Monday, June 20, 2011

"PRISONER OF WAR"


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

http://www.tnt.tv/series/fallingskies/?SR=sr3_403112_go


IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE EPISODE - THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED HERIN!

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!


FALLING SKIES – WEEK 2 - PRISONER OF WAR

The rooftop opening:

Last night was the second airing of FALLING SKIES and the 3rd hour of the show. I directed this episode as well – so I have a lot to say about it.

My first impression as a director is always when I read the script for the first time. I'd read a number of outlines and knew what was coming, at least structurally - but a script really comes alive when the dialogue is in and the nuance of character finally makes itself known... I loved the script. I felt like it moved the characters along and developed their individual stories and the big mythology as well. It also had a number of action scenes that would be complex and exciting to design and direct.

The episode begins on the roof of a building where our heroes are looking have finally found Ben, Tom’s son. He’s harnessed and a slave to the aliens.

Fred Golan wrote the episode – but Graham Yost as writer/executive producer was overseeing the script at the point it hit production. In the script was written “rooftop” – Graham wanted to open on a rooftop, I wanted to open on a rooftop. I knew it would be more graphic and compelling. But, once you’ve been in the TV business as a director and producer long enough, you know some of the issues that are going to come your way. Inevitably “rooftop” will be challenged – and someone, usually the line producer will say – “Can’t we film this on ground level?”

He’ll be right too. Moving an entire shooting crew up onto a rooftop is one of the slowest most time-intensive things you can do. The “co-executive producer” aspect of my job requires me to be financially responsible. The “director” aspect of my job requires me to make the best episode possible. Sadly, for me, these aspects are always at war within me – it’s quite torturous, really.

For me - directing in TV is like coaching a football game – Typically we shoot and we budget for 12 work hours a day. 6 hours before lunch and 6 hours after lunch. The minute the company is "in" the morning the clock starts tickingl. At that point (in my mind) the game is 0-0 and everyone feels relaxed. But you have to get on the scoreboard as fast as possible. (Side note – every once in a while, I meet regular people who work regular 8-hour-a-day jobs and they can’t believe that a 12 hour work day is the norm. When they hear that they look at me like I’m some kind of bizarre masochist - But that’s what we do – not counting lunch, of course, which takes it to 13 hours. But if you get behind the eight ball a 15 or 16-hour workday is unpleasant, but certainly not unprecedented.)

Anyway – my line producer, John Ryan, predictably, STRONGLY discouraged me from going up on the roof. It was four stories up, and the only way to get all our heavy equipment up was a tiny elevator that could hold one person at a time, and some rickety steel stairs on the outside of the building. We’d have to haul any real equipment up with a crane. Now, as I said a minute ago - I knew Mr. Ryan was right. The roof was irresponsible. So I needed something to motivate me... I bet Mr. Ryan $50 Canadian dollars we could do it and still make the day. (Now once upon a time, like when SMALLVILLE first started, $50CAD was about $38USD – but now $50CAD is about $54 USD – so we’re talking real money!)

My Director of Photography, Chris Faloona and my production designer, Rob Gray all wanted to go on the roof – they agreed the visual scope was a much better way to open the episode. And, truthfully, after this opening the episode goes into a number of dialogue-heavy expositional scenes. They were all good - but more contained. I felt I would have one chance to grab the viewers up font. So my boys and I, in prep, we went up there to that irresponsible roof and laid out a game plan. We designed every shot and we designed a shooting sequence that would be most efficient. The trick is always the sun – if it’s cloudy but not rainy you can shoot all day in any direction. But it’s not as pretty. If it’s sunny – it’s pretty but you have to shoot in backlight to go fast – front light is ugly and slows you down because the director of photography will have to bring out big silks to partially block the light and make it look cloudy! (ikes!)

