Sunday, August 04, 2013

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 10: "BRAZIL"

Season 3, episode 10: "BRAZIL"

Written by: Remi Aubachon

Directed by: Greg Beeman


Wow... So the last episode of the season is already here and gone...

If it's any consolation to the diehard fan - the production office for season 4 just opened this week, the crew is coming aboard, a first draft of the first script has come out - and season 4 looks very exciting with a lot of big changes and many twists and turns...  Also, if you haven't heard, we will be doing 12 episodes and not just 10 next time - so that's 20% more FALLING SKIES for you!
 
As for this one... 

This was the first time FALLING SKIES has ever used a helicopter! 

Now, I’ve filmed in helicopters a few times and truthfully, I don’t love them.  They bounce and they rise and move in ways that are unnatural.  I hate heights anyway, so heights while I’m swooping and diving and pitching I hate even more.  I have to say though, that the pilot of this particular helicopter was quite good.  The ride was smooth and I even had some fun.

The opening sequence, which takes place on the barge sailing into Boston harbor, was a big project.  Half of it was filmed with the crew sailing in Vancouver harbor, the Boston skyline was digitally overlaid onto the Vancouver skyline.  This part amounted to all of the big wide shots and helicopter shots.  The other half was filmed with the barge docked a day later.

Because I was going to be in the helicopter with Director of Photography Barry Donlevy and the cast and crew and Assistant Directors were going to be a couple of hundred feet below me – we decided it was important to rehearse the whole sequence well before filming.

So, a day before filming, the AD’s and art department guys marked off the whole barge in chalk on a parking lot floor.  They also marked off the position of the shipping container the 2nd Mass was hiding in and the position of the guns, etc.  I took all of the actors and all our of regular 2nd Mass extras and we rehearsed the whole scene several times – including how everyone would move into position and what positions we would take and the order of dialogue, etc.

It was a little weird to do it that way, but it paid off – because the day of filming went very smoothly.  The whole cast and extras and the barge crew had to show up before dawn to take a couple of water taxis out to the barge, which had been towed into the harbor and was awaiting us.

Right after sun-up the helicopter landed.  The helicopter cameraman mounted the camera on the spacecam which is a special gyro-stabilized camera mount specially fitted to the helicopter.   I made rounds with the cast and crew at base camp before they went off in the water taxis and then boarded the helicopter about an hour after it first landed.  I took off, and with walkie-talkie communication to the crew below, we ran through the scene a dozen or two times.

Not two hours later, we had all the helicopter shots we needed and I landed and boarded the boat for more filming!

Never underestimate the power of rehearsal!

Seychelle Gabriel had a lot of fun on this one.  Her character, Lourdes, has been pretty reasonable and placid up to now, but here, infected with a head full of eye worms she got to go a little crazy.  The first scene we shot with Lourdes in this state was the tent interior, where Hal comes to see her.  I had supervised her makeup in the makeup trailer, making sure she looked pale and that there were dark circles under her eyes.  There's a makeup trick I like to use, which is to turn the actors eyelid down and draw with a red grease pencil on the inside of the lid.  This creates a subtle red rim at the bottom of the eyes and adds to the freaky effect.  

When we were shooting the scene, I got right in there with a spray bottle of warm water and I used it to sweat her up and to arrange her hair so that oily strand framed her face and that one eye was almost blocked, but just peaked through.  Then, I just encouraged Seychelle to "go for it".  I told her that there was an animal force that was pulsing and shuddering through her body and that she should feel this energy moving through her body.  I also encouraged her to go for it vocally and yell and scream or growl or gurgle - to "get ugly."   As a director what I can do is set the stage and let the actor feel a sense of freedom and guidance in what direction they should head in, performance-wise.  After that I sit back and watch.  Seychelle really did go for broke, growling and snarling and shuddering.  I loved what she was doing and was glad she was having fun.

I can't talk about this episode without talking about Doug Jones and the amazing work he did on this one.  If you were at ComiCon or read a transcript of our panel there, you heard Doug joke that there was only one suit.  This was true.  So as the character of Cochise's father came about we all knew that meant Doug would have to play both roles.  (Truthfully, there was also one other stunt suit that had been built, it was unarticulated, and the Volm characters seen in the background are all played by one stunt man.)

As you can imagine, this was a daunting task for Doug.  The scene in the Volm spaceship where Tom and Weaver are presented to the Volm commander was quite long, and that meant Doug had to memorize two parts and a lot of dialogue. 

