"My Guest Appearance"

A visit to the set of NBC's hit TV show 

[Scrubs]
(Tenative episode air date: Thursday, April 22nd)

 

"I'm not a doctor ... but I played one on TV"

On Monday, February 9, 2004, I began my one-day career as a television star with a special guest appearance on the hit NBC television series "Scrubs". During the twenty minute drive from my hotel to the studio on Riverside Drive, I memorized all my lines and mentally prepared for a full day on the set. The producer had called me over the weekend and told me I had an eight o'clock call, so I was ready for a full fourteen hour day. In the foyer of Sacred Heart (

Arriving a few minutes early, I drove into the parking lot, chatted briefly with the guard, and glided into my reserved parking space. My publicist and her daughter had come with me and they went off to find my trailer while I entered the east side entrance and headed down the hall. I nodded to the assistant director, took my place on the set, said hello to Zach, Sarah and John C. and looked around for the hair stylist ...as usual, this was a bad hair day and I needed someone to work their magic before we shot the morning's first scene. Just a few minutes later ...

What? Something doesn't seem right to you?   Shoot.    I'll bet "one-day career" gave it away, didn't it?   [a heavy sigh is heard in voice over]    So much for the opening fantasy scene ...

My "special guest appearance" was actually a walk-on role, which had been graciously donated by the Scrubs production company and auctioned off in the fall of 2003 to benefit the  Minorities in Broadcast Training Program.

My "publicist" was my loving wife and our daughter was the intended recipient of the role. However, for a long list of reasons that only lawyers could love, you must be at least eighteen to appear on any television show as a non-union walk-on. In most cases, you can't even attend a sitcom taping unless you are eighteen. Or go to comedy club. Since the Scrubs producers kindly allowed her to join me on the set, I may still have to clear a spot for that "Dad of the Year" trophy. 

It was easy to memorize my lines, because I didn't have, and didn't expect, any -- a "walk-on" role is loosely defined, but is essentially an "extra" which is rarely, if ever, a speaking role. Winning a walk-on role in a contest or a charity auction isn't going to jump-start an acting career, but if you are as lucky we were, you'll have the opportunity to meet some terrific, hardworking people, learn a little about television or film production and have a lot of fun. (By the way, I did have a reserved parking spot waiting for me, though my name had been spelled "V I S I T O R").

 

Admissions

In December, shortly after I had won the role, a production intern called to review the details and schedule my visit. I needed to be available for two consecutive days and she suggested that the weeks of January 12th or February 9th would be best. February worked better, though the January date might have been interesting - I think Michael J. Fox was shooting his episodes that week, though at the time I didn't even know he was going to appear on the show.

I made the travel arrangements and finalized our vacation plans for what would be a whirlwind week. Although the 'Scrubs' walk-on role and set visit was the reason for our vacation, we made the most of our week and made plans to tour the Los Angeles area by helicopter, see a traditional sitcom being filmed ('Still Standing'), walk around Hollywood, visit Paramount Studios and the sets of 'Star Trek: Enterprise', swim with the dolphins at "Sea World", and window shop on Rodeo Drive In Beverly Hills. And, though all of those things were very cool, the details are best left for another web page.

Two days before our flight out to L.A., associate producer Danny Rose called to confirm the arrangements. He indicated that although the script wasn't yet finished, the scenes scheduled for shooting Monday were all interior and great for walk-on possibilities. We traded cell phone numbers in case there were any last minute changes, but it was now official - the admissions work for our once in a lifetime visit to Sacred Heart Hospital was complete.

 

Arriving at Sacred Heart Hospital

Unlike most television shows, Scrubs isn't filmed on a studio soundstage. Instead, the production company, Touchtone Television, leases the former North Hollywood Medical Center in Century City, now transformed into the fictional Sacred Heart Hospital, to use as the Scrubs studio. Using a former hospital provides realism to the show that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve on a typical Hollywood soundstage. The four-story building and an adjacent one also house production offices, facilities and other non-hospital sets used for the show. The studio

During filming for the first season, there were occasions where people drove in, thinking it was still a working medical facility. That seems less likely to happen today. Closed to the public since 1998, any signs on the unassuming building which may have indicated it was a hospital have long since been covered up or removed. Most viewers wouldn't recognize the building from the street - the stock exterior shots for "Scrubs" were filmed outside another hospital elsewhere in Los Angeles. It's easy to miss if you're not looking for it, though I'm sure some are confused whenever the Sacred Heart ambulance is parked out on the street, as it was when we first arrived. At the east entrance

We pulled in to the security gate at about 7:45 am, checked in with the guard and parked in the aforementioned visitor's space. The parking lot is long and narrow, and wasn't nearly as large as I expected. On the south section of the lot a series of trailers were parked next to a number of tents that served as an outdoor dining area. We said hello to a couple of police officers near the canteen truck and continued fifty yards or so to the emergency entrance. When we saw the Sacred Heart signs for the first time, we paused to appreciate where we were.

Once inside, we proceeded down the hall and a guard directed us to a back elevator, which took us to the third floor production offices. Danny had told me who to look for, but not where to find them. A very friendly assistant directed us back down to the first floor and in past an area dressed as Sacred Heart Information Services. There was a large open area with a few sofas and chairs with clothes racks all around. A few dozen extras in various hospital garb were sitting, chatting, reading or watching a small TV. I was introduced to Oorala Yamada, the production assistant in charge of the background actors and my contact for the day. We went into her office to go review details of the walk-on role. She asked me if I wanted to be a doctor. I'm not sure what the other options were, but doctor was my first choice anyway. I didn't have my reading glasses, so I'm not exactly sure what the fine print said, but I signed the release and became a doctor at Sacred Heart hospital, at least for the day.

