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Running a lean production

Shooting smart keeps 'Damages' on budget

On the fourth episode of the first season of “Damages,” Mark Baker fired himself.

The co-exec producer of the FX drama skein, who had a small role in the pilot, was supposed appear again in the legal thriller, which stars Glenn Close as a ruthless New York attorney. But Baker had a bad cough.

“I decided I would take too long to perform because I would constantly be hacking,” he says. “I’m responsible for the length of the (shooting) day, so I fired myself before I allowed myself to go in front of the camera. I had to prioritize, and I lost.”

Then again, Baker also won because he was able to bring the episode in on time, which is his primary job. “Damages,” produced by Sony Pictures TV, just began its third season.

Production on “Damages” runs lean. During its first season, the shooting schedule for each episode was a tight seven days, taping at three or four locations each day. In the second season it rose to eight days, helped in part by tax incentives from the city and state of New York. But budget consciousness is always top-of-mind. “We don’t do second units or tandem units,” Baker says.

“Damages” is produced entirely in Gotham. Exteriors are scouted by location manager Michael Fucci, who “doesn’t have the luxury of many days to find what we need,” Baker says. Production designer Ed Pisoni “has a strong input, and I’m a former location manager myself and have a sense of how we want to portray the city,” Baker says.

That portrait avoids “picture-postcard shots,” Baker adds. It embraces gritty junkyards and scaffolding-encased buildings. Interiors are shot at Steiner Studios in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard. Post-production takes place there as well. Production and prep are continuous, with one episode prepped as another is shot throughout the 13-episode cycle.

For Baker, good prep is the key to successful production. As he translates the script into the eight-day shoot, he’ll sometimes encounter “something that may cause delays or present a challenge to the budget. (Then) I’ll go to the writers” – showrunners Todd Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, known collectively as KZK – “and I’ll say, ‘Here’s an alternative that doesn’t compromise creativity, which we can handle within the schedule.’ We figure it out and make it work.”

BOOKINGS & SIGNINGS

Innovative Artists has signed production designers Bill Eigenbrodt (“Numbers”) and Lauren Crasco (“Gilmore Girls”) and art director Michael Budge (“Greys Anatomy”). IA has also booked d.p.’s Phedon Papamichael on Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” Bill Wages on USA’s “Burn Notice,” Darren Genet on CBS’ “CSI Miami,” Shawn Maurer on Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s “LA Art Movie,” Denis Maloney on Paul Brown’s “Heaven’s Rain,” Jules Labarthe on Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” and Yon Thomas on Life Garland’s “Liquid Rush.”

Other IA bookings: line producers Samson Mucke on Lance Daly’s “The Good Doctor” and Bob Simon on ABC’s “Generation Y”; production designers Ray Kluga on USA’s “Royal Pains,” Lauren Crasco on CW pilot “Wyoming,” Doug Kraner on CW pilot “Nikita,” Richard Berg on NBC pilot “Chase” and Dan Dorrance on John Moore’s “Northern Lights”; and editors Jeff Canavan on Sean McNamara’s “Soul Surfer” and Zene Baker on Jonathan Levine’s “I’m With Cancer.”

Paradigm has signed d.p. Christopher Faloona (“Without a Trace”). Agency’s bookings include production designers Nelson Coates on the ABC pilot for the untitled Richard Hatem project and Patti Podesta on HBO’s “Duke Lacrosse Case”; costume designer Jenny Gering on Neil Burger’s “Dark Fields”; and editor Bruce Cannon on Jeremiah Birnbaum’s “Two Mothers.”

Skouras Agency bookings: production designers Gavin Bocquet on Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Killer,” David Bomba on Shana Feste’s “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” Jeff Sage on Jake Kasdan’s “Bad Teacher” and Neil Spisak on Peter Berg’s “Battleship”; d.p. Phil Meheux on Raja Gosnell’s “The Smurfs”; and editor Olivier Bugge Coutte on Mike Mills’ “Beginners.”

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