Sunday, July 24, 2011

FALLING SKIES - "SANCTUARY: PART 2"

(note: Here's a link to TNT's official website for FALLING SKIES):

IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE EPISODE -  THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED HEREIN!YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!


The story of the story:

Pardon the lack of objectivity, but last night’s episode is one of my personal favorites so far.

As I’ve said before – most of the stories were pitched to myself and the other producers early on.  But, because this story had less aliens, explosions and action than many of the earlier ones, I, truthfully, was less focused on it early on.

I know that everyone out there has different opinions about what works or doesn’t work for them about this series.  I love blowing up skitters and directing action – But, in the end, for me, the human story, that asks, “Could I maintain my morality under all conditions?” is what most intrigues me.  This episode’s story – even though there are no aliens in it at all – asks that with great specificity.  When Mike is asked to betray everyone he knows and everything he’s stood for, in order to keep his son and himself safe – the stakes of this world are clearly drawn.


Mike's final stand, played stoically by Toronto actor Martin Roach, shows the choice that he makes.  He will sacrifiice himself rather than betray humanity.  

When we first got the script for this one, I was very impressed.  It just felt to me like a great, kind of old-fashioned, tale.  The dramatic through-line is clear, the tension is clear, the bad guys have made evil choices, but these choices are grounded in a situational reality.  And the stakes are very, very high.   I also think it was a very bold choice to create a story that centered on the kids and, specifically, Hal and Ben.  Many times what happens within a story ends up being paralleled with what’s happening behind the scenes.  In this case Drew Roy and Connor Jessup had to step up and drive the “A” story – in the same way that their characters have to figure out how to save themselves and keep the group alive without their father’s help.

I also loved the way Pope escapes and then returns into the story.  His character is obviously more complex, with a thread of integrity that hasn’t been previously seen.

It was also, for me, a bold choice to have Noah's character, Tom, be essentially, peripheral for most of the episode.  It was interesting to me, as a film maker that even though he is in (what we call) the "B" story for most of the episode...  His entrance into the show in (what we call) the 4th act still creates a very strong presence in the episode.  Tom (and Noah) is still strongly felt as the hero when he comesand saves the day.

Finding the locations:

There were two key locations to find for this one.  The first was “The sanctuary” where Terry Clayton and his 7th Massachusetts survivors have found refuge.  The other was the upscale neighborhood where our kids take over a house to rest, and where the showdown takes place.

The first was tough to find creatively and the latter was tough to find technically.

Our needs were specific for “sanctuary.”  It needed to be a large building or series of buildings where we could believe a few dozen people were living.  It had to feel isolated in the countryside with woods adjacent.  It had to have a flat grassy area for our soccer game.  And it had to feel beautiful and serene. 

It also had to be within 50 miles of downtown Toronto, as to go further than that would make production endure excessive travel costs, as negotiated by the local trade unions that work in the film business.

These are a lot of specs to fit together.  We saw three or four places – one was an old spa/retreat which had beautiful grounds, but which was too modern with rooms that were too small.  The second was, to me perfect, it was a big sprawling farmhouse out in the country with a large open-floor-plan main house and a big barn, with horses and animals surrounded by gorgeous mountains.  The problem with this place was that it was outside of the just-mentioned 50-mile- “zone.”  I ran numbers on the costs with our line producer but they were prohibitive.

The place we chose was a compromise.  It had the most geographic requirements, but to me it looked too much like a sportsman’s lodge with its log walls and so on.  Our production designer, Rob Gray assured me that he could re-dress it to look less like a hunter’s cabin and more homey.  I’d grown to trust him greatly by now, and was sure he could do it.  It also didn’t have the barn where Pope was being housed and where Mike discovers the folded children’s clothes.  So we found a second location that had the barn we needed.  Splitting this one space into two locations created scheduling challenges, because on top of everything else, all of the children in the episode can only work limited number of hours.  Children under 16 can only work 9 hours a day and can only work until midnight on non-school nights – but at the time we were shooting in Toronto it didn’t get dark until 9pm.  9 hours of night a night was not enough.  

All of these technical/scheduling challenges were a bit of a Rubik’s cube for us – we had to find photo doubles for the kids and we set a few kids who were over 18 and looked younger.  Mark Verheiden and the other writer’s had to make some compromises too, such as writing more scenes for day and writing the kids out of some scenes.  (For instance, in the first draft ALL of the action at the neighborhood house was set at night.)  


Many times in this business, I’ve learned I have to compromise and often the compromises work out for the better.  The huntsman’s lodge, I think, has a very good feeling in the end.  And staging the neighborhood action as day, created a great scenario in which the children had walked all night – which, I think, helped the story. (I also loved the way Sergio staged that moment in a big wide shot with the sleepy kids walking through the desolate street covered by leaves and trash.)

The neighborhood was a challenge to find, only because we had to completely own it.  Also, creatively, we wanted to set the action scenes in a high-end neighborhood.  It felt ironic for the kids to occupy these big formerly expensive mansions in this post-alien-invasion world.

Rob Gray had the idea that the main house Hal and gang take over, was having of a child’s birthday party, when, for whatever reason, everyone fled.  The cake, now moldy, the party favors, and everything else is still there – six months later.  I love that detail.  We didn’t really see it on camera – but there was even a deflated jumpy-pit out the window.

Direction:

I know that direction in series TV is sometimes hard to discern.  With the same cast and crew and writers every week it feels like the directors should be pretty interchangeable.  But, take it from me, their influence is very important and varied.  True, it may be subtle, but I always feel that the director’s personality ends up on the film.

As I mentioned in the last blog, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan was Steven Spielberg’s long-time assistant director.  We hired him to block-shoot last week and this week’s episode.  (Which means we scheduled and shot scenes from both at the same time – which is unusual.) 

I’m not sure if Sergio was trying to step it up for his old boss.  He had also just finished a year-long project directing "The Pillars of the Earth"But, in either case, his vision was strong and he was very in-command both on and off the set.  Overall, I think his work is exceptional in this episode.  Truly it is mistake free.  The camera is in the right place at the right time throughout, to maximize the storytelling and the emotion.

A couple of examples from my (directorial) point of view:
First of all – if you’ve been reading this blog – you know that I love “oner’s” and consider them an important part of the show’s style.  (A one’r is a scene done in one long unbroken take with no “coverage” or additional shots.)  This idea originally came from Mr. Spielberg who referenced the movie CHILDREN OF MEN as a touchstone for this series.  Besides the comparable dystopia, Children of Men is notable for it’s long, long takes.  Anyway in this episode, Sergio did two that are really nice. 

The first is a scene in the Sanctuary’s kitchen between a numbers of characters, as vegetables are washed and food is prepped.  It has a beautiful flow to it and moves seamlessly from character to character.  The shot’s design, for me, creates a feeling of camaraderie and comfort, of casual busy-ness and of hominess.  I don’t think, at first viewing, one would even notice that there are no edits.  

The second one’r takes place in the house that our kids have occupied, about halfway through the episode.  It follows Hal as he walks around the house, taking in the dust and the birthday cake.  What I like about this very-well-designed shot is, in contrast to the earlier one which established a feeling of “group” – this shot is very much from Hal’s POV.  Everyone else in the house is occupied with other activities, playing “battleship” and so on.  Hal is watching, thinking and planning.  We sense his growing leadership, and the design of the shot enhances this.  Even when he’s in conversation with Lourdes, we are still feeling the environment as he sees it.

OK that’s enough for now – we have one more installment in the Todd Masters narrated “How to build a skitter” and then photos from behind the scenes.


video

HOW TO BUILD A SKITTER: PART 4





DIRECTOR SERGIO GAZZEN DISCUSSES SCENE WITH D.P. CHRIS FALOONA



Click here for: 
Henry Czerny 's impressive resume




MR. WYLE





SNEAKING UP ON MS. BLOODGOOD 




MARTIN ROACH, AS MIKE, GAVE IT HIS ALL FOR THE 2nd MASS. ONE LAST TIME THIS WEEK (YOU SHALL BE MISSED!)




COLLIN CUNNINGHAM AS POPE 
(little known fact: writer Graham Yost named "Pope" after, famously-intelligent, friend-to-the-writer, former NBC President, now producer Katherine Pope)




SARAH, MOON BLOODGOOD & MELISSA KRAMER (another interesting note: we hired a real pregnant lady to stand in for Melissa for a few "across-the-belly" shots)


ME AND MY SKITTER



MOON AND OUR POPULAR ON-SET MEDIC LINDSEY SOMERS (she took care of boo-boos)


THIS IS RAJ.  SHE WAS ONE OF OUR ASSISTANT DIRECTORS.  SHE SAVED OUR A**  EVERY DAY.  IF YOU'RE SHOOTING A SHOW IN TORONTO - TRY TO HIRE HER!!!!




SERGIO WATCHES A TAKE ON SET



DANIYAH AND SEYCHELLE (THEY COULD HAVE A CONTEST FOR WHOSE NAME IS HARDER TO SPELL)


A SKITTER'S GOTTA EAT! 
(Dare I say it? -- "Tastes like chicken!")


23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like your show. I'm curious to see some of the transformation backstory that gives insight into how normal people turn into gunslinging alien fighters. And, really, are there that many AK's in massachusetts, and, how did a peacenik teacher with no gun skills or survival training become the second in command?

I like the pope character and hope he isn't just a cartoon figure, that he has some sort of transformation.

Janet said...

Dear Mr. Beeman,

My husband, Michael, and I really appreciate the time you have taken to write these wonderful posts about FALLING SKIES!

We enjoy the series so much that we created a post on our own blog about it and included a link to your blog. If you would like to read our observations about the show, please visit
http://bookofgooddeeds.blogspot.com/
Keep up the great work!

Janet said...

I was flipping through the 08-15-2011 issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and discovered that writer Jessica Shaw gave the two-hour season finale, which airs 08-07-2011, an A-. That's really good, but I have an idea that after my husband and I watch it, we'll give it an A+!

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I'm dying to read the blog for this week's episode, i hope there will be one!

Anonymous said...

aren't there going to be any more new blogs this season?

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