TIMELESS - SEASON 2 - EPISODE 6 - "KING OF THE DELTA BLUES"


Anslem Richardson, Malcom Barrett, Paterson Joseph and Kamal Naiqui all looking sharp

TIMELESS – SEASON 2 – EPISODE 6 – “KING OF THE DELTA BLUES”
(Warning some spoilers exist herin)
We now join in to your regularly scheduled programming…
By which I mean…    The Beaming Beeman blog has been dormant for quite awhile… I’ve been busy, but I’ve either been doing the journeyman-episodic-director thing, where I go from episode to episode of different shows that I’m not attached to full-time (enjoyable in it’s right), or I haven’t been the producing/director of the show that felt right to resurrect the blog.
This season, finally, I landed on TIMELESS.  A happy event for me.  The show was created by Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke - who are the nicest, most supportive and professional showrunners a fellow could want for.   I had the great experience this year of strong scripts, a great writer’s team and a sense of collaboration to make 10 great episodes that were both strong and on budget.  I’m very proud of the second season of Timeless and I don’t think we have a weak episode in the bunch…   Keep watching and I’m sure you’ll agree.
I directed two episodes of the show for Eric and Shawn in season one, and in season 2 they asked me to come aboard to produce the show and be the in-house director. Delighted was I and join I did!
… Okay, you ask… but episode 6?   Beeman’s Blog gets resurrected on episode 6???
Yes.  Yes.  There’s a reason for that.
You see – I’ve been planning to re-start the blog for awhile…  But we were in production and TIMELESS is a beast.  (I mostly do beastly shows it seems) When the first episode aired I was in the middle of directing this same episode 6 that just you’ve hopefully just watched…
I couldn’t find the time or energy to do the necessary writing and photo editing…  It also turned out that the dormant blog had gathered the digital equivalent of a seafaring vessel’s barnacles and algae… and to scrape it off and clean it up was a bigger project than I figured.
We finished production only two weeks ago.  I could have gotten a blog out last week – but, frankly, I was beat… And I think I also figured that, if I’ve waited this long I might as well wait another week and dig in on an episode I directed.  One which I’m really proud of too!
My plan is to circle back after the end of the season and write about episodes 1 through 5.  And since the world and this show lives on DVR, and Amazon Prime and iTunes, and more likely than not that’s how you watch anyway, I think it’s just as well.
If you’re new to my blog, what I do is to try and give you, dear reader, a glimpse into the process we go through behind-the-scenes.  On a basic level that process is that we prep each episode for 7 days and shoot each episode for 8 days plus (usually) one or two days of second unit (mostly for action scenes).
And so…
King of The Delta Blues:
I wasn’t originally supposed to direct this one.  Another director had been booked, but dropped out.  In fact, I only found out for sure that I was going to do it two days before we started prep. 
Now I always read and break down every script of the season, assessing for both creative notes and for feasibility-of-production.  But, even though I was familiar with the script, the emotional and organizational difference between producing and directing is pretty big.
The script had come out early (Sean and Eric are fastidious about getting the scripts out in a timely manner) and I knew it was a good one.  Because one of my assumed missions on a show is to keep the cast and crew pumped up, I’d already been circulating the set letting everyone know I’d seen a preview and that it was the best script of the year so far.  Most of the cast knew that the Robert Johnson story was coming up, and depending upon their interest in all-thing-musical, they were already pretty fired up.
Anslem Richardson’s script was first rate – kind of jumping off the page.  You can just tell when a script is written with passion and this one was.
Slem (as he’s known) wrote the Bonny and Clyde and the Al Capone episodes in season 1.  I’d met him in the writer’s room, but hadn’t worked with him yet. 
The first draft was excellent, and I wished it could have been produced as is.  But the producing half of my job (along with a bunch of other people) is to figure out how many days how much money will it take to actually make the script.  

Me and Slem

As great as the first draft of 206 was, it didn’t fit into the box…
Here was the original email I sent to the full group of writers and other producers after breaking down the material:
On Wed, Jan 3, 2018 at 9:49 AM, Greg wrote:
Hi guys
206 is a great script all around!  Really evocative setting and characters and the sense of time and place is very visceral.
Moreover our characters are all moved forward in a meaningful way.   Especially Mason.
The bad news is that - in its current form - there’s no way it will fit into the Box.
As always, I’ve done my own breakdown and haven’t cross-referenced with Don or Max our AD -  they may see things differently - but I think this script will schedule out at 11 or 12 days.  I assume our goal is still 8 + 1 (aka 9)
The reasons?:
10 locations
(6 locations with only 1 scene - I count college for negros in this even though there’s a 2/8 hall scene... and 2 other locations with only 2 scenes)
3 action scenes
3 playback scenes - always adds time - and one while driving
10 scenes (maybe more) with 4 or more actors (some scenes have 6 or 7 speaking parts)
1 montage
2 driving scenes
All of these elements take time wether it be loading trucks and moving location or hooking cars to tow or staging stunts and  pyro and safety meetings for shootouts or filming lots of coverage because of numerous speaking parts.
 Ideas:
 As beautiful as it is can we omit the  cotton field scene.  It’s it’s own location - cotton most likely will be a pricey VFX and the tow work + playback will be slow.
 Any way to combine the beats in the 1936 San Antonio scene and the College for Negros beats into one location.  Either they attempt a payphone call in San Antonio or they pull up at College of Negros and we skip San Antonio
 Can we eliminate the exterior Rittenhouse action piece - it will be it’s own 2nd  unit doing night work for 1/2 page.   Is there a way to establish the Rittenhouse atrium  - with guards etc - and then we reveal Wyatt entering. Tricky I know but may need to happen.
 We also have only have about 3 days on stage so we will have to build one of the sets.  Maybe hotel room - but this will also add costs and stretch us.
 Sorry to be the bear 🐻 of bad news - but again - it’s a great script and I’m sure, even with cuts and compressions, it will be one of our best!
Greg

