My Day on the Lot – A Criminal Minds Fan’s Experience!
Wow. After months of planning and back and forth with permissions and scheduling and fluidity and unbelievable patience and generosity on the part of the CM folks… a RARE visit to the sets and inner workings of our beloved Criminal Minds is GO. There are certain people that made this happen and you know who you are and you’re FREAKING AMAZING! Actually everyone there pretty much is. Without further ado…
There is so much to tell and I can’t wait to get to it so let’s just jump right in. Friend and fellow fan Ryka and I pull up to the guard station and we give our names and tell her we’re here for a Criminal Minds set visit. My heart is thumping away because I just know she’s going to say “Get outta here!” or the like. It was all a joke, they don’t want us here, and how dare I encroach upon the gateway to all that is CM? But that doesn’t happen and I breathe a sigh of relief. The guard helpfully tells us where to park and how to find the entrance to the offices.
Here we go.
We walk in and let reception know we’re here to see Harry’s assistant Jenny. Of course she is already there and waiting for us because that’s how they roll. She’s lovely and greets us warmly and takes us through a maze of offices, and all of a sudden there’s Harry! I’ve been talking to this human for years now, but this is the first time we’ve met in person and he’s breezy and animated. He breaks the ice with immediate hugs all around, and we are all smiles as we take our seats and he lays out how the day will go, talking as much with his hands as his voice (which I can totally relate to). So far, so good.
Harry’s like “Let’s GO!” so we do and we follow him down and around the outside and we start by going through construction. It’s a huge stage the size of an airplane hangar that has been taken over by the builders and engineers. This is where any and all sets are hammered and sawed into being, and anything else that needs to be built. It’s an impressive space, and smells like tools and clean, cut lumber.
You know how when you’re watching a movie, and your eyes are the camera’s pov, and someone opens a door for you? You know how the relative stillness of being outside immediately changes to controlled and choreographed chaos (yes I know that sounds oxymoronic but bear with me) with people criss-crossing in front of you, moving equipment about, and whisper-chatting in small clustered groups?
It was exactly that, I immediately felt like I was in a production. Then familiar faces started coming into view, none that I know personally, but have been following for years – there’s Pam and Liz walking by and I say their names and they both smile and wave, and there’s Krish! Hi Krish! And here’s Glenn Kershaw! I stopped to say hello to him and introduce myself. Hanelle Culpepper had asked me to tell him she wants to come direct with them again next season, and Glenn was all for it.
“Hi, yes!” he says when I tell him who I am, and he registers familiarity with the site. I go “Oh you’ve seen it?” and to his credit he tells it true “No, but people tell me things!” I chuckle and relay Hanelle’s message and he shakes my hand and says “We always want her, we tried but she’s so in demand! She blew up!” He guarantees they won’t stop trying to get her and I smile and wave and beat feet to catch up with Harry.
This happens a lot through the day. I get distracted by a person that I’m compelled say hello to, or I need to stare at
a particular set piece, or graphic, or wall texture, or light array. There is SO MUCH to see. Imagine your first run-through on the actual sets, offices, storage, and creative spaces of CM and you can get an idea of what I mean. Kid in candy store? Check.
After showing us the massive signage storage (and the graphics on the signs were amazing to see – every police station they’d ever been to needs their own identity and they save them all), and set dressing area with about 50 bajillion lamps and any everything you would ever need for a house, we head outside and up into the hair and makeup trailer. We run into the lovely Dalia Dokter and we start talking about what goes on in there each day, and that she also worked on Angel with Dayne. She’s a hoot, and I hope to interview her soon to hear more.
We exit and walk past everyone’s parking spaces and trailers with their character names on them, which I’m sure is business as usual to them, but it’s cool for me to see. Harry relays an interesting yet sad story about a previous main star, and how security had to be tripled because the star had several vicious stalkers. Get a life, weirdos.
We end our outside tour by being welcomed to Harry’s office patio! It’s a cool, shaded area with a high fence, colorfully decorated with his beloved cardinal and gold USC Trojans swag, and comfortable furniture. You get the sense that a lot of time is spent out there hammering out production details, or just being able to take a breather in the fresh air. Did I mention the glorious Trumpiñata swinging freely behind his chair? Where’s that stick? We rest up and chat for a minute, and he asks us if we’re hungry and since there’s no way we’re passing up a chance to eat on-site, sure!
