Behind The Scenes: “Good Luck Charlie”
“Good Luck Charlie” is the result of executive producers Drew Vaupen, Dan Staley, and Phil Baker. All fathers and veteran television producers, the three men had the desire to create a show that, through humor and life lessons, celebrated the family unit.
“At the time, the Disney Channel wanted to break a model into their programming which involved parents,” said Drew Vaupen. “At the time I had two kids and Phil had a young daughter. We saw this as a chance to write about what it means to be a family, to have a unity between the kids and the parents.”
The concept behind “Good Lucky Charlie” begins with Amy Duncan, the mother of an established family, giving birth to an unexpected daughter. The kids, Teddy, Gabe and PJ, realize they will have moved into adulthood by the time Charlie is old enough to understand their world, so they keep a running video diary to share their thoughts, feelings and daily adventures. Vaupen works with a writing staff to intertwine humor and passion into the adventures of the Duncan family.
“The writing is very collaborative, we have or were kids, so we all have ideas to bring to the table” said Vaupen. “For instance, the hockey thread comes from (supervising producer) Erika Kaestle, who is a real hockey mom. We find relatable moments in our own lives and build upon them. We spend the morning sharing ideas before we get down to the hard press work.”
There are seven writers on the staff, all working on two to three scenes each. After two years of working together, the writers are able to provide 18 scenes that, when pulled together, sound like they’ve come from a single voice.
Once a script is ready, it follows an efficient process leading to an air date.
“We have a table draft on Monday that’s followed by re-writes, which is generally cutting and trimming. Each show we keep 3-4 minutes over to have material that can be trimmed in editing,” said Vaupen. “By Wednesday we have a producers’ run through, where the network comes to watch. Thursday and Friday are shoot days. We work with limited hours because of the requirements for shooting with a baby.”
The day of my set visit is Wednesday, the run-through day. While Bridgit Mendler (Teddy) works on a scene where the boy she’s about to break up with gives her a fancy black leather jacket, costume designer Nicole Gorsuch is hard at work checking on last minute costume changes, additions, and alterations.
“We have a meeting on Monday and everybody is out by about noon. Then you have two and a half days to get things together, and a lot of times that’s 40-60 outfits. That’s a lot of clothes,” said Gorsuch. “It’s always crunched, so we just try to get ahead and shop ahead when we can. They are always adding little things at the last minute; somebody could walk through here right now and add an elephant costume, so we just don’t know.”
Part of the challenge of being a costume designer on the set of “Good Luck Charlie” is finding the right clothing that will help keep the characters popping against the backgrounds without duplicating the color palettes found in the variety of secondary actors. Gorsuch enjoys putting colors and patterns together that are unexpected to give life to the scenes and maintain the youthful energy of the show. She also likes the challenge of outfitting young adults in a way that will be realistic and inspirational to the show’s young viewers.
“I think back to when I was a young girl, and I really didn’t have enough fun with my own clothes,” said Gorsuch. “I guess I really didn’t have any examples of how to do that. I really wanted to make the clothes be something that young girls could kind of aspire to. To try to make it be creative so they can have fun with their clothes, too.”
Gorsuch is always on the lookout for potential outfits for “Good Luck Charlie.” She buys items at thrift stores, department stores, wherever something catches her eye. If an outfit isn’t quite right, she will take it apart and modify it, sometimes buying multiple garments to reassemble in the correct length or style. In addition to a large store room housed on set, Gorsuch has her own personal collection of items she’ll bring to the set and incorporate as necessary.
“I’m never afraid to use things over again. If I can think of a way to put it together that is different, then I will do that,” said Gorsuch. “People do wear their favorite clothes more than once, so we do that with the characters on the show. Most people wear their favorite thing once a week – we don’t do it that often, but we’ll reuse things definitely.”
During the run-through, the cast and crew smoothly moved from one set up to another. In less than forty seconds they were reset and ready to start the next scene. The flow of these transitions was enhanced by the production design created by Glenda Rovello. Working on a sound stage that must accommodate a multi camera shoot as well as a live audience, Rovello and her team constructed an intricate hexagon-shaped world consisting of the various rooms in the Duncan household, a coffee shop, a chicken restaurant, a park, and a swing set that changes each week. During my visit a hospital waiting room and reception area was constructed. The details on the set were meticulous, from the glass display cases in the coffee shop, to the fully functioning Duncan kitchen, to the shrubs and trees placed outside of the various windows.
“I’d wanted to work on a show which my children could watch, so when a producer asked if I would be interested in reading it, I was very interested,” said Rovello. “At the risk of being and sounding like a total Pollyanna, ‘Good luck Charlie’ is a lovely and happy place to work.”
While little changes from week to week in the permanent set, Rovello has a week to create the swing set, leaving room for flexibility in the final notes that come from the producers after the dress rehearsal on Wednesday. She’ll use different colors and materials throughout the set to help establish the locations.
“The Duncan’s live in a craftsman style home. The color palette includes yellows, greens and blues. I also depend on natural materials such as a heavy dose of wood and stone,” said Rovello. “We use warm/hot colors such as reds in swing sets, so you know you have left the ‘Duncan’ world.”
While creating the swing sets, Rovello and her crew will present swatches of colors being used to Gorsuch, who in turn will coordinate her wardrobe choices between the colors on the set and the camera angles capturing each character. The close knit atmosphere shared with all the crew members is one of Rovello’s favorite aspects of the show.
Season 2 of “Good Luck Charlie” begins Sunday, February 20th on the Disney Channel at 8:00pm. To learn more about “Good Luck Charlie,” please visit: