WARNING: THIS BLOG IS SPOIL-TASTIC
IF SPOILERS CAUSE YOU RASHES, BOILS OR OTHER MALADYS PLEASE AVOID THIS BLOG
This, the thirteenth episode of the third book of the third season airing on the nineteenth day in the twelfth month of the year two-thousand aught eight was written by Jeph Loeb and directed by your humble blogger – me.
It is also the final episode of the Volume that’s been entitled “VILLAINS.” After tonight HEROES goes off the air for several weeks, and when we come back we begin a new Volume with a new direction and (in some ways) a different style entitled “FUGITIVES.”
I want to thank Charlie Lieberman the Director of Photography, who recently was accepted to the ASC. It was actually my first time doing a whole episode with Charlie. I think the lighting is beautiful throughout. I want to thank Don Aron, the editor. It was also, actually, my first time doing an episode with him. He is a great editor and he put together the pieces of film I shot better than I could have imagined. And, of course, I want to thank the writer - Jeph Loeb.
I won’t lie to you. This was a tough episode for me. I think it is because I was tired. If you remember, I had dropped in to direct episode #10 at the last minute. I had always been scheduled to do #13, and I recognized it’s importance because it’s the last episode before a long run off the air. But circumstances being what they are, #10 ended up with many delayed days of shooting and partial days of shooting – so that I was prepping #13 while still shooting the last few days of #10. Now I can’t impress upon you how exhausting doing an episode of HEROES is. Regular TV shows are hard enough – but HEROES is extra hard. Between prep and shoot it’s like a 20-day sprint with no time to think, sleep or slow down. So to do two in a row – well, I was tired when I started this one.
For some reason, I was inconsolable throughout production of this episode. This has happened to me from time to time, but not for a long while. I wasn’t happy with any scene or any part of it during the whole process. I made poor Jeph Loeb go over the script with me again and again talking through every part of every scene – trying to make things work for me. To his credit, Jeph was very patient and accommodating. We worked through all my issues slowly, bit-by-bit.
We finished shooting this one in late October. It wasn’t until I saw the editor’s first cut of the show, about a week after that, that I started getting OK with the episode. Donn Aron is a great editor and he finds ways into the material that are exciting and fresh. We worked hard throughout post and kept smoothing things out and re-arranging things.
We locked picture eventually, and life went on. Late last week (and by now, I was in the middle of directing episode #19) I finally saw the whole show put together with all the music, visual effects and color corrections. By then I had put it out of my mind and moved on to other things. When I saw it last week I was really happy. I feel it moves like a locomotive and is very exciting with many excellent scenes. I also am pleased with my work. The angles and shots and pacing and performance direction all had achieved what I was trying to do all those angst-ridden weeks ago. Of course you will decide for yourself what you think of this one – but, for myself, I am OK with the work I’ve done.
Right off the bat is a scene I’m pleased with. It’s the opening scene with Peter and Nathan over the body of their dead father. This was a very well written scene that was simple, and quietly explored the relationship between the brothers... I began with a shot straight down on Arthur Petrelli. This was where I planned to put the main title. In it I had the camera move across the blood onto a close-up of dead Arthur. I love the set which (Production Designer) Ruth Ammon built for Arthur’s office. It has this amazing ceiling which facilitates either putting “X”s or Christian crosses in the frame. Between an “X” and a Christian Cross you have two major metaphoric images that will help enhance any number of shots. The second shot of the scene is an incredibly low angle of Peter holding the gun that killed his father. And behind Peter I framed in an “X” because I figured Peter has double-crossed his family and is at a cross-roads he can’t return from. This was shot on a prism-lens, which is a lens that shoots into a mirror for straight-up angles. I started the shot on the gun and widened to reveal Peter. The next shot was also shot on a prism, but we had to raise up Robert Forster on boxes to line it up right. I kept focus forward on Arthur’s body as the door opened in the background and Nathan enters. I let the focus stay off of Adrian for an uncomfortably long time, even through his first line “Peter, what have you done?” Towards the middle of the scene is a moment when Nathan approaches Peter, wanting the gun. At that moment I shifted the style from the placid still shots to a hand-held camera. This amps up the tension in that moment.
I like the way both actors played this scene. Milo chose to play a pent up guilt. In my mind his character was experiencing a whirlwind of conflicting emotions because, even though his intention had been to go there to kill his father, Sylar had actually killed him - and so he had a sense of failure. He also felt guilt and regret over his father’s death and the regrets of the relationship overall. But, mostly, I think he was numb because so much had happened so fast. Nathan on the other hand is calm and in control. He had planned to betray Arthur anyway and his death would be an asset. Nathan, I believe, is mostly trying to not agitate Peter, who controls the gun – but also is attempting to re-establish the dominance he always maintains over his little brother.