Tod Masters used Doug's lifecast to carve a new Volm face.  He designed Washaskabab (Cochise's Dad) with wrinkles and veins and created a new character.  And then Doug brought it to life.  I don't know how or when Doug does his preperation, but in stance and manner and vocal quality he created a completely new and different character from Cochise. (Later, in post production, a different actor re-voiced Doug as the father, but Doug laid all the foundation for the character.)

Since I only had one actor playing both roles, the shooting of this scene was quite challenging. I had to shoot every shot that involved Cochise first, then wait while Cochise became Cochise's father and then go back around the horn filming the scene again with every shot that involved the father.  Any shot where we see them both at once had to be a split screen, meaning I had to lock the camera off and shoot it twice with Doug acting to air.  This took a certain amount of planning and math.  Charts and graphs were drawn by myself, my cinematographer and my assistant director to figure out the best, most logical order to film the scene.


If you've been following this blog, you've also been following how, because of Moon Bloodgood's maternity leave, we had to finish filming any and all scenes with Moon in October.  The finale was filmed in December.  The scene with Anne in the coffee shop was a little better worked out, because the story for 8, "Strange Brew", was pretty well developed back in October.  But this episode was still undeveloped except for in the broadest sense.  Remi was struggling with how we should present Anne in it.  We had funny conversations where he would say stuff to me like, "Well, I'm pretty sure she'll be coming off of a spaceship.  She might be lead out by Karen, or maybe by an Overlord.  I'm toying with the idea that Tom has to trade Hal for Anne, but I'm not sure."  

We both agreed we needed to keep it simple and compartmentalized so that he could have as much freedom as possible to revise in the future.  Then one day he said, "It may be that they’re on a ship."  

"A space ship?" I asked.  

"No, a ship.  Like a tall ship, headed to Europe."  

Since I had no idea where he was headed with that I just said, "That sounds potentially complex. Who is Anne with?"  

"Maybe everybody.  The whole 2nd Mass."  

"And they're all headed on a tall ship to Europe?" I asked."

"Maybe."  

In some ways my job is easy.   A script comes out and my job is to realize it on film with actors and sets and lights and camera.  The job is certainly hard enough and there are many, many ways to realize a script – but no matter what I am making just that one script.  But the writer starts with the blank page.  Anything is possible, and in the “anything” is a lot of potential for overwhelm.  The writing process needs to be creative and evolving.  And the prospect of shooting one scene that’s going to play near the end of the finale episode when you really don't have the story and you don’t even know where you are headed is pretty daunting.  So I had a lot of sympathy for Remi.

A few days later he came back with, "No, we're going to have Anne coming off the ship."  

I started asking questions like, "Cool.  So, is it Karen or The Overlord?"  

"No," Remi replied, It’s a Volm ship."  

"A Volm ship?  How did she get on that?"

"I'm not sure, but I have a really cool idea it's just not completely worked out."

I trusted Remi that the idea would be cool and waited, but in the end Remi decided that the safest decision, the one that would allow the him most flexibility later, would be for Anne and Lexi to have already been offloaded and, as the ship takes off, (whoever was on it and whatever kind of ship it was) Tom would be looking up and then he'd turn and there would be Anne.  "Okay, great."  I said.  "Now, it shoots Saturday, so last question is this - Is Anne in the woods, in an urban rubble environment, or by a waterfront.  We could do any of those?”

Remi wasn’t sure.  It was a random choice and one we both realized didn't at first blush matter that much, but which would drive the locations of a yet-to-be-written script.  A choice had to be made.  Finally he decided… “Fine, the woods!”
A couple of months later when he was writing the script, he said. “Aagh, I wish I’d picked urban environment, that would have been way better.”  And so it goes.
The night we shot that scene was one of the hardest, most painful nights I’ve ever been through.   There was this huge obligation to get Moon shot out – so we scheduled the coffee shop scene from episode 8 and the scene where Anne and Lexi have come off the spaceship as well as a few other scenes and bits and pieces that hadn’t been completed on a Saturday to be shot by a second-unit crew.

We scheduled for Noah and Moon to only work half days on the Friday, we also scheduled Noah to be able to come in late on Monday, to protect his turn-around coming off of Saturday night  (“turn-around” is the amount of hours an actor or crew member has to have off before returning to work as mandated by the actor’s guild SAG the crew’s unions and federal law. In the case of the actors it’s 12 hours.)

