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Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Letterman.

4 May Letterman Late Show

On May 20, 2015, David Letterman’s final show will air on CBS.  Events such as this are not altogether uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to write about one of these things.

The reason: To me, it is anything but “one of these things”.

In fact, two nights ago, I had a dream that Mr. Letterman was walking across the street from me, and I wanted to go up to him, shake his hand, and say “thank you”.  I was unable to reach him, so I scribbled a note in red ink (not sure why the ink was crimson, but hey, it was a dream) and handed it to a Late Show staffer who happened to be close by. They promised to get the letter to him.

I was not able to meet David Letterman in that dream, but I have met him twice, and was even interviewed by him.  I shook his hand, made him laugh, received a compliment from him, and he even handed me a sponge.

All of that is very high on my lifetime thrill meter.  Super-amazingly high.

I was a huge admirer of Johnny Carson.  I enjoy Jay Leno.  I love Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien.  But, for me, David Letterman is king, and always will be.

This was the only show, be it on NBC, or CBS, that I would watch EVERY night.  For years it was community viewing with my buddies, then, I watched with my wife, then with the wife and kids.  Now, the kids are adults.  We all still watch.  Always the same. Always Letterman.

I won’t rehash all of the crazy skits, but, things like the Velcro Suit and the Alka-Seltzer Suit were just not the norm on television.  Having a run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, Brooklynite named Calvert DeForest appear regularly as a hapless, and generally un-scripted, character named Larry “Bud” Melman was pure genius. That was taken to the next level when Calvert played “Bud”, who in turn played “Kenny the Gardener”.  You couldn’t get stuff like this anywhere else.  Stuffy types didn’t get the joke.  They watched other shows.  Those of us who loved Letterman felt like we were part of some “in crowd”.  The more ridiculous it was, the better we liked it.

I have been to so many Letterman tapings that I’ve lost count.  I’ve been to the big anniversary shows too.  My wife, my buddies, and I were in the front row for a big anniversary show at Radio City that included Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, and a host of others.  We stood in line for hours to grab those seats.

There used to be a stand-by list for tickets, where show staffers would call you on the phone if seats opened up.  To get tickets, you had to answer a David Letterman trivia question.  I never got one wrong.

I used to work security for Saturday Night Live just when Dave was beginning his NBC show. I was about twenty years old.  One time, he was exiting the building at 30 Rock, through a revolving door, just as I was entering.  I nodded at him, and smiled, through the glass.  He did the same.  I count that as “meeting him” and always will.  I went full-circle in that spinning door just so I could watch where he was going outside the building.  A tiny car pulled up.  A VERY tiny car.  And old.  Someone got out, pushed the front seat up, and Dave squeezed into the back, with a couple of others.  There were at least five people jammed into that little vehicle.  I guess I had expected a limousine.  Letterman got into a car that looked like it would normally carry me and my buddies.

That made me smile.

A couple of years later I REALLY met David Letterman.

I was on line outside the show, as usual, with my fiancée, and our friends.  A staffer came up to me and asked if I had a good story about a recent snowstorm that had blasted New York City.  I had absolutely nothing of interest to report, so of course I immediately said “Yes.”

Our whole group was ushered inside and seated in a prime, reserved location.  We were the first audience members in the studio, so the room was even colder than its usual, famously freezing temperature.  Paul Shaffer and his incredible band were not yet even on stage to warm up the crowd.  The sound system was playing “Another World” by Joe Jackson, and I truly felt like I was in another world.  I knew that I was going to be interviewed by David Letterman.

I had no idea what his line of questioning would be, but I had seen the show enough to know that it would, at its core, have little to do with whatever I had experienced in that blizzard.

