ON THE SET OF MACGYVER
Behind the Scenes of "The Prometheus Syndrome" August 22-23, 1991
After four years of filming in Vancouver, the production of MacGyver has returned to Los Angeles for its seventh season. The series has been in production for several weeks, and the cast and crew are happy to be back, well rested from their post-season hiatus and taking full advantage of the cooperative California climate. Although the order in which the new episodes will air has not yet been finalized, the first three episodes to be shot, Obsessed, The 'Hood, and Honest Abe, are nearing completion.
An opportunity to visit the set had arisen from a correspondence that had begun four years earlier between Richard Dean Anderson and an elementary class of hearing impaired students who had written fan letters as part of a language arts exercise. That communication had led to an invitation to experience the filming of The Gun in Vancouver the year before. Most recently, those same students had expanded upon a lesson in story and script writing to create a videotaped mystery story involving the adventures of young MacGyver, Pete, and their friends. Richard had expressed his delight with their project, passing the video around the production office, and a second invitation to visit the set in Los Angeles had been extended, courtesy of Richard's personal assistant, Barb Mackintosh. However, with a narrow window of opportunity, the arrangements had been complicated. The episode Honest Abe had been filming in the suburban community of Fillmore, a considerable distance for invited guests, and as The Prometheus Syndrome began filming, the first days of shooting involved smoky interiors of warehouses that could present safety hazards, so final arrangements for a visit must be left to the last minute.
In the meantime, over the weekend, Richard had participated in the Hollywood All-Stars celebrity baseball game at Dodger Stadium, an event he had been a part of for several years. Joining such celebrities as Tony Danza and Tom Selleck, he took the field as number 69. Richard was one of the first at bat, and he made a powerful hit, ran past first, then dove and slid head first into second base. He stole third, and on the next hit, made it to home, the first run of the game. It was his only hit, however, since the next time at bat he struck out. Like the celebrity hockey games, nothing was taken too seriously. Radio personalities Mark and Brian took turns at bat, and Darryl Strawberry was called in as a pinch hitter for one of the children on the team. By the end of the game, Richard's team had the most points, although the score was never really clear. Richard was having a good time, bouncing around between plays, and doing toe-touches and stretching exercises on the sidelines. He didn't always seem to be aware when the camera was showing him on the big screen, although when he was first introduced he ran toward the camera and called, "Hi, Mom." In the field he played the third base position, usually doing quite well. When he missed a play, however, he probably didn't know that the big screen showed him clearly annoyed with himself and complaining, "Shit!" The camera was still on him immediately afterward when the announcer said that time was up and the game must now end. Richard leaned back, with arms outstretched, and called heavenward, "Thank God!" He seemed to be enjoying himself, but his competitive nature took the game quite seriously. When the celebrities left the field, the real baseball game, between the Dodgers and the Astros, began.
Back at the studio, the arrangements have been made at last. It is Thursday, August 22, and it is a typically sunny and hot Los Angeles summer day. The shooting location for the day is at 7th and Central, behind the Produce Hotel. The Produce Hotel itself is an abandoned building in a very poor and shady section of town, and the parking lot behind it, facing Industrial Street, is enclosed by a very tall iron fence that serves to keep out trespassers and the curious. A bus station stands across the street. The set is surprisingly inconspicuous for all the paraphernalia involved. Various vans and trailers full of equipment are parked along the street and around the edges of the parking lot. Inside the parking area are several fire trucks and police cars, and except for the people with headsets and clipboards bustling about, the location looks more like the site of an emergency than a television set. A policeman sitting on his motorcycle at the gate entrance nods as Barb Mackintosh presents her pass to Bonnie, the location manager and is welcomed with her guest inside.
Typically, photography is not permitted on the set, and when Bonnie is asked about the protocol, she hesitates and answers with caution, "That's a Richard thing. You'd have to ask him about that." Bonnie mentions the care that must be taken with visitors to the set. The filming in Fillmore last week was not supposed to be known, but Richard found himself surrounded by about 75 children asking for autographs. He had been very patient and had signed them all, but it wore him out and he usually tries to avoid crowds of fans like that. A few days before, two girls from Germany had come to the location at the smoky warehouse. They had been permitted to step briefly onto the set, and Richard had spoken to them and autographed a hockey stick for them.
As Bonnie hurries on, there is a moment to find some shade out of the way, accept some refreshment, and observe the activity, although it is difficult to locate the center of attention amid rehearsals and clusters of people hovering near the emergency vehicles. After a few moments, Barb asks, "You have him spotted, don't you?" Then she points him out, sitting on the end of a fire truck. He is wearing khaki painter-style pants that fit him loosely, a long black sleeveless tank top that is also large and loose, and black high-top leather shoes. His hair has grown a little longer, nearly to his shoulders again, and it is an even paler blonde than the season before. He sits on the end of the fire truck, taking directions, talking to the crew around him, smiling occasionally, as if he is waiting for something. Finally he wanders off from the group and out of sight.
Soon, Bill Crivello approaches. He had been Richard's driver and assistant in Vancouver as well as in Los Angeles, and he is a familiar face. He mentions the students' video that Richard had been sharing and says that he has seen only the beginning so far but is very impressed and wants to see the rest of it. Together, Barb and Bill comment on things to watch for on the set. The director, they say, is Bill Gereghty, also recognizable as the director who had done The Gun episode in Vancouver the year before. They explain that the episode is about an arsonist, thus the emergency equipment and the smoke, and that MacGyver's friend has just been killed. Barb also points out the makeup girl, Kandace Westmore, and explains that she is the fourth generation of a famous makeup family in Hollywood. Her father had been the one to design the makeup for the Murdoc character. The crew is working on a scene that is meant to show the building in the aftermath of an explosion or fire, and the set decoration team has added old signs to the building, broken out some of the windows, and added black charring to the windows and walls. The fire escapes have been decorated by adding such things as plants, laundry, and even a guitar, to give the impression that these currently abandoned buildings are lived in. Barb explains that even though a building may be condemned, the set decoration team would have to replace all the windows and remove the objects and charred effects when they have finished shooting, to leave the building exactly as they had found it. Some people dressed as firemen move in and out of the building, perhaps actors or perhaps real firemen acting as extras or advisors. There is also a smoke machine inside the building being operated by the special effects team, and Bill Gereghty stands down below the window calling out directions such as, "A little more smoke out the right window! Now just a little less out the left window!" The special effects people adjust accordingly.