But I forgot to think about myself.  The shooting of episode 4, which I was directing, was taking longer hours than was planned.  And the main unit didn’t wrap until 4 AM on the Friday night.  Moon wasn’t working, Noah wasn’t working and a whole new crew was reporting for work on Saturday at 11 AM.  But I was the only person working both shifts.  I suddenly realized that, after a week of 14 to 16 hour days I had only 7 hours between finishing a 15-hour day on Friday and starting another 12 or 14-hour day on Saturday. 

I decided to just sleep in my trailer, so that I wouldn’t lose the half hour both ways it would take to get to my apartment.  I woke up and felt fine on Saturday and we shot until about 9 PM with the cafĂ© scene and the other bits and pieces.  Then I made a fateful mistake.  I knew the move to the woods location and the initial lighting was going to take a couple of hours…  So I decided to take a nap.  I lay down and passed out.  It seemed like only minutes later a surreal knocking was echoing through my room “We’re ready for you, Mr. Beeman” It was the chipper, yet faraway voice of some unknown P.A.  It felt like  thousand miles off and I dully realized that my hands and feet and voice would not work.  I felt like I was in “The Matrix.”  It was horrible, and it took me a long time to roll off the couch and onto the floor.  Every minute or so the knock recurred and the chipper voice reiterated, “We’re ready for you, Mr. Beeman.”  It was a hellish kind of hell.  I eventually staggered out of the trailer and was driven to set.  But the whole time I directed that scene in the woods my vision was swimming, and the ground felt like it was undulating and I was worried I was going to throw up.  Noah and Moon and my director of photography, Barry Donlevy helped me through the ordeal.  But it was a special kind of awful night.  Never again!

Since we didn’t really know what was going to happen in the story before the scene we kind of had to make some parts of it up.  Noah decided that he was, most likely, going to have gone through some kind of ordeal before finding Anne.  So he instructed the makeup department to char him with soot and to add a big gash and streak of blood across his brow.  That made sense to me (in my extreme-sleep-deprived state), so we did it.

Months later, as we began to stage the battle with Karen, my perpetually on-top-of-it assistant Ashley reminded me for the 100th time.  “Remember…  We’re going to have to figure out how Tom gets that wound on his head.”  For some reason, I’d been avoiding the issue for a while.  I was just counting on the fact that at the last second something would come to me. 

On the night of shooting I finally just blurted out the obvious answer.  “Okay, a skitter’s gonna have to smack Tom across the face.”  So as we staged the scene, I created the moment where, after Tom shoots Karen a skitter lunges forward and smacks Tom.  The Tom stunt double was there – and so we ad-libbed a stunt.  We put the stunt double in a harness, wrapped a line around him and ran it to a pulley that we, literally, attached to a nearby stump.  Then two of our biggest guys (including Brad Kelly) grabbed the line and pulled hard.  The stunt man flew back about 8 feet, spinning in the air as he went. 

The budgeting and prep of this episode had been quite intense and fast paced (finale’s always are) and while most everything got buttoned up before we began shooting, truth be told, we went to camera with a lot of unanswered details  regarding the final battle with Karen.  Partly this was because, in prep, we were super over-budget, and we kept pulling big sequences and putting others in their place, and moving things around right up until the last second.  Because of Jessy Schram’s shooting schedule on ABC’s LAST RESORT, the Karen scene was going to be shot last.  Human nature kicked in and we let some of the decisions drift regarding the scene. 

The other factor was that, creatively, there were a lot of discussions and debates about what would happen regarding that scene.  Discussions such as, should Karen die?  And once we got past that to “yes” – it was – who should shoot her?  Tom had to, that was clear.  Karen had certainly f-ed up Tom’s life.  But what about Hal?  And Weaver?  And Maggie?  They all had a lot of reasons to do it as well.

The draft of the script that we went to camera with actually had everyone blast her to death in a hail of gunfire.

As we got closer to shooting though, myself and the entire group of actors kept discussing this issue.  I was on the phone with Remi and we kept working it over as well.  It really  felt like Tom had to be the one to shoot her.  To do otherwise would diminish it.  But we also wanted to finalize the Maggie-Hal-Karen triangle.  Sarah Carter pulled me aside and let me know, that Maggie really wanted to shoot Karen.

