Sunday, July 20, 2014





This fifth episode of our fourth season is notable in that it was directed by our director of photography, Nathaniel Goodman. 
Nate and I worked on HEROES for three years, seasons 1-3, after which time I departed the show .  Nate - who aspired to direct a HEROES episode from early on – got his chance in the fourth season.  The episode turned out very well, I thought.  Nate and I became friends on that series and stayed in touch in the years between HEROES and FALLING SKIES.

The first season of FALLING SKIES was photographed by another frequent-collaborator of mine – a fellow named Chris Faloona (whose exploits are well documented in the season 1 FALLING SKIES blog.) 

The time between seasons on this show can be harrowing.  We finished filming Season One in November 2010 and TNT picked up Season 2 in July 2011.  Mr. Faloona, a highly sought-after fellow with a family to feed, had found other employment.  (It’s always the same each year – in fact, notice that, while we finished shooting Season 4 in February, Season 5 has only just this week been picked up – the cast and crew over the years have become more confident that the pickups are coming – but it’s all a bit of a nailbiting experience nonetheless.)

But I digress – what I meant to say was, that while it was at first sad to lose my trusted cohart, Mr. Faloona, my heart was soon gladdened when I found out that Nate was available – having just finished a year on the ­­­­BBC series TORCHWOOD.

It actually took a bit of convincing on my part.  Nate wasn’t that interested in taking over a second year show with an already established look.  It became my job to convince him that season 2 was going to be a complete re-invention from Season 1.  I meant it too.  I’m proud of FALLING SKIES first season – but I always felt that we got a bit buried in the high school – and that it limited the scope of the show.  Season 2 had a new head writer who wanted to have no locked-down sets or locations and desired to take the show on the road, literally, in a caravan of vehicles.  Beyond that  we were moving from Toronto to Vancouver.  I felt that there was a trust and confidence in me from Dreamworks and TNT after the successful first season, which gave me the confidence to expand our visual palatte.  All of these things gave me assurance when convincing Nate that we were really going  to change the look.

Once he took the job, Nate and I had many, many conversations about how we’d develop the look of the series.
First of all, came “what not to change” but what we could make better.   The most fundamental thing for me, came from my first meeting with Mr. Spielberg way back before Season1.  At that time he had said two key things:

1.  “No TV close-ups” - and he expanded upon that by saying that he wanted the show to be cinematic - meaning wide.  He wanted the audience to have to decide who they are supposed to look at in any scene.  So wide shots and group shots should be the norm and close-ups should be used only occasionally. He was not interested in a show where editing from single to single was the driving style.

2. “Children of Men” - was the touchstone movie.  This referred first to the tonal quality, i.e. to make the environment, the destruction and rubble and smoke and the urgency of the dramatic situation really important.  But stylistically it meant (a) that everything (or almost everything) would be filmed hand-held.   That we would “follow” our characters…  And also that the idea was that long takes and long masters were to be encouraged.  

Both of these instructions became lifesavers as we went into production, because I frequently found that the only way to get through a day with numerous scenes which had 7 to 12 characters in the same scene, and all of them talking, was to do long takes and to limit coverage.  If I (or any other director) tried to shoot close-up singles of every cast member in  a scene - we would not make the day.

With Nate, we were able to clarify and refine this as we went, by realizing that we had to be clear about whose scene is it?  Most frequently the scenes were Tom’s scene.  But sometimes they were, say,  an Anne’s scene or a Ben's scene and occasionally they were split - say Weaver/Tom or Pope/Maggie.  As we discovered, through trial and error that, the most efficient way to shoot the show was to block a scene and then only shoot a close-up of the person or person’s whose scene it was.  If it was a Tom scene, I’d shoot a master, then Tom’s close-up coverage, and then I would shoot group shots (two shots and three shots) from Tom’s point of view or over Tom’s shoulder.

