Stacy McKee on "Golden Hour"...
Original Airdate: 2-17-11
It’s 6:48 am. And I’m late. Well, technically I’m on time, but I’m late for me because I really wanted to get here early to fix myself a giant cup of hot hot hot steaming black super hot coffee. To wake me up. And help me function. And also, because it is unseasonably chilly for Los Angeles and I don’t do chilly. --But First Rehearsal is supposed to be starting at this very moment and I’ve only just now parked my car so I forego the coffee and, instead, book it to Stage 7 to get to the first rehearsal of the very first scene of our eighth day of shooting on my latest episode of Grey’s.
It’s a special episode – for all sorts of reasons, especially because it’s an episode that has Meredith Grey, aka Ellen Pompeo, in all but six of its scenes. Which is fantastic and cool and unprecedented for this series and… a headache. The headache being that because Ellen is in every scene, she has the weight of this entire episode resting on her shoulders. And she wasn’t feeling well when we wrapped last Friday night. Which could mean bad news for all of us if she fell sick over the weekend (which would be entirely possible since she’s been living on set with the rest of us for over a week now and, let’s face it, set is basically just a Petri dish full of head colds and stomach flus and sore throats waiting to pounce and attack.) So, I’m worried about Ellen and the fate of this entire episode, and that’s giving me a headache – or, maybe the headache is from my lack of coffee but either way – I make it to Stage 7, just in time for First Rehearsal.
We rehearse the scene privately with (basically) just me, Rob (our fearless director) and the cast. It goes smoothly, with a few minor questions from Rob and Ellen, which I answer (hoping I even make sense as I’m barely coherent before there’s coffee in my system) and then it’s time for an open rehearsal with all of the crew. We go through the scene again, throw down marks, then Ellen and the other actors head off to get changed and beautified while the stand-ins take their places and I hunker down in a corner with my script to do a quick rewrite of the scene we just rehearsed.
It’s not a big rewrite, because I don’t do that – I won’t rewrite scenes the day they are shooting; I think it’s bad form – but this is a minor change to a line that clearly wasn’t working because the timing of the scene plays out differently in person than it did in my head when I wrote it.
That happens sometimes. It’s one thing to envision a scene in your head, but when it comes to life right in front of you? It takes on a life of its own. Sometimes things don’t work. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, they work so so so well. Just the other day, we shot the scene where Derek walks in on Bailey in the on-call room, and – obviously – I knew it was going to be funny, but actually seeing the look on Derek’s face and hearing the scream escape Bailey’s mouth? Possibly one of my favorite moments in all of Grey’s history. Which is saying a lot, as I have a lot of Grey’s history. You do realize, don’t you, that this is the very first time in seven seasons Bailey has EVER used an on-call room for anything other than sleeping? And don’t get me started on the Derek/ Meredith elevator scene we shot that same day… Again. I knew it was going to be fun to watch – but it was even better than I could have imagined. And dirtier. If, you know, you have a dirty mind like me.
But this scene I’m rewriting now is just a little tiny change. I give the script changes to Nicole, our script supervisor; I swing by hair & makeup to let Ellen know about the changes (since they include some changes to her lines) and while I’m there, I listen carefully to see if I hear any raspiness to her voice or congestion in her head. Nope. That’s good. She seems perfectly healthy. Someone nearby sneezes, and I shoot them a nasty look. Then, almost as instantly as I shoot the look, someone else sweeps by with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Excellent. I’m confident our leading lady is in good hands. Ellen and I share a few quick baby photos (her daughter and my daughter are around 6 months apart) and then I hurry off to the writers’ bungalow because I want to make sure Shonda has dailies to watch from the night before.
I’m about halfway to the bungalow when I get a call that Rob wants to show me a scene up in editing. The bungalow will just have to wait. I turn around and head back to editing, by way of craft service, because my head is now pounding and my left eye is starting to twitch which is a sure sign that I need some coffee. SOON.
