Monday, December 03, 2007

BEEMAN’S BLOG – SEASON 2, EPISODE 11
"POWERLESS"
WARNING SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN

Sorry for getting the blog up a little late this week.

Sadly, here at the HEROES offices we’ve dropped below a skeleton crew to a nobody crew, and I got stuck doing all the computer uploading, research and spell/fact checking alone. If there are more mispellings and fact mistakes than usual, forgive me!

So… Tonight our eleventh episode aired. It was written by Jeph Loeb and directed by Allan Arkush, both of who did their usual outstanding job! And I hope you all agree it is a fitting end to this segment of the season.

This time I thought I would do something a little different. I’ve been meaning to interview our composers Wendy Melovin and Lisa Coleman since way back since last season. I’ve actually tried to do it several times, but our schedules have been notoriously out of sync with each other. Now we finally hooked up.

The music of HEROES is I think, one of its most important elements. It is moody and ethereal and both unsettling and uplifting all at once. The instrumentation and orchestration are highly unusual. There’s also a lot of it. Two or three weeks before the show is on the air, we have a spotting session, where the producers Wendy and Lisa go through the picture and specify where we want music and what emotional effect we want out of the music. At the end of those sessions we always joke, saying, “well, this time there were only five music cues. All of act one. All of act two. All of act 3. All of Act 4 and all of act 5." By the way, that’s A LOT. Thirty to thirty five minutes of a forty-two minute show. I’d guess that’s maybe double an average TV show. And Wendy and Lisa will then have, frequently, less than a week to compose and record all of it.

I met them in their studio which is a unique and funky place in Hollywood, they call the “tree house” It’s a low ceilinged space, up a winding flight of steps, that is both cozy and crammed with so many instruments, mixing boards and hard drives that you can hardly believe it fits. They gave me a cup of coffee and we got started...

GREG BEEMAN: So, first of all, how long have you two known each other.

WENDY: Oh. Since we were two.

GB: Really? You’re kidding?

LISA: Our Dad’s were both studio musicians in Los Angeles. They knew each other and played together. They actually were in this same building for many years.

W: The A & M building. Our first band together was when we were 7. It was called “The Waldorf Salad”

L: Which isn’t a name we picked. Our parents picked because at that time we all went to a Waldorf School, Highland Hall, here in L.A.

W: The first real band we had – the first time we made money we were about 11 with my brother and sister.

GB: Cool. I’m so sorry I’m no naïve. Is this all common knowledge?

W: For Wendy and Lisa fans, yeah. But not to the general public.

GB: Okay great. And so, when did you hook up with Prince?

L: I joined Prince’s band in ’78 or ’79. He was looking for a female keyboard player. A friend of mine brought him to see me and I ended up joining his band.

GB: And you went to Minnesota?

L: Yes, where it is SO cold.

GB: How about Wendy?

L: She was visiting me in Minneapolis, and there was a sound check.

W: There was another musician who, well, lets say, was having a bad day and didn’t show up for sound check.

L: I suggested that Wendy play for the sound check, and so she sound checked with the band and she just shredded it. Prince was blown away.

GB: And the rest was history.

W: The rest was history.

GB: Okay, so how and when did the transition to music for movies and television happen.

W: Always. We always had an interest in it. It just seemed natural. Lisa father was an experimental musician, who worked on many films and art projects.

L: And Wendy’s father was a top piano player who played on many soundtracks, especially with Jerry Goldsmith as well as other composers.

W: It was a natural progression. Even before Prince, we always wanted to do music for film. We used to listen to records of soundtracks and read the score.

L: I was a total geek. Not cool at all. It was always a culture shock for me to be in the pop world.

GB: So what was the path that led to doing your own scores?

W: A movie called TOYS was our first opportunity. We did a title sequence for Hans Zimmer. And then Trevor Horn. And then Mark Isham, and he handed a movie over to us, which was the movie DANGEROUS MINDS with Michelle Phieffer, our big break.

L: Which, of course, mostly led to us doing a lot of low budget urban movies.

W: We started doing a lot of bad movies. Bad TV pilots.

L: Some were good. Some you don’t even want to mention.

W: And then we met Allan Arkush.

GB: That was a big turning point?

W: That was everything. That changed everything.

GB: What happened.

L: He called us up. He knew our work and he wanted to meet us. He was doing a David Kelley TV show called “SNOOPS” and he said they wanted it to be a little more rock and roll, a little offbeat.

W: We heard what it was about, and we were like, “I don’t know.” We weren’t sure we were interested.

L: But we went to Allan’s office to meet him. And Allan knows EVERYTHING about music. Everything about our Dads. Everything. More than we ever knew.