I'm also pleased with Stargates visual effects on this one. Nathan and Peter flying away from Primatech, all of Meredith's flaming hands, Ando's new power and Daphne's supersonic superspeed all turned out as well or better than I'd hoped. I think the shot of Claire and HRG running down the hall away from the fireball is a lot of fun. For this shot there are three elements. Parts one and two were done in the Primatech hallway. We lit the hall and rehearsed Jack and Hayden running towards camera. Then we filmed the empty hall. Then we filmed Jack and Hayden running in front of a big green screen that we set up in the hall. A couple of weeks later we shot the final element - which was a big giant fireball roaring at camera. Fire has a unique shape and movement pattern and to do it right, we had to create a giant plywood box built in the correct proportions to the hallway. This box was about 40 feet long and ten feet wide. It was painted black on the inside and there were framing pieces built on the interior to match the doorframes that are in the hall. We then got a camera that ran at 200 frames a second (super slow motion!) The box was built at an angle of about 20 degrees, because fire naturally rises - which means the camera was on an elevated platform 15 or 20 feet in the air. We then rolled camera and the effects crew blasted a huge fireball right at the lens. The result was a fireball that roiled right at lens taking the shape of the hall and wrapping around the doorframes. All three of these elements were then composited together in post production. The final result, I think... is cool!
But I was also trying to mix up the style as much as possible. And there were days I needed to go fast, to balance out the days with elaborate production needs. One example is the scene where Ando first gets his new power. This scene is done in two simple shots. The first is a tight close up where Ando gets a cup of water thrown in his face. The rest of the scene, which is about a minute long, is all done in one long take. The shot was done on a wide lens and the camera tracked back as Ando worked his way forward. James Kyson Lee (known as "JKL" to his friends) Brea and Greg Grunberg all had to "play the frame," i.e. work their performances in to the existing shot with no cuts or coverage to help smooth things out. I was particularly happy with one moment when I had Greg and Brea lean way in to see if he had powers and then I played JKL looking left and right at them in annoyance and then moving away to practice his power in more "privacy." See if you like it!
In general, as we all know, Zach Quinto rules. But I think he just killed it in this episode and I gratefully told him so once I saw how the whole piece was coming together in the cutting room. His performance, to me, is the unifying element of this story. It’s the glue that holds the episode together. I love getting into scenes with him. For instance, we shot all of his scenes in the surveillance room relatively quickly. As I always do with him, I encouraged him to be playful and unexpected. This is not a direction you can give all actors, trust me, but Zach can find a way to play a line in a completely unexpected way, that doesn’t lose the thought behind the original intention. I particularly like the emphasis he places on the word “terrify” when he says the line “I know I repulse you. Terrify you.”
Also the scene with Sylar and Angela towards the end is one I’m particularly happy with. Again this was a very well written scene with a lot of meat on the bone, and the actors were excited to get into it. But, surprisingly, it took a little while to get it there on a performance level. Both the actors and I had to talk through and work through the rhythms and beats before it found it’s final shape. I’m a big believer in blocking a scene. Blocking is a term that, I guess, comes from the stage – but it refers to how the actors move around within a scene. I really, really believe in trying to move the actors around whenever it’s valid and possible. Much too much TV is very static with people just standing or sitting still and saying their lines. I have found that, the right blocking lets the performances flow easily, and that the wrong blocking will clog up the energy of a scene like logs in a river. I try to work in the same way I always encourage actors to. I prepare and think about the scene on my own before the day of shooting. I conceive of the specific shooting style and blocking style that would suit the scene and the overall story. And then, and this is important, on the day of shooting I try to forget my homework and let the scene evolve in whatever way it wants to. The homework is a safety net that I can fall back on if new ideas don't come. But if I force the homework on the scene it dries up. I have found over and over again that a few key words or key blocking ideas is enough to allow a scene to flourish and grow quickly. Too much from me can atrophy a scene. By the same token – too little from me can create a vacuum where nothing occurs.
I began this particular scene on Angela facing foreword and Sylar out of focus in the background. He then makes a big sweeping walk around her and the camera pivots on her. This shot, for me, builds the energy and danger implicit in the scene. Then I jump to a big wide shot where Sylar slams a chair into the back of Angela’s legs and pushes her forward. It was scripted that he TK’ed her into the chair… But, in working through it, Zach felt that Sylar was angry and wanted a more visceral reaction. So we eliminated the TK and had him rough Angela up. From there, after my showy opening shot, the scene gets simple. I have just two angles for each character for the next 80% of the scene. I did a slow push in to each character that ends in a big close-up. I also did two super low angles which each have a very graphically interesting ceiling lamp in the background. By balancing the coverage, and the editing pattern, I believe the sense of equality is created. Each of these characters is a great chess player and for this part of the scene, they are in the early stages of a chess game. I also shot a wide profile shot, where each character is in 50-50 profile and the fireplace is between them. This was mostly for geography, and to let the scene breathe and not be so claustrophobic, and because the firelight was pretty. Later, on Angela’s line - “You were flawed. Weak. Malleable. Someone I could manipulate. Because that’s what I do. Because you’re right…I’m a monster, too...” I had Zach turn away from Angela into a close-up on a super wide lens. For me, the distorting effect of this lens accentuates Sylar’s sense of displacement and distortion…. Anyway, you get the idea. On a shot-by-shot level this scene is actually very simple. It was a scene where I didn’t need the camera to elevate or accentuate the already-excellent scene. But, my point is, even in simple scenes like this the shot making needs to be purposeful and specific.