Anyway, the work that was scheduled for this 12-hour day was the opening rooftop scene and the scene where Tom and Mike see Rick and the plan falls apart and then they blow up the mech and then they grab Rick and throw him in the pickup and then Hal and Karen shoot at the mech and then Tom gets blasted and then dragged to the pickup and then they drive off leaving Hal and Karen behind and then they get stopped by the mech who leaps off the roof – is a much bigger and more complex scene and arguably more important scene – but, as I said, I felt the rooftop opened the show and was important to grab the viewer. So I figured I had 4 hours for the rooftop and 8 for the rest of the days work. For me to win this football game – that was the timeline I’d have to hit!

(one side note: In the scene mentioned above, when Tom and Rick grab Rick and run him to the truck - watch how close the truck bed comes to our actors as it slides around. The stunt driver was very good and Noah and Martin Roach, after a few takes, began to really trust him. The two actors are running full speed ahead towards a truck speeding right at them... then the truck slides around and stops with the bed RIGHT in front of them... In the take we used they never break stride - they just throw Rick right in the back. It actually looks kind of simple on film but it was a VERY intense moment!!!!)

So, anyway -- I negotiated with the John, the line producer, to have some of the camera and grip crew get a one hour pre-call to get the equipment up on the roof. I also talked to Noah and the cast and said we wouldn’t do a traditional rehearsal… We’d get them through makeup and then get them on the roof and start shooting right away. Now – there’s a risk to this. Rehearsal’s are important because if anything in the script isn’t working, or if an actor has an issue with something, or is some other thing you counted on isn’t working – you want to find out about it ASAP. Rehearsals happen before you build up your camera positions and lighting and if there’s an f’up after you’ve got all your equipment in place it takes WAY more time. But – in this case, I felt the risk was worth it. The scene was actually pretty static and laid out well – I didn’t think the cast would have any issues.

I mention all this to show you what’s going on in my head as we shoot. Yes, the main focus is on getting the perfect angles and the perfect performance and all the perfect pieces needed to tell the story – but the clock is always TICK…TICK…TICKING in my head and all the extraneous technical stuff is always on my mind. To do this job well is a very Zen art – if you focus on the timeline and technical stuff too much, you will sacrifice performance and “coolness.” But if you only focus on performance and “coolness” – the time will slip away from you and you won’t make the day!

UP ON THE ROOF:







The fight in the tunnel:

The writer's came up with a concept that our heroes travel through abandoned sewer tunnels to travel between the school and the main part of the city. This is established in the 2nd hour "The Armory" and the same tunnel plays in last night's episode. This was a hard location to find and we looked for it for a long time. Real sewers were impractical - and stinky. There were some subway tunnels that looked great - but had prohibitive working hours for us in the middle of the night only. We finally found this one at an old abandoned glass factory. It was an above-ground tunnel - but when blacked in and lit correctly it looked perfect.

To be more efficient we "block shot" these sequences - meaning, since I was directing both episodes - we grouped the work together and shot the tunnel scenes for both episodes at the same time.

Remember how I said earlier it's like a football game and you have to plan minute by minute to make the day and win -- Well, in the second day in the tunnel I got crushed. In two 12 hour days I was supposed to do all of the following work: 1. the scene from episode "The Armory" episode where Pope and his men travel through the tunnel 2. the scene from "The Armory" where Hal and Margret travel through the tunnel and she kicks Hal's ass. 3. Then I did the scene from "Prisoner of War" where Tom comes to and gets angry at Dia and Mike and goes back for Hal and Karen. 4. The scene with Hal and Margret where we see a big matte-painting of the destroyed city 5. The scene where Hal and Anne come back and confront Margret - and then 6. The entire battle with Noah and the skitter!

Now - it was probably an unrealistic schedule going in. The skitter battle has a lot of pieces (i.e. "shots") in it - and each piece wether it's a half a second or a minute long still has to be set up and lit and rehearsed and shot. The other problem was that the tunnel we'd selected looked great, but it was a box canyon to work in. The crew was tripping all over themselves in there, as there was one way in and one way out and only one group of people could work at a time.

