WARNING – SOME SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN!!!
Here we go. The second season of HEROES launches tonight. The expectations are high. I know, for myself, and I think I speak for the many producers cast and crew that I work with – we are nervous as heck, hoping that you guys respond to what we’ve decided to do this year.
We know we can’t stand still, and that it’s not OK to just do a new version of last year’s show. New characters are introduced. New villains. A new catastrophe looms. And some of our stories don’t even take place in this century!
I directed the episode. Tim Kring wrote the script. This is, actually, the first HEROES script of Tim’s that I’ve directed. It’s interesting, and I’m not sure why this is, but I found this script easier to direct than the other HEROES I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten great scripts on this show, but as we shot it, things just seemed to stage and shoot more easily and gracefully. Even though the show is big, it prepped and shot better than most of our others. The show is actually 10 minutes longer than an average HEROES - 53 minutes versus 43. But we filmed it in 13 days without many problems (A typical 43 minute show takes 10-12 days.) I credit a tight script with natural internal logic and flow and a certain simplicity and directness of storytelling, that made this possible.
I’ve directed season openers before. I did all of the SMALLVILLE openers between seasons 2 and 4. They’re fun to do because they’re inevitably big and action packed. You get more days to shoot them and - while you’re introducing new stories and ideas that will drive the rest of the season – openers tend to end in an unresolved way. As a director I get all the fun of introducing a problem without having to conclude it to a solution.
Tim, the writers, and the non-writing producers (which includes me) all spent a lot of time talking about how we were going to tell stories this year, and where all the characters were at when we meet them. The title of the episode tells you a lot – It’s FOUR MONTHS LATER and we are meeting all of our recurring characters four months after the events in Kirby Plaza, when Nathan flew Peter into the sky and the Heroes prevented the destruction of NYC.
There’s almost no explanation for what happened in the intervening time. And, as Tim points out, almost all of the characters are flipped in intention and situation from where we first met them last year.
Nathan, who was so in control and determined as a political candidate last year, has seemingly lost it all and has no goals. He drinks alone in a bar and is haunted by a disfigured version of himself. Who is this vision and what is the symbolism behind his horrible disfigurement?
Matt Parkman, who last year futilely dreamed of being a detective, this year kicks ass as a cop, using his powers to ace his field test. He also is living in Suresh’s apartment and is caretaking Molly Walker the little girl he rescued from Sylar in episodes 2 and 3 of last year. How did they get into this situation and what happened to Matt’s pregnant wife?
The Bennet family has relocated to California where they are in hiding. Their individual circumstances are diminished - HRG is no longer the in-control company man, he has a crap job at a copy company. And Claire is no longer the popular cheerleader. She’s an outsider at a new school. But as a family they are stronger and they no longer have secrets from each other… Except one!
Hiro, who longed for adventure as an office drone last year - is, literally, thrown into the adventure stories he read as a child. He now exists in feudal Japan in the 1600’s and is allied with Takezo Kensie, the hero of those tales. But, as is often the case, history is not always accurate and heroes are not always as they are depicted.
Suresh has done a 360 from last year. He lectures again about the variant humans among us, but now with certainty and determination. No longer timid, he takes crap from no one and, in fact, is teamed up with his biggest adversary of last year on a mission to take down the company.
Two clues to the season: What is the virus Suresh is talking about? And… Who killed Kaito Nakamura? These are key questions!
There is also one new story and one new set of Heroes (this week.) Maya and Alejandro, who we meet – in typical HEROES fashion – in the middle of their problem. They are on the run from the law in South America. We learn that they are trying to make their way to the USA to meet Doctor Suresh. And we learn the deadly, dreadful power that they have… A power that is more a blessing than a curse.
Conspicuously absent from the episode are Niki, DL and Micha. Also Sylar is nowhere to be seen. Are they alive? Dead? More will be revealed!
The production of this episode was really fun for me this time. Even though I’d had no more than two weeks off between seasons I felt refreshed. Also, we weren’t fighting against the budget and schedule so much on this one, and that makes life easier.
Stylistically I felt like we got in a groove last year. The show is acknowledged for being cinematic in the way it’s presented and I take a lot of pride in that. The only major change we made this year is we decided not to use the hard-and-fast color palette rules that we had last year (in which New York was always blue, Texas was always gold, etc.) In the beginning of last year, I believe, that tool was useful in grounding the audience into which stories they were following at any given time… But it sort of bit us at the end of the season as all the stories converged in New York and the show ended up being all blue all the time.
Otherwise I feel I sort of know how to shoot the show these days. The frames are as graphic as possible, super low angles, super high angles, lots of foreground and big big close ups (all in keeping with graphic novel frames to which we owe a big allegiance.)
But I’ve also been interested in exploring the edgy faux-documentary style used in movies like THE CONSTANT GARDENER and THE BOURNE IDENTITY movies. A week or so before beginning production I saw A MIGHTY HEART, the Michael Winterbottom directed movie which starred Angelina Jolie. I found it very bold and felt inspired by it. It uses a very modern style, with all handheld cameras and a very captured-in-the-moment documentary style. Even though this is something I’d already been doing on HEROES, I left the theatre feeling that I could push myself further in this direction.
