CITIZENSHIP

If you ever get the chance to attend the filming of a television show, you might be amazed at the amount of work that goes into putting the whole thing together.  But what you see at a regular filming is only the tip of the ice cube!  A week's worth of hard work (and then some!) goes into each episode.  One of the most time consuming parts of preparing any show is the blocking of the cameras and actors so the filming will run smoothly the next day and everyone will know exactly where they're supposed to be. 

On September 12th, 1991, a group of high school students were invited to witness the behind the scenes process of filming a television sitcom.  In other words, they were invited to sit in the audience seats and watch the blocking and filming of scenes for an upcoming two part episode featuring Bronson in a double role as Balki and Balki's mama.

Because of the difficulty involved with Bronson's extensive mama make-up, all scenes with mama were blocked and filmed without a full studio audience present.  Robert Lee was there to warm up the students and explain what was taking place.  Three scenes were scheduled to be filmed that day.  Justin Pinchot was introduced, dressed as Balki for the over the shoulder shots and wearing lifts to make him the same height as his brother.  Bronson entered dressed as Mama and Mark and Melanie (as Larry and Jennifer) shared a kiss as Robert explained their characters were now married.

The process of blocking is a long one.  The actors walk through the scene, reciting their lines and taking their positions as technical men run forward and mark their places on the floor.  Judy Pioli stops the action often to make suggestions and changes as their places are marked with colored reference points.  Mama's first scene was blocked with the actors up to her exit into the closet.  Then the actors stepped aside and a group of stand-ins, known as the second team, stepped in to go through the entire scene again; this time to block the camera moves.  Four people wearing signs saying "Bronson," "Mark," etc. move to the different marks as the cameras plan their moves, again with the help of director Judy Pioli.  Men on ladders adjusted lights and after some time the entire scene was blocked.

Once his was done, the first team was called back to film the scene.  Someone suggested Judy might have to translate her directions into Myposian for Mama to understand.  During the filming they called upon the small audience to laugh so their reactions could be recorded.  The scene was shot all the way through, then certain parts were refilmed and changed.  The part where Mama crosses to admire the "walk in fireplace" was filmed two ways; the first time Mama crossed to the fireplace after Larry translated that she admired their walk-in kitchen, the second time he crossed to the fireplace before Larry explained the line.  They also filmed Mama humming the Hawaii 5-0 theme, then another variation where she just quotes lines from the show because they had not yet okayed the use of the song in the show (since the song was used in the episode, they must have eventually gotten the rights to use it).

Bronson was allowed to rest during the others' pick ups, especially since it was apparently tiring for him to carry all that extra weight around on a hot set!  A man named Corey stood in to read Bronson's lines and everyone laughed at his Mama impersonation!  At one point, assistant director Connie called out that they were done with that scene, then realized they were not quite done and called out "Sorry!  Mini-stroke!"

After this scene was completely filmed they moved on to the next scene, which took place in the newspaper basement.  Again the actors walked through the scene, getting their places marked, the second team stood in for the blocking of the cameras, then the actors were called back to shoot the scene.  They filmed Mama's entire scene in the office, including one hilarious part which was cut from the final show where Mama comments on Lydia's "full" figure and perfect structure for having babies as Larry tried to tastefully translate her comments.  During one take of this scene, Mark forgot to introduce Gorpley and Miss Lydia to Mama and broke into a dance with everyone else following suit, creating a Blame it on the Bossanova atmosphere for a moment.  And when Mama stepped into the elevator and waited the prop man forgot to close the elevator doors the first time!

After this scene was finished, Bronson announced he felt air on his face, which meant the latex make-up had split.  Instead of filming the third scene, it was decided to wrap for the day.  The high school students had left after the end of the first scene.  To give you an idea of how time consuming this work really is the two scene just described took four hours to complete!

The next day all the scenes for the first episode with Bronson as Balki were filmed.  The next week the same thing happened, with Mama's scenes filmed the day before and the rest of the episode filmed in front of a full studio audience.

The filming of the second half of the second episode took place on September 20th, a warm day in Culver City.  Robert explained to the audience what had happened in the episode the week before.  Bronson ran by on the stage quickly and a group of girls in the audience yelled out "Balki!"  Robert asked the girls not to call out "Balki!" during the filming, and Bronson came back and yelled out "Well, they can yell it now!"

This was the first time fans had ever seen Mypos, and the outdoor set was built on the extra stage.  The sheep were filmed running through, then the scene was reset as the sheep were taken out of the studio.  When they started refilming, Mark entered and crossed in front of Bronson, only o have the suitcase he was carrying tumble to the ground when the handle accidentally broke off!  A small segment where the sleeping townsfolk sit up to shush Balki and Larry was cut from this scene.

Mama's hut was built in front of the newspaper office set.  Every time someone entered her hut they would kick away "chickens" that cackled outside the front door.  When Larry entered he commented to them "Dirty little peckers."  When the scene was shot again, it was changed to "Nasty little birds," just in case the censors objected.  As it was, neither take made the show.

One very funny moment happened when Larry tore up his airline ticket and tossed it away.  On the first take, he threw the torn ticket into the air, and most of it landed in Balki's omelette!  Fighting back laughter, they continued with the scene, with Bronson throwing in adlibs like "Well, I've done an avocado and cheese (omelette) but a turnip and ticket?"  (Look for this shot in the "Next week on Perfect Strangers" segment shown at the end of the first half!)  Near the end of the scene, Mark was surprised when one of the knocker hinges fell off one of the doors and Bronson ran in to hug him (the clip of Bronson hugging Mark can be seen in the seventh season and final show wrap-up blooper reels!)

Justin Pinchot was dressed as Mama for this scene, but without the extensive face make up, since it was mostly important he look like Mama over the shoulder.  None of the moments with Mama and Larry were filmed, but the scenes were shown on the monitor so the audience could understand what was happening.  The scene was picked up with Larry in Justin's arms, and Justin had a little trouble centering himself with Mark in his arms and wearing the Mama outfit!  Several times the cast and crew would walk to the monitors offstage to check the positions of the characters from the footage taken the day before so they could match the action exactly.  At one point when Balki and Justin were hugging, Bronson got caught in Mama's hair and they had to be carefully untangled!

The last scene didn't take long, but at one point Bronson ran back in from the kitchen and started coughing when he was supposed to say his line.  Mark quickly filled in with "This is the first time you've choked as an American citizen!"  Apart from Rebeca accidentally saying the judge had "sworn at" instead of "sworn in" Balki as an American citizen, the scene went off without a hitch.

It was two intensive weeks of work but definitely worth the effort to produce a classic episode!

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