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
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