IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE EPISODE - THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED HEREIN!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!
FALLING SKIES – WEEK 3 – “GRACE”
The 4th of July holiday necessitates a little bit shorter post this week.
Last night, our third episode, “Grace”, aired. When I read the script for this one, the most interesting idea to me was that the skitters were using our own kids to fight against us. This is a frightening concept.
Melinda Hsu Taylor wrote the script, and it was directed by Fred Toye. Fred has worked with me before – he was originally an editor and actually edited an old Spielberg show, TAKEN. He began directing on LOST and since has done FRINGE, V and many others.
The single most difficult production problem we faced on this episode were the scenes that had the skitter in the cage.
The skitter was designed and built by Todd Masters in Vancouver and even though it was unwieldy, because of its design, it was a marvel. It really looked real on set and it worked flawlessly.
But flawlessly doesn’t mean fast, I mentioned in last weeks blog that the skitter was a full-scale animatronic puppet. It took five people to operate it. One puppeteer was inside the suit and he controlled the body and the upper arms, as well as the direction the head faced. Two others had radio remote controls, which worked the various servos that operated the mouth, eyes and eyebrows and controlled the skitter’s face. Two others lay hunched on the ground or hidden behind objects on set to work the legs with rods. The puppeteer inside the skitter wore a green screen body suit so that if we ever saw his legs we could remove them digitally.
We were shooting in the summer and the guy inside the suit was buried beneath six inches of foam rubber. He was heating up quickly. Between takes, we had to stuff an air conditioner hose down the skitter's face. He could only go ten or fifteen minutes between takes – then he had to get a break. When they peeled him out of the suit between takes, sweat just poured onto the ground. He was a pretty skinny guy in the first place and I think he lost weight as we went.
Because of all this, it was painfully slow working on set. The skitter first appears in the previous episode – but the way the schedule laid out, we shot scenes for “Grace” first.
Anytime you're working with a big mechanical thing, there is a trial and error period. With our TV schedule we didn’t have time for many screen tests – we just threw it in front of the camera and started shooting. The digital skitters had been built for the pilot and we knew how they were supposed to move – but now we had a man in a suit in a cage with four other people and trying to figure out how to make him move left and right and so on was challenging. In the end, the simple trick that worked is we put him on a small rolling chair – the kind with no back you’d see in a doctor’s office. The operator rolled left and right while the puppeteers moved the legs up and down. There was a definite “ah-ha” moment when we figured that one out.