We'd pushed these scenes down the road, a bit because building the prosthetic skitter was a long project. I'll get into the on-set and the CGI skitter more next week - but, for now, know this. When it arrived it looked amazing, but it was a beast to work with. First of all it was huge and took up most of the tunnel all by itself. Also It took 5 puppeteers to work it. The main one was a man who was in the suit. Two were working radio controls to operate it's facial expressions. And two more were needed to puppetteer it's legs.

These kind of scenes are always very complex and need to be highly planned out. I had storyboarded the whole scene and laid out shot by shot the order we would shoot in -- But to make a long story short - the whole plan fell apart. Everything took a million times longer than I planned. If it was a football game I would have lost 56-3.

At the end of the second day we had finished all of the other scenes, but less than half of the work in the skitter fight was complete!

The only choice left was to add a second unit day to the schedule and kick that day down the road. We did our first days shoot in the tunnel in August and didn't get back to complete the sequence until early November.

The one great thing about this was that Noah's son was able to be on set for the additional day. Noah is on record in several interviews that one of the factors he used in choosing FALLING SKIES was that he thought being an alien fighter would give him mad-points with his young son. So - on this day his son got to sit on set - in the directors chair and oversee as his dad battled a bad-ass alien. It was so sweet. Noah came back several times and asked for feedback. His son's comments were very good - "Look meaner when you hit it!" And stuff like that.

I thought it would be interesting for you to see the storyboards we did for the skitter-fight sequence in this episode. For scenes this elaborate a director really needs to plan out all of his shots. We usually print them on a big board and bring them to set to keep track of them. Some shots did only involved Noah Wyle, some involved Noah and the prosthetic skitter we built (which took a crew of 5 puppeteers to work!), some involved Noah and a CGI skitter.... Some involved Noah's stunt-double... Also the scene was shot over a two days several weeks apart (one main unit day and one second unit day.) Inevitably we were picking up whatever pieces we could based on the lighting direction we were shooting and which element within the shot was ready at any given moment. So... For sequences like this planning is a must.

Most of the sequence we shot and edited as we drew it and it plays like this in the episode (although edited very quickly)

Also, I want to give a BIG, BIG tip of the hat to my storyboard artist on FALLING SKIES Vicky Pui. She is simply the best I've ever worked with - not just because her drawings were great as you can see - but she had, by far, the best ideas of any artist I've ever worked with.

For instance - It was her idea to put the mech on the roof when Hal and Karen are shooting at it and for the mech to jump down in front of them... That wasn't in the original script - it came from Vicky and I walking around the location and trying to figure out how to best make it cool. Of course that image of the mech landing in front of them has been an integral part of many of TNT's trailers and promotions... So... Yay Vicky!

Here's the boards - if they're too small click on then to enlarge.























Notice that two moments we didn't get to were (a) the shot where Tom sees the skitter reflected in the puddle as it leaps at him. This is a cool idea - but a luxury. In the back of my mind I knew that if time got short we'd drop that. We also didn't get to (b) The shot over Tom as the skitter drags itself away in pain. I tried to shoot this shot - but the prosthetic skitter was too unwieldy and slow and I was too far behind schedule. I shot a backplate for this shot with the hopes that maybe, down the road, we could do it with a CGI skitter. But in post production that shot was super-expensive - so it's another one I had to let go.



VIC PUI - MY FAVORITE ARTIST! YAY!

De-harnessing Rick:

Briefly - I wanted to say that - unlike the tunnel scene - when we went to shoot the scene of Rick being de-harnessed by Anne and Dr. Harris - I really didn't have the scene worked out. I knew the goal of the scene and how everything would work - but until I got into rehearsal and saw how the actors would interact with the harness and each other I couldn't fully plan it. So I shot from the hip more in this sequence - knowing key moments I had to hit.

