the set, Adrienne says, and also drives a black BMW, but recently he and his assistant Bill seem to show up in a generic blue car that may belong to Bill.
Inside the building, the offices are small and neatly arranged along a long central hallway decorated in shades of aqua. Most of the executive offices are on the second floor, while the production and post production offices are located on the ground floor. Because the production is on location today, there is no filming activity going on, and most of the people working in the various departments are either engaged in post-production, such as editing, or preparing for upcoming episodes.
Adrienne's office is small with a desk covered in paperwork. On the wall behind her desk is a picture of her daughter Julie from her first appearance on MacGyver. Against another wall are shelves full of MacGyver merchandise such as publicity photos, posters, T-shirts, hats, pins, totes, and bags, usually in black with the red-orange MacGyver logo, and she offers some of the merchandise.
Several people work in the reception area, and Adrienne stops there to pick up mail and script changes, the latter of which she shares. The offices and hallways display a collection of photos, posters, and awards. There is the plaque that had been awarded to the show by the National Runaway Switchboard. Stephen Downing's office has a large autographed color poster of Richard, and in the office next door is the same yellow poster that Richard had autographed and sent to the students. In still another area is an enlargement of the photo of Dexter Fillmore that had been used as a newspaper clipping. Then Adrienne points out her favorite pictures. They are two enlarged photographs of Richard cuddling the chimpanzee they had used in Black Rhino.
The next stop is the art department. This is the home of the artists who plan and draw the set designs, and the others who make the set decorations and props to be used in a scene. Often the set design sketches are such works of art that they don't want to get rid of them, so many of the hallway and office walls are hung with the artists' drawings of scenes from the show. Adrienne points out some examples of very impressive scenes that had looked so real, but were actually designed and built on the sound stages. There is a drawing of the campfire scene from Ghost Ship, and the ice cave from Gold Rush. The ice cave is a particularly amazing set. There were other pictures as well, props that had been used in various episodes, for example the painting of the twins rock climbing from Two Times Trouble, and the large black and white portrait of Jack Dalton's father with his buddies and his airplane that had hung over the Wingman Bar. Today in the art department a few people are working at their drawing tables, and one is creating a label that is to be used for a beer bottle in the episode set to begin next week. Adrienne explains that Lisa, the character played by Mayim Bialik, will be returning, this time as a teenager struggling with alcohol.
The casting office is empty today but the back wall is covered with black and white 8x10s of various actors. Adrienne explains that they have a smaller pool of actors to draw from here in Vancouver as compared to Los Angeles, and often when an actor gets well known he moves on to Hollywood, leaving them to find someone else. That is why so often on MacGyver the same actor will return several times, playing different characters. She mentions Michael Des Barres, who keeps returning to play Murdoc, and she describes him as a very nice man. They have tried testing him to play other roles, but he just seems to come across best as a psychopath. He will probably be returning in an upcoming episode, and Dr. Zito, another favorite psychopath, may be returning as well. Unfortunately, she adds that Bruce McGill might not make another appearance since he has found some of that celebrity that may take him to Hollywood.
Downstairs are the editing offices, and the hallways between offices are lined with rows of shelves filled with labeled videocassette boxes. Hanging on the wall in the first office is the huge knife blade from the medieval exhibit in Legend of the Holy Rose. Adrienne explains with a smile that after the episode was completed, they had decided that the editing suite was the best place for the blade, "because this is where they do the cutting." Three people are brainstorming how best to piece together the footage from Tough Boys, the second episode to be filmed this season. The scene on the monitor shows characters dressed in black sneaking through an abandoned building, and the edits must give a proper mysterious ninja-like quality to the scene. In the next room, editing has already begun for The Gun. A woman is editing a scene in which MacGyver and Breeze run up an alley, then pause to speak. In this case, it is the editor's job to carefully choose camera angles that will hide Breeze's injured and bandaged right hand as much as possible. Principal shooting for an episode typically takes eight days, but afterward it can take several weeks to put all the footage together, to add special effects, music, etc., and to get the episode ready to air. By the time the new season premieres, they expect to have the first three episodes completed: Humanity, Tough Boys, and The Gun. Since there is no obvious choice for a season premiere episode this year, Stephen Downing will make the decision about the order in which to air them.
