WARNING: SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN
Well, there you have it.
It’s rare in my business to ever really have a sense of completion. But tonight I did.
As I posted earlier, I was surprised and excited when Kelly and Brian called and asked me to direct the last ever episode of the series. A few weeks later I got the script. It was Xeroxed on red paper so that it couldn’t be copied. We’d done the same thing with the 100th episode.
Now, as I think you know, I directed only the 2nd hour of the finale. The part that starts with Tess lying on the gurney and ends with the classic logo. Kevin Fair directed the first hour – the Clark and Lois wedding.
Kelly and Brian had decided to re-jigger the schedule so that we would shoot the finale early (in the place where the 20th episode would normally be shot.) The thinking, which was smart, was that if there were any re-shoots or pickup shots needed there would be time to get them before the crew closed up shop. Also, that there would be more time to post-produce the visual effects.
Anyway, so I was directing another show when I got the red script. I went into my trailer during a break and immediately flipped to the last page. I’d long had my own opinion of what I wanted Smallville’s final image to be – in some ways it seemed so obvious – but so many times people can out-think the obvious. I’d always hoped to conclude the series with an image reminiscent of when Christopher Reeve first ripped open his shirt to reveal the logo in the first Richard Donner film. So I flipped to the last page and read the last line and (alone in my trailer) pumped my fist and went “yes!”
Then I read the script.
I try not to do too much work when first reading a script, I just want to experience it once without beginning to work…. but I do keep a pen handy in case any big questions or thoughts pop up. Anyway I didn’t write anything down on that first read-through until I got in the fortress and the script described the suit coming up from the ground encased in a crystal of ice… and then I wrote “F*CK YEAH!!!!!” In very big letters. That was my only note my first time through.
As I write, I’ve JUST finished watching the show. I’ve been working on other projects and haven’t seen the finale since I delivered my cut over six weeks ago. I hadn’t seen any of the final visual effects or heard the music or anything. The cutting pattern was almost exactly as I delivered it – but a number of scenes where shifted around by Kelly and Brian – all to good effect. Originally the scene where Clark gets the suit was much earlier in the show and the plane scene with Lois was much later and continuous. Also one scene I directed was moved into the first hour (The scene where Oliver is given the gold ring by the three baddies) and one scene Kevin directed was moved into the second hour (The one where Clark finds Tess’ car.) All these changes where very good and streamlined the story. But, the point is, I got to have a relatively fresh experience watching the episode along with you.
Of course, the most exciting thing was to have Lex return after all this time. Michael really wanted to come back, but he was on a new show (FOX’s “Breaking In” – which had completed the pilot and was just about to begin filming episodes.) I hope I tipped the scales a bit when I called him and told him that I was directing and how pumped I was. Anyway – he soon committed to doing the finale’ and I’m sure you are all as glad as I was.
Of course, because of his new show he couldn’t shave his head as he had in the past – so a bald cap was in order. We were nervous about it, but it was very well done and I think looked good in the end.
Because of Michael’s shooting schedule on his FOX show he could only shoot for one day – A Saturday, about a week before we started filming the rest of the episode. Lex’s character wasn’t in those first red pages I read – but I know Kelly and Brian had plan “B” just in case. Nevertheless, Kelly and Brian rushed to polish the scenes and Michael showed up on a Friday to test the bald cap and get oriented. We filmed all his scenes in one day – a Saturday. (My favorite cool idea of these scenes was when we pull away from the window and the Luthorcorp logo crashes down revealing the “X” in the support structure)
I have to say – that day with Michael was probably the funniest day I’ve had in my career. Michael and I feel the same way about the SMALLVILLE crew – they are our family and we love them! Michael – over the years had learned to mimic and imitate almost everyone on the crew. We were all in a production meeting when he first arrived to much applause and hugs – and it wasn’t two minutes later before he was doing his famous imitation and the room exploded in laughter.
The scenes were no different. Tom and Michael fell right back into their on screen relationship. Even though the Lex/Clark scene and the Lex/Tess scene are very intense and Michael came up with his usual genius subtle performance – Michael and I are both notorious cutups and together we’re twice as bad - between takes was non-stop, sidesplitting, raucous laughter, including us serenading each other with “Oh Sherry” from opposite sides of a massive soundstage. At one point -Michael in his white "President Lex" suit and black glove was standing in front of a green screen telling off-color jokes. I’m off camera yelling, “We’re rolling Michael…" “We’re rolling Michael.” But he still does, like, a five-minute standup act… Oh my God what a day!!!!
By the way my hat is off to Cassidy Freeman for her scene with Michael. They had never worked together, or even met (as far as I know.) She stepped up and crushed the scene – I think her work in that scene is subtle and intense. A long long time ago I read a quote from Robert DeNiro that, in life people put a lot more energy into hiding their emotions from each other than showing them - and that most actors get this wrong. I agree and I always try to direct performance with this intention - Feel the emotion, but then disguise it or re-direct it. The more layers an actors performance can have the better. Cassidy and I worked on the idea that there was an ongoing relationship with Lex and a great love and gratitude to him from her. But also all the pain and betrayal that she has gone though to get here. We talked about how she was entering the scene knowing she would probably never leave the room alive and that she had to disguise her true intentions throughout. Also, that even in the final moment of her death she still loves Lex. That's a lot of complex stuff in a short scene. What always interests me most is not the dialogue but the moments between the lines - it's in the pauses that you can read truth.
