Episode 3 airs tonight! It’s the first episode of “HEROES” which I directed and consequently there’s a lot more blog.
I won’t say too much from today’s point-of-view except that “HEROES” seems to be a hit. We’ve been picked up for a full season by NBC. No surprise to me, but it feels good.
I’m very proud of tonight’s episode. It has the style and scope I was going for. I feel I serviced well the excellent script written by my old “Smallville” pal Jeph Loeb.
Remember, all the rest written here was penned 2 ½ months ago when I was in production. It’s my experiences (and only my experiences) as we filmed episode 3. I hope you enjoy.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Finally had a day where I achieved everything I wanted…. Where all the pieces came together.
We started off in the morning with an interrogation scene between FBI agents played by Clea Duvall and Greg Grunberg.
I’ve been mostly talking about production, but in addition to shooting, a couple times a week I have to rush off to casting sessions. We read lots of actors for every part, whether it’s one liner’s like “Cop #1” who shouts “get your hands up!” or characters who are critical to the series and will run for many episodes.
Clea Duvall is an exceptional actress (Girl Interrupted and HBO’s Carnival). We were amazed she was even coming in, but she had seen the pilot and was a fan. (It’s great to be on a great show – makes everything easier!!!) She came in to read for a character named “Eden” (more about her later) but none of us felt it was right. Co-Executive Producer Jeph Loeb was hit by a brainstorm and said “What if we put her with Greg Grunberg?” There was already a storyline developing for Greg where he becomes involved in an FBI investigation – but there was no continuing character for him to run with. Everyone loved the idea right away. Our Casting Directors called Clea’s agent and asked if she was interested in this yet-to-be-written character. They said “yes” the writers began excitedly writing and…
There I was on set, working with Clea and Greg. It was kind of a simple scene and we were in a room that was so plain and, in some ways, flat – but glossy and unique. I finally felt like I got to shoot the kind of angles and lenses I’ve been wanting. A little “The Insider” a little “Bourne Identity” – I also used a swing and tilt lens which throws the plane of focus off in an eerie way. I’d been wanting to use this tool every day so far, but I’d never had the time. Finally I shot a scene with the kind of framing, long lenses, glossy surfaces and use of focus that I felt would contribute to the beautiful but subtlety unsettling vibe that I think will work for the show. I even tried the swing and tilt lens on a couple of Greg’s close-ups, keeping his eyes in focus and half his mouth – but got nervous about that though and covered my butt with a traditionally focused close-up.
That night I went out and shot one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever done, between Hayden and Matt Lanter. I won’t say too much about it here – but sometimes it’s challenging to do a scene that you want to disturb and unsettle the audience. The whole crew felt uncomfortable at the end. Hayden was full of enthusiasm at the beginning but I know by the end the material had disturbed her as well. It’s a funny business we’re in – creating emotional stories that are sometimes nice and sometimes not-so-nice. Anyway, it all went so well. The actors both gave their all. The location, the fog, the lighting, the shots all fell into place. I was pushing the crew and the cast hard – but suddenly I had gotten every shot I wanted and we wrapped a half hour early!
Finally a great day!!!
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Haven’t written in a few days. The show is falling into a rhythm now. We went to stage work last week, and it’s been cooler and easier.
Our production designer, Ruth Ammon, has built standing sets for Suresh’s apartment, Isaac’s loft and Claire’s house. They are all great, and show the variation in location and style. What’s great about this show is how many different shows it is all in one. Architecturally, these three spaces are very different. Funky brownstone interior for Suresh. Big open aired loft for Isaac. Newly-built Americana for Claire. My favorite is Suresh’s. It is beautifully designed to be lit, and to have great angles and depth. I loved shooting it.
Ruth Ammon – Heroes Production Designer
Allen Arkush and I have finished our “main unit” work. But “HEROES” is laying out the way “Smallville” did. We shoot 8 days of main unit and then we each have two full days of “second unit” work. Second unit usually means stunts and explosions with no actors involved… But in our world it just means a whole ‘nother unit with actors and hair and makeup. (As well as stunts, actions and explosions!)
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Just saw the final mix of the pilot episode, along with the re-shoots of the flying sequence at the end. (An earlier, unfinished version of the pilot leaked onto the internet in July – but this is the finished version.) This show is SO COOL. I am so lucky.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Today was a particularly fun and ultimately satisfying day.
