Sunday, August 24, 2014

FALLING SKIES: SEASON 4, EPISODE 10 "DRAWING STRAWS"




Written by: Josh Pate
Directed by: Adam Kane


Adam Kane came back to direct tonight's episode.  He's a great guy and I'm very grateful that he's consistently returned to do episode's for us.

He always does great work and cares about the details and the big picture.  

Four years of one show is a journey...  There's an experience of digging in and an aspect of enduring...  And through it all friendships and very close work relationships are formed.  With Adam...  And all of the other directors, especially those who have returned over the years to do multiple episodes.  I owe them my gratitude.

Most shows don't come as easily or traditionally to me.  My agent, at the time, called up and said "They'd like you to meet on the new Untitled Steven Spielberg Alien Invasion series. He gave me some more parameters about it and I said "sure."

So I went to Amblin, sat in a dark room by myself and watched a version of the pilot episode.  Shortly after I met Justin Falvin and Darryl Frank and Lindsey Springer who all work for Mr. Spielberg and were producing the series and at the end of that 1 hour meeting I more or less had the job.

I first met Noah Wyle on the phone - I introduced myself and told him I was going to be aboard, we had a great conversation about why he had done the pilot in the first place and what mattered to him.  I was very impressed by his intelligence and articulateness.  A week or so later we met face to face at a diner and formalized the work relationship that had yet to begin. 

(It's funny, my first ever experience working as an on-set producer/director was on a show called NASH BRIDGES, written by Carlton Cuse and starring Don Johnson.  It was a trial by fire - but am overall great experience and I emerged from it a significantly better director, particularly in terms of working with actors and getting the best possible performance out of them.  Don Johnson really trained me in the art of how to work with a star and how to build that all-important relationship.  And, with FALLING SKIES I brought what I had learned into my relationship with Noah Wyle.)

I called Moon on the phone next.  She had been out of the country and so it took a few days for her to return.  I liked her right away, just by her voice and her laugh.  She was (and is) simply put... cool.  We got to be very good friends the first season in Toronto.

I eventually called everyone, except for Will Patton.  I didn't meet him until just a few days before shooting in Toronto.

There are a lot of complex aspects to being the overseeing director on a series.  I discuss many of them in this blog all the time - and they are the critical, but sometimes mundane nuts and bolts of figuring out how to make each episode week to week.  But one that I maybe neglect to mention enough, is the relationship I have with the cast - it is ongoing and must be a relationship built on trust an honesty.  If it isn't, if I am ever deceptive or manipulative - even if it means I get my way in that moment - at some point in the future that dishonesty will come back to bite me.

Noah is a gentleman and a dilligent artist.  He cares very deeply about his craft and has studied it very hard.  He cares deeply about this show and has many opinions.  He's very involved in the series, but the very nature of where I am in the information chain, means that I know some things that are coming down the road in future scripts and so on before he does.  So I am a conduit of that information to him and visa versa.   I take it upon myself to inform him (and the rest of the cast) of what's coming up, and also to listen to his (and their) questions and concerns And I take it upon myself to resolve those concerns, as quickly as possible, by myself if I'm capable or with whoever else I need - sometimes the head writer, sometimes Grace Gilroy our line producer, etc. 

FALLING SKIES is a great show to work on in that it can be huge - some of the battle sequences I've directed on this show are as big as anything I've seen on TV.  But it also has many heartfelt moments of bonding - father to son, husband to wife, soldier to soldier.  So that's been great.

It's been great to have a cast who really care and work hard to elevate the material every week.

Oh yeah, Adam Kane was forced/cajoled into being Secret Santa in the Falling Skies Production office.  Hilarity ensued and he was a most good sport about it.

In front of the camera and behind the scenes we are a close knit group.

Moon had a birthday party for her one year old daughter and everybody showed up to a curling party.  I don't know if you've ever been curling - it looks kind of dopey (to us 'Mericans) at the winter olympics.  But it is tricky and definitely harder than it looks.  A ton of us piled onto the ice and threw/slid these big heavy objects reffered to as "rocks."

