This will be a very general update, folks. No juicy scoops this time around. As always, the release of such information depends on when all the paperwork has been completed and the entire team can sign off on a PR announcement, which takes time. Having said that . . .
We are now seven days into filming on Percy Jackson. I am definitely learning a lot about the process of making a TV show. An army of people is required to produce something this complicated, so I’m glad we have experienced pros coordinating all the moving pieces. A big thank you from the Riordans to all the hardworking people on Team Percy! In many ways, this show is more challenging than anything that has ever been tried before, for reasons I’ve mentioned previously: a young cast, massive special effects, and a huge variety of scenes that change every episode. And yet, we’re actually on schedule. That’s pretty amazing.
What’s an average day like for executive producers Rick and Becky Riordan? We commute out to the studio each morning (or to location, if we’re filming somewhere outside). After Covid testing (every other day), we go to the set, where we have a ‘producers’ tent’ off to one side of the stage. There, our chairs await, along with a big monitor and headphones, so we can watch the shots as they happen. In the last seven days, we’ve cycled through three different sets, and we’ll be heading to a different one tomorrow. This is so the construction team can be prepping one set while we’re using another. Then we can switch stages and let the crew change up the first one, etc., to make the best use of our time.
James Bobin leads our actors through each scene multiple times, filming from a variety of angles, so we will have a lot of versions to choose from. It can easily take half a day (or longer) to film a scene that might only be a few minutes long in the show. The actors are great sports about this, doing the same lines over and over, sometimes in awkward stances or elaborate costumes. It is hard repetitive work that would drive me bonkers, but these actors are true professionals — especially our main trio of kids! Oh, I wish you could see them working together, bringing these scenes to life. But all in due time.
A lot of my day, then, is sitting in a dark tent with the other producers, watching the shots happen and giving feedback when needed — which honestly isn’t very often. The raw footage is amazing, even before any editing. While watching the filming, I’ll have my laptop open to work on script revisions, or check updates to the schedule, or look at casting tapes for upcoming roles later in the season. Occasionally, I’ll even be able to do some writing on my next book. (Remember back when I was just a novelist? Ah, simpler times…)
On most days, I’ll leave Becky to oversee the set for a few hours while I go next door to our office to join the writers’ room via Zoom. What we discuss in the room varies from day to day. Sometimes we’ll go through outlines for the later episodes of the season, which don’t film until the fall. Other times, we’ll back up and talk about changes we want to make on earlier episodes, based on feedback from the studio, or from what we saw in the table reads, or how things played when they were filmed. Scripts are changed all the time. James will ask the actors to try lines in different ways. Sometimes the best takes are the ones that were totally improvised. It’s fascinating. The most eye-popping scenes are the ones with stunts, where stunt doubles will be interchanged with the actual actors to do impossible feats of derring-do. I will let you imagine what those might be in episodes one and two, which we are filming now.
Other times, Becky and I will join in ‘previz’ meetings to look at story boards for future episodes. These are like really slick Powerpoint presentations which combine comic-book-style sketches with rough 3D animations to show each scene shot by shot, line by line, so the designers, camera operators, prop masters and stunt coordinators can all figure out how to bring those scenes to life. If there is a scene with monsters and cars, for instance, they may also have toy models on the conference table. It’s pretty fun to see grown adults playing with toys: “And then he can be like bam! And the car goes screech! And then Ahhhhh!”
Filming often goes into the evening, though Becky and I usually head back to our apartment in the late afternoon. I guess I am still programmed for teachers’ hours. It gets to be three o’clock and I start thinking, “Surely I can go home now?” Maybe my stamina will increase as the season progresses!
There is a lot of sitting around, which is perhaps not as glamorous as one might think when one hears the job title “Hollywood producer,” but some of the most interesting and important conversations happen unexpectedly while we’re just there on set. “Hey, what if we tried this?” / “What should this prop look like?” / “What should this character have in their lunch bag?”
Over the last week, I have learned some helpful lingo, which you may find useful if you ever find yourself on a film set:
Martini – The last shot of the day is called the Martini, supposedly because film people drank a lot back in the day, and when the director yelled, “Martini,” everybody rejoiced because they knew the next “shot” would be from a martini glass at their favorite bar. So next time you’re walking by an active film set, be sure to yell, “Martini!” and watch the entire crew start to cheer and pack up to go home. (Actually, don’t do that. It would be mean.)
Abbey – I haven’t actually heard this one used yet, but the “Abbey shot” is the second-to-last shot of the day. It was named after a guy named Abbey Singer who used to tell the crew, “This is the Martini!” and then change his mind afterwards and say, “Oops, no actually, we have one more.” So the Abbey shot became sort of the fake martini that gets your hopes up then crushes them. In case you’re wondering, the third-to-last shot of the day is called “the third-to-last shot of the day.”
10-1 – If you need to pee while you’re on set, you don’t yell, “I NEED TO PEE.” That’s much too easy. Instead, you yell “10-1,” and everybody knows you have gone to pee, brb. Try it next to you need to leave class. “Teacher, 10-1! I’m out!” I’m sure that will work out fine.
10-2 – Can you guess? Yeah, that’s if you need to poop, so you may be gone a little longer than for a 10-1. This is why I came to Hollywood, folks. To learn the glamorous secrets of stage and screen. It’s also good to know that in trucker lingo, “That’s a big 10-4, good buddy,” is absolutely NOT the same as, “That’s a big 10-2, good buddy.” You have been warned.
The Circus – This is the area on the lot where all the trailers are set up for makeup, hair, costumes, restrooms, and the actors’ prep rooms. I suppose this is because it looks like the circus caravan is in town, but as far as I can tell, there are no elephants, giraffes, sword-swallowers or cotton candy in this circus. I have looked.
Another important part of the lot is the catering tent and/or food truck. The food is all pretty great, I have to say. Perhaps a little too great. As one of the producers told me: “Don’t start with the donuts. If you start with those on day 1, by day 100 you’ll be in big trouble.” But, as one of our young actors recently informed informed me with great excitement: “Rick, they have corn dogs today!” This is how we keep our priorities straight while filming. Corn dogs, dude. ‘Nuff said.
And that’s your update from the set for this weekend. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I will have some more info to share with you. We have a long, long way to go before this season is “in the can” (meaning all filmed and edited, and having nothing to do with 10-2) but rest assured it is going well, on schedule, and looking good. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc., etc. Stay well and keep reading, demigods!