Forkies TNT Dallas set visit

Move over Trekkies, the Forkies have arrived.

“Forkies” is the affectionate name for Dallas fans termed by Cynthia Cidre, the shows executive producer and writer, which she revealed when we met her on the set of TNT’s Dallas.

UltimateDallas.com was invited out to Dallas by the wonderful folk at TNT for a tour of the set, to meet the cast and watch a scene being shot for the final episode of season one. During the two days we would have lunch with Cynthia Cidre, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, meet Jesse Metcalffe and executive producer Michael Robin plus writers and crew of the new series. Exciting stuff!

Our accommodation was the recently opened Omni Hotel where several scenes of the new series were shot (I had breakfast in Cliff Barnes accommodation).

View of city from Omni

View of city from Omni hotel room

Pilot screening

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so is new Dallas as good as it all sounds? We were about to find out as we sat down to watch the very first episode of new Dallas.

The familiar theme music plays out with some excellent panoramic shots of Dallas and Southfork. It looks more like a movie than a television series.

You will have to judge it for yourself when the show airs on June 13th but we thought it was fantastic. A compelling opening episode that left you wanting more.

We will have a full review of the first season (without spoilers) in a separate article.

Trip to Southfork

The iconic Dallas landmark is back as the home of the Ewings and along with it comes the front door. Dallas fans will be aware that front door of Southfork was rarely seen during the original run but it’s now back as the main entrance point for TNT’s Dallas. We don’t see the characters hanging around the swimming pool area quite as often in this series.

 

front view of Southfork

Front view of Southfork Ranch

The of home of Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) is situated in one of the buildings across from Southfork. External and internal scenes for her home are shot here. Eagle eyed Dallas fans may remember it as the abode of previous Dallas characters including Wes Parmalee and at one time Ray Krebbs.

Elena's house at Southfork

Elena's house on Southfork

Our sources at Southfork indicated that sometimes between scenes, Josh Henderson likes to come in and play the piano to relax.  He likes doing different variations on the Dallas theme song.

Dallas Soundstage – Lunch

Next stop  downtown Dallas and the warehouse that held the soundstage on South Lamar.

When we arrived at the soundstage  lunch was being set up buffet style on the back loading dock. We proceeded to get in the lunch line and help ourselves to the seemingly endless lunch foods and drinks that were before us. Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing) was there and he dined alone as he prepared for scenes shooting later that afternoon. For lunch we were joined by executive producer Cynthia Cidre and original cast members Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray (who both came in on their days off to join us).

It was great catching up with Linda, she looked fantastic as always. I reminded her the last time we met was at a dinner with two astronauts (long sory). Linda was really excited to be back in the role of Sue Ellen and assured us there are great things to come for the  character, including running for Governor. What next, President perhaps? “Nooo” she laughed “Governor is as far as it goes”  She also informed us Larry was great and doing really well.

I must add Linda Gray does all her own Tweets, she made that very clear. I sat with her to demonstrate Follow Fridays and how to retweet. So make sure you follow her.

Sitting down with Cynthia she seemed really impressed with our Dallas knowledge. She is perfect as the exec on the show, she just seems to get the essence of what made original Dallas so great. It was also wonderful to hear that ultimatedallas.com is regularly used as a source of information.   Cynthia informed us that diehard fans are similar to “Trekkies” and referred to as “Forkies” by the production team.

Cynthia has seen some of the discussions on our fans forum , you get a real sense they are listening to feedback from those long term “Forkies”.

Dallas TNT set visit Patrick Duffy Linda Gray

Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray

Tour  Dallas Soundstage

The tour started in the Southfork kitchen, led by Set Designer Richard Berg and Cynthia Cidre.

Kitchen at Southfork Dallas TNT

The pilot was shot in actual homes in Dallas but once the series was picked up these interiors were recreated on the soundstage on South Lamar..

As you can see the kitchen and general layout is somewhat different from the original interior. Richard explained that over the years it would be natural for the house to get a make-over. The character of Ann Ewing remodeled the house to her modern taste.

Dallas TNT southfork kitchen

The first prop purchased for the show was the coffee machine, you can see it to the left of the photo

Dallas TNT southfork kitchen gun

On the right side of the kitchen (if you are standing behind the kitchen island) is the gun rack and exit into the Southfork hallway.  They put the gun rack in the kitchen so that Ann would have easy access to it in a scene where she is in the kitchen and and has need to grab the rifle and could come around the corner and approach a person in the study (you may have seen it in the trailers).