I'm very happy with the opening shot which begins under the table seeing Rick's face, and then the camera rises and does a slow half circle around the room. It's all done in one shot and the pace is slow - with the intention of building anxiety. I wanted the scene to begin slowly and with few cuts so that the pace could get faster and faster and more intense as it went.

This was also one of my first times working one-on-one with Moon. I love how grounded she is - calm and positive both on set and off. She is vey focused and down for anything. She never complains - she likes being challenged. In general it was great to work with her - she is a real trooper no matter what.


The final moments:

The final few minutes of the episode are very satisfying to me - and less flashy than the previously discussed scenes. I thought I'd briefly described what was happening…

Throughout the episode we’ve sensed that something has been brewing between Tom and Dr. Harris. In the final moments we see them finally have a confrontation and learn the truth of what happened on the day Tom’s wife died. Graham Yost oversaw a big dialogue pass on this scene – and the way it unfolds is quite compelling. The scene builds very slowly and then finally Tom reveals the truth he’s been holding back. Harris’s character – ducks it for a second and then, finally, under pressure, admits he betrayed Tom’s wife on that fateful day. But he arrogantly justifies it because of his knowledge and skill. Tom’s anger erupts and he hits Harris. And then, Harris twists the knife and makes Tom feel guilty because he let his wife go out on “his” day to forage.

The dialogue was strong and the twists and turns were intense. As a director, my job, I felt, was to try to stage the scene in a way that supported the drama and allowed the actors to make the most of it. And then get out of the way. Sometimes I do a lot of performance direction, moulding nuance and line readings - but not in this case. The two actors were old friends and they were very dialed in for this scene. Part of the skill of my job is to know when NOT to do anything. The main thing I did is make clear to the actors what the camera was seeing, and how I saw the scene unfolding rhythmically. Otherwise I laid back and watched.

There are two key moments, for me, in how I staged the scene.

The first thing I did is that I had Tom pass past Harris and go to the cage to see the skitter. In this position Tom’s is in the foreground facing away from Harris who is in the background. This allowed Noah to have private reactions that could not be seen by his acting partner. Also, his vocal quality is calm but his facial expression is tense. This blocking allowed that. Also, Chris Faloona, the D.P, put a hard bottom light on Tom in the foreground and soft even light on Harris in the background. This separated their emotions even more – with Tom intense and Harris, at this point, unaware of Tom’s emotions.

Then, from the moment Tom turns to confront Harris, until the moment Tom hits his enemy – I staged all in one continuous shot. I did this, first and foremost, to let the actors act. There is something real and raw when a scene is unbroken by editing. Also, I wanted to stage the scene to underscore Harris’ discomfort. I have him, at first squirm away backwards from Tom. But Tom closes in on him – steady throughout. Harris, then, pushes past Tom and into the foreground for another face-to-camera/face-to-camera moment. Here I played Steven Weber with the “private moment” in foreground as he makes decision to go ahead and confess.

After this scene – Tom is broken. He returns to his children for comfort. It’s worth noting that, at one point this little scene was omitted for schedule reasons. The day was just jammed with too much work – and I felt the story would survive without that scene. When Noah learned it was cut – he was very disappointed. He argued that the moment was very important. And I could tell by his passion that he was going to do something strong with it.

So, I put the scene back in, and kept it to a simple one-shot moment. Tom approaches in silhouette and then slides down the wall. As he slides, the camera drops with him to reveal his kids. He looks at them with such longing – remembering what he has even as he feels the pain of what he’s lost. I love that moment in the show and I am very glad Noah fought for it. As I got to know Noah, throughout this series, I gained immense respect for him. his work is simple, but deep. He prepares very thoroughly and is aware, and working, every nuance of every scene.


The moment where Noah pins the picture of Ben on the wall speaks for itself. My work is quite simple – but the sweet picture of Ben, before he was harnessed, intercuts with Noah’s quiet but tortured expression, combined with Noah Sorota’s heart-wrenching score… I get choked up quite often by that scene.

