Monday, December 15, 2008

BEEMAN’S BLOG - SEASON 3 - EPISODE 13

“DUAL”

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.

Fondly,

Greg Beeman




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


MANIACAL HAYDEN


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

Monday, December 08, 2008

BEEMAN’S BLOG - SEASON 3 - EPISODE 12

“OUR FATHER”
WITH LITTLE DOUBT – SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN!

Tonight’s episode was written by the writing team of Adam Armus and Kay Foster and was directed by veteran HEROES director Jeannot Szwarc.

Kay Foster's Credits
Adam Armus's Credits

Jeannot’s credits

Sadly – as of this episode Kristen Bell departs the show – we loved having her here. She is a pro and an all-around good egg. The scene where Sylar burns her body was her last scene in the series - but I actually directed her on her last day of shooting. This was the scene at the rental car dealership from episode 10. When we wrapped that scene the Assistant Director announced that Kristen was finished in the series. There was a huge round of applause and weepy eyes all around. Tim Kring and Kristen had explored keeping her around longer – and I know Kristen wanted to come back. There were potential storylines about pregnancies and babies…. But the truth is she has a very busy career with a lot of feature films, pilots and much else in the works. We had no official contract with her – and she couldn’t commit to exactly when she could return. And so it was decided that this would be the most exciting way to end her character. She will be missed.

For the very dramatic scene where Sylar burns Elle’s body, we needed somewhere completely isolated and controllable where we would be able to light a fire without any issues or constraints. For some reason that, I know, Jeannot never understood - we ended up at this weird beach in San Pedro. The beach was rocky and stinky and there were hundreds of feral cats living there. It was weird – but maybe the weirdness of the location fed into the weirdness of the scene.

Notably, there was a final shot Jeannot designed for this scene that ended up being cut out. It was a huge crane shot that swooped away as Sylar stood over Elle’s burning body. (See pix below) I remember the script read: “Sylar stands on her burning body. A tinge of remorse. Giving Elle far more respect than any of his previous victims.” Anyway, the shot was very dramatic and I found it very haunting, almost beautiful. But the network standards and practices people and even Tim Kring thought it was too disturbing. So we cut it - and ended up playing the scene on a simple close up Sylar. This works too. I don’t know, maybe America’s not ready for full-on immolation. I like weird disturbing stuff sometimes. I remember reading that one of the techniques of the Hindu and Buddhist priests in India is to go to the pyres where bodies are being burned and meditate upon them. These novices sit for days this way. The idea is that in fully experiencing death in this way they learn to accept their own mortality and hold a looser grip upon life... But, whoa... I digress.

As always my work along with the rest of the production team begins when the first draft of the script is finished. Usually we've read an outline - sometimes not even that. Often we have only a vague idea of what is going to happen until the day we finally get that first draft. This script, by Adam and Kay, was really a nice read with tons of emotion. Most notable were the scenes where Claire ends up in the past with her baby-self and her parents. And most beautiful of all (from my and Jeannot’s point-of-view, at least) was the scene where adult Hiro has a chance to see his dying Mother one last time, to ask for her help, to tell her that he turned out well and to ease her mind that his relationship with his father had been rectified. This scene was very moving on the page and on the stage. It is so full of archetypal resonance and wish fulfillment. Who wouldn’t want to be able to have, as an adult, one last chance to speak with a beloved parent who has passed? All in all a beautiful scene written by Adam and Kay.

It was the scene that Jeannot was most excited to direct and the one he talked through extensively in prep. But fate intervened. Turns out that George Takei was getting married to his longtime partner Brad Altman and afterwards going on a honeymoon. Like Kristen Bell, George is an actor who we write for frequently, but don’t have a contractual hold over. So the scenes in this episode with Kaito in them had to wait until George returned. This ended up being a couple of weeks after Jeannot had wrapped up the rest of the episode and by Jeannot’s schedule had him off to his next gig – an episode of SMALLVILLE.

So the duties of directing all the scenes in the Nakamura apartment fell to me. This is always a heavy burden for me – to direct scenes for another director -especially if they’re the director’s favorite scenes in his episode! I empathized with Jeannot’s disappointment, and I had a long talk with him about the scene before I shot it. In these situations, I always try to talk with the director and try to learn how they were planning to do the scene – both from a technical and an emotional standpoint. I had a similar situation last year when I directed the scene in Dan Attias’ episode 7 - where Hiro leaves behind the swordsmith’s daughter Yaeko, in front of the cherry tree. That was also a simple but emotional scene.

There was a lot of internal debate about wether to have our production designer Ruth Ammon design and build a set for these scenes or wether to find a location. The scenes were meant to happen in the apartment of the Deaveaux building. We've seen that rooftop many times - but the actual apartment hasn't been seen seince the pilot. It needed to be grand and spacious, but we also had to believe it connected to our oft-seen rooftop set. In the end we found a mansion in Pasanena California that Ruth believed felt like a New York Apartment. She built a connecting hallway on stage - so when Hiro and Claire run off camera from the roof set, they first run through this transitional hallway and then onto the practical location. On film, I believe, this complex transition is pretty seamless. In real life, there were huge windows in the mansion that looked out onto big gardens. But we were supposed to be in New York! So, we set up a forty foot tall and sixty foot wide bluescreens outside - so that out the windows the audience would see NYC. It's the same view we see from our rooftop - since, theoretically, it is just one floor below.

