Grimm tidings: monsters in the house

How I learned to love the melée of Portland's favorite TV monster mashup making mayhem outside my front door

By LAURA GRIMES

Trying to describe the TV show Grimm to the uninitiated recently made me hyper-aware that I sounded like someone after too many whiskies:

“She’s a hexenbiest and one-time lawyer who is pregnant by a royal prince, but she doesn’t know which one. One was killed by a car bomb, the other is a bastard son and a captain in the Portland Police Bureau. She lost her powers but got them back after eviscerating an old woman, and now she’s trying to sell her unborn child that has two hearts.”

And that’s just one character.

The NBC show, now in its third season, has filmed all over the Portland area, but it came to my street to shoot an episode, called Mommy Dearest, that will air March 7.

My family folk aren’t exactly monster-lovers. We don’t go for slasher movies. We aren’t into ghosts. We’re more wine-and-Downton Abbey types. But we’ve watched Grimm since the beginning, at first because we got a kick out of spotting the local actors and locations, and now because we get to type things like, “That hexenbiest is Adalind, the cunning kick-you-into-the-next-century monster babe who plays both sides for keeps.” We want to know what’s up with those powerful coins and how the royal family shakes down. How is it possible that that tiny trailer has an interior as big as a ballroom? Is that cache of weapons right out of the Inquisition? Is Adalind’s unborn baby possessed? What creepy characters are going to pop out next?

Sgt. Wu (Reggie Lee) draws a bead on the neighbor's house. NBC photo

Sgt. Wu (Reggie Lee) draws a bead on the neighbor’s house. NBC photo

In case you’re still among the unschooled: Grimm crawls with “Wesen,” characters who look like everyday humans but morph into a variety of fantasy creatures, some good and some scary-bad. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is a homicide detective who has a special family knack for recognizing Wesen – his kind are called Grimms – and kicking their otherworldly behinds. As luck would have it, he and his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) get called to an inordinate number of out-of-the-ordinary murders. Scalpings and dismemberments, anyone?

Welcome to living in the middle of a Grimm set. Monsters and murders don’t usually happen in my quiet neighborhood. But sometimes life curls in on itself, becomes a mind-bending Möbius strip, and it’s hard to imagine what’s real and what isn’t. This is how filming a national drama played out right in my little world, hogging several streets, invading my block, taking over the neighbor’s house, and walking right in my front door.

THURSDAY, DEC. 5, THE WEEK BEFORE FILMING: NO WREATHS, PLEASE

Neighbors got word from fliers on official stationery dropped on doorsteps. Grimm will be filming in your neighborhood. Sorry for the inconvenience, but you’ll probably need to park elsewhere. A lot of filming will happen in the middle of the night, so sorry about those bright lights. Let us know if you need blackout material. Oh, and we know this is a lot to ask, but because the episode won’t air for a few months, could you please take down all visible Christmas decorations and keep holiday lights off? Thanks so much. They were nice and polite about it – “we will make every effort to remain as quiet as possible and respectful of your neighborhood” – and the neighbors were happy to comply, but good thing this wasn’t Peacock Lane.

GrimmThanks

MONDAY, DEC. 9, FILMING WEEK: WHAT? OUR LITTLE HOUSE?

A flash mob magically appeared at the house across the street. I was working at my dining table, and one minute the street was empty, the next it was full of about 30 people. Like a stealth brigade. And that’s when it hit me. Filming on our street meant it was happening at the house with the spectacular historic weeping cherry tree, the house that’s perfectly framed by my picture windows. I would have a front-row seat. Pass the popcorn.

Sizing up the location: the flash mob across the street.

Sizing up the location: the flash mob across the street. Photo: Laura Grimes

Grimm has a reputation in Portland for working well with the locals, using as much Portland talent as possible and weaving itself into the community. The show’s stars have lent their talents to the likes of Portland Opera, Wordstock, and the August Wilson Red Door Project. The show buys from local businesses, uses a mostly local crew, and is almost supernaturally nice even to the temporarily dispossessed in neighborhoods like ours. New Seasons gift cards were tucked inside hand-written notes and liberally distributed up and down our street. “Thank you in advance for your kind cooperation.”

