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“Elementary, my dear Watson.”
TV Shoot, Atlantic Beach, NY, September 12, 2012

        “They’re looking for a plain vanilla HMMWV for a TV shoot in the New York area in early September” was about all Jack McDevitt blasted out to the Military Transport Assn (MTA) e-mail list. “Why not?” I thought, so I called him and accepted the gig.
        “Why not?” Actually, if I had given it a few minutes thought, I would have five or six good reasons why not to do this. First, I’ve been having problems with the HMMWV Protective Control Box that periodically refuses to pass any juice to the starter motor. Two alligator clips on a lead provide a work-around for this problem. Then there was the tiny leak I noticed a few weeks ago of some kind of liquid (antifreeze, brake fluid, washer fluid, or fuel?). And then I ran out of diesel fuel Monday and couldn’t get the vehicle restarted. Which led me to put out an emergency cry for help on the MTA List. To which eight guys responded (what a great bunch of guys in the MTA!) with suggestions of how to bleed the fuel system and get the vehicle restarted. Which I did. I then filled up with $100 of diesel and watched with dismay as the fuel leaked out through a small-but-quickly-growing-larger hole in the fuel pump. Another emergency post to the MTA List asking where can I find a new fuel pump fast! Which was solved when Steve Vidam handed me a new fuel pump at the Monday night MTA meeting.
Elementary TV Show, Plane crash         Steve warned me when installing the pump to make sure the pushrod hit the cam lever in the right place and to be very careful to not strip the brass threads. This was the day before the shoot, so I opted to take it to a truck mechanic who assured me he had installed “hundreds of fuel pumps just like this one” and then—you guessed it—proceeded to strip the threads. So then he has to fabricate a new fuel line and guess who got to pay for all this? Yep, yours truly. (For those interested, I can tell you a shop to avoid in Morristown.)
        Another “why not?” It seems out that the TV scene manager wanted all the vehicles in place by 5:00 a.m. Yikes! And still another “why not.” The shoot is at Silver Point Beach Park in Atlantic Beach out in Nassau County on Long Island. That’s a two-hour drive in the HMMWV at 55 mph (which was actually possible on the Cross Bronx and Van Wyck at 4:00 a.m.). Jumping ahead, getting home was a totally different—and longer—story at 7:30 p.m. Yes, I was there on Atlantic Beach for 14½ hours!
        The TV shoot was for the new show, Elementary, which airs on CBS at 10:00 p.m. Thursday nights. In this new series, Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), a former consultant to Scotland Yard, developes a drug and alcohol addiction and travels to New York City to check into a rehabilitation center. He consults now to the NYPD and lives in Brooklyn with a newly-found sober companion and former surgeon Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). Rather than a well-meaning but bumbling companion, Watson is now is someone who’s more on the sideline; she’s his sober companion and is involved with him, not the mystery. The other major character is Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) of the New York City Police Department.
        This particular episode involves the crash of a small twin engine plane on Atlantic Beach, a few miles short of Kennedy Airport. Five scenes (about 15 minutes of air time) were shot at the crash site. Initially, local police and fire fighters responded to the crash. Later, NTSB investigators arrive. As the investigation progresses, Sherlock is called in, examines the scene, and declares, “This was no accident. It was premeditated murder!” The National Guard and more police are then called in to secure the site and interview spectators, and that was pretty much it for the scenes at the crash site.
        At least that’s how it was supposed to work and that’s pretty much what you’ll see in the finished show on TV. But it didn’t quite work out like that for one major reason: all the emergency SUVs (police, fire dept, ambulance, NTSB) bogged down in the sand and couldn’t move. Except, of course, for my HMMWV and one 4wd Ford Expedition. As a result of this lack of mobility, they just put each vehicle in a spot where it stayed for the day. Camera angles were adjusted to show just the appropriate vehicles. Since the HMMWV played an extremely minor role of simply bringing three National Guard members to the site, it was parked way, way down the end of the site where it’s highly unlikely to show up in the finished shoot at all.
        It’s quite amazing to see the elaborate set-up for just a one-day TV shoot: immense mess tent, kitchen, 18-wheelers of sound and video equipment, a fleet of quads, construction trailer, etc. Of course, this was the biggest day for this episode with a crew of about 100, more than 60 extras (at $85/day), 10 or so principal actors and directors, plus guys like me from the vehicle and prop rental outfits. One nice thing about these shoots is that they provide very good food (breakfast at 6:30 a.m., lunch at 2:00 p.m.). At lunch, I briefly spoke to and got the autographs (yes, tacky, tacky) of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.
        Throughout the day, I had some interesting chats with members of the crew, prop people, bit players, and Miller’s stand-in/stunt man. He says this job is a piece of cake because Sherlock doesn’t do anything really dangerous and mostly what he has to do is stand in a spot for the cameras to get positioned and focused.
        Trivia: All the weapons they use these days are Airsoft. All the police and military uniforms have the rank of captain. Bit players wear their own shoes (occasional exceptions). Smoking is totally prohibited. Which bummed me out since I wasn’t in the shot (they didn’t like my old camo) and I was sitting on the far (invisible) side of the HMMWV reading a book, and a cigar was just what would make the 14 hours pass a bit faster. A minute after I lit up a prop girl appeared from nowhere and demanded, “put that out, now!” Ah, well.
        I tried a different way home across Staten Island and through Elizabeth and I would advise anyone thinking about driving a HMMWV on the 7 miles of construction on the Belt Parkway: DON’T! My knuckles were still white when I finally backed the thing into the garage at home. And I can tell you that next time, I’ll think extra long about “why not.”

Elementary TV Show, Plane crash
Elementary TV Show, Actors
Elementary TV Show, Equipment
Elementary TV Show, HMMWV
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