Authors: Alison Sweeney
Tags: #Fiction / Contemporary Women, #Fiction / Romance / General
The Star Attraction
I dedicate this novel to everyone who works (past, present and future) at
Days of our Lives.
The cast & crew who tirelessly create the enduring and captivating world of Salem—and to everyone who has ever watched and been swept away by it.
“I can feel the arrhythmia in his femoral artery.”
“He’s going into cardiac arrest.”
“We’re not going to lose him!” Intense eyes meet mine over the patient lying on a makeshift hospital bed.
Momentarily startled by the urgent gaze, I quickly recover. “Yes, he’s in V-fib,” I say.
“He needs another four hundred cc’s of propofol.” His eyes remain glued to the monitors all around us.
“But you said the max his body could handle was two hundred…,” I reply.
“I know what I said, but if I can’t finish the surgery, everything we’ve done for him will be worthless. He’ll die if he wakes up now.”
“Doctor, his body isn’t responding to the treatments. What makes you think the surgery will make a difference?”
I glance up at the seemingly cavalier reply, but his face is anything but casual. His expression shows the tension, the responsibility, and, most importantly, the concern he has for the patient under his care. “But I don’t have another choice. We’re a hundred miles from the nearest hospital. At this point my instinct is all I’ve got to go on.”
For a split second, I am caught up in the moment. It’s so easy to actually believe we’re in a surgical tent in a dusty Middle Eastern desert. Then I shake my head and remember that we are, in
fact, on a sound stage at Hogan Chenney Productions in Studio City, Los Angeles. That’s a testament to Billy Fox’s acting talent; even in rehearsals, he gives it his all. If I weren’t holding the script in my hand, ready to prompt him with the next line if he needs it, I’d totally buy that he really is about to save this man’s life.
“Nailed it,” I say, with my best
School of Rock
impression. Billy breaks character to grin back at me. There is, also, a weird backward dance with guitar, but I skip that part since there are other people watching. “As always, you’ve got it word for word.” I am a details person, and nothing makes me happier than an actor who knows his lines perfectly.
Billy’s stellar performance is one of the reasons
The Wrong Doctor
has become a hit show, fan favorite, and Emmy nominee in its very first season. Of course, the rest of the cast and crew and the terrific writing have all contributed to our success. I like to think that I played a key role myself, in my job—which I love—as Script Supervisor for the show. Today is our first day shooting the second season, and the energy and excitement on the set is palpable. The pressure’s on too. We have to deliver the same high standard as last season, which is why we’ve been rehearsing this scene so many times.
The U/5 actor—so named because he gets less than five lines of dialogue—playing the patient lying on the table peeks up at me. “Are you rehearsing the scene again? Can I take five?”
“Of course,” I answer. “We’re going to be relighting for another five to ten minutes. Be sure to let the AD know you’re leaving set, okay?” Given his deer-in-the-headlights look, I add, “Frank. That guy right over there.” I point helpfully. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just need to use the restroom.” His gaze shifts to Billy and is immediately infused with hero worship. “But if you
need me to stay, Mr. Fox… you know… for an eyeline… I don’t have to go right now.”
Billy, who’s been making notes on his script, glances up at the hapless guy. “No, thanks, dude. No problem. I got this.” He smiles casually and goes back to methodically reciting ER phrases. Real doctors have incredibly hard jobs, but actors playing doctors don’t exactly have it easy. All that technical jargon has to be letter-perfect and usually requires a high-paced, tension-filled, commanding delivery.
Billy stars as Dr. Jason Lucas, a hotshot LA plastic surgeon who gets arrested for a DUI and is sentenced to do community service for Operation Smile, an organization that sends doctors to the third world to fix cleft palates. The steamy locations also require Billy to be sweaty and shirtless a lot. Between the action-packed edgy drama and the eye candy, there are lots of reasons our show has become a fan favorite. Billy has kept his shirt on during these rehearsals, much to the disappointment of the interns.
“Okay, Billy. You’re good?” I have to be super careful about the dialogue for this scene because the director wants it all in one take for the “master shot.” Since it establishes everything that happens, it’s the most important angle of the day. We’ll then go in and shoot close-ups, but I think he’d rather use the one camera angle if he can get it, so Billy has to get his lines perfect in one take.