W: And there on his wall was a picture, of my brother, who had died a few years before. Allan had directed a movie called GET CRAZY, and my brother had worked on it. And there was this picture of Allan and my brother, who had passed away, and Allan didn’t even know it, but right then we knew, “this is fate.”

L: And we’ve done everything with Allan ever since then.

W: 150 hours of music later. And it has changed everything.

GB: And it all led to HEROES…

W: And HEROES changed everything again.

GB: Why?

W: Because it’s a true artistic endeavor. Every week. A lot of times with music for television, what your asked to do, it’s like bad porn.

GB: What does that mean?

W: You have almost no screen time to make any statement, to build any character. You don’t own any of the black, meaning the time when the act ends and it goes to black for a few seconds before commercial, and so you’re supposed to just jam home whatever the main emotion it is they’re going for. Nothing is contrapuntal. Nothing is subtle.

L: It’s so uninspired and uninspiring. With most TV it’s a job, a craft, not an art. You have short scenes and the music cues are so short. And network executives get scared whenever you DO experiment, so it’s frustrating.

GB: For instance?

W: Well, a small example, on CROSSING JORDAN, which was a good show and good musically, but originally Jordan’s character was supposed to be Irish. So we tended to play this up with a lot of Irish instruments and instrumentation. And sure enough the note comes down, “Can we back off the Irish stuff a bit.”

L: TV in general wants to hit every demographic, to appeal to the broadest audience possible. So, in doing that, the music tends to become generic. You can’t be hot or cold, you have to be lukewarm. If it’s funny, it’s a rim shot. If it’s sad it’s strings. If it’s exciting, it’s drums, and so on.

W: When it came to HEROES, We had done one cue for the pilot that was very dreamy. And another, exciting cue for an action scene. And Tim Kring came in to see what we were doing, and he said “Hey, let’s try the dreamy cue under the action scene.” And that became the cue under for Claire, when the trains on fire. Which has become a signature piece of music for the show.

L: And that was huge. When Tim said, “Let’s play the dreamy cue under the action scene,” it changed everything. It focused our minds on what this show could be and how it could be different.

GB: Did Tim talk a lot about what he wanted the music to be at the pilot stage?

W: He talked in a general way. He talked about the emotions and the directions of the characters. He gave us the idea he wanted to be incredibly unusual musically. And he definitely gave us the idea that we could have a lot of freedom and that we could really experiment.

L: He talked a lot about about subtext also. In HEROES every scene has MASSIVE subtext. The music is making the viewer unconsciously listen in a way that makes them believe there is more going on than what you see.

W: We have to work the same way you and Allan direct. We ask ourselves, “How are we going to tell this story and get from point “a” to point “b” emotionally?” What was Allan telling us, that in this 11th episode he had a scene in the vault that was two pages, but that it was so dense, it took 65 setups to tell the story? Well, that’s how the music is too. There are A LOT of layers, there’s A LOT going on in the music.

L: For instance, in the scenes between HRG and Claire, on the surface you may have a scene where the father is taking the daughter to school. On the surface it’s mundane. But there are layers and layers in that relationship. Layers of deceit. Layers of lies. Layers of mistrust. Layers of loyalty. And, also, always, and very strongly, layers of love. Well, all those things have to be told musically.

W: We do it the same way you guys shoot it. When you do a big swooping crane in, we have to support it. And... What’s that lens that you always use? The one Allan used so much in this episode, so that HRG’s glasses are in focus at the same time Bob is in focus.

GB: The swing and tilt lenses?

W: Yeah. Well, we have to do that too. We have to tell two or more very different stories, at the same time with the music.

L: Themes of intention. Themes of subtext. Themes of implication.

GB: That’s interesting, because I find in my own work, these days, and now that I’ve matured and hopefully gotten better, that I do A LOT of very complicated things with the camera and the blocking, all to support the emotion of a scene. But, when it’s all put together, it’s all very subtle. It isn’t really noticed. I experience the music on this show the same way. It affects you, and it moves you, actually very strongly, spiritually really... but you don’t notice it doing so. Maybe your work is like mine, it’s best when it’s not calling attention to itself.

W: If you study it, it’s much more complex than it seems. On the surface, much of the time it’s pastoral. But if you break it down, if, for instance, every piece of music was a color, if you broke it down and looked at it, you couldn’t tell what color was the main one, there are so many.

GB: Well the music works, everyone loves it. I actually don’t think you ever get network notes. Do you?

W: No. Allen and you give notes in the spotting session. Tim always has notes. There are notes from Tim and Dennis and Allan at the playback, and we still shift cues around. But, no, I think this is the first time in fifteen years that we really don’t get any network notes.

GB: Whose actually playing? Do you bring in musicians?

