On Set with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

A month ago I was at my buddy Joe’s annual Multiple Sclerosis fundraiser when I saw a silent auction for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (my favorite show).  The package came with an autographed poster, autographed 2013 calendar, DVDs, autographed Sweet Dee bobble-head, kitten mittens T-Shirt, autographed group photo and, more importantly, 2 walk-on roles. After some intense bidding to the very end I was victorious:

Its Always Sunny Package

(Click on the image for the full view.)

A few weeks later and we had our shooting date. Call time was 7am on location in North Hollywood at The Federal Bar. At 7am the bar was only a 20 minute hop from the girls place (practically next door when you’re in Los Angeles) so we grabbed some food on the way just to be safe. I’d heard stories from friends about shows running out of or having crappy food for the extras and we didn’t want to take the chance. We arrived on set, checked in with the rest of the extras only we weren’t on the list as extras, we were contest winners. (On occasion they’ll have radio show contests and people will come from all around to visit the show.)

Check in sent us to wardrobe where I was given a darker collard shirt and the girl was given a jean jacket to wear with her dress. Naturally she refused to wear it because, well, who wears jean jackets these days? We headed back over to get some food from craft services and waited until we were told what next to do. Ten minutes later one of the crew members came over, gave us some details on the scene and why we were at a bar and told the extras to head to the holding area. As they headed towards the holding area the girl and I were lead onto the set to watch the action.

Sudz bar lighting setup

(The crew is setting up the bar lighting. Originally we sat where the ladder stands.)

It took some time for the crew to set things up, something about adjustments or last minute changes. From our point of view it seemed like a lot of variables to deal with for maybe 5 minutes or less of total air time. We sat at one of the tables while the crew set up lights, the director ran around looking for shots and many others things unbeknownst to us occurred.

Now either the crew was used to having visitors on the set and/or they were just very nice because everyone kept coming up to us, introducing themselves and asking where we were from. (Apparently some contest winners came from more than 20 minutes away!) I wish I could remember their names to give them proper thanks. I do remember we met some very nice lighting technicians, the associate director to the producers (I think that’s his title), the director, a really nice cameraman and others who, like I said, I wish I could remember their names.

At some point after sitting down, during the random meet and greets, we were given some background on the scenes being shot (2 scenes) and given a copy of the script. Naturally I read through it to see what was going on. One of the crew members walked us through the other parts of script including the actors who’d be on set, what scenes were being shot, etc. Turns out for this scene it would be The Gang minus Charlie but including Frank. At some point a few people came out to stand in place of the actors for the lighting adjustments. Then a while later, maybe 30 minutes, The Gang came to the set and did their line walk thorough. Charlie wasn’t in the episode but he was still there watching them as they went through their lines. After they were done with the walk through The Gang came over to our table and introduced themselves. Very cool!

I wasn’t paying close attention to the time but my guess is it wasn’t until around 9:30 or so until the girl and I got placement at the bar for a scene (mind you we had been on set since 8am or so). One of the benefits of the walk on role was “prominent” placement on camera (in terms of extras), so the girl and I ended up at the end of the bar next to the beer tap and kiddy corner to where The Gang was sitting. How prominent will we be when the show airs? Who knows, hopefully it will look like we are bar patrons and neither of us is just staring at Mac. The entire time I was drinking quality no-name beer and the girl had some fruity drink:

Bar Drinks

(Our drinks from Sudz bar. Sorry the photo is a little blurry)

Around 10:30 The Gang came back to set and we started filming the first scene of the day: The Gang has arrived at the bar and are talking about what they see. For some reason Frank has brought a goodie bag with him. The next several takes / scene involves The Gang sitting down at the bar. Done; time for a break. It took that long and we’ve barely shot anything. The main actors take off and the girl and I wonder over to get some food. It’s interesting because there’s so much activity taking place on the set and so little of it requires the main actors.

Just past the bar where the scene is taking place was another bar where the crew had set up craft services tables, chairs for people to sit in, and a video feed for the directors and producers to see the shots they’d filmed. During one of our breaks one of the crew suggested we get this shot:

Cast Chairs

(Click on the image for the full view.)

At break time there was food and a chance to sit back and relax and do whatever until the next shot(s) were ready. During one of the breaks we walked outside and joked a bit with the other extras about how much smiling we had to do (as soon as they start filming we have to talk to each other without speaking and always smile). It was like being at the dentist for a long time, eventually your face starts to hurt. A little chit chat to break up the monotony and then back for the next shots.

When it came time for the main shots the girl and I pretended to be talking with another bar patron while The Gang sat across from us, delivering their lines. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what they were saying because I was trying to “act” like I was having a good conversation which is hard when you are mouthing words but not saying anything. The show shoots 2-3 different angles with 3 different cameras which means repeating the same scene over and over again. During one of those angle changes the girl and I had to move.

Directors Chair

(We were sitting right where the camera guy is now standing. To the right is the feed for the 3 cameras.)

Since I’d read the script I knew what The Gang was saying but it wasn’t until we sat next to the director that we were really able to see the scene come together. After the move we ended up sitting behind the director and Charlie Day, who wasn’t filming but was occupied with making the scene as funny as possible. On occasion he’d stop the actors and give them funny lines or tell them to keep going with a particular line or word they had. Day is a writer and producer of the show and he didn’t seem satisfied unless he laughed at the lines himself. Although the episode is scripted the actors do a fair amount of ad lib; in fact the funniest stuff is off the top if their head, building off each other’s conversations and building off of the script. They do so many takes of the same scene its during those later ones that things start to get really funny / over the top.

Lunch came around 12:30 and we all headed out of the bar towards craft services where we sat in the morning. As we ate the yummy food, we sat and talked with a few other extras about the jobs they’ve had (one girl was on set for 2 days in Miami for the filming of Iron Man 3). Then we described how we got on set – fundraiser winner! We returned to set after lunch at 1:30 but the crew was still setting up so we were escorted back out for photos with the cast. Apparently Charlie had left the set but we were psyched to get photos with the rest of The Gang. As we were walking back towards the cast’s trailers I noticed a Tesla Roadster. As I was drooling over the Tesla Roadster Rob and Kaitlin (Mac and Dee) walked up and jokingly said don’t scratch the car or the owner will get pissed (he was the owner). Rob and I started talking about his Tesla (I love ’em), how sad it was they stopped making the Roadster, if he was going to get a Model S which is when he pointed to Glenn’s (Dennis) Model S right behind it. Sweet.

Then we posed for pictures. Danny DeVito had come wondering up as we were talking with Kaitlin and Rob so we got a photo with them:

Danny Rob Kaitlin and Us

(Click on the image for the full view.)

After the first photo the girl and I joked to Rob about how she always does the stereotypical “Asian peace sign” pose. He laughed and mentioned a time some asian fans came up to him and wanted to take a picture in his car. They did the exact same pose. Danny took off and Glenn came up so we got another photo. This time everyone did the “Asian peace sign” pose:

Gang giving the peace sign(The Gang doing the girls “Asian peace sign”. Click for full view.)

After the photos we headed back into the bar for some final shoots with the extras. By 2:30pm we were tired and said goodbye. It was a great day on the set of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

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