Okay, wow – that was a lot of writing. Back next week with more and for now – a few more pictures!!!


MOON AND JESSY ON SET


THE GANG PREPARES TO GO OUT


A SKITTER AT REST (DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS FALOONA IS IN THE WHITE T-SHIRT IN BACKGROUND)




JESSY AND DREW - TOP GUNS!


THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (THE KEY HERE WAS STAGING THE SHADOWS ON DREW'S FACE)



STUNTS AND FX PREPARE TO BLOW TO UP REAL GOOD!


THE BIG GUNS!

One last thing - I did an interview with KSite-TV last week. Here's the link:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

PILOT / THE ARMORY - 2 HOUR PREMIERE

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

http://www.tnt.tv/series/fallingskies/?SR=sr3_403112_go

AND SO IT BEGINS!

Last night FALLING SKIES premiered - I hope you watched it and I hoped you liked it. For me - man was that a long time coming!

The show that aired last night was a two-parter. The first hour was the original pilot, which was directed by Carl Franklin and written by Robert Rodat. It was filmed almost two years ago. A few new scenes were added while I was working on the show - but for the most part it was complete by the time I came aboard .

The second hour – which begins with the scene where Tom Mason and his crew arrive to scope out the abandoned Armory and ends with our heroes leaving the newly found school to search for Tom’s son – was directed by me and was filmed last July – almost a year ago.

This process is normal for TNT – because their shows first run in a limited summer window, they frequently have long delays between production and airing. But for me, who is used to a network schedule where you are usually rushing through production to get shows on air – it was unusual.

Truthfully, though it was much more humane.

The writers had four or five of the nine scripts produced finished by the time we started shooting, then we shot them in Toronto, Canada – then I went back to L.A. to complete post production – locking picture, music, VFX sound mixing, etc. It was more like a movie schedule than a TV one.

If you've never read my blog before, or are unfamiliar with me and what I do - it's like this... I am mostly a director, mostly of television, and I am typically hired to oversee the direction of a television series. This means - that in collaboration with the writers, producers and studio, and in collaboration with the directors of individual episodes - I oversee the entire series.

My job is to create and maintain a look, a tone, and a consistency of performance, etc. etc. I guess I'm an overall "quality control" guy. My days are spent, working with the writer's on the production aspects (as well as the creative aspects) of scripts, scouting locations, overseeing set construction, working with the director of photography to design lighting and camera styles, overseeing props and costumes, scheduling production, auditioning actors, working with the established cast on big picture and specific performance issues - troubleshooting and solving all manner of problems - mostly production problems, but also, frequently personal and interpersonal ones. I also get involved with the editing of the film, with the visual effects design and implementation - and, to a lesser degree, with the music, sound effects and sound mix.

All this , of course, is done along with many other creative people involved on the series. It takes a lot of talented people, working together, to make any TV show - but for a show with a big scope and big themes like this one - even more so!

It's a great job and I'm lucky and proud to do it - and I'm luckier still to have, mostly, worked on shows I like and believe in!

I started writing this blog at the request of NBC and the producers for the first season of the show HEROES. Back then, I had no idea what I was getting into. But the blog seemed to strike a chord with the fans of that show. People seemed to like getting behind-the-scenes information about the shows they watch. It's a lot of work, but it makes me happy to do it - And so, when I left HEROES, I kept blogging.

To quickly re-cap some stuff I’ve posted before – about a year and a half ago – in April of 2010 I went to Dreamworks to watch what, was then called. “THE UNTITLED STEVEN SPIELBERG ALIEN INVASION PROJECT.” I had been ushered into a small room, which literally had a chair, a TV and a DVD player in it – nothing else. An assistant popped in the pilot and pushed play.

