“THE ECLIPSE - PART 1”
Tonight’s episode was co-written by Aron Eli Coleite and Joe Pokaski, and was directed by your humble servant – me!
One of my duties as executive producer is to sometimes drop in quite suddenly to episodes that I wasn’t planning to direct. Originally Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (who directed the third episode of this season) was going to do this one. But he dropped out just a couple of weeks before, and I had to drop in.
Directorally I am happy with this episode. I feel it has drive and urgency. I’m happy with the performances and with the way it looks. I think Wendy and Lisa did awesome work with the music and Stargate did great with the visual effects. I also want to tip my hat to my editor Lois Blumenthal. She has been an assistant editor on HEROES since the beginning but we recently moved her up to editor. This is her first credit as a full editor and I think she did a great job. One of the things that is so important as a director is that when your editor puts the film together for the first time it at least adequately expresses what you had in mind. If you’re lucky you get pleasantly surprised. Well Lois did a great job and right from the first cut, posting this episode was an easy experience.
In the end, as always, you fans will decide what you think of the episode.
Joe and Aron aren’t usually a writing team but they co-wrote this week’s and next week’s episodes which are called THE ECLIPSE – PART I and THE ECLIPSE – PART II. They were so excited about these scripts and told me “It’s the first part of our first ever two parter.” I cynically replied. “Isn’t it part forty-four and foty-five of one ongoing episode?”
One of the most challenging aspects of this episode was, obviously, that half of the episode took place in an eclipse. The series has done eclipses twice before - in the Pilot, and briefly in the first episode of Season 2. But this episode carries the look much more extensively. Nate Goodman the director of photographer and I discussed how to achieve this. Ideally the look would be evenly lit and flat, i.e. no bright highlights, it would be dim with a blue-ish cast. Creating this look for interiors was one thing. Nate discussed how he would do it, with a large number of big lights surrounding the set, gelled with a heavy blue gel and creating a constant amount of hard light. The exteriors would have another approach. In the ideal, we would soften all the light and avoid all backlight. Nate wanted to put up big silks over the actors in every exterior environment (these are, essentially, 20x20 foot or 40x40 foot sheets that soften all the light coming through them) but the ability to hang these devices on our schedule became impractical. Ultimately we had to, sometimes, live with the light we had. Nate gets very excited about all this kind of stuff – but the more he described how he would achieve it the more I kind of glazed over. It was enormously technical. And, while I have a pretty good technical understanding of how most things work – I have my limits. I trust Nate completely and I knew his enthusiasm was a good indicator that all would turn out well. Sometimes as a director it’s best to just let something go and tell the person in charge of it “I trust you!”
There were also many discussions about how to slowly ramp up the eclipse throughout the episode. This was of particular interest not only to Nate but also to Eric Grenaudier and Mark Spatny from our visual effects house Stargate. Of course, we all had to get past the un-reality of the event. In real life there would never be a full eclipse visible from all these places on Earth at the same time. Eclipses also never last for this kind of duration. (Hey – I’m dubious about the whole premise that the eclipse would take our Heroes powers away at all. I don’t think the Pilot’s eclipse gave powers… But others disagreed and that ship had sailed.) But, after our first meeting and a brief round of arguments (that sounded a bit like the floor of the stock market) we all agreed that while Stargate would show numerous steps as the eclipse progresses – from a lighting standpoint there would just be “none,” “a little” and “full on.” Ultimately I believe in simplicity and clarity whenever possible.
But I still wasn’t really sure how it would all come together. And we weren’t able to really see the final look until the last stage of the process – which is the color timing. Color timing happens just a few days before we air the episode on Monday nights. Color timing is a process where we run the show through an electronic process that adjusts the colors, the lightness and darkness, and all manner of subtle things within the final look of the episode. It is a little known but critical part of the show. In this case, I went to color timing on the Thursday before the Monday when we went on the air. The timer had already worked through the picture and gotten it to a fine-tuned level, but we went through the eclipse scenes bit by bit, adjusting the amount of blue, darkening a lot of things, sometimes brightening the faces, and also flattening out the highlights in the shots. Only after all of that did I finally feel confident that the show had a compelling look. I was relieved.