Jenny comes to get us and we go over to the lunch area Harry calls The Box. There’s an appetizing catered spread with several entrees and various side options, along with fresh fruit and veggies, and of course desserts. We both choose some delicious, crispy-skin fish, and they had roasted carrots too so I’m a happy gal. This is also where I ask to hear a little more of Jenny’s story and how she came to be at Criminal Minds. She’s young and interesting and kind, and is pursuing her dreams and we are immediately on her side and adore her.
We head back through the offices, Harry re-joining us and we get to see the writers’ room! We see a story breakdown on one board, then another filled with verbiage. I can’t take a pic of the story, but I’m allowed a shot of the terminology and I feel pleased because after watching for so many years, I know all (or most of) those words and phrases. People start coming out to say hello. I’m delighted to see Charlie! He’s Breen’s assistant last I heard, but I think he’s doing something else now with scripts, and hey here’s Erik Stiller, awesome staff writer, who I interviewed last year! Everyone is all handshakes, hugs, and smiles.
We get to meet writer Erica Meredith, coming over from Beyond Borders, who wrote 13×07 Dust and Bones, featured in the table read today. We keep going and Harry strolls into Breen’s office, with us following. Breen is cordial and flashes us that huge smile. He graciously chats with us for a minute, but is needed elsewhere right then. He leaves us with a hug and a promise to talk more later.
Harry pops into another office for a second, and comes back out with none other than Erica Messer! I smack Ryka on the arm in surprise at this unexpected coolness! Wow. Erica is friendly, unhurried and calm, and we talk for long minutes about how the show brings people together from all over the world, Amanda’s cross stitch and other fan art, the Korean CM, changes through the years, and other things I can’t even remember because I was kind of breathless by that point from meeting her and all the amazing people that I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with throughout the day. People like Barry Hatchett, set dresser, who has been with the show since prep on Extreme Aggressor!
And it ain’t nearly over.
Harry had gone on ahead, so Jenny takes us back to the patio, where he’s in a meeting with none other than Stacey Beneville, now Unit Production Manager, who was the 1st AD since season 3. We’re invited to pull up chairs and we have a lively conversation about Elephant’s Memory, and the sometime difficulties of remembering everything about each season.
Harry claps his hands. “Okay, you guys ready for the table read?” OMG. We head on out to the room set up just for this, and we’re seated against the left wall, middle. We’re waiting quietly when Pam and Liz come in and sit next to us. We start chatting about what we’re doing there, and how super nice everyone has been when in comes Joe Mantegna – all debonair with his great hair and white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves – and sits right in front of Ryka. The producers, director, writers, and guest stars all come in and I’m getting so excited that we’re about to see a pre-shot, pre-aired episode of Criminal Minds performed right in front of us like a live play, holy shit!
Then Jim Clemente comes over, dapper in his leather fedora, and Ryka tells him she’s read his book and has studied Forensics in Hawaii, and I tell him how much I love Foundation and he smiles and nods. Then Daniel Henney and Adam Rodriguez come in and sit directly in front of me. Gulp. Hottie Alert. Kirsten has a stand in, she isn’t able to come as her voice has been hoarse and she has a scene to shoot later so she’s saving it for then. AJ arrives and sits directly across the room, making Ryka’s day, and Paget comes in and waves and smiles hello. Matthew follows her in and sits, and it begins.
Everyone in the room introduces themselves, actors first, and when Ryka says she’s visiting from the Bay Area, Joe lets out a whoop! I say my name and that I have criminalmindsfans.com and people applaud politely, and we’re off!
They read through the script, quickly, but not neglectfully. The guest stars especially really lay into their roles and it’s such a treat to see how committed and really GOOD everyone is. People crack a joke here and there, and it’s a playful, but professional, atmosphere. It’s no secret to anyone reading this that Reid is my favorite, and has been since the beginning. To see and hear him be Spencer, live and in person, was something pretty unforgettable for this fan. On one of his last lines he does an exaggerated eyebrow wiggle at AJ and my l’il shipper heart goes nuts.
Then it’s done, everyone applauds! The party starts breaking up and both Daniel and Adam turn around and start talking to us. They’re being so nice, and then Adam and I start talking about the interview and Ryka talks to Joe and then Paget comes up and we greet each other and start laughing about the whole day because it’s freaking amazing and she thought we were coming in the morning, but no, and I start to show her (my daughter) Willow’s message (they have a thing about the bangs) but she can’t hear because everyone’s chatting. So we go outside and she watches it, then spontaneously decides to record one back for Willow and it’s quick and fun and hilarious (see below for the video).
