Monday, June 30, 2014

SEASON 4, EPIOSDE 2: "THE EYE"


FALLING SKIES: SEASON4 EPISODE 2 "THE EYE"

Written by: Carol Barbee
Directed by; Sergio Mimica Gezzan



warning there are spoilers within.


"The Eye" is the second part of a trilogy that encompasses the first 3 episodes of our season.

Second acts are tricky because they neither begin the drama nor end the drama.  But they have the obligation to carry the drama that's been established and raise it to the next level.

I was very happy to have Sergio Gezzan in the second episode of the season.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before the second episode of a season is the trickiest for me.  I am directing while the prep is happening - and new seasons always bring new tonal and structural and dramatic changes.  I am less able to oversee the 2nd episode of a season than any other episode of the year.  That's why Sergio's presence brings me comfort.  Not only is he relentlessly responsible, but he cares deeply about the crafting of character and the drama of storytelling.  Sergio is the only director, besides myself, who has directed episodes of "Falling Skies" in all 4 seasons.

David Eick and writer Carol Barbee (who I worked with on the first season of "Touch" were telling a story of surveillance
and totalitarian oppression.  Carol really wanted a creepy mood, and a feeling of always being watched.  The concept of the eye that twisted and turned on the front of the air ship was important.  

The mysterious zeppelin that has been circling the ghetto were Tom is imprisoned, is examined in depth this episode.  What was very important to David Eick was to establish how the zeppelin is powered.  As the second act, this episode is largely about Tom and co. learning and plotting their unlikely escape attempt.

As you can tell.  Many new ideas and new rules have been brought in this season, and we were working hard to feather them in with the things that have already been established. The tethered zeppelin, of course, was a new concept and a new design, and while we had some time to design the exterior of the zeppelin - the interior was done pretty quickly. 

Rob Gray, the production designer (which means he designs and builds the sets and finds the locations we shoot in and overall designs the "look" of the series) and I felt that we should stick with what we've established as far as Espheni interior design.  Between with the interior spaceship in season 2, and the re-vamped power station in season 3 and Karen's lair in Season 3 and the big power station that we blew up at the end of season 2 - we had built a lot of spare parts for Espheni interiors.  They were literally laying around in a warehouse and we had used and re-used them many times.(Believe it or not the Falling Skies budget is really quite spare and recycling is a key part of our game-plan.)

Rob did have to design a new set - which meant having artisans carve (literally) styrofoam walls covered with Espheni veining.  With the lights on the set, when it was up was quite spare and incomplete looking, a mess of walls propped together with tubes and wires run everywhere.  Rob covered the floor with rubber pebbles.  As I say, it wasn't much to look at when well lit.  But when we turned the lights off and Director of Photography, Barry Donlevy added the signature orange Espheni cross-light, it came alive.   We also added ceilings and some depth with computer generated backgrounds.

One of the cool things in the episode, which I'm kind of proud of, was the way that Tom was transported up to the zeppelin.  The script just described an elevator that descended from the ship - with no further elaboration.  But, in our Visual Effects meetings - we spend a lot of time talking about things like "What would an Espheni elevator look like."  I was shooting, but my fearless former assistant, now associate producer, Ashley Shields-Muir came to me with reports from the VFX meeting - which had generally been successful, but which had stalled in this one area.  The idea of what the elevator should look like, just came to me in a flash - it should be a snaking series of tentacles that seem separate and alive.  The whole thing should descend like a mass of snakes from the ship and then let loose of the passenger as it lands.  To the harnessed human who comes down, this would be no big deal...  But Tom's ride up would be pretty creepy for him.

Sergio was very interested in the idea of the rebellion - and I have to credit him for both conceiving, designing and implementing the attack that the citizens of the ghetto.  It was a big scene that didn't really fit into schedule - but Sergio found ways to twist and turn the schedule and add a small splinter unit to make sure that it happened.

