HEROES: “COLD WARS”
WARNING: IT’LL BE A COLD WAR INSIDE YOUR HEART IF YOU IGNORE THE FACT THAT SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN
Tonight’s episode was written by Chris Zatta, Joe Pokaski and Aron Eli Coleite. It was directed by Seith Mann – a newcomer to HEROES. Seith's Credits
Every year, one of the challenges is to try to book directors in to direct the various episodes of HEROES. We know, starting out, that Allan Arkush and I will end up doing 8 to 10 of the 25 episodes. Beyond that, we hope to fill up another 10 or 12 with people who have already successfully done several episodes for us. (i.e. Jeannot Szwarc, Greg Yaitanes, Dan Attias, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.) But – as a TV producer, one has to be constantly discovering and trying out new people all the time. New directors come to our attention in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as – Allan Arkush or Dennis Hammer or one of the writers or I will be home watching TV and a particularly good episode of some show will come on – and we’ll keep a mental note of who directed it. I also make a point of talking to my other friends who direct or produce and ask them who they like. NBC and Universal also are always recommending people to us who have done well on other shows. There are also a large number of agencies in Los Angeles who represent directors – and agents are always calling and pitching their clients to us. As soon as a season is done, a lot of my time gets devoted to watching DVDs of episodes to familiarize myself with the many directors out there.
But, the booking-directors-for-episodic-TV game becomes a big jigsaw puzzle, and is one of my greatest frustrations in the pre-season. See, we have our 25 episodes, and we have the dates that we plan to make them on. All of the other directors are booking numerous other shows, each with their own schedules. To make matters more complicated, our schedule will usually shift one or two times, a week here or a week there. Also, all the other shows will shift a week or two as well. So, here I am with the list of directors we want to book. All the agents at the various agencies around town are trying to make their clients dates work so that their clients can direct as many episodes as possible within the annual TV season – and it becomes a big rugby scrum of trying to push and pull dates around.
Phenomenally – it’s also difficult to predict who will work out on our show (or any show.) HEROES is complex to direct – technically, creatively, schedule-wise, as well as interpersonally. Some people are excellent directors, but their personality and process may just not fit in with ours. Literally, every show out there is very different – both in terms of what is on screen and with what goes on behind the scenes. People who have worked out very well for me on one show, might not translate well to the new one.
I was a journeyman director for many years, going from show to show – and it’s a peculiar discipline. You, essentially, have to go into somebody else’s sandbox and play with their toys. Obviously, one critical aspect is having the ability to figure out what the creative needs of the show are to make a good episode. But that alone is not enough – one must also be able to adapt one’s style and personality to suit the quirks of the behind-the-scenes personalities. On some shows there is very dominant and sometimes difficult actor, or group of actors. Sometimes there is a very strong willed show runner/creator. Sometimes it is the opposite – perhaps the creator is vague or even passive aggressive. Sometimes there is more than one person in charge – which is fine, unless their personalities and goals are in conflict. Sometimes the actors are inexperienced and need strong guidance. Sometimes the paramount goal is to make a great episode damn the costs (but no one will ever directly say that.) Sometimes it’s more important to be on budget and one’s creative contributions are fine – as long as they don’t get in the way of hitting the number (But no one will ever directly say that either.) It’s a funny business that requires a certain chameleon-like quality to succeed.
All of which is a long way round the bend to get to the fact, that Seith Mann, who is a relatively new director (at this point he has 18 produced credits), really did a nice job of fitting into our system. His name came to us from NBC who had had a good experience with him on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Allan and I watched two of his episodes– FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and JERICHO. I was impressed with them, because not only were they both very good examples of those shows – they each had a distinctively different visual style and directorial approach – meaning that Seith could adapt to the necessary conditions of the show. This is more rare than it might seem. Many times you hire someone, knowing and accepting that, while they may be very good at performance direction and that they’ll get the basic dramatic beats and put the camera where it needs to be to record the drama – they may not be able to adapt to your visual style. Others might be very visual, but they cannot direct the cast adequately or they may just not have a fundamental awareness of “what’s important” – I.e., where the camera needs to be to capture the moment. Of course I also made a few phone calls to producers who had worked with Seith before – he checked out very well and so he came aboard!
We actually brought Seith in to interview in June of last year. At this point, in season 3, we’d learned all the pitfalls others had fallen into. We were pretty blunt about the fact that HEROES is a tough and challenging show and not for the faint of heart. We producers are pretty up front and self-acknowledging about our own quirks and requirements. To boil it down, simplistically, between Tim and Dennis Hammer’s demand for performance and emotion, my demand for visual style, Allan Arkush’s desire to have adequate coverage to create options in the cutting room, NBC’s demand to stay on budget and the amount of action and visual effects plus the large cast who (while really a very good bunch) have their own needs and idiosyncrasies – it is not an easy show. Seith did not run out of the room – so we decided to book him.
