I first met the master writer, Ray Bradbury, who died on June 6, 2012 at age 91, at a beauty salon on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx, circa 1960. I was stuck there, as usual, while my mother had her weekly hair appointment, suffocating in the superheated atmosphere of helmet dryers and yakking yentas. A precocious reader, I’d been into my dad’s paperback sci-fi collection since I was eight, but had in my hands a full-on, cellophane-protected library copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes which gave off that intoxicating smell that seemed to rise from the pages, of new-mowed grass and promise. I was deeply into the unfolding of evil on the plains of America when I was brusquely reminded by the screeching voice of one of the beauty shop regulars, “DON’T LEAVE YOUR PURSE OPEN!”
No wonder I identified with lone explorers on distant planets. Like millions of other readers and writers, my imagination thrived in Bradbury’s vivid evocation of surreal but strangely familiar landscapes, and the existential ironies that put his protagonists there — usually isolated, often victims of technology run amok — anxious about the human condition and how it had become so puzzling. The situations he created were simply astonishing and resonated with my childhood fears, but there were two elements of Bradbury’s work that spoke more deeply and have shaped my working life: the writer’s identity, and the possibilities of prose. He often placed himself as an observer in the stories, and mused on the relationship of a writer and his characters. The author looking at his fractured self in a hall of mirrors was an image that has stayed with me. It said: a real person wrote this. A person who struggles and often feels at a loss. A person like you. And his lyrical prose was like no other. Bold, rhythmic, unafraid to make far-out associations, he painted in original colors, and his sense of structure was pitch-perfect. Drama and suspense were effortless; the message accessible and understated. I absorbed it all through my skin.
My dad passed away six months ago, almost to the day. He had always encouraged me to write. And now another differently beloved father is gone. But I’ll always have this: It was the very first year of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. By then I had published short stories, written and produced teleplays, and now a first novel. If you’d asked who had been the greatest professional influence on this checkered career, I would have said without hesitation, “Ray Bradbury” — and there he was — whizzing by on a golf cart, his signature mane of hair flying, his tie blowing over his shoulder, looking like he always looked — like the happiest guy on earth. I ran after him.
I tracked him and a sizable entourage to the basement of some obscure building on the UCLA campus where he would give a talk, and said, “Mr. Bradbury!” He stopped, and then everybody stopped. It seemed like hundreds, but it was at least dozens — publicists, reporters, Festival personnel and fans — staring at this young upstart who had inadvertently stopped the show. “Mr. Bradbury,” I blurted, “I’m an author” — and showed him the tags to prove it –”And just published my first book, and I wanted to tell you that you were the greatest influence in my life and — to thank you.” There was a moment of uncertainty, and then, in the morning light pouring down the staircase, Ray Bradbury crossed the basement and came up close. He looked into my eyes, smiled faintly, said nothing, and laid a hand on my cheek. The crowd inhaled. Silently, he gave his blessing.
Then he moved on.
Thanks to each and every one of you for supporting Ana Grey — meaning, the cast and crew of Good Morning, Killer, and of course the books. I appreciate your patience with all the notifications — only meant to keep you informed, as we move forward in developing this character. Thanks to you spreading the word, the GMK Facebook page has reached 623 people and 1.371 million saw the film. Not bad for a one-time TV movie — and hopefully only the beginning.
I’m so happy my readers love Catherine Bell as much as I do. I’ve always said she embodies Ana Grey, and fans clearly agree. How can you help us get more Ana movies made, and maybe even a series? “Like” GMK if you haven’t already, tweet @tntweknowdrama — tell them you want more.
Love and all best for the holidays, April
And here’s what folks like you have been posting:
“So excited! GoodMorning, Killer just started! WhooHoo!”
“Already good start 2 this.”
“First feelings = story: awesome. cinematography: awesome, cast:awesome, directing:awesome. GMK: awesome”
“My fav. scenes of the night were with Ana & the victim, Ana & rapist (both powerful) & Ana & Poppy (Fun!!) )”
“Damn intense until the last minute. Great job Catherine and @AprilSmithBooks. Nice ending!”
“Would love to see GMK made into a series to delve into Ana’s background/history…where she came from … “
“Ratings for GMK may be published in a few hours, I can’t wait to know fingers crossed for a huge success.”
“I enjoyed the movie last night. Congratulations! Which book is next?”
“Audrey Hepburn with a little Angelina Jolie Kick Ass Awesomeness!!!”