At the time I didn’t know ANYTHING about the pilot other than this title. I had no idea who had written it, who had directed it or even who was in it. The show came on – and within ten minutes I was thinking -- “Damn, I guess if they want me, I’m doing this thing.” The show had all the stuff I love to do – action, explosions, creepy and unique looking aliens. But it also had a really interesting take on the tried-and-true alien invasion genre. It was gritty and personal and you really got into the heads of the main characters. I also liked that the story was told only from the point of view of the main characters – we know what they know and nothing more. I also liked that the show focused on life and struggles within the group of fighters - not just constant battles. I also liked that it asked questions like "how do I keep my humanity and my family in this situation.

I also thought Noah Wyle gave the show an grounded base of humanity and believability - which made me believe it was really happening.

I met with Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, the shows exec-producers who work with Steven Spielberg at Dreamworks Television. It was only in my first meeting that I learned Bob Rodat had written it. This floored me, because Bob and I had been really good friends twenty-five years ago in film school at USC. We had stayed friends for many years after that, our kids had even gone to pre-school together. But Bob had moved away from Los Angeles many years ago and I had completely lost touch with him.

It made sense upon reflection – Bob had written SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for Steven Spielberg. FALLING SKIES gets compared to WAR OF THE WORLD’s and INDEPENDENCE DAY, but to me, it has a big SAVING PRIVATE RYAN vibe to it. It’s an intense, personal, war movie, focusing on a specific group of fighters, as much as it is a sci-fi show.

Because Bob Rodat had numerous other feature commitments, he wasn’t able to stay 100% on board. Before I was hired, Graham Yost had already been hired as the head writer to launch the series by Dreamworks. I didn’t know Graham at the time, but was well aware of his extremely impressive body of work:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003662/

Graham and I got along famously – and his writing is superb. But everyone knew, going in, that after just a few episodes he was going to have to go back to his series JUSTIFIED. That meant someone else was going to have to come aboard to co-run the series with Graham and take it through to completion.

Enter old friend #2 – Mark Verhieden. Mark and I had worked together both on SMALLVILLE and HEROES. A few names were being considered for the second writing position - but I strongly supported the idea of Mark. He is about the world’s sweetest guy and his big heart gets into his scripts.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0894156/

Before heading off to Toronto to build the crew and begin preparing the shoot - I worked in L.A. and hung out with the writers. I also had a couple of brief meetings with Mr. Spielberg. Obviously, this was an incredibly exciting thing. I found him to be very calm and gracious and very empowering to me. The part that was the best surprise was how easy it was to communicate with him. I eventually realized that throughout my career in TV, the people above me have I’ve always been writers, and executives and producers (sometimes actors.) Without realizing it, whenever I’ve had to describe my vision of how I see something tonally, or how I plan to execute it technically, I’ve always had to make a translation from director-ese to writer-ese, or executive-ese, etc. I’ve never worked for another director before. It made it so easy.

This was also probably helped by the fact that I’ve been actively imitating Steven Spielberg’s style for so long that to do things the way he liked was pretty easy. The main instructions he gave me were first of all – “No TV closeups.” What he said to me was that he wanted the show shot in wider shots than typical TV and didn’t want there to be a round of obligatory closeups in every scene. I inquired a bit more about this and thought about it a lot afterwards. My conclusion was that, it wasn’t that he never wanted a closeup. It’s that he wanted every shot in the show to have a purpose, a reason for being in it. If it’s time to go to a closeup for impact – then do so… But not just because it’s an obligation. In other words he wanted the episodes to be directed!

He agreed with me that SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was a good stylistic touchstone for the series, but he also referenced CHILDREN OF MEN. I love this movie, and again I asked some questions to gain specificity. CHILDREN OF MEN has a very stark, bleak tone – and he agreed that it shouldn’t be as dark as that – but that the sense of immediacy of that movie was what he was after. I said that, to me, the long-long continuous takes was the thing that made that movie so immediate and I asked if it was okay to do long, long masters like that. He said “yes,” but not all the time. TV has to hit a specific length and long, long continuous shots are not conducive to hitting an exact length. But, he said, if I saw the opportunity, go for it.