So, we brainstormed how to lay the scene out.  We came up with the whole scenario where, after Tom shoots Karen, and after he runs off hearing Anne’s voice, Karen would revive and with her last breath she would call to Hal and Hal would hesitate and Maggie would blast him to death.  I liked it.  Noah liked it.  Sarah Carter and Drew Roy liked it.  I’m not sure Jessy liked it (she was dying after all.)  Midnight calls to LA were made to get approval.  Remi liked it and finally TNT liked it.  And then we shot it.  Like right then and there.

Now, let’s be clear, this shoot-from-the-hip, Cowboy style of production is not the norm for us.  But we were in kind of an extreme duress situation at that time of the season – and so it seemed appropriate.

Whew – that’s a lot of words…  

Thanks for watching all year.  Thanks for reading this blog!

See you next season!

Goodbye and Anon,

Greg


Listen to the director - He commands respect!

Yee-Haw!  It's the finale of Season 3!!!


Drew 'n Sarah - firelight is so romantic
The set at night

The team huddles in a tent on a cold Canadian night eating Cup 'O Noodles to stay warm
Brad Kelly and Collin Cunningham on set

Riding the taxi boat to set  (I like this pic cuz it looks like a cheesy vacation photo... but with aliens) 

Laci on the barge


Prepare to fire (at the blue screen)


Designer Rob Gray on board


Nobility thy name is "Mason"

Cinematographer Nate Goodman (I'm riding in that helicopter in the b.g.)

The Mason boys on board!


A stalwart group
Then throw me in

It's cold as shiznazz in Canada
Even for Volm


Tuesday, July 30, 2013


SEASON 3 - EPISODE 10: Journey to Xilbalba

Written by:  Bradley ThompsonBradley Thompson

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes


OK HANDS DOWN THESE WERE MY FAVORITE COSTUMES AT COMICON - THERE WAS AN AWESOME ZOMBIE WOLVERINE, DEADPOOL AND SPIDERMAN TOO - BUT CHECK OUT THIS OLD SCHOOL X-MEN -- AWESOME!!!!!


So sorry - Life is moving 1000 miles an hour for me this week - I just couldn't get a proper blog up...  But here' som pictures!!!!





DREW ROY WAS INTERVIEWED BACKSTAGE AT COMICON

SO WAS DOUG JONES

THIS IS US WAITING TO GO ONSTAGE AND GREET YA'LL

THIS IS WHAT I SAW FROM THE STAGE...

AND THIS...

... AND THIS

US ON STAGE AT COMICON

SARAH CARTER AND I AT COMICON (SHE HAD LANDED YESTERDAY FROM A MOVIE SHE WAS SHOOTING IN JAKARTA AND WAS SHE WAS SEEING STARS! - BUT OF COURSE, SHE CAME TO GREET THE FANS)


JONATHAN FRAKES AND NOAH WYLE ARE OLD PALS

I TOOK THIS PICTURE OFF OF ONE OF THE PLAYBACK MONITORS, CUZ I THOUGHT IT WAS COOL

SEYCHELLE HUNKERS DOWN BETWEEN TAKES IN THE MISTY MIST AND THE DUSTY DUST

DIRECTOR FRAKES COMMANDS ON SET
DALE DYE ON SET

Monday, July 22, 2013

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 8 - "STRANGE BREW"

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 8:  "STRANGE BREW"

Written by: John Wirth
Directed by: David Solomon

WARNING:  THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS.  SPOILERS MAY MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR BRAIN IS BEING SUCKED OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE BY ALIEN HARDWARE.  IF YOU EXPERIENCE THIS SENSATION, STOP READING AND GO TO ANOTHER WEBSIGHT.

 
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First an apology for getting the blog up late.  I was at ComicCon in San Diego on Friday and Saturday doing press and a panel with the cast.  Sunday had it's own craziness - and now here it is - Monday and I'm just posting.
ComicCon was a big success.  The room we spoke in was filled with over three thousand people.  They laughed and cheered and when we showed the clip in which Tom shoots Karen in the head, they gasped and then cheered long and hard.  I was most impressed when moderator Will Wheaton took questions from the fans.  The questions were really smart and thoughtful.  I thought, “Dang, our FALLING SKIES fans really pay attention!”  Anyway, if you were in the crowd that day (or even if you were not) thank you for your dedication to the show.  Believe me, everyone on this cast and crew is very aware of you and all that we do, ultimately, is for you!

