“ONE OF US, ONE OF THEM”
(WARNING: SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN. SPOILERS MAY BE HAZERDOUS TO YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE)
Episode three of our third season, was, from my point of view, a hard birth. I’m happy with the final result, but the process getting there was tough.
The director of tonight’s episode was Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. Interestingly, he was Steven Spielberg’s Assistant Director for many years on some of Spielberg’s biggest movies. He made the transition to directing on “Taken” 6 years ago. If you want to check out his impressive resume try this link… Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.
He came recommended to us from execs at NBC – he had directed successful episodes of “Battlestar Galactica”, and I had also seen the pilot he directed for the TNT network show “Saving Grace” starring Holly Hunter. We hired him last year to direct our 13th episode of season 2. He was halfway in the middle of production on it, when the writer’s strike hit and we shut down. Much of what Sergio directed ended up on the cutting room floor, or as DVD extras for the Season 2 DVD package. My personal experience with Sergio is that he is an extremely focused and intense guy with a great eye.
The writer of tonight’s episode was Joe Pokaski. He is a producer on the show, who came up from being Tim Kring’s assistant on “Crossing Jordan.” Notably Joe is also the writer of the current Marvel comic book series “Secret Invasion: The Inhumans” and “Ultimate Fantastic Four.” He also wrote many of the HEROES online comics that have been assembled in the highly successful HEROES HARDBACK GRAPHIC NOVEL.
THE HEROES GRAPHIC NOVEL
The first draft of the script, from a production standpoint, was very big. It had the bank robbery more-or- less as it currently exists. It also had a Claire/Meredith scene, which currently occurs in a cargo container. This scene originally took place in a deserted warehouse where Claire was surrounded by fire. The Hiro/Ando/Daphne scene, which currently occurs in a German movie theatre, originally took place on a train traveling through India, complete with Hiro and Ando on the roof of the train and Ando nearly falling out the side of a baggage car.
Personally, I loved the first draft of this script. It was a great, incredibly exciting read. I loved the way the bank robbery was written, and the idea that Sylar was to become HRG’s new partner blew my mind. The entire component parts were great – but, collectively, it was also, obviously, too big to be affordable. Beyond that though, the choices we producer’s faced of how to get the budget down became very subjective. The bank robbery was the obvious thing that had to stay because it drove the central story and the key recurring stories for the series– For me, the scripted moment where time freezes and future Peter appears was a key event (it sent a chill down my spine when I first read it.) So the Claire story and the Hiro story were what had to be attacked.
The prep process was odd because, it felt like, at every turn, whenever we attempted to make something cheaper, it either seemed to stay financially neutral or, ironically, became more expensive.
For instance, when the decision was made to shift from a burning warehouse to a metal shipping container – it sure seemed that that would reduce the scope… But then conversations started up about how to create an effect for the walls to appear to be glowing molten hot. Those conversations evolved until, at one point, we were going to create an entirely 3-D greenscreen environment of glowing metal walls. That lasted a few days until reality set in and it became clear that that would cost more, and take longer to shoot than the original warehouse idea. We backed off the digital environment and the glowing walls and just decided that there would be a couple of key shots of Meredith’s fire going up the walls and digital heat waves would be generated throughout to sell the heat.
As far as the Hiro/Ando/Daphne scene – we explored two plans. We needed two railroad cars – a passenger car and a cargo car – as well as a roof. One plan was to find existing trains and re-dress them and shoot them on location with green screen out the windows. But the cost of going on location and re-dressing was prohibitive. So we explored building the two train cars on set surrounded by blue screen. This was also too expensive.
Many discussions were held and we came to realize that this story could take place anywhere. The writer’s wanted it to be in an exotic foreign country, and the story had to be containable enough that the Haitian’s power would shut down Hiro and Daphne’s powers. The location department was sent off to come back with exotic-looking locations, which Joe Pokaski could write to. They came back with several. My favorite was a mosque that looked like it could be in an Arabic country. There was also a beautiful library – which would have been set in London. But the German moviehaus was what the writers selected – and from that choice stemmed the fun choice to have the Buster Keaton movies playing in the background.
Interestingly – the mysterious woman who is exchanging the briefcase with the Haitian is Sendhil Ramamurthy (i.e. Suresh’s) real-life wife Olga Sosnovska. They met in London, where she was a star on the British television series MI-5.
There were changes made to reduce budget in the bank scenes as well. Most noteably – at first Jesse’s power was Earthquake-stomp (Like Gorgon of the Inhumans from the Fantastic Four comics) But this power implied cracking floors and walls and all manner of damage that would be expensive to produce. At the last minute we changed him to a Sonic scream (like DC’s Black Canary) – this was easier to accomplish but was a bummer too us because we already had Echo from the online webisodes with sonic power – Oh well…..
