Sunday, June 23, 2013

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 4 - "AT ALL COSTS"

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 4:   "AT ALL COSTS"

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

STEPHEN COLLINS PLAYS PRESIDENT HATHAWAY
MATT FREWER PLAYS GENERAL BRESSLER
 
LUVIA PETERSON PLAYS CATHERINE FISHER, CAPTURED SNIPER



KEITH ARBUTHNOT PLAYS "MR. SKITTER"


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


WE HAD TO TRUCK THAT BIG 'OL PLANE ALL OVER THE PLACE
OUR NUTTY CAMERA OPERATOR MIKE WRINCH!









8 comments:

Erwin Rommel said...

I have to say that this episode was amusing. Not because it was well written or even thought out-- because it clearly lacked any understanding of a coherent long term plan. It is like the writers room is throwing out ideas in a shotgun pattern hoping they will some how stick! They are not.

1) Espheni keep on attacking in the same manner--why?

2) If the Espheni could alter genetically the inhabitants of planets-- why even use a military invasion just create away to deliver the new genetic code??? You could literally use one generation to breed the future generations that would conquer them. Like Neanderthal v. Anatomically Modern Humans.

3) Why does the Lt.Fisher send her message in code only to have the President send his response in the "open"???

4) Why is it a mystery that a Beechcraft B-18 (incidentally production ran from 1937-1970 not 1935 [that would be Lockheed Electra])that took the President Tom, Gen. Bressler, Pope and Cochise to "Keystone" could not be tracked??? We can do it with Radar! Why would you think the Espheni couldn't do the same with some other advanced system???

5) Cochise speech-- who cares why he's fighting? The only important thing is that he has WEAPONS that can destroy the enemy... As long at the Volm will share technology they could be fighting over which side of the Egg to crack is far the Humans could be concerned. The key is will the Volm give the humans the manufacturing and technology base to develop advanced weapons to fight the Espheni???

6)Evil Hal--- Well I guess when you call a character Hal you ultimately have to fall into the trap of making him go crazy-- paging Hal 9000-- Paging Hal 9000...

7) Evil Alien Baby-- really who thought was a good idea? Was it the writing team Weddle and Thompson? If so you should remember how unimpressive the last time they did the mystery hybrid alien baby thing with the magical blood was on Ronald D. Moore's BSG!

8) Fire the writer of this episode. It was a mess and bored the hell out of me.

Tamara Tipton said...

Well,I for one thought this was a great episode! While I do see the merit to some of the points listed in the above comment, I still found the episode highly entertaining!

Cochise speech was great, very impassioned and eloquent. Just the thin to speak to the heart of humanity.

Ben's introspection was also interesting to watch, though it seemed obvious which path he would choose from the outset.

As always, I love watching any scenes with Pope, but most especially when he interacts directly with Tom. I am looking forward to next weeks conclusion for just that reason!

You guys are doing some really great work, keep it up!

Erwin Rommel said...

Herr Beeman,


I find it hard to believe that any one could take this last episode serious? I’ve stated already a few of my complaints with the general attention to simple details. However, I would now like to elucidate further concerns I have this with series at present. So, forgive my presumptions—but honestly, where did the writer(s) Heater Regnir (I only put an s on writers because I know it didn’t get out writing room without round table discussion and the input from both yourself and Remi Aubuchon) of this episode come up with the mindless drivel that Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) spews forth about the ineffective nature of “Asymmetrical Warfare” and “Unconventional Tactics”? I’m sorry to have to take you to task, but in reality Cochise’s entire tactical black bag of tricks is nothing more then to use the class partisan based “ Unconventional Warfare Tactics” also known as “Guerrilla Warfare”. (Perhaps, for next season the writers should all read these books: “On War” Carl Von Clauswitz, “Infantry Attacks” Erwin Rommel, “The Art of War” Sun Tzu, “The War Of The Flea” Robert Taber , and just for good measure the following US Army Field Manuals: “Guerrilla Warfare” and “COIN”—it is just a thought!) The problem with this series’ handling of warfare is that you lack the basic understanding of what is you wish to display! In fact you display it so ineptly that I must ask have none of the writers watched a single hour of “News” (the same News that is now 24 hours a day) in the last 12 years??? Did they some how miss the parallels between “Fallujah in 2004” or “Taliban Insurgency 2003-2005”? Where these just inconvenient examples of the exact type of warfare you wish to portray on the small screen? (I realize fully that in making the heroes insurgent fighters it does sort of seem like our heroes are far more like “Taliban Fanatics” then “Loyal Patriots of The Revolutionary War” that Americans wish to always portray themselves as???)