Another office houses all the files from which the location manager works. Each week people must be sent out to look for the perfect locations which fit the script, and to acquire all the necessary permits to shoot there. An elaborate filing system keeps all the information readily available in case a particular location must be used again. Each folder contains a description, location, important detailed information, and photographs taped together to form a panorama. One folder on the desk shows a stream in the woods, recognizable as the location where Karen, the forest ranger, was shot in The Endangered. Adrienne explains that they are having a problem with next week's episode, Twenty Questions, which calls for several big houses, and a cliff. The location manager had one mansion all lined up, and then the permits fell through. Shooting is scheduled to start on Monday morning, and as of now, Friday morning, they are still desperately looking for another mansion. Similarly, they had also found a suitable cliff, but the director had decided that it was not steep enough for their needs, and now they are trying to locate another cliff with only hours before the weekend and the new shooting schedule.
Another series of offices is accessed through exterior doors on the main level. One of the smaller ones is where the shooting schedules are planned. For each episode it is necessary to coordinate all the locations and dates, to plan when and where each scene will be shot so that locations are used within their time limits, the cast and crew work only so many hours per day, and all the scenes are completed on budget and on schedule within eight days.
The costume department is a rather small front room with two or three sewing machines, and several storage areas with boxes, shelves, and racks of clothes. A shirt hanging near the front appears to be made of silk, a light purplish blue color with long sleeves, a small collar, and two breast pockets. It has just been completed for next week's episode, but when Adrienne remarks how beautiful it is, the seamstress replies, "Isn't it beautiful? I just finished it, and I showed it to Richard, and he didn't like the pockets, the old pooh!" Adrienne explains that usually, in costuming a show, the costume department supervisor, Tommy Welsh, will take the actor shopping, and together they pick out what the actor likes, and what is suitable for the episode. For lesser roles, they can use the many things they have saved to be on hand. They can make their own adjustments and do fittings, and occasionally, as with this shirt, they will design and make their own clothes. Richard has the final say in his wardrobe, and since he didn't like the pockets on the shirt, the costume department will now have to remove them or sew them closed. Adrienne continues that usually when buying for Richard, they must get six of each outfit that he wears. One is for him, one for his stunt double, and one for the lighting double. They also make one in a slightly larger size, because he often must wear a wetsuit under his clothes, and then there must be extras since "he's always up to his neck in snow, or rain, or mud." In the back of the room, each storage box is labelled, describing the clothes and the episode in which they were used. Hanging near the back is the collection of jackets, including the original brown leather jacket, the black leather jacket with its useful leather ties, and the new jacket in blue and green suede. There is also a little room with a washer and dryer. Here the costumes are cleaned, but also some clothes must be aged, using bleach and rocks in the dryer to make some clothes look worn. Although the washer and dryer are meant to be used by the costume department, Adrienne says that this is where Richard often comes to wash his clothes, since "he really likes doing his own laundry."
The buildings across the way from the offices are the sound stages that are used for filming, some as standing sets and others that are transformed into whatever setting is required each week. Once built, sets and props are generally saved and reused or repurposed when possible, and sections of the sound stages are being used for storage. One enormous room contains an eclectic assortment of mismatched props including the mechanical rhinoceros from Black Rhino, the huge statue of an Incan goddess from The Treasure of Manco, and part of an elevator shaft about two stories high, standing in the middle of the room. There is also a huge bank vault that has just been used in the episode Humanity and is being put into storage, and a pile of artificial rocks about six feet high that can be used whenever rocks, or a cave entrance, or an avalanche or an explosion is called for. There are also parts of walls that look like the arched doorways of a church, and Adrienne explains that they had been built for the torture chamber museum in Legend of the Holy Rose. Later, the same wall sections were stored and reused to create the interior church scenes for The Madonna. Another collection of walls had been used for both the saloon in Serenity and for the violin shop in The Lost Amadeus. Standing by itself is a free-standing paneled wall placed behind a podium with the words "Metropolitan Police." The podium is flanked by a pair of flags, and an easel holding enlarged photographs of bullets is set up beside it. The police press conference from The Gun had just been filmed here earlier in the week.
