Photograph courtesy of Starz
If you’re not familiar with Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse, it’s time to check out this slam dunk of a comedy, set (and filmed!) in Atlanta. The show, created by Mike O’Malley (Yes, Dear, Glee) and executive produced by LeBron James, follows Cam Calloway (Jessie Usher)—a pro basketball player whose career has just blown up—along with the hurricane that is his family, mother Cassie (Tichina Arnold), sister M-Chuck (Erica Ash), cousin Reggie (RonReaco Lee), and uncle Julius (Mike Epps). Recently, we spent a day on the set of the series, which films on location as opposed to a sound stage (like Halt and Catch Fire, which we visited last spring). Here’s what we learned about filming out in the wild.
It pays to be in the right location.
Finding the right places to film isn’t always easy. Well in advance of shooting, the Location Department investigates appealing locales and begin negotiations with property owners, who can expect to be financially compensated (sometimes very well) and—in the case of residential filming—even put up in a hotel. We’ve even heard stories of restaurants that made more from filming than they do in a normal day’s business.
For season 2 of Survivor’s Remorse, the senior production staff chose a Buckhead mansion near West Paces Ferry Road and I-75. The art department brought in outside furniture for the sets, and every other room was emptied of anything but lights, grip, and filming equipment. Protective runners along the floors kept every nook and cranny of the home’s interior safe from harm. When filming is finished, everything has to be returned to the exact way it was.
Basecamps make everything run like clockwork.
Shooting even a minor scene requires a convoy of trailers and trucks. You need room for makeup, wardrobe, grip equipment, and, of course, actors. The sheer volume of space needed can overwhelm a set’s location. The way around this is to set up a basecamp—a kind of staging area—at a nearby, less obtrusive site. Parking lots, churches, and undeveloped real estate lots are prime locales for basecamps. (This is also where Atlanta’s perennial yellow signs come in.)
Our basecamp was at Northside Drive Baptist Church, a little over two miles away from the set. It was a relatively quick van ride to the set, even in rush hour Atlanta traffic. (Teamsters know how to drive.) Once we departed, basecamp radioed in to the set; if we had been important actors, everything would had been ready for us upon arrival.
It’s still like working in a submarine . . .
With all the equipment, wires, and crew working in tightly coordinated precision, we’ve compared studio filmmaking to being in a submarine. Location shoots are no different. If anything, the comparison might even be more apt. While sound stages can have decently large areas set up for viewing, filming on location puts you at the mercy of the existing site. Take a look around your home and imagine finding a place to put several refrigerator-sized pieces of equipment, a desk’s worth of TV’s, and at least 20 people—all where it won’t be seen. Also, it’s hot. To get clean, consistent sound, you can’t have an air conditioner occasionally running in the background. Yes, even in the Georgia summers. But hey, even if you’re shooting a morning scene, you can always film overnight with lights.
As you’d expect, the Survivor’s Remorse cast and crew was packed tightly into the mansion. The home’s main living area and kitchen were the only rooms being used for filming that evening. Every other room held equipment, crew stations, and the most important cog in the production machine: catering. Our position was at the video village (aka the dining room), a collection of chairs, video monitors patched into live cameras, and other tools used for observing the takes, out of view of the actors. Cameras and dolly track blocked the front entry way, and hot lights were shoved into every corner.
. . . but it’s still a blast.
Despite the heat, cramped conditions, shuttling to and from the set, and trying desperately not to destroy someone else’s property, it’s still great fun. Everyone from Mike O’Malley, to the cast, to the hardworking crew seemed to be having a great time. As we watched the Calloway family struggle with a rendition of an often-publicly performed song, we couldn’t help but laugh along with the crew between takes. When Survivor’s Remorse returns to Starz on August 22, we suggest you join in on the fun.
Season two of Survivor’s Remorse premieres Saturday, August 22 at 9:30pm on Starz.