A location manager called. They were looking to set a short scene across from the set house. Would we be interested in having a character pop out of our house?

You mean our talented little storybook house would be in “Grimm?” Murder? Mayhem? Creepy-crawlies that haunt our worst nightmares? You betcha! Excuse me as I go clean the bugs outta the porch light.

The same night our house would be filmed it would also be used for the green room, a waiting area for 12-15 cast and background actors (or BGs), the politically correct term for “extras.” How many, again?

TUESDAY: THE WILD WESEN

A coyote was spotted a few blocks away. Coincidence?

WEDNESDAY: COFFEE AND COPS

While still wearing pajamas, I opened the blinds in the morning to – surprise! – a large scattering of busy people and a security guard in a brilliant orange vest. My husband and I drank coffee and read the newspaper, while right outside a team carted out my neighbor’s furniture and loaded in lots of rattan.

In the proper light (or dark) our street can look ghoulish.

In the proper light (or dark) our street can look ghoulish. Photo: Maureen Harris

The head location manager stopped by and I tried, ever so delicately, to pry some precious information from her. Given that my husband is an arts and culture writer (ArtsWatch’s own Bob Hicks) I wanted to find out about the actors hanging out at my house. Anyone we knew? Any friends? How crazy that they would show up and, house of all houses in the whole wide city, wind up in the living room of a longtime theater critic. I couldn’t spell that out, and I couldn’t figure out how to tactfully ask without giving up the game and sounding like I was either boasting or a panting fan who wanted to hound the show’s stars. And I couldn’t come out and say that after working in the news business for nearly 25 years I was immune to star power, so that wasn’t it. I wanted to ask, who’s been cast? Who’s staying in our house? Who? Who? Who? I was just mischievously hoping for an amusing surprise that would make a good story, but nothing was going to come out right.

It turned out my curiosity wasn’t out of line. A dear old friend and two-time housemate appeared in an episode only a few weeks later. She could have been in my little bungalow, maybe playing me popping out of my front door. But no, she played an exotic rich lady living in an opulent mansion.

I did manage to get, quite vaguely, that the actors would be dressed as police officers – all 12-15? I wondered – and when filming was scheduled for a Friday night, the night that Grimm airs, I had fantasies of my living room on steroids, chock full of officers, all sitting around watching the show with us. I would get a picture. Brain freeze right there!

As the day wore on, the neighbor’s front door was replaced. A section of fence was taken out, and a new one put in with monster scratch marks. The historic tree suddenly sprouted extra branches. More shrubbery popped into place.

It all seemed quaint. Charming. A little fairy world coming together. And then filming time arrived.

THURSDAY: THE JIG’S UP

Nothing prepared me for the giant army that descended. I had seen the no-parking signs that lined streets around us for blocks, but the whole bigness never quite clicked. Truck after truck arrived, massive and medium, but not small. Tent after tent lined our street. Audio, visual, lighting, costume, make-up, I don’t know what-all. The main staging area, like a mini-city, sprouted up in a vacant lot less than a mile away. It was filled with another large army and catering trucks. Cast and crew didn’t park around our neighborhood – only the location managers had their own cars – and yet the people came, in van after van. Miles of cables snaked everywhere. Two cranes a half-block away rose up taller than houses and trained powerful lights on a grouping of large trees behind the set house. My condolences to the neighbors who had a row of port-a-potties in front of their house.

Tent City: How our street got Grimmed.

Tent City: How our street got Grimmed. Photo: Barb Christopher

Like a loosely choreographed line of dancers, people spread out along our street, busy in the cold air that threatened rain, earpieces coiling out of their ears as if they were Secret Service agents. Everything stayed pretty quiet, and I realized after a while that the secret was mostly in those coily devices. The crew members were all plugged in, constantly murmuring into mics, or emailing and texting. No yelling necessary. But so many people! So much equipment! So many vehicles, all spread over a vast number of streets. And all of that energy was focused right in front of me, where I could watch it while sitting at my dining table with my laptop open, the furnace on, and a hot drink in my hand.