The first sound stage is the most familiar of all: MacGyver's houseboat. A real houseboat docked at the Bute Marina downtown is used for the exterior shots, but all the interiors are the work of the art department. Adrienne explains that the real houseboat is indeed a home, and a family does live there. The studio has established stock footage which they are able to reuse for many episodes, and the production pays the homeowners for the right to shoot additional exterior scenes when they need to show an actor walking up to the houseboat or a conversation taking place nearby. Once MacGyver enters the houseboat, the production shifts back to Burnaby and the action continues on the sound stage. The houseboat hadn't yet been used this season, and the bookshelves and some of the furniture are still covered with protective plastic. But every familiar detail is here: the pictures stuck on the refrigerator door, the red apron hanging on the wall, the sailboat key holder by the door, the skis and hockey shirts in the closet, the books and photographs on the bookshelves, the mementos hanging on the walls, even the blue dishes in the drainer that never seem to be put away. The walls are removable to allow for different camera angles, and today, with the fourth wall removed, the room has only three sides. The window, doorway, and patio look out onto nothing in the empty sound stage, but creative lighting and backdrops are used to give the impression of outdoors. The spiral stairs go up to nothing, and Adrienne points out where the upstairs bedroom has been built for one of the episodes on a set all its own nearby. Since the set hadn't yet been used, some of the furniture has been moved out of place. The familiar sofa and chair, the end table with its narrow pointed lamp, the big desk, the coffee table, the round table and chairs, are all there, just pushed together in a jumble in the middle of the room, but the wood stove in the fireplace is unchanged. The plaque that hangs on MacGyver's wall near the patio doors is difficult to make out clearly on a television screen, but upon closer examination it turns out to be the MacGyver coat of arms. The kitchen is very interesting, with far more detail than is obvious from TV. There are dishes, jars, and bottles, kitchen utensils behind the counter, and a whole array of food packages on the shelves around the corner. They seem to be atmospheric details not necessarily needed for a specific episode. On the kitchen counter is a little yellow rubber ducky, most likely used in the Rock the Cradle episode, yet here it is, still in the kitchen, more than a year later.
Pete Thornton's office has been created on another sound stage. The exterior shots of the Phoenix Foundation are of the West Coast Energy building, a real building in downtown Vancouver with the remarkable feature of being suspended from a concrete column, however the interior scenes are entirely the creation of the art department. Originally the office space had consisted of a single room, but when a script called for a scene to take place in a corridor outside, they had to expand the set to include the hallway and outer office. These walls, too, are removable, but today all the walls are in place, making the set feel much more like a real office than a sound stage. The detail of set decoration is impeccable. In the outer office, the desks have papers and personal mementos on them, there is a functioning copy machine, and tucked away in the closet is a golf bag and a complete set of golf clubs. In Pete's office, everything looks familiar: the lighted bookshelves with books, the telephone and papers on the desk, the golf trophy, and the large globe beside the desk. The "fourth" wall, with the Phoenix Foundation emblem, is in place, although that is the wall most often removed. The only thing that gives away the fact that this isn't a real office is the window. The view through the blinds is simply the darkness of the huge empty sound stage, but Adrienne points out the backdrops suspended from above that are dropped behind the windows to show the skyline of a generic city, one for the daytime, and one for the night.
Another frequently used set is the Challengers Club, which is on the second floor of another building. As with the Phoenix Foundation and the houseboat, a building downtown, in this case on Station Street, is used for exterior shots, and the interiors, including the stairway to the second floor, are shot at the studio. There is the familiar room with the exercise equipment, and Cynthia's office in the back. The set is still decorated for the current episode and is full of exhibits about ecology. In Cynthia's office, the detail again is exact. There are papers on the desk, and plaques and pictures on the walls, although the picture of Booker isn't on display today. Unlike the other sets, the Challengers Club doesn't seem to be an isolated set with removable walls in the middle of a sound stage. Rather, it seems to be a room on its own, decorated just for this purpose. Through the double doors one expects to find the dormitories, but instead the room beyond is used for additional storage space. Here, among the many props from previous episodes, is the big street sign declaring "Welcome To Mission City, Pop. 42,597" and the huge wall chart used in Ten Percent Solution. Adrienne explains how the Challengers Club became such an important part of the show. Her husband, Stephen Downing, used to be a policeman in Los Angeles. While working there, he had been involved in founding a Challengers Club as part of the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles. He is still very close to it, visits often, and the kids are just terrific young ladies and gentlemen. So, it was Stephen's idea to create a Challengers Club for the show, and since then Richard has also become an active supporter of the organization.
