Being On Set

I arrived in Toronto at midnight, it felt cold, but not too bad. The driver picked me up and we proceeded to drive 2 1/2 hours north. I actually didn't know there was anything north of Toronto, but there is Ontario. Then there is Northern Ontario. I asked my driver, "What is north of where we are going?" The driver chuckled and said, "The North Pole."

I noticed some patches of ice on the ground, but I made nothing of it. The next morning, I was up at 7am and I saw three inches of fresh snow. Oh dear!

They told me to bring layers, which I did. But I didn't think to bring a hat, scarf, gloves or a heavy coat. So I layered everything I had. When I arrived at the set, a farm 30 minutes even further north, the production executive burst out laughing. She pointed to my "California Girl" UGG boots, and said, "You can't wear those in the snow. Your feet will be drenched in about an hour."

She took me into the wardrobe trailer where I got suited up with a mis-matched scarf, hat, mittens, a huge down coat and navy blue rubber rain boots with bright yellow daisies on them. I looked ridiculous. I went to meet the cast and crew in this ensemble, and introduced myself, as one of the new Executive Producers. That means, I am technically one of their new bosses. In my eclectic wardrobe, I was quite sure that I looked insane.

I am coming into this production on Day 2 of the first episode. The production order is for a 10 episode limited series.

When you get "assigned" to a show AFTER it has begun, it's because something is going awry. Which also means, you're walking into some kind of sh*t storm. The problem is often times you don't know who is flinging the sh*t or why. So you spend a lot of time ducking and covering and trying to do recon. No matter how good you are, you go home either feeling like sh*t or smelling like sh*t.

A non-writing Executive Producer (EP) might have any number of roles. Sometimes it is the person who finds the project, or finds the writer or has the relationships to sell it to a network. Since I was one of the network executives who shepherded this project, that doesn't apply to me here... nor am I the writing EP or directing EP. I have been brought on as a non-writing EP to troubleshoot the set, where there seems to be communication breakdowns between the director, other producers and crew members.

Ironically, one of the biggest problems seems to be wardrobe department. I have been troubleshooting wardrobe issues on shows for years. So I rolled up my parka sleeves and dived into the litany of problems. Being in a remote location like northern Ontario does not help wardrobe issues, because the nearest "big city" is a five-hour round-trip drive. Budgets are tight and there are a lot of cooks in the proverbial kitchen. The director was very specific about what she wants, the other producers are less interested in wardrobe, the network and studio have final approval. I was there to arbitrate and get them back on track. The clock was ticking. Wardrobe was not ready. The director was losing her mind. The line producer, who is in charge of budget and staying on time, was losing his. The actors don't trust the Costume Designer. There are tears and yelling and I was trying to put the fires out, as best as I can, in my daisy-covered rubber boots.

This hysteria led to other issues. All the departments were feeling under pressure to please the director, but she was not pleased. The cast was starting to feel insecure with their own first day jitters. The crew was trying to do their best with limited resources and weather challenges.

I have been on a lot of difficult sets in my career and sometimes it's just about being calm, clear and collaborative. It's not that different from working in corporate life.

When I was busy running around making decision on wardrobe, set design, script notes and casting, I was in my element. It's when I was sitting still, waiting for scenes to rehearse and shoot, that I started going stir crazy.

I stayed bundled up for the five days I was on set. 12 hours a day or longer. While the snow melted quickly, the temperatures dropped into the low 30s at night. Night one, we shot until midnight. Every night went later and later. By night four, we were shooting until 5am.

Let me stop here and explain why this is a recipe for disaster.

One of my "superpowers" is boundless energy and self-control. It has taken me years to figure out the right balance of diet and exercise to be able to maintain a high level of focus and energy. I try to limit stimulants like caffeine, sugar and alcohol, but I also have two food groups that I try to avoid as much as possible: wheat and dairy products. For whatever reason, these two food groups trigger a switch that is like a drug for me. Once I go down the bread, pizza, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, quesadilla, ice cream "road," there is no turning back. All self-control goes out the window, along with my energy level and my body feeling good. Being cold, bored and inactive (or sitting on a freezing cold set waiting for scenes to be lit, rehearsed and filmed over and over again in frigid temperatures) is my Kryptonite. So by night four, I lost my self-control and I was eating sugar, wheat and dairy. It started with a harmless cup of hot chocolate, but spiraled down into handfuls of gummy bears, and then I found myself eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at 2am. From there all bets were off.

By the time I was getting ready to leave, I was eating a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of cream of tomato soup. I might have had an ice cream later.

While I was indulging in this food-fest, it tasted heavenly.  But then my energy levels plummeted, I got headaches and my stomach ached. Worst of all, I was now craving more of this comfort food.

I returned to LA just before midnight on Friday. My husband was annoyed with me for having been out of town while we are moving (and downsizing) from our home in one part of town to our apartment in another part of town. The movers were scheduled to come in the morning. He was anxious and felt burdened that the moving prep fell on his shoulders.

Saturday morning, in spite of my exhaustion, food hangover and jet lag, I woke up early and finished packing the last of my boxes. The movers came at 10am and finished around 9pm. The entire house was unpacked, pictures hung, boxes flattened and recycled by 9pm Sunday.

Monday. I got a call from my studio this morning, I MUST go back to set NEXT week. There are more production problems. My husband did not take kindly to this. He thought changing my career would mean I would be spending more time at home. He has never been a fan of anything that takes me out of the house. Truth is he would be fine for me to spend my days in Northeastern Canada, as long as I was home for dinner.