Director of photography Barry Donlevey and I teamed up against Sarah Carter and her boyfriend.  Now Barry is Canadian and I thought he'd do pretty good.  But, Sarah Carter single handedly kicked everyone's ass.  She kept acting innocent and naive, like "Wow I have no idea how I got the rock perfectly in the center and knocked your rock out of play at the same time..." Like she was all innocent and it was pure beginner's luck.  Later I remembered that she grew up in the frozen land of Winnipeg and pressed her.  Maybe she was guilty, or maybe she just didn't care at that point...  But she finally confessed that she had been on a curling team in high school...  A frigging curling team...  A total ringer that girl was!!!  Thank god we were only playing for nachos not Canadian Dollars!

Beeman



 - ALIEN MEET ALIEN -

 CONNOR AND SARAH AND DREW - THE LOVE TRIANGLE UNMASKED


 DOUG JONES RESTS IN HIS TRAILER (AS BEST HE CAN UNDER ALL THAT LATEX)

 - THE BROTHERS MASON -


 MOON AND DOUG JONES


 - THE GREEN ROOM -

 NOAH REXES BETWEEN TAKES


 ON A SCOUT - LAYING OUT THE FIELD SCENES


 ADAM KANE AND ROB GRAY


ME - TEXTING IN THE COLD



PRODUCER GRACE GILROY MANS HER DESK




ADAM KANE PLAY SECRET SANTA AT THE OFFICE XMAS PARTY












Sunday, August 17, 2014

SEASON 4: EPISODE 9 - "TIL DEATH DO US PART"



WRITTEN BY: CAROL BARBEE
DIRECTED BY: GREG BEEMAN

WARNING!  SPOILERS!  IF SPOILERS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE MASKED NAZI PUNKS ARE SHOOTING YOU DOWN -- THEN LEAVE NOW!!!!



ME AND MY PALS (HUMAN AND OTHERWISE) - LIVIN' THE DREAM ON THE SET OF TNT'S " FALLING SKIES"

Here's the truth.  Episode 9 was hard.  I directed it, and I should have known what was coming.  This was that episode which always falls in the (un)sweet spot right before the christmas break, when we'd been working hard for 4 months, the days are cold and short  (on December 21 in Vancouver it gets pitch dark by 4:30 in the afternoon and it doesn't get light until about 9:30 in the morning.)  In general, everyone's nerves are frayed and we were dragging ass to the mid-season finish line.  Of course as soon as we finished shooting episode 9, we got a 2 week Christmas/New Year's break and we came back to finish the final 3 episodes, refreshed.  In the back of our minds we knew all this - but we couldn't remember it at this time.

My memories of the production are just pushing through the exhaustion, putting one foot in front of the other.  

I remember that I kept calling my editor (the brilliant one-of-a-kind Donn Aron) and I kept asking him "Is it okay?"  "How does it look?"  He told me, on a couple of occasions, "It's going together really well, it's going to be a good episode."  But, while I was shooting it, I couldn't feel it.


Donn Aron

Because of the Christmas break - I didn't see the first editor's cut until early January...  And, guess what - I thought it was good!  It really flowed together, I had done some complex shotmaking and interesting scene staging that I was proud of.  I thought the emotional arc between Tom and Anne was strong and I felt emotional when they got married at the end. I loved the story of Ben guiding Maggie with her spike-enhanced abilities and I like what happened between Hal and Ben.   In fact, I think this is my favorite of the three episodes I directed this season - even though it was, by far, the lowest budgeted one.  I like the stories that were told and am happy with the performances that I was able to collaborate on with the actors (Ben-Hal) (Ben-Maggie) (Tom-Anne) etc.