But then came the schedule rugby scrum – we wanted to put him in earlier in the season – but he was booked up on ENTOURAGE and a couple of other shows. Our schedules couldn’t come into synchronicity until this episode - #17. So here it is.
Seith came in facing another big challenge. Back in June we were shooting as many days as needed to complete episodes. But by December a much stricter budget mandate had come down from NBC/Universal. Ever since episode #15 we had to do our episodes in ten days and hit a specific budget number – no “if “ “ands” or “buts.” This script – which had been divided up in the writer’s room between three of our best scribes - was designed to be lean and mean… By design, a large portion of the story took place within one hotel room as Matt, Suresh and Peter grill Noah Bennett (aka HRG.) The rest took place in Building 26, a storage locker and Danko’s apartment (all of which are on our sound stages.) The only days out on location where two at the motel complex and one for the scenes on the park bench between Angela Petrelli and HRG and also the scene in Suresh’s cab which were all shot in downtown L.A. Now - this is all well and good in that it facilitates making our schedule – but for a director it creates a new challenge – How does one keep to the high standards of performance and visual design established by HEROES in the new, more interior, paradigm?
I was working on Seith really hard. I kept proposing that he focus on the long lens, hand held look we had been using in episodes 14 and 16. To me this is a way to go fast and still keep a visual design – plus it had worked for us recently. Seith was always polite – but I could, kind of, tell he was blowing me off throughout prep. In the end I was glad. I never mind someone resisting what I suggest – as long as they end up being right. In the end I realize that Seith had really studied HEROES on a long-term level and was more interested in doing the wide angle/low angle/moving camera look we’d been doing from mid-way through season one than anything developed more recently.
It wasn’t clear to me until I saw the first cut that Seith really had a strong visual design and emotional plan for the episode. In my opinion, despite its containment – it has a strong sense of rising tension. When he could; he really moved the camera well. I was especially impressed with the shot he uses to open the story - where the camera (on a techno crane) glides around the motel – really laying out the geography of the place (which was necessary to establish early as it becomes important for the audience to understand this later.) Even the scenes in the hotel room had enough variety of angles and intensity of performance to ratchet them up successfully as the show goes on. There was also (the critical) attention to performance. There are a number of great scenes and specifically, there is a really strong scene between Jack Coleman and Zeljko Ivanek in Danko’s apartment. The cast really liked Seith and made a point of coming to me and the other producers throughout the episode to say so.
Two interesting facts: When the locations department took us to the motel (which is way up in the San Fernando valley) I liked it right away. It had a very strong, yet contained layout. I said out loud, “It works great. But I feel like I’ve seen this place before.” The location managers kind of shrugged and looked confused. They didn’t mention that it’s THE EXACT SAME motel where MY NAME IS EARL shoots. I guess they know that filmmakers are notorious for not wanting to shoot at places that have already been shot a lot – especially on the same network! But the place was perfect for our needs and so – despite the deception – what the heck!
Last interesting fact: The original version of this script was a much more elaborate story in which – instead of just reviewing HRG’s memories – Matt was inducing hallucinations into his mind. Some of the scenes where similar – such as HRG and Sandra enjoying marital bliss – but then it got weird moving into eerie forests and Isaac’s loft, where Sylar revealed himself as HRG’s dark alter ego. Truthfully it was a very exciting ride. But two things caused it two mutate to what it is now – first it would, clearly, have been more expensive and difficult to produce. Secondly, the network was afraid that it would be overly confusing what with the worlds-within-worlds and ever shifting characters. It was potentially confusing, I admit, but it was also quite dynamic and original. Maybe there’s a world where we could try a story like that again sometime.
All right, loyal fans – I am spent from typing. I am also currently prepping to direct our season finale and must do, at least some, homework tonight. So – until next week ---
SEITH MANN DIRECTS ON SET
THREE TOUGH GUYS DISCUSS TOUGHNESS
THREE MORE TOUGH GUYS TOUGHING OUT A COLD COLD NIGHT IN DECEMBER
ME ON SET
A STEDI-CAM ENTERS THE FRAY
JACK AND ADRIAN
LIFE BEHIND THE MONITOR
SEITH MANN MANS THE MONITOR
LIFE ON SET
SEITH WONDERS “WHAT KIND OF CAMERA IS THAT?” (JACK COMTEMPLATES HIS NEXT MOVE.)
SENDHIL – READY FOR ACTION!
SENDHIL AND HIS STUNT MAN PREP FOR PAIN