Suddenly, a familiar voice calls from behind, and there is Richard, straddling his bicycle and holding out his hand in a big grin of recognition. He is very practiced in the art of putting one at ease, and he speaks casually and gently. He begins immediately with a reference to the students' video, saying, "GREAT tape, by the way," then adding with a twinkle in his eye, "A little too much Pink Panther, though," referencing a clip of the music used in the video. He continues, praising the ideas, the special effects, and the effort, mentioning that his favorite moment was when young "MacGyver" had used the speakers of a boom box to amplify sound and open a safe. Clearly he had enjoyed the project.
He strikes up a conversation about the various tourist sites around Los Angeles and mentions that they had been filming a couple of weeks ago in Venice, but he adds, "You really have to go to Venice on a weekend. That's when everything is happening there." On hearing that those visited tourist sites had included Dodger Stadium last Saturday, he exclaims with a huge grin, "No Way!" He asks, "How much did you see?" and then, with the enthusiasm of a proud child he asks, "Did you see my first hit?" Immediately, he holds up his left arm to show a long and nasty-looking scab that is just starting to heal on his forearm, near the elbow. He explains proudly, "I got that sliding into second." With his competitiveness showing, he seems delighted with the game, and he explains that he has been coming back to play in that game for the last four years, calling it "A little boy's dream come true."
About this time Richard is called away for some preparation for the next scene, and rehearsals resume, but he returns shortly, and Barb takes him aside to discreetly ask him about taking pictures. Barb is speaking in a low voice into his ear, and Richard bends down slightly, looking toward the ground, to listen to her. He nods as she speaks, with an expression that suggests it wasn't even necessary to ask. Then he stands up and turns, with arms outstretched, and answers in a loud and exaggerated voice meant for everyone in the vicinity to hear, "Sure, of course, she can do anything she wants. However, you must remain clothed at all times!"
In between preparation, rehearsals, and filming, Richard stops by regularly for a bit of conversation. At one point he talks about his last visit to New York. He describes his hectic schedule at the time, squeezing in at least ten promotional interviews in a day or two, although he clarifies that about half of them were print interviews. One of the crew is standing nearby, and as Richard is called away again, he turns and introduces him as Mike Kelly. Mike is Richard's stand-in, and he has had a few bit parts in some of the earlier episodes that had been shot in Los Angeles. He is used to the anonymity of small rolls and doubling for actors in rehearsals off camera, so he is stunned when he is recognized as the security guard in The Heist, the hockey player who tripped MacGyver in The Eraser, and the cop who asked to borrow a newspaper in Twice Stung. Amazed and flattered that anyone would make the connection, he exclaims, "Yeah! Keep talking!" He enjoys talking about Richard, too, and speaks of him fondly. He mentions that Richard still plays hockey at least once a week, on Thursday nights, and Mike plays with him. Tonight, after they have finished shooting, they will be having a game. He also enjoys pointing out opportunities to take pictures on the set. Richard is again sitting on the end of the fire truck, but with so many people milling about it is difficult to get a clear picture of him. Every now and then he laughs or jokes, and flashes a huge photo-worthy grin, something he seldom does in posed photo shoots. Mike agrees, "He has a great smile, doesn't he?" A few attempts are successful, and Mike makes a point of stopping by to continue the conversation throughout the day.
Meanwhile, Richard has taken a seat under a white sheet that has been set up as an awning to provide some shade, and he is having makeup applied for the next scene. MacGyver was to have just been in an explosion, and he needs to be covered with black soot, a job that is the responsibility of Kandace Westmore, fourth-generation makeup artist. First Richard takes off his black shirt, then Kandace begins to apply black soot to his face. She is a full foot shorter than he is, and as she attempts to smear the black on his face, he squints and makes faces and tries to pull away. With her free hand she grabs him behind the neck and tries to pull him down closer to her, and he grimaces and pulls away again. This continues several times until Richard finally takes her face in both his hands, bends down to her, and gives her a long, hard kiss on the lips. She likely kisses him back, at least she doesn't protest. Afterwards they laugh and go back to the struggle of applying the black face makeup. Next, he puts on a white T-shirt, which she also must cover with black, as well as his arms and hands. He is more patient for this part, laughing and joking with her as she works, until she uses a black-covered cloth to apply soot to the front of his pants by hitting him with it. He pretends to dodge away as she swipes at him, finally grabbing the cloth away from her and hitting her with it down the front of her clothes. In mock horror she backs away and looks down at her clothes, calling out, "Daddy! Look what he did to me!" To which Richard, in feigned innocence protests, "Me? What did I do?" Mike is enjoying the battle of wills as well, and again he urges that this is a prime photo opportunity.
Richard has been rehearsing the scene at the fire truck, and during the next pause in the action he approaches again. This time he has a cell phone, a compact flip phone, which he is using to retrieve messages. He dials the phone, then listens, then dials again, and listens once more. Finally he announces as an aside, "Modern technology, I love it," and indeed he seems like a kid with a new toy. Then he adds, "Yesterday I had about twenty messages on this thing." He doesn't appear to be placing any calls, but at least messages are being received.
