Sunday, August 04, 2013

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 10: "BRAZIL"

Season 3, episode 10: "BRAZIL"

Written by: Remi Aubachon

Directed by: Greg Beeman


Wow... So the last episode of the season is already here and gone...

If it's any consolation to the diehard fan - the production office for season 4 just opened this week, the crew is coming aboard, a first draft of the first script has come out - and season 4 looks very exciting with a lot of big changes and many twists and turns...  Also, if you haven't heard, we will be doing 12 episodes and not just 10 next time - so that's 20% more FALLING SKIES for you!
 
As for this one... 

This was the first time FALLING SKIES has ever used a helicopter! 

Now, I’ve filmed in helicopters a few times and truthfully, I don’t love them.  They bounce and they rise and move in ways that are unnatural.  I hate heights anyway, so heights while I’m swooping and diving and pitching I hate even more.  I have to say though, that the pilot of this particular helicopter was quite good.  The ride was smooth and I even had some fun.

The opening sequence, which takes place on the barge sailing into Boston harbor, was a big project.  Half of it was filmed with the crew sailing in Vancouver harbor, the Boston skyline was digitally overlaid onto the Vancouver skyline.  This part amounted to all of the big wide shots and helicopter shots.  The other half was filmed with the barge docked a day later.

Because I was going to be in the helicopter with Director of Photography Barry Donlevy and the cast and crew and Assistant Directors were going to be a couple of hundred feet below me – we decided it was important to rehearse the whole sequence well before filming.

So, a day before filming, the AD’s and art department guys marked off the whole barge in chalk on a parking lot floor.  They also marked off the position of the shipping container the 2nd Mass was hiding in and the position of the guns, etc.  I took all of the actors and all our of regular 2nd Mass extras and we rehearsed the whole scene several times – including how everyone would move into position and what positions we would take and the order of dialogue, etc.

It was a little weird to do it that way, but it paid off – because the day of filming went very smoothly.  The whole cast and extras and the barge crew had to show up before dawn to take a couple of water taxis out to the barge, which had been towed into the harbor and was awaiting us.

Right after sun-up the helicopter landed.  The helicopter cameraman mounted the camera on the spacecam which is a special gyro-stabilized camera mount specially fitted to the helicopter.   I made rounds with the cast and crew at base camp before they went off in the water taxis and then boarded the helicopter about an hour after it first landed.  I took off, and with walkie-talkie communication to the crew below, we ran through the scene a dozen or two times.

Not two hours later, we had all the helicopter shots we needed and I landed and boarded the boat for more filming!

Never underestimate the power of rehearsal!

Seychelle Gabriel had a lot of fun on this one.  Her character, Lourdes, has been pretty reasonable and placid up to now, but here, infected with a head full of eye worms she got to go a little crazy.  The first scene we shot with Lourdes in this state was the tent interior, where Hal comes to see her.  I had supervised her makeup in the makeup trailer, making sure she looked pale and that there were dark circles under her eyes.  There's a makeup trick I like to use, which is to turn the actors eyelid down and draw with a red grease pencil on the inside of the lid.  This creates a subtle red rim at the bottom of the eyes and adds to the freaky effect.  

When we were shooting the scene, I got right in there with a spray bottle of warm water and I used it to sweat her up and to arrange her hair so that oily strand framed her face and that one eye was almost blocked, but just peaked through.  Then, I just encouraged Seychelle to "go for it".  I told her that there was an animal force that was pulsing and shuddering through her body and that she should feel this energy moving through her body.  I also encouraged her to go for it vocally and yell and scream or growl or gurgle - to "get ugly."   As a director what I can do is set the stage and let the actor feel a sense of freedom and guidance in what direction they should head in, performance-wise.  After that I sit back and watch.  Seychelle really did go for broke, growling and snarling and shuddering.  I loved what she was doing and was glad she was having fun.

I can't talk about this episode without talking about Doug Jones and the amazing work he did on this one.  If you were at ComiCon or read a transcript of our panel there, you heard Doug joke that there was only one suit.  This was true.  So as the character of Cochise's father came about we all knew that meant Doug would have to play both roles.  (Truthfully, there was also one other stunt suit that had been built, it was unarticulated, and the Volm characters seen in the background are all played by one stunt man.)

As you can imagine, this was a daunting task for Doug.  The scene in the Volm spaceship where Tom and Weaver are presented to the Volm commander was quite long, and that meant Doug had to memorize two parts and a lot of dialogue. 

Tod Masters used Doug's lifecast to carve a new Volm face.  He designed Washaskabab (Cochise's Dad) with wrinkles and veins and created a new character.  And then Doug brought it to life.  I don't know how or when Doug does his preperation, but in stance and manner and vocal quality he created a completely new and different character from Cochise. (Later, in post production, a different actor re-voiced Doug as the father, but Doug laid all the foundation for the character.)