So I head past craft service (where a guy with a knife in his head is pouring salsa onto a breakfast burrito) and I make a beeline to the coffee station when – seemingly out of nowhere – appears Linda, our Grey’s Anatomy medical guru. She’s in a state. One department says one thing and another says something else, and what she really needs to know is just how much blood DO I want to see on Knife Guy’s shirt which, by the way, should really have been changed into a hospital gown by now. For the record. Is what she says. So I say, sure, he can be wearing a gown in this scene, and less is more, with the blood, please, especially right now, before I’ve had any coffee or even thought about breakfast -- and that’s when I realize, I have, in my decaffeinated fugue state, already walked all the way upstairs to editing, where Rob has his scene cued up and waiting.
So I sit down and watch a rough cut of a scene and as I watch… I’m a little bit struck by just how different and cool this episode is going to be.
We’ve been able to be really inventive, to think outside the box. Take the clock motif that runs throughout the episode, for instance. Once you start looking for the clocks, you kinda can’t stop. They’re all over the place in this episode. One of my very favorite examples is when Mer and Teddy are hurrying onto the OR Elevator, and as Meredith pushes the elevator button in the distance, the camera racks focus onto a clock displayed on a monitor in the foreground. SO COOL.
I was also able to tell five different patient stories in this episode, when we generally only tell three, maximum. And not only are there five patients, but somehow they all manage to intersect with Meredith, in a really satisfying way. Each one makes an impression on her. Even the story inspired by my 2 year old nephew, who broke his femur late last year and spent six weeks stroller bound with two full leg casts.
And then there’s Meredith. This is her episode. An hour in the life of Meredith Grey.
It’s always been fascinating to me -- How do doctors fit everything they fit into one day? What would a sliver of their day actually look like? We don’t see it on our show a lot, but the reality is, doctors DO juggle more than one patient at a time. And they do make room for their personal lives in between all that multitasking. We all do, don’t we? We carry on multiple conversations and handle multiple interactions and tackle multiple to-do-lists all the time…
So what would it look like if we were doing all that, only one of the big things on our to-do-list was “Save Patient’s Life?”
Meredith’s version of multitasking deals with life and death. And yet, in so many ways, it’s just another day at the office. She’s juggling patients and catching misdiagnoses and scrubbing in on emergency surgeries and she’s losing a patient. All in one little hour. She lives through the ups and the downs of life and death, and then it’s time for her to turn around and do it all over again. Because that’s what you do if you’re a doctor. You may go through hell and you may look death in the eye and you may be reminded of your own mortality or failures or insecurities… but then you have to shake it off. Put it behind you. And continue on with the rest of your day. Move forward. Go treat your next patient. Because after this hour, comes the next, and the next, and the next…
And this scene, the one we’re watching right now, it encapsulates all of that. It’s Meredith and Cristina at the nursery, looking at the babies. Those of you who are die-hard Grey’s fans know that the nursery is the place where Meredith goes when she needs a little comfort. We haven’t seen it in a while, but this seemed like the absolute perfect moment to bring it back. Especially in the wake of how Meredith and Derek have been struggling to get pregnant this season. There was no more appropriate place for Meredith to seek comfort in this episode than here. Looking at all the cute cute babies. (Plus, and you may have already figured this out about me, but I have – apparently – become a SUCKER for cute babies myself.) The scene is perfect. So perfect, I even (for a moment) forget I still haven’t managed to get back to that damn coffee station.
Rob gets a text. They are ready to shoot downstairs... So we bid farewell to David (the editor) only first, I take a quick moment to oooo and ahhhh over his newest baby photos (David’s son and my daughter were both nicknamed Blueberry in utero. Which means, I’m sure, they have some deep cosmic connection.) And then it’s time to head back down to set to take our seats at video village just in time to begin shooting the scene we rehearsed almost exactly an hour ago. “Rolling, background and… ACTION!” First shot, 8:03 am.
And there you have it. (Approximately) an hour in the life of me making an hour in the life of Meredith Grey.
And all before my morning coffee.