happy 100, PLL!

I’ve been meaning to post about My Trip to Rosewood for sometime, and what more auspicious occasion than Pretty Little Liars 100th episode day? I’m in the midst of a series rewatch — Emily just moved in with Hanna, and Toby just found the field hockey stick on the Hastings-DiLaurentis property line — and I’m struck again by how much love I have for this show. Suspense and scares, mysteries and red herrings, fun and fashion, and best of all: the characters. The joy of the rewatch is in the details you missed the first time (or second or third or fourth…). This 100 Moments post on Buzzfeed is a good refresher on some of the Amazingly Crazy Things that have gone down, and if you want to hear Lucia and me talk excitedly about what we love about the new season, you’re in luck. We chat about the first 3 episodes of season 5 here.


Norman wishes you a happy PLL 100! (photo from norbuck's instagram)
Norman wishes you a happy PLL 100! (photo from norbuck’s instagram)

Well, first to L.A. Back in March, I went to L.A. for the first time in over a decade (crazy-long — my sis used to live there and I would visit far more frequently than never), and amongst the excellent adventures — TVD PaleyFest panel, jokes writing session with Heather Vee, seeing fam and pals — I had the privilege of finally meeting Mr. Norman Buckley in person.

Way back when, a.k.a. after I wrote Spotted, my very 1st book, about Gossip Girl, I’d sent a copy to him — he directed a number of episodes of GG over the series run — and he received it graciously. Turns out, as all of you who follow him on Twitter/Tumblr/etc already know, Norman is not only kind and supportive, but smart and thoughtful and engaged. I could really ramble on about how great he is — learn about film! politics! — but you can discover this yourself if you haven’t already: he tweets here, and tumbls here. And here’s a post he wrote on the occasion of PLL’s 100th. Couldn’t agree more with his point about the centrality of the girls’ friendships.

So Norman invites me to lunch. But he’s working the week I’m in L.A. So lunch will have to be on the WB studio lot; he’s shooting the PLL season five premiere. Plans are made, I think about very little else in the intervening hours than my impending adventure.

There was a slight shmozzle when I went to pick up my pass at the WB security desk to get in — the perils of having a pen name, Calhoun, that’s not on my I.D. — so I was running late (I hate being late) and the directions I received from the friendly guard were, as it turns out, to the PLL building (listed on my pass), not to the ‘executive dining room’ where I was to meet Norman for some executive dining. However there were two very cool looking people hanging out outside the PLL building when I scampered up to ask for directions. The guy turned out to be Jakub Durkoth, art director for PLL (Norman later introduced me, and Jakub high-fived me for ultimately reaching my destination). The woman required no introduction: it was Mandi Line, she obviously looked amazing and was the very definition of fierce and provided excellent directions. Thank you, Mandi! (My lateness saved me from giving her some breathless, half-sensical compliment about her brilliant costume designing, so at least there’s that.)

Lunch with Norman was lovely (and v. tasty — compliments to the WB chefs). We talked TV, and fandom, and his work and my work, and strangely ended up on this short film he’d seen that was directed by Gregory the Smith, which just happens to feature my sister. Small world, sometimes. I also learned what an “Arnold Palmer” is and subsequently order it with authority at other restaurants in America. (Maybe we call it that in Canada too? Anyway, it’s a refreshing delight.)

We stroll over to the PLL building — and by the way, it’s a perfect Californian day, blue skies, sunshine, slight breeze — and there my tour of the PLL HQ begins. The walls outside the offices are decorated with blown-up stills from the series, so it’s a little walk down memory lane/highlight reel of crazy-awesome. Inside the main office, the first desk that greets you (with a very friendly person behind it) has on it a bowl of candy and a sign with Tom and Donna that says ‘treat yo self.’ Best. These people are our people. Teen Choice Award surfboards are mounted high up (no shortage of those), cast and guest star headshots line the walls, and decorating various workstations are props from the show — newspaper clippings (I still get the willies from the Ali missing girl front page) — and photos of the PLLs. Most imposingly? The portrait of Alison from the film noir episode hangs above Kyle Bown‘s desk. It’s amazing. And huge. And intimidating. Joseph Dougherty (who directed said episode) has film noir posters in his office. Love.

All to say, the offices are awesome. And the people therein, just as awesome. Everyone was friendly and chatty and had lovely things to say about Rosewood Confidential, which meant the world to me to hear. (Unofficial episode guides to TV shows are not really the kinds of books that get a lot of review attention from publications, and besides who more in-the-know than the producers and writers of the series to give you a pat on the back?) So I was beaming, and trying to keep cool and moderately professional. I signed Lisa Cochran Neilan’s copy of the book (who knows what I wrote or if it was legible/in English), and it was cool to overhear logistics talk about the day ahead between various folks and Norman. Their shooting day, by the way, was starting at about 3 in the afternoon (shortly after I left post lunch + tour), and wrapping up at about 3 in the morning.