There’s one last thing worth talking about: Originally episode 3.2 (the episode I directed) ended with the scene where Angela brought Bridgett to Sylar and “fed” her to him. Ironically, that scene is, literally, the only scene we kept from the two incomplete episodes shot last year. Double-ironically Sergio directed that scene in the never-completed episode 2.13. Triple Ironically – the only new material added to that pre-existing scene was two close-ups – one of Angela and one of Sylar – where Angela spelled out “I AM your mother.” And I directed this. So, in the end, Sergio’s material ended up in his episode and my material ended up in mine.
Episode 3.3 originally opened with Tracy exploring her freeze-o power on the rose, it then went to Nathan in his office asking after Tracy, then it went to Angela introducing HRG to his new partner Sylar. This section of the show ended with Peter and with villains arriving at the bank to rob it. For some reason, even though every scene was in-and-of-itself good, it felt like the show began in an un-focused way.
Katherine Pope, the president of Universal, was the one who came up with the idea of ending episode 3.2 with “I am your mother” and shifting the Bridgette part of the scene into this episode.
At first, from a selfish point-of-view, this bummed me out. When episode 3.2 ended with Bridgette screaming and Angela stalking down the Level 5 hallway – I used to imagine fans leaping out of their chairs screaming “OMG this show is SO F%#d up!!!”
But, on the other hand, when I saw episode 3.3 with the Bridgette scene shifted into it as the opening, the whole episode seemed re-focused and clarified. It’s always amazing to me what editing and juxtaposition of scenes can do… Without the new scene, this episode felt like an episode about Peter and the Villains at the bank robbery. With this new opening it became an episode about HRG/Sylar and Angela. It fact, the whole episode, became balanced (as if by design) with both the first and last scene of the show involving Sylar and Angela in Sylar’s cell.
Now a brief interview with writer Joe Pokaski:
GREG BEEMAN: So, Joe, where are you from?
JOE POKASKI: I grew up back east in a town near Boston, Massachusetts.
GB: And you went to Tufts University?
JP: Yes. With Sendhil Ramamurthy.
JP: Yes. We were in the same fraternity together at Tufts.
GB: Did you have anything to do with Sendhil being on HEROES?
JP: I don’t think so. I recommended him for a part on “Crossing Jordan.” Which was the Indian friend of someone on the show, and I think he read for the casting people. But that script changed and that role went away. So either they knew him from their files or it was a coincidence.
GB: And you, famously, were Tim Kring’s assistant.
JP: Yes… famously.
GB: So how did you get from a small town near Boston to being a writer/producer on HEROES?
JP: Well, mostly I was just a TV fan. I loved television and shows like “Cheers” and “Mash” and “Quantum Leap” and I dreamed of being a television writer. But that didn’t feel like a job a real person could have. It felt more like “astronaut” -- just a fantasy job that regular people couldn’t do.
GB: Right. I remember you telling me that when you were a kid and you first saw “Alf,” that you though t television had peaked.
JP: That’s true. I was eight and I remember thinking that TV couldn’t get any better than that – a Muppet from outer space. I’m still waiting to be proven wrong.
GB: So what did you do then?
JP: At Tufts I studied to be a lawyer. But, I quickly knew that that was never going to happen. So when I graduated I went into advertising in Boston, because it felt like that, at least, had a little creativity.
GB: But you kept dreaming the impossible dream…
JP: Yes. I suppose the real game changer was meeting my future wife, Jessica. I met her and fell for her and told her my dream and she didn't laugh. Quite the opposite. So I went back to school. To get my Graduate degree in Television Production at Boston University.
GB: Then what?
JP: Then my girlfriend at the time, agreed to move out with me to Los Angeles to become a Television writer. She didn’t disagree loud enough, and so we moved.
GB: And how many high level contacts did you have upon arriving here?
JP: Exactly one. A guy named Mike Daley who worked on Crossing Jordan. He was a friend of a friend of Jessica's (who was my girlfriend at the time) co-worker. In fact, it was on the night that I was going to ask her to marry me, and we were already planning to move, and I had the ring in my pocket, and I was so nervous, and we were out at a restaurant and her friend was saying “When you get there you should call Mike.” I could barely hear her, I was so nervous…
GB: So you didn’t even really know Mike?
JP: No. Now he’s one of my best friends - but at the time I didn’t. He was very helpful though and he promised me that as soon as any job came open on “Crossing Jordan” he would let me know. And he did. A production assistant job came open and I got it.
GB: How old were you at this time?
GB: And how was that experience?