It is interesting to notice some of the problems the crew encounters as they work. They start filming the scene in which MacGyver is supposed to be distraught because his friend has just been killed, and he is talking to an officer of the fire department. The sound mixer stationed at an electronic panel is wearing headphones and monitoring the sound. Every now and then an airplane flies overhead and he calls out, "Too much plane!" They have to stop and shoot again. A constant source of problems is the fact that they are directly across the street from a bus station, and many times he must call out, "Too much bus!" The year before in Vancouver, seagulls had been a similar auditory nuisance. It is curious, then, during this time of sound adjustment and reshooting, that when an ice cream pushcart, complete with little bell, approaches the set, the policeman at the gate lets him through. As he pushes the cart forward, the little bell rings, but no one reacts to the additional noise or asks him to leave. Instead, several of the crew approach and ask him what flavors he has.
Richard looks over, notices the cart, and calls out, "You want some ice cream?" Then he calls to the ice cream man, "What flavors you got? You got any root beer?" Not receiving an immediate answer, he asks a few of the crew around him who have already gotten their ice cream if there is any root beer. When he can finally leave the scene he has been shooting, Richard makes his way to the cart, peers down inside and asks again, "You got any root beer?" Barb leans over to comment, "I guess you can tell, Rick likes root beer." Unfortunately, there is no root beer available, so then, like a little kid, Richard makes his way around to members of the crew asking, "What flavor did you get? Can I try it?" He actually tastes a few flavors from others, then finally settles on lime, and comes back to get one. However, since he is still filming the scene, he can't hold the popsicle, so Kandace holds it for him while the scene is being filmed. Richard sits on the fire truck, looking sad and distressed, speaking to the fireman, then "cut" is called and instantly he gets up with a pathetic puppy-dog look in his eyes, his mouth open and his tongue hanging out longingly, moving toward Kandace where he takes a bite or two of the dripping popsicle that she has been holding for him. Then he goes back to the emotional scene about his murdered friend, and once again returns to Kandace for another bite.
When he has finished the scene, as well as the popsicle, he comes back to where the chairs are set up. He has been aware all afternoon that pictures are being taken, and he has been patient and cooperative, even smiling toward the camera when he notices it. Now, however, he approaches without a word and reaches for the camera himself. For a moment he studies the camera, which is mounted with a telephoto lens, and he backs up a bit, commenting, "Man, this is a really long lens." Kandace cautions him, "Don't, Richard, you're going to get her camera all dirty," but he has found another toy to play with, and he ignores her. Taking the opportunity to turn the tables, he focuses the camera and takes several pictures of his own, saying, "Great smile." Then he checks the camera carefully to see that it is still free of dirt and soot, but before returning it, he hands the camera to Barb and sits down side by side to pose for some pictures together. Barb obliges until there is another call for Richard to return for the next scene. As he turns to leave, he reaches out and promises, "We'll take some more later," then he heads back to the fire truck.
Meanwhile, Mike begins a conversation about hockey. He mentions that Richard's celebrity team had been trying to arrange a trip to the New York area, to either Madison Square Garden or the Meadowlands. Then he relates an incident that occurred during one of his practice games with Richard. Recently, he says, he and Richard had been playing in one of their Thursday evening games. Mike had accidentally swung his stick high, and had caught Richard square in the face, hitting him in the nose. He says that Richard was pretty stunned, and there had been some blood. Mike admits that he started having visions of the unemployment line, the consequence of injuring the star, but Richard recovered and never reported how it had happened. Apparently it was just one of those things that happens in the game, and Richard is not the type of person to get a friend in trouble, although Mike still seems a little nervous about being responsible.
Bill also joins the conversation. In describing his role on the set, he explains that he often has to run errands for Richard, but he is usually on the set with him and is often the driver to bring him to work each day. He mentions the hockey game that Richard will be playing in tonight, as he does every Thursday, and he explains that he will be driving him there, but he won't have to wait for him, since Richard will have his own way home. He confirms that Richard is still living in a house in Pacific Palisades, which he describes as "a nice town, a sleepy little community." He also notices that the call sheets for the following day have been distributed, and they indicate that they will be filming in the same location again tomorrow. He offers assurances that it would be perfectly acceptable to return tomorrow to watch the activity from outside the fence, as visitors often do. Then he adds, "But I should be here tomorrow. If you just look for me, I should be able to get you back on the set."
After a time, Richard completes the next scene at the fire engine and returns to the chairs, this time with Kandace, who is holding a bottle of eye drops. He seems tired as he settles himself into a chair, and Kandace asks, "Do you want me to do it?" He assures her that he can manage the eye drops himself, and he takes the bottle from her, leans his head way back, and puts drops into each eye. Then he sits forward again, blinks his eyes to focus them, looks around, and exclaims, "Wow! It's still daylight!" At this point he officially introduces Kandace, explaining to her about the video that the students had made and again praising the work of the children. He asks, "Are they all deaf, or hard of hearing?" Having dated Marlee Matlin for a time, he has some familiarity with the deaf community, and he is impressed by how well the children spoke and took visual cues. Then he adds with a grin, "Great job producing! You may have missed your calling." He goes on to talk about the future of MacGyver as well. He shares that "this seems to be our last year." He smiles and his eyes sparkle as he says it, as if he knows this will be the final year, even though it hasn't been officially announced yet. He doesn't seem disappointed by the prospect. Seven years is a significant run for any series, and a series that relies on a single lead actor can be extremely demanding. He seems to be looking ahead to future opportunities. Indeed, he has been offered a production deal with Paramount, and Gekko Film Corp is already under way.
When he is called away again, filming continues on the scene that was being shot earlier. MacGyver's friend has just died, and the fireman is having an argument with a woman fire officer. The scene is repeated many times to get a variety of camera angles that will be edited together later. Throughout the filming, Richard never misses a cue or deliberately flubs a take. He is always completely professional when on camera and saves his joking and playfulness for after the scene is completed. The guest actors are equally prepared, and shooting seems to go smoothly for the most part. Once, the fireman stumbles over the line, "wacko profiles," and a few times retakes are necessary, but the attitude toward the work is serious and professional, even if the atmosphere is relaxed.