It makes me remember what I already knew, but which is easy to forget - you can not tell when you are in the middle of filming (probably any artistic project).  Never get too comfortable or too nervous - just do your best every day and it'll work itself out.  (Truthfully, in the end, it's all about script - all I can do is enhance the visual aspect of the storytelling, and I can enhance and focus the scene-by-scene performances and the arc of the performance from the actors.)

So, back to the episode -- As I said - The prep had been hard, but I had a good plan.  There was a lot of action to film at night - specifically (in the episode) from the time the Espheni drone bombs the sight where Tom and co. are grabbing the Volm cache, to the end of the firefight with the Espeheni (cum Nazi) Youth Brigade - there was a lot of planning to do. Between the explosion, the fire and all of the shooting and running around - it was a lot of work to organize.  

Falling Skies looks great when we film at night - but it means that the crew and the cast and I are filming at night - all night (until 4 or 5 AM - once until 6:30AM) in the sub-sub-zero weather.  I'm not complaining - it's just part of the job - but it takes a certain degree of physical and emotional preperation (a lot more than filming in 75 degree sunny Los Angeles, for instance.)

As a director, a scene like that has a lot of moving parts.  The way to approach it is to mentally break it down into bite sized bits until it's broken up into it's smallest parts (for a director thats "shots")  - so in this case here's all the parts  (I'm not even counting the daytime work.):

. the Espheni ship arrives and bombs the group

. Tom and the the others re-group, Matt is gone, Kent and the other Team-Leaders arrive and shoot at them

.Tom and Anne break off and shoot two Team-Leaders following them

. Tom and Ann get shot at by Kent, They run for cover, Anne is shot but manages to slide to safety, Tom takes cover in a cargo container, Tom and Kent exchange dialogue, Kent kicks over  gas and fires at it the cargo container catches on fire, Anne runs to save Tom and Tom shoots Kent, Tom stands over Kent as he dies (btw - that's a lot of beats in one sequence)

.Matt chases Mira and gets shot with a dart in the neck, other Team Leaders appear

. Weaver shoots at the Team leaders. Matt runs Team Weaver and Cochise stun blast the Team Leaders.  Weaver and Cochise save Matt.  Mira escapes.

. Matt and Tom escape.

So here's the process I have to go through directorially:

First I have to find a location that I like and that suits all the work we have to do (in this case this meant it had to include the scenes approaching and leaving the Volm cache sight as well.)  This takes a day or two on it's own.  

Our location manager and production designer have thought about it and present me, usually, with photographs from a number of places that might work.  I'll narrow that down to two or three from the photos.  In this case, though, the two or three I selected happened to be pretty far from each other - so it took a couple of days just to find them.  At each place, Bryan Knight, the assistant director; Rob Grey, the production designer;  Nate Goodman, the director of photography; Grace Gilroy, the line producer and I walk all the choices discussing the pros and cons and feasibility of each place.  This includes, not only, how does it look, but mundane things like - can we get the big night lights where we need them to be?  Is there enough road access that we can work fast enough?  And so on.

At each place that has potential, I have to walk around and, at least, rough in how I would stage the scenes.  I have to work quickly, shooting from the hip (but knowing in the back of my mind that I can change my mind a little later - as long as the location has enough flexibility to do so.)  We go back to the production office and discuss exactly how we'll shoot the scenes - being as specific a possible.  After we've done that (which will take a few hours twice or so over a day or two)  we then try to figure out how many hours, realistically, it will take to shoot the scenes.  One of the best ways to be efficient is to shoot out lighting directions - i.e. shoot all the shots facing (for instance) west/southwest and then later shoot all the shots facing (for instance) east/northeast...  This is logical but may cause me to have to shoot way out of story order - which can be hard on the actor (and my) brains.  But night lighting is one of the biggest time consuming factors.  The other is transportation time - i.e., how long does it take to physically get equipment from base camp to set?  How long will it take to get the actors from hair & makeup to the set? etc.  TV is a game of inches - we have 12 budgeted shooting hours per day - but even if I went over that (which I can't do consistently and keep my job) - the sun will come up at some point and I will have to stop.

