“This is what I’ve always wanted to do, even more than spaceships and vampires.”
This is Tim Minear, standing in front of the FBI’s Most Wanted List on the set of his new show, The Inside. This is the first show Minear created from scratch, and he cycles between self-conscious, proud, nervous, thrilled, and self-assured at regular five-minute intervals.
It’s late on a Friday night in December, and tonight’s shoot won’t wrap until 4:30am. Minear is a bit tired, since he’s probably only clocked four non-consecutive hours of sleep since November when he wrote the pilot episode in one 48-hour stretch. But he’s also content, having taken a show about a hot girl undercover in high school busting jocks for peddling steroids and completely re-creating it into a rich noir crime drama with an almost completely new cast.
The show is filmed on what used to be the Buffy the Vampire Slayer sets, and Minear’s new office is Joss Whedon’s old office. The floor the Buffy writers occupied for seven years is pretty barren, now. The movie posters that used to line the hallway (Dude, Where’s My Car?) and artwork plastered on the writers’ office doors is all gone, as is the huge neon Buffy logo that used to take up half the wall on the first floor. There’s been no time to redecorate, the new sets took precedence and have only been standing on what used to be the Hellmouth for a couple of weeks. Besides, this building is to be leveled in the summer, having been sold by FOX Studios. Other than a bottle of holy water and some discarded wrapping paper from Christmas gifts strewn about Minear’s office, everything is sort of beige and non-descript, but there’s really no reason to settle in completely.
We curled up on some comfy couches and watched dailies from the pilot currently filming just a few yards away. Minear and his friend (24 Executive Producer) Howard Gordon bounce ideas for a new show title back and forth. He’s thinking about renaming the show, which has no resemblance to the original idea FOX produced. The show’s star, newcomer Rachel Nichols (Rebecca Locke) is all that remains of the previous concept, and watching her perform on the dailies it’s clear that she’s wrapped herself around this new character with ease.
“I gave her five pages on tone, and she just nails it,” Minear states with no small amount of admiration for his new heroine. The scene we’re watching is from the first act, when Rebecca (Nichols) meets her new boss, Virgil “Web” Webster played by Peter Coyote. With just a change of costume and a bit of grainy black and white film, we’d be transported to 1940s Los Angeles, with the blinds behind Web casting dark shadows across the actors. The dialogue is crisp, filled with the quick sardonic cadence of Minear’s own voice. His personality fills all the nooks, bursts from the script and lands a back-kick square on your chin. There’s only so much I can write without spoiling, and fortunately, Minear bounces up off the couch and offers a set tour. He’s like a four-year-old on Christmas morning with a warehouse full of new toys, trying to contain giddy pleasure and failing miserably.
We all skip down the stairs and out into the lot. Jay Harrington (Coupling), who took over the role of Paul Fattore when actor Peter Facinelli bowed out of the series, is sitting outside in costume. He moves to pull his prop gun on us, but can’t manage to get it out of the holster. Pure comedy. We chat for a few minutes and then slip onto the soundstage. Where Sunnydale’s cemetery once stood, there’s now the Wilshire offices of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Unit, still reeking of sawdust and paint. I punch the buttons of elevators with no ceilings and lament that the buttons won’t light up. “Of course not,” Tim exhales. “They don’t light unless a little guy flips a switch and makes it light.” I ponder the idea of elevator dwarfs, and what their union meetings must be like, but Tim’s already halfway down the hall on his way to “the bullpen,” where his FBI agents will type up paperwork on gruesome murders every week. The day before shooting, Minear had the set decorators remove the modern IKEA-like desks and replace them with the dented steal beasts more suitable for the hard-boiled gumshoes of yore, and would also provide superb cover from nuclear fallout. The design is a hat tip to LA Confidential, and it would be simple to ease back 60 years and find Sam Spade with his feet up on a desk, fedora hung low over a squinted eye.
It’s on through Web’s office, with a backdrop of Los Angeles office buildings just a foot beyond the blinds. Unlit, it’s all about the vertigo from the false sense of perspective. We pass a bulletin board lined with Polaroids and index cards. The photos are of bodies ripped to pieces in various states of gross-as-fuck.
Back in the hallway, whispering and gesturing so as not to disturb the filming just a few steps away, we discuss the need for a new show title and marvel at how cool and spooky the hall looks, unlit. We tiptoe back outside to smoke and talk about the next two episodes, and have “lunch,” which is served at 10:00 pm. Minear will spend the Christmas break working on a rewrite on his adaptation of Heinlen’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and working on a pilot for a show he created for ABC. He sips coffee and chugs Dr. Pepper, and I wonder if the man’s blood has been completely replaced by caffeine and sugar.
He speaks in melty-love tones about his cast and crew, and trades good-natured barbs with them as they walk past with Styrofoam trays filled with pot roast. A goodly portion of them worked with him on Angel, and Firefly’s Adam Baldwin has been cast as a regular on the series. Prop designers, sound folk, and the pilot’s director, Michael Dinner (Karen Sisco) all stop by for advice and conversation.
I’m getting sleepy, and it’s only 10:30. They have at least another six hours to go before work is done. We say goodbye and stroll to the car, while Tim and his assistant disappear onto the set, chatting at 75 MPH about scenes to be filmed in the coming hours.
The Inside (or whatever the new title will be) will premiere this March on FOX.
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Thanks to Tim and John for the tour. Special thanks to Allyson for fighting off her cold long enough to write this piece.