Several hours have passed, and the visit is coming to an end, even if the work day will continue a bit longer. Richard returns once more to say goodbye, and he is presented with a small gift. It is a memento from the students, an autographed class photo in a small folding frame. With his hands still covered in soot, he struggles a bit to delicately unwrap the gift and to fit the two pieces of the folding frame together. In a moment of playfulness, his lower lip pouts, and with sad helpless eyes and a glint of mischief, he hands the frame over, seeking some help to assemble it. He is clearly joking, but most likely MacGyver would not have been so bewildered by a sliding hinge. He studies the picture carefully, recognizing the characters from the video and pointing out, "That's the one who played MacGyver, right? And that one was Pete?" He seems pleased, but he needs to tuck it away before returning to filming, so he tries to slide the hinge apart again to return it to its compact size. He jiggles it a little, but it begins to separate in the wrong place, so he slides it back to try again. Finally, Barb reaches out without a word, gently takes it from his hands, deftly slides the frame apart, and hands it back to him. Richard laughs sheepishly and replies with a grin, "Thanks, Barb." It is time to say goodbye, and he offers a kiss and a hug, though cautiously to avoid transferring any grime or soot. Mike and Bill also offer their farewells, and Bill repeats the invitation to return and to watch for him tomorrow.
During the ride away from the set, Barb offers more insight into the show and the production. Although she acts now as Richard's personal assistant and part of Gekko Film Corp, she had originally come to Hollywood from Missouri with a degree in English and journalism and a desire to become a writer. She had worked on several shows, including Mrs. Columbo, and she had been with the MacGyver production almost since the very beginning, working in various capacities. She had even written a MacGyver script once, but it was never produced. She explains that it had a "save the whales" theme to it, and it was just too hard to shoot, adding, "I found myself writing 'Exterior-Ocean-Day' for almost every scene, and there's just no easy way to shoot that."
When asked why the decision was made to return the production to Los Angeles, she replies simply, "Four years was a long time to be away from home." She also points out some of the shooting locations during the drive, especially the various homes used for MacGyver. His new apartment for the seventh season is very close to the Venice Beach apartment used in season one. She adds, "Do you know how they'll explain the move? His houseboat is going to burn down." Then she asks, "Did you find the apartment they used in the second season? It's just up there, on Larchmont. It still looks the same, and the hardware store is still there too. It's not too far from the Studio, actually." She says that they have salvaged many things from the "fire," and they also moved many of the other props and equipment back with them from Canada. They had built new sets here in Los Angeles, and many other things had gone into storage. She explains that they even brought back the mechanical rhinoceros with them, whether they will ever use it again or not, adding with a laugh, "When you spend that much money on a mechanical rhinoceros you keep it!"
She speaks of Dana Elcar and his battle with glaucoma. He had undergone surgery to restore some of his sight, but she admits sadly that the surgery had not done what they had hoped, and he has lost nearly all of his sight by now. However, she adds that he is handling it well, and he is doing much better than before. He is still an integral part of the show, and he will continue to appear in the episodes as before.
In the meantime, season seven has been shortened to 13 episodes, and there are plans for an episode that will finally reveal MacGyver's first name. "After waiting this long to reveal his name, it will have to be a pretty major story line," she acknowledges. There are not, however, any plans to introduce another love interest for MacGyver. She explains that the reaction from fans has always been so violent that they have finally given up on the idea, and there will be no more lady friends this season. Besides, so many of MacGyver's friends, love-interests and otherwise, have died over the last six years, that being a friend of MacGyver seems to be an omen for a very short guest appearance, "...like Little Joe's girlfriend," she jokes, making a Bonanza reference.
Barb reiterates Richard's remark that season seven will likely be the last. Richard's deal with Paramount is to make movies-of-the-week, and it will give him an opportunity to do some producing. He plans to act in these projects as well, at least at first, since his recognizability will help to generate an audience. The company, called "Gekko Film Corp," is new, and although the name references the tiny gecko lizard, they had chosen to use the same spelling as the Michael Douglas character in the movie Wall Street.
Finally, the visit has come to an end, but there remains an open invitation to return for another visit the following day, and upon arriving the next morning at Industrial Street behind the Old Produce Hotel, all appears much as it did the day before. Fire trucks, trailers, equipment, and crew fill the parking area, and a number of curious visitors line the fence watching the activity from a distance. Richard's day has begun, and he is already covered with black soot and makeup and wearing the same khaki pants and dirty white T-shirt as before. Mike is also on the set, and when he turns toward the fence with recognition, he smiles and gives a little nod toward the gate where entrance to the set would be granted. With a smile, though, Mike warns, "We were out playing hockey until late last night, so Richard's a little tired and cranky." When asked how the game went, he responds diplomatically, "Let's just say he was on a bad team." He adds that Richard hadn't gotten home until after 2am, and since the call sheet indicates a pickup time this morning at 7:30am, Richard perhaps has reason to be tired and cranky.
In fact, no hint of crankiness is apparent when Richard approaches at the end of a scene and offers his own welcome. At first he grins and jokes, "Loitering, eh?" Then he asks, "So you've come to watch the tedium?" To an outsider, the filming process is fascinating, but when it is suggested that "perhaps it only seems tedious if..." he interrupts and finishes the sentence with a grin, "...you do it for a living?" He does sound a bit tired, and he is in the process of memorizing his lines from his copy of the "sides," the smaller-sized version of his portion of the script that will be used for today's scenes. After offering a warm welcome, he turns back to memorizing the script in his hands.
