SEASON 3 EPISODE 23
WARNING: IT’LL BE ON THOUSAND NINE-HUNDRED AND SIXTY-ONE YEARS BEFORE YOU CAN FORGIVE YOURSELF FOR READING SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN THIS BLOG THAT YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY UNPREPARED FOR!
Aron Coleite wrote tonight’s episode.
It was directed by Adam Kane.
As you may remember, Adam Kane was the director of photography on the HEROES pilot. This is the fourth episode he’s directed for us. He left in the middle of season two to be the director-producer on PUSHING DASIES and has since done several other projects. We missed him and are glad he’s back.
I want to focus today on two things… First, I want to focus on the enormous job accomplished by the art department on this episode, under the direction of Ruth Ammon. And, secondly, the good fortune we had in obtaining our young cast for this episode.
But before I can illuminate those two points, I must, for a moment, discuss the script. Aron Coleite’s, script was in some ways, very simple. It is actually a very contained story delving into the happenings in one location in two separate time periods. It is a quite compelling story and, I’m quite certain, long time fans will be quite compelled to learn about Angela’s history and of the formation of the Company.
Of course, from another point of view, it is one of the most complex projects we’ve done. The whole story takes place, almost completely in the internment camp called Coyote Sands. That internment camp is seen in the past of 1961, when it is brand new. It is also seen in the present day, when it is old and dilapidated. It also presented us with the very challenging task of giving over about a third of our episode to an all new teenage cast, which is tough enough, but to make it harder they would be playing characters that are already very well established.
Luckily we had an early heads up about this project. The writer’s room warned us it was coming – and Dennis Hammer sent out an alerting email in December, when we were still shooting episode #19. The locations department and the art department were instructed to at least think about the project and propose ideas, and our casting directors were instructed to begin thinking about who could play Young Angela, Angela’s sister, Linderman, Charles Deveaux, etc.
The script originally set the camp in White Sands New Mexico. Of course that was unfeasible on our scale, and Aron understood that. But we took that as an instruction to find a beautiful remote location with a unique look. Initially, we had the location department scout desert locations – but anything that looked good enough was an overnight stay away, and that was also untenable.
We also knew that once we had our spot, we’d have to go and actually construct the majority of the buildings. Any building that our cast interacted with or passed in front of we built. Any building that was purely in the background, would be created by our CGI team at Stargate,
Even though Coyote Sands plays a much larger part of episode 23 than it did in episode 22, we had to scout and select the location right at the very beginning of the prep of episode 22 (with director Jeannot Swzarc.) Adam Kane was in New York directing an episode of KINGS. We called him and briefed him on the script and told him, that, unfortunately, we would be selecting and moving forward on his key location before he got back from New York. He understood. I tried to have his back, as it were. The most important element for a large exterior project like this is the light. For both beauty and speed of shooting I tried to select a spot that faced southward, where the sun would backlight the set the majority of the day. We picked a location called Polsa Rosa, which is in the Antelope Valley about 50 miles North of Los Angeles. This is a large property, which is well kept up and is used frequently for filming. We’ve shot there for Mexico before. The location is not as remote as it seems on film. But the spot we selected was about three miles off the main highway, and a couple of, miles down a single-lane dirt road.
We brought photographs of the spot back to the team, and everyone agreed it was beautiful and that it would be our “Coyote Sands” camp.
Ruth studied Manzanar, and other Japanese Internment camps, from the World War II era. Fortunately, military architecture, by its nature, tends to be simple and designed to be easily replicated. She took a topographical map and laid out her design for the camp. She also used blueprints and foam models to lay out the design of the individual cabins.
Her original plan was to build about 8 full exterior cabins on location, and a larger building to be “Building 26” (where young Chandra Suresh runs experiments on the specials.) Because there were scenes where the cast traveled from interior to exterior one of the cabins was to have a partially finished interior.
The cabins also had to be seen in the past, newly constructed, and in the present dilapidated. We knew we’d have to build a turnaround time for this within the body of the episode. (i.e. we would have to shoot the cabins dilapidated first, then leave back to stages for a few days while the art department turned the cabins back around. Ruth’s original plan was also to build two full interior cabins. One old and dilapidated, and one new.
But of course, each piece of construction also carries a price - as it would for you if you were, say, remodeling your kitchen. Every wall, floor, surface and stairway has to be designed, cut, hammered together, assembled, surfaced and then decorated. On stage these costs are high enough – but on a remote location the price really soars. Each section of the cabin’s was going to have to be pre-cut and pre-fabricated by our carpenters in Hollywood, and then transported to the remote location an hour away. On location, Ruth laid out the plot of the camp with string. Postholes were dug and support beams were dropped into the ground. Once the pre-fabbed lumber was delivered there it had to be, re-assembled. Then it would have to be painted and surfaced on location and, despite our lead-time– from the time Ruth got the financial go-ahead – to the time we were shooting was just a matter of about two weeks.