 

Becoming "Dr. Greg Bilson, Jr., M.D."

All set as Dr. Greg Bilson, Jr. M.D. We went down the hall to the extra's wardrobe department, a small room with a surprising variety of outfits and costumes. An assistant fitted me with an official Sacred Heart lab coat and found a tie that complemented my shirt.

On the far side of the open area there was a door with a large "This is a prop yourself show" sign on poster board which provided instructions on what was required for each extra, depending on type of role. id badge

As a doctor, I needed a red-striped ID badge and a black stethoscope. My wife and daughter helped look though a box of badges, looking for one that was a close match. They decided that the badge for "Dr. Greg Bilson, Jr, M.D." was the best bet. I found out later it didn't matter - except for the principals, you don't see the pictures on screen anyway. Most extras had badges depicting a different race, age, hair color or even gender.

We looked at a variety of "Sacred Heart" forms and paperwork on the prop cart clipboards - a small example of the detail we would see throughout the day that most viewers will never notice.

 

It takes a village to film a show

Oorala introduced us to 1st assistant director Franklyn Gottbetter, 2nd assistant director Scott Harris and 2nd 2nd assistant director Lyda Blank, who were setting up a shot with the second team on the admissions set. I'd left my Hollywood job title decoder ring at home, so I never quite figured out their specific responsibilities, but they were constantly busy.

Oorala indicated there were some director's chairs set up for us in Video Village, which was then located in the hallway outside the side pharmacy window.
Video Village is the mobile nerve center of the production, with video monitors set up to provide the camera eye view and headsets to listen to the dialogue as picked up by boom operator Kevin Santy.

In the front row were silk-screened director's chairs for episode director Richard Wells and script supervisor Denise Karey, then those for Executive Producer Bill Lawrence and Director of Photography John Inwood, and then ours. Our chairs weren't personalized, but they were surprisingly comfortable and provided a great vantage point to watch the production.

We spent much of the morning talking with Richard, John and members of the writing staff in Video Village. I would have loved to talk with series creator Bill Lawrence, but he was not on set that day.

Video Village
The view from Video Village
Director Richard Wells
Director Richard Wells shows off his new megaphone,
courtesy of the prop department
Video Village - relocated to the gift shop
Probably the only time all day that script supervisor
Denise Karey wasn't in her chair

 

It's "My Fault"

It was the first of five shooting days for production #320, the Scrubs episode entitled "My Fault". I presumed "320" represented the 20th episode filmed for season three and found the title fitting. "My Fault" is a phrase that my wife permanently associates with me, so it should be easy to remember my episode.

We were delighted to see that the talented Richard Kind was the featured guest star, reprising his role as the hypochondriac Mr. Corman introduced in Season 2, Episode 12, "My New Old Friend". In this episode, we learn his first name is ... for me to know and you to find out, at least for now. Richard Kind and me

Richard is probably best known to television viewers as Paul Lassiter, the clueless public relations director on 'Spin City'. His character was prominent in the three scenes set in admissions filmed before lunch. He had the best flub of the day, which caused most everyone on the set to crack up.

The other primary guest stars for this episode are Tara Reid ("Danni"), Scott Foley ("Sean"), and Bellamy Young ("Dr. Miller"), though Scott and Bellamy were not on call for Monday.

"John C." also had a few good gaffs during one of his now infamous Dr. Cox monologues and repeatedly had trouble with the seemingly simple word "scan" which often became "scam". He struck us as the most "formal" of the cast - often in character and intensely focused, many times pacing just before takes, always working to improve the next shot.

Since most fans don't like spoilers and the production company knows where we live, I'm not going to reveal more about the miscues noted above or give away specific plot details here until after the episode airs, but major story threads involve Dr. Kelso's plans for full body scans, Carla and Turk's wedding arrangements, and J.D. and Elliot discussing pizza and TV. That last one may be a bit cryptic, but if I told you everything now, you wouldn't tune in to see me on the show, the ratings would drop through the floor and NBC would cancel the show. And, as my wife would surely point out, the end of one of the best comedies on television after only three seasons would then be "my fault", so (insert Dana Carvey doing George Bush, Sr. here) - "not gonna do it".

 

My First Appearance

keyboard work It didn't take long for me to be placed in my first scene. One of the assistant directors called for some background action for the scene being filmed in admissions. Lyda came over and said that they could use me right now - they needed a doctor in the pharmacy typing into the computer. I'd only been on the set for about ten minutes and already I was part of the action (assuming you consider typing on a disconnected computer keyboard in the back of the pharmacy "action").

For five takes, I typed on the keyboard, occasionally looking up at my imaginary computer screen to make sure I was getting my orders in correctly. It didn't dawn on me until a few takes later that I shouldn't have actually been pressing the keys, but I don't think the boom mike was close enough to pick up the sound.

I never saw how the shot was framed and apparently my wife and daughter didn't either - they were watching me intently though the side glass pharmacy window from their vantage point in Video Village. I don't know if you'll even see me in the final shot, but I'd successfully completed my first appearance.

