WARNING!: THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED IN THIS BLOG! IF READING SPOILERS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE BEEN SHOT DOWN OVER ENEMEY TERRITORY - THEN TURN AROUND AND GO BACK!!!
|HEATHER REGNIR wrote this episode, and I, GREG BEEMAN directed it!|
EPISODE 304 “AT ALL COSTS”
Tonight’s episode is the second one I’ve directed this season – the first being the first hour of the season opener.
Directing episodes of FALLING SKIES is a particularly exhausting thing to do. It is a fast moving train with high expectations, and the only way to succeed is to constantly be going at a bullet-like pace. SAMLLVILLE and HEROES, two of my other shows, were, I believe, comparable in scope and complexity – but both of those shot for at least two more days per episode than FALLING SKIES.
Partially because of this, and also because I find it hard to stay on top of the other ongoing complexities of the series (i.e. my producing responsibilities) if I direct too frequently – I normally don’t direct two episodes this close together. Yes, in both season 1 and 2 I directed two episodes back-to-back, but those were conceived, written, prepped and shot as a block.
But this episode had special circumstance. You see, last summer, a few months before we began photography, we learned that Moon Bloodgood was pregnant, and that her due date was late December. Just a few weeks before shooting began, we further learned that Moon’s doctor had recommended that she not fly past late October. Since she would be delivering in Los Angeles and we shoot in Vancouver, Canada – that meant that she would be leaving the show for the year in the middle of episode 4!
Within a day of hearing this news, head writer Remi Aubuchon and I sat down and began to form a plan. The writers would effectively have to write Anne out of the season before we were even halfway in. Furthermore (and I can’t spoil too much here) if there were to be any scenes with her that occurred in later episodes, they would have to be written and shot during the production of episode 4… well in advance of when they would normally be written. A conundrum by anyone's standards.
These factors, obviously, posed enormous creative and production challenges, and for this reason – and because I really love working with Moon and feel that we have a great collaboration, and because I wanted to make her exit from the season comfortable – I chose to direct this episode.
Now in episode 1, when Anne Glass was supposed to be pregnant, we had the rare luxury of having Moon be conveniently pregnant. The only problem was, Anne also gives birth in the first episode...
(By the way – a worthy sidebar – is that during filming of the birth scene, Moon’s real-life husband came by to watch Moon huffing and puffing and screaming in imaginary labor, and then, a bit later to watch her cuddle a goo covered newborn. I could tell while watching that this was an oddly wonderful moment for the couple, as they got a very unusual opportunity to practice what would soon be happening to them in real life.)
In episodes 2 through 4 we had to go through the complex (but relatively frequent problem that occurs in TV and movies) of having to hide our leading ladies pregnancy. If you look carefully in these episodes, you’ll find that Anne is frequently standing behind tall counters or that there’s a stack of files, or piece of laboratory equipment placed in front of her mid-section. Sometimes, luckily, she could carry an actual baby in front of her to hide her belly.
One of the more fun scenes to direct in this one, was the final scene where Anne is running away from Charleston, to who-knows-where, with her baby. Her maternal instincts have kicked in and she knows that, without Tom, she will have no one to help her protect baby Alexis once the baby’s hybrid status becomes known. Smart or not, she decides to flee taking her chances in the wild. As she’s fleeing she, her path in intercepted by a skitter and a harnessed girl – as she turns to run away Hal blocks her path.
This kind of stuff is just a fun for me in general, rubble and aliens and creepy, harnessed girls are the kind of stuff I enjoy. But on this night there was another odd thing I noticed… Between takes Moon was holding one of the twins who plays baby Alexis. Kieth Arbuthnot, who plays the skitter was in full makeup, a few feet away, bobbing back and forth and making weird skitter gestures. And then I notice the baby, who is no more than 3 months old, is just staring and staring at the skitter. For a second I was freaked out, like “Oh no, the skitter puppet is going to scare the baby.” But then I realized that she wasn’t scared at all. She was just staring and staring at it, very intently. Now, to us, the skitter is a really frightening looking thing. But, I realized, to a three month old it must be no odder than seeing a dog or a deer or elephant for the first time. I don’t know, it may have just been me, and nobody else seemed to notice this at all – but I found it both interesting and amusing.
The idea of the real President of the United States being alive, was an idea that was very important to Noah Wyle, and which he promoted and protected during the evolution of this script.
I think, for Noah, he felt that the idea of the real President still being alive was something that would give, both his character, and all the survivors a sense of hope and continuity about the world. I think he also felt that Tom shouldn’t get bogged down in the politics of Charleston. Both Noah and his alter ego Tom are very aware that the position, while important, has a limited importance as long as the Espheni still control the planet. To make this position clear. Noah ad-libbed a wonderful line in the first episode… When Anne talks to him about the workload of being President, Tom shoots back “President of ten square blocks.” It was a nice touch.
When the script was written and it was time to cast the president, after some debate and a number of different names bandied about… It was easy to get a group consensus on Stephen Collins who, as I’m sure you all know was the lead on the hit series "7th Heaven" for 11 years. Stephen was a true gentleman and after meeting him at his wardrobe fitting, Noah and I pulled each other aside and said, “Yeah. He seems truly “Presidential.” So we were happy.
I’d like to talk a bit about Doug Jones, who plays Cochise. Doug spends 3 hours every day getting into his special effects makeup, and one and a half hours getting out of it. Once he’s in, he’s in for the day – which can be 12 to 14 hours. The makeup is heavy, hot and oppressive. The Masters FX team has made whatever considerations they can – there’s a port that comes out of Cochise’s facemask so that he can eat, for instance. But to just wear the suit, forget about acting, is a challenge. Doug likens it to being an athlete. He has to manage his energy all day.