I haven’t downloaded my ComicCon pictures yet – but I’ll post the blog without them, and then add some later – so come back and review the blog if you don’t see some ComicCon pix at first.

Okay, so I hope you all will agree (or at least most of you, cause “all” is too much too hope for) that this was an excellent episode.

In my many years in the business, I’ve come to learn that you only get a couple a year where the script is great from the get-go, the process goes smoothly, the editing is additive and it all turns out fantastically.

And that’s how I feel about “Strange Brew.”

John Wirth, who sadly for us, during the shooting of this one, announced that he was going to be leaving in Season 4 to run “HELL ON WHEELS”, wrote the episode.  Well, he left with a bang.

This storyline was pitched out to me way back in August before we had started shooting, by Remi Aubachon.  And he and I both quickly reached the same conclusion.  Because Noah Wyle was going to have to shave his beard, we would have to shoot this episode last, in December, after we’d completed the season finale.

That was complicated enough, but it became doubly complex when we learned that Moon Bloodgood was pregnant and would have to leave the show in October to have her baby.  The implication of this was that we were going to have to shoot half of any scene involving Moon two months before we filmed anything else, and two months before we had a completed script for the episode.  (I say “half” because, remember Noah still had his beard in October. )

And, as crazy as it was we did exactly that.  If you remember, a couple of blogs ago I mentioned that I chose to direct episode 4 because that was Moon’s last episode of the year – but I also knew that we’d be directing scenes of her for this episode.  John had to write the scene in the coffee shop with Tom and Anne, before even starting the rest of the script.  He tells me that he had a pretty good outline and idea of what he wanted, but he was also busy writing his half of episode 6 at the same time.  Anyway – it was crazy.  We went out and scouted the coffee shop location, it was great but it was in downtown Vancouver and as we worked the schedule out for episode 4, there was no way we were going to move the company to downtown for half of one scene.  So after getting assurances from my location manager that we definitely, absolutely positively would be able to use that coffee shop in December, two months from now – our production designer Rob Gray built half of the set on stage.

It was literally that – half a set – three walls. 

My invaluable assistant Ashley spotted an extra she thought would be a good “shaved Tom” double and we brought him in.

Filming that half of the scene was bizarre.  We didn’t have the script, just the scene.   Noah and Moon worked the dialogue together, and Noah tried to work through all the details of his performance, like when he’d point, when he’d slap his palm on the table, when he’d stand, how many steps he’d back away from the table, etc.  After he worked it out he tried to teach the photo double how to do the physicality.  The man was lovely, and he did have Noah’s physique and jawline – but he had never done a job like this before.  I’m sure it was an odd experience for him to have Noah telling him, “When I say these words, jab your hand at her – like this…” And, “On his line grab your scarf with your right hand, and stand up…” Etc.   During the scene Moon had to look and act to the double, while Noah stood close by reading the lines.  Two months later, when it was Noah’s turn to do the scene, he had no such luxury.  Moon was off having a baby, so he had to act completely to Moon’s stand in, who learned the dialogue for the scene.

Also, creatively I wasn’t sure what techniques to employ to convey the weirdness of it all.  I knew I wanted to heighten the surrealism of the scene – but I hadn’t had time to really prep it, and I wasn’t even going to be directing the episode – that was going to be done by David Solomon who, in October,  was busy directing an episode of ONCE UPON A TIME.  I went to an old favorite of mine, the swing-and-tilt lens.  It’s a lens that swings the plane of focus to the diagonal, and was invented for architectural photography as a way to keep the whole building in focus when you were photographing it from the ground.  When you use it on a traditional subject it has the odd and unsettling appearance of making something – say the human face- only partially in focus.  Say, for instance, one eye and half of the lips are in focus and the rest of the face is out.  When you move the lens during a shot the plane of focus shifts and it’s very weird – but at the same time somewhat subtle.

I used this technique on Moon’s face during the scene for the parts where she starts to get angrier and more confrontational to Tom.

In editing, my brilliant film editor Don Aron added very subtle jump cuts and effected dissolves to further make the scene become bizarre.

