WARNING: GOVERNMENT ADVISORY – SPOILERS AHEAD – PLEASE PROTECT YOUR FAMILY FROM SPOILERS
Tonight’s episode was written by Tim Kring and was directed by Greg Yaitanes. This is Greg’s second episode of HEROES – his first was Season Two’s most awesome “CAUTIONARY TALES.”
Greg is the subject of this blog’s interview. He is an excellent director – perhaps one of the the best all-around directors I’ve ever had a chance to work with. The industry obviously agrees with this as he was also the winner of the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series Emmy this year for an episode of HOUSE.
I find Greg to be characterized by great intelligence as well as a hard work ethic. He plans a lot. He is also easy to work with, because he approaches everything in a very causal way – no matter how complex. He also prepares more diligently and shoots as fast as any director I’ve met. Here's his credits: GREG YAITANES.
GREG BEEMAN: First of all, Greg, let me congratulate you for your Emmy win this year. What was that experience like for you – specifically when you have to go up in front of thousands of people live and millions of people watching on TV and give an acceptance speech?
GREG YAITANES: It was truly an out of body experience. I was up against, mostly, pilots. So I had no expectation of winning. I just wanted to enjoy the experience. When I won it was amazing. It’s a neat thing to have accomplished at this point in my 38 years of life.
GB: I had a similar experience a few years ago. I won the Director’s Guild Award, which isn’t televised. But still you walk on stage and there are lights in your eyes and thousands of dim faces watching you silently. For me, time slowed, and I had no idea what I was saying…
GY: It’s funny because we’re going to be talking about an episode in which a dream sequence is a big part of it. When my name was called everything seemed to go into the language of dreams. My name was called. Then suddenly I was in the aisle. Then suddenly I was on stage. I didn’t have anything prepared, which was fine because nothing in my brain was working to remember a prepared speech. But, luckily, when they called my name and I looked over at my wife smiling and clapping, two things came into my mind. The first was that, during the whole of the shoot on HOUSE, I had my cell phone velcroed to the front of the monitor. Because my wife was pregnant and due at any time. That whole shoot happened with me wondering when I would get the call. And also, when my name was called as a nominee there was a thunderous applause, and I realized that I had worked with many many people in the room -- so many talented people. And those two ideas gave me something to focus on when I gave my speech. Afterwards my wife said I made sense, so I was glad.
GB: What was it that made you want to become a director?
GY: I’m from a small town just outside of Boston. It was so small that it didn’t have cable until I was about fourteen. And with cable came public access and that’s where I first became interested in film. I wasn’t that athletic. I wasn’t especially great in school. I loved movies though, and I became the guy with the handheld camera taping the football games.
Originally I was going to get into psychology, but I also had a strong interest in film. I came to California and, in my mind, I was going to let what happened out here determine which path I’d take. Gradually film became what won out.
I went to film school at USC. I had excelled there, but I never got the opportunity to make one of the official films there. I wasn’t selected by the faculty to direct or even to pitch to make a film. It was odd. So, as it was getting time to leave school, I went outside of the school to make a film. A professor there, Rick Edelstein, who is still my mentor, arranged a class for me where I could get school credit for a film I made outside of school. I got Panavision to donate some cameras, I got Universal to donate an editing room. I scraped together $18,000, begged, borrowed and stole - and made the movie.
This was at the tail end of when short films would still help you get considered for features – around 1992 to 1993. It was a time of transition. But, still, it got me the chance to do a movie – a one million dollar film called HARD JUSTICE. I was about 24 when it was made, and it’s just awful. But they cut a great trailer from it. I spent a good year putting together the elements and going after what I wanted. I had ended up editing across the hall from John Woo, who was making his first American movie HARD TARGET. I got to know him, and admire him, and became familiar with all his work. And whatever else can be said about it, I am very proud to say, with certainty, that my movie was the first American-made John Woo knock-off.
After that I ended up doing re-enactments for AMERICA’S MOST WANTED which led to episodes of Jerry Bruckheimer’s first television series SOLDIER OF FORTUNE, which led to DOUBLE-TAP which was a Joel Silver/Richard Donner production. I got that one after a meeting where I had to wait 7 hours in the lobby to meet Richard Donner.
GB: So… The consistent thread I see in all of this is – persistence.