However, to have just nonsensical dialogue like Tom’s in this episode or Cochise’s in the first episode of this season about how “constant small skirmishes are what beguile … “ the Espheni is nothing more then an insult to any member of the audience that might actually be smart enough to see that this illusory veil you the producers and writers have attempted to create is not even worthy of being called a smoke and mirror act. It is at best the work of a second rate hack. In fact the great Alien wisdom touted in this story so far could be found in any bookstore in America! That is if one is willing to exercise his or her ability to indulge oneself in that archaic art of “auto didacticism” and seek the esoteric knowledge of the classical wisdom that has become so passé in our modern world! Far be it from me to conclude that in reality these mental gymnastics of the most meager and ill attempted feats of deception work only because the average American cultural is in some systemic cationic state within the very viewers themselves! Perhaps, I’m asking too much, but is it so hard to temper one’s unenlightened imagination with perhaps the greatest dramatic tool of all “REALISM”! While I understand that is it both intoxicating and exhilarating to venture into the manic world of [Paul] Fryerabend’s philosophy where all is up for grabs and that the only real logic that exists is pure imagination! However, this turns out to be not the case it can only lead to what can be described as writing in the form of ever more increasing twists for no other reason then to attempt to shock the audience into disbelief. I postulate that a far more interesting [and I dare say daring approach] perspective is that of pure realism.

Lauren said...

I've been impressed with the balance the Falling Skies production team has used between both practical and cg effects. Mr. Jones really did an exceptional performance with his dialog. In addition, the make up, mask, and suit all look great. For any cg effects that were there, I never noticed them because I was involved in the characters story.

Not many people can actually climb into a small plane wearing a full body suit and mask...

Anonymous said...

I want to reiterate my love for Denny! I have NOTHING bad to say about this show, unlike some people, other than the fact that I want to see more of Ben and Denny's perfect friendship! So, Mr. Beeman, please send off my adorable for Denny to the powers that be!

Aldenata said...

@Trainwreck

Worst episode of the season, if not the series.

Let's get the most inexcusable part out of the way first: Anne's trip to Crazytown.

Hitting people in the head with wrenches can kill them, you realize that, right? Mixing sedatives with alcohol ain't exactly healthy either, and I don't know of anything in real life that works anywhere near that fast, short of Ketamine. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic; it more or less shuts off the same parts of the brain as PCP.

Bloodgood mentioned this in Second Watch, it went along the typical lines of "blah blah blah acting on impulse blah blah blah motherly instinct blah blah blah do anything to protect child."

Ok, fair enough. So the course of events go as such:

1. She asks Dr Kadar to test the DNA of her child, and he confirms what she already suspected.

2. He suggests letting the rest of the medical staff know so that they can presumably work to save the human part her child. Given how squeamish they were about shooting fully-mutated, heavily-armed harnessed children, I'm pretty sure infanticide is out of the question.

3. She clocks him in the face, knocking him unconscious in one blow. Nice swing, Annie.

4. May or may not have soundness of mind to tie and gag him. Concussion means depressed respiratory function; hope he doesn't suffocate with that sock in his mouth.

5. Head up to the medical ward to steal some date-rape drugs for use on Lourdes. Head home. Put her out of commission. Then grab the baby plus all the provisions the average human can comfortably carry (all 72 hours worth, at best), diaper bag, some more booze (sober babies are noisy)...

...a gun too, maybe? Steal a car or wagon on the way out? A stroller at least? No? Well, ok.

7. Exfiltrate the city by passing through an outer defense of trigger-happy soldiers who know about the city's spy problem and are presumably on the lookout for strange comings and goings. Try not to step on any landmines.

In all fairness, this doesn't seem like a tall order; Hal's been literally doing it in his sleep.

If Kadar hasn't woken up by now, he'll never be quite the same when and if he does.

8. Pass through the ring of besieging skitters who themselves will probably be on some sort of lookout for human weirdness and may well know that Alexis is heading their way.

9. Head for the Appalachians. Live off the land and the occasional roasted skitter until she loots enough libraries and learns enough about bioengineering to perform gene replacement therapy on her child using the contents of an upcountry South Carolina meth lab. (That would actually be pretty cool. You should write an alternate episode where that happens.)

Steps 1 through 4 are understandable. I mean we all have our monkey brains working in the background and they can hijack even the best of us. Somewhere between 5 and 7, however, she probably should have realized that her frying-pan-to-fire strategy was… in need of reconsideration. Anyone who can get that far in their actions is acting on intellect, not impulse.

Y'all should probably know this; whatever flaws your writers have, they seem to have a pretty good grasp on human psychology. I can think of one way for y'all to redeem this disaster; have it made known in Season 4 that Anne was under some outside control.

Maybe it was Karen. Or Alexis. Or someone else. Doesn't matter, point is that no rational (or irrational) person should have acted like that.

Aldenata said...

@Field Marshall Rommel:

1. "They came on in the same old way and we defeated them in the same old way." Duke of Wellington explaining the success of his new tactic, the reverse slope defense.

Simply put , the Espheni have spent centuries fighting wars in a very specific way and are not used to rapidly altering their strategies. They're a lot like John Ringo's Posleen, they don't like change and even the "smart" ones will only adapt when they absolutely have to.

2. They absolutely have to. After destroying our military and most of our technology, they expected it to be as easy to take our children away from us as it is for me to take a chicken's eggs away from it. The idea of guerrilla warfare and dispersed resistance is new to them.

Kind of like your own Wehrmacht in the Balkans. They spent all of 1940 clobbering broken, nihilistic Dutchmen and Frenchmen who lived in nice, flat, peaceful countries and were completely unprepared to deal with a bunch of crazy mountain men who were heavily-armed, used to fighting from all the time spent killing each other and still enjoyed doing it.

3. It wasn't a code, it was an authentication. She was proving that she was indeed Lt Fisher, but both of them were speaking in the open. Neither seemed to be worried about their communications being intercepted or triangulated because…

…actually, that's a good point. Disregard my comment.

4. They didn't think the plane couldn't be tracked, just that it wouldn't be. Eshpeni have shown little concern for things that occur outside the area immediately surrounding their towers, so they must have figured that the plane would be ignored.

It's a stupid assumption, of course. Putting important people on an airplane while aliens still control the gravity well is idiotic.

5. I found the speech very touching, even if I wouldn't trust it as far as I could throw it.

The Poles allied with the Soviets against y'all and what did they get out of it? Siberian vacations. The Cherokee allied with the United States to drive the Creek out of Georgia, and not much later there weren't many Cherokee left in Georgia neither.

Intent matters quite a bit: if you see any reason why your allies might benefit from not having you around after the war, or if they seem duplicitous in their long-term plans for you: you put less of a focus on future reconstruction efforts and more of it into getting ready for round two.

6. Arthur C Clarke called… he wants his weirdness back.

7. Waiting to see where they're going with it. I'll probably end up agreeing with you, but I'd like to hold out hope that they'll surprise me.

8. Yup.

Aldenata said...

@Badlands:

1. "You want to come with us? Be my guest!"

Okay, that was one bright spot in all of this. I think I like Tom when he's drinking. I also prefer Evil Hal to Angsty Hal.

2. It's weird what a baby will and will not be afraid of. I've noticed it when youngins come around my place to play with the critters. Itty-bitty baby chickens? Positively terrifying. Our big ole' horses and that leviathan mule we used to keep around? Cute and cuddly, I suppose.

3. Keyhole? West Virginia?

Interesting choice for the new capital. Old coal-mining and lumber town at the bottom of these very deep valleys ("where the sun comes up about 10 in the morning and the sun goes down about 3 in the day"), predominately-black (remember Noble's Holler from Justified? Most every rural Southern county has at least one place like that), lots of ecological issues, dwindling population, located in one of the poorest counties in America.

No airports though. Nearest one is five miles away between Welch and Kimble, but... it ain't much of an airport.

I'd like to see season 4 take place in an area like that.

4. Why did Remi want a Lockheed Electra? Amelia Earhart. One look at that plane and I knew it was going to go missing.

5. Didn't tell them that Cochise was coming, because someone might be listening? Did Tom not think that he alone was a sufficiently high-value target, or that even the plane itself might be?

6. Fleeing from airplanes? In slower, unarmed airplanes?

Why? What did they expect to happen? A fleet of bicycles would have made for better bug-out vehicles than passenger airplanes.