Staff Reporter

Camera operator Scott Steele and most other crew members of "Martial Law" are in a relaxed mood. They have descended onto Santa Monica Beach, where there isn't a cloud in the sky and hardly any breeze.

It looks like an easy shoot. "It's a great day," says Steele.

The crew is working on the last show of the season for the CBS action show starring Sammo Hung and Arsenio Hall, which routinely requires 60 hours a week of location filming. From downtown freeways to Chinatown restaurants, the hour-long adventure series incorporates a number of recognizable L.A. scenes and landmarks.

Today, there's that last-day-of-school feeling among crew members, who are anxious for the hiatus but a little nervous because CBS has yet to decide whether the show will be picked up next season. Cancellation could send them searching for work.

But that doesn't keep them from enjoying their day at the beach. Steele is sporting a smart-looking pair of sunglasses and savoring the sunshine. While the director and actors talk over the next scene, crew members chat and drink coffee.

Hairstylist Linda DeAndrea has made herself comfortable in a folding chair close to the shoreline, where the scene will be shot. Next to her is a small bag with sprays and other supplies for touch-ups between takes.

"The biggest thing on this show is action, and Sammo performs most of the stunts himself. But he also needs to project perfection, so we spend a lot of time making sure he looks dry," she says.

DeAndrea doesn't need to worry much this morning. The scene calls for the actor to kneel by a mat, with oranges and burning incense, and make a sacrifice for his dead martial arts master. In the process, his love interest, Melanie (played by Juliette Campbell), happens to pass by.

While some assistants set up a camera, others find time to critique the talent. An extra is wearing a halter top and skintight black running pants, and she has been drawing the attention of male crew members all morning.

As the assistant director yells, "rehearsal's up, background action" through his bullhorn, the actress and other extras walk behind the mat where Sammo Hung is kneeling.

"The wind is normally the biggest problem with shooting on the beach," says Steele, as his camera is set up for a wide shot. "Particularly with the hand-held camera, we need to hold up screens next to the camera to protect it from swaying."

Another challenge is wave noise. "We use radio mikes," says sound operator Jacob Goldstein, explaining that the mikes are taped to the actors. "I'd prefer to use the boom (microphone) because it gives you more control, but the radio mikes give you almost the same quality."

In a tent away from the action, the director for this episode, Michael Lange, sits slumped in his chair behind a row of monitors that show what the cameras are picking up. He is conferring with the director of photography about the timing of the shot. It's taking too long for the camera to pan from the waves to Sammo's mat on the beach, so they decide to move the mat closer to the water.

"If this were a two-hour feature film, it wouldn't matter that it takes a while for the camera to move across," says Steele. "But this is television, and if we don't censor ourselves, it will be edited out."

Next to Lange sits the script supervisor, Pam Leonte, who joined the show just six weeks earlier after the previous script supervisor went to Italy to work on a feature film.

"You have to be neurotic and detail-oriented for this job," says Leonte, clasping a marked-up copy of the script with scribbles indicating such details as where actors had their hands during a particular scene.

"For example, Melanie put her hair behind her left ear before she knelt down. So I want to remind her to put her hair back when she does the close-up shot," she says.

After the assistant director chases away some bystanders who were in the shot, they try again. Lange and Leonte put on their headsets as the assistant director yells "picture up and action!"

On the monitor, they watch the actress walk up to Sammo and kneel down next to him. But the scene ends abruptly when Goldstein points into the sky, where a low-flying airplane is approaching.

The next take is a success. "Cut!" screams Lange and jumps up clapping his hands.

"That was a beautiful performance." Leonte says.

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