SEASON 2, EPISODE 3 "COMPASS"
Written by: Bryan Oh
Directed by: Michael Katleman
WARNING – SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED WITHIN, IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO SPOILERS, DO NOT CONSUME THE FOLLOWING BLOG
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One of the saddest and most difficult things about this episode, both behind the scenes and in the show is the death of Jimmy. Dylan Authors plays Jimmy, and has been in FALLING SKIES since the pilot. He is a lovely, funny kid who is incredibly happy to be on the show. Dylan is from Toronto where his father is one of the top assistant directors in town. So he comes from a show-biz family and is pretty savvy about how things work. Because we relocated the show to Vancouver this season, Dylan and his Mom (as well as Mpho Koaho) had to take the long cross continental trip to the west coast.
Well, I don’t know when the god’s of filmmaking made a rule that the show’s Producer-Director is the one who has to tell actors they’re going to be killed… But many years I have been the one that has to either take an actor out to dinner, or into my office, or on a walk away from set – to let them know that they’re character is not coming back to the show. The first actor I ever did this with was Eric Johnson, who played “Whitney,” Lana Lang’s quarterback boyfriend on the first season of SMALLVILLE. In that case the writer’s felt that the Lana-Clark story couldn’t progress if Whitney stayed around, Eric took it well and so did Dylan.
I’ve learned that as soon as I say, “Hey can we talk privately” to an actor, or any crew member – they get nervous. So it’s best just to sit them down, not beat around the bush and say what’s what. I brought Dylan in and told him straight up. “The script for episode 3 is going to come out tomorrow, and before it does, I want you to know that, in that script your character is going to die.’ Then I told him how much we loved him personally and as an actor, but that the cool thing about our show is that people that we and the fans love actually have to die from time-to-time, in order to keep the stakes high and the world we’re telling stories about real. I also told him that the writer’s were largely doing it because of the direction they wanted to take both Weaver’s character and Ben’s character. They felt they needed a strong inciting incident to push both of their stories along.
I could tell it was tough on him, but Dylan took it well. There’s not much to say guess. Then the next thing he asked me is, “How do I die.”
“Well, it’s pretty good…” I said, “You get picked up by a skitter, thrown 20 feet and impaled on a tree.”
He smiled, “cool!”
I had told Noah Wyle about Jimmy’s impending death, and Noah had asked me if, to let him know as soon as I told Dylan. Noah took Dylan on a walk around the production offices. I’m not sure what he said, but he definitely cheered him up. The cast rallied around Dylan. They took him out to a big dinner one night. I’m not sure if ya’ll know this but Collin Cunningham is a masterful magician. Dylan had become Collin’s protégé and had learned a number of impressive magic tricks from him. At the dinner both Collin and Dylan put on an impressive display of magic to loud applause. Later, at the script read-through (which we do just a day before we begin shooting) and again on his last day of shooting, Dylan was again given a standing ovation.
Probably the person most affected by Jimmy’s death and Dylan’s departure from the show was Will Patton. On and off screen, as Weaver and as himself, Will can be a tough and gruff customer. But he is a very sensitive man and he had grown very fond and affectionate of Dylan. One of the most touching scenes (to me) in the episode is the scene between Ben and Weaver near the end of the show when Ben breaks down crying with guilt, because of his role in the death of Jimmy. It was a beautifully acted scene, and there was something very special about it. It has been rainy and blustery all day that day, but just as cameras rolled on that scene the setting sun broke from behind the clouds, illuminating the set in gorgeous golden light.
My old friend Michael Katelman directed the episode. I picked Michael for the 3rd slot because I was directing the first two episodes and I wouldn’t be around much to supervise the prep of episode 3. I knew I needed a vet, with strong creativity and ability to self-guide. Michael filled the bill for this. I also knew that Michael, like me, loves to do long, long takes. Long unbroken handheld master shots are one of FALLING SKIES signatures, and I try to compel the directors to do at least one or two per show. Michael did two impressive ones. One is early on, when Tom and Anne walk across the compound discussing the cold. The other is right near the end when Tom and Weaver are getting the company to “move out” to Charleston.
Speaking of which, the idea of Charleston as a goal driving the 2nd Mass was our head writer Remi Aubuchon’s key ideas for the season, and I think it speaks to what makes Season 2 generally better than Season 1(again in my humble opinion.) This Season we are on the move, changing locations all the time – nomadic – with a strong group goal which may or may not be real, but on which all of characters can hang their personal dreams and wishes for the future.