“great job! ♥ cast & crew Good Morning,Killer. I hope a future series. I love it “
“You Rock!!!!!!!!! The movie was fantastic and kept me on the edge of my seat.”
“Good Morning killer is great. i saved reading the book and loved the surprises. well done april, Catherine and all. Cant wait for next Ana Gray movie.”
“CATHERINE IS WONDERFUYL”
“I watched two times!”
“Bravo! It was wonderful.”
“I am having a blast watching Ana and GMK… Bravo! Great strong female hero. Terrific story.”
“This is by far the best of the TNT Movie Mystery Series. Nice Job TNT!!”
“Twas incredible viewing last night! Congrats and may they all be made into movies!”
“Please go for a series of Good Morning,Killer ♥”
“Enjoyed the movie. Catherine Bell and Mike Donnato were excellent.”
Take the first look at Good Morning, Killer TNT Mystery Movie Night. <— Click Here
Nobody talks about the crash. It comes on hard and fast the minute you touch down at LAX. What a welcome. Toxic levels of carbon monixide, drivers snarling and fighting, earsplitting noise. Stroll off the plane in Vancouver, and you’re greeted by a two-story waterfall.
Your pets are ecstatic to see you, at least. And sleeping in a big bed with your husband is wonderful. But you don’t feel right. It’s not like jetlag, where time is fractured, but disconnection at the core, as if you don’t belong in your own home and never did. For two months you lived with a hundred other people all focused on the same goal: defeating obstacles to get the story on film. Now where’s the battle? Where did your comrades go? You’re alone with that same barking dog next door, like a nightmare out of Edgar Allan Poe, specifically meant to drive you mad. Irritability is high. You’re not interested in food. Actually, you’re not interested in very much.
When more than one person in the industry asks, “Are you recovering?” you begin to realize the post-shoot crash is part of the territory. It’s not only the grueling physical demands of fourteen hour days in hundred degree heat and freezing rain, but the emotional stress of problems by the hour — and the incredible satisfaction of solving them on the run. What you really miss is the manic high of the bipolar creative process.
“Now you know why we get obsessed,” wrote a writer/actor friend, “And life between shoots is just limbo and starts again the next time you see your name on a call sheet, because making movies is all that ever matters. Tough on families and friends but everyone in the industry understands. It’s the intensity of the relationship and the shared purpose of the objective that only your colleagues in the trenches can begin to attach the same value to.”
Three weeks post crash, you feel back in your body and ready for the next, most exciting phase of all: seeing the movie cut together for the first time. Then comes music, effects, and . . . the audience.
I was reading Good Morning Killer while waiting for the bus this morning. When it pulled up, I got on without looking up. Still on the bus 45 minutes later, it’s pouring rain and hail and no one can figure out how close I am to the roof hatch that I’m sitting under. Which is of course when I finally stopped reading and noticed that not only am I getting pelted, but I’m on the wrong bus, in the wrong part of town, and I’m late for work. But I’m laughing maniacally because it means that I get to read more while I dry off and wait for another bus to take me back.
That, my friend, is the definition of a good read.
- Staci Woodburn, San Francisco
The last week of shooting was a push. We had three intensely emotional days inside the “Meyer-Murphy” residence — the victim’s parents realize she’s gone and the FBI moves in to negotiate with the kidnapper. Right on cue it was getting dark earlier and we were always in danger of losing the light on exterior shots. We were inside a mansion in the old-money Vancouver neighborhood of Shaughnessy where the rules are tight on how late you can film. The pressure was on. It was a huge house but space was cramped for hair and makeup, actors’ chairs, and video playback. Also it was raining and cold. As I paced the set-ups, wishing we could go faster, I peered out the window to see a crowd gathered on the street. I made them for neighborhood lookie-loos, until I realized they were our own extras, being placed for the big sequence when folks come to lay flowers as a shrine for the victim. At least they looked real!
Although we had to keep moving to finish our days, the tension was mixed with a new mood of nostalgia. One by one the actors were finishing their stints and leaving. “Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. McDonald is wrapped for the show!” the first assistant director would call, and everyone gathered for hugs. Good-byes had to be quick because we had to go to the next shot, and most likely the actor had to catch a plane, but every time it was a loss — a light going out. People were giving little gifts — I gave away FBI coins and signed copies of my books. I was touched to find a bouquet of flowers in my trailer from an admirer.