I was also excited to learn that he was a fan of HEROES and of SMALLVILLE. In fact, I don’t know how this very busy man does it – but he seemed familiar with almost everything. He knew the names of every director I was proposing hiring and seemed to have seen every TV show and movie ever mentioned.

As the series went on, he did stay very involved. He gave the big picture directives early on – but he also gave notes on every script and every cut of the show and he had definite strong opinions about the design of the aliens, the alien ships, the control harnesses, and many, many other things.

Anyway – we began shooting…

The pilot was actually a bit short, so some scenes were added – this was actually fortunate because TNT and we felt like there were some things that could be added to enhance and better explain the characters.

Specifically, the two scenes added were:

A scene with Moon Bloodgood, as Anne, and Noah Wyle, as Tom. The scene is one where Anne and Tom talk as Anne is sewing up the injured fighters as the 2nd Mass. prepares to pull out. This was added for two reasons – first in the original pilot Anne was not a pediatrician turned squad doctor. She did not have a specific career before the invasion or function within the group after the invasion. Graham, Mark and the writer’s thought it would give Anne more purpose within the structure of the show to make her the group doctor and they gave her the backstory of pediatrician to establish that she was in a bit over her head. The scene also functioned to more strongly establish the Tom/Anne relationship in the show.

The second added scene was the one, at night, where Tom and his team look over the distant alien structure and talk about how they want to kick alien ass. This was added both to show the alien structure and to show our characters relationship to it. We felt it was important to show that our characters were not giving up the fight, even though – for now – they were running.

The second hour was the first thing my production team in Toronto fully produced. A few key crew members came back from the pilot, but by and large it was all new.

I was excited because the style of the show was different from anything I'd done before. The pilot established a lot, but I wanted to take it further. The key concept was, as much as possible - to give the show a documentary feel. Almost every shot is handheld and I worked with the cameramen (and later the incoming directors) to try to make the shooting style spontaneous - in a documentary the camera operators don't know what's coming next - so I wanted them to "find" the dialogue and momenets in a way that didn't look planned. Also (in keeping with Mr. Speilberg's instructions) I didn't want "balanced" coverage - where all the closeups and shots are exactly the same size and angle. And also, very importantly, I wanted to design shots that played out in one continuous take whenever possible.

One of the first, big projects we had to do was to find and then occupy an entire neighborhood. In this world, our fighters are always on the move. In the first hour they were in the middle of the rubble of the mostly-destroyed Boston. But at the end of the first hour they leave for “The Great Meadow.” Graham wanted to show that the 2nd Mass. fighters took over a neighborhood to rest in. He wanted to shift the look of show – so that we were no longer in the middle of a rubble-filled battlefield – we’re in the middle of a beautiful suburban neighborhood where one day everyone just fled, or were taken away without a fight.

In general, one of the most challenging aspects of this show was to find and manage locations so that we see NO SIGN of humanity besides our fighters. That means we could see no cars driving by, no planes flying by, no incidental pedestrians, etc, etc… Sometimes we had to take these kinds of things out digitally – but, mostly, we had to figure out ways to frame them out.

As a director, I wanted to create the vibe of a respite – of a crew that had been fighting and marching long and hard – and that this was the first rest they’d had in awhile.

Once we found the neighborhood, the art department dragged furniture out into the streets and created the sense of an ad-hoc encampment that had been made right in the middle of the street.

A moment I happy with is one where we cut to Tom’s son Matt asleep, for a second we think that perhaps we’re in flashback, but then Tom enters in his warrior garb and we realize that they’ve just been sleeping in a borrowed house.

