Production Blog 03/27/2007

Hi, I’m Mike, one of the new production assistants here at South Park. This is my long blog.

I remember hearing about the PA blogs last year when looking for a new job, and reading them with wide eyes. It’s a great way to peek over the fence and see what’s going on behind a show you love.

If you haven’t gone through the blogs before, I highly recommend it. There’re tales of McRib eating challenges and lots of in-depth information about how the show is made and who is doing the making. They’re written by PAs and Producers, and you come away with better idea of how it all goes down.

It’s Tuesday night, the day before the new episode airs (Season 11, episode 4)and it’s my turn to write the blog. I’ve only been here for a couple months, so I don’t have any huge, earth shattering wonder-tales to bestow onto the blog reading public. Instead, I’ve put together miniature scraps of delight and interest- events and quirks I’ve come across working at South Park. Hopefully, by the next blog, I’ll have lost a finger or impregnated PA Rob or something more newsworthy than the bits I’m providing today.

“YOU WANNA DO GROUP?”
Every once in a while there comes a time where a person will ask this question of the PAs. What it means, to someone who isn’t “in the know” is: “Hey, do you guys want to come into the audio studio and record some background dialog for tomorrow’s show?” The answer to this question is never verbal, always physical. Every PA within earshot jumps up from the chair and scampers over to the studio, giggling and chirping in anticipation. Inside we get to yell, scream, say lines of dialog and sometimes even sing while Bruce and Lydia or sometimes (gasp!) Matt tells us what to do. While the results never really get highlighted in the show, mostly it ends up being altered, mixed and turned into part of a huge crowd . . .there’s something fantastic about being a part of the episode in a way that’s more intimate than a lot of what we usually do. You can’t hear yourself when you watch it, but you know that part of you is in the screaming crowd of lice as they run from the green goo. It’s like writing your name in wet cement: I was there, and now it’s permanent.

“YOU’RE A 360 FAN BOY,”
The PAs consist of three mid twenties guys and one 30 year old grandpa-esq hillbilly. Combined, we think about four things: girls, food, TV and video games. We can’t help it, it’s wired into our systems. There are often heated, intricate debates on subjects such as: The show 24 is good/terrible, the PS3 is better than/not better than the Xbox 360, the PSP is not a piece of crap, what we would do to various actresses if we won them as prizes, etc. I have more conversations about video games now than I did when I was 9.

PS: the 360 kicks PS3’s ass hands down . . .and be sure to download our HD episode on it. RE: Corporate shill. And just for the record, Matt and Trey each play on every system you could imagine, Xboxs, Wiis, PS3s, PCs, on and on. So don’t think the PAs represent the overall opinion here.

Anyway . . .

“IF THEY MADE A STATUE IN YOUR HONOR, YOU WOULD BE IN THAT POSE WITH THE THERMOSTAT,”
There are two temperatures at South Park: boiling and freezing. The thermostat is always at 65 degrees no matter what it feels like. There is a small path worn into the cement floor between the production office in the front and all the thermostats in the back. We love doing this. I want to have a small thermostat installed in my future coffin, so I can always remember these trips.

“THAT’S A BAD SIGN”
There is never a “good sign” at South Park. Let’s say that it’s Monday and there’s only three pages of script officially finished. That’s a bad sign because it means there’s a lot to do before the show airs. This week is different, (I naively thought). We went into today (Tuesday) with the entire script done. “That’s good news, right guys?” WRONG. It’s still a bad sign because it means there’s more time for Trey to decide that he wants a bunch of the show to be different. So really, there’s never a good sign. A bald eagle could fly in through the front door, deposit rare, golden Cadburry creme eggs on every desk, and then do everyone’s taxes while crapping “FREE PONY” coupons into a basket and it would still be a bad sign.

“YOU GO AROUND THAT WAY AT NIGHT?”
South Park’s parking lot has many speed bumps. They’re magical in that they often move. I don’t know why they move, but apparently there are some places where two speed bumps side by side are more effective than one. Mostly it doesn’t matter because we go up the wrong way at night, both avoiding the bumps AND saving valuable food-delivery time. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, mostly because I hate the bumps.

“HE SAID IT WAS COOL, BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL HUGE FANS,”
When the PAs leave the office to get something for the crew we are the de-facto South Park ambassadors to the Los Angeles world.