 

Appearances can be deceiving

Scrubs is filmed as a single-camera show, which is the method used by most television dramas. Using a single camera requires that every shot or point of view in a scene be set up, blocked, lit and filmed individually - there aren't multiple cameras to record a scene simultaneously from different angles. Each shot in single-camera show usually has multiple "takes" for a variety of reasons - an actor may have missed a cue or line, the director wants to try a slightly different angle or revise the blocking , there may be a problem with lighting or sound. In addition, the scenes for a given episode are shot out of order -- all the scenes using a particular set are filmed, then all the scenes on the next set, and so on.

In contrast, sitcoms filmed before a studio audience feel more like a play. The shows are generally shot in sequence using three or four cameras capturing the shots and angles the director may want, though many scenes will usually require multiple takes.

The first three scenes filmed that morning were 34, 14, and 22, which were all set in admissions / hospital lobby. In fact, Scene 34, the first scene filmed, takes place at night, late in the story line. Since I don't know if I was typing in scene 34 or 14, I'll have to watch to see if I was working late that day.

On average, it takes five twelve to sixteen hour days to film an episode of 'Scrubs', which many may find surprising, given that a completed episode has only twenty-two minutes of broadcast footage (excluding supersized episodes) or so. The work certainly isn't as glamorous as it appears on TV and it can take hours to film a single scene. For most of Monday morning, it was a quarter to eight on the clock by the admissions desk.

Even though I knew how things worked, I was still fascinated by all the activity that took place between the actual filming and the incredible attention to detail required for each shot. There are over one hundred members of the staff and crew and, at times, it seemed like they were all reading or chatting or joking around. However, when something needed to be done, it was as if someone flipped a switch - folks became all business and flew into action. And when the bell rung to indicate that filming was about to start, the noise level quickly dropped to zero. This was clearly a dedicated cast and crew that enjoyed working together.

After I finished typing in the pharmacy, and we heard the "check the gate" order, Video Village relocated to the gift shop. We watched from there or from various spots around the lobby for the rest of the morning. In between shots, Richard Kind shared some wonderful stories about Michael J. Fox. We also spent a fair amount of time chatting with Ken Jenkins, whose personality is as nice as Dr. Kelso's is ornery, and the delightful author of the episode (whose name unfortunately escapes me). Sometime around 10 am, Zach and Donald returned from doing two and a half hours of satellite interviews promoting the show, though most questions were apparently about working with Michael J. Fox and his return to television. (The next evening the episode featuring the first of his two guest appearances premiered to season high ratings).

Between shots
Between shots in the hospital lobby

Note the camera on the left and the clapboard on the desk.
Director Richard Wells is wearing the red baseball cap.
Setting up
Setting up to film Richard Kind coming in the main entrance while
AD's Franklyn Gottbetter and Scott Harris confer on the right.
Richard Kind in Video Village
Richard Kind stops over to Video Village
You have tape!
Learning about actor blocking and all those tape colors
from 2nd assistant camera Kirsten Laube

 

The Pharmacist in Scene 22

Director Richard Wells decided that my big break - OK, just humor me here - would come in Scene 22, which was described in the sides as "Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso fight over Mr. Corman's scan", a description almost as long as the scene itself. As written, it took place at the desk, but Richard moved it to the pharmacy window.   When Lyda came over to tell me they were ready for me, I hopped down from my chair, signed a few autographs, and walked onto the set, this time taking my place front and center at the main window for the short, four-line scene. At the Pharmacy with Kelso

Scene 22 opens with Dr. Kelso reviewing some paperwork at the pharmacy window. Dr. Cox approaches and gloats, but Kelso gets the last jab as Mr. Corman walks toward the front door.

Ken and I had been talking over in Video Village a few minutes before and he said something funny that put me at ease. I asked him what I was supposed to be doing and he correctly explained that the pharmacist would pretty much be ignoring Dr. Cox and Mr. Corman. Armed with my extensive few hours of experience, it seemed like something I could handle. Noting the camera position, I took a step to my right, and got ready for the magic words:

"QUIET PLEASE".   "ROLLING".   "MARKER".   "ACTION!".

I didn't count, but there we filmed at least seven or eight takes from three different angles over the next fifteen or twenty minutes. Each time I heard the clapboard, I resisted the urge to look up at the camera and smile and just made sure I looked the same place (a fleeting glance to Dr. Cox as he approaches the pharmacy) and did the same thing (scribble in triplicate on a requisition form) during each take, all while trying not to fall over (there were power boxes and huge cables at my feet, leaving little clear floor space for only one foot).

If I'm lucky, I'll be on screen for a second or two with Ken as John C. approaches. If not, I'll join thousands of actors who insist their best work was left on the cutting room floor.

(Note to post production team - easy Season 3 DVD sale if I'm prominent in the scene. Hmmm, perhaps a special director's cut is in order ... assuming of course, there will be DVD sales!).

     Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know the specifics about scene 22, you may want to skip ahead.

 


22 INT. ADMISSIONS - DAY

Dr. Kelso and Dr. Cox stand at the desk as Mr. Corman enters from the hallway and heads to the door.
DR. COX
Well, Bobbo, you hooked him, you got him in the boat, but gosh darn it if he didn't get away.
J.D. (V.O.)
Because victory can be snatched away at the last second ...
DR. KELSO
(Calling out to Mr. Corman)
Mr. Corman, your full body scan is on the house.
Mr. Corman stops dead in his tracks.
MR. CORMAN
I'm listening ...
Poloraid
My official Scrubs mug shot!
During one break, Lyda came over and took a couple of polaroids,
wrote the scene information on one and handed it to me.

