“A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER”
WELCOME BACK AFTER A LONG HIATUS – AND REMEMBER SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN
Tonight’s episode was written by Tim Kring and was directed by Greg Yaitanes.
Hello loyal fans and welcome back after 6 long weeks off the air. As we’ve discussed before – the network plans these mid-winter breaks long in advance. First of all, less people watch TV in December and January, and the break is necessary in order to allow us to catch up. Every HEROES episode takes more or less 10 working days to produce, plus a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks to post-produce. Some shows, like “24” and “LOST” have chosen to delay airing until after January in order to run all of their episodes in sequence. We (and NBC) have chosen to premiere in the traditional late-September spot – run thirteen episodes in a row (which, believe me, is hard enough) – and then have a second (almost) continuous run of 12 more until late-April.
Tim Kring has chosen to deal with these inevitable mid-season interruptions by dividing the show up into separate Volumes. Episodes 1 thru 13 of this season were, as we know, entitled “VILLIANS” and this volume will be called “FUGITIVES.” As you may remember, the final scene of episode 13, technically, began this volume. In it, Nathan went to the President of the USA and told him about the “Specials” and asked for a special force, he felt was needed, in order to round them up.
Tim was looking to re-direct the show in several ways with this new story arc. First, the goal was to re-set our HEROES in a way that is more human and earthbound. He sets the episode 6 weeks into the future since the last time we saw them. Each of them has returned to a version of their "normal" life - even though we may not know how they got there. This mystery is part of the fun. Tim also wanted to separate them from each other. He wanted to diminish their powers, especially as regards our two most powerful characters Hiro and Peter. And he then wanted to rip them away from their newfound normalcy and put them into continuous jeopardy by having them pursued and hunted by a new threat which uses tactics that are more aggressive and less forgiving than those imposed by the former “Company.”
Greg Yaitanes, now doing his fourth episode for us, was tapped to direct this one. (Interestingly, Allan Arkush was originally scheduled to do episode 14 and Yaitanes was going to do ep 15. But Yaitanes had complications with his very booked-up schedule. Allan, manfully, took one for the team, and swapped episodes with Greg.)
Tim very much wanted to find a new/additional look for this episode to signify the new direction he was taking the show in. There were many meetings about this – but the obvious choice was to use a combination of hand held camera, long lenses, obscured foregrounds, jump cuts and no stage-line (more about stage line in a moment.) This kind of look has been used in movies like THE BOURNE IDENTITY and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. It is also something we had been doing from the beginning, but always as a spice and not as the main course. This look suits this storyline because it creates a visceral, documentary-like vibe. The jump cuts and line crosses create tension. And the long lenses through lots of foreground create a sense of voyeurism and observation. All of these elements really suited this story and this look will be used extensively (but not exclusively) in this volume.
Now, gentle readers, on to "stage-line." The stage-line is a rather complex concept that I'll be able to describe here only in the briefest way. (If you're really interested buy any basic book on directing for film or TV.) When filming a scene there is an imaginary line created between any two actors in that scene. Imagine a scene viewed in overhead, say, between Ali Larter and Adrian Pasdar. The stage-line connects them down the center of their bodies. If, in the "master angle," (or widest shot) Adrian is looking left to Ali and Ali is looking right to Adrian - then, as the director proceeds with the scene - he or she must make sure that EVERY shot has Ali looking right and Adrian looking left. If in, say, a closeup this line is crossed then Ali might end up looking to the right of frame and Adrian would also end up looking to the right. This would create, in the viewer, an undesired dis-orientation for a few moments. It would "feel" wrong. Now the stage-line concept gets much more complex than this, because there are stage lines between every character in a scene and as the characters move the stage lines move. Trust me, the stage line concept is an ABC of film-making. I have been on many sets that have ground to a stop as the director, the script supervisor and the director of photography discuss whether a stage-line mistake has been made. If a director gets way behind in his or her schedule - one of the easiest tricks is to lock the actors down, and keep the stage lines simple. The math just adds up to less shots overall.
Anyway - in the style chosen for this episode - the stage line is PURPOSEFULLY crossed all the time. The characters are always jumping the line and looking the wrong direction - and the designed intention of this is to create tension in the viewer. As with all rules, one needs to understand the proper implementation of the rule before one can feel secure breaking it. And it needs to be broken aggressively - not piecemeal. I think Yaitanes and Nate Goodman did an excellent job in this regard..
The mis-conception is that this style is faster to shoot or easier to design. It IS actually faster and easier to do a sloppy version of this style. But to do it right takes coordination and planning - because this style also requires a lot more shots and angles than usual. The key is that, even though more shots and cuts are required – we still have to make sure to be in the right place emotionally at the right time. So strategic close-ups have to be filmed also. And – of course – the beautiful lighting that HEROES has become known for also can’t be sacrificed.