At this point, Mike returns with Bill Gereghty, the director. Bill instantly recalls the meeting last year in Vancouver on the set of The Gun, an episode he had also directed. He, too, offers a warm welcome and insists on offering his seat, the clearly marked Director's Chair, which he promises he never uses. Mike also makes a point of introducing a number of the other members of the crew when the opportunity presents itself between takes. Among them are Natalie, who is another of the stand-ins, Danielle, who is one of the costumers, the script supervisor Jan Rudolph, the sound mixer Jim LaRue, and the hair stylist Vivian McAteer. Mike explains that Vivian often changes the hairstyles of both cast and crew, just for fun, when there was a lull in production, and he is only half joking when he suggests that the service is also available to guests. In a flurry of hospitality, Vivian offers some sun block, which she helps to apply to nose and face, Jim moves the director's chair into the shade of the large white awning that helps to protect his sound equipment from the sun, and both insist on offering a bottle of water. It is a friendly and welcoming set indeed that provides an impromptu invitation and within minutes offers a seat, shade, sun block, water, and the welcome of both the director and the star.
Meanwhile, Richard continues to study his script. For the moment, he has taken off his shirt in the heat, and he is wearing sunglasses. He sits in his own chair that has a blue and white umbrella clamped to the arm to provide a bit of shade, and canvas pockets on the other arm of the chair hold scripts, newspapers, and a football. When it is time to shoot the next scene, he slips the shirt back on, tucks the script sides into his back pocket, and strolls back to the fire truck. The tip of the script is still visible, protruding from his rear pocket, but an observant member of the crew reaches over to adjust the flap of his pocket to hide the script from the camera. They are continuing the same scene from the day before, and they run through it several times, setting positions, and changing camera angles to get close-ups of each of the three characters. MacGyver and the fireman are confronting the woman officer, who doesn't want MacGyver's help. MacGyver becomes frustrated and angry in the scene, but Richard easily drops the emotion and appears relaxed and playful between takes. At one point the director gives him directions, and Richard nods in agreement. Then he answers loudly so those around him will hear, and in an exaggerated and sing-songy Swedish accent he exclaims, "Yah, sure, ya betcha, skook'ums! Vat's fer din'ner?" Everyone laughs, though it is hard to tell if this is new or typical behavior on his part.
The scene takes a long time to shoot. Over and over MacGyver vents his anger, and in certain close-up angles he needs to act to the camera rather than to his costar, with the actress standing to the side and feeding her lines from off camera. In between takes, as they set up for a new angle, Richard often keeps to himself or sits quietly in his chair reading the newspaper. Sometimes he stands around, talking with members of the crew. At one point he is overheard relating to a crew member the same story that Mike had shared earlier, about being hit in the face with a hockey stick. He never mentions Mike's name, and he laughs as he describes, "Suddenly I get this smack in the face. At first there was just this white-out of pain, then the next thing I know I look down on the ice and see all this blood." Just as Mike had envisioned possible unemployment, Richard describes imagining how he was going to explain the incident to his producers. Laughing, he imitates a voice with a very stuffy nose, calling in sick, "Uh, hello? I won't be able to come in today. I have a REALLY bad cold..."
During one of the breaks, Mike talks about the crowd scene that had filmed the day before. All kinds of people, meant to represent neighbors, street people, and the curious, had been hired to gather outside the fence. For such scenes they often include guests to the set as extras, and had the timing been right there might have been another extra included in that scene yesterday. Mike also suggests returning on Monday or Tuesday when they will be shooting back at the Paramount studio, right outside in front of the Valentino Building and then on Stage 1 for the interiors of MacGyver's new apartment. Unfortunately, the travel schedule won't allow for that either, but on an earlier tour of the Paramount lot the guide had been asked where MacGyver was shot and he didn't seem to know. Mike laughs, "I'm not surprised. Sometimes I wonder if they even know we exist."
Finally the scene with the three actors at the fire truck is completed and the crew begins to set up for the next series of shots at the far corner of the parking lot, which takes considerable time. Richard has his bike with him again, and he gets on it, looping around the set, then he disappears for a time in the direction of his dressing trailer. When he returns, he loops around the set again, and Kandace joins him on her own bike. Still trying to occupy their time while waiting for the filming to resume, Richard and Kandace find a small pink ball, about the size of a tennis ball, and with a couple of other crew members joining in, they begin kicking it back and forth like a soccer ball. Richard and Kandace seem to have a very close and friendly relationship, and when Mike is asked if they are an item now, he laughs, "Oh, no, they're just like brother and sister. They're always playing around. Actually, if you put the two of them together you'd get a mental age of about twelve - and SHE'S seven."
By this time the crew has set up to shoot an entirely new scene. All the cameras, lights, cables, and equipment are clustered in the corner of the lot, near the entrance gate, in order to take a long shot back across the parking lot toward the fire trucks and the building with the smoking windows. Bill Gereghty gives Richard his directions for the new scene, and when the action begins, all the background players, including the many fire and emergency extras, begin bustling about the various emergency vehicles. Richard crosses the lot away from the vehicles and toward the camera, to the door that is meant to be the entrance to an apartment building. He presses the button to speak into the intercom at the door and asks to see the apartment. Of course in reality the building is abandoned, and there is no intercom, so Bill Gereghty stands just off camera beside him and gives him the signals to respond to an intercom voice that isn't there: "Wait, wait, now go to the door, wait, okay, BUZZ." The "buzz" is the cue that the door lock has been released, and Richard opens the door and walks through. The scene is a relatively simple one and needs only one camera angle. They run through it first, but only need one take. Afterward, as they prepare to do the interior scenes that will be shot next, the crew uses a different door at the opposite end of the building to enter, since the door with the fake intercom is not actually the building entrance.