A month ago, in the writers room, Jeph Loeb pitched a scene where Hiro, in order to prove himself to Ando, freezes time to save the life of a little girl. They are following a (9th Wonders!) comic book that Hiro has obtained from the future, which tells that they will save a girl dressed in a school uniform from an out-of-control truck… At first there is nobody on the street and Ando is very dubious. But then a school bell rings and 50 schoolgirls appear… It was a great scene and I knew right away I had to (a) fight the budget battles to keep that scene in the show and (b) top whatever I’d done on “Smallville…”
Now, I have done several “frozen time” sequences on “Smallville.” On that show we call it “Clark-Time,” which is when we are with Clark Kent as he runs in superspeed – from his perspective the world appears to be frozen. This scene was similar – but I wanted to do something much bigger and with more scope than we had ever done on “Smallville.”
I literally wanted to freeze a Tokyo street full of pedestrians and traffic. Some big movies (starting with “The Matrix”) have developed complex systems with high speed cameras or a series of sequenced 35-mm still cameras to “flash-capture” a moment in time.
But Heroes is a TV show. We can’t afford that. So our technique was to have a whole bunch of extras hold really still… and to build a series of special props and green-screen rigs to hold them in awkward positions that would sell time stopping.
One thing I learned on “Smallville” was that things-defying-gravity is what sells frozen time. Water spilling, birds stopped in mid-flight, etc.
On this one, my key ideas were (a) a little girl jumping rope, frozen in mid-air. (b) the girl in danger falling backwards, frozen off balance. (c) the truck that’s about to hit her in mid-collision, halfway crashed through a table of toy robots which are all frozen in mid air.
Like Clark Kent, Hiro is the only thing moving in the shot. The world is frozen around him. He squints hard. Opens his eyes. Turns in amazement at the world and then runs to the girl, ducking under the toy robots, which are frozen in mid-air from the crash, and pushes the frozen girl out of the way.
A scene like this is obviously complex and requires a lot of planning. And I knew our TV schedule would only allow one day to film the whole scene (which includes a page and a half of dialogue before the action starts.)
We started by scouting for locations. My take on Japan is that it should be clean and high-tech looking – to stand in contrast to what New York, Texas and LA look like. The street also had to be one on which we could completely control traffic and on which we wouldn’t see distant traffic or pedestrians. Moving traffic in the background would ruin the effect.
After much scouting we found the perfect place in Los Angeles’ “Little Tokyo” (what are the odds?). I brought the crew down there twice to specifically decide on where we would stage every key event and how we would build the rigs to support them. Then, I went back with a storyboard artist and laid out every shot we were going to shoot which he would illustrate. On a sequence like this it’s critical to have a visual plan of the scene for the crew to follow. Drawing it out also helps you facilitate discussion and time management.
I’d worked with an artist on the “Aquaman” pilot named Cesar Lemus… His drawings are clean and realistic and his shading is beautiful. Out of film school - I started out as a storyboard artist myself… So my standards are high. The boards need to look realistic and they have to accurately represent real achievable camera angles…
Here’s the final result:
Finally I auditioned a dozen 10-12 year-old Japanese girls. Basically they all showed up as a group on a night I was shooting other scenes. I had a bunch of wooden crates laid out and in between takes I ran back from the set and I asked the girls to lay back in awkward “falling down” positions and hold perfectly still for a minute and a half. It was a funny sight. All the little girls were wonderful, but two of them were the best “freezers…” and I picked them to be the “jump rope girl” and the “Hiro girl.”
Every day of shooting is physically and emotionally strenuous. A twelve hour day is the norm in the film business and the director never gets a moment’s rest. But some days are harder than others. This day, for me, was an all-out sprint from beginning to end. We had planned it well and I had the storyboards as a guide. But to get all the work done we had to hustle, hustle, hustle and shoot fast.
I haven’t mentioned Masi and James yet (who play Hiro and Ando) But they are both a true delight! They are both fun, lighthearted and easy to work with. To me they are a classic comedy team – Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby for a new era. And it won’t surprise me a bit if Masi breaks out big as a star this year. He’s a wonderful guy with wonderful fun energy. What’s good about his character, of all the “HEROES” he’s the one who loves having his power.
Anyway – you can see we all had a good time on this crazy day.
Masi and me tough guys
A Tokyo luxury car
Jeph Loeb and I man the monitors
Masi, James and Umi our Japanese language consultant
Masi with a red tongue from Japanese frozen ice
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Okay, as well as yesterday went…. Today was the opposite. A true comedy of errors.