Greg and (our Director of Photography) Nate Goodman really talked through the shots they wanted to get in detail. Two cameras were used almost all the time. And on the shooting days, Greg maintained a discipline of doing only one or two takes of almost every angle. For him, it was more important to “move on” and get another shot than to make perfect the one shot he was working on at the time. Of course, during the course of the scene, he was crafting and perfecting performance and pace as always – but he was also cognizant that this style is largely dependant on discovering the structure of the scenes in the cutting room.
Speaking of editors, Lois Blumenthal, who recently moved up from assistant editor, is cutting her second episode with this one. I think she did a great job, and this was reinforced by the voluminous e-mails that flew around between all of us producers after seeing the “directors cut” (which is the first cut we see) including one’s that said “great” “fantastic” and “All we have to do is get it to time and ‘ship it!!’”)
Of course, one of the biggest projects in the episode was the sequence where all the heroes are captured and loaded onto a military transport plane, which later has a hole blown open in it resulting in all manner of chaos.
There are two parts to this sequence. The exterior sequence, where the plane takes off, and the interior of the plane where all the action takes place. We used two types of planes for this sequence. A C-123 for the exterior plane taking off on location, and a C-130 for the cockpit work we shot here in our parking lot. Now obtaining and shooting a whole type C-123 plane is easier said than done. Our line producer, Jim Chory, looked far and wide and found one finally from a private vendor based out of Arizona.
At first we were going to film the exterior scenes at the Ontario airport. This location was looked at by our scouts and thoroughly scouted by Greg Yaitanes and our crew several times. Then, as things tend to go, a couple of days before filming, that airport fell out. Ontario is very busy and getting the clearance to land this big beast of a military plane and control the runway for an entire day and night became impossible. With just two days to go before filming had to commence we were without a location for our major set piece. There was a scramble and we found a second possibility. This was the Chino Hills Airport in Chino, California. This was a much smaller place and also much farther away. It was over a two-hour drive for our cast and crew. It took an entire day of prep and an all nighter to film the scenes and this was all done on Halloween!! There must have been some Halloween celebrations going on in the area, because, if you look carefully in the background of one shot (one where the hooded specials are being led out of the hanger to the plane) you can see fireworks. Now Chino is a fine town, and I don’t disparage it… But, besides working all night on All Hallows Eve, the cast in crew was very happy to be breathing in the deep smell of cow dung, which permeated the air all night. It was a good time!
The interior of the plane was also a major set. The first path we went down was to consider shooting the interior of the plane practically. But this became untenable for many reasons. One, it meant renting the expensive plane for several more days. Two, in order to light it meant we would have had to crane it into a controllable warehouse space. Three, the walls would have all been solid and the space is only ten feet wide – so it would have been almost impossible to get any angles over our characters. Four – there was no way, in the real plane, to do the sequence where the plane wall freezes and breaks out…
So… we decide to build it. But this had it’s own set of problems for our production designer Ruth Ammon and her art department team. First of all an airplane is a set that involves numerous compound curves. These are easier to deal with when constructing out of metal (as a real plane would)… But for speed and cost we had to build out of wood. The design of this involved a lot of design complications as well as carpentry complications. Also, from a painting point of view, we had to paint wood to look like metal – which is trickier than it sounds. Walls had to be designed to be “wild” (meaning they come in and out easily) and we had to design one wall to be frozen and broken so that it could swap out easily with the pre-frozen wall. AND… The whole thing had to be built in seven days.
One note – the cockpit of the plane (where Claire discovers HRG as the co-pilot) was not built. It was a C-130 that we rented and set up in our parking lot. These shots were done first, over a week before the rest of the plane sequence.
This is, in my humble opinion, a really fun sequence. It is an unusual sequence for us in that it is quite lengthy with almost all of our principle characters in one place. It is an elaborate sequence that required a lot of design and planning all at our usual very fast pace. It was also a sequence that seemed to be a lot of fun for our cast. They don’t usually all get to work together. Usually they are all off on their own stories, overlapping each other’s story arcs just once in a while. But for a whole night, they all got to hang out. Our cast really does like each other, and it was a very fun and happy vibe on set that day.
One last thing – I’d like to tip my hat to Tim Gilbert, our stunt coordinator – who, along with his team, recently won the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series. Tim has been with us since season two and he and his team do a great job. They make the many complex things we do look easy. This sequence is a good example of why.
OK, that’s it for now. On to the pictures. Thank you fans for sticking with us. And I will speak to you again NEXT WEEK!!!!!
GREG Y ON SET
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY NATE GOODMAN
THE GANGS ALL HERE
ALI LARTER PREPARES FOR LIFTOFF
GREG GRUNBERG FEARS MOTION SICKNESS
HAYDEN AND GREG G BETWEEN TAKES
MASI AND FIRST A.D. ROBERT SCOTT
MILO HELPS OUT HIS FELLLOW PASSENGERS
SENDHIL ON SET
GREG YAITANES STUDIES THE MONITOR
MASI ON SET
ASSITANT DIRECTOR ROBERT SCOTT SUGGEST BETTER USE OF MY TIME THEN STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SET TAKING PICTURES