 

Click on the movie icons movie icon or associated images below to launch a short clip.
Note: These are very large AVI files, each between 2.8MB and 7.8MB in size.

Ken Jenkins (Dr. Kelso) and me at the start of scene 22   The camera pans by Play video clip
Mr. Corman walks by Play video clip This was shot from the "Gift Shop" across the room, so it has a different perspective than the other clips. Dr. Kelso, Dr. Cox, Dr. Bilson Play video clip This clip and those above were shot from the hall behind the nurse's station, though none of the actual takes were filmed from that angle.
During filming, Director Richard Wells and others sitting in Video Village could see how shots were framed for both standard broadcast and HDTV by watching the monitors. There were also headsets on each chair, used to listen to the dialogue as recorded by the sound techs. Video monitor view 1 Play video clip  Play video clip



 

Not bad for hospital food

We wrapped up scene 22, filmed scene 9 (a quick shot of Dr. Cox coming through the main entrance), and broke for lunch. The three of us made our way down to the emergency entrance and back out to the south side of the parking lot where forty or so cast and crew were in line and others were already eating, enjoying their meals on a stunningly beautiful afternoon.

I'm guessing it's difficult to go hungry on the set of a Hollywood production. We had discovered the building's kitchen earlier in the morning. Once used to support the cafeteria, it is now used by craft services to provide food, snack and drinks for the cast and crew throughout the day. I didn't check it out until later in the afternoon, but my family kept me stocked with water and tempted me with goodies throughout the morning. However, it was clear that lunch was a cut above the kitchen fare.

The call sheet had indicated lunch for 143 people, so there was plenty of food. There were three serving areas filled with wonderful choices - the main steam tables had a number of main entree choices (I had chicken in puff pastry), and an array of steamed vegetables and side dishes. There was a salad, fruit and bread table with an impressive array of choices and a fabulous dessert table. It certainly far exceeded our expectations for lunch - for most, it would have been an awesome dinner. It was easy to see why many of the "starving actor" extras see company meals as a valued perk.

We got our drinks and sat down at a picnic table next to some of the lighting guys and a couple other extras. Zach, Neil Flynn and John C. were directly across from us at the next table over. For some reason, I wasn't really expecting to see them out with everyone else and I actually didn't realize who they were until after we had sat down to eat.

John McGinley finished his meal and briefly stopped by. "Hi, I'm John C." and Jen's comment about his Dr. Cox speeches are about all I remember. I was impressed that he went out of his way to introduce himself. Given the number of folks that did the same thing throughout the day, there must have been a secret memo about a new guy wearing a doctor's outfit along with cane, camera and family.

A short while later, Neil cleared his place and came over to say hello. He wasn't on call that day, but had been inside doing some ADR, additional dialogue recording. I knew it as 'looping', re-recording dialogue in post-production. I had read that many of his bits were improvised and asked if that was true. He said to some extent, yes. There is generally some leeway to experiment with different bits, but that there was always at least one take as written. We talked about his background (stand up comedy) and character (just "The Janitor" - no name) and Jen shared some of her favorite "Janitor" scenes. We also talked about one of my Janitor favorites from the season - "two coins add up to thirty cents and one of them is not a quarter".

Neil said the character was originally conceived as a figment of J.D.'s imagination; kudos to Bill Lawrence and company for allowing the character to expand. As with Ken Jenkins, we found Neil so unlike his character - sharp, soft-spoken, and very pleasant to visit with. As much as we were enjoying our conversation, we had taken enough of his time. Neil graciously posed for a picture and returned to work. We stayed outside to finish off our cheesecake.

 

The long goodbye

Back inside preparation was underway for scene 29, set in the hallway running from the elevator to the east entrance. It starts with "Elliot" (Sarah) leaving the elevator, walking past "J.D." (Zach), who is talking on a pay phone, on her way out of the building. J.D. catches up to her, they speak and Elliot leaves. Just as she is out the door, J.D. calls out to her. The scene is a pivotal one near the end of the story, so I won't reveal any other details here until after episode airs.
Zach hair day
Another Zach hair day - perfecting the Dr. Dorian look.
(When was the last time you got your hair fixed before using a pay phone?)
 

The background for initial shot of the scene involved ten or so of the "regular" background folks dressed as orderlies, interns, and nurses walking across the corridor perpendicular to the main exit hallway. Two groups facing each other started just out of camera range on the opposite sides of the hall and would walk the ten feet or so to the other side whenever the action started, then turn around and do it again.

I was just out of camera range, watching from the elevator door Sarah entered for the scene (The elevator has doors on both sides; Sarah would exit out the other side to start the shot). Oorala had come over and told me she wasn't going to use me here; that was fine with me. The doctor in the scene walks away from a service window and I have an unusual gait. You want the background action to be noticeable only by its' absence; you don't want anything going on that would draw your attention away from the principals in the scene.

We watched much of the time from the patient chairs at the end of the hall, just past the elevator entrance. In the scene, you may see a distinguished looking gentlemen in one of the chairs. He was retired and did extra (or background or atmosphere) work from time to time for fun. A few weeks earlier, he'd been an admiral on "The West Wing", sitting next to Martin Sheen in the situation room. Today, he was a patient at Sacred Heart Hospital.