A black SUV with tinted windows rolled in. Reggie Lee, who plays Sgt. Wu, got out. A crew member greeted him with a big bear hug. Some quick rehearsals, and then, “Quiet, please! Rolling! Rolling! Rolling! Rolling! Rolling!” The word waved through the ranks like echoes off canyon walls. “Action!” A complete hush fell on the street. “Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut!” Crew members rushed in to hold umbrellas over the actors and hand them coats. The same scenes played out over and over, sometimes exactly the same, sometimes a little different. The camera would switch to different angles. Close-ups, wide frames, one side of the actors and then the other.

I purposely didn’t turn on the lights in the dining room so I could stay invisible and continue to watch. I knew that if they caught me I would be asked to get out of the way and would lose my prime viewing spot. Some of the neighbors joined me. I put on a pot of coffee and made hot chocolate. We had a little party. But when some ventured a little close to the window, a smiling location manager was promptly dispatched to tell us the camera could pick up faces and we’d have to move back. Busted!

At dusk, the real jig was up. The lighting folks came knocking. They needed to stage our house for filming that night. It was just for the exterior look, but the blinds in the dining room came down, our view went goodbye, and a giant light suddenly transformed our central eating area into a glaring tanning booth, blowing plans for dinner. The living room blinds stayed up and all the lights stayed on, so unless we knew how filming was going outside, we had to stay clear of our windows, which basically meant the whole front of our house was off-limits.

Crew at work: camera, boom, director, actors, all to capture two sentences of dialogue. Photo: Shelley Holly

Crew at work: camera, boom, director, actors, all to capture two sentences of dialogue. Photo: Shelley Holly

My older son arrived from college for winter break and lugged his dirty laundry, backpack and suitcase down the street, through the rain and puddles, over the cables, past the tents, and around a crowd of people. Welcome home.

I had to take my stealth viewing outside. It was dark, and my younger son and I discovered we could covertly sit on a bench on our front porch behind an evergreen bush. “Quiet, please! Rolling! Rolling! Rolling! Rolling! Rolling!” Sgt. Wu turned to Nick and Hank, “A neighbor called 9-1-1.” My son whispered, “That’s us! We’re the neighbors! We’re the ones who called 9-1-1!”

We had a good thing going, but the jig was soon up with that, too, when we made a tactical error. We could hear it was “only” a rehearsal so we stood up to get a better view. The camera guy immediately spotted us. I had the gall to argue that we could just hide behind the bush, but he would have none of it. Politely but firmly, we were asked to leave our own front porch.

We had to join the throng of onlookers in our driveway. Neighbors laughed at me, because they had spied my hiding spot when the light glinted off my wine glass, which had been fine to sip from secretly on the porch but now seemed rather reckless in a large crowd in public.

In the catbird seats, where it all begins

In the catbird seats, where it all begins. Photo: Maureen Harris

Well after dark, a scene ended, and instead of the usual echoing “Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut! Cut!” the cry went out, “That’s lunch! That’s lunch! That’s lunch! That’s lunch! That’s lunch!” The vans rolled through, loaded up, pulled out, and the street emptied, just like that, leaving only the security guys strolling around. Must have been dinnertime.

Filming continued into the wee hours, and the action ramped up: Police cars with flashing lights, peeling tires, the neighbor’s front door kicked in, gun drawn. It was all just fake smoke, and some of it wasn’t even a metaphor.

The two background actors that night were dressed as police officers. The assistant location manager said the green room on this night was the basement of the set house, which has comfy chairs and a big-screen TV. The crew kept going in and out to check the Blazers score. Officers watching TV? My hope bloomed: I might see my living room on steroids yet.

FRIDAY: WALKIE TALKIES AND PIGS FEET

Contractually, NBC had use of our house from 2 p.m. on, so it was fine when an assistant director was ushered in to work across from me at the dining table/secret viewing spot. He needed to redo the call sheet somewhere out of the rain, and he worked like a multi-tasker on artificial stimulants. I was more than a little envious. Computer, phone, radio, he had everything going at rocket speed. I once had a job with a crazed pace. How easy it would be to relapse. Could I maybe just whisper into that walkie-walkie thingie? Just once? (No, I didn’t ask. How uncool do you think I am?)

