WARNING MINOR SPOLIERS INCLUDED:
Episode 14 is on tonight! If I do say so myself, it’s an all around satisfying episode. Again, I try to keep up with the writers room, and know what is coming up… But, frankly, the pace of the show is so fast – that a lot of times, reading the first draft of the script is the first time I really know where we’re going.
Tonight, Peter gets a mentor/master – who’s a little rougher than Yoda. Claire gets quality time with her birth mother – a real “hottie.” Sylar pulls a fast one on HRG and spends some quality time with Claire’s Mom. Hiro stands up to his Dad (a “trek” for any young man.) And more!
One of the great things about being on a hit show with a reputation for great writing is the quality of actors that are attracted to the show. Last week I spoke a little about Christopher Eccleston http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001172/ I knew him mostly from the movie ELIZIBETH where he was chilling. Many know him from DOCTOR WHO – but suffice it to say, he’s a deep and talented actor who has never been seen on American TV before. Originally we offered him the role of Sylar. But, to his credit, Chris declined. I guess he’s played a lot of villains before and didn’t want to play one on HEROES. We kept him in mind though, and when Tim and the writers began to discuss Peter’s mentor – the invisible man – we remembered Chris and began to tailor the character to him.
Fate is our friend on this show – because after Chris passed on the Sylar character, we began to audition, and into the audition walked Zach Quinto http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0704270/ Zach’s audition was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. He had two scenes to read that were completely different. See at that time (back in late October?) there were no real Sylar scenes… (remember before episode 10 he was always just a black shadow with a baseball cap? Well, before then we used to film a stuntman or a stand-in – once we cast Zach we had time to go back and shoot him in the diner watching Charlie and Hiro.) In Tim’s very first draft of the pilot script was a strange intense scene for Sylar – he was imprisoned in a cell in Italy with long claw-like nails and sharp teeth. That version of Sylar, which never even made the final pilot draft, was way weirder and more monstrous, -- like Nosferatou. The writers had also banged out a version of what eventually became the first scene of meek Gabriel the watchmaker. So Zach came in cold to a room with 6 producers and 2 casting directors (I don’t know how actors take the pressure of auditions!) and read, first this intense monstrous scene, and then, second, a meek mild mannered role. After his first version of Gabriel – which he read kind of ominously, I gave him the note to play it like an incredibly introverted person who can’t even look people in the eye, but who loves watches and machines. He did an amazing adjustment – doing that perfectly. Then he read the monstrous Sylar scene – very monstrously. Dennis Hammer gave him the note to read it more casually, humanly and to be menacing subtextually. He again made this adjustment perfectly. As he left the room – we all turned to each other, blown away and said – “that guy just gave us four completely different characters – he can do anything!!! So Zach got the job. And as we keep shooting we keep delving into his amazing facility. Watch tonight how he slips into the character of the charming, shy Texas deliveryman with a slight accent – and then back to creepy Sylar – so fluidly! He’s the nicest guy too! Love Zach!
Then we auditioned for the role of Meredith, Claire’s real biological Mom - Jessalyn Gilsig http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0319698/ The two Claire/Meredith scenes from tonight’s episode were in the script. A few actresses came in and were OK. Frankly I kept thinking to myself – “Man these scenes are kind of long – we’ll probably have to trim them down in the editing room.” Then Jessalyn came in, and the scene suddenly sprang to life. Acting is an art/craft that I so deeply admire. It’s REALLY hard and when someone makes it look easy it’s amazing. But this actor stepped into the room (again with at least six people staring her down) and took the scene to a whole different level. She floated between nuances of joy, sadness, guilt, fear, almost laughing but not, almost crying but not. I was not aware of her before. But Jeannot Scwarcz, our director, had worked with her before – I think on THE PRACTICE where he claims she played a completely different (vampy and malicious) character. I was blown away. And the work she does in tonight’s episode is so great. I was in the audition, on set, in the editing room – but when I saw the final version of the scene where Claire first meets Meredith at the trailer park I got choked up! What’s up with that?!?
Obviously, Hayden regularly works with a lot of talented actors, but I always feel that Hayden brings out something more in the actors she works with – that there’s a real relationship there. With Jessalyn that effect was doubled. Even though the characters had never met we really felt a connection between the two.
A scene I want to focus on, which I mentioned a bit last week, is the opening scene of the show. Claude and Peter walk through NYC talking. They’re invisible moving in a visible world. I think this scene turned out very well. Trust me this is a tough concept to get across… Peter and Claude are invisible, but we photograph them normally. They move in and amongst the background and there’s nothing inherently in the shot to tell you that they’re different than the rest of the world. Two main elements sell this concept of invisibility: The first is the bagel and scarf that lift into the air with an immediate match cut to Claude grabbing them. The second is the interaction of the extras who are surprised to be bumped out of the way. Yes we had the bagel and scarf on a piece of green screen fishing line - but beyond that there are no visual effects or tricks beyond basic filmmaking to tell this story. The fact that what’s happening is actually clear is a result of excellent planning and coordination between the director, Jeannot Szwarc Director of photography, Nate Goodman and first assistant directors Tony Adler (who prepped the scene) and Mark Lyon (who shot it as a second unit.)