This was Sarah's only scene of the day, which took most of the afternoon to shoot. She had to be over at Paramount for an audition and need to leave at 4:00 pm. At 1:30 pm or so, I didn't think this would be a problem. As it turns out, she wasn't done on the set until about 4:15 pm.

Two items took up most of the time - trying to figure out how Zach would stand and hold the phone as Sarah comes off the elevator and getting the shot of Sarah leaving though the emergency door. Zach was surprised as he first picked up the handset and said something like "Oh my gosh - this is a real phone! I always though it was just a prop" after hearing a dial tone.

Over and over they did the bit with Zach and the phone, sometimes with him facing the elevator, sometimes away and getting the pacing down to allow Zach to catch up to Sarah while leaving time for the voice over wasn't easy. (During filming, Scott always read the voice over lines, which are dubbed in later by Zach). With a few flubbed lines, an uncooperative dining tray cart, and some creative experimentation coupled with the normal blocking and camera and lighting setup between shots, it seemed my watch hands skipped 15 minutes every time I looked.

I was in the next shot, so I made my way down the hall, stopping behind a group around the camera. As I stood patiently waiting for a chance to get by, Richard stepped over, said a few words and a path instantly opened up. Had I paid attention to the floor plan I'd seen earlier, I would have noted an easier route than one involving cables and half the crew in a crowded hallway.

 

Taking a break with Dr. Mickhead

Frank Encarnacao ("Dr. Mickhead") and I were stationed outside as two doctor's taking a break out by the railing along with a couple of other extras in scrubs. While we were waiting for the ambulance to be moved in from the street, we watched a very large roll of very pink carpet brought into the building and Frank told me a little about background work. ambulance

He was more fortunate than most, since he was an identifiable character. He was wearing his personalized "Dr. Mickhead" lab coat, but with a different ID badge. Frank explained he only wore the correct badge when he had lines. (At the time, five and counting for the season). He had some success as a writer, but enjoyed his work on Scrubs, as it seemed everyone involved did.

The Sacred Heart ambulance appeared in a flash just after I overheard Franklyn say something like "No, that's OK. We'll just have fifty people standing around until it gets here" into his ever-present walkie-talkie.

Our job was to look like we were chatting and then leave three long beats into the shot. I think we did that four times. Originally, I was on stage left, but we switched positions after the first take, because I don't (and didn't) turn gracefully. I wasn't going to say anything, but was grateful for Frank's suggestion, especially since he originally had the better camera position. Of course, even if the shot makes it into the final cut, blink and you'll miss us.

 

A Shot to the Heart

I stayed outside to watch the next shot of Sarah exiting and then looking back at Zach. This turned out to be far more interesting than I expected. I think John Inwood had the idea to frame Sarah's face in the center of the heart in the hospital logo after the door closes. It will be a nice "cinema shot", but it wasn't easy to get. Renee (Sarah's stand in) seemed to stand in place forever while everyone figured out just how the shot was going to work. The daylight was changing, and the lighting guys had to get various filters up on the overhang, positioned just right. After a couple of run-throughs, they were ready. Of course, on the very first take, the door didn't close all the way, so Sarah's face didn't line up as expected. (If you're wondering how they time the door, it's simple - they take it off automatic and have a couple guys off camera opening and closing it on cue. It's not easy though - pulling and pushing the door smoothly along a somewhat stubborn track can be problematic as demonstrated by the need for multiple takes in this case).

Blocking the shot
Blue tape for Zach, pink for Sarah
cinema1
Lighting and blocking the shot with Renee
cinema2
Sarah turns back to deliver her line ...
cinema4
... and exits down the ramp.

Guest star Tara Reid arrived during one of the takes, parking a very nice car - a Porsche I think - in a spot just across from the ramp. She entered the building with a big smile to multiple greetings from the crew. I hadn't seen my family in an hour or so, so I did the same after the next take, minus the big smile and enthusiastic greetings.

 

Let's do lunch!

In the cafeteria The long afternoon had taken its toll on my wife and daughter and they were ready to go. Since we had other plans Tuesday and weren't coming back to the set, I wanted to stay for the last three scenes of the day.

They were being filmed in sequence and were set in the cafeteria, always a great place for background activity. Turk and Carla were in scene 13, J.D. came in for scene 15 and Danni for scene 17 (which I presume is a fantasy sequence, given a line in the script). We decided to stay for one more.

Scene 13 was comprised of two shots - the first focused in Turk and the lunch line, the second on Carla and the window. I wasn't in the first shot (more walking), but had a great view of the action. I'd also picked my seat for the second shot, which happened to be the one Michael J. Fox sat in during the cafeteria scenes in "My Porcelain God".

When Oorala said we were ready to switch shots, I moved to my chosen seat, though one of the A.D.s thought the opposite chair would provide better exposure. I was skeptical given the camera position, but moved across the table. Originally, the nurse from scene 14 was assigned to join me, but was replaced by a resident after Franklyn realized the continuity problem. A few other extras were placed at the table behind us and a couple more were assigned to walk with trays.

I don't remember my new dining partner's name - I'll call him Brad - but if you phoned central casting for a young, handsome guy about 6' 2", this guy would show up. He filled me in on the life of a starving actor and the benefits of being a "regular" extra. I couldn't help but wonder how one could be on call all day for Scrubs and still be available to go to auditions.