After all that, we add it up, and, inevitably, the first couple of times through - Guess what?  To shoot what's written and what I think are all the shots needed to tell the story will take 18 hours more than we have over the three 12-hour days we have to shoot."

At that point I have to (a) go back to the writers and tell them we have to reduce the script.  For some reason, they are never happy with this.  I try to bring specific ideas to the table that can cut beats without dissembling the key story points. (b) I also have to compromise what I want to shoot.  I have to, literally, play a version of "Name That Tune" in my mind... Like "OK, I can tell that story in 4 shots, not the 12 I originally wanted."  For some reason at first this always seems impossible - although even after I've cut it down to what I feel is the absolute minimum number of shots in prep, on the day of shooting I usually have to drop a few more.

All this is pretty normal, but tedious.  And we, frequently, have to do this on several story areas.  The shootout I've been describing...  Maggie's gunplay spike-practice scene... And the final wedding all had to get smaller than what was in the original script.

After the first night of filming the above-described action it snowed.  And not a little, a lot.  Vancouver rarely gets snow, but this year they sure did.  So while I filmed the day scene where Tom and co. walk back to the camp, a crew of special effects guys ran around all day with heated air blowers and blow torches melting the snow around the set where I'd already filmed the night before  (We couldn't have snow appear halfway through the scene without a horrible discontinuity.)


I also just had to accept that, inexplicably, in the middle of the episode, our heroes are returning to camp across a vast snow covered field.  (I was comforted by the fact that, at least it was really, really beautiful.)  I'm also happy with a super nice moment that happens in that scene when Tom looks at Anne walking ahead of them, and Anne looks back with affection.  It is, for me a nice congruity between performance (including a very natural moment from Moon) and design and editing.  I love when a moment works like that!

I thought I'd take a moment to talk about two of our guest cast and how they came to be in the show this year.

First, thirteen-year-old,  Desiree Ross who plays Matt's somewhat-love-interest, Mira.  Maxim was nervous and excited that he was going to have his (I think) first on-screen kiss and asked me frequently how the casting was going.  We read a lot of young ladies in Vancouver...  A few where close..  But there was always some missing quality.  I kept trying to talk myself into one or the other, but I knew in my heart it wasn't right.  Meanwhile the casting directors in Los Angeles were reading a few young ladies.  I really didn't want to cast this role out of Los Angeles.  That would mean additional monies for flights, hotel rooms and per diems, which (because a minor would also need an adult supervisor to accompany them) adds up to a lot of money, which could otherwise be allocated to other areas of the series.

But then our casting director called and said, "There's a girl out of South Carolina that you really should see."  Well, if I didn't want to cast out of L.A. I really didn't want to cast out of the East Coast...  that's a way more expensive pair of plane tickets.

But then I saw Desiree's tape.

She just stole it.  That's what happens when the right person reads.  They are just right and you just have to forget all the other stuff.

I love working with young people and have done it a lot... (My resume includes a large number of Disney Channel movies in the 1990's).  I find them to be, generally, eager and spontaneous and open.  Desiree was certainly that, she brought a great naturalness to the role, and was willing to push and take chances whenever I directed her.




13-year-old Desiree Ross - what she really looks like

The other actor is Dakota Daulby, who plays Kent.  He is from Vancouver (whew)...  He had read last year for role of the harnessed kid who shows up with the skitter at Charleston to tell Tom the state of the skitter rebellion.  He had been my first choice for that role, because I thought he had an eerie other-worldiness - but I was overruled by a group vote.

This year, he read for Kent and was excellent.  David Eick particularly responded to his audition.  He had long flowing hair when I first met him, and immediately after his audition I asked if he'd be willing to cut it if he got the part.  You'd be suprised how many actors balk at this.  But Dakota was game for a Nazi haircut.  He said he'd never played a bad guy before...  Which is hard for me to believe.  I'm sure he'll play more.   