ISAAC AND SIMONE – UP ON THE ROOF
MILO – HUMMING FOO FIGHTERS “LEARN TO FLY” (IN HIS HEAD)
CHRIS ECCCLESTON – A LAD FROM MANCHESTER
Tonight’s episode is directed by Jeannot Szwarc. You gotta check out this guy’s imdb: http://imdb.com/name/nm0844358/ He’s been around 4-Ever! He directed JAWS 2, SUPERGIRL and SOMEWHERE IN TIME (with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.) But he also directed episodes of KOJAK, IRONSIDE and THE VIRGINIAN in 1962 for Goddsakes!!! And he’s never lost even a scrap of enthusiasm. I met him on a show I used to direct, called JAG. When I started producing SMALLVILLE I brought him over. Jeannot is one of those rare people who is a favorite wherever he goes. He’s hard to book on a show because he’s every shows favorite director and every show he does would use him for as many episodes as they can. This is because he’s not only an excellent filmmaker who always gets all the style and emotional beats right, but he’s a delightfully funny and warm guy who makes it a pleasure to come to work. He’s about five foot nuthin’, with a thick French accent and an impish (or is it elfin?) vibe about him.
Tonight I interview Jeannot about what it’s like to direct HEROES, as a visiting director – and other thoughts about cinema and life in general.
(Imagine the following responses in a thick, sophisticated French accent!)
GREG BEEMAN: Hi Jeannot, thank you for doing this interview
JEANNOT SCWARCZ: My pleasure. You know, Greg, you have a phenomenon on your hands. You know that don’t you?
GB: Yes. It’s becoming clear.
JS: What is your secret?
GB: Me? I just showed up, and was happy they picked me for the job. But, yes. It’s very exciting and invigorating. The show is starting to feel like more than just a weekly TV experience. I personally just felt like I followed my heart and I’ve been very fortunate to get to be involved in two projects in a row that I passionately believed in. But, anyway, enough about me… I’d like to talk about your experience of HEROES – how was it for you as a visiting director?
JS: Overall – excellent. I love the cast. I love the crew. You’re very fortunate. You have no high management personalities either in front of or behind the camera. The show is quite difficult and challenging, and that is the part that makes it fun, but the people are wonderful.
GB: Now being a director who travels from show to show can be difficult. Always fitting in. Always having to adapt to new styles. But you seem to be a favorite everywhere.
JS: I do find I have affection wherever I go. I must be doing something right.
GB: Do you have a philosophy that helps you?
JS: Well, yes. The philosophy is that you are a guest wherever you go. You want to preserve your style and sensibilities, but you must also fit into the style of the show and into the group. I’ve never believed in the dictatorial approach. . I find a show functions better with love and not hostility. My style is more to convince and cajole. First thing is to try to make the show the best it can be within the parameters that are established. Try to improve the script as best you can. And to try to convince everyone to see it your way.
I’ve never liked tense sets. My approach, especially to performance, is like sculpting. Chip away to make it better. You know directing is about choices. Directing is about the art and about the art of time management. But then, you know. You’ve been very successful as a director as well.
GB: Yes. I think I have a similar philosophy to you. I take the work very seriously, but I like to have a lot of fun doing the work, and I like for everyone to feel they’re allowed to contribute.
JS: Indeed. If everyone feels relaxed. If everyone feels they are participating, then everyone can do better.
GB: How does your personal visual style mesh with the HEROES style?
JS: Well, I’d like to think it does very much so. I prefer bold angles. Not boring, tepid over-the-shoulders. I hate to be at eye level.. Nate (the director of photography) said I fit in perfectly..
GB: Let’s talk about the Japanese sequence, with Hiro and his father. It fits into the HEROES “look” very well, yet it is also different.
JS: Nate, the D.P. is a real film buff, as am I. We had a lot of conversations about taking that sequence into a Kurasowa style. Meaning that we played with depth and composition. Besides being spoken in Japanese, the scenes had a very Japanese content and conflict. They were formal in nature with lots of changes in the power dynamics between characters. So, beyond the dialogue, Nate and I said, “let’s do a Kurasowa style.” A very full frame. Not much camera movement. Instead the characters walk into their close ups. People move within the frame as the power dynamics change. Whoever has the power in the scene in any moment is also the largest in the frame. As the dynamic switches the composition switches. Also we used a lot of negative space, meaning the space between the characters and to the left and right of the characters. Nate and I were both very versed in this film language. We discussed it in prep, and we had shorthand about it on the set. At the end of the day, I think the sequences work well because they are supported by the very Japanese theme.