Jim LaRue, who has been sharing the shade set up to protect his panel of electronic equipment, is also among the crew who enjoys sharing information and anecdotes about the set. As the sound mixer, he explains that it is his job to balance the sound, which also includes the responsibility for ensuring that random background noises do not interfere with what is being recorded. He is in the process of moving his equipment inside the building and preparing the portable equipment for the smaller upstairs spaces where the next scene will take place, and he extends an invitation to join the crew inside, despite the unpleasant conditions. Indeed, a few people who have gone ahead to check out the third floor where the scene will be shot have reported that it is disgusting, filthy, broken down, smelly, and infested with fleas, but the dark interior of the relatively safer space just inside the entrance is also cooler than the relentless sun outside. Just inside the entrance is a large desk at the foot of the main stairway that was probably the reception desk for the Produce Hotel in its day. The wide main stairway has a handsome dark wood banister, but everything else about the place is deserted and depressing. Richard had gone ahead to check out the upstairs room and to block the shot, but he will not be needed again while the crew finishes setting up, and as he comes back down the hall toward the top of the stairs, he is loudly voicing his opinion of the conditions with a humorous exclamation, "Eeee-oooo!"
It takes considerable time to set up the scene, and Richard has probably been taking advantage of the break by spending some time in his trailer. Then suddenly he reappears, riding his bicycle across the lot, straight through the doorway, down the short hallway and into the room at the foot of the stairs. Slamming on the breaks, he dismounts and announces, "You got the best seat in the house!" Then he leans his bicycle against the desk, breezes past and bounds up the stairs calling back over his shoulder, "Stinks in here!" before disappearing to the third floor.
As filming continues upstairs, Jan Rudolph, the script supervisor, comes back down the stairs and takes a moment to chat in the relative cool of the interior room. She describes her job and that of the story editor and others who are responsible for continuity. Several people are tasked with watching for continuity in props and dialogue and for accuracy and consistency in story lines. Suddenly she asks, "Have you noticed the hands?" With Richard involved in most of the principal photography, he is rarely available for many of the inserts, such as the close-ups of MacGyver's hands, and so they are filmed by a second unit using the hands of a stand-in actor. Over the years, several different pairs of hands have been used, and Jan explains that shots like that can be very difficult for a script supervisor, since often they are shot out of order and out of context to be inserted later. As an example, she mentions that just the other week they had shot generic scenes of Steve Blalock, MacGyver's stunt double, in a black T-shirt in front of MacGyver's new apartment. It had not been part of a specific episode, but Steve would drive up, or drive away, or go in or out of the door, just so they would have some footage they could use for fillers or inserts later. She admits that she feels those kinds of scenes are a waste of time, since they have limited usefulness when trying to match locations or wardrobe or weather. Story continuity can also be difficult to maintain. For example, in one episode MacGyver mentions that his father died when he was ten, but some episodes later he refers to his father's death when he was seven. Jan seems surprised by that, and she admits that's the kind of major mistake that shouldn't happen, although every now and then they do miss one.
Soon afterward, Jim returns, saying that he has left his son upstairs to complete the audio work. By now it is 1:30 and time for lunch. Jim explains that lunches on location are catered, since too much time would be lost if everyone were to leave the set for lunch on their own, and he extends an invitation to join the crew for lunch. Back outside, at the far end of the lot, a huge buffet lunch has already been set up. There is an enormous barbecue where one of the cooks is grilling chicken, beef, and fish. At a long covered table there are all kinds of foods laid out, everything from hot vegetables and side dishes, to cold meats, vegetables, fruits, salad, bread, and choices of desserts. Soon the cast and crew arrive as the interior scene is completed and the lunch break begins. There are picnic tables lined up for people to sit, and Jim's son, Scott, joins his father. He is young, perhaps in his early twenties, and is apparently apprenticing, learning the trade from his father. Mike also joins the table. Lunch is a pleasant and relaxed affair, and the food is excellent. When Richard arrives, he checks out the menu, playfully peering over the shoulders of the others who are already in line, examining the many available choices. Finally he announces, mostly to himself, "Looks like a salad day," and he takes a plate and helps himself to a large serving of green salad and something to drink, then he heads back across the parking lot toward his dressing trailer. Mike explains that Richard often joins the crew for lunch, but it is not unusual for him to go off by himself, and he is probably just tired from the night before and taking advantage of an opportunity to return to his air conditioned trailer to rest or to study his lines.
After lunch, Richard returns, once again looping around the lot on his bicycle. The new scene will be shot on the exterior of the third floor fire escape. Members of the crew have gone on ahead and are already bustling about setting up props and equipment, both inside and out. The fire escape has been "decorated" with an old bent TV antenna, some boxes, a potted plant, a pair of jeans, and a guitar. The camera shot will be taken by two cameramen in a cherry picker that has been hoisted to the third floor level by one of the trucks. As they set up their cameras, perched there in mid-air, Mike takes Richard's position on the fire escape, acting as his stand-in so that lighting, focus, and camera angles can be properly calibrated. Richard leaves his bicycle and approaches the fire escape. While everyone else had gone inside the building and up the stairs to reach the third floor, Richard playfully climbs up the outside of the fire escape ladders, as if they were three stories of monkey bars, until he has joined Mike on the landing. Kandace, who opted for the interior stairs, soon appears and climbs out through the window to join them. She is trying to fix Richard's makeup as he talks and jokes with the crew, and he picks up the guitar and starts to play. Then he uses the acoustic guitar as if he were playing air guitar, and pantomimes the attitude and mannerisms of an electric guitarist in a perfect imitation of heavy metal rockers. When he finishes his performance, he swings the guitar repeatedly in slow motion as if to smash it against the landing and the side of the building. From a distance the sound does not carry, but one could imagine him adding the breathy sound effects of a cheering crowd.