The other thing that, I think especially in season 2, became the “look” of the show - was to try to keep the actors moving and the camera moving whenever possible.  I tried to encourage the camera operator’s to become participants in the filming - and to make (or look like they made) snap, improvisational decisions as they went.  The philosophy we came up with was to imagine that we were embedded journalists traveling with a group of soldiers.  The camera operators were to pretend that they did not know what was going to happen next.  For instance, rather than panning to an actor a beat before they spoke - they should pan to the actor a beat after they spoke, so that the film would look immediate and urgent.

One of the longest (and hardest) shots I've ever done which I couldn't have done without Nate's support was a long tracking shot in Season 2 episode 2, which was really four or five scenes all done in one shot - it dollied along with the cast as they packed and prepared to move out and then went up and into a bus - it was about a three-minute long continuous shot.

Another important idea Nate brought to the table was to really try to play POV (point of view). Once we established whose scene it was, to only shoot (for instance) Tom and what Tom sees.

Nate also encouraged that we only to use wider lenses - mastering on 21mm  lenses and doing closeups on 35mm or 40mm lenses and, sometimes for women - using 50mm lenses for closeups.  The reasoning behind this goes to the “Children of Men” instruction - the wider lenses keep the environment in the frame all the time.

I also, personally, tended to shoot from lower angles - this is to keep the characters looking “bigger than life” and heroic.  I developed that philosophy on SMALLVILLE, when I was actively looking to do a comic-book show, and Nate and I pushed it to the limit on HEROES when we would frequently shoot our hero’s close-ups from a basement-like low angle (like THE MALTESE FALCON and other clssic noir movies).  On FALLING SKIES we aren’t as rigorous with this rule since, at the end of the day, it’s a war movie, not a comic-book movie or a noir movie.

Nate also brought a very specific and idea about how to do night lighting, which I had never heard of before.  In general, where Nate and I differ philosophically is that he is highly attached to being naturalistic, and I tend to be more interested in being stylized and pretty than naturalistic.  For instance if we were shooting a day exterior scene with two characters facing each other, if one were backlit by the sun – Nate would want to have the other front-lit, because that would be how it would be in real life.  I would want both characters back-lit, reality-be-damned, because to me it looks prettier.

One of Nate’s big contributions to the night lighting was to use balloon lighting and create a all-around even soft-lighting.  We actually inflate gigantic balls of silk, which are lit internally,  with helium and raise them way up into the air.  

The more traditional way to do night lighting is to use a  condor crane with a hard light  and createa hard-backlit “moonlight.”  The look, that became our night look, was softer and more even and oddly moodier than what I’ve become used to.  I’m constantly arguing with Nate to add a bit more light into the eyes of our characters at night and he challenges me to shoot things more unconventionally – but the grist of our arguments has, I think, always resulted in good things.

Beyond that, Nate has always been characterized by boundless enthusiasm and a desire to approach each and every scene from a unique perspective.  The thing he always says to me, which I value highly is, “Let’s first figure out what the scene is about and then we’ll figure out how best to shoot it to tell that story.”

Anyway – on to Nate directing this episode.  As he did on HEROES, Nate expressed to me and the other producers early and often, that he desired to direct an episode.  It took until the fourth season, mostly, because his contributions were so great as a photographer that the studio and producers (myself included) were reluctant to lose him in that role. 

When he got the chance on this episode he approached it with relish.  Luckily Bruce's script was tightly crafted in terms of character - and, while a little big at first, it was not hard t(in early drafts there were more interactions with the black hornet skitters and the burn-faced overlord made more appearances in the episode).

One of the more fun scenes for Nate to design was the scene where Hal taunts a mech into the open, Pope and Sarah hit it with a car, and the gigantic Volm nicknamed "Shaq" steals it's "heart."  The whole sequence was storyboarded carefully, but the idea that I thought was most fun was to play hitting the mech only from inside of Pope's car.  This sleight of hand saved money which actually allowed us to expand the scene and make it bigger.  All in all good fun!

The name's Weaver... Dan Weaver

Noah and Will on set

Nate and production designer Rob Grey get to work

The boys pose behind the scenes

Will and Nate review a take

spookey night lighting

between takes

Moon and Maxim

Sarah Carter contemplates the captured Espheni "Monk"

Nate Goodman explains how sh*ts gonna go sown the Shaq the Volm

Setting up a shot

Noah and line producer Grace Gilroy in the cast tent

Scarlett Byrne rests between takes

And she's up and back in action

Mind Wars,” prep meeting - in which Nate Goodman was attacked by a giant rabbit.

