SEASON 2 - EPISODE 4 “THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS”
WARNING – SOME SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN
Tonight… Episode 4 of season 2. The episode was written by Tim Kring and was directed by Adam Kane. Adam, as you may remember, was the Director of Photography on the pilot. His work there was so exemplary that Tim Kring and Dennis Hammer gave him his first break directing on HEROES on last years episode 119.
In this episode we bring both new characters into our ongoing story, and we reinvigorate old ones.
Specifically, Nathan begins to take a larger role in the story again. It was important to isolate him at the beginning of the year. Whatever happened after the events of the season finale, Nathan was clearly disturbed and distressed when we discovered him at the beginning of this year. He had given up his political office, pushed away his family and he had been drinking heavily. Tim Kring’s design is to keep the exact reasons for these changes secret for the moment. But, rest assured, in true HEROES fashion, they will be explained in due time.
In this episode Nathan realizes it’s time to clean up his act. Tim had encouraged Adrian to let his beard grow over the hiatus, to better play the fallen Nathan. I know Adrian loved having the beard. He said it kept him perfectly anonymous in public. But, I know that I, for one, had no idea it would be so big and bushy! Adrian is one swarthy guy. Once it got on film, I’m not sure we loved it. So, with his characters redirection in this episode we decided to have him shave it.
This of course presented some scheduling issues. We had to shoot the one scene where he visits his kids at school (the one where his son tells him he doesn’t like the beard) first, before we could shoot the rest of the (shaven) scenes. Interestingly the school scene originally ended with Nathan looking into the mirror and seeing the scar-faced version of himself. He then took a few steps into a discreet area and flew into the sky. Both these effects where quite good, but, as he often does, Tim omitted them in post, opting instead to end on the most emotionally impactful moment – the one in which Nathan realizes he’d better change if he doesn’t want to lose his children.
This episode also begins a several-episode team up between Nathan and Matt Parkman. Greg Grunberg and Adrian actually didn’t have too many scenes together last year. Here they finally get together as both characters attempt to solve the mystery of who has been attacking Angela Petrelli. I know Greg and Adrian really enjoy working together. Both of them are good natured jokesters – and the days always fly by easily when they are on set together.
I particularly like the scenes in the hospital hallway, between them – the one where Matt first reveals that he can read minds and that he knows Nathan can fly. In many ways it is a purely expositional scene, one that gets information out and aligns the characters. But there’s something special about it. I remember Adam Kane working with them. He wanted the scene to play quietly, but with great pace and great intensity. He talked about how neither character trusted each other, and that the more Matt revealed of himself the more suspicious Nathan should get. I also like the way the scene is staged. The art department dressed in a flower display case in the hall. Adam staged the scene next to it, and the fluorescent glow from the case reenforces the intensity of the scene.
This episode also introduces Dana Davis, Carlon Jeffery and, most excitingly, Nichelle Nichols??? (of Star Trek fame.)
As I understand it, this character and storyline came from two impetuses on Tim Kring’s part. The first was to tell a story set in post-Katrina New Orleans. The second was to create a new family dynamic for Micah. He wanted to separate Micah and Niki, giving both characters a chance to evolve independently of their mother-son obligations. Niki, as we saw last episode, is going to reside/work at “The Company.” Micah is now living with relatives, and circumstances will finally allow him to explore his desire to use his powers for good. (Exactly HOW this happens you’ll have to wait for.)
In Monica, Tim wanted to create a character who is an upbeat, positive and smart person – but someone who life has given tough breaks to. She is someone who never gives up, but who, right at this moment, is lost.
As always, we auditioned many people. Dana Davis won our hearts with her great smile and upbeat personality. Many of us producers had seen her work on last years ABC show THE NINE.
Whenever we have a new character, I try to be on set as much as possible to make sure they are headed in the right direction. Many times, the first couple of days will bring up lots of questions from the actor, the director and the writers. But, on set, it felt like Dana was slipping quite easily into her role.
I’m also excited by the way Noah Gray-Cabey’s and Dana’s scenes together play. Theirs is a friendly exuberance when they are on screen together. And I think Tim is right, by freeing Micah up from his family dynamic we get to see a new side to this little super guy.
