“I’ve never been around so many people who made me feel normal.”
The Showtime television series Dexter is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. To over-simplify, the show is about a sociopathic serial killer who happens to be a blood spatter expert for the Miami Metro Police Department. We like him because he has fought mightily to harness his murderous urges, and uses his secret burden to rid the world of those who’ve killed the innocent. To say our family are fans of this show would be a gross understatement. We watch it, re-watch it, look for minutia in the background, freeze it, quote it, add our own would-be lines to it, play the board game, buy the Blu-rays, oh, and you might find more than one character bobble-head in our home.
How then, are we to act in a dignified manner when we are somehow invited onto the set of television’s greatest drama? It seems my wife, our two daughters and I have these dark passengers inside us that we can’t fully reveal to the cast and crew, lest they think we are insanely annoying or annoyingly insane.
I have a buddy named Romeo. He has worked on Dexter since day one as Director of Photography. He also directs several episodes of this and many other shows. In fact, he is now more often than not, a director instead of a DP. He’s ridiculously great at both.
Full disclosure: Our family didn’t watch Dexter from the beginning. When I heard my friend (with whom, many years ago, I made a sort of student film – with me mostly writing and him mostly directing) had directed an episode, I finally ordered Showtime and tuned in. I didn’t know what to expect, other than a show that I knew would LOOK fantastic, since Romeo was in charge of that aspect. I watched the episode. Then watched it again. Then I gathered the family around to watch it once more.
Since we hate to see things out of order, we quickly bought what we had missed and caught up to speed the right way. Yeah, the show LOOKED great, as we knew it would, but the writing – holy F-bomb – was fantastic. As was the acting, directing, editing and everything else. It was, and is, a perfect storm of creative and talented minds.
“I just know there’s something dark in me and I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it, but it’s there always, this Dark Passenger.”
We had been to the set once before. On August 17, 2011 we were invited to the interior sets at Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood. It was for an episode from season 6 called “Sin of Omission” – directed by Ernest Dickerson. Romeo was DP. I won’t break down the characters for those who haven’t seen the show, but we watched them film a scene that featured Dexter, Deb, Jamie and Harrison, in Dexter’s apartment. We also toured the rest of the sets including the police station, Deb’s beachfront home and the church of the Doomsday Killer.
We talked with Romeo, took some pictures, spoke a bit with Mr. Dickerson (who was very nice to us), but mostly we remained silent. Our daughters, and the eldest’s boyfriend, had been instructed to speak only if spoken to, and to not embarrass our host in any way, or make him regret inviting us. Call it our “Code”.
So yes, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter were just a few feet away, but we let them be.
Last Friday, August 17, 2012 (one year to the day from our prior visit), we found ourselves back on the set of Dexter for an episode from season 7. Things were about to be taken up a notch.
“I have no idea what Hammer Time is. Or how it differs from regular time.”
I gave the speech again, to my wife, the girls, and my own dark passenger: The Code: “Stay cool. Keep your mouth shut. Politely answer if spoken to. Stay out of everyone’s way.”
This was going to be a location shoot in Long Beach, where most of Dexter’s “Miami” shots are filmed. We were going to watch them film a scene at a beachfront cafe. Everyone was ready to be outwardly stoic, despite what raged within us. If Dexter can do it, why can’t we?
“IF YOU GUYS CAN HANG AROUND A FEW HOURS, WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE SCENE.”
Let me write that one again:
“IF YOU GUYS CAN HANG AROUND A FEW HOURS, WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE SCENE.”
That is what Romeo said upon greeting us at the location entrance.
Four dark passengers were now tearing to get out of our bodies and go to hair and makeup as we politely said “Yes, that would be great, Romeo!”
The scene would feature Dexter, Deb, Jamie, Harrison, Astor, Cody, and…BATISTA! Plus some police extras, a few girls in bikinis, waitresses, and now – US.
Even more exciting, it seems that the shot OPENS with our family being seated at our table by a waitress before the camera focuses on Dexter’s family. We also seem to be in view behind the main action as we peruse our menus and mouth our orders to the waitress. We shot the scene maybe six or seven times and Dexter and Astor then walked right by us each time, to conclude that take.