GY: Yes. Persistence. I’ve got to say that if I have any edge, that is what gives me the edge. Others would give up and I just didn’t. I saw so many others give up when things got a little hard. But my dad instilled in me a great work ethic. I was doing every odd job from the time I was a kid.
In fact, one of my favorite stories, from my Dad, is about Joe DiMaggio. Late in his career, the Yankees were up by 10 games late in the season and they were up by 5 runs in the 7th inning. And, still, Joe Dimaggio was diving for every fly ball, and running out every ground ball and sliding into third. And some rookie asked him, “Joe why are you killing yourself. We’re way ahead.” And Dimaggio looked into the stands and said “Because someone out there is watching me play for the first time.” And that’s what I’ve learned. No matter what your reputation or how good you’ve done in the past it’s always about doing your best. With the gypsy nature of TV – you have to keep delivering. No matter how you’ve done elsewhere, on every job you are working with people for the first time, and they will be having a first impression of you. So you always have to do your best. Every time.
GB: So, let’s talk about HEROES in general before we talk about the episode, specifically. What is you’re experience of HEROES, from a directorial standpoint.
GY: It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had in TV. HEROES requires all the skills I’ve learned on every other project combined. It has all the genre work from the features and syndicated TV I’ve done. It requires extreme knowledge of visual effects. Of stunts and action. It pulls you in every direction at once. Also, working with actors is so important on this show. You’ve always said to me, beyond “See the spaces, see the faces..” "Performance is what matters most." I think the thing I like best about HEROES is the collaboration with the actors, which is both accepted and appreciated.
To give an example, there is no other show I work on which I storyboard as much as a necessary tool for communication. There is no other show that is as stylistically complicated. There is no other show that is as logistically complicated. Also it requires you to keep your patience, because the ground is always shifting. The schedule is always changing and you have to just go with it. Jim Chory, the producer, has this office with all these white boards that list all the different units, and locations, and episodes and actor requirements, and there’s all these lines and diagrams connecting them. I joke with him that it looks like A BEAUTIFUL MIND, just keeping the schedule straight.
As a director you want to help, not stand in the way. And I get to do things here that I would never get to do on any other show.
GB: Directorial design is so important on this show. And so hard for me to get director’s to achieve. For so long I tried to figure out how to describe to directors how to shoot the show and design the scenes and the shots. I’d say, “these scenes are like graphic novels with extreme close angles and extreme low angles and extreme high angles. And these scenes are like BOURNE IDENTITY handheld and messy and cut quickly. And these scenes are like John Hughes movies from the 80’s…” And on and on. Finally I realized that there’s no way to say “how” to direct this show. It’s very intuitive... But the shows that work best are the one’s with a strong sense of directorial design. That’s what you are so good at.
GY: Thank you.
GB: So let’s talk about tonight’s episode.
GY: Well the cool thing is – the episode that I did last year (CAUTIONARY TALES) was one cohesive story. This one is five completely different storylines which hadn’t intersected up to now in the season. We, Charlie Lieberman (the Director of Photography) and I tried to give each one a distinct look. Peter’s story had a lot of gravity, constant pressure - so handheld. Hiro’s story when he was ten was bright with a lot of center-punched frames and wider lenses. Elle and Sylar’s story was extremely dark. And so on. I was always energized by the fact that I was shooting five different shows at once and that every day was something new.
GB: I’d like to talk about two sequences in particular which are among the most difficult we’ve had either technically or conceptually. The first is the scene where Claire jumps out the window past Peter, which was enormously complex in it’s execution. Could you talk about that?
GY: Well, you and I had spoken early on, and you had mentioned the idea of doing something like that all in one shot…
GB: Right. I referenced BLADE II the one directed by Guillermo del Toro. There’s a shot early on where Blade chases a guy down a hall, leaps out a window, lands several stories below, knocks a guy off a motorcycle and rides off - which is done all in one shot. But that had a lot more visual effects help than the way you did it.
GY: Really? Because I don’t remember the BLADE reference. I remember talking about CHILDREN OF MEN, which had all these complicated action scenes that were all done in one shot.
The idea, though, of the shot was staying with Peter’s point of view. Using him as the pick point of the scene. You and I have very similar sensibilities about how we do things. And I have to give you props for inspiration for that moment and for suggesting doing it the way we did it. On HEROES, as the director I am always encouraged to come up with things from a strong point of view.