I had fun designing shots for this one. My plan was to begin with slowly moving graceful shots. To try to create a steady sense of movement with the camera. Then, in act one to increase the pace of the motion. I started using faster stedicam shots, like the one with Angela and Claire in the Primatech hallways, and Peter and Nathan outside of Primatech. Then, as the eclipse began drawing nearer, I wanted to create the visual sense of bodies in orbit, and orbit around bodies - like the sun and the moon. I began using a circling pattern in my shot design and in the design of the blocking with actors. This is most evident in the scene between HRG and Claire in the safe house. The camera circles them over and over, orbiting them Immediately afterwards is a scene of Tracy on the phone which is intercut with Arthur on the phone. In thise scene I had the camera orbit around Tracy in a counter-clockwise pattern and around Arthur in a clockwise pattern. Intercut, there is a sense of antagonistic motion between the two halfs. This kind of stuff is fun to design, and while on the one hand it's very intellectual, I think it creates an subtle emotional component to the viewing experience.
One of the other challenges of this episode was creating the environment of Haiti. There aren’t that many places to shoot jungles in Los Angeles. The best and most frequently used is the place we ended up in, is the Los Angeles Arboretum in Pasadena. This place is famous, but I had personally never shot there. It was used in FANTASY ISLAND and GILIGAN’S ISLAND and now it has been further immortalized in HEROES. What the arboretum is is a lot of tropical plants in about a half acre of land around a lake. There are big pathways all through it and plaques on all of the plants. It looks impressively jungly but not huge, and if you step back you see a lot of stuff that shouldn’t be there – like park benches. Also, the rules are strict there and the crew and cast weren’t allowed to walk on or through the plants. So, ironically we had to bring in a lot of palm trees and ferns for anything that we interacted with.
The trick to making the jungle look good was to go on very long lenses and use lots of foreground. At first I went on wider lenses and used the crane and my other usual techniques… This was on the scene where The Haitian is leading The Petrelli boys through the jungle which ends with them running off after they are shot at. I’m the least happy with this sequence of all my jungle scenes. After that I went to long lenses foreground and either hand held or shaky camera (imitation hand held) from the dolly.
My favorite scene is the one where Peter and Nathan get in a fight, which culminates in the appearance of Jimmy Jean-Louis. The scene was very well written and had a natural escalation in the conflict between the brothers. It got to some core issues that I think haven’t been said as bluntly before. Milo and Adrian got pumped up for this one and came at it with strength. I think, in general, I was pushing for them to get angrier and grittier and yell more – to really let loose. But I’m always impressed by how much power Adrian can have when he goes soft. One of my favorite line readings of the scene is when, after being challenged by his brother, Nathan says “I’m a US Senator, you’re a nurse.” If I remember right, this line was scripted to be yelled, but Adrian went very soft and intense and I think the line is more cutting and powerful that way.
But, one story I must tell you, is that, for some reason, Milo and Adrian decided to pump themselves up for this scene by taking turns slapping each other on the back of the neck as hard as they could. I’m not sure how this brilliant idea got started, but I remember looking over and watching these two goofballs just smacking each other with all their might. There would be a loud CRACK! That echoed in the fake jungle and then, whoever had just been slapped started jumping around yelling, “Ow ow wow! Sonofab*&ch!” “Ah…” I thought to myself, “Ah, The Stanislavski method at work.” If you don’t believe me check out the pictures below. One is of the back of Adrian’s neck with welts in the exact shape of Milo’s fingers on it.
In the scene in Matt and Suresh’s apartment, when Hiro and Ando come to the door, there is a funny moment when the four cast members huddle around the comic book, which is a drawing of the exact moment they’re in. I always encourage the cast members to try to mimic the positions that Tim Sale has drawn for then as closely as possible. But, in this case Tim had drawn Matt’s hand in an incredibly awkward position to imitate. It cracked me up watching Greg Grunberg squish his hand around to try to get it to match. If you freeze your TiVo at the right moment you can see Greg Grunberg holding his hand in the dorkiest position ever. Try it!
