Skid Row Becomes A “Bold And Beautiful” Experience
Lights. Camera. Skid Row. It may sound like an odd mix, but for the producing team of hit soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful,” it was their reality.
In episodes that were shot last September, producers Cindy Popp and Casey Kasprzyk went on scene to film scenes for the show. The show was a huge success and the two producers are very active in the Skid Row community today, but that wasn’t always the case.
When Bradley Bell, head writer of “The Bold and The Beautiful,” told Kasprzyk and Popp that he wanted to shoot in Skid Row, they both had their doubts.
“I was really concerned about our safety,” Kasprzyk said. “I was born and raised in Southern California, but the one area I knew nothing about was Skid Row.”
Kasprzyk said that he assumed that most residents in the community were either criminals or mentally ill, and admitted that the area was very unfamiliar to him.
“A couple of times, I have accidentally driven through Skid Row trying to avoid traffic on the freeway. As I would drive through, I would pray I didn’t have to stop at a light or have car trouble,” he admitted. “It was a pretty scary thing.”
Popp felt the same way. “It was a place I had always tried to avoid,” she said.
Despite their apprehension, the two producers agreed they wanted to tell the story. “I wanted to push the show to break new ground,” said Kasprzyk.
“I was excited to see where the story would take us,” Popp agreed.
As the show’s director, Popp did some background research on Skid Row by watching “The Soloist” to see where the film was shot and watch some behind the scenes footage.
“I learned that they used some of the folks that lived on Skid Row in the movie and how, over time, they had earned each other’s trust,” she said.
Once they arrived there, however, everything changed.
“I began to see the area as a community, a neighborhood,” said Popp. Their host Kevin Michael Key, an activist in the community, took them around Skid Row and introduced them to residents.
The team ended up hiring extras from the Skid Row community to act for the show. Camaraderie between the producers and the residents became apparent.
Popp remembered a time when one of her Skid Row resident actors, A.J., had to leave a shoot to get his belongings. She recalled stopping the shoot, jumping on a bus with A.J., and searching for his belongings with him. She made it clear that no matter who was in her crew, she was on their side.
Popp said filming on Skid Row was an amazing experience for her. “The residents of Skid Row were great―very professional and courteous. It felt good to be able to connect.”
Once she toured the Union Rescue Mission, Popp said that’s when her perceptions changed even more. “Skid Row became a place where people could find help, safety, comfort, and recovery,” she said.
Kasprzyk’s time in Skid Row was similar.
“It was such a crazy experience that I remember it in pieces,” Kasprzyk shared his feelings when he first arrived on Skid Row to shoot on Sept. 27, 2010 at 4:30 a.m.
“It was dark out and the streets were lined with tents,” Kasprzyk said. The crew had the protection of police officers on that first day, and only then did Kasprzyk feel safe that September morning. “It’s just a surreal experience driving down the streets at 4:30 in the morning, seeing a sea of tents. It’s very quiet, not what I’d expect,” he said.
Kasprzyk’s perceptions, too, changed gradually. “After our first day of shooting, and working with the residents Kevin found to be extras, I started to realize there was more to the community than one would think,” he said.
One part of the filming showcased different Skid Row residents talking about their past. “When we taped the interview episodes and hearing people talking about why they live in Skid Row, then my perceptions really changed,” he said.
“Not everyone was a stereotype,” Popp added. “Some people were just laid off work, or hit hard times.”
On the first day of shooting, Popp and Kasprzyk recall that it was 113 degrees, one of the hottest days on record in Los Angeles. “We had water and Gatorade at our fingertips, it was necessary in the heat,” Popp said.
In that extreme heat, Popp had an epiphany.
“I remember just stopping and looking around,” Popp noted. “I said to my crew, we have the convenience of having water at our fingertips, but there are those in these streets that have nothing. It was a very sobering experience.”
The last thing the two producers expected was to have connections to the people of Skid Row. Popp mentioned that on the end of her second day of shooting, she didn’t want it to end. “I felt like I now had friends on Skid Row,” she said.
“There’s no more mystery,” Kasprzyk added. “I’m filled with the feelings that there’s hope alive on Skid Row. I didn’t really have that feeling before.”
After spending long hours on Skid Row shooting for their TV show, Kasprzyk and Popp experienced first-hand how art can be a transformative power in Skid Row.
“I learned so much about the talented artists of Skid Row,” Popp said. “People want to have a voice. Their art is their voice.”
“I didn’t realize how powerful art can be in a community until we were down there,” Kasprzyk added. “The wall murals are the only things that bring color and life to the community. That’s totally transformative.”
“Art is something that one can do that doesn't cost a dime,” Kasprzyk said. “The residents of Skid Row don't have much of a voice. Even if they did, it'd be hard for someone to really listen to them. But through art, they are able to express themselves and let their voices be heard.”