It was also clear this season that the Espheni overlords were going to play a bigger and more specific role this year.  We meet the one who oversees the ghetto, and at the end of the episode we get a glimpse of a second overlord, who is mysteriously working with Lexi - to what end, good or bad, at this point we know not...  But practically, to us in production that meant more overlords.  Now, overlords have been our most expensive commodity.  They have been full done using CGI motion-capture , and they have cost many thousand of dollars per shot.  So as you look at past seasons the overlords have actually been used quite sparingly, and many magician's tricks have been used to limit how often we actually see them.   

But David made it clear that this year would be different.  We would need to see them much more.  So, with Todd Master's we began to devise a plan to create a practical, on-set, overlord.  Todd's practical creation of Cochise, applied on top of actor Doug Jones, had saved the day last year.  Had Cochise been full CGI last season, he would have been prohibitively expensive.  But Todd's suit with minimal CGI for Cochise's eyes and brow was a massive dollar savings.  So, we decided we needed to try it again.  Of course the overlords are 10 feel tall with strangely thin bodies, tiny feet and super long arms.  This was all no big deal when they were all CGI...  But practically this means we were not going to be able to replicate what we did with Doug - i.e. have an actor in a suit.  This project was going to involve a stunt, performer, who was going to have to walk around on short stilts with a robotic, radio controlled mask propped on top of his head.  It was a big project that Todd estimated would take 10 weeks.  Through no fault on TNT's part (we can't get financial approval of things until we are actually in production and have a budget.) we weren't able to start fabricating this creature until just a couple of weeks before we started shooting - and Sergio's episode came up only 4 weeks after that.

Long and short is that, for this episode, which was filmed 6 weeks after we sent Todd off to build the creature - we didn't make it!  Rushing as fast as he could, Tom did finish the rough exoskeleton of the overlord, and we did film this on set as a template on which to overlay the CGI character.  But what you saw in tonight's episode was 90% CGI.

More next week....






Director of Photography, Barry Donlevy and Director Sergio Gezzan


Days go by on set for Drew Roy

Noah gets to know his fellow cast members

Will Patton - Weaver's just hanging on to his sanity

On set at night on a crane

Me in the mirror in the producer's trailer

What do you call many Volm?  A gaggle?  A pride?  A posse?... 

Production Designer Rob Gray with Seychelle Gabriel

Scarlett Byrne and Sarah Carter between takes

Robert Sean Leonard and Connor Jessup between takes

"You looking at me?!"

Noah enters the belly of the beast (much of the set was CGI set extensions)

Collin rests between set-ups

Getting ready to rumble

Techtor's joining the party!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

401: WE BEGIN

 


EPISODE 401: GHOST IN THE MACHINE
WRITTEN BY: DAVID EICK
DIRECTED BY: GREG BEEMAN

 (WARNING: SPOILERS ARE INCLUDED IN THIS POST - IF READING SPOILERS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE BEEN LOCKED UP IN A GULAG - DON'T READ THIS POST!!!)

At our annual meeting in Mr. Spielberg's Amblin offices  everyone was in attendance.  Mr. Spielberg and TNT President Michael Wright were very excited about season 4...  New showrunner, David Eick  presented his overview for how he saw the season going.   His first big idea was to create a structure that split our group apart.  

Group 1:  He saw Tom and Will staying with a group that were being kept in an American city turned alien-controlled gulag.  They were not being killed, but were learning of some new, and even more malicious purpose the aliens had now conceived for them.

Group 2: Was to be Anne, and Anthony and Denny and a few other 2nd Mass. fighters.  Mr. Eick really wanted to miix-up Anne's character.  His pitch was that, driven by rage when she loses Lexi, Anne becomes a fighter and a leader, taking on a new role in the show.

Group 3:  Matt is separated on his own and taken to a new alien "re-conditioning" camp - a lot like the old Nazi youth camps.  The Espheni have given up on, or shifted their harnessing program and are now actively brain-washing the Earth's youths.  The storyline was meant to be ominous and mysterious - presenting questions that will only be answered later.