Another idea that I think worked out great was beginning the episode in blackness with a sound montage from all of the previous seasons.  Remi got this idea from watching “Zero-Dark-Thirty” which opens in a similar way.  The script originally called for the episode to open on a Boston sports radio talk show, and we had that in the cut at first.  But once the sound montage was in, it became clear to me that something more jarring was needed.  I suggested to Don that we find the most annoying alarm clock buzzer we could, and that we bleed it through as if it were a sound effect from the battle at first and then it reveals itself to be an alarm clock.  All of these techniques were complimented by the excellent opening shot David Solomon made, which began on a close up of Tom’s eyes, too tight to see he was beardless, which then panned to the alarm clock radio as Tom reaches over to turn it off (at which point we’re realizing something is off here) and then pans back with Tom’s hand but now wider to see he is shaven and then continues as Rebecca rolls into frame.  An excellent first moment!

I think the fun part of this episode was seeing, or imagining we see life before the invasion.  Steven Spielberg has always been adamant that he doesn’t want to see “before” or the day of the invasion.  But this was a way to have our cake and eat it too.

It was also a fun way to have all of our cast re-imagined in different roles within Tom’s mind.  Of course you noticed the return of Peter Shinkoda, who died as “Dai” last season.  Peter was greeted by much hugging and adulation by the cast that loves him so much when he showed up (literally on our last day of filming for the year.)  But did you catch Doug Jones (who plays “Cochise”) as a teacher in the lounge with Tom?  I think, though, that the actor who loved their new role the most was Will Patton.  When we told him, “And you’ll be playing a crazy homeless man.” I could see his eyes light up.  Will dug into his part with relish, and had a lot of fun.

The other thing I think is worth noting is actor Jennifer Ferrin who plays Rebecca Mason.  This was a big role to step into – because the Mason wife and mother has been much discussed and eulogized  and fought over by Tom and the boys over the three seasons.  John Wirth had worked with Jennifer and strongly recommended her.  To tell you the truth, none of the rest of us were that familiar with her, and we went after some bigger names at first – but no one was available.  Noah didn’t know her work, and was, perhaps a bit nervous.  But halfway through the first take of their first scene (which ironically was the last scene where Tom, still bearded, imagines his wife is there in his old bedroom, pushing him to not look back)  their chemistry came alive immediately.  There was a tenderness and familiarity and history.   
That’s what I love about the craft of acting.  When two actors really know what they’re doing, and even though they might have just met thirty minutes before in the makeup trailer – they can create a life together – a whole world in fact – with they’re bodies and their voice.

I love my job!

NOAH AND WILL, HAPPY TOGETHER!


ON THE CREEPY ESPHENI SET , CONNOR JESSUP WITH DIRECTOR DAVID SOLOMON IN THE B.G.

WILL AT WORK - I THINK HE REALLY LIKED THIS CHARACTER


ON SET AT THE MASON HOUSE

ME 'N THE SHRAMINATOR (IT SNOWED FOR TWO DAYS ALL WINTER IN VANCOUVER - BOTH WERE THE PERFECT DAYS FOR US TO CREATE XMAS IN BOSTON...  WE GET LUCKY LIKE THAT ON "FALLING SKIES")

WILL AT WORK - I THINK HE REALLY, REALLY LIKED THIS ROLE

CINEMATOGRAPHER NATE GOODMAN EXPERIENCES THE COLD SHIZNAZZ THAT IS CANADA

LACI MALLEY AS TOM'S ASSISTANT

THEY CALL HIM "MR. SHINKODA"


ME AND COLLIN AND SARAH
THIS WAS OUR VERY LAST DAY OF SHOOTING FOR THE YEAR

CONNOR ON SET
WILL AND OUR CAMERA OPERATOR MIKE WRINCH - DO YOU NOTICE ANYTHING UNUSUAL ABOUT THIS PHOTO?


Sunday, July 14, 2013

SEASON 3, EPISODE 7: "THE PICKETT LINE"


 SEASON 3, EPISODE 7: "THE PICKETT LINE"

DIRECTED BY:  
Sergio Mimica-Gezzan 

WRITTEN BY:

Heather V. Regnier 
Jordan Rosenberg 

WARNING:  THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS.  IF READING SPOILERS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE BEEN WAYLAID BY HIGHWAYMEN AND LEFT FOR DEAD - THEN STOP READING NOW!!!


