Teleprompting for Morgan Spurlock
By Michael Gonzalez
I was privileged to spend several days teleprompting for Morgan Spurlock, the producer/host of Showtime’s, “Seven Deadly Sins”. You might remember him from the very popular “Super Size Me” and “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden”. Both were widely acclaimed documentaries.
The new primetime show is to be released in the fall. However, I’ve heard rumors that it might appear sooner, perhaps in early August.
I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of such an innovative series.
The show’s premise is at once daring and wicked. The story’s format is similar to HBO’s, “Tales From the Crypt”. A host introduces each episode with a haunting, freaky tale. As Spurlock himself has said, he’s wanted to do a series without the usual constraints. This one will be dark, depraved, twisted, bound only by the imagination. Each episode will highlight each of the seven deadly sins, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, Pride, Wrath, Greed and Lust. Spurlock promises to shock and leave us speechless!
I worked on four exciting episodes, Envy, Greed, Sloth and Wrath.
This was certainly not your usual day of teleprompting. Normally there is one easy setup. On this shoot there were approximately 8 to 10 setups and turnarounds every day! In a short period of time there were a lot of technical setups, unplugging and restarting, all in all, very demanding.
Having had the pleasure of working with the director before helped immensely. We had an implicit trust. It took some of the pressure off when faced with highly intense situations. We worked 14 hour days under sweltering temperatures.
On the first day our location was in the very chic and intriguing lounge, Goldbar, in Soho. It is totally decadent. Gold skulls are embedded in the walls, gold chains separate the rooms, gold ceilings, gold leaf wallpaper with very ornate designs, crystal chandeliers, etc. Need I say more? This site was perfect for the sin in question. Greed!
In keeping with the self indulgence of all who enter, Morgan was a vision. He was dressed in a tight, black and white suit. He imperiously sat on a throne clearly fit for a king. Two incredibly beautiful women, clad only in dripping gold body paint, kneeled beside him each holding a live snake!
In one of the takes, a huge bundle of cash (Most of it fake, I assume.) was actually burned.
I didn’t expect a fire underneath the camera. The teleprompter was connected to it, of course. I expressed my concern to the 1st AD who then relayed the message to the DP.
The teleprompter was then removed for those few takes. I was honestly very concerned that the attached cloth hood might very well catch on fire. By the way, its function is to prevent light from seeping into the camera connected to the teleprompter.
It was a good thing I said something because if I hadn’t, the small fire that did occur might have gotten really out of control. Remember to look for this particular episode and that particular scene. It promises to be something really special.
The next three days were spent in beautiful Tarrytown, New York. Our set moved upstate, about an hour and 10 minutes from Manhattan. The actual location was in the very ornate and historic, Lyndhurst Mansion. It is more of a castle then a mansion, in my opinion, and although it is absolutely beautiful, it has a mysterious, haunting aura.
The Gothic style gives it a gloomy look while being romantic at the same time.
Lyndhurst has of its own 67 acre park-like landscape. There are sweeping lawns and beautiful gardens. You can imagine the DP on set literally having a field day (No pun intended.) with the endless possibilities. Mostly, though, we shot very carefully around the 19th century architecture and priceless art.
When I consider the money… I am astounded. The location manager told me that the mansion was valued at 90 million dollars!
I almost positioned myself in “video village” with the executive producer and director with a chair from the dining room, not realizing that one of those beautifully designed and very ornate chairs was sold for a ½ million dollars at auction at Sotheby’s just a year ago!
The architect who designed the house was Alexander Jackson Davis, famous for his Gothic revival style. The story goes that in 1864, Davis doubled the size of the mansion for Lyndhurst’s second owner, George Merritt. In 1880 it changed hands again, this time Jay Gould, the railroad baron bought it and lived in it until his death in 1892. It was kept it in the family until 1961. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the current owner and maintains its prestige.
One of my favorite days on set was for the Envy episode. On the second floor of the house is some of the most beautifully detailed furniture that I have ever seen. That is where we shot this very delicately crafted scene and delivered something that sticks out in my head.
Morgan entices us to follow him as he walks down the creaky corridor. As he passes each doorway with the ornate 19th century furniture the viewer can see into the rooms. Our curiosity and horror at what we see inside is palpable. We can’t help but stare at figures with blood stained, bandaged eyes, as if just out of surgery. As we peek into the last room we see a person with eyes completely removed! It is surreal. It is as disturbing as the razor eye slitting scene in Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou.
The make-up and special effects team was truly superb. Their work looked so real, even I was spooked! Morgan delved into some very interesting aspects of Envy. They certainly made me think and stuck with me as well.
I worked very closely with the executive producer who was also the writer for these four episodes.
He defines envy as a sin that makes us incredibly jealous of the most attractive attributes of others. This jealousy is an attempt to hide the greatest inadequacies within ourselves. I find this to be very profound and true, especially in the film business.
I worked on another episode that covers Sloth. At the beginning, the narrator spoke about how something so luxurious in its corruption can have such deadly implications in its finality.
This particular scene took place at the beautiful dining area I mentioned earlier. Morgan was positioned with a giant portion of boar and plenty of wine. As he was spoon-fed the delectable food, two men at opposite sides of the table lay dead. They had indulged in the decadent display of food to the point of death. They were physically inactive, apathetic to their surroundings. In a word, lazy!
Although the far commute everyday to the set wasn’t ideal, and the multiple set-ups weren’t easy, this was truly a teleprompting experience to remember.
The crew was top notch, the grips were helpful with electric, and the AC was very professional and didn’t mind my adjusting the teleprompter between takes for safety.
On the final shooting day, after Morgan Spurlock was officially free from his hosting duties, there was a big applause. I was the first person he approached to thank me very much. The executive producer was also very impressed and complimented my work. He said I was the best Teleprompter Operator he had ever worked with.
I was proud and humbled at the same time. It’s great to be appreciated.
He added that at the very least we would meet for coffee in the next month or so and talk future business.
Sounds like success to me!
Stay tuned for another series of exclusive blogs by Michael Gonzalez, Producer and Teleprompter Operator for The American Movie Company/ TeleprompterRental.com.
Teleprompting for Morgan Spurlock!