I was also happy with the scene in the cornfield with Hiro, Ando and Matt, the one where Hiro throws corn at Matt to try to motivate him. I don’t think I fully appreciated this scene on the page. But when the actors started to act it out – it was just so funny. Masi was so committed and he just kept hurling corn at Greg. The line “The corn will keep coming!” makes me laugh even though it’s in Japanese. And Greg ad-libbed a funny one too when he turned to James and said, “How do you say ‘Stop it’ in Japanese?” My main contribution to the scene comes from the fact that I have a ten-year-old-boy at home. Because of this I had knowledge to encourage Masi to make a “Swoosh” sound every time he threw a cob.
Speaking of the corn. The art department had to screw thousands of corn stalks onto wooden 2x4’s and create the cornfield outside of the house – which is a standing set on a ranch owned by Disney. Greensmen had to move it around to camera every shot. Whenever you see a really wide shot, then all the distant cornfields have been added digitally and the characters are in front of a blue-screen.
Ah, our little show… Now, at last, the pictures…
SENDHIL AND I DOING COMMENTARY FOR THE ON-LINE VERSION OF THE SHOW. HEY! YOU CAN WATCH IT RIGHT NOW IF YOU WANT ON NBC.COM
WRITERS ARON ELI COLEITE AND JOE POKASKI DISCUSS SAFE DRIVING TECHNIQUES (D.P. NATE GOODMAN HUDDLES IN LOWER LEFT CORNER)
ADRIAN AND MILO CONTEMPLATE THE JUNGLE
ADRIAN AND MILO – HANGIN’ IN THE JUNGLE
ADRIAN’S NECK AFTER BEING SLAPPED REPEATEDLY BY MILO
LITTLE GAL WITH A BIG FIREARM
A NEW FOLK SINGING GROUP - ANDO, MATT AND DAPHNE!
MASI AND BREA - AWW
HAYDEN HAD HER BIRTHDAY ON THIS EPISODE - THIS WAS HER CAKE!
HAYDEN CLARIFIES TO THE CREW THAT IT IS HER BIRTHDAY AND THAT THE CAKE IS ALL FOR HER
HOW ACTORS PREPARE FOR THEIR BIG SCENES PT. 1
HOW ACTORS PREPARE FOR THEIR BIG SCENES PT. 2
ZACH AND I - IN WHICH ZACH PONDERS A DIRECTION I JUST GAVE HIM
WRITER JOE POKASKI AND ZACH QUINTO HUDDLE AROUND SCRIPT SUPERVISOR VAL NORMAN LOOKING FOR GUIDANCE. VAL - WHO IS SHE? WHAT DOES SHE DO??? SOMEDAY WE'LL BLOG ABOUT HER
GUEST STARS SETH GREEN AND BRECKIN MEYER
MASI CONTEMPLATES FATE, NATURE AND THEIR RELATION TO COMICS
ZACH'S SECRET ARM
JACK AND HAYDEN EMBODY THE SERIOUSNESS AND STYLE OF TV STARDOM
KB ZQ AND I
JIMMY JEAN-LOUIS SNEAKIN AROUND IN THE JUNGLE
SENDHIL CONTEMPLATES LIFE AND MORTALITY AND WHAT THE HECK IS THAT GROSS CUT OPEN BODY DOING IN FRONT OF HIM?
SENDHIL GETTING FINAL SLIME AND GOO TOUCHES BEFORE SHOOTING IN HIS COCOON
ZACH STRAPPING ON HIS POP-OFF ARM
GLEN HETRICK OUR SPECIAL EFFECTS MAKEUP ARTIST JUST BEFORE THREE HOURS OF MAKEUP
GLEN AND I GO OVER THE SCENES REQUIREMENTS
GLEN TAKING IN THE SIGHTS OF THE STUDIO BACKLOT