Our segment was entitled “The Winds of February”.  I learned this as it began.  He interviewed a man sitting in front of us.  I knew there would be three audience interviews, but I didn’t know if I’d be next, or third.  While Dave questioned the first guy, I saw on the monitor that they had a scrawl on the screen that read “Part One: The Storm Gathers”.  I paid no attention to what the guy was actually saying, as I readied for my part.  When Dave came to me next, he asked where I was from.  When I answered “Brooklyn” I got a big cheer. I knew the New York crowd was with me.

Then, before we continued, and as a bit of a shock to Dave, I decided to introduce him to my girlfriend (and now wife), Joanne, who was seated beside me, as I stood with Letterman.  The crowd chuckled at the change of pace, and Dave seemed to get a kick out of it (how much of a kick will be revealed later).  He shook hands with Joanne, said “Very nice to meet you”, and was quite pleasant about it all.

Then, he asked me about my snowstorm experience.  I remembered that “Part One: The Storm Gathers” scrawl that they had placed in front of the first guy on the monitor, so I just began by saying “Well, my story picks up just about where his leaves off…”

That was all it took.  The crowd got it and howled.  Dave stopped a bit just to laugh at my joke.

I had made David Letterman laugh.

I forget most of the rest of the interview, but sure enough they put something up below my face that read “Part Two: The Storm Descends” (or something like that).

After Dave interviewed the third guy, and as the show left for commercial, he returned to me, shook my hand again, said something to me about how he appreciated how I helped the bit, and got the joke.  Then he handed me a coveted “Late Night with David Letterman” sponge.

The letters have faded, but I still have it.

Here’s the best part:  About a month or two later, the show did a bit called the Late Night Emmy Awards.  There was a category for “Best Audience Member”.  In typical, brilliant, Letterman fashion, guess who won?

“And the winner is – Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend.”

Yes, Joanne, who did nothing but shake Dave’s hand and smile, won the “award”.  They had an elderly woman come on stage to “accept”.

“Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend is away in France and unable to accept in person,” said the announcer.

Absolute genius.

As I write this, there are but a handful of nights that will include the opportunity to watch a new episode of a talk show featuring David Letterman.

I will watch every one.

Thank you to Mr. Letterman, and to everyone who has ever worked for him.

This will never happen again.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

Hey, thanks.

21 Nov

You, my cyber friend, are super-smart. Congrats!

Well, at least you are probably more intelligent than the average person. I once read that people who read blogs regularly are supposed to be in the top 15% of brainiacs or something. I’ll take any positive reinforcement I can get. There is likely some study somewhere that says those who stare at tree bark all day are on the verge of wizardry, so the grain of salt has been swallowed as well.

Regardless, I thank you for stopping by this blog. As I write this, it is the season of Thanks here in the U.S.A., so I’d like to mention something for which I am quite thankful.

Naturally, I am grateful for all the usual suspects: the health and well-being of my children, the contributions of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, our brave military, wonderful volunteers the world over etc. I am thankful for all of that every day, as are most of us, so this Thanksgiving I also want express gratitude to some other folks who have enriched my life.

People who actually give a shit.

Now, your list might be different than mine. Doesn’t matter. There is no right or wrong answer.

Do you know when you read a book, listen to an album, or watch a movie or TV show and you just know that those involved really gave it their all? You can tell, right in your gut, that they covered all the angles, sweated the details, hashed out all the minutiae (even if they hashed it out internally – losing sleep in the process).

I want to thank all of those people for having the pride and determination to not cut corners, hurry through the process, or simply rush out product.

As your list is possibly flowing through your above-average brain and hopefully giving you some happy thoughts, here’s part of mine:

Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Ben Foster, and the entire cast and crews of Dexter, Breaking Bad, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Also, everyone involved in The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

There are more, but since statistics show how smart you are, you are also more likely to bore easily, and if I’m nearly as smart as you, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of that.

I would love to know if any of my list overlaps with your own.