Before shooting started, we met the wardrobe woman, who gave the girls different shirts to wear, for a variety of production reasons. I was able to keep my own clothes on. Then we chatted with Romeo as we sat at our assigned table. I asked about our fee to appear in the episode. We settled on the four of us getting equal shares of $0.00. Suddenly, my oldest daughter Kelly was tapping my arm like crazy. David Zayas (Batista) had made his way to the patio location. I laughed and told her to calm her dark passenger, but Romeo had seen her excitement and headed over toward the actor. In an instant, Mr. Zayas was at our table chatting with us! Romeo took the opportunity to snap some pictures and a couple of dreams had come true just like that.
The filming soon began and we did our little routine a half-dozen times over the course of an hour or two. None of us tripped, broke a chair, looked at the cameras, sneezed, or did anything to ruin the production, or waste the time of the cast and crew.
After our little bit was complete, the extras were being taken to the holding pen (Isn’t Hollywood glamorous?), but Romeo saved us from that and told us we could hang around a tiny production tent that wasn’t any larger than a small bedroom. It was where he would watch the shooting from some monitors and yell “Cut” and all that good stuff. As we walked in, we noticed The Chairs. You know the standard set chairs with the names printed on them. There they were, the empty seats that read: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Aimee Garcia, etc.
“Okay, we’re not sitting in any of those,” I thought – or said. Or thought and said.
“Please sit,” said David Zayas, as he appeared behind us, “Sit anyplace. If you DON’T sit in my chair I’ll be insulted.”
Kelly happily sat in his chair. I think our youngest, Jen, grabbed a more generic seat labeled “Cast”. My wife Joanne and I stood. Our dark passengers wanted to sit in Dexter and Deb’s seats. We were able to spend some more quality time with our friend Romeo in the tent between setups. Mr. Zayas hung around talking with all of us for almost the whole time we were there. We talked about actual police careers (both his and mine), he talked to the girls about school, we talked a bit about the show, but we all remained relatively calm on the outside. Then Jennifer Carpenter showed up. She quietly sat down with a novel, just a few feet from us. I looked at everyone, but they knew: “Leave her alone”.
We continued talking with Romeo and Mr. Zayas. Kelly was discussing her college education, forensic psychology and the fictional work done on Dexter when Ms. Carpenter put her book down and joined the conversation! The “Speak when spoken to” code had been adhered to and accomplished. She poked fun at the fictional aspect of the show and the complaints she sometimes gets from real-life “experts”. “We’re not making a documentary!” was her answer to them. She kidded us that we had just been in a “thrilling” scene (since it included no real action or murder). I told her we thought it was great anyway, even if it didn’t contain any of Deb’s famous F-bombs. “I tried to squeeze an ‘ass’ in there,” she laughed.
Next up was Aimee Garcia, who plays Batista’s sister, and Harrison’s babysitter, Jamie.
What a doll.
She acted as if we were all friends, laughing and joking, telling Jen to Tweet her and promising to answer the Tweet (both happened later that day). When Aimee left, she hugged us all. Such a nice girl.
I know what you’re thinking. What about Dexter himself. What about Michael C. Hall?
“I killed my brother. I killed yours, too.”
Let’s flash back one year to when we visited the interior sets. We were standing around with Romeo and some of the crew watching playbacks. Mr. Hall was approaching with a bowl of soup in his hand. As if in character as Dexter Morgan, he spotted a few strangers (us) and did an abrupt about-face, retreating with his soup. We didn’t mind, as we were not going to bother him anyway, adhering to our rules – but we found it very “Dexter”-like in a charming way.
Now, this time, he came walking toward the tent, another bowl of soup, saw us again, and did the same about-face.
We laughed and mentioned it to some of the cast and crew. They also found it funny, but assured us that he is a great guy, but very quiet.
“He treats us the same way. It’s just Michael,” smiled one prominent cast member.
The girls felt comfortable enough to tell Ms. Carpenter that they used to know a real girl named Emily Rose (the title character in a Jennifer Carpenter film about an exorcism). Her response? “That’s creepy. Are you still friends or did you dump her?” They asked me if it might be all right to ask for a picture with the actress. I thought about it and it seemed as though it wouldn’t be much of an imposition considering they were joking and there was no work going on at the time. I said “OK” and then Ms. Carpenter said the same before they even finished asking the question. She was very nice and took a great, smiling photo with our daughters.