W: Just the two of us play everything.

L: It’s where the classical training comes in. We can play everything. And we’ve been building, and spending a lot of money of building up our music and sound effects library for this show.

(At this point I look around. Damn. There are a lot of hard drives here.)

W: We have 3 huge Intel Macs, we have a hard raid system, and we have so much information.

L: We need a lot. There are 30 to 35 minutes of music per show, which is unheard of in TV.

W: And we do not re-use music. I know it seems like we can or should. But when you get into these scenes, you can’t. There is always some new element or layer that makes it not possible to re-use an old cue.

L: We have our legends. What music goes with what character?

GB: What are some examples.

L: Mohinder gets a signature piano sound, which is now used at the end of the show.

W: There are actually four completely different pianos that we use in the show.

L: Mohinder's is a Bulgarian piano. We play it super compressed, like it’s coming out of a faraway radio – that’s because he’s so analytical, he’s always trying to figure it out, trying to dial it in.

W: Peter is marcato strings.

GB: What’s “marcato?”

W: It’s just an instruction to the musician of how to play the instrument. Marcato indicates to make quick, strong jabs with the bow. It felt right to play his character that way, like, “I’m going to be a hero now.”

L: Hiro is always marimbas and bassoons, always staccato to emulate a clock, like time, controlling time.

GB: I also hear a lot of, what sounds like wind, like controlled noise, wind moving through pipes.

W: We do a lot of wind, it’s true.

GB: It adds tension.

L: We have a lot of different wind. We used to do a really cool thing with the character of Claude, which was wind mixed with voices. It felt like there was a ghost in the room. There are also a lot of drones and chants that we mix into a lot of the music. This is because Mohinder, the narrator, is Indian.

W: Whenever Niki is being possessed by Jessica, there’s a piece we use that uses Indian voices chanting, which gives the scene a feeling of her being possessed. There’s a possession when she’s in the middle of a violent act she’s not in control of. So we use incantations to underscore this.

L: With Matt, when he's reading minds, we play voices, chanting voices, backwards, because it seems to us, that's his experience, he's drawing thoughts out of people's minds, so those thoughts would travel backwards.

GB: Wow. Which of your father’s was an experimental musician. It sounds like it’s served you well.

L: Mine was. And yes it has. Although now I call it, a “sound artist.”

GB: Okay, tell me about Shenkar. He gets his name in the credits next to your composer credit.

W: Well, he is probably most famous for being the vocalist in Peter Gabriel’s score for “The Last Temptation of Christ.” And also for “The Passion of the Christ.” And, as I said, Tim gave us the idea that we could do ANYTHING on this project. So we approached Shenkar and asked him if he’s like to be the guiding voice for the heroes on their quest. To me he IS the voice of HEROES. Years from now, whenever they parody the show on MAD TV or SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or whatever, I’m sure they will parody him, because he is the voice of the show.

GB: What is his nationality?

W: He’s Indian. But he’s here in L.A. a lot. Here and there. He’s a very mysterious guy.

L: And he never lets you see him sing.

GB: Huh? How does that work?

L: I write down some instructions of what we’re looking for, and lay down three or four minutes of a drone in “D” and also in “E” and “A” and he literally comes in, in the middle of the night, when nobodies here and lays down his voice over the drone.

GB: That’s crazy.

W: That’s Shenkar. He's our mysterious little goblin.

L: We originally just wanted everything he did long and smooth and legato. Lately I’ve been wanting him to come in again and do some quicker pieces.

GB: Okay, last thing. Tell me about Allan Arkush who directed tonight’s episode

W: he is the most musical person I’ve ever worked with, even in the music business. He knows exactly what he wants.

L: His notes are SO specific. To the frame what he wants and to the instrumentation that he wants.

W: And he never forgets a note. If he says something at the spotting and weeks later at the playback, you didn’t do it. Allan remembers.

L: Allan is the best. We really are so connected to him now. It's a great relationship.

GB: Wow, That’s great. Thank you so much. Maybe now the fans will be able to listen more carefully to the amazingly deep music you guys write for this show.

And that’s it!

Fans, I wish I could tell you what's happenin g, but I truly do not know what the future holds. None of us in Hollywood knows when the strike will be over, or if when and how many more episodes of HEROES will happen this year.

But no matter what, we WILL be back, serving you to the best of our abilities, as soon as we can.

As for this blog – it will go dark now – until the show is back on the air. Thank you all for this opportunity. This blog is half like a term paper I have to write every week, and half an incredible opportunity to become more directly linked to you guys… Our fans who are our life’s blood. It's become a very special experience for me to put it out there for you every week.

Until we meet again…. PICTURES!!!