I think he died very well in, what I feel, is a creepy and chilling final moment.



19-year-old Vancouver actor Dakota Daulby - what he really looks like


UP...
...UP..

One last thing which may be of interest...  When the show was first edited together it was about two minutes short (I'm sure all of you wise TV viewers know that TV episodes  - at least on commercial stations - have to be of a specific length.)  because this episode was an under-pattern budget episode we  cut it too close to the bone and we ended up with less cut film than we needed.)  

That meant we had to shoot an additional scene.

Whenever this happens (It's happened before - in Season 1 a lot )  - it's always tricky because the next episodes are shooting and specific cast members aren't available.  Also whatever we shoot has to be clean and simple no VFX or FX and not too many characters.  I suggested that maybe there was a  scene to shoot that could involve Ben and Maggie - either before or after the jump -  going into more depth about the powers...  

Well, Carol Barbee took this idea and ran with it.  She wrote a scene that, I think, is one of the best in the episode.  Sarah Carter and Connor loved the words and the emotion and where it took their characters.   I put it on it's feet (i.e. staged it) as a long walk and talk that could be shot in just two angles (with two sizes).  We shot the whole thing in less than two hours...   I love it when stuff like that happens.


AFTER THE JUMP... WOO-HOO JUMPING OFF OF 3 STORY BUILDINGS IS FUN


DANGER = GAS MASKS

MY MOST ADORED MOON

KENT AND COMPANY


THE GANG'S ALL HERE!



CONNOR CONTEMPLATES MAGGIE'S SHOOTING ABILITIES

ME - GEARING UP FOR A LONG NIGHT OF SHOOTING

TWO BRO'S - ROB GRAY AND NATE GOODMAN

MAXIM AND Desiree Ross 
NOAH AND WILL - LIKE I KEEP SAYING - DON'T MESS WITH THEM!

Monday, August 11, 2014

SEASON 4, EPISODE 8: "A THING WITH FEATHERS"


DIRECTED BY:  David Solomon
WRITTEN BY:  Ryan Mottesheard


Sorry, faithful fans...  I can't get a proper blog up today.  I have several deadlines pressing on different things, and the time just wasn't there.

David Solomon directed and did his usual great job for us.  I'm sure you all agree the scene where Ben's spikes were implanted into Maggie was weird and cool.  I was on set while that shot that and Connor and Sarah Carter were in the zone...  No-one was counting down or anything...  They just were in synch with all their jumping and writhing.  Of course, as you know, their were no digital spikes - so Moon had to act all that, where she fought their squirming as she carried them.  All good.

Also, Maxim Knight, I think did a great job acting today - as he fights to know his Dad is alive.  And, as always, Will Patton was a great scene partner.

Here's some pix, and next week I'll try to make up for it with some in depth stuff on an episode I directed.

Thanks for understanding,

Greg


SARAH CARTER ON SET

DAVID SOLOMON DIRECTS THE CAST

DREW AND MEGEAN GETTING READY TO ROLL

MATT LEADS THE MASON BROTHERS

MOON BLOODGOOD - GETTING IT DONE

OUR TWO D.P.'S NATE AND BARRY

TREVA - BURIED ALIVE!

MOON AND NOAH JOKE BETWEEN TAKES

SARAH - "WHEW" GLAD SHE'S NOT DEAD

INTER-PLANETARY BONDING

MY INTREBID FORMER ASSISTANT NOW PRODUCER - ASHLEY WITH SCARLETT

CHRIS AND STEVE - OPERATE CAMERAS

PRODUCTION DESIGNER ROB GRAY - WHOO-HOOO - AND THEY PAY US TO DO THIS STUFF!!!

ME: I WANT IN ON THAT ACTION!

OUR FX SUPERVISOR, DAN KEELER,  SHOWS US HOW FLAME-THROWIN' IS REALLY DONE