From the beginning, with SMALLVILLE, we always let these moments in performance linger. Most shows cut out the pauses, as the writer's intention is just to get from line to line as fast as possible. But from day one, with Miles and Al - our group philosophy was to let these moments play. It's one of the things that has made the show great. (Ironically, it also results in SMALLVILLE's scripts being very short relative to other shows. The finale script was only 39 pages for 43 minutes. Most shows shoot 50-60 page scripts.)
I also love John Glover. Besides Michael Rosenbaum, I've kept the most off-screen relationship alive with him. But, although I'd talked to him on the phone, I hadn’t seen him since we worked together on HEROES when he played Sylar’s father. He's a brilliant and fascinating man. Despite the years of experience, the accolades and Tony awards - he still goes to acting class and perfects his craft. He has a way of challenging the other actors in a scene. It's all well intentioned and kind, but - in the in-between moments as the actors relax between takes - he says and does certain things that get his scene partners thinking. Inevitably, John Glover brings up everyone else's game.
Also I gained new respect for John Schneider… he REALLY wanted to be the one who gave Clark the suit and he lobbied for this. In the end, despite personal hardship and inconvenience to himself, he showed up on the day we did that scene and did it. I gave him one of the best directions I’ve ever given. I said, “Just look at Clark with all the same feelings you have for Tom, and know that Jonathan has given everything to Clark that he can, the same way you did for Tom.” I swear to God, when I shot the profile-profile shot where Jonathan hands Clark the suit, I cried. I mean it’s one thing to cry at BEACHES or a Hallmark commercial with “We’ve Only Just Begun” playing on the soundtrack - But this was my own episode of my own show as we were filming it in a dusty warehouse and I'm sniffling and tearing up. But the moment was so powerful for me – not just for what was happening on the screen I was watching but for what was happening beyond it!
It was also great to see Alison Mack again. Because of her schedule (she was doing a play in New York) she wasn't available until almost two weeks after I was finished filming. I had to fly back to vancouver to film the scene and I'm glad I did. First of all, it was worth it just to get a hug from Alison. She is so sweet, and I've missed her. But also - I really wanted to work on one moment with her. It's the moment when she turned back into the room to look at the little boy. I told her I wanted her to reflect upon the whole journey that she had gone though for the last ten years - all the good and bad, the heartache and joy and to come to the realization that it had all turned out for the good. I knew this was Chloe's experience and also Alison's and also mine and also, hopefully, yours.
One other great moment came to me while shooting. The little boy was so cute and expressive. He was just 5 years old, which is VERY young. It's hard to get much out of children that young. Pretty much the secret is to talk through the take and tell them to do what you want as you want it.... Anyway, it wasn't in the script, but he was cute and there was this set of bow and arrows set-dressed into the room. So I created the moment where the little boy snuggled up in bed and looked off, hopefully, at the bow and arrows and then, on a separate cut, I pushed into the bow and arrows. I had the idea, in that moment, to paint a picture of the first time one believes in something great and exciting.
The scene I was most nervous about was the Clark/Lois scene, which was the second to last scene of the show (and series.) I talked with Erica and with Tom about how – in that one scene they were no longer the characters that they’d been playing all these years – they now had to embody Clark Kent and Lois Lane - the icons. I think they really got it. I worked with Tom and with the extras, to get the bumbling Clark moment where he's bumping into people and ad-libbing apologies. I also think, in their close-ups on the stairs, where Clark offers the rings and then snaps them back (Tom came up with that “Pretty-Woman”-like beat by the way) we really got to feel the fondness and chemistry that Tom and Erica have always had for each other.
I remember the first day she met Tom. It was just before we started filming season four. Erica had just landed the part and she was SO nervous. I arranged for she and Tom and I to spend a Saturday running scenes and rehearsing. I wanted to make her feel welcome to the show. Anyway, Tom was just coming back from his summer hiatus – I don’t know where he’d been but he came back wearing shorts, an old hat a t-shirt and he had a gigantic beard!!! He looked like a crazy old fisherman!!! Still he was his delightful charming self and he very much did make Erica feel comfortable as we read those very first Clark/Lois scenes.
It was awesome for me to be able to also guide the very last one.
It was about four or five days into shooting when we filmed the final scene on the daily planet rooftop where Clark runs to camera and reveals the logo. It was a hard shot to get right on many levels. The intention was to do it in one shot. Also Tom had to run full speed right at camera but not slam into it. Getting focus right is very difficult on a shot like that. And it took several takes to do so. But beyond all that - I knew it HAD to be perfect... There was no margin for error. I'm usually pretty relaxed and confident on set - but this day I was nervous. It took, if I remember right, about ten or twelve takes to get it right. I consulted with everyone - "Do you think we got it?" "Do you think we got it?" (Which, again, I don't usually do)
After that scene I went right into the final Clark/Lois scene.. Which was equally important - And then right after that I directed the scene with Lois getting off the elevator and going up to Perry White’s office where she meets Jimmy.... Which was ALSO super important. Basically, I directed the last 5 minutes of the series in one day - but in reverse order.