My buddy, the formidably talented line producer, Lisa Towers, and I were already mourning our last days “on the porch” of our video tent where we’d dissect budgets, rumors and menus. With her help, I found lovely pastries from uber-grocery store Meinhardt on South Granville, to thank the crew — the only bright spot in a day where we had to cut a scene and everyone in the cast had gone except Catherine Bell. The last day was better because the sun was shining and William Devane had arrived to play Catherine’s grandfather, Poppy. We were set up in a low-key neighborhood where every passing woman over 50 cooed at Bill, “I saw you in Falcon Crest!” and crew members posed with him “For my aunt.” He was delightful. The crew had already started packing equipment so when the final announcement came at 9 PM, “Ladies and Gentlemen — Miss Catherine Bell is wrapped for the show!” they were mostly done. I was astonished that thirty minutes later there was barely a trace of us at all. The big trucks waited in the shadows, but the cameras were gone, the street deserted. The circus was leaving town.
Immediately following, about twenty-five of us from all the departments — camera, hair and makeup, props, producers, director and Catherine — gathered in a local micro-brewery and toasted to friendship forever. It was nice that people came who said, “I never come to these things.” We all agreed it was a fitting end to a great shoot. We’d done it. The film was in the can; we got it all. But it was not the end. The hardest part was yet to come; which I would discover when I got home.
On the tenth day of shooting, the gray clouds that had been sitting low over the weekend finally broke. “Welcome to Vancouver,” everyone said. Until then the weather had been unseasonably warm, blessing us with bright sun that made our mini-mall scenes look like summer in Los Angeles. On the very day we moved into the huge industrial space forty minutes out of town, where we had built three sets — it rained like crazy. We took it as a good sign that someone was looking out for us.
The week started hot and heavy with the big love scene between Catherine Bell (FBI Agent Ana Grey) and Cole Hauser (SMPD Detective Andrew Berringer). Their characters have been corrupted by the toxic effects of chasing a serial sexual predator, and they make love with savage, almost sadistic intensity. It was a closed set, but from what I saw on the monitors, these two together are not like anything you’ve seen on TV.
Shooting in the “war room” and “bull pen” really brought the actors together as the Special Response Team. They enjoyed each other, and it showed — the nuances and rivalries came easily (as did championship games of “Hangman” between takes). For me the workplace banter and intimacy are the heart of the show, and I was more excited about the way they confronted each other over principles, or shared secrets in the break room, than all the SWAT action in the world.
But the most heavy-duty stuff took place on the last two days, in Ray Brennan’s house — the “killer” of the piece — masterfully and courageously played by James Jordan — who takes women to his lair to photograph their gruesome final moments. Even though we’d approved those photos, taken by stills photographer Cate Cameron using actresses, a whole wall of them made a shocking impact. It was draining and upsetting to film in that set. “It all came from your mind,” someone told me. I protested. It was the mind of a psychopath! Wasn’t it?
We were well into overtime and the Chinese buffet was cooling fast, but we still couldn’t get to the denoument until 2 AM — then it was a blast. Literally. The building was cleared so that special effects could blow the door open and set off blinding flash-bangs, as FBI SWAT and Ana Grey captured the bad guy and saved the day. I got to bed around three — not nearly enough time to recharge for the final wrap.
What are the most hours you’ve ever worked without a break?
Today is production day 9. Nine more days of shooting. The universe keeps throwing obstacles and we keep dancing around them. Another member of our team was taken to the hospital — with a burst appendix. We’re all grateful that he’ll pull through.
On Wednesday the weather changed, from hot LA sunshine to overcast skies. It was perfect for the day of our big SWAT takedown, all exterior work, lots of extras, vehicles, and action. We went twelve hours until we lost the light — and no, you can’t artificially create daylight. The very next day it poured. But the scheduling gods were kind, and it was the first day of our move to the set we had built for the FBI offices. Indoors! Cozy! No worries about daylight! The Vancouverites amongst us say this is the end of summer. Just like that. Today we have heavy clouds and lower temperatures — minus seven degrees in Ottawa. Hello, winter.
I almost cried when I saw the set for the FBI war room for the first time. Production designer Steve Geaghan, Art Director Suki Parker and Set Decorator Alexandra Ryoek are world class talents, who created an authentic space for our actors to live and breathe. Lit by the dazzling Jon Joffin and photographed by Marty McInally, it’s beyond my wildest dreams. [align="alignleft" width="300" ][/caption]
Now that we’re “home” at the FBI office, shooting is going quickly and the characters are settled in. It’s a joy to see Ana in her rightful place: running the case.