The plan was to enjoy two weeks off – after riding the non-stop production carousel since summer of 2014, stepping away from prep and post and scripts and notes to just, finally, get away from it all for a modest 14 days before jumping back into it. A simple 2 out of 150 weeks to relax, recharge, and refresh. You know? A hard-earned rest after two seasons, 12 scripts, 5 major rewrites, and the plotting of another 13? But this would appear to be easier said than done as, even halfway across the world, I can’t escape the seemingly endless production-related concerns.
Oh, but I’ll try anyway.
Today was our last day in Tokyo – for now – as we’re catching the bullet train to Osaka to spend time with Akemi’s family. I was, admittedly, a little leery about what Akemi had planned for the day – a four hour chocolate-making course in Japanese – but I made it work because, hey, I’m all about collaboration. I’m a freakin’ team player, right?
We arrive at a little before 10:30 a.m. for the start of production. Chocolate production that is. Our hosts are the Tokyo branch of San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate.
I kill time by ordering one of my many chocolate-themed snacks of the day. In this case, a spicy hot chocolate. Akemi ate my cookie and marshmallow.
The plan, not unlike a production prep schedule, complete with timings, structured progressions, and random chocolate tastings.
My impeccable Japanese penmanship on display. The name tag says simply “Joe”. “Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner” would have taken most of the afternoon.
Your final product is only as good as your starting ingredients like, say, the best raw cacao beans or best written scripts.
But before you use ’em, make sure to sort through them, removing problematic elements like feathers, nails, and ridiculous plot points.
After that, it’s into the roaster where that amazing base ingredient acquires another level of characters – aroma, flavor, and special guest star casting.
Once that’s done, it’s on to the winnowing where the heavier nib is separated from lighter, inedible skin. The nibs are like really great script moments like the Android speaking in varied accents or THREE reducing FIVE to tears when he tells her he doesn’t care for her, not because she thinks he DOESN’T care for her but because, in so doing, it make her realizes how much he truly DOES. The skin is like those suspect creative intrusions that get cast off in prep week. Hey, how about making the corporate guard an oboe?
Producing chocolate is not unlike producing television. It’s the ingredients that make the final product. In this case, we elect to go with a delightful Belize/Trinidad 75% blend, sort of like marrying phenomenal director Ron Murphy with a script written by the talented Paul Mullie.
And into the processor it goes. Day 1! Scene 1! Interior Raza Bridge!
Blitz! Melissa O’Neil wants to tweak a line of dialogue. Anthony wants to ad-lib a little at the end. You say yes and the end result surpasses what you’d originally envisioned because your cast is awesome and totally in sync with the material, their characters.
From the food processor to the melanger, segueing from prep week to production. The nibs are ground, transformed from their humble script-like beginnings to something completely different and, hopefully, wonderful.
Before getting right into it, whether it be chocolate-making, production oversight, or 11th hour issues, it’s always best to be prepared. I imagine that this is how the cast and crew see me whenever I show up on set. The reaction: “Oh, shit!”.
Snack break #2 as the grinding process takes time. 20 minutes in the case of chocolate; about 8-10 days for an episode of Dark Matter. A sweet and salty dulce de leche dessert accompanied by a bittersweet European hot chocolate that was pretty damn close to pudding.
Next, Akemi adds the sugar – 25% of the total package leaving us with a 75% dark chocolate blend – or, in production terms: directed by Ron Murphy, written by Paul Mullie, guest starring sweet, sweet Marc Bendavid.
Then, we have to step away and allow the sugar and cacao to melange, usually 2-4 days. This is like delivering the dailies to the editor who then spends days assembling his/her edit. While this is happening, we go out for ramen. I order clam broth and pork with an egg, a side of cod roe on ice, and a request to really let those awesome VFX beats breathe.
And snack #3: dessert smore with a dark chocolate center and a weird but uniquely tasty drink made from the fruit of the cacao plant.
Oh yeah. Almost there! Check out the liquid gold director’s cut. And send in those notes.
Hopefully, it doesn’t get too messy.
Alright. Ready to head into battle once again. Put on your battle armor.
Temper your chocolate – and expectations – as you complete post-production. Lose the air. Add sound effects and music.
And color correct! Akemi reminds us to color correct!
And there you have it – roughly 30 bars of chocolate, or 13 episodes of television.
Mariko-san and Masaaki-san, the chocolate-making equivalents of Executive Producer Vanessa Piazza and Supervising Producer Ivon Bartok.
Ah, the satisfaction of a job well done. But don’t get too comfortable! Work begins immediately for the next (chocolate) season!
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