The scene where someone goes flying through the front window (again in the trailer) was actually shot at the real Southfork by having the person crash through the window in ‘Lucy’s bedroom’.  The scene was done in one take as the last shot of that day of shooting, as they didn’t want to replace the window more than once.

It was noted that the the gun cabinet in the kitchen does not have child safety locks on it, and that may or may not come into play in season two. Intriguing!

Kitchen gallery

The tour moved into the living area, which is all open plan within the kitchen space.

Southfork Dallas TNT living area lounge

Southfork Dallas TNT living area lounge

Open plan living rea opposite the kitchen

You can actually see through the sliding doors out onto the patio and the pool behind. The backdrop is so realistic you feel like you could jump into the pool.

Southfork patio from inside

View of the patio backdrop from inside

Adjacent to the patio and next to the entrance to the hallway stands a real working fireplace. Above which sits the portrait of Jock and Miss Ellie.

Jock and Miss Ellie portrait

Jock and Miss Ellie portrait

Production Designer Richard Berg painted the Jock & Ellie painting.  It came about after a set visit by William Keck, who asked if they were going to have a painting of Jock & Ellie.  Berg had 36 hours to come up with the painting before shooting began.  The image used came from one of the episodes the production company had the rights to, so they culled through each of the episodes and found what most reflected a tender moment between Jock & Ellie from those episodes.

Jock and Ellie portrait

Richard explains the making of the portrait

The props really emphasis family. Despite the many battles between JR and Bobby a happy moment from the past dons a photograph on the fireplace.

We moved into the foyer where the staircase to “upstairs” is located.

Southfork Dallas stairs

The stairs and entrance hall

Richard said that he recreated the staircase as close as he could to the original staircase because it was iconic and what people expect to see in the foyer of Southfork.  There is no actual upstairs on this set, as the upstairs rooms are recreated elsewhere on the soundstages.

All the photos, whether they are on the wall, or in places like JR’s nightstand are personal photos from the cast.  Young pictures of Larry Hagman and Josh Henderson can be seen in JR’s bedroom

On the right hand side (if facing the stairs)  is Bobby’s den/office.

Southfork Dallas Bobby's office

Bobby Ewing's office

The painting in Bobby’s office that was thought to look like Keenan Wynn by fans, was in fact not Keenan, and just a painting that was picked up at a shop and  hung on the wall to fill in the set. When I explained to Cynthia it had been a point of discussion by fans it further reiterated the meaning of Forkie.

Bobby's certifciate

The set is full of great props like Bobby’s business certificate

Opposite Bobby’s den is the dining room, which is smaller in scale than the ones used for the pilot.  It is located in what we would know as the living room on the old layout.

We moved from there into JR’s bedroom/ Guest room

 

JR Ewing's bedroom at Southfork

This room was located behind Bobby’s office and a sliding door led out onto the patio.  A replica of the oil derrick that JR showed John Ross in the original series stood on a table.

oil derrick

Oil derrick used in the original series

John Ross Ewing photos

Photos of John Ross Ewing

Photos of a young John Ross ( Josh Henderson) stand next to JR’s bed.  JR’s bedroom served also as John Ross’ room during filming.

The tour then moved out to view the exterior backdrops.

Bakcdrop of Southfork patio area

Set backdrops were designed so that they were created from two identical shots of the same location.  One was a daytime shot on the front, and the other was a nighttime shot on the back.  If the backdrop was lit from the front, it would appear as a daytime scene.  If it was lit from behind, the scene would reflect night

On the set of TNT Dallas

External shot of patio area

Dallas set on wheels

Some walls on the set were built with extensions and wheels on them so that they could pull away the wall when needed to allow for more room for shooting.

Upstairs at Southfork Bobby and Ann’s bedroom overlooks the patio area. The sliding glass doors open to the balcony.

Bobby and Ann Ewing's bedroom

Someone from props kept mysteriously placing a cattle prod and branding iron in Bobby and Ann’s bedroom on a trunk at the foot of their bed.  It would always be removed, but kept returning as an ongoing practical joke

Bobby and Ann's bedroom at Southfork Ranch

Opposite the bed is a sitting area where the characters of Bobby and Ann will spend time relaxing.

Bobby and Ann Ewing's bathroomThe bedroom consists of an en-suite bathroom

Bobby's bedroom set external view Dallas

External view of balcony leading off from Bobby's bedroom

Christopher’s bedroom

Christopher Ewing's bedroom

Richard explained that color was very important.   Bobby and Ann’s bedroom, along with Christopher’s room was a shade of green, to reflect alternative energy.  JR and John Ross’ rooms were blue.  Sue Ellen always wore white when campaigning for governor to reflect her persona.

