A Visit To The Sheena Set
Disclaimer: Everything in this report is my own recollection, perception, or opinion.
Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a weekly television series? I found out recently when I was invited, along with fellow fan and friend Roberta, to visit Executive Producer Steve Sears on the set of Sheena. I discovered that at the heart of the show is a group of hardworking, dedicated people, trying their best to produce a quality product that we, the fans, will enjoy. They're also a whole lot of fun to hang around with<g>.
Here's what happened…
On the appointed day, I met up with Roberta and we headed for the Sheena production facilities at Disney MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida. We had been given no specifics as to what our visit would entail, so we weren't sure what to expect. We knew that Steve would be busy and it was a real possibility that he'd assign a subordinate to give us the nickel tour. In our best-case scenario, we hoped to see the leads, Gena Lee Nolin (who Roberta thinks is adorable) and John Allen Nelson (who I think is adorable) on the set, shooting a scene. We decided to just go with the flow and be happy we'd been invited at all, no matter how brief our stay might be.
We arrived at MGM Studios and followed the directions Steve's assistant, Kelly, had given me over the phone. After providing identification at the guard shack and getting a pass to put on the dashboard of my car, we proceeded to the bungalow that houses the Sheena offices. The large, one-story rectangular shaped structure is not what one would imagine a "bungalow" to look like, but we knew we were in the right place when we saw the posters of Sheena in the windows of the building.
The front entrance to the Sheena production office.
We went inside and saw several ladies working at their desks. I asked one of them if Kelly was there and she pointed us to a hallway that led to the far end of the building. We wandered down the hall, stopped to pet the large, friendly dog that we met along the way and entered the last office on the left. An attractive young woman was sitting at a desk with a telephone headset on. I asked if she was Kelly. She smiled and said she was. I told her we were the fans that were there to visit Steve and she went into the connecting office to see if he was available. Roberta whispered something like, "WOW… that's some assistant Steve has." I agreed and said if he was going to pawn us off on someone for the tour, we could definitely live with it being Kelly.
The assistant called us into Steve's office. It was a good-sized room with two desks, one for Steve and one for the other Executive Producer, Doug Schwartz. Seating for guests included a small couch and a couple of chairs. We took a seat in the chairs. There were a few posters hanging on the walls and some bookcases filled with everything, it seemed, except books. A daytime talk show played on the large TV situated in the far corner. A substantial number of videotapes were scattered all over the floor in front of it.
I think it's safe to say Steve will not be winning any awards for interior design<g>.
Steve was at his desk and he chatted with us while he went through his mail. We talked about Florida State University, from which both he and Roberta graduated, the FSU football team (Go Seminoles!), and, naturally, Sheena. After discussing episodes we'd seen this year, Steve told us about some of the stories they'd already filmed for the upcoming season. He spoke so passionately about the show, it was impossible not to get caught up in his enthusiasm. I recall two episodes in particular that he mentioned: The Feral King, starring Ron Ely and written by Melissa Good (who wrote two episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess) and Treasure of Sienne Mende, starring Alexandra Tydings (Xena), Mira Furlan (Babylon 5), and directed by Mira's husband, Goran Gajic. Both of these episodes will be shown fairly early in the season, which starts in October.
It was around then that John Allen Nelson walked in. I exclaimed, "Oh! It's the cute guy!" Roberta burst out laughing and teased me for blushing. Smiling, John took it all in stride, shaking our hands and saying hello before plopping on the couch and talking with us like we were all old friends.
About 15 minutes or so into our pleasant conversation, Roberta turned rather pale, and said, "Oh my God, OH MY GOD." She was staring at something behind me and I glanced over my shoulder to see what she was looking at. Gena Lee Nolin was standing in the hallway, wearing her Sheena outfit with an open robe over it. She sauntered in, shook hands with us and sat behind Mr. Schwartz's desk (we never saw Doug Schwartz during our visit. I guess he wasn't there that day). I thought Roberta was going to need CPR after the actress shook her hand, but thankfully it wasn't necessary. Gena, like John, was totally relaxed with us, appearing interested in who we were and why we were there. Then she told a funny story about the last time she'd sat in Doug's chair. She'd been summoned to the telephone and she sat at the executive producer's desk to take the call. While on the phone, she opened one of the drawers and saw some pictures. She picked them up and began idly flipping through them while she continued her conversation. She quickly realized all the pictures were of scantily clad or naked wanna-be actresses trying to get the producer's attention. Gena was laughing and blushing while telling the story. She said it taught her NEVER to peek into somebody else's desk drawers again!
