Los Angeles — While all of Hollywood’s projects stopped filming completely, pushed back, postponed, cancelled or put on hold, one TV show managed to be creative and do what they can still do: film their show virtually.
“All Rise,” the American legal drama television series starring Simone Missick, Marg Helgenberger and Fil-Am actor Reggie Lee, survived the pandemic and lockdown by being the only scripted primetime television show to film their episodes by virtual production.
The show follows the cases and personal lives of judges, prosecutors, and public defenders in a Los Angeles courthouse. Simone stars as Judge Lola Carmichael, an idealistic former prosecutor and newly appointed Judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Marg portrays Judge Lisa Benner, a veteran/supervisory judge in the HOJ who is a mentor to Lola Carmichael. And Reggie is featured as the Head Deputy District Attorney Thomas Choi.
We recently interviewed Simone, Marg and Reggie about their show, working virtually, and how they are coping with the lockdown and self-isolation and below are excerpts of our conversations with them:
How was it working with the cast and taping your show virtually?
First of all, it was so great to see the cast again, even if it was virtually, following the abrupt shutdown.
We were in the middle of filming the second to last episode of the season when the shutdown happened. And it was such a great script and story leading to the season finale.
But getting the news of doing a virtual episode was both a surprise and a welcome challenge. It was interesting getting your own costumes, hair, makeup, lighting, and camera moves together. With virtual help, it all worked out, haha.
When we filmed, it was such a tease because I missed working with these people so much and I also just missed doing the work! The joy of that far outweighed the challenges. It's interesting because for me, I was having to be my own Steadicam operator, which actually made me more nervous than the acting part. And we're constantly having (thankfully) people do our hair and makeup and set the lights, etc. So having to take care of that was a change.
How was it working with Simone and Marg?
I love those two ladies. Both remarkable actors and such strong, independent women. But oh so funny, both of them! Simone has this presence when she's on that judge's podium and it's wonderful to watch because she has such command and compassion at the same time. Then you get her off set and she is hilarious!!!
How are you coping during this lockdown and self-isolation?
It's been interesting to say the least — for everyone, I think. The first few weeks felt like a staycation. Then, the third week was like, "when is this gonna be over?"
But I DO think, looking at it in perspective, it's a wonderful time to reset. To really slow down and realize what's important, and to appreciate the lesson that being in the rat race of life is just not a healthy period.
I've finally found a routine of having my morning to meditate, then working remotely on some projects I'm starting to produce, to getting a workout in, and then a happy hour FaceTime with friends. A little too much of the latter haha! But I'm enjoying cooking and getting to see people I haven't connected with in forever.
I've also found it helpful to be able to raise funds for the people impacted by this pandemic. All in all, I hope I can take all of what I learned about myself with me after this is all over. I DO feel like we have a new normal here. But, I think we've all realized some goodness and humanity. Hopefully.
Can you talk about Reggie Lee who is featured in the series as the Head Deputy District Attorney?
Reggie is a phenomenal actor. He is Broadway-trained. He is just an all-around amazing man. When he joined this season, I don’t think any of us realized that he was going to be there every episode and he has really become a part of our core family.
There’s seven of us who have been with the show since the pilot and Reggie joined shortly thereafter and he is just a gift to have. For me, the first time I got to work with Reggie directly was an episode where the courtroom had been taken hostage. And there is this moment where he has a gun drawn on him and he is essentially pleading for his life.
I am going to get choked up about it right now [but] there was not a dry eye in that courtroom. Reggie was able to bring such depth and strength and honesty to that moment. I am so thankful that he is a part of our cast.
So in this episode, we see him struggling with how to lead the Deputy District Attorney’s office from home while his kids are hiding all his case files around the house, because they caught themselves cleaning up. Reggie is able to just thread that line between humor, strength and emotion and then we can find these moments where he is just brilliant. He's a great actor that I am so blessed and thankful to be able to work with.
Your cast is doing this virtual production. How was that experience working with the cast in these pandemic times?
I think we all recognize how fortunate and blessed we are. We are one of the few. I think there is one other show that decided to do a virtual episode like ours, but we are the only drama, recurring drama that is on every week that decided to do their season finale like this.