One of the production challenges was to create New Orleans in L.A. This is a tough project. Many other cities are relatively easy to recreate here. But New Orleans is SO distinctive. We found a locally owned fast food resteraunt in south central L.A. to play as “Burger Baonanza” – the menial job Monica toils at. And the art department labored hard to build the interior of Monica’s house. It’s a great set with lots of different mis-matched wallpaper. And there’s a carefully painted in Katrina water-line that runs throughout the house.
Perhaps the most memorable scene of the episode is the Hollywood Sign sequence with Claire and West. In my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful and romantic scenes we’ve ever done – with imagery that will become iconic, I am quite sure. Both Adam Kane and the VFX guys at stargate really outdid themselves on this one.
Interestingly, the scene, as originally written had West flying Claire back to Odessa Texas, to the top of the abandoned fuel rig where she originally jumped in the pilot. But as we prepped the episode, problems, both practical and logical came up. Logically, how fast could West fly? They left Claire’s neighborhood in the late afternoon and were home that night. Even a jumbo jet takes a few hours to fly from LA to Texas, so the time-line didn’t work. Also, the abandoned fuel rig location is about an hour out of LA. The scene was set at night and there wasn’t any work we could schedule with it. So, on a practical, production level it didn’t work either.
Booth of these factors caused us to re-evaluate. While Tim liked the callback to the pilot, he understood the problems. What mattered most was that it was a tall enough structure that Claire could feasibly jump off it and West could jump down and save her.
We kicked around different ideas and finally, now it seems obviously, we came up with the Hollywood sign.
Of course, soon enough, we discovered that the real Hollywood sign doesn’t allow filming at night, and will only allow a very limited crew. Filming on the real location wasn’t practical either.
So we came up with the idea that we would just build the top section of the letters and that the whole scene would be filmed on a blue screen stage in an all-digital environment. This solved all the problems except one of expense. Blue screen, inevitably, films slowly and with every shot being CGI, the costs skyrocketed. Adam had storyboarded an elaborate sequence and it was estimated that that would take almost two full days to film. Well - 2 days for one scene is not practical for TV. So, the scene then came under attack. Maybe it wasn’t needed at all. Or maybe a simpler version without Claire jumping could be done. The scene was reduced to that for a day or so… But I’m proud of Adam Kane. He really wanted to do this sequence, and rightfully so… So he called up all of the producers and said that he would figure out a way to shoot it all in a day.
That’s how things have to go sometimes. Somebody just has to will it to happen.
The guys from stargate took a helicopter and flew around the Hollywood sign to get backplates. Of course the final product is a little hyper-real with more lights and a greater view of lights than you see in real life. The letters in our version of reality are also about twice as tall as the real Hollywood Sign letters too.
On stage we draped a 120-foot wide 35-foot high blue screen. We painted the floor blue with 150 dollar a gallon blue screen paint. We built 12-foot tall letters. And Hayden Panettiere and Nick D’Agosto had to rehearse in fly harnesses with descender rigs to jump and fall 25 feet at a time – just another day on HEROES.
That’s it for this week. Next week Micah and Monica explore what the heck is happening to Monica, Matt and Nathan meet “The Nightmare Man,” Peter resumes his adventures in Ireland… And a new super baddie enters the fray!!!
CHRISTINE ROSE AND ADONIS-LIKE ADRIAN PASDAR
DIRECTOR ADAM KANE MANS THE MONITORS
NEW HEROES DANA DAVIS AND HER “NANA” NICHELLE NICHOLS
NOAH GRAY-CABEY AND CARLON JEFFERY
DANA DAVIS AND TIM KRING ON SET
ZACH QUINTO AND DANIA RAMIREZ ON SET (NOTE: THEIR CAR WAS ON BLUE SCREEN AND ALL THE DESERT BACKGROUNDS WERE CGI)
ZACH ENJOYS A HEARTY MEAL (BRAIN SALAD SANDWICH???) DANIA LOOKS WORRIED
ADAM KANE MANS THE CAMERA (MAN, HE MANS THINGS WELL)
LOSE THAT CAR DOOR? NO PROBLEM. BIGGETS A.D. IN TV MILOS MILICEVIC GETS THE JOB DONE
THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN "BEFORE" CGI
THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN "AFTER" CGI