At that point, a woman poked her head into the office and said Gena was needed on the set. The Sheena star said okay, but stayed another minute or so, until the woman came back and told her that she was REALLY needed. Gena commented that she'd enjoyed meeting us, said bye, and left. I remarked to Steve that I had been so surprised to see her, I hadn't thought to get out my camera for a picture. He said maybe we could get one later when we visited the set. I asked John if he would allow me to take his picture, too and he promised he would. Then he was also called away to shoot a scene. Steve, Roberta and I talked a little bit about how down-to-earth and nice John and Gena were. He told us a couple of stories about Gena, still a mid-western girl at heart, saying, "Holy Buckets!" and similar expressions instead of swearing. It was apparent from the way Steve spoke about them that he is very fond of both John and Gena.
Somebody across the hall asked to see Steve and he left Roberta and me alone in his office while he went to see what they wanted. He's a trusting individual, isn't he? We behaved and didn't steal anything (though that signed FSU football was mighty tempting), but I did slip behind his desk to get my picture taken.
A fan takes over as executive producer.
About ten minutes later, Steve came back. He said he had a busy schedule, but he would take us to the set and then to some of the locations where they shoot the outdoor scenes for the show. He gave us a little lecture about the rules on the set (don't stand on any cords, don't use flash photography, stay out of the way, don't talk during shooting, etc.) and off we went.
It was only a short walk diagonally across a street to the building where interior shooting takes place. Once inside, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust from the bright sunshine outside to the dimly lit surroundings in the huge warehouse. There were props stored in one area and another place had the set for Sheena's cave (which wasn't being used that day). High up near the ceiling was a long, tinted glass enclosure. I asked Steve what that was and he explained it was part of an MGM attraction. People walked through there and could look at a TV show in production. Sure enough, a crowd of people appeared and looked down at us while we looked up at them<g>. We turned a corner and I recognized the exterior of Cutter Unlimited. There was an open double door leading into a room and several people were gathered in the vicinity.
Steve introduced us to the make-up people who were sitting in chairs across from the doorway. The man and woman immediately started talking a mile a minute, asking why we were there, how did we know Steve, etc. I think they were glad to have someone new to talk to while waiting around until their services were needed. The man struck me as being a real character (it must have been the combination of shaved head, multiple tattoos and body piercings) and he was having a great time yakking away with Roberta. Not one for making small talk, I was looking around, happy to let my friend do the socializing. Suddenly the man focused his attention on me and said, "You sure don't talk very much." Roberta and Steve both laughed. I was saved from having to respond by a loud "SHHHH!" from a woman standing in the doorway. Everyone immediately became silent.
I inched closer to the opening to the room where they were shooting the scene. A big camera on a wooden platform blocked most of my view. John Allen Nelson and Kevin Quigley (Mendelson) were being filmed doing a minute or two of dialogue, which I could not hear. There was a lot of discussion as they reviewed the tape on a small TV monitor. Evidently it had turned out all right, because they took the camera away and disassembled the platform it had been positioned on.
Steve said we could have lunch with him and we started to leave. Before we got outside, Terry Ingram (the director) saw Steve and stopped to talk to him. They got into a very technical conversation about camera lenses and how Terry wanted to direct a scene using a spongy lens (at least I think that's what he said) and having the camera down near the ground. This was typical as we walked around with Steve. Whenever someone saw him, they had a question about something. The most asked question so far that morning had been, "Where's Boris?" I didn't know who Boris was, but everybody sure was looking for him. I had heard whispers that Boris was not feeling well and I got the impression that the man might be a tad grumpy when he's sick. It was the only question Steve hadn't been able to answer. He didn't know where Boris was either.