On set with Jesse Metcafle and Julie Gonzalo

We headed for an apartment complex in downtown Dallas to observe a scene being shot.   When we arrived on set, they were preparing to shoot a scene with Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing) and Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Sutter) for the final episode of the first season.

Scenes can take 45 minutes to an hour sometimes for prep.  They start with the first production unit on set with the cast for a rehearsal and scene blocking.  Then they will leave and the second unit will come in along with stand ins for the actual cast so that they can work out lighting, camera angles and all the other technical prep for a scene.  Once everything is fine tuned, the cast comes back in with the first unit and the scene is shot repeatedly, doing close ups, medium shots, long shots, etc.  They used an A camera and a B camera to cover two different angles during shooting.

The set was bustling with the immense crew – a mix of local Dallas talent and established names in the business. It worked like a well oiled machine. Everyone was so welcoming to us. A special mention to the crew member who was going around with his wife’s homemade banana bread. Delicious!

We met Carey, who was a Grip on the original series dating back to 1978.  Cynthia actually told us a story about Carey leading the production team in moving a giant crane manually on set at Southfork one day for part of the shoot.  It’s his dedication to and love of his job that he has brought to work every day since 1978.

On the set, the crew was setting up the scene and we were able to meet Rodney Charters, who previously worked on “24”, and serves as chief Cinematographer here as well.  Directing  was Michael Robin’s brother Steve Robin.  We also chatted to Robert Rovner the writer of the season finale who was marking out the scene in the script they were about to shoot. During the conversation we did mention characters fans would love to see back. We will have to wait and see. Anything is possible – if a character is still living the door is open.

Rodney Charters and Cynthia Cidre informed us that there was a larger “24” presence on the show, as in addition to Carlos Bernard, Glenn Morshower (Agent Pierce) will be appearing on the show as well.

Rodney talked us through the various cameras that are in use now including the Red, which is a higher end camera that is being used in more and more film work.

The end result is stunning. The series looks like a movie.

It was fantastic to see Jesse and Julie in action on set. They are truly great in the roles. The scene let slip a major spoiler but we are sworn to secrecy. There are so many plot twists in the show it’s truly compelling.

In between takes Jesse Metcalfe came over to introduce himself.  He told us

“It’s been a wonderful experience and Patrick [Duffy] has really been an inspiration and a great mentor.  The whole original cast has been amazing”

Meeting executive producer Michael Robin

Our visit took us to the to the production offices, which served as the nerve center for production.

The homemade banana bread was back. , which was served in the production offices by Cynthia of all people. The production team from the top down is really a down to earth friendly, warm, with a  roll up your sleeves and get involved ethos.

Cynthia introduced us to co exec producer Michael Robin. who went over some of the details and planning for the show.

Micheal reiterated Cynthia’s sentiment that they worked hard to make sure there’s truth to the show’s past. This is a continuation of where the show left off. We are revisiting the Ewing’s twenty years later.

It is clear to to us that they have captured all that was great about the original series but brought it bang up to date

The original theme is being used for the new series, but according to Michael  the drum beat of the theme was a disco beat, and it has since been given a more modern rock beat. Everything else about the theme remains the same.

The opening credits do capture the essence of the original iconic opening. It was noted that the split screen opening credits of the cast are not included,  Michael Robin felt that in order to make them, they would have to use scenes from unaired episodes to create the split screens and that would spoil upcoming episodes. He also said that the split looks very  dated.

Micro filming versus Macro filming.  The original series was micro, where by they camera shots were honed in on close ups and facial reactionary shots.  Now with the switch to a 16:9 HD format, it’s a macro filming.  The shots are wider and the landscape/scenery becomes a character in and of itself. It really does look epic.

Southfork set design wall

Preproduction stills on the wall that were used in designing the set

 

Planning wall Southfork design

Our experience on the set sadly came to an end, we would loved to have stayed (I can do banana bread and make a mean apple pie), the experience was exhilarating.

In our opinion new Dallas ticks all right boxes, it pays homage to the original and it’s also a great piece of drama. It fills the void of a genre that has been missing from our TV screens for quite some time.

When we arrived home a lovely gift of a Dallas 2012 production jacket was waiting.

Dallas production jacket

Thanks to everyone at TNT for a wonderful few days and to the cast and crew for being so welcoming.

Dallas returns to our screens 13th June 2012 on TNT

 

 

 

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