Then, you guys, then I went into the Writers’ Room. White boards everywhere filled with SECRETS. And I managed not to read a single word. I was super conscious of being…respectful of Norman’s trust and, by extension, that of the producers and writers I was meeting. He was introducing me around as the author of Rosewood Confidential / a friend of his (rather than, here is a person who loves our show and has a twitter account, please let her look at the writers’ room secrets). My eyes stayed on the people in the room (and my phone stayed in my bag the entire, entire time; I didn’t take a single picture). No spoilers. (I hate spoilers.)

While there were a number of highlights that afternoon, being in the writers’ room was definitely one of them. I met Marlene, Oliver Goldstick, Bryan Holdman (what a smile!), Maya Goldsmith, among others, and they were all jovial and amazing, and Marlene told me about stumbling across RC in a Barnes & Noble while on a vacation with her boys. I am pretty sure I ended that whirlwind moment with an overly formal compliment about the show, but I got it out somehow: PLL is top notch, and thank you, and keep up the good work.

Phew. After showing me the editing suites — an editor was already working on Norm’s ep, doing a rough cut of the footage they’d already shot — it was time for us to head to Rosewood proper. (Wait, that is a lie, we went to the Starbucks — ‘Central Perk’ since it’s on the WB lot — and Jakob and production designer Fred Andrews were there, and Norman then told me some cool stories about the development of various sets and why we don’t see much of the Applerose Grille anymore.)

Into the PLL golf cart! First, we drove around some of the backlot locations and through the main streets of Rosewood. (Which are the main streets of a number of other TV show towns, of course.) Rosewood High, the cop station/city hall, the Grill, the exterior of the girls’ houses, the pond (!), the DiLaurentis house, the creepy woods they are always running through (and there’s one tree in particular the girls always run by that is a running gag for the PLLers), and around to the streets that were being dressed for the NYC scenes in the premiere.

Then onto the studio lots — there are three of them to house all the sets. This was basically like stepping into wonderland. I saw the wall of A’s that the production designers keep outside their offices. I walked the hallway where Spencer bought drugs. I saw Emily’s bedroom without any furniture in it but with the height-markings on the closet frame. Hanna’s kitchen and front area (the stairs where she sometimes has a cry!). The Hastings kitchen and living room were suitably classy — that kitchen island has very impressive stools, fyi. Aria’s bedroom? Giant. (Which when I commented on its size, Norman told me it was originally smaller, but was later expanded to ease filming in there.) What is normally the high school set had been turned into the hospital where Ezra is convalescing in the premiere. The space where the cafeteria normally is was all medical, and the doors into the boys and girls restrooms at Rosewood High (at the end of the hall) were flipped to generic hospital doors. It was this weird Matrix-y thing where I could see what was in front of me — the hospital set — but superimpose that alternate reality on top — Rosewood High. Another fun fact: the cafeteria and Ezra’s classroom? Same space! They just redress the thing. I find all of this stuff highly fascinating and impressive, so I was basically agog the whole the time.

The police station set was somehow really creepy (hmm, maybe because every cop save for Officer Barry is a total creeper in Rosewood?), but wandering through the DiLaurentis house was the creepiest of all. Especially since there was an A message written in lipstick on Ali’s mirror. The other fun/disorienting thing is that the sets connect to each other, so you walk out from one PLL’s living room, between the set walls, and into another girl’s bedroom.

chilling on the cozy Brew couch (photo by Norman Buckley)
chilling on the cozy Brew couch (photo by Norman Buckley)

We ended the tour at the Rear Window Brew, and Norman took a photo: yes, I believe I was grinning this wide the whole time. (Originally I posed behind the counter — covering Emily’s shift, and looking for wads of cash in bags of coffee, naturally — but there was no lighting in that back corner.)

That couch is legit comfy, and if they made a replica of the Brew IRL I would frequent it. Norman said the girls like to hang out there, and I understand why — it feels like a real cozy spot. The sets are stunning to behold, and so on-point character-wise to the smallest details. (If I ever magically become a rich person, I’d hire the art director and set design team to make my home look so well appointed.)

And that, my friends, was my trip to Rosewood. A total delight. I love knowing that the gang of people who work so very hard to make this show as great as it is are so warm and friendly and welcoming. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Norman for the A-fternoon in Rosewood.

Congrats for an amazing 100, Pretty Little Liars.





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