Group 4:  A group that involves Ben, Maggie and Lourdes and Lexi.  They would be contained in a seeming nirvana-like setting where the aliens have granted them peace.  Lexi, now 18 to 20, has become a cult-like leader of this place.  (Many fans have guessed at the idea that rapidly-growing Lexi would now have become a young woman.  But, hopefully, we have thrown in some good surprises for you fans in her story.)

And as Mr. Eick laid out how the season would evolve - with our character's becoming separated and (maybe) coming back together, and as he laid out the other plans for big twists and turns along the way - everyone started weighing in with their own ideas of how this season would take us where we needed to go in terms of the big, big picture - the overall series picture.

Mr. Spielberg had been thinking about where he wanted this season to take us - and he had clarity on the message he wanted to tell when the whole show is said and done.  He put forth a number of very exciting ideas.  Most of these related to the end of the season.  Mr. Wright also reminded us that the heart of our show is the family and the unity and commitment of humanity to survive.  A real buzz got going around the table.  Everyone was jumping in with ideas. As someone behind the scenes, these are very exciting moments in the life of a series.

Mr. Eick took the notes and went off to write with his newly established writing staff.  The script arrived several weeks later.

Now, the first draft of this script was, by far, the biggest most complex script I've ever read for the show - and if you've been watching these last few years you'll know that's saying something...   Our previous Season 2 opener, and the Season 3 opener both had HUGE sequences in them.  But this script opened with a gigantic action scene to rival any that we'd ever done - and then kept going!  We were going to have to build a whole new "ghetto" environment, and hotel to house Tom - and this environment was loaded with action and visual effects (new creatures - flying skitters, motorcycles, flamethrowers, etc.)  We were going to have to find, build or create an environment that Lexi's followers could live inhabit.  (Originally this was written as a mall, but eventually it became "Chinatown" - more on that later)  And we were going to have to find an environment for the Nazi-like youth camp where Matt lived.

Now my job along with producer Grace Gilroy's is always to figure out how we can accomplish whatever is written on the page.  But there are, of course, limits.  David Eick was very understanding, and understood that we'd "been there done that" for three seasons.  So...  In great co-operation we honed the script and it's big sequences and made some compromises along the way.

For the most part we kept the opening as written.  It was extremely complex in that it, literally, covered a lot of ground - the characters traverse hundreds of yards.  There are are 10 or 12 main characters and a couple of dozen extras.   Then there are dozens of visual effects shots, lots of explosions and gunfire - and the key story that has to be told is of how the group is split into four.  Because so much else what going to be shot in the body of this episode, it became slowly (and painfully) clear that I was going to only end up with two days to shoot this whole sequence.  Except it was not a two day sequence.  Every time we did the math it came out to 2 1/2 days or maybe 2 3/4 days.  (In prep, we sit in meetings over and over, tediously, and go through the shots and the game-plan and the logistics and we calculate how long it will take to do each shot.  Typically we factor in a best-case-scenario, which we all know is unrealistic - equipment breaks, cast and crew get lost on the way to set, confusion reigns.  Best-case almost never happens) (*See storyboards at the end of the post for a small segment of the shots we planned out)

An idea that was suggested by Director of Photography, Nate Goodman, was that we could be more efficient if we told the whole story from Tom's point of view.  The script indicated cutting around to all of the many characters and their individual stories - which would be very time consuming.  By telling the story in a way that every shot shown was either Tom, or What-Tom-Sees, we could drastically reduce the number of shots.  (To clarify, this technique couldn't practically begin until the deadly alien beamers appear and the battle begins, before that there were too many stories to tell.)

I loved the way that the story opened in a halcyon, calm way - that we begin with what feels like the end - i.e. the end of the long journey back to Charleston that began at the very end of season three's last episode.   The dialogue opened with the idea of climbing a steep hill, and at the top of the hill the city of Charleston is revealed.