ZACH AND KRISTEN



TIM KRING AND ALLEN ARKUSH ON SET



CALL ME "BOB"



OVER KRISTEN TO THE CREW AT WORK



MOHINDER WONDERS "WHY DOES SYLAR GET ALL THE FUN?" MOLLY DESPAIRS!



DANIA AND KRISTEN




KRISTEN HOLDS UP A DOORWAY



SYLAR WANTS PUDDY-TAT POWER!



MASI AND MILO ON SET



HRG IN HIS PAJAMAS -"WHAT'S FOR BREAKFAST?"



HAYDEN ANOTHER DAY AT WORK



DIRECTOR SUPPORTS ACTOR



ALLEN AND JACK



ME 'N ALI L.



ALLEN DIRECTS HAYDEN ON SET



TWO GENIUSES (LOEB AND ARKUSH)



TWO MORE GENIUSES (ME AND ARKUSH)



DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY NATE GOODMAN




CHRISTINE ROSE - THE QUEEN



NOAH AND DANA ON SET



ACTUAL SHOT OF 1ST A.D. ROBERT SCOTT CHASING ME OFF SET (APPARENTLY ALL THE PICTURE TAKING SLOWS DOWN PRODUCTION?!?)

Monday, November 26, 2007

SEASON 2 EPISODE 10 "TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES"

WARNING – SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED HERIN!

Tonight’s episode was written by Jesse Alexander and was directed by Adam Kane. Both of these gents have been workhorses for us. Jesse is a most formidable presence in the writer’s room – driving the scripts and stories forward. And he has written several key episodes for us. Adam, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, was the director of photography of the pilot. We gave him his first episodic break as a director last year with “.07%." This is his third episode for us.

Tonight’s episode weaves past, present and future together in the way that only we can. Adam and Peter finally leave the Montreal warehouse and begin working together… But for good or for bad? Sylar implements the next phase of his plan, which has unfortunate results for one twin. Suresh has a breakthrough, and then a setback. Claire contemplates life without father, unaware that dear old HRG is trapped in the basement of Primatech.

This episode is a penultimate episode of our “pod” of eleven. Episode 11 will be (and always was designed to be the end of a chapter.) Season one, as we all know, had a 23 chapter “VOLUME." But Tim Kring had come into this season specifically wanting to design smaller volumes. We knew well in advance how many episodes we’d run before our first break of re-runs and pre-emptions. After the eleventh episode on December 3rd, we knew we’d take a break. This year, Tim wanted to resolve the story more completely at this first break than we had last year, and begin VOLUME 3 in the Spring. Well before the writers strike was a serious issue, we had always planned on ending VOLUME 2 next week. It is true that, on the eve of the strike, as it was becoming an inevitability, Tim did some quick rewrites on episode 11, so that it would be even more resolved and complete if, God forbid, the strike goes on so long that there is no more of season 2 than the first eleven. If that happens 11 will be a de-facto season finale and can function as such. But if the strike is resolved relatively soon, we will most certainly come back and present VOLUME 3. But, this particular blog is about episode 10 not epsiode 11, and so...

One of the things that, sadly, has to happen from time to time on this show, is that an actor has to be called into Tim’s office and be told that the sand has run out of their character’s hourglass. All of us face this moment in our own lives. And on HEROES, as in life, Sylar, or a stray bullet, or a virus, or some other unexpected twist of fate comes inevitably to take us all. Telling an actor that they're off the show is one of the jobs that Tim likes least of all. But running two TV shows builds broad shoulders. It’s just one of those things that you have to do. Some take it well, some with sadness, and some rage against the dying of the light. This week, Shalim Ortiz got the call.

Shalim is a great guy. He has been truly thrilled to be on the show - more so than almost anyone. His nephews in the Dominican Republic have watched faithfully since the first airing, and, to hear him tell it, they literally flipped out when they heard he got the gig. He is a joy on set. He’s always prepared. He’s a great scene partner for the other actors. And he’s an all-around good egg. After he got the news, Shalim made a point of thanking all of the producers for the opportunity, and telling us what a great experience it was. And then Sylar stabbed him to death.

This episode was an unusual experience for me. We had a crazy production schedule this season. We were doing, what are called, “double-ups” – which means that we were, literally shooting two episodes at the same time. This wasn’t (as has been surmised) because of the impending strike. It was because we (and NBC) wanted us to make a lot of episodes, with very few breaks for reruns and pre-emptions. It was a brutal experiment, which had us literally writing, then prepping and then shooting two episodes at the same time. What that meant for me, specifically, was that while I was prepping and shooting my last episode, Adam was shooting this one. I was pretty out of touch with it, certainly more so than I like. Not that anything went wrong, it's just that I had the unusual experience that the first time I really saw ANY of it was when I saw the first directors cut. I had read the script, and briefly chatted with Adam and Jesse a couple of times to give a handful of notes – but otherwise I was removed from the process.