Since I only had one actor playing both roles, the shooting of this scene was quite challenging. I had to shoot every shot that involved Cochise first, then wait while Cochise became Cochise's father and then go back around the horn filming the scene again with every shot that involved the father.  Any shot where we see them both at once had to be a split screen, meaning I had to lock the camera off and shoot it twice with Doug acting to air.  This took a certain amount of planning and math.  Charts and graphs were drawn by myself, my cinematographer and my assistant director to figure out the best, most logical order to film the scene.


If you've been following this blog, you've also been following how, because of Moon Bloodgood's maternity leave, we had to finish filming any and all scenes with Moon in October.  The finale was filmed in December.  The scene with Anne in the coffee shop was a little better worked out, because the story for 8, "Strange Brew", was pretty well developed back in October.  But this episode was still undeveloped except for in the broadest sense.  Remi was struggling with how we should present Anne in it.  We had funny conversations where he would say stuff to me like, "Well, I'm pretty sure she'll be coming off of a spaceship.  She might be lead out by Karen, or maybe by an Overlord.  I'm toying with the idea that Tom has to trade Hal for Anne, but I'm not sure."  

We both agreed we needed to keep it simple and compartmentalized so that he could have as much freedom as possible to revise in the future.  Then one day he said, "It may be that they’re on a ship."  

"A space ship?" I asked.  

"No, a ship.  Like a tall ship, headed to Europe."  

Since I had no idea where he was headed with that I just said, "That sounds potentially complex. Who is Anne with?"  

"Maybe everybody.  The whole 2nd Mass."  

"And they're all headed on a tall ship to Europe?" I asked."

"Maybe."  

In some ways my job is easy.   A script comes out and my job is to realize it on film with actors and sets and lights and camera.  The job is certainly hard enough and there are many, many ways to realize a script – but no matter what I am making just that one script.  But the writer starts with the blank page.  Anything is possible, and in the “anything” is a lot of potential for overwhelm.  The writing process needs to be creative and evolving.  And the prospect of shooting one scene that’s going to play near the end of the finale episode when you really don't have the story and you don’t even know where you are headed is pretty daunting.  So I had a lot of sympathy for Remi.

A few days later he came back with, "No, we're going to have Anne coming off the ship."  

I started asking questions like, "Cool.  So, is it Karen or The Overlord?"  

"No," Remi replied, It’s a Volm ship."  

"A Volm ship?  How did she get on that?"

"I'm not sure, but I have a really cool idea it's just not completely worked out."

I trusted Remi that the idea would be cool and waited, but in the end Remi decided that the safest decision, the one that would allow the him most flexibility later, would be for Anne and Lexi to have already been offloaded and, as the ship takes off, (whoever was on it and whatever kind of ship it was) Tom would be looking up and then he'd turn and there would be Anne.  "Okay, great."  I said.  "Now, it shoots Saturday, so last question is this - Is Anne in the woods, in an urban rubble environment, or by a waterfront.  We could do any of those?”

Remi wasn’t sure.  It was a random choice and one we both realized didn't at first blush matter that much, but which would drive the locations of a yet-to-be-written script.  A choice had to be made.  Finally he decided… “Fine, the woods!”
A couple of months later when he was writing the script, he said. “Aagh, I wish I’d picked urban environment, that would have been way better.”  And so it goes.
The night we shot that scene was one of the hardest, most painful nights I’ve ever been through.   There was this huge obligation to get Moon shot out – so we scheduled the coffee shop scene from episode 8 and the scene where Anne and Lexi have come off the spaceship as well as a few other scenes and bits and pieces that hadn’t been completed on a Saturday to be shot by a second-unit crew.

We scheduled for Noah and Moon to only work half days on the Friday, we also scheduled Noah to be able to come in late on Monday, to protect his turn-around coming off of Saturday night  (“turn-around” is the amount of hours an actor or crew member has to have off before returning to work as mandated by the actor’s guild SAG the crew’s unions and federal law. In the case of the actors it’s 12 hours.)

But I forgot to think about myself.  The shooting of episode 4, which I was directing, was taking longer hours than was planned.  And the main unit didn’t wrap until 4 AM on the Friday night.  Moon wasn’t working, Noah wasn’t working and a whole new crew was reporting for work on Saturday at 11 AM.  But I was the only person working both shifts.  I suddenly realized that, after a week of 14 to 16 hour days I had only 7 hours between finishing a 15-hour day on Friday and starting another 12 or 14-hour day on Saturday. 