“Femoral artery, arrhythmia, cardiac arrest… yeah, I got it,” Billy says while continuing to study intently.
It’s my job to micromanage these sorts of specifics. There are plenty of actors who cringe when they see me coming. If the actor doesn’t know his lines well, I’m the one who calls him on it. In other words, I sweat the small stuff.
“Just remember, Billy, four hundred cc’s and a hundred miles away.” He nods absently as Bobby, the prop master, steps in to go over the specifics of the fake needles that he’ll be using.
I head back to my director’s chair and get settled in for the next take. I open my large spiral notebook, which is always (always, always) by my side and helps me keep meticulous track of every detail of my work and personal life, in list after list. Some might call it compulsive, but I call it organized. With a few seconds of downtime before we shoot the next scene, I look at my recent lists:
Groceries: Animal crackers, PB Cheerios, granola bars.
I quickly jot down
. A girl can’t live on cereal alone. Below that, there is a list of ideas for presents for my mom’s upcoming birthday: “
? Inspired by an infomercial I watched way too late last night, I start to add
to the list when Frank, the assistant director (best AD in town), cuts into my thoughts. There is so much happening on a set all at once… the lighting guys are setting up a ladder on the floor, the sound mixer is testing various mic packs, a couple of grips behind me are in some sort of hacky-sack play-off while waiting for the all-clear before moving the delicate camera equipment into its new position. I can zone out whenever I need to, despite the chaos. But when I’m on, I’m on.
“Maddy!” I hear my name through the chaos.
“Sorry, Frank.” I immediately dump the list in the side pocket of my chair. “What’s up?” I look up at him. “What’s all over your shirt?” He may be a first-rate AD, but his competence on set is matched only by his ability to spill things on himself… and anyone else in the vicinity.
“Oh shit, must be mustard from my In-N-Out,” Frank says, scratching at the yellow stain.
“When did you sneak away to In-N-Out?”
“Oh, you didn’t hear? Hogan brought an In-N-Out truck to set
today. Burgers for the crew as a ‘back to school’ treat.” He hands me an unwrapped burger. “I got an extra. You want?”
“That’s okay, I’ll try to grab one later—” Before I can even finish my sentence, Frank is unwrapping it. My stomach growls looking at the delicious string of cheese and special spread, which no doubt is two seconds away from landing on his jeans. I do love burgers, and without question there are times I eat them just as a silent form of protest against all the girls here in LA who wouldn’t dare touch one. It’s the same rationale as to why I wear flats almost exclusively—and not even designer ones.
It’s not at all surprising that Hogan Chenny, or as Frank calls him, “the Big Guy,” got us all In-N-Out today. As head of Hogan Chenny Productions (HCP), Hogan is head writer, creator, and executive producer for
The Wrong Doctor
and an all-around prime-time drama icon. Given his success and his reputation for being a hard-ass, a lot of people are intimidated by him. The fact that Hogan stays in his office most of the time contributes to his Oz-like reputation, but he’s also the classy kind of guy who gets In-N-Out for the crew, just because. And although few people are aware of this, I know firsthand that Hogan has a softer side because he has been a family friend since I was a little girl. He was a regular at my family’s ski lodge up in Wolf County, California. When I worked the lifts after school and on weekends, Hogan and I would often chat about movies and TV. He introduced my brothers and me to the old classic ’80s dramas
Hill Street Blues
, and all my favorite old movies that I am constantly quoting.
As a self-professed type-A person, I grew up with a plan: attend University of California–Davis, move home to Wolf, work at my dad’s resort, marry my high school boyfriend Brian, have kids… yada yada yada—but things didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned. Instead, right after graduation, Hogan offered to
help me (just that one time, I might add) get a job as a production assistant, so I could “give TV a shot.” It was the ultimate entry-level position, but I was willing to do the grunt work for every department.
I’ll never forget getting off the plane at LAX wearing my Marmot fleece and Merrell boots. It was like landing in another world. While it was hard to get used to the traffic, the smog, and being a natural dish-water blonde in a sea of highlighted perfection, from the very first day, I loved being a PA on 300
, a drama about the residents of a luxury apartment building. Turns out my passion for organization, eye for detail, and willingness to work fourteen-hour workdays were essential skills when it came to the chaotic beast that is television production. That was ten years and twelve shows ago, and now here I am as script supervisor on
The Wrong Doctor
“So what do you think, Maddy? Are we gonna actually make some TV now?” Frank asks, shaking me out of my trip down memory lane.