Then, because Allan Arkush (who is usually a little more post-production intensive than me) was shooting episode 11, I got into the editing room a little more than usual on this one.

Editing is an amazing experience. The old cliché is that it’s really the last rewrite of the script. That’s true, but what’s interesting is how much you can do with, essentially fixed elements. At the writing stage anything is possible. The writer can, literally, write anything they want to – and the (awe-inspiring) challenge is to create something from nothing. The production experience, which for me is usually the directing experience, is to realize the script while introducing the factors of time, money and other people. But still, you can put onto film almost anything you can imagine as long as you have enough time, money, and you can convince the right people (various studio execs, producers, writers and actors all have to be convinced, at some point, to do what to stuff they sometimes don't want to do.) But in the editing room, the film is now finite. Well, almost, you can usually go back and shoot a few inserts (which are generally close ups of inanimate objects, which don’t involve cast members – i.e. a comic book hitting the floor, a hand turning a key, etc.) You can also write new lines of dialogue or narration – as long as they’re off-screen. But, by and large, the film is done being shot and it’s all in the re-arranging of it. But what's amazing is how much can be done and how extreme the different choices are that can be made in post.

When I first saw the episode, it was working well, but it felt it was a little slow (it was running about 6 minutes longer than the final running time.) And there were things in the way it was presented that made it feel, to me, a little choppy and a bit emotionally distanced from the characters. Some of this is because of Adam Kane’s strengths. He shoots a lot of interesting shots, and (unlike many directors) he shoots many options for different parts of the scene. Most directors will shoot one shot which is specifically designed as the opening shot of a scene. Then, ideally, they design one shot as the ending, and they have a lot of general coverage in the middle. Adam will always have two or three shots which could, quite legitimately, open a scene, close a scene and be used in the middle. It’s a tough gig directing episodes. Unlike in features, the director rarely gets to finish the show. They deliver their cut to the producers and move on. The producers complete the work. But I know, from having directed a lot of episodes, that if you don’t show the producers what they’ve got available, they may never go look for it. So one of the obligations of the directors first cut, is to make sure that ALL the cool shots are used, however briefly, for the producer’s viewing. Later, this will be thinned out, but if you don’t show what’s there it can never be used. Yes, in the ideal world, one wants to take the time in the cutting room reviewing all the choices that exist. But in reality, especially when we get to this stage of the season when the post schedules are tight – if it’s working, many times, there’s no chance to review. Besides, you’ve hired excellent editors and directors and you trust that they’ve shown you is the best stuff. This doesn’t mean we never review takes and shots. We do. A lot. But usually, if a scene is working, you move on, concentrating on what doesn’t work first.

The other thing is that there seemed to be, in the first cut, a lot more exposition than usual, about the nature of the virus – it’s causes and it’s cures. I know that there was lot of discussion about this. I know that the network and studio were concerned about clarity and specificity in this area and that they gave a lot of notes about it. I know Jesse Alexander worked hard to service these concerns, but that he was always concerned that we ended up over-explaining. Frequently, in storytelling, if you try too hard to explain and clarify a difficult point, it ends up exacerbating the weaknesses of the storyline, rather than bolstering its strengths.

Film making is an always fascinating experience. It is one where the emotional experience the viewer has is what ends up mattering more than anything else. Logic and plot are necessary, but ultimately are cold emotionally. A brilliant visual design and a stylistic presentation are great, but they are cold emotionally. It is character and situation that are hot, and that drive the audience’s emotional experience. One of things I’ve been so happy about, since I came to this show, is that this viewpoint is shared by Tim Kring, and Dennis Hammer and Allan Arkush. We all chase emotion primarily, not style or plot.

So the process of this episode, from the first cut, was one of thinning and simplifying. A lot of the shots were dropped and we simplified the shot presentation in favor of performance.

I know Jesse was happy that we ended up dropping a lot of the explanation about the origin and nature of the virus. The scene at Primatech in 1977, for instance, originally was a lot more complex and we played more of the (newly introduced) characters of Young Kaito and Victoria Pratt. In the end, we culled out a lot of their dialogue and concentrated in Hiro who was watching from the doorway.

We also ended up re-arranging the scene order quite a bit from the original scripted version. This is actually very common on HEROES. The nature of the numerous characters and storylines makes the order that they’re presented in highly flexible. Generally, the scripts take the various storylines and distribute then evenly throughout the episode. There will be one Claire scene per act, one Peter scene, etc. In the editing room, again, we try to react emotionally, asking ourselves “Do I want to stay with this story?” “Have I been away from this story for too long?” And so on.

