Sunday, January 27, 2019


Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing:

I flew to Atlanta/Freeland to attend the Black Lightning season two wrap party. It was sensational, which you already know from reading previous installments of this series. Sunday was a day of rest for the fine folks who work on the show. Now it’s Monday, January 7, and I’m heading to the Black Lightning set in Decatur.

One caveat before I begin in earnest. I did not take notes while on the set. I took few photos. I figured I could either experience my time on the set or record it. Because we never know where life will take us and I can’t know for certain if I will ever again have the opportunity to visit the set, I chose to experience over record. We continue...

Amber was my Lyft driver. She’s an aspiring actress and singer who has done some background work on various things filmed in Atlanta. She has friends who have been extras on Black Lightning. We had a great conversation on the way to the studio. I arrived there a bit after nine in the morning.

We got to the studio gate. The guard asked me what I was there for and I told him “Black Lightning.” He asked what I was doing on the show and I told him I created the character. He smiled. Apparently, people knew I was coming. The guard directed me to a single-story office building on the other end of the small parking lot.

It was the Freeland Gazette building seen in the series. Probably used for exterior shots. Inside, the office struck me as space that could be used for the newspaper or Freeland police station if needed. Which I thought was pretty cool.

Jamon Brown, assistant to show runner Salim Akil and the co-writer of “The Book of Rebellion: Chapter Three: Angelitos Negros,” came the office to greet me. He’d been on the set where he’d been working since eight that morning.

Jamon made my trip to Freeland possible. He recommended hotels. He gave me addresses for the wrap party and the studio. He guided me to and through the set where we’d be filming that day. He directed me to an office to use while I was at the studio. That’s right. I had an office. Not that I spent more than five minutes in it during the two days I was there. The office was nice; the sets were where the cool stuff was happening.

Sidebar. When I use the “we” during this bloggy thing, as in “where we’d be shooting,” it’s usually inaccurate. I had no role in the work of the finale episode. I was a spectator. Yet everyone on the set made me feel so welcome it was if I was part of their team. I cherish that kindness more than I can express.

My first impression of the set was that it was enormous and dark. There were two of these buildings. The one I spent most of my time in on Monday also had a large construction area where the sets and related props were build. The one across from that first building held more sets and the large lunch room.

Jamon set me up with a chair right behind Salim Akil, the director of the finale, and the bank of monitors on which we would watch the scene being filmed. There were two monitors in front of him. Over on his right side, the script supervisor was keeping track of the scenes and the takes. Over to his left was a monitor which showed what was on four different cameras. On the other side of this bank of monitors, there were too more monitors for what seemed to be the lighting of the scenes. I’m probably getting some of this wrong on account of I was fascinated to the point of being dazzled. I never realized how complicated even the simplest take could be.

Sidebar. When Mara Brock Akil came to the set later in the day, she asked me if watching all of this had stripped the magic away from the show for me. I said it only made me realize how much work goes into every part of the show. It will always be magic to me.

Here’s a short version of how scenes were filmed. There would be a very brief rehearsal. Stand-ins would be placed on marks to determine the camera angles and lighting. With the actors (or their stunt doubles) on set, the scenes would be filmed over and over again. Different angles, close-ups, far shots, maybe a slightly different reading of a line, maybe a flub, maybe marking tape on the floor that was visible to the camera. I was amazed at how the actors could do their thing over and over again and maintain the same energy. All the different takes give the editors what they need to create the final version of each scene.

If I was wide-eyed by what the actors were doing, I was in awe of all the different elements which Salim and his crew had to keep track of during the filming. Sometimes a take would be just a couple of lines. Sometimes it would involve more action. Sometimes it would involve stunt work. All of which would then be brought together for our entertainment when the episodes airs.

That Monday, I saw three actors at work. Marvin Jones (Tobias Whale), Kearran Giovanni (Cutter) and a third actor whose name I’m not going to reveal because it would give away a surprise coming in an episode which has not yet aired.

There were three Tobias Whales on the set. Besides Marvin, we had a stunt double and a stand-in. This would also be the case with the other main cast members on Tuesday.

Sidebar. Monday was Kearran’s last day of shooting. Her character had a stunt and she did it herself. Very impressive.

During breaks, I got to hang out with Marvin quite a bit. As I’ve told him before, I like his Tobias Whale better than any of those I’ve written in the comics. His Tobias is arguable the most scary villain on TV, but Marvel is the nicest guy in the world.