JP: Being a P.A. at 28? It sucked. I felt miserable. I had cut my salary in half and I had to get coffee for people. But I was there in the middle of what I’d always dreamed of, and I met a lot of incredibly cool and talented people – like Tim Kring, Damon Lindelof, and Aron Coleite.
GB: And how did you go from P.A to Tim’s Assistant?
JP: Well, his old assistant left and Tim asked me to fill in at his desk until he could replace him. And after awhile it just became clear that he was never going to do that and that I had become his assistant. This took awhile.
GB: And when did you become a staff writer on “Crossing Jordan” ?
JP: I never did. Tim, graciously, asked me to write a freelance episode. And that was the first Television script that I had produced.
GB: So you never were on staff before HEROES?
GB: So, you’ve only recently begun to really live your dream?
JP: Uh, I guess. Thanks a lot.
GB: No, I didn’t mean it like that. I think it’s good. Perfect, really. So tell me about your involvement with the pilot of HEROES?
JP: Well, Tim was thinking of the idea. And, as any good writer does, he was excited and he wanted feedback and input. He went to Aron first who was famous for being an avid comic book reader. Tim really didn’t know the conventions of comic books and he wanted, at first, Aron’s feedback and later mine.
JP: We were blown away by the whole idea. We thought it was awesome. Then, when it began to be clear that it was going to become a pilot and more than that… We just volunteered to do anything Tim needed. Whenever he was too busy to do anything related to HEROES we stepped in and helped.
GB: What’s an example of this?
JP: Well, Tim’s mantra at the time was “What’s next?” Where would these characters go? What would the stories actually be beyond the pilot? So Aron and I worked together to think about ideas for the characters and stories – a lot of which became elements and aspects of episodes 2 though 5 of the first season.
GB: Now you are also writing comic books. ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR and SECRET INVASION: THE INHUMANS? Did Jeph Loeb facilitate this?
JP: Absolutely. Jeph is a great and very big-hearted guy. And when the writer’s strike happened he came to me and to Aron and asked if we’d like to keep feeding our families by writing comics. I said “Sure. I love feeding my family.” And the people at Marvel somehow trusted him enough to just let it happen.
GB: So, which impresses you more? Writing for HEROES or writing FANTASTIC FOUR?
JP: Wow. Now you’re really putting me on the spot…
GB: Because I’ll tell you I’m pretty impressed with the latter. As you know, my main dream in life, up until about age 17 was to be a comic book artist. Unlike you, I failed in this dream - and I regret it to this day.
JP: Well, twelve-year-old me is pretty wowed that I’m writing FANTASTIC FOUR. But, truthfully, HEROES is so amazing and exciting and there are so many talented people on it that have become like a family to me – it’s pretty hard not to be impressed to be on HEROES.
So there you have it kids... The lesson here is one that I always believe in and frequently promote – YOU TOO CAN ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS – AS LONG AS YOU HOLD ON TO THEM AND WORK HARD TO ALLOW THEM TO HAPPEN!!!!
That’s enough. I have to direct episode 13 in the morning – so I’m knocking off for tonight. See ya next week… Until then…
THIS WEEK'S BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTOGRAPHY:
SERGIO DIRECTS THE CAST
WRITER JOE POKASKI – JUST THRILLED TO BE HERE
SERGIO STUDIES HIS NOTES
THE VISUAL EFFECTS MEETING – D.P. CHARLIE LIEBERMAN (BACK) AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR ROBERT SCOTT (FOREGROUND)
THE VISUAL EFFECTS MEETING – JOE POKASKI UP FRONT AND LEAD VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR ERIC GRENAUDIER IN BACK
GREG GRUNBERG IN CHATSWORTH/AFRICA – “WHOA - IT’S WEIRD TO HAVE GIANT PAINTINGS OF ME ON THESE ROCKS”
GREG GRUNBERG AND NTARE MWINE AS USUTU IN CHATTSAFRICA
SERGIO AND JOE IN “AFRICA”
BLAKE SHIELDS AS “FLINT” ONE OF OUR “VILLIANS”
ADRIAN PASDAR ON SET
ALI LARTER ON SET
SERGIO AND ZACHARY QUINTO
CRISTINE ROSE AND JACK COLEMAN
SERGIO, JOE AND CHARLIE ON SET – LIVIN’ THE DREAM!
ME – LURKING ON “LEVEL 5”
IN A STAGED RE-ENACTMENT OF REAL EVENTS - JOE AND I GO OVER SOME NOTES
THIS ONE’S FROM LAST WEEK, BUT I LIKE IT – ALI LARTER AND “GREATEST AMERICAN HERO” WILLIAM KATT ON SET