Here’s some examples of how the scripted order changes in the editing room on HEROES. Interestingly the scripted opening of the episode was the Maya/Sylar picnic scene. The scene where Peter finds himself in the future was second. The Sylar scene was good, but not an especially dramatic opening. And we didn't come back to that storyline until late in Act 2, so it felt like we were away from that story for too long. Additionally, the way Adam shot the future stuff was so compelling, with Peter watching in slow motion while Caitlin and his future self struggled in real time, it felt like it should be the opening. Also the original first act was very long. So all of these factors caused us to move the Sylar/Maya scene to the top of the next act.

That’s just one example, but it’s how we work through the whole episode.

Two other quick things. Kudos to the VFX guys at Stargate for the scene where Suresh is in the cab at the end of the show. This doesn't look like a visual effects sequence, I know... and that's to their credit. The taxi was actually sitting static on a green screen stage - and all the moving New York backgrounds were dropped in as visual effects. I think they're particularly good.

Another scene worth talking about is the one where Sylar stabs Alejandro. The first presentation I saw was an elaborate montage of stabbing and jump cutting and contrapunal sound effects like heart beats and ticking clocks. It was EXTREMELY violent, and worthy of Martin Scorsese. But it was obviously never going to fly on TV. I took a pass cutting down to, what I thought, was a bare minimum. Tim Kring and Dennis Hammer thought it was still WAY too much and went through it again and thinned it more. By now I was sure it couldn't get any shorter. THEN we showed it to NBC's standards and practices department. I think I ended up having twelve conversations with them, in which we cut and recut and recut and shaved frames and more frames and more frames. I knew the ultra-violent blood fest that Adam Kane directed wouldn't fly, but I'm not sure what we have left in there even makes sense. Oh well.

Next week, we close the book on VOLUME TWO

Until then, pictures:


SENDHIL ON SET


MILO AND KATIE CARR CHILLIN’ IN “THE FUTURE”


ADAM LINES UP A SHOT (DOWNTOWN L.A. STANDS IN FOR FUTURE N.Y.C.)


ADAM LINES UP A SHOT IN NEW ORLEANS APARTMENT SET


ADAM GOES OVER NOTES WITH DANA DAVIS


DANA DAVIS ON SET


DIIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY CHARLIE LIEBERMAN (HE MAKES IT SOOO PRETTY)


FIRST ASSISTANT DIRECTOR ANNE BERGER – SHE MAKES THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME


AN ART DEPARTMENT SIGN FOR OUR NEW ORLEANS STREET


JESSE ALEXANDER WRITING ON SET (ACTUALLY I THINK HE’S WORKING ON HIS MYSPACE PAGE!)


ADAM KANE AT THE MONITORS

Monday, November 19, 2007

SEASON 2 EPISODE 9 - "CAUTIONARY TALES"

WARNING SPOILERS ARE DEFINITELY CONTAINED HERIN!

Tonight’s episode was written by Joe Pokaski and directed by Greg Yaitanes. And, if you don’t mind me saying so, both these lads did quite well on this one.

I think this is one of our best, most exciting episodes of the season. Like last year’s “Company Man” it concentrates on one main storyline, the Bennet’s on a collision course with Suresh, Elle, Bob and the destiny of Isaac Mendez’s painting. Secondarily, we follow Hiro’s story as he seeks to change time and fate once again, by preventing his father’s death.

Also, tonight George Takei discovers what others before him have - Just because you die on HEROES doesn’t mean you won’t come back and do a few more episodes.

Oh yeah, and HRG dies.

But before we get into all that, a bit of praise for the principle behind-the-scenes creative operatives of this episode. Greg Yaitanes is new to our team. He’s a guy I’ve been trying to book as a director for several years now. But he’s a hard guy to sign up. He’s always off doing pilots and features and so on. (One of the many advantages of being on a hit like HEROES in season two, is you can finally get to book all the directors you’ve wanted to work with, Greg, Dan Attias and Lesli Glatter certainly fall into this category for me.) . I first got to know about him years ago on the first TV show I ever produced, NASH BRIDGES with Don Johnson.

Anyway, in the area of performance direction, we mainly have good results with our directors. The primary quality we look for is the ability to work with actors and guide performance. But, in the area of visual style, what I find with the directors we’ve used, is that there are some things about our style that I can teach and some things I can’t. Certain things I say, such as - "Shoot low angles” and “Shoot big wide feature-style masters” and “When we get into the meat of the drama, shoot super tight close-ups” - get good results. They’re concrete instructions and people seem to get that. But when I say, “Look for incredibly graphic compositions – like a comic book or graphic novel.” Or “move the camera fluidly, yet aggressively, try to never have it call attention to itself, but let cranes and push in’s and sweeping camera moves become a lyrical part of telling the story” I get more haphazard results. Those instructions are more subjective and less concrete. And in those areas a director either intuitively has a graphic sense of composition or not.