Sunday, July 13, 2014



Written by: Raven Metzner
Directed by: Bill Eagles


The fourth episode of our fourth season begins to unite our heroes.  David Eick and writer Raven Metzner were looking to move the character relationships down the road – Anne is challenged as she learns about Lexi and the overlord and comes into conflict with Lexi.  The writers wanted to explore her maternal instincts in conflict with her sense of the safety of the group. 

They also wanted to explore what had begun to be set up in the ghetto story – showing how Hal is becoming a leader in his own right.  Noah had advocated that Tom should begin to see and promote his son as a leader.  He knew that Tom would be in conflict, because he still, in his heart, longs for the safety of his boys above all else – but he also knows that Hal is proving himself.  That is why he gave him the big responsibility of getting the citizens out of the ghetto – and he gave himself the more perilous job of leading the skitters astray.  Noah and Drew had several conversations about how they thought their characters would approach the changing dynamics between them.

The hardest story of the week, for Will Patton and for all of us, was the discovery that Jeanne Weaver had been transformed into a skitterized human.  I’ve told the story before of how Will was involved in casting Laci J Mailey  in the first place.  He was at her final callback and read the audition scenes with her.  Over the last two years Will grew very attached to her.  Besides that, Laci is an out-and-out doll – a hard worker and a very committed, very emotion-based actor.  When she found out she was going to die in the episode, she was sad, but resolute.  She figured that sooner or later this was going to happen to her character.

What I think was fun and interesting for her was the makeup FX that Todd Masters and company applied.  She had to go in several weeks in advance and get a full body cast made.  Then, on the three days her character worked, she had a 3 to 4 hour session to get into the makeup, before filming could begin.  I think, for her it was an intense experience.

You know, we are up to the fourth episode and I haven’t talked much yet about the most significant new cast member we’ve added in a while – Scarlett Byrne as the adult Lexi.  As many readers of this blog predicted, Lexi’s destiny was to age to late teens/early twenties this season.  Before the season began, but after we had at least a broad strokes idea of where Lexi’s character would be going this year – we threw out a wide net in search of young actresses to play the part.  We, literally searched on every continent and every English-speaking country.   

I didn’t personally see every entry, the casting directors we had in Los Angeles (working with other casting directors in Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London, Sydney, Melbourne, South Africa, and I’m sure other cities) did.  But myself and the producers at Dreamworks and Mr. Eick did see the first cuts – about 25 young ladies. 

Amongst ourselves we narrowed it down to 7 or 8 favorites.  As I remember it, there were two women from LA, one from New York, one from Atlanta (I think?) one from Toronto, two from London and one from Melbourne.  These we reviewed and discussed amongst ourselves at length.  We agreed that we needed to narrow it down to 2 or 3 – and that these we would have re-read with me giving them some direction – and that these would go to TNT to narrow it down to the winner.
I remember that between the time she put herself on tape, and when we wanted to re-tape her with direction, one of the gals had gotten married and was on her honeymoon in Hawaii.  I ended up talking to the poor thing in the hotel and the casting directors got one of the shows that shoots in Hawaii (Hawaii 5-O, I think?) to tape her.

What I liked about Scarlett , from the beginning, was that there was something special and other-worldly about her.  Plus, I believed if you morphed Noah Wyle and Moon Bloodgood together you could get her.

I got on a Skype call with her, and had a lengthy conversation with her about the character and the series.  Scarlett hadn’t been that familiar with FALLING SKIES at that time, but between her first read and her callback she had quickly watched a few episodes.  I found her bright and curious and liked that she asked smart questions. 

One thing I remember, as I discussed the re-tape and what emotions I wanted her to hit, was – she had taped the audition with an American accent, but during my conversation she was speaking with her natural British accent.  I told her – “When you re-tape, even in the introductory part where you are saying your name, and so on, only use an American accent.”  Her American accent was strong and I didn’t want people to prejudice against her.  When she taped, what she did, that I thought was smart was – not only did she use a USA accent, she had the person who was reading off-camera do the same.  “Very smart” I thought, and she got another check in my personal positive column.

