written by: David Weddle and Bradley Thompson
directed by: Holly Dale
TNT - FALLING SKIES
WARNING: This blog has been infested with spoilers... If you fear spoilers crawling into your mouth and bursting out of you, ripping you to shreds - then this blog is NOT FOR YOU! TURN BACK NOW!!!!!!
"Molon Labe"? What the heck does that mean? I have no idea and never will... But I will say it was one of the kookiest and hardest and challenge-filled episodes of TV I've ever produced - and one of the best final results.
Holly Dale, who directed the second-to-last episode of Season 1 as well as a HEROES episode with me, came back to direct this - and I'm very glad she did. I love Holly, basically because she gets sh*t done. She shows up, she's quiet, she has a plan... She kinda shares her plan, kinda not -- but on set she's in command and she just moves like a machine getting exactly the pieces of film she needs and knowing exactly how they're going to go together.
And hokey-smokes this one needed that kind of focus.
Don't get me wrong, David and Bradley's script was a great first read. (They also wrote our second hour of this Season "Shall We Gather At The River.") The story was taught and exciting and pushed our characters and our ongoing mythology in fantastic directions...
But it was so huuuuuuuuge!!! There were SO MANY short little scenes with SO MUCH action! Most of our episodes have about 40-45 scenes - this one had, if I remember right, about 65 scenes. And there were either visual effects, explosions or gunfire in almost every scene! Beyond that, here were non-stop mechs and overlords and explosions... And crawlies! A whole new creature! (more on that later) It was all just non-stop!
And, while technically, all the scenes took place in the woods and the hospital where the 2nd Mass. were camped out - they were in every conceivable part of the hospital, and many that didn't even exist. For instance, there was no elevator shaft, no sub-basement, no x-ray room - etc., etc. etc....
It was crazy over-the-top, and it was obvious, immediately, that it was going to be WAY over budget. And in our big season-long-plan with TNT we hadn't figured on episode 7 being a big over-budget epsiode.
The prep period on an episodic schedule is very short - specifically 7 days... (And then there are 8 days to shoot it.) On this one it took several days just to figure out where we were going to shoot every scene and then plan all of the many visual effects just so we could budget them. It was obvious the visual effects budget was going to be way way over our pattern budget, but we needed to know by how much. By the time we really had "a number" there was very little time left to react.
The other problem (really just for me) was that, during the prep period, I was busy directing episode 6. As I mentioned in my last blog there was a director fallout in episode 6 and I had to jump in. We take no breaks in TV. The day after one episode finishes the next begins. Which means that the extensive and complex prep on episode 7 was all happening while I was shooting. I was getting updates and reading drafts during the week and I’d meet with Holly or the writers at lunch, at night, or on the weekend – but it was quite stressful.
Anyway – all’s well that ends well. In retrospect, what I remember is that there was a phase when the Visual Effects budget came in where there was kind of a panic. There was a period where many Visual Effects shots were dropped and an attempt was made where we would play as much as possible in an implied or “off-stage” way. Eventually though, like the artist stepping back from the canvas, we had to step back and say “we can’t have a scene of Ben surrounded by mechs and a mech battle between Tom and the 2nd Mass – and never see a mech."
In another example, the scene where Anne blasts the crawlies with a flame thrower was put on the chopping block, briefly. But Holly Dale came to me and implored how cool it was and how good for Anne’s character to have that scene in. So we put it back.
I’m not sure if you readers are even interested in all of this stuff – believe me, the artistic/character driven aspects of the show are always uppermost in the minds of all of FALLING SKIES creators… But the behind-the scenes budget battles can be fast and furious and quite intense. The trick of course is to wage these battles without losing sight of the story and it’s development, both within the episode and season long. Frankly, for instance, that’s why I was so glad Holly made the case for Anne and the flame thrower. Yes, the story could be told without it, but it made Anne heroic and self-empowered, and that was worth it.
In the end we were faced with either cutting the heart out of this episode, or accepting that it was going to be over-budget and knowing we’d have to make it up before the end of the season. And even though we did reduce the visual effects quite a bit from the original shot-count (believe it or not, because there are still over 100 visual effects shots in this episode) we figured out in a disciplined way how to get the job done.
In the end, all that I’ve just said is just describing how the sausage gets made – and maybe one should never know about it. This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting, action-packed and visually stimulating episodes of the season and I’m quite proud of it.
Sunday's episode is an action-packed hour that doesn't just revel in its crisp pace; the actions and choices of the core characters reveal quite a bit about them. In fact, Sunday's taut episode is one of the most tense -- and enjoyable -- hours of "Falling Skies" yet.
Beyond all that I'd like to talk about Brandon Mclaren and what a terrific guy he is. We wanted a new character this season to replace Uncle Scott. And we wanted a love interest for Lourdes. Brandon's audition was spot on and he is obviously an amazingly handsome man. He had real chemistry with Seychelle Gabriel right from the beginning. But he also fit into our group quite well. FALLING SKIES cast is not a bunch of slackers. All of them, with Noah setting the tone - come to the set ready to work. It's shocking how many actors on many, many other shows show up not knowing their dialogue, not really having thought about their character within the story - and sometimes, seemingly, without having really read the script. Well, not here.