Yaitanes, without question, has an incredibly graphic style. I know that he brings that style to all the shows he does. But it really fits here. I love the way he shot this episode. Image after image are SO graphic. In fact, he brought a couple of new ideas to our visual language that I intend to co-opt and make part of our ongoing style.

I loved the way he used silhouette in the Japanese cemetery, and the way he composed through the thin vertical headstones.

Look at the way he used the street signs in the scene where Suresh lies about West’s location. These simple shots work on so many levels. First they clearly and simply convey the critical story information – that Suresh is lying about what street names he’s giving HRG. Secondly, the shot is efficient, by putting HRG small in the background and the sign huge in the foreground, we get the story point AND HRG’s attitude about what he’s learning all in one combined moment. Thirdly the composition is wonderfully graphic with the sign dominating the top of the frame with its clean graphic straight lines, and the lower part of the frame is wide open organic because of all the foliage. HRG and West are small but their body language is clear. By using a very wide lens for this shot Greg was able to keep it all in focus. Finally, the shot is humorous. It’s hard to pin down why, but it’s a funny composition. The wide angle helps make it funny, and having HRG centered small in the frame helps too. A more conventional, and much less interesting way to film this moment, would be to have HRG look off-screen when Suresh tells him the street names. And then to cut to a shot of the street sign, which would be HRG’s Point of View. I promise, nine out of ten directors would have filmed it that way.

There’s another notable scene – The one in HRG’s car, between Suresh and HRG. This is an incredible directorial challenge. In this scene, two guys are, by the nature of the scene, static in an enclosed space for almost three pages! Greg used all incredibly tight angles, but unusual angles. Look at the shot over HRG’s glasses into the mirror onto Suresh. Greg Y used the swing and tilt lens to keep HRG in focus and Suresh in focus. Sometimes HRG turns back into profile, sometimes he turns away and addresses Suresh in the mirror. That simple shot is so full of tension and drama. Again, it’s also efficient. The split focus lens and the mirror gives you both performances in one shot. And then come the close-ups. Now, I LOVE close close-ups, but Greg Yaitanes went BEYOND in this scene. There are a number of shots that are just details: lips, eyes, HRG’s glasses. And he lets relatively long chunks of dialogue play on, say, a shot of HRG’s eyes. Frankly, it’s beyond what I would have been comfortable with as a director, but it works.

Alright, enough kissing Greg Yaitanes’ butt… And onto kissing Joe Pokaski’s! Joe, as I understand it, was one of Tim Kring’s writing assistants on CROSSING JORDAN. Tim gave him a script to write on that show. And, according to legend, when he was writing the pilot of HEROES, he had Joe (as well as Aron Eli Coleite) read all of the drafts and give him feedback all along. When the HEROES writing staff was being put together Joe was brought over.

I don’t know how old Joe is, but he seems young to me (of course “young” seems to be moving upwards every year.) He is super enthusiastic and collaborative – but mostly I think he “gets” HEROES, as well as anyone. So far he has written three episodes of the show: “FALLOUT,” and “5 YEARS GONE,” from last season - And now this one. What’s noteable about all three of those is, not just that they all turned out great, but that, other than for budgetary reasons, none of them were extensively re-written from the first draft. That is an extremely good thing. Sometimes, when we get a script (usually 10 days or so before we start shooting it) they are troubled. There have definitely been “all hands on deck” preps for some episodes, and that can really divert energy that is needed elsewhere. But Joe’s shows have uniformly come out of the gate both creatively satisfying and shootable.


DIRECTOR GREG YAITANES (HE’S THE ONE IN THE FOREGROUND)


WRITER JOE POKASKI - HRG BORROWS HIS GLASSES

I think the drama is great in this episode. There's an ever-escalating sense of tension, like a pot rising to a boil. All the characters feel like they're really under pressure. I especially love the way HRG and Sandra's relationship develops. How angry she is at first, and how she openly questions why she never left him before now. Then, when HRG is talking to Elle about why SHE was the reason he never handed Claire over to the company, Sandra's crying face - which we cut to two or three times - let's us know how she's coming to understand them. Another, very simple shot which I love is a close up their hands, as HRG tries to hand her a gun, and she puts her hands on his chest. So beautifully visual. And it completes the arc of their story.