At one point he announced into the radio that a particular actor was showing up just to meet with designers. He couldn’t do it on Monday because he would be “chopping pigs feet.” I wasn’t sure whether he meant for real life or for Grimm, but I acted cool and didn’t ask.

When the ambulance rolled up on Friday night, we were long gone to the penthouse. Photo: Shelley Holly

When the ambulance rolled up on Friday night, we were long gone to the penthouse. Photo: Shelley Holly

As it got dark, the blinds came down again, and the “tanning booth” light clicked on. The actors would be arriving soon. The lighting situation made our living and dining rooms tricky to use, so the green room was set up in our finished garage. No TV. I didn’t recognize any of the actors, and only two were police officers, so all my fantasies of amusing surprise, living room on steroids, and watching Grimm with the Grimm folks were bust. But I learned that a few were to play “neighbors.” Later it dawned on me. Was one of them going to play me? Calling 9-1-1? Popping out of my house? What was I going to look like?

Because filming would happen in our house in the wee hours, we left to spend the night elsewhere. So I’m not sure what-all happened, but hold on anyway while I blow your mind. We got ready to watch Grimm while it was being filmed right outside our house. While someone was at OUR house, getting ready to play US, and “pop out of” our front door. Where were we? In a penthouse suite (that’s what it was called, but it was really the top floor of the Residence Inn, and I’ll shamelessly stretch it for effect), courtesy of NBC. We had so many TVs we could’ve all watched it on a different set.

How did our talented little house do? Can you spot us behind those evergreen bushes? Will it have pigs feet? We’re going to find out with all our neighbors. I was saving a growler of Rogue Dead Guy Ale for the viewing party, but I accidentally knocked it over, broke the seal, and it sprayed a mess, making the place smell like a frat house on a Sunday morning. Worse, we had to drink the whole big thing.

Now we have a bigger problem. I saw the preview, and after months of build-up, Hexenbiest Adalind has her half-royal baby during the same episode. She might garner more drama and attention than our sweet little street, but I bought two new six-packs of Rogue Ale. You think you’ve got killer instincts, Devil Baby? I’m fully confessing to wicked hell-wrought premeditation right now. Yeah, my neighbors and I will toast your birth. Sure, we will. We have 12 – count  ’em – 12 Dead Guys on our hands, and we plan to drink ’em bone-sucking dry. Don’t bother calling the police, because they’ve already been and gone. Welcome to the world, little one. Ours has morphed with yours, and we know some of your secrets, so just remember. We’ll be watching.

GrimmAle1

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What’s the March 7 episode about? The Oregonian’s Kristi Turnquist has some excellent information here, along with an interview with Reggie Lee, whose Sgt. Wu character plays a key part. Remember all that rattan furniture that was loaded in? If you need more prompting to click the link, here’s just one little teaser about the scariness that’s in store: “… it feasts on the fetuses of pregnant women.”

 

8 Responses.

  1. Martha Ullman West says:

    Laura Grimes, I wish you would write more often. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again no doubt. Thank you for a good read in any case.

  2. LaValle says:

    Grand adventure!!!

  3. Helena says:

    That was fun to read! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Dave says:

    LOL…I work as a “background” cop on this show regularly. I really enjoyed reading this, you captured it perfectly.

  5. Tim says:

    What, no gnomes????

  6. billy says:

    My girlfriend works in wardrobe on Grimm. I can safely say that when they yell “lunch” it’s really their lunch… i.e. halfway through the day. It’s insane how many hours they put into each episode.

  7. Sarah says:

    That’s funny, our babies character(Adalinds Baby!) was born in this episode and we saw the previews and didn’t want the story line on your street stealing the drama from the baby being born!!! How iroinic that I found this article! Trust me, we’ll be watching that little monster baby too!!

  8. Luisa says:

    Dear Friend, You never fail to make me laugh. You capture all the “glamour” and “clamor” of it all! Your adventures are a revelation!

Comments are closed.