Arts Desk

Highlights From Friday’s Parks and Recreation Shoot in D.C.

Last Friday afternoon, with the Parks and Recreation crew in town to film scenes for an episode in which Leslie Knope and her team travel to D.C., bored office drones flocked to Twitter to chatter about the whereabouts of the skeletal crew and cast.

Relying on intel from @ParksandRecinDC and the D.C. Film Office, I tracked down Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, and a small production crew in front of the Grant Memorial at 3rd Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Joining them were a mixture of unaware tourists and easily identifiable Parks and Rec fans who abandoned their cubicles to scope the scene.

"Nothing like this ever happens here. It's the only time there's ever been something to do at this time of day," said one office worker who didn't want to be identified because she was skipping work. "There was stuff to do [at work], of course, but I didn't want to do [it]."

Pratt (who plays lovable oaf Andy Dwyer) and Plaza (who plays the deadpan intern-turned-personal assistant April Ludgate) were shooting the show's infamous talking-head segments. The shoot consisted of Aubrey and Andy reeling off quips in front of different backdrops. Onlookers close enough to hear would have been treated to a firsthand look at the show's creative process: According to a producer, the actors' lines were heavily improvised with a little tweaking from director and crew.

Here are some highlights from Dwyer's bit, which I struggled to transcribe accurately with my flagging pen:

  • Pointing to the Washington Monument: "Right here's the Space Needle. I'm sure the Statue of Liberty is around here somewhere."
  • "Not many people know there's a secret underground society in Washington D.C. involving George Washington. Every president since has been buried underground."
  • Pointing to the beasts adorning the Grant Memorial: "Right here are the lions from Universal Studios, and this is Washington's tribute to Crocodile Dundee."
  • Referring to the lions again: "Right here is something very important: D.C.'s tribute to The Lion King."
  • "True fact:  National Treasure is awesome!"

Another added bonus for the onlookers: Getting to be an extra. The production used Screen Actors Guild-certified extras during the week (when they were needed to wear coats in the heat, for example), but on this particular afternoon, production just put up a notice alerting passersby that they might wind up on television. Most of the people who bothered to read the sign probably saw that despite the legalese, this was in fact awesome news.

The episode's director, Dean Holland, offered little direction to the newly minted extras as they stood from a few feet away. "I'm just trying to play it cool," said Olivia Noble, who chatted on the phone during most of the scene.

Production was briefly interrupted when Vince Gray stopped by the set to converse with Holland, Plaza, and Pratt. Plaza asked the mayor if he could use his powers to control the weather, while Pratt joked, "I do a lot of local government myself. For a while its been making shoes and shining shoes." Quick on his toes, Gray replied, "Hey, it's a step in the right direction," prompting his staff to advise the actors not to coax any more puns from the mayor.

Complimented on the beauty of the National Mall, Gray replied that the National Park Service is to thank for that. When asked where to hear live music, he recommended U Street NW, and also suggested the crew check out the city's 68 recreation centers—operated by D.C.'s very own Department of Parks and Recreation.

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