Visiting TV sets is always a thrill. It’s not because I am a pure fan. I mean, I am not necessarily always pinching myself in disbelief over being there. Of course I knew Chandler and Joey’s apartment was an existing set when I toured the home of Friends at Warner Bros.
No, for me, the thrill is strangely historical. Just as I love going to Westminster Abbey, where kings and queens from the storybooks still lie, I get excited to be in a place that I previously knew only as an image or a symbol. It’s where received information clicks into reality.
That’s the way it was when I was on the Shark Tank set. It’s always a mind-twist to see how the shapes and distances and perspectives that you see on television are so different in the flesh. It’s odd to see how a room you thought was so familiar in fact does not feel the way you thought it would. First, of all, it has no ceiling other than the industrial soundstage ceiling, many feet above. It’s also a good reality check to see how a good TV set operates no different from a set in a community theatre production — it just takes a lot more money to design and build.
And more than anything, I love the heritage of the soundstages. Look up at Sony Pictures Studios, which used to be MGM, and staring back at you are wooden rafters that were silent witnesses to some of the world’s most recognized performances and faces. Even the dust is historic there, and unlikely to have been swept away. The soundstage in which the Shark Tank crew and cast ate lunch one day was the same one in which Flying Monkeys were filmed in The Wizard of Oz. “Singin’ in the Rain” was shot on Stage 27. Name a famous MGM movie, and those aged soundstages, so hollow most of the time, were where they happened, shot by shot.
They are the warehouses from which our American culture was shipped to us.
From a historic perspective, that’s a very intense thing to hold onto. Everything you see on camera has to happen somewhere, but when it comes to movies, we tend to accept that they’re in a spatial limbo. Yet cameras captured something that happened on that very spot, and afterward, every sign of the event was cleared away, leaving the soundstage as a shell. It’s the only thing left to witness those vital moments of American history.
Just being in that place, for me, makes The Wizard of Oz true. Not a story that happened, of course, but a thing that was cared about and created and hammered out, shot by shot and minute by minute, by working people who got hungry and sweat and yelled and got stuck in traffic on the way home. Movies become records of real events (of fabricated scenarios) that happened to be snatched in seconds-long increments. Being in a studio brings me out of the mindset of a consumer and irresistibly into connection with the people of the past.
Shark Tank‘s second season was shot on stage 22, and its “holding” room for entrepreneurs was built in Stage 8 (which means that when you see someone stewing ahead of their appearance, they’re not actually in the same stage; when the time comes, they have to run outside, across a lane, and into Stage 22.) My time roaming the soundstage was among my favorite during my season two shoots.