A short while later, we made some real progress as Michael C. Hall approached the tent. He was still carrying soup. He saw us. His chair was empty and Jennifer Carpenter was seated in hers, right beside it.
He walked into the tent!
He sat beside his co-star and began talking with her. We didn’t look his way or try to get his attention. There were four dark passengers who were screaming to meet, compliment and maybe take a picture with their favorite TV star in the whole world, but we held them in check. It was almost beyond comprehension that we were on the set, in an actual damned scene on Dexter, and talking with some of our favorite stars, – not to mention hanging with one of our old friends – we needn’t push the envelope by breaking The Code. If we did anything to embarrass Romeo or have him regret inviting us, I’d never forgive myself and would have wished we’d never shown up.
We did make some very real progress. Michael C. Hall had become comfortable enough with the four quiet strangers to see us and still walk into the tent with his bowl of soup. Maybe we’ll meet him again someday, down the road.
Now, I am not Jeff Lindsay, author of the original Dexter novels, nor am I part of Ernest Hemingway’s family, as the talented Mr. Lindsay is. But I have written a novel that is to be published in December. It is called Sons of the Pope and you can read about it, if you desire, in earlier posts on this blog.
There is that old saying, “THE BOOK IS BETTER”. In most cases that is true. But when a team is assembled that has the talent, drive and creativity of Showtime’s Dexter, that doesn’t have to be the case. The production can be at least as good as the book.
The dark passenger inside me has a plan that includes doing everything I can to have a filmed version of my novel (be it as a series or movie) not only come to fruition, but be of the quality, and have the integrity of Dexter.
As I stood with my family, prepared to do another take of being seated by the waitress, Dexter Director Romeo came up and said “Sons of the Pope has some scenes in Florida. We could shoot them right here in Long Beach.”
“For the first time, I feel that the future might hold something different for me. It’s possible I’m just fooling myself, but I’m willing to take the risk.”
*All bold quotes are by Dexter Morgan.
TOP: Our family with David Zayas at our cafe table scene.
BOTTOM LEFT: Our girls with Jennifer Carpenter.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Me with director Romeo Tirone.
I love living in the Las Vegas area. Wouldn’t trade it for anything that didn’t involve a time machine. I may not LOVE when it’s 112 degrees, but it doesn’t really bother me, and I like it much more than rain, snow, humidity or dark clouds. This past week, we had the good fortune to visit family and friends in Florida, and then in New York – on Long Island, and back in our hometown of Brooklyn. I’m going to touch on our visit to that Borough of Churches – population 2.5 million – and break it up with the titles of some of the songs that enriched our visit (thanks mostly to Sirius XM’s “Rewind” “Vinyl” and “70s” stations).
The weather was great – much better than our prior stop in rainy, humid Florida. Loved seeing our family there, but every time we journey to the self-proclaimed “Sunshine State” we are drenched. The Brooklyn weather was perfect and we saw none of the event-ruining precipitation that played a large part in sending us out west.
“Walk Away” – James Gang (Heard while driving up Gerritsen Avenue).
I’ll admit it right now; I ate like a pig. There’s Brennan & Carr, L&B Spumoni Gardens, Drakes Cakes and Entenmann’s (which are like black market contraband in Las Vegas) – not to mention a trip out to East Islip to Yong Wang Kitchen, which has the best Chinese takeout I’ve ever had. The Chinese food here in Sin City leaves a lot to be desired – even in our Chinatown. So as a result of my adventure in gluttony, I expect to be living at Fitness 19 for some time now.
“Rosalita” – Bruce Springsteen (Heard on Belt Parkway toward Brooklyn)
Not 30 minutes after hearing that Springsteen classic, my buddy Chris informed me that he would be seeing the Boss live for the 4th time on this tour. I tried to hide my jealousy as I have STILL never seen Bruce in concert.