When at last they are ready for the scene, Richard climbs back inside the building through the window. The scene calls for him to come out through the window, go to the edge of the landing, and look out toward the camera, surveying the building and the lot below. There is no dialogue. Action is called, and just as he has been directed, Richard climbs out the window, faces the camera, and stares intently toward the windows that had been smoking the day before. There is a long pause, apparently longer than he was expecting, and finally he seems to wonder what is taking so long. He breaks into a grin, looks straight into the camera, and laughs questioningly, "What??" The scene is over and they have what they wanted. They don't need to reshoot, and so the crew begins moving the equipment in preparation for the next shot. Richard climbs back down the outside of the fire escape, gets back on his bicycle, and rides back in the direction of his trailer. The next scene will require a change of wardrobe, and as he leaves he gestures with his hand toward his blackened and sooty clothes and calls out, "I'm just gonna wash up!"
Meanwhile, some of the crew begins to set up for the next scene to be shot near the apartment entrance, and others wait in the chairs clustered near the large white screen that has been set up to offer some welcome shade. Among those waiting is David Florek, who introduces himself as one of the guest stars of the episode. He explains that his character is Ralph, and he describes something of the episode's plot. An arsonist takes the name Prometheus, he says, feeling that by starting fires he is purifying the world, although his real motivation is revenge. He says that his character is the arsonist, but his scenes are shot in shadow so that his true identity remains a mystery. He adds that the audience is supposed to suspect the woman fire officer, and he smiles as he cautions against divulging the secret.
Also joining the cluster of chairs in the shade is Bill Crivello, who has just arrived on the set after lunch. He enjoys sharing stories from the set, and he talks a bit about Dana Elcar. He confirms what Barb had said earlier, that his surgery wasn't as successful as they had hoped, but he speaks with great admiration and says that Dana is doing much better. He is virtually blind now, but his spirits are much improved. He is adapting very well, in fact Bill speaks in amazement about how he seems to instantly memorize his surroundings and find his way around the set during a scene. He also has an excellent memory for lines, and so his vision hasn't seemed to impair his work. Bill adds that he has always enjoyed having Dana around on the set. They like to talk and joke, and they make bets on sporting events, usually football games. The bets are usually small, and it's just for fun, but Dana's always there reminding him to pay up, he says. As for who wins most often, he admits that they are pretty much even in their luck. Although Dana is not in the current episode, he has already been in earlier episodes this season, and he will be continuing in the role of Pete Thornton just as he always has.
Bill also talks about Richard's dog, Whiskey, and he explains sadly that Whiskey had died two years ago in November. She was quite old and was getting weaker and weaker. She had always come to work with Richard, and had never missed a day on the set, but toward the end she couldn't even walk anymore. When Richard was away, which was quite often, Bill took care of her, and he had become quite attached to her. He would carry her with him, and often she was so weak that she couldn't control her bladder. Bill describes the fancy hotel they had lived in while shooting in Vancouver. He would carry her to the elevator, put her down, and she'd pee, then he'd carry her to the lobby, put her down, and she'd pee again. The hotel staff wasn't pleased, but they tried to be understanding. Whiskey still went everywhere with them, but one day while Richard was out of town and Bill was caring for her, she became especially sick, and Bill took her to the vet. Bill had left her there, and when the vet called him back later she said that Whiskey's condition was very serious. She refused to give him the details and said she needed to speak directly to Richard. When Richard returned, he was scheduled to shoot an interview with a show something like "Entertainment Tonight," and so from the dressing room as he waited to go on, he returned the vet's call. Bill recalls that when he came back into the room, Richard was hanging up the phone, his eyes were teary and he said simply, "Whiskey's dead." Then they both broke down and cried and tried to comfort each other. It was at that moment that someone came to the door to say they were ready for the interview. Richard asked for a few minutes, got himself together, and went ahead with it. For now, Richard isn't planning on getting another dog right away. His schedule is just too busy and he's away so often that it just wouldn't be practical. Even with Whiskey, Bill had ended up caring for her most of the time. But they both still feel the loss.
Bill also speaks about his history with the show and his role as Richard's assistant. He explains that he had started with MacGyver in January of the first season in Los Angeles and had moved with the show to Vancouver and back again. His job description is rather vague, but he is responsible for driving, running errands, taking messages, dealing with the public at times, and anything else that Richard needs to have done. His duties usually call for him to be on the set, but there are often times, like today, when he must take care of business elsewhere. He goes on to tell more about working with Richard. He confirms that Richard often has his bicycle with him on set, though it can depend on the location. He is very good with the public, and patient with autograph seekers, but he likes to keep his bicycle on the set so that he can whisk off to his trailer, or zip by the crowds, when he wants to be alone. Bill mentions again the incident a few days before, when as many as 75 kids crowded the Fillmore location looking for autographs. Richard had obliged everyone, but that sort of thing is tiring and he tries to avoid it.
As Bill is talking, the firemen and emergency personnel seem to be packing up their equipment and preparing to leave, as if their work day has ended. Perhaps they are not actors at all, but real firemen or advisors hired for the day. Richard is still in his trailer, and when one of the firemen approaches Bill to say they are ready to leave and to ask if they can get Richard to sign autographs for them before they go, Bill apologizes and explains that Richard is showering, and he cannot interrupt him just now. However, he opens his portfolio and offers the fireman some of the colored postcard publicity shots of Richard that he is carrying. The fireman accept several of these to distribute among themselves, and they leave the set, driving off in their fire trucks and ambulances.
The new scene will be shot at the apartment entrance with the intercom that had been used earlier. The crew is busy setting up cameras and cables and equipment, and then the gate is opened and someone drives MacGyver's jeep onto the lot and parks it along the fence. With MacGyver's other vehicles, including the yellow Chevy truck and the blue Nomad, the jeep hasn't made an appearance on the show in about two years, and Bill explains that they had decided it was time to return to some of the earlier icons of the show and to bring the jeep back.