All the PAs carry an envelope that’s been laminated with packing tape. Inside are all of the receipts we’ve gathered while working, so that we know how much we need to be reimbursed. These envelopes have the South Park stars printed on the outside: Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman. When you pull it out at a restaurant or the post office it becomes a badge you wear on your sleeve that announces you’re involved in making South Park. This is a double edged sword, and must be wielded with care. Sometimes it smoothes things over, buying you valuable time to get back to the office. Fans of the show will marvel, sometimes give you a discount, or just make sure that your order is being made with speed and genuine care.

Other times, however, you will get a 15 minute lecture about how you’re going to hell for being a part of the show, and how you should be ashamed of the jokes that are broadcast. When this happens, you smile, agree, and hope that you’ll get out of there without attracting more fury/attention.

I was most impressed when the South Park envelope enabled me to pick up some controlled medication for one of my bosses. The pharmacists behind the counter apologized for giving me trouble because they’re all big fans. I imagine it’s how ladies feel when they get free drinks in bars.

“HEY, WHERE DID YOU SAY SNACKS WERE AGAIN?”
The South Park crew gives more hours than you would believe to making each episode, and it’s part of the PA’s duty to keep the crew constantly fed and happy. One such meal comes around 9pm, when one of us picks up snacks.

Ralph’s, a California grocery chain, is open 24 hours a day. We run over there and load up a cart to the brim with chips, candy, meats, cheeses, Jello, fruit, veggies, whatever. I imagine that the late night employees think we’re stoners doing a Supermarket Sweep type munchy grab. WE MUST HAVE ALL THE PATRON SAINTS OF SNACKING! SALTY, SWEET, FRUIT, CHEESE, THINGS THAT ARE MADE OF GUMMY . . .

Once back at the office, you set up all the glorious snacks in the kitchen. Then, when prompted, you announce over the paging system the word “Snacks,” wait a second and say it again, in case people didn’t hear.

If you announce snacks any other way, you get to hear about it from the crew for the rest of the night. This is always a laugh riot.

“QUICK! SWAG!”
Ah, finally, swag. Also referred to as “shwag”, although I think this pronunciation is a little dubious. In the depths of South Park Studios there’s a closet that contains locked filing cabinets full of swag.

Swag is either any DVD or DVD set that has ever been released by South Park (or That’s My Bush), and any type of doll, hat, shirt, clock, poster, condom, wallet, cap, calendar, mug, stein, button, sticker, patch, etc. that has ever been made with South Park characters or branding on it. Oh, there’s also a metric ton of Team America posters in there.

We don’t take any of the swag, just as one wouldn’t pick up a chair or a computer from the office and take it home. The swag is a tool, one that’s used in situations that need some sort of smoothing over or, perhaps, even a little buttering up. Let’s say that Jesus Christ resurrected and ended up coming in to see what the place looked like. We’d probably hook him up with a doll of himself or something, just so he remembers us with good thoughts when he’s out doing his other praying or whatever.

However, there comes a time when the swag becomes too much for its confines and a little pressure must be released, to keep the shirts and toys from boiling over onto the floor. Michael, (exec-producer Anne’s assistant), will organize the closets and pull out a giant box of all the lesser, older, perhaps not as flamboyant swag that needs to be pruned from the hardy, stout swag. These swag remains will be left in boxes near the kitchen, for all in the office the pick over and take.

This is the point where PA Nate proves how much he’s worth to us. He has a sixth sense about when swag is released from its dark confines; the hair stands up on the back of his neck, and as adrenaline gets dumped into his system he takes a moment to scream the words “quick” and “swag” in our production office before he runs up the stairs to the waiting boxes. It’s thanks to his quick thinking that my friend Bob will be receiving a horrid Mr. Hanky necktie in the mail in the next couple weeks.

So there you go: things of interest from South Park Studios.

I know it took a while, and none of it’s really going to be passed down to your children through legends and myths, but those pieces of working at South Park are things that I’m not going to soon forget. We do a lot of work in the office, and we spend a lot of time here too . . . it almost starts to become a camp-like atmosphere. Now we have toothbrushes for the late nights stowed away in the same place we keep our change, and every little thing is becoming a reason to make bets. It’s fun, it’s hectic, and when you aren’t being screamed at by the lady at the post office it’s a nice place to call “work”.

Check out what all the snacks and speed bumps add up to tomorrow night in the newest episode, titled “The Snuke”. Were there any PA arguments incited by Cartman taking over the role of Jack Bauer? Yes. But they were stupid arguments, so don’t worry about it.

Mike

(also: much like PA Rob, I’d love to take play people on Xbox live. If you want to play me, and have a 360, email me your gamertag at mikethepa@gmail.com

You won’t be able to play Nate the PA, because he thinks the PS3 is SO MUCH BETTER than the 360.)