But then Doug acts. I’ve done a fair bit, not a lot, of creature fx makeup work over the years – but I’ve never seen anyone be able to transform 40 pounds of rubber into a character and a performance like Doug does. It’s truly remarkable.
At the script stage, the studio and we producers raised concerns about the long monologue that Cochise has in the middle of the episode (the one about the Catarious flower on the Volm’s home planet.) It’s not that we doubted Doug, but it was a lot of critical emotion and exposition to hang on a man in a mask. Remi Aubachaun hung firm in his belief in the importance of the speech, and we pressed on.
On the day we filmed the scene, on the first “take” – I was blown away. Doug (with his character’s hands tied behind his back no less!) imbued Cochise with so much emotion and history that I was truly touched. It’s fascinating for me to watch and I’m glad that I get to keep continue learning after all these years of doing what I do. But everything Doug does to make the character come alive is done vocally with tone, cadence and inflection – and with the smallest movement of the head and shoulders. What he does is really an art form that he is quite uniquely skilled at!
I also want to mention Drew Roy’s performance as Hal and as Evil Hal. This was another thing that created quite a bit of discussion in prep. Again, we all believed in Drew, and I felt that the moment he did at the end of last season when the eye bug crawled into his ear, was fantastic… But here was a whole new persona, that, frankly, done wrong could be a bit cheesy. We talked a lot about how to portray “Evil Hal,” and how not to not overdo him. I had a couple of brief conversations with Drew about it, but not much.
But on the day of filming, just as Doug had, Drew stepped up and slayed both of his roles. He was clearly in a “zone.” Normally Drew is happy-go-lucky and loves to talk and joke around on set. But the day we filmed the scene at the mirror he was quiet and focused and intense. His performance, I thought, was great – and I really directed him almost not at all. (One of the keys to doing my job well is to know how much or how little to work with an actor. I have to be prepared at all times to get in there and give an actor everything from intentions, history, technique and even line readings if they’re really struggling. Or if an actor is right where they need to be, I have to have the discipline to back of and let them do their thing.)
Watch carefully the scene where Drew speaks to himself in the mirror and see if you can figure out how we did it. Notice also one of the later shots in the scene where the camera pushes in further than it should be able to into the mirror. It’s an old school technique that Production Designer, Rob Gray suggested. A picture below gives more clues.
Finally, lets talk about the dogfight that ends the episode. The model of plane used in the episode was a LockheedElectra. For some reason, this specific model was very important to Remi (who is an avid pilot). Grace Gilroy, our whiz line producer, actually found two of these planes. One was lovingly preserved and could actually fly. The other was in an airplane museum and couldn’t fly, but the interior was stripped out of it.
Rob Grey really wanted to build the plane interior. He advocated quite strenuously that we needed to have a proper mockup with walls that could pop out and so on. Anything else, he said, wouldn’t be practical for filming. The problem is the interior of this plane is tiny – with low head room and with barely enough room to move around in. (It’s hard to believe this was used for cross-continental passenger flights in the old days.)
But, guess what, we didn’t have the money to build the plane interior – and so we just rolled the shell of the museum plane into a hanger and draped blue screen around it. The effects guys hooked a forklift to the tail so that they coukd jostle it a bit but not much. We were SQUEEZED in there big time. Noah and Matt Frewer were elbow to elbow and the camera operator and focus puller could barely fit in the back, especially with Collin running around.
In the end if any of the action works at all, if there’s any sense of pitch and yaw – it’s because of the actors – mostly Noah, and camera operator Mike Wrinch slamming them selves around and Mike tilting the camera at critical moments. Also, the VFX guys from Zoic did a great job with the backgrounds and the CGI planes.
That’s it for today! On to pictures!!!!...
|SARAH CARTER AWAITS BATTLE|
MOON AND ROBERT REHEARSE WHILE THE CREW WATCHES
OKAY - NOW LET'S SHOOT
DALE DYE PLAYS COLONEL PORTER
|MATT FREWER PLAYS GENERAL BRESSLER|
LUVIA PETERSON PLAYS CATHERINE FISHER, CAPTURED SNIPER
ALI SOKOVBYE PLAYS "THE HARNESSED GIRL
SEYCHELL AND PLAY AROUND ON SET
|COLLIN CUNNIGHAM AND DOUG JONES REST IN A CAST TENT BETWEEN TAKES|
|NOAH AND WILL PREPARE TO SHOOT A LONG TAKE|
|COLLIN ON THE TARMAC|
|OUR AIRPLANE ON STAGE|
|I WATCH THE SCENE AS IT'S SHOT|
|WILL WATCHES... HE ALWAYS WATCHES|
I DIRECT THE ARRIVAL OF TOM AND CO.
|REHEARSING TOM'S TAKEDOWN|
|COLLIN CUNNINGHAM AT NIGHT|
MOON - SO SWEET!
|MOON - SO PRETTY!|
|CONNER JESSUP SITS ON THE ROOF|
|CONNER AND THE VOLM DE-HARNESSING MACHINE|
|HAL AND HIS EVIL DOUBLE ON SET|
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY NATE GOODMAN AND SCRIPT SUPERVISOR NANCY MCDONALD - OUR MASTERS & JOHNSON
OUR NUTTY CAMERA OPERATOR MIKE WRINCH!