“The Pickett Line” is another episode where it rained, and rained and rained!  Oh my God, did it rain.  During the opening scene, where Tom and Ben walk along below a cliff face and encounter the dying rebel skitter, it was POURING rain, the wind was HOWLING and the temperature was just above freezing.    Assistant Directors rushed into flapping tents that night, huddled over barely working cell phones to hurridly discuss with the Producers whether we should pull the plug on the night.  But the decision was made to press on.  Noah Wyle and Connor Jessup, for their part, wanted to keep going.  At this point in the season, Noah had been through three particularly physically grueling episodes in a row ("Be Silent And Come Out," "Search And Recover" and now this one) He’d been either standing in the pelting rain, sloshing around in freezing cold rivers, been beaten up or thrown around in various ways for about a month.   There was something of a thousand yard stare in his eyes.  He was beyond complaining or even resisting – he just wanted to move forward, one foot in front of the other.  Luckily, Noah works well under duress, and on this night and on the rest of this episode, the elements fueled a certain passion in his performance.
The good news was that Noah really liked this script.  He was excited about, and had been advocating for, an adventure like this – in which it was all about Tom and his sons, on the move – a family - together.    He also knew the work of Christopher Heyerdahl who plays Duane Pickett, the patriarch of his clan.  You may recognize him as "The Swede" in HELL ON WHEELS ...  (A series writer John Wirth is taking over as head writer this year btw.)   We had had an excellent cast read-through on this episode and Noah was excited to work with Chris as a scene partner.
Remi Aubuchon, our head writer, saw this episode as an opportunity to explore “what if?”  What if, Tom and his sons had made a different choice than to engage the fight against the aliens and to join up with the resistance and eventually the 2nd Mass.?  What if, instead, they had gathered their supplies and disappeared into the woods – determined to survive as a family.  To Remi this was a question that he imagined Tom had been asking himself for quite some time – what if, selfish or not, they had just gone into survival mode – would things have been better?
Remi had attempted to explore this storyline at least once or twice before.  In early drafts of the Season 2 premiere episode, there was a lengthy subplot where Tom, having escaped the alien ship, found himself living with a woman and her two children who had been surviving in the woods – at first seemingly quite happily.  In that story Tom began to regret his decision to fight, and to imagine that he could find Ben and Hal and Matt and bring them to the halcyon woods.  (Of course all was not as it appeared and the perfect bliss of the woods eventually turned ugly – but that is another story - one of many stories that were explored, but remain untold.)  For various reasons that subplot was abandoned before we began production – but the theme stayed in Remi’s mind and he kept looking for a way to explore it.
The opportunity came now.  When Tom and his boys (Pariah’s in Charleston to some degree) left on horseback to find Anne and Lexi, the writers created an alternate-universe family who were living and surviving away from the fight.   In this story Tom sees, quite clearly, that there is no avoiding consequences in this post-invasion world.
Meanwhile – back in Charleston – Stephen Collins  returns as President Hathaway.  The opening image we see of him is Cochise is carrying him in.  This posed a problem, because Doug Jones  – who plays Cochise – is already weighed down by about 50 pounds of latex and rubber – and he could barely see out of his mask.  Carrying an adult male, even the slender (but tall!) Stephen Collins, was going to be impossible.  I had encountered this problem before on SMALLVILLE .  On that show Tom Welling, playing Clark, was always having to carry unconscious people around and it had to look effortless.  He was Okay for a few minutes with the petite Kristen Kruek – but anyone larger and we had to use an elaborate crane that held up the unconscious person, who wore a harness, and the crane had to move around wherever Tom walked – and afterwards we digitally removed all of the wires.  That concept was discussed in prep here – but FALLING SKIES moves faster and shoots much more page count per day than SMALLVILLE did.  Our Skitter-creator and prosthetics effects maven, Todd Masters, suggested an alternate idea.  He had a lifelike human dummy made of a kind of foam rubber that only weighed forty pounds or so.  He suggested that he and his and his team would roughly carve a Stephen Collins face onto it and that Doug Jones would be able to carry that much more easily.  And that’s what we did.  The dummy is excellent and to this day when I watch the scene I can’t tell the one from the other.
There are two scenes in this episode that weren’t filmed until weeks after the completion of principle photography.  The first is the scene where Cochise takes President Hathaway, Marina and Weaver down to see the big Volm gun.  When I first read the scene that concludes our first episode of this year – the one where Tom takes Weaver down to see the big gun – my strong instinct was that this was a location that was going to recur more than once in the season, but which would recur in a limited way.   I confirmed with Remi that this was likely to be the case – and then I proposed that we delay shooting the scene until we had a block of scenes from various episodes.  That sounded good on paper – but there were two problems, which I didn’t foresee.  First – we budgeted the visual effects properly for the scene, but we didn’t really put enough money aside for the set.  It wasn’t irresponsibility, it was just that we (a) didn’t know exactly what the set was going to be and (b) the natural instinct to push off to tomorrow what doesn’t have to be done today kicked in (like – why fix a leaky roof on such a sunny day?) 
The concept of “what was the location where the Volm built the gun” wasn’t really resolved right away.  Rob Gray and I talked about it a lot, but slowly and over time.  We eventually landed on the idea that, before the invasion, across the river from our main Charleston set – was a big skyscraper that was about to be built when the invasion hit.  When the Volm arrived they commandeered the underground space (the six or seven stories below-ground a skyscraper will always have.) And that the Volm gun had been built there in a space still surrounded by rebar and steel girder infrastructure.
When it came time to actually build the set (months after episode 1 and weeks after this episode, 7) Rob Gray and his team really had to scramble. They built they built the tunnel, seen in the first episode, and the platform our actors stood on (which was surrounded by only a few feet on every side by art-directed dirt.)  This was surrounded on all sides by blue screen.  As always the work, though quickly done, was excellent!
The second problem I hadn’t foreseen was the idea that President Hathaway or any other non-series-regular being part of the scene.  So, because we couldn’t finish the scene in the body of episode 7 we had to wait until Mr. Collins was available to return to Vancouver.  These two scenes were almost the very last things we shot at the end of our shooting year.
But when it’s all said and done, I’m very happy with the way the scenes look.  I love the big camera moves that swoop in and out past the big gun.  And I love the way our VFX team at Zoic made the gun look.
The other scene that wasn’t shot until much later was the one scene between Maggie and Pope.  This scene came about because, when the episode was first edited together, it came in several minutes short.  This necessitated us scrambling to add something.  In the original story, and in the first draft – there was a running storyline that followed Maggie, who, distressed about Hal and the Mason’s leaving…  Decided to follow them.  We saw her tracking them once or twice, and then she appeared and joined the fray as the action was heating up near the end.
In the end, the powers-that-be decided to drop this story.  For one thing, the storyline was adding shooting time we just couldn’t afford and for another – it felt better to keep the integrity of an all-Mason-boys episode.  
But when Maggie's story was cut out it left her (and Sarah Carter) as a woman without an episode.  All the other parts of the story, Pope’s antics with Weaver and the President Hathaway/Lourdes story were finished.  We discussed trying to retrofit Maggie into those stories, but it didn’t make sense.  
When the idea began to circulate, that we may have to shoot another scene for time, Sarah Carter came to me and suggested the essence of the scene that’s in the episode now.  She suggested that a scene between she and Pope would be valuable, because there was so much between those characters that was as-yet unexplored.  I passed the idea on to Remi – and Remi loved it.   He wrote the scene quickly and  we shot it a few days later.  The scene as it stands is a bit of a one-off, in that it’s not especially connected to the rest of the episode…  But I really like the energy both Sarah and Collin bring to the table.  I really like the scene and am glad it’s there.
Alright!  No more words...   Pictures!!!
 
