This is for my family, friends and NCIS fans who would find it interesting.
I got the opportunity, through a charity auction, to visit the set of NCIS with a friend. I thought I’d share some of the experience with others. We arrived at our hotel near the studio the day before and went to scope out where we would be going. It is located in a nondescript industrial park area. There is little to tell you that you have arrived, other than the address numbers and a manned security booth.
Unlike many shows, they do not film at a major studio, but have their own in the northern LA area. We were later told by our host that JAG had filmed there and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers had been in the adjacent building. When MMPR moved out, NCIS was able to move into the space in time for their first season. Later, when JAG finished production, NCIS inherited a lot of their costumes and ship sets and their space as well. With that and 13 seasons of their own, they have quite a collection of wardrobe, set pieces, props and so on.
Not being on a studio lot where space is at a premium, they can keep more standing sets. During tight budget times they were able to save money on location shots by building their own street set fronts. These sets can be dressed to look different enough that you would have to be really trying to notice that they are the same set with different signs, curtains, etc. They also keep trees and plants on the lot to dress the sets.
If you click on the picture you can get a larger version. Please respect people’s privacy and copyrights in any uses of these.
We started off being met in the production offices. Our guide then took us to watch a scene being filmed in the squad room. We were asked to not use flash photography, video or to take pictures of the stars without their permission. No flash makes for some poor pictures, but it’s what we had to work with. It was explained that the stars might come and say hello, but were often trying to stay in character or working to learn their lines, so not to feel ignored. I had been told that Michael Weatherly often stops to talk to guests, but he was ill and they were trying to get done with his scenes so he could go home and recuperate.
When we got to the squad room, they were finishing up with lighting, and planning the shots with extras taking the place of the stars. We learned that the extras are usually the same person each time. They often wind up learning the lines as well as the actors. This is because, on occasion, they are there saying the lines while there is a close-up on a different actor. NCIS is a single camera show, meaning that they use one camera with multiple takes to get individual close-ups, middle range shots and longer shots.
We were told that a scene from start to finish could involve anywhere from 75 to 200 people. It takes about a month for filming, editing and so on before an episode is ready to air.
The episode being filmed was “After Hours”, season 13, episode 17 (#299). The squad room scene scene we watched being filmed over and over was set at night. The MCRT team and Delilah were talking about the case and using sticky notes to work through the details of the case.
There were two dogs on set belonging to cast and crew members. The dogs apparently are there quite often and they know how to behave in the environment. When cameras are rolling, they know to quietly lie or sit down and don’t get up until the action cuts.
After watching a few takes of the scene, we went on a tour of the various indoor sets, outside to see the street sets, the set/prop storage area and the wardrobe storage. We got to see some of the NCIS vehicles (pictures) parked on the lot as well.
We made it back to have some lunch with cast and crew. Most of them were already finished. We realized why when, after a short time, it was announced that they needed to clear the area to start filming the next scene, which was in Gibbs’ basement, which was right next to the lunch area. In short order, the tables and chairs were packed up and filming was ready to start. We spent a little time outside the basement set watching the sound man at his equipment and near make-up and other assorted crew who were there waiting to be called upon.
It would have been fun to take more time (like days), but our time, though generously given, was limited. All too soon, our time on the set was over. We had a great experience and were treated cordially. Our guide was gracious, knowledgeable and courteous.
Random notes about the sets and pictures:
Unfortunately, some of the pictures we took cannot be put online. There may be copyright/legal complications or privacy concerns. I certainly don’t want to be on Gibbs’ bad side (or anyone’s for that matter) : )
Autopsy (pictures) was being used by directors to watch/listen to the filming on monitors.
Gibb’s Basement (pictures) did not give us any clues as to how he gets the boats out. We were careful to sand with the grain when posing with his current boat project.
Gibb’s House (pictures) had most of the furniture under covers to keep it clean. It was interesting to me to see that the stairs to the basement were accessed through a laundry room off of the kitchen. I had thought they were much closer to the front of the house. There was a drop showing his neighbor’s houses that could be seen “across the street” from the front door and windows. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of that. The stairs to the second floor only have a small 6’x6′ landing at the top, so there is not an upstairs set.
I have seen a website that has architectural drawings of some TV houses. It would be fun do do those for NCIS, but I don’t think I could do it without a lot of help : ) [Try searching for “tv houses floor plans”, web page or image search will yield quite a selection.]
MTAC (pictures) was being used that day for a writer’s area. Our guide said that when writers were putting in long hours they would occasionally catch a cat nap in the comfy MTAC chairs. There was also a bowl of water and a mat for the dogs there. While it looks great on screen, the banks of equipment are old surplus that looks very unimpressive when not in use. The clocks on the entry ramp are only set when they are filming.
The Production Office (pictures) would be a collector’s dream. No, that’s not Mark Harmon, it’s a cardboard standee.
The door to Vance’s Office from the outer office where his secretary sits is can be walled off and becomes part of the back wall to the conference room. There were workmen in the Conference Room (pictures) at the time, so we just looked in through the doorway.
Set storage: (pictures) You may notice the set piece that had recently been used for the episode “Decompression”. Apparently, from a post I saw online, it took 350 man hours to build. Props for Tony’s apartment were being readied for filming the next day. It must be a huge job keeping track of what is there and where it is stored. And yes, they do have the kitchen sink.
There are many interior hallways, ladders and levels to the Ship Sets (pictures). It is fairly extensive, a nice inheritance from JAG. No wonder it’s easy to get lost when on board a ship : )
The Squad Room (pictures) seemed more compact than it does on TV. I think this is because they move pieces in and out of the area to give the cameras access. It allows the video crew to make it appear to us in the viewing audience as though there more space than there is. At one point during filming, Tony’s desk was moved over next to us to allow a camera to use that space. It looked like almost everything was movable, except maybe the stairs.
Wardrobe (pictures) is also a large area. The walls leading to it and in the area are covered with pictures, certificates and plaques. These are used to dress sets of homes and offices. The main area of wardrobe has two tiers of costumes. There are racks in the halls, ready to move to the set. I was amused that apparently McGee has the money to buy designer brand clothing. Must pay well to be an NCIS agent. It would be a shame to ruin them in the field. We didn’t see everyone’s wardrobe, but I bet others are similarly well dressed. Abby’s Wardrobe room was a huge stockpile of 13+ years of happy Goth-ish chic. The Insignia Room was interesting. They take great pains to get military insignia right on U.S. uniforms as well as those from foreign countries. Apparently vets in the viewing audience notice and write to compliment them on their accuracy.
Many thanks to my AzKicker for hosting this NCIS fan’s pages. He helped me get it all set up and also made it possible for me to have this great experience in the first place. Always.