At last Richard returns to the set, once again riding his bicycle across the lot from his trailer. He has showered and changed, he looks clean and neat, and his hair is once again washed and blown out. He is wearing black dress pants and black dress shoes, but with a black sleeveless tank top. Mike goes over to join him, and Richard gets off his bike and tries to shoot it across the lot toward Mike in an attempt to see how far it will roll before it becomes unbalanced, loops in a large circle, and falls to the ground. Then Mike picks the bike up and tries shooting it back to Richard. They play this original version of catch several times, then Mike takes care of getting the bike out of the way by getting on it and riding it around the lot himself for a bit before finally dropping it on the ground near the cluster of chairs in the shade. During Richard and Mike's little bicycle game, someone nearby remarks, "Why doesn't he get a kickstand for that thing?" Someone else replies, "Then he wouldn't be able to just walk off of it." Indeed, Richard seems to have the habit of riding the bike onto the set and then just stepping off of it, letting it fall to the ground, and he seems to be very casual about where the bike ends up. Someone else notices Richard's footwear from across the lot. He is wearing the black dress pants and black shoes, but his socks are white. The observant crew member asks, "White socks??" and another responds, "He thinks he's Jerry Lewis." No one on set is ever heard to make a negative or critical remark about their star, but rather they seem to be charmed by his endearing idiosyncrasies.
The jeep is moved into position in front of the apartment door that they will be using, and Richard gets into the driver's seat as the crew sets up camera angles and sound equipment. When the time finally comes to begin shooting, Richard gets out of the jeep to complete the necessary wardrobe. He takes off the black tank top and the costumer helps him on with a white dress shirt and a black patterned necktie. Finally a black suit jacket completes the look, an ensemble that MacGyver rarely wears. Mike explains that the reason for the atypical attire is that this scene takes place much later, when MacGyver is returning from the funeral of his friend who had died in the explosion filmed yesterday. To finish off the look, Vivian holds up a mirror, and Richard fluffs his hair himself by running his fingers through it and adding a few spritzes of hair spray, the only attention his hair receives. The afternoon is still hot, and Kandace hovers about dabbing his face with tissues and touching up his makeup.
The scene calls for MacGyver to drive the jeep up to the door, to get out and speak to David Florek's character at the doorway, and finally to return to the jeep. The camera angles seem to be tight, and they run through the scene several times. For what seems like a very long time, Richard continues to wait inside the jeep as adjustments are being made. At one point, Mike runs over to him and stands by the window of the jeep. Richard has turned on the jeep radio, and coincidentally but most appropriately "Disco Inferno" by Earth Wind and Fire is playing. Mike begins dancing in place beside the jeep, and the jeep itself begins to bounce slightly as Richard starts bopping along with him from inside the jeep.
The last scene of the day will be a Steadicam shot in the hallway of the apartment, and relatively few of the crew will be needed for that. Once this exterior shot at the apartment door is completed, the cast and most of the crew will be free to leave when the Steadicam operator takes over, and they are delighted to finish early on a Friday. The main shots and the close-ups of MacGyver have been completed and all that remains are the close-ups of David Florek as he speaks with MacGyver at the door. As he waits for the cameras and lighting to be set up for the final close-ups, Richard takes off his jacket and returns it to the wardrobe woman, then he takes a seat in one of the director's chairs, props his feet up on another one, slouches down, closes his eyes, and takes a short rest. After a few moments he stretches and gives a huge yawn, opening his mouth wide and blinking his eyes repeatedly as if to come back to life. Then he takes the football from the pocket of his chair and begins tossing it playfully. A few others join him, including Mike and Bill Gereghty, and they begin passing and kicking the football to each other across the lot. They aren't especially skilled at it, often missing a target or a catch, and as Richard runs to retrieve a miss-directed ball that has rolled near the chairs, he mutters jokingly to himself, "These guys suck!" At one point during the game, Bill Crivello receives a phone call for Richard, and he gives him the cell phone to answer. Richard takes a momentary break to take the call, then returns the phone to Bill and resumes playing. As their game continues, Richard becomes more heated, and finally he strips off his white shirt, leaving only the black and white print necktie hanging loosely down his bare chest. He playfully begins imitating muscleman poses, baring his arm muscles and curving his body in Atlas-like stances before finally returning to his semi-clad game of football.
At last the equipment for the final scene is in place, and they are ready to reshoot the scene, this time with the camera only on David Florek. Richard returns to the jeep and runs through the scene a few times more, but he hasn't bothered to put his shirt or jacket back on. Since he is only there to feed lines to David Florek, the camera will not see him, and so his style of dress doesn't matter. Mike explains that while some stars will leave the stand-in to feed lines in scenes such as this, it is considered good manners for the star to stay to feed the lines himself, but there are many who don't. He tells of a movie he had worked on with Eddie Murphy, who always walked off the set the moment his own camera angles were complete. There is admiration and respect in Mike's voice as he describes the difference in the atmosphere on the MacGyver set. It is always fun and relaxed here, he says. Then he adds, "I've been on some sets where you want to kill each other by 9:00 in the morning." His words make it clear that he credits Richard with making the difference. And indeed, the fun and relaxed atmosphere on the set continues as the final scene of the day is completed. Only the people on the set that day will know that when the final episode airs, each time the camera shows the character of Ralph speaking, Richard is in fact standing before him wearing only his dress pants and a tie! However, David is a professional, and somehow he manages to get through the scene with a straight face.
It is about 5:30pm when the last scene is finally completed. The Steadicam shot in the upstairs hallway is all that remains, and the people involved in it begin setting up, but Richard and the rest of the crew are free for the day and gratefully prepare to head off to start the weekend early. Richard makes his way back across the lot and approaches to bid farewell. He offers another kiss, and a hug, and an invitation for a future visit. Then he bends down to pick up his bike, and he and Bill head off toward his trailer. Richard is looking forward to the weekend, and his fans will be looking forward to the debut of MacGyver's seventh season this fall. Even if this will indeed be the final season of the series, fans can rest assured that syndication will allow MacGyver to live on.