I took it upon myself, in all of the sequences that were inherently edgy and tension-filled, to employ this style. I did it in most of the Latin America story, in the opening scene with Matt Parkman and in the scene with Nathan and his mother arguing in Peter’s apartment. It’s fun and it really involves the camera operators in a collaborative way. I make a rule where I say to them, “We are going to do two passes on this scene with two cameras – and at the end of that we are done.” It’s like a documentary. Make sure your camera captures every important moment.” Now, truthfully we rehearsed and planned what those moments were, but I did stick to those rules pretty faithfully. I am proud of those scenes.
I used a variation of this style in the scene with Ando and Kaito Nakamura on the Kirby Plaza. The camera was not hand held, but I went on very long lenses and used numerous extras to create numerous foreground wipes. Because of the long lenses the wipes are just quick blurs. And since there are so many of them I was able to cut from shot to shot fluidly. Even though the characters are just sitting there, the numerous cuts and the numerous wipes create an inherent tension. Then at the end of the scene when Kaito realizes he’s marked for death, I changed up style completely and went to a long take with no coverage (i.e. cuts) on a very wide lens.
The Japanese section of the movie provided a greater challenge for me. Allan Arkush is a huge fan of Japanese cinema, and he had me watching a bunch of Kurosawa movies, Zatoichi, the Blind Samurai movies, and other Japanese movies from the late 50’s and early 60’s. The goal in the Japanese section was to use that visual style. But I have to confess this was difficult for me. It goes against my innate, move-the-camera-boost-the-energy style. I did a couple of scenes this way (notably the one where Hiro and the Japanese warrior-on-horseback pop in) and upon reflection, I felt it was dull. So I abandoned it and went to a hand held style in the scene where the villagers are leaving their village. I'm sort of bummed I wasn't able to pull off the style we had all talked about - but it felt more important to make sure the story and characters worked in a way I felt assured about. Next week, you'll see, Allan does a much better job with this stylistic choice.
The Bennet story provided an opportunity for yet another completely different visual and performance style. This storyline struck me as being like a teen comedy from the 80’s (a genre I cut my teeth on!) so I stuck to that style for these sequences. This means I used wider lenses, I brought the camera more to eye-level, I used close eyelines and center-punched compositions. I played the comedy more broadly. (A good example of this is when I used the camera as Claire’s POV as she walks through the gauntlet of angry cheerleaders – The cheerleaders are all staring right into camera. I worried it was too comediaclly broad – but now I think it works)
The scene with HRG at work where he takes down his boss by one finger, and the scene of the Bennet’s eating dinner are also examples of this style. The compositions are all centered (most HEROES compositions are specifically off-center) and the characters are alone in the frame. This creates a cinematic distance that, for some reason, is funny. The Bennet dinner was a risky scene, because we are trying to make it feel painfully dull. In the dullness and awkwardness is the comedy. There is no music in the scene, which makes the awkwardness more acute. For me, my ace in the hole was that all of these actors, Jack Coleman, Hayden Panettiere, Ashley Crow, and Randall Bentley are always immensely controlled and authentic in their performance choices. None of them are going to go into a fake/overly broad place. In fact, before beginning the scene, we all talked quite a bit about how to give it a basis of reality, while still milking the comedy. I trusted my actors integrity to let me push the visual style. I think the scene works.
One last thing – I want to tip my hat to Stargate for the visual effects in this episode. As always with HEROES, most of the effects are subtle and environmental – like the city of Cairo out the window when Suresh and Bob have tea. But I really think Stargate outdid themselves in Japan. The eclipse, and the frozen arrows are downright cool. Mostly, I designed all these shots in storyboard form, but they really turned out well. The moment where Hiro moves the arrow and the moment when Hiro steps around and in front of the frozen arrow were invented by Stargate – and are great. The other effect that blew me away is the burning village of Otsu. Basically, I shot a group of extras wandering up a dirt road next to a hill with telephone poles, and distant houses. Stargate removed all the modern stuff and added the burning village.
I was happy.
All right – jeez – that’s a lot of words for one week. Next week, episode 2, written by Michael Green and directed by Allan Arkush.
SENDHIL AND STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY AS BOB (THE MYSTERIOUS COMPANY MAN)
BAD ASS GREG GRUNBERG AS BAD ASS MATT PARKMAN
DANIA AND SHALIM AS MAYA AND ALEJANDRO
MASI AND DAVID ANDERS
MASI, BEEMAN AND NEW CO-STAR ERIKO TAMURA – THE SWORDSMITH’S DAUGHTER
MASI, DAVID ANDERS AND NEW CO-STAR MR. ED
JACK COLEMAN AND HAYDEN AND CLAIRE’S NEW HIGH SCHOOL – COSTA VERDE HIGH
HAYDEN AND NEW CO-STAR NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO (WHAT IS HIS POWER? WHAT ARE HIS INTENTIONS WITH CLAIRE?)
JEPH LOEB AND THE CHEERLEADERS OF AZUSA PACIFIC COLLEGE AS THE CHEERLEADERS OF COSTA VERDE HIGH
BEEMAN, HAYDEN AND THE CHEERLEADERS OF AZUSA PACIFIC COLLEGE AS THE CHEERLEADERS OF COSTA VERDE HIGH
DAVID ANDERS AND OUR JAPANESE TRANSLATOR YUMI MIZUI. AS YOU CAN SEE BY THE PICTURE, DAVID TRAVELED TO TOKYO FOR FOUR MONTHS TO LEARN FLUENT JAPANESE.