The fates went Scarlett's way.  There was some internal debate, but I think the choice for her was pretty-much unanimous.  A bonus, which I hadn't been aware of at first was that she's played Pansy Parkinson in the last few HARRY POTTER movies.  Of course, this makes her a celebrity, especially with younger people, wherever she goes.

Coincidentally our director on this one, Bill Eagles, was also a Brit.  When we put together the schedule, I didn’t know any of the directors who were available for the fourth episode.  Based on resumes, I got several DVD’s of episodes from shows that were relevant or similar to “FALLING SKIES.”  Bill had done several episodes of the CineMax show, “Strike Back.”   I thought the directing on these shows was very exciting – and so Bill was hired. 

It’s always a bit of a crapshoot working with a new director in TV.  Even if they are very good, they may not fit with your show.  But, I was very pleased that Bill came in on day one really knowing the show, and taking command.  He was very organized and in control throughout prep as well.  As prep on this one went on, he continued to handle the complications that came up smoothly, and when

Will & Noah
Director Bill Eagles

Scarlett and the Monk

Noah Wyle on set

At lunch on set 

Hanging out in the cast tent

Drew and Treva study the script together

Tessa our 3rd ADgets Volm love
Wait!  Is the new "Beeman's Blog" out?

Collin Cunningham and newcomer Mira Sorvino

Monday, July 07, 2014



Written by: Josh Pate
Directed by: Mikhail Solomon


Sorry for the late posting - WiFi was down in my apartment last night.

Here we go...

In the “Exodus” episode, Tom and the 2nd Mass hatch an elaborate plan to escape the confines of the Espheni Ghetto. Meanwhile back in Chinatown, after learning from Ben that Lexi has been keeping a deadly secret, Maggie confronts Lexi publicly. At the Espheni Youth Camp, Matt tries to talk Mira out of a dangerous escape plan. While trekking through the woods with her guerilla fighters, Anne has a flashback to her time in the Espheni Tower with Karen (guest star Jessy Schram), where a terrifying secret about Lexi is revealed. Treva Etienne guest-stars.
That's right:  Karen's back! (If briefly) in one of the creepier scenes I've been involved with (And which, hopefully, I helped contribute to the creep)

And part one of our season concludes as our heroes escape the ghetto - And Anne finally finds Lexi at the end of the eipsde.  Now we can begin to hope that the 2nd Mass. will soon could be (maybe) re-united.

I have a feeling, though, that a lot of obstacles still stand in the way.

Both Josh Pate, who wrote this episode, and Mikhail Solomon, who directed, have pretty impressive resumes.  You should check out the links above to their imdb pages.  Josh has created series and directed – I think this is his first time on a writing staff, which he was willing to do, I think because of his long-standing relationship with Mr. Eick.  Similarly, Mikhail Solomon has a long impressive resume as a director of photography, including academy award nominations (for BACKDRAFT).  For more than a decade he has been directing pilots and feature films.  I don’t think he’s done much (if any) episodic directing.  But, again, his long-standing relationship with Mr. Spielberg (he DP’ed ALWAYS among other project) brought him our way.

The biggest, and most obvious challenge, of this one was the long and complex escape sequence, which certainly was the most action and visual effects we’d ever done in a non-season-opening-or-closing episode.  The good news is I knew Mr. Solomon would in now way be intimidated by the scope of the episode.  His feature film HARD RAIN with Christian Slater was one of the technically most complex movies I’ve ever seen.  I had no idea if we could do this one on budget or on schedule (hint: we couldn’t) but our director would be able to embrace the scope.

The motorcycle chase, where Tom misdirects an army of skitters to their doom took place over three or four locations, mixing stunt driving, Noah Wyle on a motorcycle with digital and live action skitters.  In several shots, what we filmed was Noah (or his double) racing in front of several small radio-controlled cars, which were used to kick up dust and leaves.  The cars were later replaced with digital skitters.
The sequence culminates with Tom re-entering the ghetto cell he’d been housed in episode 1 and 2, setting the room on fire with a flame thrower and then leaping to safety into the river as he explodes the entire hotel taking down hundreds of skitters as he goes. 

This was, obviously, a big project, which had to be carefully planned and storyboarded.  We knew from Mr. Eick that the hotel was going to have to be set on fire – so in it’s initial construction plans we had to build it on a stage with a very high ceiling and plan to vent the flames and flammable gases that would be used.  The stage was built at an elevation of 7 feet .  This was partially so that we could surround it with a blue screen (or a night black screen) as needed (for out the windows.)  But also so that Noah, and his stunt double, could stand on the ledge and jump off.

Noah really wielded the mini-flamethrower that our special effects team had constructed.  And he did the jump himself.  Of course when he leaps from the building it is an all-digital environment.

More than on most of our episodes, on this one, once the sequence was cut together, we had to go back and spot shoot a few shots to tie it all together…  It really was a big and complex puzzle.  For instance, one pair of shots that was really important to me, which we picked up later – was a close up of Noah looking down, and then a VFX shot which was his POV of hundreds of skitters crawling the walls towards him.  Without those two bits the only shots we had were wide shots of the building being engulfed by skitters.  This was impressive, but somehow not enough…  I’ll never be sure of why the phenomenon works, but when you see a close up of the hero and then their direct point of view of what they see – it just makes the danger and the visceral experience greater.  The shot of Noah we literally grabbed with an extra camera and no sound equipment in a parking lot looking up into blue sky.  I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but I feel it did.   The shot of the skitters coming at him is a very quick cut – but it’s cool and menacing.

Next week we may learn what it was that Weaver was staring at at the end of the episode...  Do you think it was a good thing?  Or a bad thing?















Monday, June 30, 2014



Written by: Carol Barbee
Directed by; Sergio Mimica Gezzan

warning there are spoilers within.

"The Eye" is the second part of a trilogy that encompasses the first 3 episodes of our season.

Second acts are tricky because they neither begin the drama nor end the drama.  But they have the obligation to carry the drama that's been established and raise it to the next level.

I was very happy to have Sergio Gezzan in the second episode of the season.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before the second episode of a season is the trickiest for me.  I am directing while the prep is happening - and new seasons always bring new tonal and structural and dramatic changes.  I am less able to oversee the 2nd episode of a season than any other episode of the year.  That's why Sergio's presence brings me comfort.  Not only is he relentlessly responsible, but he cares deeply about the crafting of character and the drama of storytelling.  Sergio is the only director, besides myself, who has directed episodes of "Falling Skies" in all 4 seasons.

David Eick and writer Carol Barbee (who I worked with on the first season of "Touch" were telling a story of surveillance
and totalitarian oppression.  Carol really wanted a creepy mood, and a feeling of always being watched.  The concept of the eye that twisted and turned on the front of the air ship was important.  

The mysterious zeppelin that has been circling the ghetto were Tom is imprisoned, is examined in depth this episode.  What was very important to David Eick was to establish how the zeppelin is powered.  As the second act, this episode is largely about Tom and co. learning and plotting their unlikely escape attempt.

As you can tell.  Many new ideas and new rules have been brought in this season, and we were working hard to feather them in with the things that have already been established. The tethered zeppelin, of course, was a new concept and a new design, and while we had some time to design the exterior of the zeppelin - the interior was done pretty quickly. 

Rob Gray, the production designer (which means he designs and builds the sets and finds the locations we shoot in and overall designs the "look" of the series) and I felt that we should stick with what we've established as far as Espheni interior design.  Between with the interior spaceship in season 2, and the re-vamped power station in season 3 and Karen's lair in Season 3 and the big power station that we blew up at the end of season 2 - we had built a lot of spare parts for Espheni interiors.  They were literally laying around in a warehouse and we had used and re-used them many times.(Believe it or not the Falling Skies budget is really quite spare and recycling is a key part of our game-plan.)

Rob did have to design a new set - which meant having artisans carve (literally) styrofoam walls covered with Espheni veining.  With the lights on the set, when it was up was quite spare and incomplete looking, a mess of walls propped together with tubes and wires run everywhere.  Rob covered the floor with rubber pebbles.  As I say, it wasn't much to look at when well lit.  But when we turned the lights off and Director of Photography, Barry Donlevy added the signature orange Espheni cross-light, it came alive.   We also added ceilings and some depth with computer generated backgrounds.

One of the cool things in the episode, which I'm kind of proud of, was the way that Tom was transported up to the zeppelin.  The script just described an elevator that descended from the ship - with no further elaboration.  But, in our Visual Effects meetings - we spend a lot of time talking about things like "What would an Espheni elevator look like."  I was shooting, but my fearless former assistant, now associate producer, Ashley Shields-Muir came to me with reports from the VFX meeting - which had generally been successful, but which had stalled in this one area.  The idea of what the elevator should look like, just came to me in a flash - it should be a snaking series of tentacles that seem separate and alive.  The whole thing should descend like a mass of snakes from the ship and then let loose of the passenger as it lands.  To the harnessed human who comes down, this would be no big deal...  But Tom's ride up would be pretty creepy for him.

Sergio was very interested in the idea of the rebellion - and I have to credit him for both conceiving, designing and implementing the attack that the citizens of the ghetto.  It was a big scene that didn't really fit into schedule - but Sergio found ways to twist and turn the schedule and add a small splinter unit to make sure that it happened.

It was also clear this season that the Espheni overlords were going to play a bigger and more specific role this year.  We meet the one who oversees the ghetto, and at the end of the episode we get a glimpse of a second overlord, who is mysteriously working with Lexi - to what end, good or bad, at this point we know not...  But practically, to us in production that meant more overlords.  Now, overlords have been our most expensive commodity.  They have been full done using CGI motion-capture , and they have cost many thousand of dollars per shot.  So as you look at past seasons the overlords have actually been used quite sparingly, and many magician's tricks have been used to limit how often we actually see them.   

But David made it clear that this year would be different.  We would need to see them much more.  So, with Todd Master's we began to devise a plan to create a practical, on-set, overlord.  Todd's practical creation of Cochise, applied on top of actor Doug Jones, had saved the day last year.  Had Cochise been full CGI last season, he would have been prohibitively expensive.  But Todd's suit with minimal CGI for Cochise's eyes and brow was a massive dollar savings.  So, we decided we needed to try it again.  Of course the overlords are 10 feel tall with strangely thin bodies, tiny feet and super long arms.  This was all no big deal when they were all CGI...  But practically this means we were not going to be able to replicate what we did with Doug - i.e. have an actor in a suit.  This project was going to involve a stunt, performer, who was going to have to walk around on short stilts with a robotic, radio controlled mask propped on top of his head.  It was a big project that Todd estimated would take 10 weeks.  Through no fault on TNT's part (we can't get financial approval of things until we are actually in production and have a budget.) we weren't able to start fabricating this creature until just a couple of weeks before we started shooting - and Sergio's episode came up only 4 weeks after that.

Long and short is that, for this episode, which was filmed 6 weeks after we sent Todd off to build the creature - we didn't make it!  Rushing as fast as he could, Tom did finish the rough exoskeleton of the overlord, and we did film this on set as a template on which to overlay the CGI character.  But what you saw in tonight's episode was 90% CGI.

More next week....

Director of Photography, Barry Donlevy and Director Sergio Gezzan

Days go by on set for Drew Roy

Noah gets to know his fellow cast members

Will Patton - Weaver's just hanging on to his sanity

On set at night on a crane

Me in the mirror in the producer's trailer

What do you call many Volm?  A gaggle?  A pride?  A posse?... 

Production Designer Rob Gray with Seychelle Gabriel

Scarlett Byrne and Sarah Carter between takes

Robert Sean Leonard and Connor Jessup between takes

"You looking at me?!"

Noah enters the belly of the beast (much of the set was CGI set extensions)

Collin rests between set-ups

Getting ready to rumble

Techtor's joining the party!