Exiting the sound stages and turning back toward the offices, Adrienne points out some of the other highlights on the studio lot. Indicating a huge, run-down warehouse running along the edge of the property, she says, "That's where Kristian Alfonso tried to kill him." Near the back of the lot is a little building that displays the sign, "The Bridge Stages". The building is visible when the lot is used as the Phoenix Foundation on the show, but the name is covered on screen. Around it are parked all kinds of cars including two identical jeeps. With the new vehicles being introduced, it's uncertain if the jeep will be used again, but the production has no intention of getting rid of them. Nearby is MacGyver's yellow 1946 Chevy truck, and beyond that the new car that will be introduced this season, an aqua and white 1957 Chevy Nomad station wagon.
Richard Dean Anderson shares an office with Michael Greenburg, next door to Adrienne's office. With the filming on location, no one is here today. The office isn't very big, there was a desk, a wall of bookshelves, clutter, and a bulletin board on the back wall displaying some pictures, including snapshots of Richard and Michael together, probably on vacation. The door of the office is bright aqua, and the gold nameplate on the door says, "Rick and Mike's Movies", with two stars. Attached to the official nameplate are two smaller nameplates, of the sort children might buy at a dollar store for their bedrooms. One says "Rick's Room", and the other "Mike's Room." On Richard's little nameplate he has added a button with a picture of a raccoon face and the slogan, "Ban the leg-hold trap. The Fur Bearers." Even in his office, he speaks for environmental causes.
Back in her own office, Adrienne describes some of the things she deals with each day in her job. She manages the ordering and distribution of merchandise, such as the posters, photos, shirts, hats, and memorabilia on the shelves in her office. Several of these items, she explains, had been designed as Christmas presents for the crew. The new suggestion for this year was a kind of portfolio/bag designed to carry a script and a few other things. They had run the idea past Richard for his input, and his response was that it probably would not be practical for everyone on the crew. Adrienne says she has to agree, but now she must come up with another idea for Christmas.
Adrienne also shares an example of the replies that the producers receive from Standards and Practices each week. Each script must be submitted in advance, and it is someone's responsibility to check each detail carefully for approval. For example, each character name must be checked to ensure that there is no real person with that name who might resent the similarity. Place names are also checked, and stereotypes avoided. Anything that could be controversial is edited or softened. Then the script is returned and the changes must be made before shooting can begin. She is particularly unhappy about some of the recommendations for the current script, The Gun, which was seen as controversial. Standards and Practices had insisted that a statement be inserted that favored the use of handguns by responsible citizens. Even if no one on the show agrees with the statement, they have no choice but to follow the recommendations, and the line was included in the script.
Adrienne also manages much of the fan mail that comes to the studio. The volume is usually too much for one person, but she handles what she can and the rest is sent to a fan service. Smiling, she holds up a letter from her desk, addressed to Richard Dean Anderson and marked "Urgent and Personal" in a young child's handwriting. Most of the letters are similar, she says, but occasionally they will get an unusual letter, phone call, or request. She remembers one woman, in particular, named Angelica. She called the office repeatedly, saying she was Richard's ex-wife, and that she wanted him to call her. Adrienne had managed to put her off several times, but then, wanting to be certain that Richard didn't have a secret past that might make the woman's claims legitimate, she asked him about the caller. His response had been, "The only Angelica I know of is Anjelica Huston." The woman never got her phone call.
Before the visit ends, Stephen Downing drops by the office during the conversation about fan mail, and he recalls some of the messages and gifts the studio has received. The office does make a genuine attempt to keep in touch with the public and to listen to comments and feedback. Stephen recalls a class of students who had made a large banner and sent it to the show. The producers had arranged to have a picture taken of the cast and crew holding the banner, and they sent the photo back to the students in response.
There is also talk about the future of the show. Six seasons is an excellent run for an action adventure series, and MacGyver has done well finding and building its core audience. But there is already a sense from the studio that the show could be getting ready to wind down. Four years in Vancouver is also a long time to be away from home, and as much as everyone enjoys making the show, there are mixed feelings about what comes next. Richard's schedule is so demanding that he cherishes his time off and uses it to recharge his batteries rather than to work on other projects, but Adrienne says that he has talked about looking forward to other acting roles, to the chance to break away from the white knight image and try his hand at a darker, more sinister role. Perhaps that opportunity will come next, but for now, MacGyver has at least a full season to look forward to, and a loyal audience anxious for the new episodes to begin.
Ritter, Kate. "On the Set of MacGyver - Behind the Scenes of The Gun." August 16-17, 1990.