I am also very happy with the scenes between Tom and Pope in the abandoned high school theatre. My production designer, Rob Gray, had the idea that the high school had been putting on "Julius Caeser" when the attack hit, and that now Pope's gang had taken it over. He imagined a backstory where the gang got drunk and messed around with the swords, knocking things over. The stage is in a planned dis-array with all this history in mind. Anyway Graham Yost's scenes where incredibly fun to direct - and very unusual. First of all they were long. You usually don't get a lot of long, interesting, character-developing monologues in television. It made it necessary to rehearse a little more than usual and work through the nuances. It also taught me a lot about Noah Wyle's skill level. Collin Cunningham's, Pope does, by far, most of the talking - and Noah, as Tom, just listens. But, in editing, we cut to Noah A LOT - and he keeps the "listening" alive and interesting. The old adage is "acting is reacting" - and in the editing room I really leaned what this meant as we edited Noah's performance.

Another moment I like is when Sarah Sanguin Carter's character, Margret, shoots the two bad guys. Sarah and I had worked on SMALLVILLE together three times and, even though this role is very different than what she's done before, I though she'd be great for this damaged, tough character. My director of photography, Chris Faloona, thought of the exact shot we used when she shoots the two guys. The first is moment is over Sarah's shoulder and Pope's brother is in the bacxkground as he's shot. Then the camera slides back really fast as she whips towards camera and fires almost exactly into lens. The moment is very intense. And Sarah follows it up with a very intense performance. She got herself into a state that day and her line reading is weird and "off" in a way I really like. Then Noah has a cool reaction, which makes me smile. He looks startled, like "What the f*** just happened?" It's authentic and feels real.

I am also kind-of proud of some of the long masters I did on this episode. If you’re interested and have a chance to look at the show again check them out - The very first shot of the show is complex and lengthy. There’s a very long take early in the show that follows Tom, Weaver and another fighter on the street then hands off to Anne as she walks with Weaver into the house. A minute later there’s another very long take as Anne and Tom walk through the encampment of civilians. There are a few others, but I think my favorite is one that follows Collin Cunningham, as Pope as he and his fighters get ready to storm out of their lair and battle the 2nd Mass. It was a complicated shot to conceive and stage.

This isn’t just a gimmick that I do to keep me interested – I truly feel these kinds of long takes create a sense of immediacy and urgency. They challenge the actors and the crew – because film editing can’t be used to improve performances or tighten the pace. It all happens in real time and everyone has to do their job perfectly. Another show that used to do this – famously – was E.R. in it’s early years. So Noah Wyle was quite used to it.

Okay, whew – that’s a lot for now – I directed next week's episode too - so I'll go into more specifics about creative choices and working with the rest of the cast.

I really hope you enjoy this series as much as I enjoyed working on it...

AND NOW - THE PICTURES:




PILOT RE-SHOOTS - NOAH WYLE ON SET


PILOT RE-SHOOTS - MOON AS THE 2ND MASS.'S DOCTOR



PILOT RE-SHOOTS - THE MASH UNIT


PILOT RESHOOTS - EXTERIOR WAREHOUSE - NIGHT




BLOODY BLOODY ME


MR. NOAH WYLE


MOON BLOODGOOD ON SET


SARAH CARTER ON SET



DAY ONE OF SHOOTING - WE OCCUPIED A WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD



WILL PATTON ON SET



OUR GANG


SEYCHELLE GABRIEL ON SET




COLLIN CUNNINGHM AS "POPE"



THE LAIR OF THE MARAUDERS - COLLIN AND SARAH


EXEC. PRODUCER JUSTIN FALVEY AND MOON



THE CAST - AT REST BETWEEN TAKES


FALLING SKIES PREMIERE PARTY - BOB RODAT AND I


FALLING SKIES PREMIERE PARTY - DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS FALOONA, SARAH SANGUIN CARTER AND I

FALLING SKIES PREMIERE PARTY - JESSY SCHRAM AND I

FALLING SKIES PREMIERE PARTY - CONOR JESSUP (TOM'S SON "BEN") AND I



FALLING SKIES PREMIERE PARTY - JESSY, PETER, MPHO AND I


FALLING SKIES PREMIERE PARTY - EXEC PRODUCER DARRYL FRANK