And when we all got the call that this was something we were going to do like this, like a Zoom chat, and everyone was extremely excited then the immediate panic of how are we going to pull this off just washed all over us.
From the moment they pitched it to us to when we started filming it, I think it might have been a week. So we did tech scouts in our homes, where we were going around, trying to figure out where the best WI-FI signal is. And then we are doing location scouts where we will show this room and all of us are like, 'oh they are going to love this part,' and then, 'yeah, no, that really doesn’t work.' And then there became this feeling of, 'damn, I should have painted these walls because this looks terrible!' But once we figured out where we were going to shoot it and how we were going to shoot, all of the actors became their own skeleton scaled down indie film with a CBS budget crew.
And so we counted, every actor does 12 departments in addition to acting, hair, makeup, grip, camera, light, tech, location scout, prop master, scene design, and there are two more in addition to crafting. So we were doing all these things and at the same time, there was this excitement knowing that we were one of the few that has the ability to do it and we were going to be the first show on CBS certainly to do something like this, and hopefully it will get more and more shows thinking that something like this is possible, to continue to get people to go back to work safely, until globally we can figure out how to best manage this virus.
How did the script change when you found out that you were going to do it virtually? And it is interesting that you said that you had to do 12 jobs. What did you have to figure out by yourself and did everybody do it? Looking forward, is it in fact doable and a way to get back to work?
We were in the middle of shooting our second to last episode when the industry shut down and when our show’s production closed. And so this episode does not follow what the writers had originally intended to be, a two-part finale.
The story did have to shift. It had to change because they started looking at some of these relationships, romantic or otherwise and with two episodes they might have gone down one path, but in the height of a pandemic, they might completely go the opposite direction, which I think is true for a lot of people who are dating or married during this crisis.
So our script definitely changed and it became about how are these people managing in this time of crisis? But once they wrote that script and we read it, it pretty much stayed the same, there was really no variation from the network notes to what we ended up shooting, which is very rare and at the same time great because I think the story is just so strong.
When it comes to whether or not this is sustainable and whether every actor could do this, I mean obviously we had every department represented, so there was a video village virtually and we had crew members working on the other side of the camera to support us to say you need to move that light, you need to move that piece of furniture, 'don’t forget you need this, Simone make sure you fix your collar because it’s turned up' and this is the Costume Designer texting us during rehearsal. So everyone was still engaged and a part of it thank goodness, because I do not think any of us could have done this by ourselves.
But in terms of whether or not I think something like this is sustainable, I do think in terms of recognizing that this is a different kind of medium and it’s a different kind of show.
I mean obviously when people first started shooting things on iPhones, or when people first started doing web series and doing them on YouTube, it was like does anybody want to watch a 3 minute show or does anybody want to watch a 12 minute show? Now it’s something that we are so used to.
My husband was part of a film that shot entirely on an iPhone and “Tangerine” was shot on an iPhone, and before, decades prior to that, people were like there’s no way people are going to watch a movie shot on a phone. And yet, the technology has advanced.
So with where we are today and what our show is able to do technically, they had a network built for the show so that there weren’t as many connectivity issues and they definitely tried to minimize the sound and the technical aspects of it. I think that technology will advance in order to make it possible for people to do this at home, the shows will obviously have to be different. It won’t be a big courtroom drama shot in one person’s living room, that’s not that kind of story. But are there stories that can be told like this, face to face, person to person via a camera screen or a cellphone? I think it’s totally possible.
So I am excited to see how people innovate, once the Coronavirus is no longer with us in the way that it is, even when it feels like it’s safe to go back to work.
I think we will see a lot of people recognizing that they can do certain things and make quality projects from their own homes and on their own equipment, and these things might make it to your Netflix or your Hulu or your CBS, you just don’t know.
Can you talk about working with former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, a consultant in your show?
Gil is just a really wonderful addition for us to have. On the show, he has got so much experience. He has so many stories he will share with us and things that have made it into the show. And as a result of him being there, we have been able to meet Mayor Garcetti. He sent a special message to us while we were filming this episode to just thank us for doing what is just essentially a love letter to the men and women in the LA judicial system to be essential workers who are delivering, grocery stores workers in the city and in the country and in the world.