We were up in Palmdale, California – in a stretch endless desert and one two lane blacktop. It’s a night scene where Niki’s character discovers the bodies which (she suspects) her husband DL buried. She then digs her own shallow grave and buries the bodies stuffed in her trunk.
Well, it was about 100 degrees, which was the first problem… The second problem was ultimately a communications problem with the art department. We wanted to create a road that dead-ended into nowhere. There was none like that, so we came up with the idea that we’d create a “ROAD ENDS” barrier across the road and 60 yards of sand to tell the story. My concept was that art department would build the barricade in such a way that, when it got time to do that shot at the end of the day – we’d drag it across the road and the crew would quickly shovel sand onto the road. When we got there in the morning the barricade was built in a semi-permanent way and the road was dressed with sand and tumbleweeds and grass. It was beautiful. Only problem was that the trucks and equipment were on one side and the set was on the other. So now, rather than pushing or driving equipment 100 yards to the set we had to drive everything a half an hour AROUND….
But that was just the beginning. In the scene, Niki is supposed to throw a bloody shovel in the trunk and then sit in the front seat and then face her nemesis-reflection. So, I’m in the middle of rehearsal with Ali Larter, I have my fingers in the classic “frame the shot pose.” I’m walking along with Ali talking saying, “So you throw the shovel in the trunk, you cross to the door, you open the door and sit down and you look in the…” I lower my shot-framing fingers, confused… “Hey! Where’s the mirror?” The Cadillac had no rear view mirror. I look over to a bunch of transportation guys who start shrugging, saying “That’s the way it came.”
I’m like, “(a) This character spends a lot of time looking in the mirror, (b) it’s in the script…” More shrugs.
My next 45 minutes were spent watching guys run around taking mirrors off their own cars and trying to Jerry-rig them onto a 57 Caddy. The final result looked terrible, but we were hours behind so we just went with it.
Later, just as I was about to film a shot of the Cadillac driving by the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign we’d dressed in – a sudden wind came up. The sign took to the air like a kite. Crashed thirty feet down the road and split in half.
I looked to my Assistant Director. “Do we have a backup sign?” He shook his head “No.” This time I shrugged. “Okay, let’s skip that shot.”
Then the “A” camera went down. Broken in the heat.
The camera crew got it working again. Then the “B” camera went down... Jeph Loeb turned to me and said, “At the point where we have NO cameras – we’ll have to call the studio and tell them we’ve stopped filming.”
We limped along like this all day. It seemed like every shot had a problem with it. Through it all, Ali Larter was a trooper. Even though she was on the verge of heat stroke and her makeup was literally melting off her face – she hung in there.
We finally finished the day. Several hours of double-double-golden time later – but – with a pretty cool scene in the can…
Oh, and, by the way – I think I just finished shooting on Episode 3!!!
On to Episode 4!!!
ALI LARTER AND THE MAKEUP AND HAIR TEAM – FIGHTING THE HEAT
RED-SHIRTED WOMAN AND A RED CADDY IN THE DESERT
ME IN THE DESERT – THERE’S A WHOLE LOT OF NUTHIN’ OUT HERE
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Just saw the Editor’s assembly of my episode. This is usually a horrible experience for directors… Billy Wilder’s famous quote is “Your movie is never as good as your dailies and never as bad as the first cut.”
Actually the cut was not bad. It’s 8-plus minutes longer than the final version that will air and feels kind of flabby. There was very little temp music or sound effects. I think I’ll load it up before showing it to the other producers. Music and sound effects (the right ones) Some scenes really please me – Niki and her mother in law, Greg Grundberg’s scenes with Clea Duvall, Adrian and Milo. Others feel off – I am anxious, but not suicidal.
The editor is Scott Boyd. (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0101910/) I’ve never worked with him, but he has great credits and is a super nice guy. Throughout the shoot he was very complimentary about the performances and the way the film was cutting together. He made many great choices – some I wouldn’t have thought of – one in particular is the way he dealt with Sylar psychic control of Audrey.
Scott Boyd - Heroes Editor
The show is certainly physically beautiful. The actors, the sets, the lighting. The scenes and the performances feel grounded and real – like the pilot.
I have about 4 days to recut this version and turn it in to Tim Kring. Until he’s happy I’ll be a wreck.