I was happy that a lot of time had been dedicated to shoot the main scene – 6 or 7 hours – which is generous by our standards. It is a very long and a very emotionally complex scene. The shooting style is, purposefully simple. The compositions formal – in homage to traditional Japanese cinema. Nate Goodman, the director of photography describes this in this way: “Try to imagine that you have drawn the shot – instead of photographing it. Objects re-compose within the frame, but there is little or no camera movement - unless it is purposeful."

In all these scenes, there are only a few gimmicks used to help the drama. The first is the use of an f.1 50 millimeter lens, which we used when Hiro’s mother kisses the bird. At this low f-stop a very shallow depth-of-field is created. The sick bird is in focus and as the mother leans in, her lips come into focus also. The other moment is when Hiro’s mother kisses his forehead, healing him and restoring his memory. In this moment we ran Hiro’s CU in slow motion and moved the camera in a semi circle around him. Not much moves in the frame besides the background and Hiro’s fluttering eyelids. I feel this nicely accentuates the experience Hiro has as his memory is restored.

Tamyln Tomita played Hiro's Mom. As you can see here, she has a lot of credits: Tamlyn Tomita

Tamlyn was amazing to work with. She nailed the part in the audition and nailed it again and again as we shot. (I first remember her in THE KARATE KID 2.) I shot many takes and many angles of this scene and she was right there every time. At the beginning of the day, Masi, I could sense, was a little nervous. This is an important scene and something unlike anything he had done before on the show – except a little bit with the character of "Charlie" in season one. As a director, I always feel the most important thing to do is to “allow” a space for the actors to work in. It’s not often necessary to come up with all the nuance and subtext that an actor needs in the scene. They are professionals and have done their homework. It’s more important to create a space within the set where they feel safe and supported to experience their emotions publicly. Acting is a very subtle and scary craft in which the actor has to fully experience emotions – often uncomfortable ones – in a space full of crew and lights and many other things that make it "false." On this day I worked gently with Masi, monitoring how he was feeling and letting him know that it was in his close up when he would have to “bring it.” I monitored how he was feeling and I got from him that he wanted to do his close up as the very last shot we did of the scene. When we got there I thought Masi did an amazing job of bringing a very truthful and heartfelt experience to the scene. Unfortunately, after Masi had done just one take, we found ourselves up against the mandatory lunch break. I knew that, now that we were into his performance, we had to complete it. I called the studio and suggested that we needed to go into a “lunch penalty." A lunch penalty is a name for a financial penalty the production incurs for encroaching on the crew's mandated lunch break – we have to pay the crew members each a small bonus for invading their lunch hour. A penalty that lasts a half hour or less costs us several hundred dollars. The studio understood my point. The cameras kept rolling. Two takes and ten minutes later we had the scene in the can. I was very proud of Masi and I’m proud of the scene. My first most important critique came from Jeannot who was very happy. My next will come from you, the fans.

An interesting note is that, on this day, I was working with a second unit crew. A lot of the crew members were just working for us that day and were unfamiliar to me. Many of them had never read the script and weren’t familiar with the story. Furthermore the actors were speaking in Japanese without the benefit of subtitles. So, technically, this crew should have no idea what was happening in the scene. BUT as we were shooting, a couple of times I looked around and noticed a lot of people were tearing up or otherwise having an emotional experience as we shot the scene! It just shows that when truthful, valid emotions are happening they transcend language. Very interesting!

AND NOW – PICTURES, PICTURES, PICTURES….


DIRECTOR JEANNOT SZWARC


WRITERS’ ADAM ARMUS AND KAY FOSTER


A TRIO OF ACTORS


ALI – GOOFIN’ OFF


SENDHIL – EXPIREMENTS WITH HIS “BUG TONGUE”


UP UP AND AWAY MASI!


MASI – HANGIN’ AROUND



DAD IS SAD. VERY VERY SAD. HE HAD A BAD DAY. WHAT A BAD DAY DAD HAD.



ZACH AND KRISTEN – ANOTHER DAY ON SET


ZACH AND BURNING ELLE


DEAR DIARY: IT'S BEEN KIND OF A WEIRD DAY...


SCALY SENDHIL


JEANNOT AND FIRST A.D. ANNE BERGER


ON SET MONITORS


MASI AND TAMLYN TOMITA


MASI AND MOM – WIDE SHOT

AND A FEW FROM PREVIOUS EPS – I FORGOT TO POST ‘EM BEFORE:


EP 11 – THROUGH THE CAMERA’S VIEWFINDER


EP 7 – JEANNOT AND CRAZY EYED HAYDEN


EP 10 – CAST RELAXES BETWEEN TAKES


EP 10 – GREG G. TRIES TO READ WRITER JOE POKASKI’S THOUGHTS