The prop man brought over two trays that each had a burger, fries and a soda can, removed the plastic wrap and set them down. I asked him how old the food was and he wasn't sure -- he thought it might be from last week. It didn't really matter, since we weren't going to eat it anyway. If you watch the cafeteria scenes, the folks in the background never eat. Lots of poking food with forks, but no eating.

During the scene, we pantomimed a conversation, which was harder than you might think. I couldn't remember the generic background phrase (something to do with apples I think), so I just thought up a story about Dr. Kelso and new residents and went with that. Of course, neither of us knew what the other was trying to say, but we said it with a lot of expression. Cafeteria

After the first take, Lyda came over and said she never liked the fact that no one ever ate on camera. Brad and I looked at each other and then at the burgers. I wasn't about to eat a burger that wasn't fresh, but I figured the fries couldn't be all that bad. I found out a few beats into the next take just how wrong I was. I took a bite and then reached for my soda, only to realize the can wasn't open. I took a drink anyway and then picked up the saltshaker. The last few takes I decided to start with the burger near my mouth and put it down just after the shot started, giving the illusion of having taken a bite. All told, I had about five or six bland, soggy, horrid french fries and lived to tell about it.

The family consensus from Video Village, now located in the back corner of the cafeteria, was that I should have stayed in my original seat. "Except for one take, pretty much all you could see were your hands - you should've leaned across the table". They did appreciate the continued attention to detail - at one point, there was someone sent outside to walk by the window during a shot. I'm going to watch for it when the show airs to see if it was worth the effort. And they got a big kick out of the fries.

I appealed to stay for the next scene figuring that Jen would agree, since Zack was going to be in it. But, sadly, lunch was over - the last 30 minutes in the cafeteria had removed all doubt - fatigue had clearly replaced the earlier enthusiasm. We left after talking to Donald and thanking Richard, Franklyn, Lyda and some of the other crew.

Lyda called a production assistant to give us the VIP tour. While we were waiting, Lyda came out in the hall, trying to round up the extras that hadn't already left, since there were still two more scenes to film. "I need everyone except him", she said, pointing to me. "He's leaving early", she finished with a smile. I think it was a little after 6:00 pm, but she was right - I was leaving "early" after only having been there 10 hours ...

 

Making the rounds

Floor plan Our guide Wendy arrived and we started the building tour. Earlier, we had been amazed at just how dirty the walls were, something you clearly don't see on screen, and things weren't much better on the other floors. Some of it was due to the paint used to balance the set lighting, but it really was striking to walk around a "dirty" hospital. The worst offender by far was the old morgue with its one body drawer and who knows what on the floor.

Despite not having a good cleaning crew on staff, "Scrubs" has paid great attention to detail in the areas used for filming. Patient rooms are just as you would expect to see in a real hospital, carts with new medical supplies abound, as does surprising amount of medical gear, much of which was brought in by the production company. Sacred Heart logos are painted on most of the glass doors and panels, there are show specific signs to augment the original ones left by the medical center, all the desks all have Sacred Heart paperwork, and exposed notebook binders list Sacred Heart patient lists and procedures.

We learned some interesting background on the production while walking around the other three floors and saw all the familiar sets - the various nurses' stations, doctor's lounge, the patient rooms, the ER ward used in the title sequence, the long hospital corridors you'd never find on a sound stage and the surgical ward. The building never had a full operating room, so additional equipment had been brought in to make the set look authentic. We also saw Kelso's office, though the door with Kelso's name stenciled on it is on the first floor, across from the infamous "Kelso in memoriam" portrait. When you look at it up close, it looks like the large oil painting it seems to be, but Ken Jenkins told us earlier that it was actually a digital image that the art department worked their magic on using Photoshop and lacquer. directory

The non-hospital sets are there too. I think we saw them all except the neighborhood bar - not sure where that is. There wasn't the ambient lighting there was elsewhere in the building and since they weren't in use that day, there was just enough light to see Dr. Cox's apartment (two rooms and an illusion of more). We also saw the winner of the "anti-Good Housekeeping seal of approval" - Turk and J.D.'s apartment set with the sofa that would make a college dorm room proud, a messy kitchen and bathroom, and an unusual bedroom. Ignoring the light stands and other equipment, things looked normal until you looked to the right of the bed only to find a vast open space.

We found the pink carpet had already been installed in an area that was going to be used as the child's bedroom set for the Sacred Heart commercial featured in the episode and there were stuffed animals abound. According to the pink preliminary call sheet that Lyda had given us earlier, that scene was being filmed Tuesday after lunch, just before tour for the international press. It would have been interesting to watch, but we would have missed the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Jen wouldn't have met her second heartthrob of the week on the "Still Standing" stages at CBS. Zach Braff (Monday), Taylor Ball (Tuesday), and Conner Trineer (Wednesday) are her favs, in that order, at least for now.

We saw a set previously used as a pediatric ward and then to the third floor where the original pediatric ward had been, which now housed the dialogue-recording studio. We passed some furniture marked for Elliot's apartment and a number of production offices. Mail boxes beside the doors held a copy of the week's script with specific notes for the various departments. Other former offices were now dressing rooms, wardrobe and makeup and there were offices for casting and the writing staff down on the first floor as well.