“I hope so. I’m pretty sure that’s what we all came here to do,” I deadpan.
Frank and I are a little frustrated that Ernesto Diaz, the director for the season premiere episode, keeps insisting on so many rehearsals before actually shooting anything, which risks putting us behind schedule. And speak of the devil, Ernesto appears out of nowhere. I send up a quick prayer that he didn’t hear our disgruntled exchange.
“We changed the angle of the opening sequence,” he announces, all business. “Cameras need to see it one more time.”
Meaning we’re doing yet another rehearsal. I groan internally, and through the monitor I see from the flinch on Billy’s face that he has the same reaction to the news of yet another rehearsal.
Ernesto suddenly takes off, charging back toward the set. I quickly redo the perpetually messy knot of hair on my head—a nervous habit. I can feel strands of my stick-straight hair slipping free as I grab my script and give chase. One thing about my very un-Hollywood-like athletic frame, I am built perfectly to dodge set pieces and leap over moving cables. It’s no sweat to navigate through the backstage “jungle” and ease into the “surgery” tent set as unobtrusively as possible. I sense Frank appear next to me and know that we’re both having the same thought. This is going to start getting expensive if we don’t start reining Ernesto in. This is our first time working with Ernesto Diaz. Normally the directors who come to
The Wrong Doctor
have done TV before and understand the balance between creativity and finances. Ernesto seems to be getting swept away with the former at the expense of the latter. It’s clear that Frank and I are going to have our hands full keeping him on time and on budget this week.
“All right, let’s get ready to shoot one,” Frank booms to no one in particular. The camera crew takes some final measurements as Bobby puts all the props back in the start positions for the scene. Ernesto is still in deep discussion with Billy. I mosey over to listen in, see if maybe I can subtly help us stay on track.
“I feel this scene is pivotal. This is the moment Lucas realizes he cannot save this man…” Ernesto continues to gush over the plot point. After Billy has made several “I agree” type noises, he glances at me helplessly. I make my move.
“Billy, here’s that line you wanted to see again.” I slip in next to him and hand him my pages, pointing to a line that he has gotten right in every rehearsal. Ernesto watches us for a second.
“Good, good. This will be good.” He pats Billy’s shoulder confidently and marches off.
“Well, Maddy, I just want you to know, we’re all counting on you.” Billy quotes the immortal words from
as he hands
me back the script. He can’t be any more specific than that since the mic under his shirt picks up every sound, but I know exactly what he means.
“I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue,” I murmur darkly. I hear Billy snicker as I return to video village. Sometimes “video village” can be quite the who’s who, especially on a hit show like ours, but if any network execs or producers decide to stop by to watch the action on the monitors today, they’re in for a tight squeeze. There’s barely room for Ernesto, the sound guy, our producer/writer, and me. Those of us with “need-to-know” status are all huddled together in the tiny area carved out for us between huge set pieces, slipping our headsets on to hear the dialogue as Ernesto yells, “Action!”
We do several takes, as I make notes of the action and specifics in each of the wide shots to later match in the close-ups to guide the editors in postproduction. Billy picks up the needle on his second speech; the nurse moves the tray away from the bed before she exits; the U/5 has the blanket pulled up to midchest area. I snap a picture of the screen with my digital camera to make sure I can replicate the exact placement of the blanket.
It’s vital, if tedious, that I keep detailed and specific notes since it ultimately means the difference between the audience losing itself in the story or being distracted because they notice, consciously or subconsciously, inconsistencies in the filming. Not on my watch!
After filming the scene two more times, Ernesto mercifully calls for a ten-minute break and I take the opportunity to wander over to the nearby craft services table. “Crafty,” as we call it, is set up behind the Dr. Lucas’s Prison Tent set. Billy Fox/Dr. Lucas will spend much of this season trapped in this cramped prison after having been kidnapped by Islamic extremists in last
season’s cliffhanger finale. I glance over at his sad little cot as I round the corner. Good thing this is only TV because movie star Billy Fox, with his perfectly mussed hair, wouldn’t last one day in the desert. Taking in the boring offerings at the table, I am debating if I can make it to the In-N-Out truck and back before rehearsals start again when Craig Williams steps next to me.