On the Zach Quinto topic, Jeph Loeb had always written in an opening narration from Sylar and a montage recapping the season for the opening of the episode. But in post we all decided to expand and add to these Sylar monologues in an attempt to strengthen and clarify the theme. I was with Zach when he recorded these at the ADR stage. We talked about his tone being more omniscient than typical Sylar - as if spoken in reflection from a point in the future. But we also had to work to not make it too detached. Sylar has a certain level of cynicism and bitterness. We did a few takes and Zach played around. He is always amazing when he gets a chance to play with the material – mixing up the cadences and playing against the obvious intentions of some lines. I love the way his voice-over on these scenes turned out.
The final scene of the episode (The one with Nathan and the President) is meant as the prelude to the FUGITIVES Volume. I shot this scene in a different style than our usual ones – It’s full of off angles, non-matching angles, sides of faces in focus in the foreground, while the person speaking in the b.g. is in soft focus, jump cuts, etc. – which is a BOURNE IDENTITY-like style. This is a look we’ve used a bit in the past (I’ve always tried to do a scene or two per episode in this style – remember the scene with Peter and Angela and the strings from the second episode of this season, and the omitted scene between drunken Nathan and Angela available on the season 2 DVD set). This style adds a strong sense of tension because of the quick arrhythmic editing and the uncomfortable angles. It also creates a feeling of voyeurism and surveillance – which will be a theme of the FUGITIVES Volume.
Interestingly, we shot this scene in October – a month before the National election. But Tim Kring really wanted to cast an African American in the role of the President, even though, at that time it was quite uncertain how the election would turn out. Even though we kept him mysterious and didn’t show his face that much we were lucky to get Michael Dorn for this role. I’m sure many HEROES fans were also fans of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. He was a great person to work with, easy and fun. He came in and we shot his scene quickly, in just 3 hours... And now he's our HEROES President!
Well, that’s it for this blog until HEROES comes back on the air on February 2nd. It’s possible I might do an update in between then and now, but at this moment I’m not sure.
As always thank you fans for your passion and loyalty. You are our lifeblood. I’ll be grateful for the short break from my weekly homework assignment – but also – I will miss you all.
AND NOW...THE PHOTOGS:
CRISTINE ROSE AND I
JEPH LOEB AND ALI LARTER
MOTHER AND SON???
HANS AND FRANS... UH, I MEAN ADRIAN AND MILO IN THEIR FLAME RETARDANT UNDERGARMENTS
"NO PRESS - PLEASE"
MILO AND I GOIN' OUT TO A SCANDANAVIAN DISCO PARTY
ME, SCRIPT SUPERVISOR MERRY DONNER AND DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY CHARLIE LIEBERMAN
"THE MAGNIFICENT 4"
MASI AND GEORGE TAKEI
ACTING IS A SWEATY BUSINESS
ALI AND ADRIAN APPLAUD SOME OF MY BETTER DIRECTION
SENDHIL AND ALI HITTING THE ROAD
ALI AND ADRIAN
GREG AND BREA IN A "CORNY" MOMENT
ON SET BETWEEN TAKES
BAD BOYS "FLINT AND KNOX"
NIGHT SHOOTS CAN MAKE A MAN GOOFY
HAYDEN TOUCHES UP BETWEEN TAKES
EVEN WITH A FACE COVERED IN BUG-SCALES, SENDHIL LOOKS GOOD!
JAMIE HECTOR BETWEEN TAKES
JACK AND JESSALYN - GUNNING FOR TROUBLE
BREA AND HER PHOTO-DOUBLE HEATHER STUNKLE
MASI, GREG G. AND "THE COMIC OF DESTINY!"
BREA AND GREG G.
JEPH LOEB TALKS ON SET WITH GREG GRUNBERG
KIDS CAN BE SUCH A HEADACHE
COOL 'N CLASSY ALI LARTER
ON SET, D.P. CHARLIE LIEBERMAN LINES UP A SHOT WHILE MAKEUP ARTIST WENDI ALLISON AND ASSISTANT PROP MASTER JAMES CLARK GORE UP ZACH
SENDHIL - WHEN HE GOT INTO ACTING HE DIDN'T KNOW IT'D MEAN LAYING IN SLIME AND COVERED WITH SCALES
THE CREW TENDS TO DECORATE THEIR WORK BOOTS WITH AFFECTIONATE SAYINGS