Jim comes up and grabs us and says we gotta go now because they’re about to shoot there and you won’t get in so let’s GO! Woo-hoo! So we scurry after energetic Jim and he’s like “Okay, whaddya want to see first?” And we’re like “THE BULLPEN”, so he takes us through this whirlwind tour and I’m seriously floored that we are there. I really… I mean, seeing the glass doors and the catwalk and everyone’s offices and desks? Really? I get to do that?
And Jim has no time for our being stunned, he’s like “Lemme take the picture! There you go. Let’s go!”, and we’re off to the next room, the next office; Rossi’s, Emily’s. He was fantastic. I’m sure not letting us catch our breath is by design, because some fans would probably never want to leave. We got our pictures, and Jim seemed like he totally understood our joy. He helped immensely, and it was really nice of him to take us around. He even took a lot of them on his own camera, and sent them to me later.
Next we were brought to a hallway portion of the BAU, where AJ and Kirsten were rehearsing a scene. Jenny said we were waiting for chairs, and so we sat against the wall and watched. It was such fun to see them rehearse, KV in her sparkly boots, of course, AJ in her Uggs. Then Jenny takes us to get bottled waters, and BOOM, Kirsten comes walking through the behind area where we were. She comes up to us and first Ryka, then me, shakes our hands and says “Hi, I’m Kirsten,” all modest. And this was the first time I felt starstruck, all day. She could tell I wasn’t about to snap out a fancy retort so she goes “You guys are here to watch us make the donuts?” I just nodded and smiled like an idiot and she asked our names and said it was nice to meet us and then she was off to do her scene.
Jenny comes up and asks, “So is there anything you haven’t seen that you want to see?” And we’re like “THE JET!”. She smiles and leads us right to it. We go up the stairs and I’m feeling nervous like this is hallowed ground sort of and I’m an interloper, but we get in there and it’s gorgeous. Bigger than I thought, but of course for the cameras and such. And IT’S THE JET. We monkey around in there, sitting in the seats, taking pictures and Jenny is chuckling at us but is a good sport and takes a bunch of shots for us and hands me a corded landline phone to pretend to talk on because she’s hilarious. Then we go back to the bullpen seeing as it’s empty again and we get to take our time. We get to look at the stuff on the walls, and take more pics. We get to walk around slowly and see the W on Rossi’s wall, the commendations on Emily’s. We even walked down one of Reid’s prison hallways and I took a pic of the “No Profanity” sign. Heh.
So then we head back to Jenny’s office for a bit and we’re putting our stuff away and Krish pops in and is all “Hey good, you’re still here!” So we definitely need a pic with him now (and we talk about his and Paget’s fake feud and the article I did on them), but then we go back and now there’s Criminal Minds chairs for us at Video Village and we’re sitting right behind Jim because he wrote Lucky Strikes, and Tawnia McKiernan is directing and they are filming the scene we just watched them rehearse! We get headphones so we can hear the dialogue!
Then it’s winding down and getting late in the day and Harry comes to tell us goodbye, and Jenny must leave soon too (regulations), but there’s one more thing we get to do. Jenny goes and asks AJ and KV if they can take time to meet us and they say yes, so we go over there and it’s really meaningful for the both of us, but Ryka, especially. AJ has been her fitness idol for years, and she’s been on quite a journey. She just suffered a family loss too, the previous day, and while it wasn’t unexpected, it was still a blow.
AJ remembered her fitness story from an instagram post Ryka had made previously, and KV grabbed her phone and took a selfie with all of them, then she took one of AJ and me, and we laughed about holding our breath for pictures. Why do people do that? AJ was fun and relatable and I got to tell her that I’m a big Jencer shipper and she laughed and said her and Kirsten were just talking about “Jemily”, a different ship that pairs her and Emily. She was so down to Earth, despite being elegantly dressed for the scene, and I could’ve talked to her much longer. Both she and Kirsten were really generous with their time, and KV was funny on top of it, and that seems to be the way they all just are. They’re a funny, spirited, lively bunch, and I’m beyond grateful that the lot of them put up with me all day.
Thank you to everyone who went out of their way to show us all these wonderful things, to come and talk to us, and to make us feel like we were special guests. You all outdid yourselves for us, which is also what you do for us every single week on Criminal Minds.
Check out the fun video Paget shot for my daughter Willow below, and if you want to see any more pics, let me know – I have tons more but most have me in them and I didn’t want to make people nauseous from my weird shirt!