Sidebar. Tobias Whale is not an albino in my Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands series. I made the change because it seemed to me that just about every albino in comic books was a villain. When I heard Marvin was dismayed by this change, I promised him I would create an albino super-hero. Had DC allowed me to continue writing Black Lightning, that character would have been introduced as one of several young heroes being trained by Amberjack and Jefferson.

With DC showing no interest in my writing Black Lightning comics in the future, I decided to retool this supporting character into a headliner. On the set, after Marvin told he hoped he would get the chance to play this character, my new hero’s age went from around 17 to approximately Marvin’s age. This demands further retooling of my original concept and it’s one of the things I’m working on right now. I don’t yet know how I’ll bring this new character to readers, but I’ll deal with that when I’m ready. End of sidebar.

Oz Scott, a co-executive producer and director for Black Lightning, took me on a tour of the various sets. I’m going to be a little bit limited in what I can tell you about because I don’t want to give away of the surprises awaiting you in the remaining episodes of the second season.

Gambi’s Tailor Shop was one of the first sets we visited. It has a secret door and stairs leading to the sanctum. This is where Gambi and the team do their intelligence-gathering and store the suits. On the back lot, there’s an outside storefront for Gambi’s tailor shop. Though the back lot sets look very real, they are basically props and have to be covered and protected during inclement weather and between seasons.
The Club 100 set was where some of the crew, stand-ins and others would hang out. Almost every time I walked into the set, somebody was resting in one of the booths. The nightclub in Luke Cage is a show palace. Club 100 has that lived-in look.

Across the way, I saw the Pierce family house, which is gorgeous. I also saw the house Jefferson inherited from his dad. Other sets: the entrance to Garfield High, complete with metal detectors; some Garfield classrooms/halls/offices; the laboratory where Lynn cares for the suspended animation metahumans; the meeting room where Lynn had so many tense discussions with Agent Odell; some secret tunnels I can’t talk about; Khalil’s bedroom and Grace’s bedroom. The art in Grace’s bedroom is lovely and helps define her character.

With filming for the second season concluded, all of the sets will be put into storage of one kind or another. Some will be moved to other areas of the enormous buildings. Some will be covered to keep them safe for next season. Props will be removed from the sets and also put into storage. Honestly, it was difficult for me to think about this too much. I can’t imagine a sadder job then closing up the sets for such a wonderful show and turning out the lights as you leave. But, then again, I get a little weepy whenever I watch  the Babylon 5 station get decommissioned and destroyed on that fine series. I’m an emotional kind of guy.

Throughout the day’s shooting, crafts services did an amazing job of providing lots of drinks, healthy foods and some not precisely healthy pastries for us. It took great will power for me to resist drinking and eating too much on the set.

Lunch was in the building opposite the one where we were shooting. The caterers put out a great spread. I ate with Christine Adams, who wasn’t filming that day but was on set to check on her shooting schedule and hang out a bit. Digital Imaging Technician and comics fan Justin Paul Warren also sat with us. I’d heard about the family and friends vibe on the series and can confirm that it’s there and it’s beautiful.

Sidebar. I had something interesting planned for Lynn Stewart had DC Comics allowed me to write an ongoing Black Lightning series. I told Christine about it at the Washington D.C. premiere of the show last January. She liked it a lot. Well, fortunately, I never even hinted at those plans in the actual comic books - though they were part of my numerous pitches for an ongoing series - so I’m free to develop them in other ways. Keep watching.

Justin is one of us. I loved talking with him on the set and hope to spend more time with him in the future. While most of the folks working on the show are not comic-book fans per se, a great many of them are. I signed a few dozen comics and books during my two days on the set.

After lunch, it was back to the scenes being filmed with Tobias and Cutter. I got to chat with Kearran a bit between takes. She loves being part of the series and was excited about her upcoming stunt. I chatted with countless other crew members as well. Okay, I guess I could have counted them, but I was in awe from the moment I came on to the sets to the moment I left on Tuesday. It was a blessing to be there and a greater blessing to have so many members of the cast and crew thank me for creating Black Lightning and, because of that, creating their jobs. I thanked them as well...for making my long held dream of a Black Lightning TV series come to reality in such a spectacular fashion.

The Black Lightning team worked a very long day. For many of them, the day started at 8 am and didn’t end until 10:30 pm. I didn’t do any of the work and I was exhausted.

Jamon arranged for studio transportation to drive me to my midtown Atlanta hotel. I had a late-night phone conversation with Saintly Wife Barb and then hit the sack. I’d been warned Tuesday was going to be an even longer day on the set.

I’ll be back soon with the next part of this report.

© 2019 Tony Isabella


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