But then budget realities kicked in… HEROES and all NBC shows are under super-tight financial constraints right now. This much construction was off the charts financially. So meetings and meetings and meetings took place with re-designs and re-designs and re-designs…. Ultimately, the size of the cabins became scaled back by 30%...eight cabins became 5. Building 26 became a same-sized cabin, and it even came to pass that Adam Kane had to be very specific about what angles he would shoot on location. We made it so that – if we weren’t going to see the back or side of a cabin we didn’t build it. On stage - Two cabins on stage became one, which had to be re-dressed both ways. (Similar restrictions and cuts were made in action and visual effects by the way – originally there was much more use of powers.) But anyway – we finally had an acceptable construction budget.
Then came the rain, the snow and the mud:
Of course Los Angeles is famous for it’s good weather – but the poor construction crew, which was already working seven days a week to get this project up fell under a deluge of rain – the likes of which we hadn’t seen in Los Angeles in years. They were working ten-hour days in sleeting rain, and the ground under their feet became a swamp of mud. The rain went on for days and days, and then the weather shifted in the high desert, and the rain became snow!
After it was all over, I overheard one of our lead carpenters saying to one of his men, “After season three, Hell holds no fear for the HEROES construction crew!”
I also need to mention the work done by Alexa Nikolas who plays Young Angela and Laura Marano, who plays her sister, Alice.
As I mentioned before, the idea of double casting a large portion of our cast, while fun on the page, struck me as potentially very dangerous. When casting the pilot, there were weeks and weeks available to toss ideas around, audition and re-audition actors and have “chemistry reads.” Here, even though our casting department had a lot of lead-time to think about it - we only had a week or two of actual auditions. (Remember we were still making episode 20 and 21 and 22 during this time frame – which were not small episodes.)
Anyway, our casting directors, Natalie Hart, Jason La Padura and Keri Owens did a great job finding kids for us. To my surprise, there were actually multiple choices available for most roles.
But I think we especially lucked out with Alexa Nikolas
I was somewhat familiar with her work because my kids used to watch the show she was on ZOEY 101. She is just a bright, intelligent and energetic young woman. Her audition was complex and also emotionally deep. There are a number of traps available to the unwary actor in this role. Angela, at that age, was not as firm or resolved as she is today (in fact that journey is one that Alexa had to make throughout the episode.) Angela is, at the very least – complex. Many actors played her either, too tough, or too emotional or they just read the words without a real sense of character. Anyway, Alexa navigated these treacherous waters quite well.
Cristine Rose wasn’t involved in the casting. But she was quite interested in supporting Alexa. There were two rehearsals, which Cristine came to and observed. Alexa and Adam and Joe and Cristine and I all had a nice conversation before and after these rehearsals about the character and about the scenes. I know Cristine and Alexa spent some time together and Cristine was on set observing quite a bit. There may have been a little nudge here or a little nudge there from some of us – but truthfully Alexa seemed to have the role firmly grasped and she made the work look easy. My experience with her is similar to my experience with many actors I’ve worked with who began acting at very early ages… Even very complex and emotional work seems to come to them very naturally and easily and seemingly with little effort. I’m always amazed by this (rare) phenomenon. Hayden Panettiere is certainly like this, and so was Allison Mack, who I worked with as Chloe on SMALLVILLE.
Okay enough about all that – why are you really here? We all know… THE PICTURES:
ADAM KANE (WITH D.P. CHARLIE LIEBERMAN) LINES UP A SHOT
ADAM KANE LINES UP ANOTHER SHOT
RUTH AMMON AND A MODEL OF THE SET
THE PRODUCTION MEETING (ADAM KANE, EXEC PRODUCER DENNIS HAMMER AND MYSELF)ALL WONDER "HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING????
TAKING PHOTOS IN THE HIGH DESERT
ANOTHER DAY ON SET
MILO AT THE DINER IN THE DESERT
ME AT THE DINER IN THE DESERT
ME AND MILO AT THE DINER IN THE DESERT
HAYDEN AT THE DINER IN THE DESERT
EVERYBODY (BUT ME) CHILLIN' AT THE DINER IN THE DESERT
HAYDEN AND ADRIAN TOSS A PIGSKIN BETWEEN TAKES
MILO VENTIMIGLIA BETWEEN TAKES
ADRIAN PASDAR ON SET
CRISTINE ROSE WAITS TO GO ON
VFX WHIZ ERIC GRENADIERE TAKES PHOTOS OF "THE SILVER BALL" (THIS OBJECT IS PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE VFX TEAM TO KNOW WHAT REFLECTIONS SHOULD OCCU R IN DIGITALLY CREATED OBJECTS!)