These folks have brought me such joy over the years, and I have such confidence in their genius and work ethic, that just the thought of any of them can bring a smile to my face. Yes, most of them have had some lesser moments, but probably not from lack of effort. Perfection seems impossible to me, but the goal of it should be what drives us all.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I knew kids who were always under the spell, and the hoods, of their cars. I was never much good with my hands (other than in sports), but these kids – wow! For every minute I saw them actually driving their cars, there was an hour of me seeing them under them, feet protruding, then emerging smelling like pit row.

They weren’t millionaires, award-winning novelists, or musical geniuses.

They were giving it their all, busting their asses, and striving for perfection.

I thank them.

I thank the kid who stays in the batting cage after hours because, though he has almost mastered the line drive, he can’t get that bunt to hug the line.

The landscaper who angered his buddies in the truck because he went back for the ladder at the last minute to even out that misshapen palm tree?

Thank you.

Though I don’t pretend to be Richard Matheson or Ray Bradbury, I do strive to be like those Brooklyn kids under their cars, and the proud landscaper, when it comes to the stories and novels I write. I can’t guarantee that you would like them, but I can unequivocally promise that I put everything I had into them.

Here’s what both encouraged me and knocked me silly: My first full length work, a 5 decade Brooklyn suspense novel called Sons of the Pope, was published by a wonderful indie house called Blood Bound Books. It became their fastest and biggest seller ever. No, not Stephen King numbers. Probably didn’t sell what one of his does during his lunch break, but it did mean that someone liked it. My hard work had paid off – not in dollars – but in the fact that I brought people – complete strangers – enjoyment!

Here’s where I nearly hit the tiles: Some of the folks who praised my book include writers and directors behind Dexter (yes, one of the shows mentioned above as my idea of brilliance), True Blood, the V.C. Andrews novels, Nurse Jackie, Sleepy Hollow, the Donovan Creed novels, Rectify, Red Widow, Unspeakable, Terrified, Only Son, Sister Sister, and The Devil’s Advocate. I even got a 5 star review from Rock Over America! To a frustrated musician like me, who can’t play a lick, having a music magazine review a book was more than I could ask for.

A man who has sold over 100 million novels, Andrew Neiderman, said, in writing, that my career was one to watch.

Whaaaaaat?

John Locke, who was the first author to sell over one million self-published e-books, actually ran an online contest for his readers to win copies of Sons of the Pope. My book!

Double Whaaaaaat?

Me – a kid from Brooklyn, who had lost both parents by the time he was seven years old, and all grandparents by the time he was eleven – had somehow, in some odd quest for that perfection we can never grasp, managed to receive kudos from some of the most talented people in the world.

Dean Koontz – Dean Freaking Koontz – recently sent me a note saying he was going to be reading my short story, The Binding, from the anthology, Blood Rites, because an Amazon review compared it to his writing.

No matter what happens from here on out, I will always have that note. For that, I am thankful.

To you, the reader of this (probably overly long) blog post, I am just as thankful. You could have been doing any number of things, from reading one of those books from the cast of Jersey Shore, to working on a cure for Arachibutyrophobia* (if you don’t have to Google that, you’ve just joined the Beatles and Alfred Hitchcock on my Awe List).

So then, I am thankful to you, dear blog reader. I am thankful for anyone who bought, borrowed or read any of my books or stories. I am thankful to those well-respected creative types who’ve had kind words for my work, and I am thankful to those, on my list and yours, who really, really care about the work they do.

If you celebrate it, please have a wonderful and HAPPY THANKSGIVING! If you don’t, just have a joyous and uplifting NEXT THURSDAY!

* Arachibutyrophobia – Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth.

Books, albums, and DVD/Blu-rays have always been my favorite holiday gifts.

My AMAZON author page: http://www.amazon.com/Daniel-OConnor/e/B00B7N4USM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1359501792&sr=8-3

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1377620004

Amazon 4.9 stars
Goodreads 4.4 stars

Four Dark Passengers on the Set of DEXTER

21 Aug

“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.
SUCCESS!
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.
Priceless.
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.