Amrie Cunningham on the set of BURN NOTICE
It’s only the middle of June and already I’ve got a wicked “What I did on my summer vacation” story to share with you all. A little over a week ago, I had the great pleasure of spending some time on the set of a little show we all know (and should absolutely love). USA was great enough to invite a few members of the online media word (read: bloggerati) to visit Miami and the set of BURN NOTICE!
I arrived on a Thursday afternoon, just a few hours before our scheduled dinner at The Chart House with the mastermind behind the whole show, the absolutely hilarious and incredibly personable Matt Nix. We had a great time at dinner, talking about the show. In the only conversation of the two days that we didn’t get a chance to record (I think we all had our recorders in our bags, but no one wanted to break that ice), Matt told us stories about how the show came to be, about why he ended up in Miami, and what might happen to various characters if he suddenly stops getting along with their portrayer! He offered great insight into the world of BURN NOTICE and why he likes filming in Miami. He wasn’t just putting us on, either. You can tell just by the way he tells a story, that he truly loves his job and couldn’t ask for anything better.
One of my favorite stories of the night was him telling us about shooting last year’s finale, when they blew up a car with a missile and created a giant mushroom cloud in the middle of downtown Miami. He recalled watching the dailies and thinking how cool it was that they had gotten all these extras to drive through Miami as they caused this damage on the bridge. When he realized that they weren’t extras, that it was actually Miami traffic, his thoughts immediately went to the crazy fact that no one stopped. Not a single person on the bridge stopped to check out the mushroom cloud. It’s a hilarious commentary on where our minds are. Mushroom cloud = normal, naturally.
We started the day rather early on Friday. We met for breakfast and headed over to the old Miami convention center, where the show shoots, to set up camp for a long day ahead of us. We got a small glimpse of the set and headed to our station for the day – a long table in front of the house where Michael Westen’s mother Madeline (played by the fabulous Sharon Gless) lives. It was astounding to see how they had turned this place into a giant sound stage that is starting to bring a film life back into Miami, the likes of which, we found out as the day went on, hasn’t been seen since the days of MIAMI VICE.
Here is how the amazing morning shook out (and you’ll be able to read all of these interviews in the coming weeks):
Up first, on her day off (turns out Jeffrey Donovan was the only one shooting), was one of my favorite people on the planet, Gabrielle Anwar (Fiona). As hilarious as she was the first time I met her, she kept us laughing as she told stories about her cast mates, and shared with us that she wishes she had been able to keep her Irish accent from the Pilot, because it was easier to fake Irish than fake American.
Set Designer Craig Siebels
Set Designer Craig Siebels was next – another really funny member of the crew, who told us how the sets come together, and told us tales of his harrowing 12-hour-a-day van escapades around Miami.
Stunt Coordinator Artie Malesci
The soft-spoken and to the point Artie Malesci, stunt coordinator was up next. He told us about his career and how he ended up with BURN NOTICE, plus he started the trend of selling Jeffrey Donovan as a man who can do nothing wrong!
Prop Master Charlie Guanci, Jr.
Charlie Guanci, Jr., the Prop Master was another funny guy with a family history of prop work, and he had so much great stuff to say about why they use the various props (guns included) that they use. Oh and you guessed it – Jeffrey Donovan is an ace with the gun.
One of the highlights of the day for me was meeting the incomparable Bruce Campbell (Sam), who rode in on his bicycle, sweating up a storm. He started talking as he walked in the room, and didn’t stop until he left. He was so charming and, I have to say, rather attractive in person!
It was at this point in the day where I started to realize that if you work on this show, a dark comedy about a burned CIA agent, you must be funny, or have a funny story to tell. We laughed all day long! After our first batch of interviews, we went up to the production offices and got a sneak peak at a great scene from Season 2’s premiere. It was classic BURN NOTICE and featured humor, prop work, stunt work, and I’m fairly certain I haven’t given anything away, so I should be safe (I hope).
Rae with the Charger
Our trip around the set led us to the cars that they use on the set. My dad was so happy to hear that I got to go near the Charger that Michael drives. Jeffrey Freilich (executive producer and my newest favorite person alive) tried to convince us that all the cars they use, like most cars Fiona drives in the show, are actually stolen off the streets of Miami. Our set visits took us around to Michael Westen’s loft. It’s everything you’d imagine. Bed in the middle of the floor – no bed frame, just a mattress. The skeeviest refrigerator you’ll ever see lends me to believe that he should head down to the local Lowe’s a pick up a new one. After some pictures there, we headed back to our station and waiting for our afternoon chats.
The afternoon went a little something like this:
Sharon Gless (Madeline) is a force to be reckoned with. So genuine, and unable to believe that she truly is an icon. When I asked her a question about that other big character from the past TV season that I loved (Colleen from NIP/TUCK), she made me feel so appreciated for asking the question, and just moved at the very thought that we would think she was amazing. She also talked about how much she loves her TV-son Jeffrey, and how proud of him she is.
Executive Producer Jeffrey Freilich
The aforementioned Jeffrey Freilich was the most fascinating man to listen to. He had great stories to tell about how he left TV 14 years ago (OJ Simpson was involved), what Barbra Streisand is really like, how funny it is that Jeffrey Donovan doesn’t sweat in Miami, and why he thinks DVDs will be obsolete. I could have listened to him speak for days – he was funny, and so wicked intelligent.
The (beautiful) man, the myth, the legend, Jeffrey Donovan (Michael) was awesome. Shooting was a bit delayed during the day, so we all got to eat lunch late in the afternoon with Jeffrey (I was fan-girl happy to know that he and I both chose artichokes off of the Craft Services line)! He spoke eloquently and with a twinkle in his eye. He’s the reluctant hero of the show, and he is self-deprecating and so fond of his fellow cast members and crew. And yes, his teeth are glorious in person.
Locations Manager Valerie Schields
Locations manager Valerie Schields was our last interview of the day, and she continued the trend of funny, well-spoken people that spent time with us. She had great stories of both working on BURN NOTICE and how it’s become Miami’s show, as well as what it was like back in the days of no shooting permits for anything on MIAMI VICE.
Our day came to an end with a quick view of the outside of Michael’s loft and a walk by the scene Jeffrey was working on, featuring Robin Givens as a guest star.
It was the most fantastic day, and thanks to a strategically planned transcription-work-delegation, you’ll get to read everything that these awesome people had to say over the weeks leading up to the Season 2 premiere of BURN NOTICE at 10PM on July 10! For those of you trying to catch up, get the first season on DVD this week and plug through all 11 episodes this weekend!
Taking a page from our friend HYPERLINK Rae’s book, I want to take a minute to thank everyone involved in making the day possible. My girls Chrissy and Moira at New Media Strategies who first sent word of the trip my way; Harriet and Brad from USA who were great hosts; Claudia for being a great mediator and knowing when it was finally time to get that last question in; The Chart House for an amazing dinner; the city of Miami for being a great place to visit.