To have the mayor, who I think is doing an excellent job of managing this crisis during this time, as good as a lot of mayors are doing, to have them support the show and for Gil to lend his authenticity to it is really great.
He actually shared this story with our writers, which ended up making it into this episode, which is that when his children were all growing up, he would write them letters. And he would give them to him and say you know, don’t open these until you really need it. And his son, Mayor Garcetti, in this time actually decided to open up one of the letters that his dad had written him. And so that makes its way into the show and you see Lola having this moment with her mother about these letters.
And so he is there as a legal consultant in a lot of ways but for him to contribute to the storyline in this way was something very unexpected and it was a great thing for my character to be able to explore. And he is also a photographer and a really good one, and so he gave me a book of his photography which is amazing. But Gil is a great person to have on set and he is always there willing to say nope, that is not how that goes, and actually this is why this happens, and so it’s great to have him.
Where are you now during this lockdown?
I am in Los Angeles in my home and I'm kind of in my living room like these are the stairs going down to my bedroom.
How was it working with Reggie Lee?
Well, Reggie and I we mostly cross paths in the hallway going from my chambers to the judges' lounge. We have had one scene together actually. It was a lighter episode in which my character wanted to break for family day and it was the holidays, have a mock trial or Dorothy from “The Wizard Of Oz” to, you know, be put on trial for the murder of the Wicked Witch of the West and I included Reggie into that or Choi into that and he defended her I think if I remember that correctly in that episode.
In the series, Judge Lisa Benner, your character, is struggling with how to cook. Are you also struggling during these pandemic times with cooking?
I'm one of the lucky ones in that my foxhole companion Charlie is an outstanding cook so, I mean, he does the heavy lifting. I certainly help out and I certainly help clean but, you know, I am learning some things from him. I used to kind of cook and now I don't know. I think between just I don't know my son moving away and I just was busy and it's not something that I felt really – it's not a relaxing task for me to cook and it's not – and it can be creative obviously. A lot of people find it very creative. To me it's I'd rather I don't know have another creative endeavor than cooking (laughs), you know, you have to eat to survive.
What’s your biggest laugh or cry since the lockdown?
The biggest laugh or cry? Well, the biggest laugh comes to mind is (laughs) I was with Charlie, my boyfriend, and we were social distancing with another couple actually on Charlie's sailboat and we were just talking. He happens to be an actor too, the other person who was one of the people that was on the boat with us and we were just talking shop about stuff that we had done and I was just saying oh, I've worked with that cinematographer before on such and such, and it was like in the horror genre and Charlie goes, “Oh, is that the one you were talking about, you know, the boobs?” and I go, “What?” and he goes, “You know, the Stephen King thing” and I go what? He remembers it. He remembered the knockers part and we all got a huge laugh out of that one. I'm obviously still tickled by it.
The biggest cry? Omigosh. There have been so many things that have moved me. The courage and the bravery of healthcare workers and first responders and people who are giving it their all, putting their lives on the line to save people. Their stories have moved me to tears. I'd have to say that's multiple times I've been moved to tears about either whether I've seen it on the network news or I've seen it online or it's just a beautiful thing and God bless them.
This is the first primetime scripted show that went on virtual production. What were the challenges you encountered about doing this?
I'd say the biggest challenge to me was just making sure the technology was working like the spotty Internet service where I'm located. I did my best. The production company got involved with a tech company that had equipment that was given to us from whatever production assistance and, everything had to be wiped down and all that kind of stuff and that was the biggest challenge.
Also, the very first day my call time was 11:15 a.m. but they called me at 8:00 a.m. saying can you be ready by 9:15 a.m. and I hadn't even showered and when they say call time it's not showing up with wet hair and no make-up, it's like you are ready to go and your props are set and you've got your lines learned and you are ready to just do it and go. So things moved very quickly. Yes, it wasn't live so we could do if we screwed up a line or forgot a line, it wasn't like it wasn't that kind of panic, but nonetheless it was harder than you'd think, yeah, a lot harder.
Former District Attorney Gil Garcetti was your consultant. What kind of tips did he give you?
He's a wonderful guy. He's been really helpful in connecting me with women judges in the L.A. Superior Court System and just obviously a huge source of invaluable information and knowledge and he told us stories that he experienced or he had or some of his colleagues had experienced. — LA, GMA News