I was quickly impressed with Brandon on one of my first days working with him. In the second episode I was doing a long, long one'r. It was the shot that traveled from character to character as the 2nd mass got ready to move out and cross the river. In the middle of that scene he had a long speech - and in every take he nailed it. I knew I liked him right then and there.
But as I've said before - people die on FALLING SKIES - and it could be anyone... If you know you are going to die on a TV show - it's important to die well. I think Brandon's death is the creepiest we've done - and he did an amazing job doing it!
The creatures that crawl out of the wall and end up ripping out of Jamil's character (The crawlies, as the writers called them) was something that Steven Spielberg talked about, and was excited about in our very first creative meeting of the year. Mr. Spielberg loves the concept that the aliens use creatures from the various planets they conquered and re-purpose them as weapons. The harnesses, as we saw a couple of weeks ago, are living entities that attach themselves onto our kid's spines. He had a vision of a creature about the size of a amazonian bird-eating spider. He talked about how the aliens would release these creatures and they could crawl through vents and walls and create a new level of distress for our heroes. Believe me I am as much of a fan as any of you guys, and the idea that I get to do what I do, and hang out in a room from time to time with Steven Spielberg, and that he is my boss - blows me away! It's amazing to see him work, because his mind is free - he let's ideas flow and he doesn't self-censor. He is truly excited to do what he does and that, for me, is just great to know!
Aaron Simms is the artist who designed the crawlies. He's worked for Mr. Spielberg and ZOIC Studios (our VFX house) a number of times... And he's designed a lot of the aliens on our show. Aaron presented us with about a dozen designs, all very different - and the one we chose is, I think, quite a nasty little bugger.
Some things you can control and some things you can't - Vancouver, although it is in Canada, is more of a rainy city than a snowy city. Snow falls almost every year there, but it rarely stays on the ground long. Well, last year we got a BIG snowfall that lasted and lasted. I think it makes this episode beautiful and magical and was, for us, just a great stroke of luck.
Finally, I do want to say that our cast, IMHO, did a fantastic job tonight. Jessy Schram killed again, as did Drew Roy and also Maxim Knight as Matt Mason - who is now being called on to step up into the action.
But I want to focus, here, on Noah and, our new budding star, Connor Jessup. The pace behind the scenes was as fast as it is in the show. I think Noah, and Connor did several amazing scenes together. The one in the hallway where they shout, and get into conflict - was very much developed on set. The script didn't call for them to get that intense, or overlap dialogue with each other as much as they did - but the two actors kept pushing each other. Holly also shot that sequence in a long one-shot take - with Noah and Connor's part at the end - the nature of the shot added to the intensity.
The scene in the middle of the episode where the overlord attacks Ben psychically is also terrific, and I think Connor's performance, where he is letting the alien speak through him, is remarkable. As for Noah - remember, there was nothing for him to look at or act to when he's confronting the overlord. Sometimes, literally, there was a VFX supervisor holding a broom handle with a tennis ball on the end of it to give Noah his 10-foot-high eyeline - but otherwise Noah was acting with "air" - which can be quite challenging.
The scene at the end when Ben is about to leave, perhaps for good - is also, for me, one of the most touching of the year. These two have a great chemistry together with all the friction and love of a real father and teenage son. This final scene, once again, had a big challenge to it. After a HUGE day of work, this scene was shot last - as the sun was setting. So Noah and Connor had to rush the scene to get it done before the sun set, and yet never lose sight of the rythyms and emotions that are important to that most-important final scene.
Ah... All in a days work.
Let's look at some behind-the-scenes photos, shall we?
|Noah and Peter Shinkoda on set|
|It's still cold as shiznazz in Vancouver - so the gang huddles around a fire pit|
Brandon Jay Mcleron contemplates life in all of it's brevity and complexity
|Jessy Schram - Alien Agent Provocateur|
|Alien creator Rémi Aubuchon and Noah Wyle on set|
|Sarah Carter on set|
|Pope's Beserkers - Ryan Robbins (as "Tector") and Luciana Carro (as "Crazy Lee")|
|Episode director Holly Dale (left) and script supervisor Maggie Craig (right) (they are both short)|
|My old "Smallville" pal Glen Winter came to help out as Director of Photography on this episode (he is very, very tall)|
|Angelina Kekich - our costume designer|
|A scene from ep 6|
|Will Patton - our commander!|
|Brad Kelly as "Lyle" - Brad was hired to be a stuntman in our first episode and fall off a motorcycle - but we liked him so much that... lo and behold by episode 7 he's an actor!|
|Me n' Brad Kelly|
|A shot from the first episode - but I forgot to include it before and it's cool|
|A moment between shots - Noah and Moon talk and hang out|