GB: Very much so.
JS: Greg, may I ask you, this blog – did you invent it? Or did it find you?
GB: Huh? Oh. Well I guess a little of both. Back in May when the show was just starting, Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb were really promoting the idea of HEROES having a strong on-line presence… They had experience with it with LOST and ALIAS. I had done SMALLVILLE, which does a lot on line too, but had no personal involvement other than the odd interview. So, I volunteered to do a blog. I like to yak and I thought it would be interesting for the fans to peek into the behind-the-scenes. But I had no idea how much work it would be. As the show gets more popular and the blog gets more popular, I feel more and more obligation. Now every Sunday before the show is on I have this massive homework project… But, hey, you got me talking about me again. I want to talk about you.
JS: I am so sorry.
GB: Okay, let’s talk about the episode.
JS: What I felt was special about my episode was that, I would say it was very Hitchkoian – more than the average HEROES.
GB: How do you mean that?
JS: I mean that there were many stories that were reaching their apex in this episode. There were many revelations and that they were very theatrical revelations as well. There is a lot of sleight of hand, meaning when you think you’re looking at one thing and then another is revealed. The most famous Hitchcock switch is in NORTH BY NORTHWEST when Cary Grant goes into the U.N. building and shows the man the photograph. The gentleman appears to be having one reaction and then, boom, he falls over dead with a knife in his back.
GB: What moments were like this in your episode?
JS: There were many. When Claire goes to see her mother. First there is the surprise of the mother’s powers. Then the surprise of who Claire’s father is.
My favorite is Sylar. When the little dog runs into the room and he grabs the dog. You think he’s going to do something, you think, “My God, he’s going to kill the dog. But he’s quite gentle with the dog. There’s mis-direction. And the same when he meets the mother. We keep stretching out the expectations.
Which is fun. Very few shows give you this opportunity. That’s the good writing. The audience is a little ahead of the characters – or thinks they are – but they still don’t know exactly what they’re up to or what’s going to happen.
The biggest success of HEROES is that it’s never predictable. I watch the show with my two sons. They are 17 and 21. And, usually, with most shows, twenty minutes before the end they know exactly what’s going to happen. Not with this show.
GB: Are your son’s legitimate fans?
JS: Oh my God, yes. It’s fun. And they don’t want to hear anything… any spoilers. Usually, with my work, they’re not that interested. But on this one they said, “Dad, you have to do a good job.”
GB: And you did.
JS: Thank you. You understand, it’s nerve wracking and traumatic to do a show for the first time. You don’t know the power structure the personalities or the references. I think I’m good at this because I try to read the show, the style, of course, the producers and the cast… whether the actor is strong or weak. If the actor has a strong ego and a lot of opinions it’s actually easier to be direct about their performance – what’s working or not. If they’re fragile, you have to be more delicate. If one wants to be a good director it’s not just about camera and angles it’s a lot of people skills.
You know, Greg, I want to make sure that you write down that I had a great time. It is not only a great show it is also a good experience behind the scenes.
GB: What’s great about you, Jeannot, is that – no matter how long it is you’ve been working, you’re still passionate. You’re a fan of films and you love what you do.
JS: You know, last summer I had lunch with an old college friend of mine, from Paris. And he said to me, “Jeannot, we remember you always busting our balls about how you were going to go to Hollywood and make movies.” And I have been lucky enough to do so. My parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants. To them what was most important was that I get the right diploma. So I did. I did classical studies at The HEC (in Paris). Trust me it is a very fancy diploma. And the next day I got a job as a runner for a small French company that was doing documentaries. I love it because I never thought I’d get to do it.
GB: And to stay enthusiastic too. A lot of people get bitter, you know?
JS: Bitter. In what way?
GB: I don’t know. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It seems more common than not as far as I can see. Writers. Directors. Producers. It seems that many people who have done this job for a long long time just get bitter.
JS: Bitter about what? What we do is a dream. I love being on set. I get such a charge. Maybe a while ago when I was doing big pictures I got that way for a while – but it didn’t last. I have had my best years ever now. I have found my place in the sun. I am happy.
GB: Thank Jeannot. I know you’re busy with all your other shows this year – so I hope to see you next year!
JEANNNOT AND D.P. NATE GOODMAN DISCUSS HOW TO DESTROY CLAIRE’S HOUSE
ME AND JEANNOT ON OUR MAGICAL MYSTERY SCOUT BUS
And that’s it for this week. Next week – Matt gets a new gig. Claire’s Mom twists another knife. And Niki goes Terminator.
See ya then!