I decided to just sleep in my trailer, so that I wouldn’t lose the half hour both ways it would take to get to my apartment.  I woke up and felt fine on Saturday and we shot until about 9 PM with the cafĂ© scene and the other bits and pieces.  Then I made a fateful mistake.  I knew the move to the woods location and the initial lighting was going to take a couple of hours…  So I decided to take a nap.  I lay down and passed out.  It seemed like only minutes later a surreal knocking was echoing through my room “We’re ready for you, Mr. Beeman” It was the chipper, yet faraway voice of some unknown P.A.  It felt like  thousand miles off and I dully realized that my hands and feet and voice would not work.  I felt like I was in “The Matrix.”  It was horrible, and it took me a long time to roll off the couch and onto the floor.  Every minute or so the knock recurred and the chipper voice reiterated, “We’re ready for you, Mr. Beeman.”  It was a hellish kind of hell.  I eventually staggered out of the trailer and was driven to set.  But the whole time I directed that scene in the woods my vision was swimming, and the ground felt like it was undulating and I was worried I was going to throw up.  Noah and Moon and my director of photography, Barry Donlevy helped me through the ordeal.  But it was a special kind of awful night.  Never again!

Since we didn’t really know what was going to happen in the story before the scene we kind of had to make some parts of it up.  Noah decided that he was, most likely, going to have gone through some kind of ordeal before finding Anne.  So he instructed the makeup department to char him with soot and to add a big gash and streak of blood across his brow.  That made sense to me (in my extreme-sleep-deprived state), so we did it.

Months later, as we began to stage the battle with Karen, my perpetually on-top-of-it assistant Ashley reminded me for the 100th time.  “Remember…  We’re going to have to figure out how Tom gets that wound on his head.”  For some reason, I’d been avoiding the issue for a while.  I was just counting on the fact that at the last second something would come to me. 

On the night of shooting I finally just blurted out the obvious answer.  “Okay, a skitter’s gonna have to smack Tom across the face.”  So as we staged the scene, I created the moment where, after Tom shoots Karen a skitter lunges forward and smacks Tom.  The Tom stunt double was there – and so we ad-libbed a stunt.  We put the stunt double in a harness, wrapped a line around him and ran it to a pulley that we, literally, attached to a nearby stump.  Then two of our biggest guys (including Brad Kelly) grabbed the line and pulled hard.  The stunt man flew back about 8 feet, spinning in the air as he went. 

The budgeting and prep of this episode had been quite intense and fast paced (finale’s always are) and while most everything got buttoned up before we began shooting, truth be told, we went to camera with a lot of unanswered details  regarding the final battle with Karen.  Partly this was because, in prep, we were super over-budget, and we kept pulling big sequences and putting others in their place, and moving things around right up until the last second.  Because of Jessy Schram’s shooting schedule on ABC’s LAST RESORT, the Karen scene was going to be shot last.  Human nature kicked in and we let some of the decisions drift regarding the scene. 

The other factor was that, creatively, there were a lot of discussions and debates about what would happen regarding that scene.  Discussions such as, should Karen die?  And once we got past that to “yes” – it was – who should shoot her?  Tom had to, that was clear.  Karen had certainly f-ed up Tom’s life.  But what about Hal?  And Weaver?  And Maggie?  They all had a lot of reasons to do it as well.

The draft of the script that we went to camera with actually had everyone blast her to death in a hail of gunfire.

As we got closer to shooting though, myself and the entire group of actors kept discussing this issue.  I was on the phone with Remi and we kept working it over as well.  It really  felt like Tom had to be the one to shoot her.  To do otherwise would diminish it.  But we also wanted to finalize the Maggie-Hal-Karen triangle.  Sarah Carter pulled me aside and let me know, that Maggie really wanted to shoot Karen.

So, we brainstormed how to lay the scene out.  We came up with the whole scenario where, after Tom shoots Karen, and after he runs off hearing Anne’s voice, Karen would revive and with her last breath she would call to Hal and Hal would hesitate and Maggie would blast him to death.  I liked it.  Noah liked it.  Sarah Carter and Drew Roy liked it.  I’m not sure Jessy liked it (she was dying after all.)  Midnight calls to LA were made to get approval.  Remi liked it and finally TNT liked it.  And then we shot it.  Like right then and there.

Now, let’s be clear, this shoot-from-the-hip, Cowboy style of production is not the norm for us.  But we were in kind of an extreme duress situation at that time of the season – and so it seemed appropriate.

Whew – that’s a lot of words…  

Thanks for watching all year.  Thanks for reading this blog!

See you next season!

Goodbye and Anon,

Greg


Listen to the director - He commands respect!

Yee-Haw!  It's the finale of Season 3!!!


Drew 'n Sarah - firelight is so romantic
The set at night

The team huddles in a tent on a cold Canadian night eating Cup 'O Noodles to stay warm
Brad Kelly and Collin Cunningham on set

Riding the taxi boat to set  (I like this pic cuz it looks like a cheesy vacation photo... but with aliens) 

Laci on the barge


Prepare to fire (at the blue screen)


Designer Rob Gray on board


Nobility thy name is "Mason"

Cinematographer Nate Goodman (I'm riding in that helicopter in the b.g.)

The Mason boys on board!


A stalwart group
Then throw me in

It's cold as shiznazz in Canada
Even for Volm