We went to Brennan & Carr twice. Sunday night just myself, my wife, and our two daughters. I ordered what I always order: Cheese Beefs, Cheese Fries and a Cheese Coke (okay, not that last one). Beefs double dipped. The following afternoon we had lunch there with about 15 of the greatest people I have ever known – our childhood friends. It was one of the happiest days I’ve had in years. Oh, and I steered away from my usual Cheese Beefs to try a Gargiulo Burger. It was fantastic. You may have seen it on “Man Vs. Food”.
“Livin’ Thing” – Electric Light Orchestra (Heard on Southern State Parkway)
The cool thing about hearing that song was that I was wearing my ELO shirt at the time. Las Vegas connection: Brandon Flowers of LV’s The Killers once said that “Livin’ Thing” was his favorite song ever.
Our daughters are always amazed at how my wife and I might see an old friend for the first time in 20 or even 30 years, and there is never any awkwardness. It all just picks up very naturally. Never fails. We tell the girls that is what true, lifelong friendship is all about. As they get older, they’re starting to understand.
“Hello Goodbye” – Beatles (Heard on Avenue U)
When that Fab 4 song was on I reminded the girls to listen to the clever backing vocals.
After our lunch we all headed over to spend some time at the childhood home of four of the nicest girls on the planet. As kids, we’d be there – at least on the front stoop – just about every day. This turned out to be the best part of the afternoon!
Then it was time to go out back and visit The Alley. Known to many adults back then as the Community Driveway, The Alley runs the length of the block between two streets and a pair of avenues. Though, as kids, we’d all go to the park or the beach, the movies, bowling etc, The Alley was basically home base. It was really our world. Wiffle Ball, softball, football, basketball, boxing, soccer, and even hockey were played in The Alley. Sometimes all in the same day. Then there were non-traditional “sports” such as Manhunt and Hide-The-Belt. Meals were eaten there on laps or album covers. Sometimes it was just nice to sit in The Alley sun and listen to music on someone’s boombox. Could be rock, soul, or disco – depending on who had control of the radio, but it was always a nice mix. It always involved laughter, and sometimes tears. Each day could bring maybe a surprise kiss, a brand new friend, or an unwanted nickname. I’ve seen windows, bones and hearts broken there. I’ve learned of births and deaths in The Alley. Mostly, I learned about friendship. I have a hard time making friends these days, because the bar has been set too high.
“Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison (Heard on Knapp Street)
I’m not sure how The Alley wound up with most of the nicest and prettiest girls in New York, but I’m not complaining. Hey, I was lucky enough to marry one of them! You know how guys are always searching through so many girls who are kinda fun to be around but probably not marriage material? Somehow, every single girl from The Alley was, and is, a keeper.
Why do I consider Brooklyn and its nearly 3 million people to be a “small town”?
Let me put it this way – I recently wrote a novel (setting: Brooklyn) that will soon be released by a small, but excellent publishing company called Blood Bound Books. It’s not a blockbuster with a load of publicity by a major conglomerate, but I know it is heartfelt and suspenseful, and some highly respected professionals have told me that it ain’t chopped liver. Not one person in the communal development in which we live in Nevada knows I’ve written this thing. Most don’t know my name, or if I am a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. That’s just fine with me. But I went back to that small town of Brooklyn and my old pals, and their moms, acted as if I (Dan, Danny, DOC, O’Connor, even Johan or Kippy Pratt – don’t ask) was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The book isn’t out yet, none of them have read it, they don’t know if it stinks (I promise it doesn’t), but they don’t care. They feel that one of them has made good on a dream. That’s all that matters. A couple of the moms have been talking about my book in their church group! We have another friend who is truly a Hollywood big shot now and all we want to do is support him in all he does. He’s someone who came from humble beginnings and is living his dream. That makes us all happy. The best part – he’ s still the same guy. I want all of those friends to make good on their dreams, no matter what they are. My dreams? The real ones that I have when I’m sleeping? They are usually populated by the people we visited last Monday in Brooklyn.
As we were heading back to the rental car, after that wonderful visit, we saw an older man walking his dog. His name is Bill and I hadn’t seen him in many, many years.
“Is that you, Danny?” he asked with a smile, “I heard you’re an author now!”
“Small Town” – John Mellencamp (Heard while leaving Brooklyn).
Sons of the Pope will be released in December
The Binding will appear in the anthology Blood Rites in January