There were hours of meetings about how to accomplish this and many designs and discussions all about - how do we have a real stunt person fall past the real actor and to feel the impact below and to show that moment but not to stay on it too long and to not have it look fake. We wanted to make it more tactile and less effecty. In fact, the stuntwoman fell on a cable and was descended in such a way that we didn’t even need a pad, she was just stopped inches above the pavement. On the day we shot it, we actually did that big stunt very quickly, which is a testament to how well we had prepared for it.
GB: There were a few visual effects elements that were added in post production… Some falling glass sahrds and a shadow of Claire that streak past Peter just before Claire enters frame, and we added a lens flare at a critical moment when he looks up just as the stunt woman enters frame because she was moving a bit slow and looked a bit fake – but just for a few frames. It was all just to enhance the amazing shot – not in any way to save it.
GY: Well, thanks for that.
GB: Talk about the experience as a director, when you have big ideas like this, and you have to defend them and protect them all through the process until they’re finally in the can.
GY: Well you talked to me about this. Everything you predicted would happen happened. You described the big scenes in HEROES as being like a pie, and that sometimes a little slice at a time they get taken away a meeting at a time. So that at every turn the compromise doesn’t feel like you’ve lost that much. But finally, when you look down – most of the pie is gone and you’ve just got a small slice left.
But here I have to give Jim Chory credit. He will understand what’s important and will pick battles for you and shuffle the money around to make it happen. He helped a lot in making that particular scene happen.
GB: So let’s talk about the dream sequence. Truthfully, for me, on the page, that was a very troubling sequence – because it had enormous potential for confusion. It had all the same characters in the same spaces in and out of the dream in the same wardrobe and then two Daphne’s. Back in prep, if I had had to bet – I would have bet that it would be much more likely that sequence would not work than that it would work. I fully believe the success of this sequence – which I now think is one of the most dynamic things we’ve ever done – is fully to your credit. It is so well designed and executed and especially edited, that not only is it cool and eerie – but more importantly, it’s very clear what is happening. I give you credit for all of that, in lesser hands the audience would have NO idea what was going on.
GY: The inspiration of the scene was to really try to use the language of dreams. To create a film language that dreams happen in, that people can relate to. Moving through space without the connection of “a” to “b.” In my dreams it’s always like that. i.e First I was here and then I was at my house, but it wasn’t my house, and then I turned around and my mother was there and then she changed… I wanted to play with space and suddenly be there and then suddenly be over there.
We used Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as a reference. Kubrick knew how to make things dream-like. And he also was able to make scary things happen in very bright spaces. It’s very effective and haunting and you’re not hiding anything.
Charlie Lieberman came up with a lighting plan that enhanced this. We used very wide lenses for the dream and he used very hot backlight and sidelight and came up with a way to halo that light.
GB: Well, in my book, it’s incredibly effective. That’s all the time we have. Thank you for your time Greg. And we look forward to seeing your next episode, which will be #14 – the first episode of the next volume, which will begin after Christmas.
NOW THE PICTURES:
GREG YAITANES - HAVING A GREAT IDEA
A BIG BUDGET SHOW DESERVES PROPER EQUIPMENT - WE SPARE NO EXPENSE FOR MR. YAITANES
KRISTEN BELL - IT'S TRAUMATIC BEING AN ACTOR
KRISTEN IN THE MIDDLE OF A TAKE
GREG Y AND FIRST A.D. ROBERT SCOTT CROSSING OFF STORYBOARDS AS THEY SHOOT THEM
GREG AT THE MONITOR WHILE ZACH DOES A HANDSTAND IN THE B.G.
ZACH QUINTO PREPARES FOR HIS NEXT SCENE
GREG DISCUSSES THE SCENE WITH THE CAST
CRISTINE ROSE – YOU CAN’T KEEP HER DOWN!
NTARE MWINE AS USUTU - HE MAY BE DECAPITATED - BUT HE STILL STALKS THE HALLS
GREG GRUNBERG - PUT ME IN COACH
ZACH AND KRISTEN – PSYCHOS TOGETHER!
GREG YAITANES AND ALLAN ARKUSH - TWO OF OUR FINEST!!!
AND FINALLY THE STORYBOARDS FOR THE ABOVE-DISCUSSED SEQUENCE WHERE CLAIRE JUMPS OUT THE WINDOW PAST PETER