Main > Series > Articles/Interviews > On the Fame Set - Part 1
A TYPICAL DAY AT MGM'S FAMOUS STUDIOS BY NANCY FALLS
Filming any major television series is a highly organised affair, and Fame is no exception. Every single person, actor, dancer, crew member or guest artist who appears in any scene, has to know exactly when to turn up at MGM Studios so that he or she can organise their time accordingly. With so many people involved, this could get quite complicated, so what happens is this: every afternoon, Lee, Gene, Erica, Valerie and all the other Fame kids are handed a call sheet, which is a piece of paper measuring 8½ by 14 inches, covered in writing on both sides. This one sheet of paper tells everyone all they heed to know about what's happening the following day. On it are listed the scenes which are going to be shot, numbered in the same order as they are in the script, and the people who are due to appear in them, plus the sets that are going to be used. So Lee, who plays Bruno, can tell instantly when he's got to be at the piano in that room with all the recording equipment, and Debbie, who plays Lydia, can see exactly when the dance teacher is going to be taking classes in the rehearsal hall or talking to one of the other teachers in the schoolroom.
On the back of the call sheet is information for the crew members. Here they can find out everything from how many dozen doughnuts and gallons of coffee will be needed for snacks, to what special equipment, like extra cameras and camera cranes, will be required. The eye boggles at such mysterious job titles as "crab dolly grip" (the man who moves the camera around on its rolling platform) and "gaffer" (the name given to the chief electrical superintendent who supervises the placing of the lights, etc.)!
The time given for everyone to appear on the set is usually 7.30 a.m. But it wouldn't be any good if Carlo (Danny), Lori (Julie) or any of the others didn't roll up until then, as they wouldn't be ready to start filming. They have to be attended to by the wardrobe and make-up departments first, which means they've got to get there by 6.30 or 7 am., according to what kind of scene is being shot, so that they are prepared for the cameras to start rolling at 7.30. One advantage Gene's got over the others is that the hairdressing people don't need to do much to his hair as it's permanently braided into position!
Very little of Fame is shot on location, so the cast and crew have to set out very early for the MGM Studios in Culver City, allowing themselves enough time to cope with the early morning traffic. This often means rising before dawn, according to how far away they live. Culver City was once a separate town but has now been swallowed up by Los Angeles. People still tend to think of Hollywood as being the centre of the film and television industry but this is no longer the case. Only one major studio, Paramount, is still located in Hollywood.
MGM Studios are situated close to the freeway. You turn off and find yourself approaching what is in effect a complete walled city, several acres in area. Behind the perimeter walls loom the vast soundstages on which the actual filming takes place - and like most studios, everything seems to be painted a universal shade of rosy beige!
If you were Erica (Coco), Valerie (Doris) or any of the Fame team, you'd park your car in the big parking area outside the main gate. Only the top studio executives are allowed to take their cars inside. Then you'd walk a quarter of a mile or so to the building containing the Fame production offices, next door to which is the rehearsal hall used by the cast.
Further down the narrow studio street, no wider than an alleyway, you'd rind soundstage 26, which houses most of the permanent schoolroom sets used in Fame. All the buildings you see in Fame are constructed within a larger building, and the soundstage is at least 70 feet high, 300 feet long and 200 feet wide. The rooms have been deliberately constructed to look as realistic as possible. A room on most studio sets consists of three walls only, the other opening into a central area where the cameras move around. But some of the rooms used in Fame, like the cafeteria set, for instance, are big enough for the cameras to work inside with all four walls in place - but one or two walls are always able to he hoisted up or slid to one side to make room for all the equipment.
Another thing that adds to the realism of the school atmosphere in Fame is the fact that it actually was modelled on a real live school in New York - though not the High School for the Performing Arts which Gene and Erica attended. Every little detail has been faithfully reproduced, right down to the notices taped onto the walls and pinned to the bulletin boards. And outside the door of the rehearsal room, you'll find a selection of bang up-to-date announcements and ads for real recitals, courses and shows taking place in New York City, just like you'd find pinned to the notice board in any college.
In fact, the design of the Fame sets is so outstandingly good that the art director, Ira Diamond, won an Emmy (American television's highest award) for his work on the first series.
Obviously, the first place the Fame kids make for when they arrive in the mornings to their dressing rooms. These are like little individual huts on wheels, lined up along the north wall of Stage 26 and along the other side of the studio street there. There's nothing flashy about them. They measure only about 10 feet square and have a slightly pitched roof so they resemble a slice of a railway carriage! The door is situated in the centre of one end. You go in and face dingy white walls and a small window. There's just enough room inside for a couch bed, a chair and a make-up table.
These mobile dressing rooms can be moved by a forklift truck or a small tractor. The area the studios have been built on was once swamp land and often when it rains the dressing rooms have to be moved to higher ground to save them from being flooded. Once inside the soundstage, the cast have no idea what the weather outside is like, and they get a great shock sometimes when they head back for their dressing room to find it's not there any more!
All the dressing rooms are identical and arranged in alphabetical order. There are larger separate trailers for wardrobe, make-up and hairdressing. When the cast saw the new, shiny aluminium-coloured wardrobe trailer, the temptation to improve on its decor proved too much for them. Gene organised the other kids into a committee to secretly decorate it. They painted the names of everyone involved in the series all over its silver surface, in spray paint which was all colours of the rainbow, so that the caravan ended up looking rather like one of those graffiti-covered compartments on the New York subway trains!
When the studio guards discovered the revamped trailer the next day, they thought it was the work of vandals. But before the studio executives could have it repainted, the Fame troupe confessed and their production office intervened and saved the work of art as a tribute to the cast's tremendous spirit and sense of fun. It truly is an amazing sight!
To be continued ... HERE
This interview was provided to me by Stuart Farrell.
The article above is from the Official Fame Magazines from 1983. The OFFICIAL FAME MAGAZINE was published by Beat Publications Ltd. and the interviews are copyright MGM/UA Entertainment Co.