We went outside and Steve decided to take us to see post-production before we ate. We walked a short distance down the street and into a much more upscale building than the bungalow the executive producer's office was in. We went to the editing bay, but the editor was not there. The computer monitors showed a scene from the episode currently being worked on. Steve let us go in and look around as long as we promised not to touch anything.
The editing bay
We went back outside and headed for the catering truck. As we were walking, Gena, dressed in street clothes, passed us going the other way. She waved and said bye, announcing that she was done for the day and going home. Roberta was crushed that she hadn't gotten a picture and we both mentally kicked ourselves for forgetting to do it when she was in the office with us. We followed Steve into the catering truck, which was set up like a mini cafeteria line and got our meals. They had a varied selection of food, but regretfully nothing chocolate for dessert. There was a little outdoor area with tables to sit at, but it was full. Steve said we could go in the conference room and eat.
We carried our trays back to Steve's building and into the conference room. Steve sat at the first seat available, across from someone who was already there eating. A woman breezed in and jokingly warned Steve, "Don't sit too close to him… he's sick!" She went to the far end of the table and sat down. Roberta and I joined her and I snuck a glimpse at the man, wondering if he was the elusive Boris. I didn't get much of a look at him because he leaned down over his food and talked to Steve during the entire meal, ignoring everyone else in the room. I found out later that it wasn’t Boris. He remained missing in action for the duration of our visit.
Meanwhile, at our end of the table, we chatted with Patti, the casting director, and her assistant, Amanda. They were very friendly and answered all kinds of questions we asked about how they selected people for the show and what stars they had met. Roberta tried to talk her way into being an extra on an episode, but was unsuccessful. Patti said we could come down to her office after lunch and see all the actors' pictures on her walls.
I had taken my camera out and put it on the table, not wanting to miss another photo opportunity if one should arise. While we were eating, a tram went by just outside the windows of the conference room. It was an MGM ride that took people on a short tour of the park. It came so close to the windows, the tourists could see us as easily as we could see them. I surprised the next tram full of people by snapping a picture when they went by.
A tram full of tourists passes by outside the conference room windows.
We were laughing about the expressions on the tourists' faces when a young good-looking guy came in. He was muscular and his blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Patti informed us he was Adarsh, the animal trainer. I asked him if I could get a picture with him and he said ok. I gave my camera to Roberta and went around the table to where he was standing. I had one of those spur-of-the moment ideas… you know, the kind where you later say, “What in the world was I thinking?" and jumped into the guy's arms. Surprised, he barely caught me at the last moment and Roberta snapped the picture.
Adarsh, the very surprised animal trainer
Adarsh talked with Steve about the training he'd been doing with an animal for an upcoming episode. He demonstrated a few wrestling-type moves he'd been working on and assured the executive producer that the animal would respond appropriately when it was time to shoot the scene. Terry Ingram came in with his lunch, sat next to Steve and joined in the discussion.
Terry and Steve
Steve was still deep in conversation with his staff, so we left with Patti and Amanda when we finished our meal. Patti hadn't been kidding about her office. The walls were almost completely covered with 8 x10" pictures of actors and actresses. I saw John's picture and commented on how much I liked him. I asked Patti if I sent a picture in would she put it up as a representation of the fans. She laughed and, indicating an empty space just above John's picture, said that because I liked him so much, she'd put me on top of him! Right around then, Steve came in and I took a picture of him with the casting director and her assistant.
Patti, Steve and Amanda in the casting director's office
Steve said it was time to go see the exterior sets, so we got in his truck and went for a short ride to the location of Kali's village. I think the most interesting thing about all the sets, both indoors and out, was that everything is much smaller than it appears on TV. Kali's village was really only a few huts. A wooden fence behind the village hid the water where they shoot all the lake and dock scenes.
The wedding tent from the episode Coming To Africa
During our tour of the exterior sets, Steve told us the story of how he’d pitched Sheena to Sony Pictures. It was interesting to hear the process involved in turning an idea into a television series. Now that the show is up and running, Steve, probably the most fan-friendly guy working in television today, has been talking with the Sony people about the Internet, fan conventions and merchandising. He hopes to get them to understand how important these types of fan interaction are to the success of a series.