That meant that we had  to find a beautiful pastoral setting with a steep hill.  Not the easiest location in Vancouver.  After much searching we went right to the edge of the Canada/US border where there is farmland.   I knew I was close to my home country because my Verizon plan worked again! 

We walked that location with every department several times and talked through exactly how we were going to shoot it (one of the photos below shows the crew following me through the then-soggy grass as I laid out the game plan) 

Another problem we had is that this big action had to be done on Day one and two of our season two shoot.  This is never an ideal way to begin (with big action.)  Normally one would start with  smaller dialogue scenes.  But because all of the other locations had to be built and because many of the character's went through haircuts and other changes after the opening - we decided to start big!

But, while the scouts were wet, the shooting days were gorgeous, sunny and blazing hot!  

It is always fun when the whole cast comes together again after a long 6 months away!  This group of actors have really become friends over the years (and believe me, this is not common)   Everyone was happy and gung-ho - and really ready to dive back into the season.  But, despite the tireless enthusiasm,  the work was very hard and we were walking and driving on steep slopes and on uneven ground.  Of course we got way behind and many shots that had been carefully planned had to be dropped or combined along the way.

The two sequences where some compromises were made were in Lexi's world, which originally had more scenes and more characters - and Matt's world - which originally had a bigger skitter presence.

As mentioned, Lexi's commune was originally designed to be in a mall.  This was a very interesting idea because, much as the "Dawn of The Dead" movies did - it would explore the materialism of the lost world as this new world evolves.  But...  Malls are very hard things to achieve.  (Ironically the writers in Season 1 had the same idea which we also were not able to achieve in Toronto - and which became the Season 1 high school.)  The problems with malls is first, that no empty malls tend to exist in the real world that will allow a film company to control them for a film shoot.  And, secondly, malls are FULL of products which are both expensive to rent or buy and which TV networks won't allow you to show, because the amount to "advertising" ...

So, since a traditional mall was out, after much searching, production designer Rob Grey had (what I thought was) a genius idea.  There is a small mall in Vancouver's Chinatown and next to it  a small museum with a courtyard and a beautiful tea garden and temple.  Now, the temple was very diffucult and impractical to shoot - and the idea was a little difficult to sell visually...  But, there was something unusual and graphic that appealed to me. Malls can be visually bland - but this Chinatown mall was going to be quite interesting.

There is actually one small part of the show where we shot in a real mall - this is where Ben wakes up...  But to spell out the difficulties...  we had to shoot that sequence between midnight and 5 AM, and we had to be 100% wrapped out by 6AM - VERY restrictive!  At first we thought we'd go back to that location again as the season went on - but we never did - it was just too impractical.

OK that's it!  Season 4 begins!  Hope you enjoy it!

PIX:




SCOUTING THE BATTLEFIELD ON A RAINY DAY IN CANADA
SCARLETT BYRNE'S SCREEN TEST


IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
WILL PATTON ON DAY ONE (THE RAIN HAD TURNED BLAZING HOT!!!!)
THE GALS REST BETWEEN TAKES
NOAH BETWEEN TAKES
MS. CARTER



THE BATTLE BEGINS!



MEGAN ON SET
MOON 'N CONNOR
MOON 'N 'LIL LEXI
NOAH AND WILL SAY GOODBYE TO BRAD KELLY ON THE DAY HE DIES

ME ON SET
 
ROB GREY SAYS "WE WILL BUILD A MECH"

BUILDING A MECH PART 1

BUILDING A MECH PART 2

IT IS DONE!
SARAH CARTER ON SET


COLLIN IN POPE'S LAIR

MAXIM AT THE "YOUTH RE-TRAINING CENTER"

FILMING

THIS IS THE TIME ALL THE CLOCKS IN THE WORLD STOPPED ON FALLING SKIES

and... STORYBOARDS: