October 2, 2006
Hey guys… Welcome to my Blog.
Tonight the 2nd episode of Heroes airs.
I realized, after posting last week that it may seem schizo to you guys for me to be writing: “Tomorrow we start filming.” The weird thing is that we started production of HEROES back in July, but the work we did then is only now hitting the air. Actually as we speak I am directing episode 9, and have already finished episode 6.
But, way back last summer, Craig and I talked about me doing a production diary for the fans… If I waited until shows aired I’d be stuck recounting what happened, for me, 3 months ago. So I started writing thoughts down as I went…
But now it’s today and I’ve decided the best solution is to bend back and forth between the past and the present (kind of like Hiro!) – giving perspective from today and from back when we were shooting…
Tonight’s episode was directed by Allan Arkush, the other producing-director on the show: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0035106/ . He’s been a long time collaborator with Tim Kring. He directed the pilot of “Crossing Jordan” http://www.nbc.com/Crossing_Jordan/ and has been producing that show with Tim ever since.
For my part Allan has been enourmousely ingratiating and inviting to me. From the start he and Tim and Dennis Hammer were very open and encouraging of my ideas and involvement. Believe me that is not always the case.
Director Allan Arkush
Allan and 2nd unit DP Nate Goodman
Allan’s episode is terrific. It’s visual and emotionally rich… a worthy successor to the pilot. It also introduces Greg Grunberg and much more!
Looking back, we started this series in a very unusual way… Because we had 2 scripts and because many scenes in both scripts were in the same locations – the decision was made to block shoot the episodes. This means we were both shooting both episodes at the same time. Some days Allan would shoot a couple of scenes in the morning and I’d finish the day, some days visa-versa. Some days he’d have the whole day, some days I would. We even through in a scene or two from episode 4.
It was kooky.
Normally, in TV, a director preps for 7 days, shoots for 8 days and then edits for 3 or 4 days before turning the show over to the producers Allan Arkush and I were shooting episodes 2 and 3 for, like 20 days… Not normal…
And now as I prepare to shoot episode 9, HEROES still isn’t made like a normal show. But then again, neither was SMALLVILLE. Maybe I like abnormal. (I know I like big and good!!!)
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Damn. Middle of the night day before first day of shooting. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I still get nervous before the first day. It’s like football players say, you have to get out on the field and get knocked down a couple of times before the butterflies go away.
The structure of this shoot is weird. Because the cast is in just a few scenes per episode and always on the same location in each episode – we’ve chosen to “block shoot” – i.e. we’re shooting two episodes at the same time.
Tomorrow we’re downtown LA creating New York. Allan Arkush is taking the morning directing episode 2 scenes of Hiro in NYC. I’m taking the afternoon directing Milo V. and Tawny in hotel lobby. And later Greg G. in a bar.
I want to achieve a very specific look. Long lenses. Reflective surfaces. Pretty but unbalanced compositions. The goal is to create a slightly nervous feeling in the audience… like our characters are being watched. I also, always love the camera moving drifting – want the film to cut together sensuously. At the same time I have to photograph the faces of the cast. TV is an intimate medium. These characters are invited into our homes. Gotta find the balance of all this.
But who am I kidding? You never really know what’s going to happen or what you’re going to do until you get there. Something will go wrong. We’ll be behind schedule. An actor will surprise me with a nuance I didn’t suspect. Right now I know every shot I want to shoot. What I’ll actually do tomorrow will be different.
4 AM – Call time’s 7…. Gotta get some sleep.
Monday, July 17, 2006
First day is over. I never got over the nerves. New crew I’d never worked with. Tough schedule. Two location moves in downtown LA (which is crazy!)…
Got the set from Allan on time. His stuff with Masi went great… He did a scene of Hiro in NYC happy, enjoying himself. Masi was so funny ad-libbing “Go Yankees” and stuff like that. Really fun stuff. I took over and things started going wrong.
I was doing a scene with Milo and Tawny, in the lobby of a apartment building.. We smoked the building with special effect smoke for a specific look… then the fire alarm went off. Then the fire department showed up. Then two crazy homeless guys decided to have a fistfight on the sidewalk in front of our set. I looked at my watch and I’d lost an hour and fifteen minutes. Oh well… It’s TV Jake – no excuses – you wrap after twelve shooting hours no matter what.
Good news: The lobby where we’re shooting the Peter/Simone scene is beautiful. Fit the look I’m going for perfectly. Glossy marble and brass surfaces with bright reflective light. Crew was great. The camera moved gently on long lenses. Bit the bullet and took twenty extra minutes to film a huge wide cinematic shot – a high angle down of the whole lobby for the last shot of scene. Very lonely and very “who’s watching them?”
Actors were great... Their first time working together since the pilot two months ago. My first time working with them ever. Every actor is different, and my job is to give them the space and encouragement to create valid legitimate emotions in an absolutely awkward environment – with a hundred crew members staring at them; cameras, microphones and lights stuck in their faces. Milo has great such sincerity in his performance. He and Tawny were really working looking for emotional nuance. Last shot I did pushed into a tight CU of her face. Wow. Her eyes are so radiant. Felt like hard work on all three of our parts, digging for the emotion. Trying different things. Tawny had it the toughest – a lot of emotional gear shifts. She has to come into the scene upset by her previous interaction with Isaac, then be surprised that Peter’s there, then she feels how much she likes him. Then he gives her bad news, which makes her sad, but she has to cover that. Then he leaves and she has to reflect upon the choices she’s made and is making. That’s a lot of emotional territory to cover.
Got to the bar at 5:30 PM to shoot Greg’s scene. That’s about an hour and a half behind. I knew I’d never make it. So I started prepping the producers that we’re going to be eating some big overtime money right away on day one. Knew I had to go fast. It’s a fun, easy scene, but needs a lot of specific shots to tell the story. Can’t tell you too much, but basically Greg’s having fun with his powers for the first time.
What a great guy Greg Grunberg is. Easy to work with and a lot of laughs. We talked briefly about what we both expected/wanted out of the scene and shot it. Unlike the previous scene, this went easy and well… Just the mechanics of getting all the shots took time. The D.P. John Aronson and Camera operator Nate Goodman get and support the look I’m going for and found ways to make it better. Finished the scene and felt pretty good about it. An hour and a half of overtime. That’s $11,000 to the studio. Ouch!
Went home thinking of the shots I hadn’t gotten and the overtime I hadn’t wanted to go into… It’s OK… I’ve done this a long time, and I know when I do have it and I don’t it. Both scenes will work. I got enough to cut together. It’ll be good.
Tomorrow is another day!
Tuesday July 18, 2006
Tim Kring and Dennis Hammer seem happy with the dailies…whew!
Thursday July 20, 2006
Luckily, the studio, producers and most importantly, Tim seem happy with the dailies. Everyone reviews everything we shot the day before in its raw, unedited form, and we discuss what is and isn’t working – a few notes and issues both from myself and others – but for the most part, the plan is working.
Yesterday we were up in Canyon Country North of Los Angeles. There’s a location there that we’re using for the Odessa High School. It’s a cool and unusual building – really feels like Texas to me. Modern, clean and mildly oppressive.
Alan had done a really fun scene before where the police and fireman from the pilot have lined up the cheerleaders to find out who was the hero from the train wreck. Everything had gone well.
Today the temperature was 105 degrees and up. Really tough on the crew and cast. Just staying focused is hard. And despite the heat, the DP still has to bring out big lights to balance the shadow areas. Imagine standing under a heat lamp on a 100+ degree day.
That’s what Hayden Panettiere had to put up with. Thursday was my first day working with her. My kids and I were already fans of hers from “Raising Helen” and “Tiger Cruise” – she’s easy and fun. Like a lot of young actors, her attitude is “no big deal” – but then she’ll deliver complex emotional performances as easy as pie. I did one scene in front of the school with Hayden and Jack Coleman, who plays her father – a character we call “HRG”. From the pilot you see why theirs is a complex relationship. My job was to make sure that they expressed a very loving relationship. Claire’s relationship with her Mom is more troubled. But her Dad, from her point of view, is the greatest. No matter what his mysterious career is, it doesn’t affect her (at least not yet).
The shoot was frustrating. Allan Arkush was filming Episode 2 scenes with Ali Larter in the morning and had some mechanical trouble with the insert car. Anyway, an hour later than I wanted, I got a camera and some crew – but not a full crew. I’d had a real plan for how I wanted to shoot the school scene – using really long lenses, a swing and tilt lens, some handheld – all to create a visual tension that would be counter to the light family emotion and comedy of the scene. But I ended up rushing and the heat was so blistering. I ended up happy with the performances, and feeling like I’d shot pretty shots that would all flow together – but that I hadn’t really achieved the subtlety of the style I was looking for.
Then we had a night scene – a high school pep rally with a huge bonfire. The special effects guys did a great job. We had 100 extras and lots of cool cars circled around, and it looked great. I had a 3 page scene (which usually adds up to three minutes or so of screen time) to film with Hayden and Matt Lanter, who plays a high school quarterback who might be interested in her.
Hayden Panettiere And Matt Lanter
As always, when there’s a lot of continuous dialogue, I try to get the actors on the move, walking and talking. If actors stand in one spot for three minutes it’s deadly dull. I set up a very complex master shot – craning down past the partiers to find Hayden at the bonfire – she’s joined by Matt and they walk across the whole parking lot, through a huge crowd. They end up in and “over the shoulder” onto Hayden for the last half-page. Then as they exit a mysterious character appears, watching them!!!… ANYWAY… Getting 100 extras and 25 cars and a big bonfire and a complex crane move and two actors plus one mysterious character to line up takes time. I thought it would take an hour and a half to shoot, but it took 2 and a half hours to get it in the can! That’s okay, except Hayden is only sixteen – and being a minor she can’t work past midnight. It got dark at 8:45, so by the time I had my first shot done, it was 11:15pm. That meant I only had 45 minutes I needed to clean up the four close-ups left in the scene. I don’t know how many people have been on film sets… But if you are ever are, the general impression is that nothing is happening. Nothing seems to be happening because it takes a LOOOONG time to do all the things necessary to get every single little shot done. Every shot needs to be rehearsed. And then the camera has to get in place and focus marks need to be taken. And the it has to be lit. And then hair and makeup need to do touch-ups, etc., etc.!
Anyway, this night I blasted through three shots (thank God the actors were spot on with their dialogue) and ended up doing one close up of Matt with a photo double of Hayden. It went well and looked good -- but I felt I was rushing so much – I keep wondering “could I have done better?”
The film business may seem exciting and glamorous from the outside – I don’t know. And, thank God, for the last several years of my career I’ve produced work I’m proud of artistically… BUT… On a day to day basis it’s gut-churning and frustrating. You start off with big plans, having had lots of conversations with the writers and other producers about the visual style and the nuances of performance – and then, on the day, you have to rush as fast as you can with problem after problem occurring. Lights explode in the heat, extras faint, cameras break, and after finally getting a perfect take, the camera operator announces it wasn’t in focus. So as a director, your perfect plan begins to get nipped away at. You can start saying to yourself, “Okay maybe I don’t need that one shot.” Then, later, “Well, it won’t be as good, but I can probably combine those two angles into one,” and so on and so on. And in addition to all that, there is constant financial pressure to go faster – to have less cranes and Steadicams and special lenses and stuff like that, stuff that you feel will make it cooler. There’s an old movie by Francois Truffaut, Day For Night, that really captures this torturous experience. Nevertheless, I’ve found, that in the act of fighting for everything you believe in – despite all logic and financial pressure – in trying and failing to achieve a great vision – you end up with something still much better than if you’d been reasonable in the first place.