Also, I want to talk about the scene in the cemetary where Hiro meets his younger self. This scene made me cry on the page. But it came under a lot of debate in prep. Many people believed that we'd never find a young boy who could speak Japanese and deliver the performance. Also, some thought the scene was extraneous and time consuming in an already busy show. Cooler heads prevailed, and we adopted a "let's see what happens" attitude (which I think is always wise.) We decided that if we didn't find the right kid, we'd cut the scene. If we did, we'd schedule the scene last and if we fell behind on the day, we'd cut it then. Well, our casting directors came through, as always, they somehow found a little kid in L.A. who could speak fluent japanese and act and looked enough like Hiro. And Yataines, God bless him, shoots fast. Yataines comes from low budget syndicated Tv - he did a lot of shows like VIP, which - wether you like that kind of show or not - have to be shot fast. VIP was always shot in six days. I've seen some of Greg's episodes and they're a lot of fun. But, in that medium, you have to be super specific, shoot the shot, get it right and move on to the next FAST! That served him well here - Greg made all his days (OK there were thirteen of 'em, more than double the shooting shedule of VIP, but stil!) The scene was shot and I welled up again the first time I saw it put together.

Not that there were NO problems with this one. It was a hard beast to wrangle episodically. There is A LOT that happens. And a lot of action. The scene in the alley where West flies in and saves HRG from Elle was complex. The scene on the beach, with its 6 characters, hostage handoffs, flying, zapping and shootings was EXTRA complicated.

We scouted several places for the beach parking lot. We needed it to be remote and deserted, but still large enough to stage the scene. The one we used was in San Pedro California; it was perfect! Unfortunately Greg and I scouted it at 4:30 in the afternoon, when the afternoon light was perfect. Our DP, Charlie Lieberman was busy shooting other episodes, so he didn’t see it for a week. He saw it at 10 in the morning, when it was shrouded in shadow. At that point (after we were already committed to the location) he revealed that we wouldn't be able to film on that spot until the afternoon - there wouldn't be enough light. That meant that what a one a 1 day scene would have to be split up over two days. We scrambled to find more locations that could go with this one. There was a little park, which I thought was beautiful, right above the beach location. And we found the streets where Elle and Suresh’s van is parked and where Suresh confronts HRG in his car and we built two days out of it.

Greg and Charlie really wanted a sundown feeling to the scene. But we couldn’t really wait until sundown to film the whole scene, or it would have taken weeks. So they made sure to film all the wide shots in the latest part of the day. They filmed as many of the other shots as possible in backlight. And then, in color timing (the last stage of the photographic process) we modulated the colors, adding red, and sometimes graduated filter effects in the sky to give the whole scene an end-of-day look. We also tried to make the scene feel more and more sunset-ty as it progressed.

One thing I was happy about, in general, was that I feel this episode finally featured the beachy Los Angeles setting that we’ve been saying the Bennett’s live in. Up to now, other than the odd oceanside scene, we haven’t had the opportunity or ability to really go to the beach cities (they’re kind of expensive to film in and kind of hard to get to.) But I think we well captured the L.A. beach feel on this one.

Okay now, pictures:


HAYDEN AND A TECHNO CRANE


CONTEMPLATIVE NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO


WE PAY KRISTEN BELL IN CASH AND SHE COUNTS IT OUT EVERY DAY


HRG – ONE BACKLIT BADASS


GREG YAITANES ON SET - HE'S THE ONE IN THE BACKGROUND


THE CAST OF “SUMMERLAND,” EH, I MEAN “HEROES”


HRG IS NOT A MAN TO BE MESSED WITH


SWEET REVENGE


KRISTEN BELL PLAYS “LADY MACBETH”

Now, the next group of photos falls into the “don’t ask/don’t tell” category. I credit Greg Yaitanes for staging all these pix, under the supervision of Joe Pokaski. Their cultural significance will become clear in the coming months, so… pay attention!


ANDO IS STARTLED BY SLUSHO


MOLLY, LIKE ALL GOOD GIRLS, LOVES SLUSHO


CLAIRE RECOMMENDS SLUSHO TO ALL HER FRIENDS


ADAM DRINKS SLUSHO AS WELL


SURESH CALLS ON SLUSHO


EVEN ELLE CAN’T GET ENOUGH SLUSHO


MATT PARKMAN ATTEMPTS TO MINDBEND SLUSHO – AN ATTEMPT THAT WILL BE DOOMED TO FAILURE!


MATT TRANSPORTS SLUSHO TO SAFETY


HIRO AND KAITO ENJOY A FATHER-SON SLUSHO


SLUSHO MAKES HRG LAUGH


BUT SLUSHO CAN TURN FROM FRIEND TO ENEMY QUICKLY – ALWAYS KEEP YOUR EYES ON SLUSHO