I TOOK THIS PHOTO FROM A MONITOR ON SET - THOUGHT IT LOOKED COOL!
THIS WAS ANOTHER ONE OF OUR RAINY DAYS
ON SET - ON HORSEBACK

THEY CALL ME MR. POPE

DREW AND MAXIM RELAX BETWEEN TAKES (THEY WERE UNDER A TARP AND SO AWAY FROM THE PELTING RAIN)

SARAH CARTER WAITS TO BE CALLED TO SET

WILL PATTON ADDRESSES THE CROWD

WAITING IN THE WINGS BEFORE "ACTION"
STEPHEN COLLINS AND DOUG JONES AS COCHISE (AN INTERESTING ASIDE:  STEPHEN HAD MANY SCENES WITH DOUG IN THE TWO EPISODES THEY DID TOGETHER, BUT BECAUSE DOUG SPENDS THREE HOURS GETTING INTO HIS MAKEUP BEFORE THE REST OF THE CAST ARRIVES - STEPHEN NEVER SAW WHAT DOUG LOOKED LIKE UNTIL THEY MET AT AN EVENT MONTHS LATER.)
SERGIO DIRECTS STEPHEN
ANOTHER DAY AT WORK
MY OLD PAL FROM "SMALLVILLE" - DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY BARRY DONLEVY

DEATH BE NOT PROUD


YOU TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S GOING ON HERE - WINNER GETS A DOUGHNUT