 

It's a wrap

We ran into Richard again - they still weren't finished downstairs. He mentioned that he'd been in since 4:30 am and still had a while to go. Wendy went to check to see if she could give us a full script and we went back downstairs to the kitchen for some dinner - fried chicken, mac and cheese and some wonderful broccoli and green beans. My wife picked up a 7-Up! for the road, which somehow never was opened and now sits in our kitchen as one of our more unusual vacation souvenirs. Wendy met us back in admissions - alas, no script - and we thanked her for our behind the scenes visit. Scrubs cast

We had great fun, meet very kind and hardworking people, and seen a lot of unexpected things in the building, including a number of dogs - "Scrubs" is obviously a pet friendly workplace - and there were others outside during lunch, including one tiny dog wearing a wonderfully detailed outfit.

(Dayna Devlin from "Extra" TV noticed the dogs as well and mentioned them in her story on her appearance the next day filming a one-line cameo as a nurse).

Dogs were just another entry on the "things you don't expect to see in a hospital" list along with a PacMan video game, a pinball machine, wardrobe racks, camera equipment blocking the hallways, scaffolding, massive lights, all kinds of cables, boom mikes, apartments, a cafeteria full of food that nobody eats, eclectic merchandise in the gift shop, racks full of outdated newspapers, and a very interesting air conditioning system.

Leaving Sacred Heart for the last time, we walked back to our parking space, which now seemed much further away. As we got to the car, we noticed one billboard illuminating the darkness the message "You bring it, We list it on EBay". We found it humorous and somewhat appropriate, since we've always thought you can find almost anything on EBay.

Sometimes even a once in a lifetime visit to the fascinating fictional world of Sacred Heart Hospital and it's lovable, but slightly off-beat staff.




Pictures and Questions from the set of 

[Scrubs]

Closed set

It's amazing what you can fit in an Altoids tin

We took almost a hundred pictures during our visit, but what we remember most is just how gracious the cast and crew were and how they included us as one of their own. At times, I felt like we were intruding just by being there - after all, it was just another day at work for these dedicated folks, but no one ever made us feel like we didn't belong.

From making sure we knew about the snacks and goodies in the kitchen, to answering our occasional questions, volunteering information about the production, giving us the VIP tour, or just general conversation, we were treated as honored guests. Though it's hard to single anyone out, we were especially appreciative of the time and attention Director Richard Wells shared with us, given the constant demands of the production. He was easy-going, had a great sense of humor and was clearly an asset to the show.


Lights, camera ... smiles!
The Pharmacist and the Chief of Staff at Sacred Heart

 

Ken Jenkins ("Dr. Kelso") was as nice as his character is mean. We had a nice conversation talking about his role and family during a break just before "our" pharmacy scene and had given Bernice and Jen the background on the "Kelso memorial portrait" earlier in the morning.

The picture on his ID badge is his, with Dr. Kelso's information. Note the position of the stethoscopes - I always made sure mine covered the picture on my badge. Some of the pictures and names used on the prop badges for the extras were those of current or former crew members, but Ken didn't recognize either the picture or the name "Greg Bilson".

With Zach
Zach Braff ("J.D.") made a point to say hello.
My daughter still hasn't come back down to earth.
(I was supposed to crop out the two people on the right!)
With Sarah
All smiles with an out-of-costume Sarah Chalke ("Elliot"),
who is even prettier in person than she is on TV.
Neil Flynn
We met Neil Flynn ("The Janitor") at lunch.
He was absolutely delightful to chat with.
The cafeteria gang
Donald Faison ("Turk") and Director Richard A. Wells
bookend the group in the cafeteria. I don't recall the
names of the crew members in back, but they were
great to us all day.

 

Around Sacred Heart
3
Upstairs at a nurses' station
xrays
X-Rays

ER beds

Hallway
Dr. Cox's appartment
Dr. Cox's appartment
Dr. Cox's living room
Dr. Cox's living room
The admissions lobby
The lobby
On the couch
Yes, it really is an ugly couch
air conditioning, Scrubs style
"Air conditioning" - this long tube was run from the outside into the cafeteria. A fan blew outside air in to cool down the set. A few hours before this hallway was packed to film the scene described earlier with Zach and the phone.
Sacred Heart Community
The sign over the admissions desk

Kelso portrait
The Kelso portrait in the first-floor hallway



 

Potential FAQs

When does your episode air?
I don't know for sure. In late March, NBC scheduled "My Fault" for Thursday, April 22, 2004. I'll update this page should that change and after the show airs with additional information on the episode's filming. If you can confirm the planned air date, please drop me a note.

Will you be seen in the actual episode?
I sure hope so!

How much does a walk-on role go for?
It depends greatly on the charity event, but past walk-on roles for Scrubs have ranged between $2000 and $7000 and seem to average in the $3000 to $4000 range from what I was able to determine. I've seen walk-on roles for other shows go for less and one on "Star Trek: Enterprise" went for $8100 in late 2003.

Is it tax-deductible?
The charity will provide you with that information. In my case, all but $800 of the donation was considered deductible.

How often is a walk-on role offered for Scrubs?
I meant to ask this, but forgot. It's not many in a season though.

Did you sign a contract to appear on the show?
No, but I was required to sign a release. I didn't think to ask for a copy, but I assume it was pretty standard.

