It feels like back-to-school season at the former Baker-Curb Racing shop, which now houses the set of Nashville. The crew of CMT’s BNA-themed series is trickling back into the 60,000-square-foot studio near Brick Church Pike, prepping to start shooting Season 6 on Sept. 27. By the middle of next week, the better part of the 150-person team will be on site, transforming the erstwhile racing hub into rooms fit for the fictional kings and queens of Music City.
Buttercup was fortunate to be hosted on the Nashville set by Construction Coordinator Lanny Henson and Key Grip Darryl Wilson. Lanny’s team builds the sets, and Darryl’s team moves them during shooting. Darryl and Lanny were enjoying the quiet in the shop before the miter saws and welding torches resume and the cameras start rolling later this month. That’s Lanny (left) and Darryl (right) in the photo above, which is one of the only pics I snapped on my visit. The Music City Productions team, which runs operations on the ground for California-based Lionsgate, is very guarded when it comes to images of the set. Nobody wants to give away any plot secrets.
But if the first five seasons of Nashville tell us anything, we can assume the new season, due to air in January 2018, will include a few tortured nights for characters on the road…which means somebody’s gonna have to build some new hotel room sets.
That’s where Lanny Henson’s team—including a half-dozen carpenters—comes in, constructing venues inside the former racecar HQ that are so real you can’t believe they’re impermanent. A circuit of the Baker-Curb warehouse is an eerie exercise as you walk from a near-perfect replica of the Bluebird Cafe, minus Green Hills traffic, to a Potemkin bathroom at Juliette’s house, complete with plumbing for a warm shower. Nearby, with the exception of a plastic drop cloth to keep dust off the duvet, Maddie’s room looks like a teenage girl just sulked away.
These rooms are not like TV sets I’ve seen before, with two or three walls open to a studio audience. These rooms—the late Rayna James’s kitchen, a radio studio, the grill room at The Bluebird—all have four walls, just like the real things. Such faithful construction makes spaces look and feel authentic, but it also brings challenges, Lanny explains.
The walls and ceilings have to be ready to move to accommodate various camera angles, so Lanny’s team—which can at times include up to 25 carpenters and painters—makes many walls modular. That means screwing walls together, instead of nailing them as you would in standard residential construction. (If you’ve ever tried to yank a nail out of a 2×4 with a hammer, you know why this is important.) It means connecting ceiling tiles so they can be detached without damaging walls. It also means having strips of painted tape on hand to match and patch bare spots that result from rapid reconfiguration of room layouts. That level of modularity can take longer in the construction, but it saves time on set. And when cameras are running, talent’s in place and everyone’s waiting, time runs about $750 a minute.
“Darryl and I really have to have our stuff together,” Lanny says, referring to communications between his construction crew and Darryl’s grip team. He and Darryl fist-bump as they speak. Then he adds, “Because it’s costing money every minute that we can’t get a wall up.”