We went to another location to see Malopo village, where Cutter lives. This was a much less primitive village. The largest structure was Cutter's back porch, which was quite elaborate.
Cutter's back porch
On the ride back to the bungalow, we asked Steve how he had managed to acquire such an attractive assistant. He laughed and said when he arrived in Orlando, he was told he was supposed to have an assistant. Kelly was the first person he interviewed for the job. She came in, had all the necessary credentials and he hired her on the spot. Roberta and I had to agree, it was obvious the woman had a great set of credentials<g>. I believe it was then that we mentioned if he was terribly busy and needed to have Kelly show us around, it was okay with us.
We got back to the office and took a few pictures with Steve and Kelly. Steve had a meeting to attend, so he put us in Kelly's capable hands and asked her to take us back to the set for some pictures with John. Then he said we could go through the employee entrance and wander around MGM Studios if we wanted to. We thanked him and exchanged goodbyes.
Kelly walked us back to the warehouse. When we got to the same doorway we'd been to earlier, it was much more crowded. It was also noisier, with so many people in such a small area. A woman, whose sole job appeared to consist of going "shhhhhhh" every minute or two, was determined to keep all of us quiet.
I looked into the room where John and Kevin were practicing a scene. There was a lengthy discussion about where John should lay his hat, on his desk or on the counter behind the desk. It seemed like a very small detail to me, but they took a considerable amount of time making a decision about it. The space was extremely cramped and John had several lines before he walked the three steps to the spot where he had to lay the hat down. Some guy was following him, sticking little pieces of tape on the floor where John was supposed to stand. There wasn't anywhere else for the actor to stand if he wanted to, but the guy put the tape down anyway. After watching for a while, I moved away from the door and talked with Roberta. We hoped it wouldn't be too long before John was free to take pictures. Roberta needed a bathroom and I needed some chocolate. So, we hung around, catching Kelly sneaking a few kisses with her boyfriend (Steve had told us earlier that her boyfriend worked there) and waiting for John. I snapped a picture of an extra, a friendly lady who had been chatting with the makeup people.
An extra waits to be called to the set
We continued to stand around with everybody else, being periodically shushed by the woman in the doorway. I was leaning against the wall a short distance behind Kelly when Adarsh showed up. Spotting Kelly, he came up beside her and asked, "Hey, did you see those fans today? I met them at lunch. They were scary!"
This guy works with wild animals all day and he thought WE were scary? (There's some food for thought.)
Finally, the people who had been rehearsing began to come out. Kevin walked right towards me and I asked him if I could take a picture. He didn't seem happy (maybe he was as tired with the hat debate as I was), but he said yes.
Kevin, after the Great Hat Debate
John came out and seemed glad to see us. Right away he said he hadn't forgotten that we were going to take pictures. He asked me if I could wait a few minutes because he was on his way to change into his sleeveless Cutter shirt. He thought I might prefer a photo with him in that outfit. Now… there's not a lot that will keep me from a chocolate break, but this guy has some fabulous arms. He said he'd hurry. I said I'd wait<g>.
After taking pictures, we said our good-byes to John. Kelly walked us outside to the MGM employee gate and told us how to get in and out of the park.
Roberta and I went into MGM, found a bathroom and then an ice cream stand. We went on a few of the rides, including the tram and I took a picture of the conference room. We could see Steve inside at his meeting.
The view of the conference room from the tram.
We were pretty wiped out by this point and my ice cream wasn't the only thing melting in the 100-degree heat. We followed Kelly's instructions on how to get back to the bungalow parking lot and I cranked up the air conditioning in the car.
It had been quite a day.
A few final comments: If you've never seen Sheena, or you watched an episode or two last year and didn't think it was your thing, please support the wonderful people working on this show by tuning in this year. I know they'd appreciate it.
Steve loves to hear from fans. Visit the official Sheena web site at http://www.sheenatv.com The site has a message board and he does read and respond to messages posted there.
Questions/comments about my report? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A sincere thank you to Steve Sears for allowing us to visit and to all the people connected with Sheena Productions that made the day so memorable.