Were you paid the same as an extra?
No. Unlike the professionals, you are not paid as a walk-on.
(Of course, the extras aren't paid all that much either - one made about $54 a day if I remember correctly).
All dressed up

Did you have any lines?
No, and I didn't expect to have any. Although director Richard Wells joked about giving me a line, it's extremely unlikely that any non-union, non-professional walk-on would get any lines in a major production. When I was talking with the intern in the cafeteria scene, we were miming speech, not actually speaking aloud. (I had done summer theatre and a commercial long ago, so I was 'experienced' and ready just in case a line did come my way ...)

Why is there a different doctor at the pharmacy window during scene 14?
The "correct" answer?  Continuity. Scene 14 essentially takes place at the same time as scene 13 in the cafeteria. Since I'm eating lunch with a resident in scene 13, I can't be in the pharmacy talking with Dr. Kelso a few seconds later in scene 14.
The "real" answer?  Richard hadn't decided where he was going to use me before the filming for scene 14 had started and the background coordinator had already placed another actor at the window. I could have been used in the pharmacy shots for both 14 and 22, as long as I didn't appear in cafeteria scene 13 filmed later in the afternoon, but then I would've missed those fries ...

What does the writing on the lab coat say?
For the "standard" doctor, it says "Sacred Heart Hospital" on the right side in blue letters. Featured characters wear coats that have their characters names embroidered on the left side.

Did you get to keep your wardrobe?
No. The shirt and pants were mine. The tie and lab coat were returned to the wardrobe department; the badge and stethoscope to the props department.

Did your stethoscope actually work?
Yes.

Did you have a dressing room or any special perks?
No. There was no dressing room, no hair, and no make up. We did have director's chairs for our use during the day though and spent most of the day "on set" or in Video Village and not in the bullpen with the professional extras. We were invited to join the cast and crew for meals and visit craft services the kitchen for snacks, drinks, etc. as desired.

Was transportation and lodging included?
No. We were responsible for all expenses incurred to get to the studio. I have seen some walk-on roles offered that also include expenses, but those are usually offered as a prize in a contest and are the exception, not the rule.

Do you get a copy of the footage that was filmed?
No, though I didn't ask. I'm sure there are all sorts of legal reasons that would make that impractical. But I'll have the Tivo, VCR, DVD Recorder and any other device I can find hooked up to the TV when the show airs ... :)

Did you get a copy of the script?
No, and that was our only disappointment. Scrubs production company policy dictates that distribution of scripts for episodes that haven't aired be tightly controlled. I do have the "sides" (dialogue for the scenes shot that day), but would love to have a copy of the full "My Fault" script. I'm sure the policy varies from production to production - I've visited other sets and received early scripts - though I can certainly appreciate the reasons for the Scrubs policy.

Does a walk-on role qualify you for a SAG or AFTRA card?
Not hardly. Plan to keep your day job if you win a walk-on role.

Do the pay phones on the set actually work?
Apparently some do. Zach was surprised to hear a dial tone when he picked up the handset in the bank near the first floor elevator during one scene.

What can you fit in an Altoids tin?
The Pentax Optio S4 digital camera that we used to take the pictures and video clips.

Did you learn anything?
Yes, that the next time my wife tells me to put gel in my hair, I should listen.

Are you really a doctor?
If you are my mother, Yes. Otherwise, No.

Cool web site covering your [Scrubs] visit. Why did you put it together?
Did you notice the domain name?

What if I have a not-so-frequently-asked question?
Send me an e-mail.


Potential spoilers from "My Fault" and/or the set visit

What does "My Fault" refer to:
[*] It refers to something between J.D. and Elliot, but I'm not going to reveal more until after the episode airs! [/*]

Mr. Corman's first name:
[*] (Not going to tell you this either until after the episode airs. I'm so glad we had this time together ...) [/*]

What was the line delivered by Richard Kind that left many on the set laughing?
[*] (Sorry ... third time's not the charm. Not going to tell you until after the episode airs, but this line was funny and even funnier when he flubbed it, especially after having nailed it in the preceding dozen or so tries! In fact, given the line, it's hard to imagine how he flubbed it. If you are a fan of classic TV, you will love the joke, which Richard delivered better than almost anyone else could have.) [/*]

What do snails have to do with Scrubs?
[*] As it turns out, nothing. Before her scene Monday, Sarah Chalke was sitting with a script in Video Village, repeating "slick as a snail's butt" or "slippery as a snail's butt". It turned out that she was not reading from the 'Scrubs' script, but one for a part she was auditioning for at Paramount later that afternoon. I was busy talking to Ken Jenkins at the time and only heard part of the line. My daughter thinks either the script or role was called "Charlie". For a while though, it sure sounded like an interesting 'Scrubs' cafeteria scene ... [/*]

 

For more information on Scrubs, visit the show's official web site, the production company website or this terrific Scrubs fan site.

Learn more about the Minorities in Broadcast Training Program or see TV and Hollywood items they have on their auction site.

 

Text of Scene 22 from Scubs episode "My Fault" copyright 2004 by Touchtone Television.

Unless otherwise identified, all text pictures and video on this site is copyright 2004 by justbecauseican.com and may not be downloaded or otherwise used without written permission. All ownership claims are subordinate to those of the production company, Touchtone Television and NBC.
All rights to characters and images from Scrubs are reserved by Touchtone Television Productions. See terms of use here.

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Page  last updated Tuesday March 30, 2004