It was a crazy hectic day – BUT… When I went home that night and was laying in bed in my hotel room – a great sense of relief came over me - "OK I thought – I got those scenes right… The last five minutes of the show work!" I felt that even if I screwed everything up the rest of the shoot - the series would be OK with a great last few minutes. I slept well that night.
In general I feel proud of the hour. I feel I did my job. Trust me - it's not that I think every moment is perfect or that no mistakes were made. There is a lot that I flinch at because it's not 100% perfect - and I wish I could have done better or had more time - BUT it's mostly small stuff. In general I believe the episode achieved it's goals and is a satisfying conclusion to this great ten-year story.
Over the years I’ve developed a strong and specific philosophy of filmmaking. First and foremost I believe in performance direction. I believe in subtle but clear directions and subtle but strongly felt and clear emotions. I’ve worked hard to earn how to communicate with actors – always with the goal of using the least amount of words to evoke a strong performance. You’d be surprised – no matter how experienced and talented the actor (or for that matter how novice) if the actor trusts the director and the director knows how to communicate to the actor (and every actor is different) EVERY performance can become better and deeper and richer.
I also strongly believe in the interaction between actor and camera between staging and camera movement to evoke specific emotions. It’s very hard to describe in written words – but I’ve come to believe that if the camera moves in a certain way at a certain speed in relationship to the actor – different emotions are evoked. There is a subtle dynamic in this interface between man and machine that can 100% enhance the desired emotion delivered to the audience.
I believe, tonight, I did a good job tonight in this regard. The camera is flowing and dancing and the actors are moving in harmony. I really love when there is a flow and a harmony and everything smoothly blends together.
I also love doing long masters without coverage… I used to do these all the time on SMALLVILLE and encourage the other directors to do this also when appropriate. There are a couple in tonight’s episode, but I‘m very happy with one in particular. Early in the show, when Clark comes down the stairs of the daily planet and meets up with Louis and the place is chaotic and the radio is talking about the imminent meteor hit – I did a very complex shot that moves through two rooms and circles around 360 degrees. First of all, with these kinds of shots, the actors have to get all their lines right and the tempo has to be right and can’t be aided by editing. Also - We used to shoot on film and the film cameras were independent of cables – but the new HD cameras have long cables that trail after them that greatly add to the complexity. In this take, two crew members had to put on coats and hats, because they were briefly seem in the shot as it spun around. Also at one point, Erica had to hop over the cable that was whipping beneath her feet – that part cracks me up because it was like she was hopping over a jump rope – but she did in a way that kept her in character as she was chasing after Clark and saying lines.
I don’t know what else to say…
Except -- my deepest regards to Tom Welling. He was not-exactly a boy when I met him - but he was wide eyed and unpolished. Don't get me wrong, he was perfect for the part and he's great in the early episodes. But over the years he has grown and developed SO much - and so much more than he needed to. Once he understood that he had to be the quarterback of the team, in front of and behind the camera, he took that role on with a strong intention. In ten years - he became an excellent actor, an excellent director and an excellent producer - and he took all these roles on very seriously. Without question - the series lasted 10 years - mostly because of him. Not only because he had to do it for show to continue - but because there were things he insisted on doing, and there were things he refused to do. These things gave the show it's integrity and that integrity gave it longevity.
I'll tell you one story about Tom that sums up everything about him. There was an episode, I think in season two, about a young girl who turns into a wolf. The character gets wounded late in the episode and when Clark runs up she is laying nude in the woods. Well, we had filmed most of show already - but in editing we felt we needed to pick up one more angle over the naked girl's body towards Clark. So we put together a small pick-up crew, and - because the original actress had gone back to L.A. - we hired a body double. Now this young lady's job was to lay down, nude on the ground on a chilly fall Vancouver night, so that we could film over her torso towards Tom. She wasn't really naked - she had some pads taped on strategically, and she was just arranged to camera to look naked. But she had most of her skin exposed. The crew was working hard, lighting and getting the camera in place for a tricky angle. She wasn't complaining at all - But we were all working and mostly ignoring her. Then I noticed that Tom noticed her, and he could tell that she was cold. He didn't say a word, he just took off his coat and laid it on top of her. He then gave her a small smile and then went back to his start mark. It was so gentlemanly and it told me a lot about him. In the end - he is a gentleman and a good man - and that integrity of character comes across on screen.
A lot of times, watching my shows on the air is rather unemotional for me. I’ve usually moved on to the next thing and it’s more like a final quality control check from me than anything else.
Tonight was different – very different!
This show has given me so much. So much more than I could have ever given it.
Alright - I know you like pictures so for this special occasion we’ve got a lot of them.
I THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE FUN FOR YOU... I TOOK A SERIES OF PIX ON SET SHOOTING INTO THE DIRECTOR'S MONITOR I USE. YOU GET TO SEE A FEW SCENES AS I SAW THEM AS I SHOT THEM!