In general, the weather in Vancouver in the winter of 2011 was relatively mild by Canadian standards. But not for our third episode. A couple of days into shooting, Vancouver was hit with cold sleeting rain and winds as high as 80 MPH. The nature of the script also forced us into all-nigh shoots. The cast and the crew all knew that this was what we were going to do this season. Noah Wyle was a particularly strong advocate of this. As much as it made the shooting days long, cold, dark and miserable – it makes the show better and we all knew it. But 3 days into shooting the misery index got of the charts. After a long hard day of prepping episode 4, I was driving to set which was about 30 miles away. It was about 10 o’clock at night. I was driving in rain so hard that no matter how fast I turned on the windshield wipers the rain wouldn’t disperse. And the wind was buffeting my vehicle (a vey-solid Jeep Grand-Cherokee) all over the road. It was scary driving and I couldn’t imagine what they were going through on set. I had a walkie-talkie with the set channel on my seat and as I got closer I started getting the on-set chatter. “The 5K just went down! We just lost the 5K!” (That’s a light.) “Uh guys, the hair/makeup just blew away!” “Okay, okay we’re all getting to shelter now!” And finally, the inevitable… “Okay, guys – that’s a wrap. We’re calling it due to weather.” With some relief, I turned around and headed home.
During the scene where Jimmy and Ben were hunting skitters the set had been hit with 80 MPH wind and sideways rain. Our heavy movie equipment was tossed around randomly. On set the next day I stepped into a small tent to discover our whole hair and makeup team huddled in they’re next to a large amount of camera equipment boxes. “Where’s your tent?” I asked. The head makeup artist said matter-of-factly “It blew away.” I shrugged, “Okay, so where is it?” She stared at me… “It’s gone. It blew away, away.”
At that moment I was truly scared. I had, personally, made the decision to leave our company exposed… With no sets and no stages… If the weather stayed like this all season it could be a disaster from which we would have no recourse.
During the fight between Tom and Pope, the wind again got up in the 60MPH range. Sometimes it was raining. Sometimes it was windy. Sometimes it was suddenly sunny. Katelman came to me and said, “What should I do, the weather is crazy… It’ll never match.” I looked at him and said, with years of experience behind me… “It’s TV baby! Keep shooting!!!!” And the scene, while technically inconsistent, is great. One of my favorite shots is a CU of Noah, in the early part of the scene, as he’s confronting Pope, behind him this tarpaulin and camouflage netting is just whipping around crazily. It makes the scene so dramatic! I love it!
Also, the location we found was a real airplane hanger at a small private airport. We were shooting in November – and it was freezing…. The unheated hanger was actually colder inside then the outside temperature. When you watch the episode, notice how almost every actor’s breath is visible almost all the time!
Luckily this dreadful weather didn’t last… Beginning with episode 4 the cold continued but the wind and rain never returned… And the season went on.
And now the pictures you love so much…
|ME AND CAMERA OPERATOR MICHAEL SOOS IN THE WILDS OF CANADA|
|OUR DIRECTOR - MR. KATLEMAN|
|MR. WYLE ENDURES THE COLD|
|MS. BLOODGOOD, THE SWEETEST AND THE BESTEST|
|CONNOR JESSUP AND MY ALL-STAR ASSISTANT ASHLEY SHIELDS-MUIR|
|MR. SHINKODA DOESN'T EVEN FEEL THE COLD - HE'S JUST THAT MUCH OF A BADASS|
|OUR "JIMMY" - DYLAN AUTHORS|
|DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY (I.E. HE LIGHTS EVERYTHING UP REAL PRETTY AND SETS UP THE SHOTS)|
|EVER-CHEERFUL MAXIM KNIGHT|
|CONNOR JESSUP HAS HIS SKITTER-SPIKES APPLIED|
|ON-SET SKITTER WRANGLER JENY CASSADY SNUGGLES WITH HER SKITTER|
|FILMING A SCENE - TOM IN IMMINANT DANGER (NOTICE HOW THE SKITTER LEGS ARE MISSING - THEY'RE ADDED DIGITALLY LATER)|
|THE ON-SET MONITORS SHOW TWO CAMERAS AS THEY FILM A SCENE|
|MICHAEL SOOS SETS UP A SHOT|