This is the sad process that we would-be artists in the television world must engage in…. No matter how fantastic the material, it must fit in the box.  Sometimes the box can be stuffed and almost overflowing – but that’s it. (More on those cool omitted scenes in a moment.)
Mostly I write these emails to state the obvious and put it on paper, and get a dialogue going.  Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan and Slem and Don Kurt, our executive producer/line producer were all ahead of me.  They knew the script was too big and were addressing it even before I said anything – The writers had cut the Cotton-Fields-Scene and the College-of-Negros scene.  There was a lot more haggling and compressing to go but that was a big start.
The omitted cotton field scene was a beautiful and evocative scene where Rufus, Mason with Robert Johnson in the back drove from San Antonio to Johnson’s sister’s juke joint.  As they drove they passed through cotton fields being worked on by African American field hands singing gospel songs.  Johnson was inspired to play his guitar and we saw the evolution from gospel to blues.
The College for Negros scene was a scene where, unable to use a “whites-only” payphone in San Antonio, they had to go to a Negro college and borrow a phone.  As we simplified that scene evolved to become the scene where Rufus defiantly uses the “whites only” phone in front of the gas station.
The casting was critical on this one.  I feel we’ve gotten SO lucky this whole year and our historical-character guest cast have been incredible.  Young JFK, Wendell Scott, Hedi Lamar, etc… Have been great.  But Robert Johnson raised the bar on what we needed.  Not only did he need the edge and pathos of this vital, complex historical character – our actor needed to be able to sing and play guitar.  
Robert Johnson
Our casting director, Wendy Weidman told me later that of all the roles this season – finding this one was the one that stressed her out the most.  But then Kamal appeared.  His audition – which was reading two scenes and then playing and singing "Stop Breakin Down Blues"  - was very dynamic.  He won the role hands down.
 There was something about the script that had a simplicity and elegance to it.  It inspired me to follow that theme in the way it would be lit and shot.  I knew our production designer John Zachary and his team would make the sets beautiful and that the wardrobe would be great.  I really wanted the lighting to be beautiful.  I repeatedly said the sentence “classic portrait lighting” to our cinematographer Nate Goodman (who I’ve worked with on “Heroes” and “Falling Skies”)…  I wanted the episode to look like a Coen Brother’s movie, like Hudsucker Proxy.  To me this meant beautiful lighting, simple frames where the scenes evolve within the frames and wide lenses, especially in the 1930’s material.   Of course as I thought about that, it meant that I would need the discipline to shoot the episode mostly with just one camera.  
The trend (for a long time) in TV is to get two or three or more cameras on a scene and blast away getting as many “cuts” as possible.  But fundamentally, this means that those shots will need to be shot on longer lenses (so the cameras stay out of each others way), they will be less designed, more random and more “general.”  By the same token, the more cameras one adds, pointed at different parts of the set the more general and less specific the lighting is.  I wanted each shot to be simple but planned and beautifully lit.  But that meant I was going to get less overall shots per day, and that each of the shots I did get would have to do more and “work harder” for me.  I think, in the end, about 90% of the episode was filmed with one camera.  I also proved to myself what I’ve often suspected – that as long as a director is organized – you can get the work done just as efficiently with one camera as with two or more.
Cinematographer Nate Goodman and I
Beautiful lighting and an example of 
a frame within a frame

Beautiful lighting (I think) on a CU of Lucy
We built the juke joint.  It was a great set made from old abandoned wood – the floor was uneven and décor was period perfect.  We hired jitterbug dancers and our costume designer, Mari-An Ceo, did her usual impeccable wardrobe.  In shooting the first scene, where our heroes, arrive I tried to shoot the scene from Mason’s point-of-view.  He is the character who loved this period and it’s music.  I staged the scene so that Mason was in the lead and I moved the camera on stedicam, choreographing dancers and patrons through the foreground, trying to create energy and movement – I moved into a big close up of mason and Paterson Joseph conveyed such joy as he walked into it.  Both Paterson and I were keenly aware that this was his first time visiting the past and, unlike the rest of the troops who’ve now done it dozens of time – the past is an amazing time for him.
When our characters first arrived in the past, I had the idea to try to shoot the scene all in one shot.  There were a few challenges to this…  The first plan was, of course, to move the whole lifeboat out into the fields of Santa Clarita county (doubling for Texas) but the lifeboat is huge.  To get it out there would mean getting an oversized load permit, a huge flatbed truck and transporting it with a police escort.  There was also the fear that it could easily be damaged in transport. The lifeboat, despite how sturdy it looks on camera, is made of wood and molded foam and plastic and is actually kind of fragile. 
The second idea was to create a blue screen lifeboat.  Pretty simple really – just a hole cut in a piece of bluescreen-painted plywood, on a platform on in front of a blue screen on another platform.   The only problem was the VFX team wanted something real wherever the characters physically interacted with the lifeboat.  This meant we needed to take a small portion of the lifeboat – specifically the round metal ring that the character’s hands interact with as they climb out, and the tracks that their feet interact with.  We built this structure out in the field and all was well.
Now we had budgeted to have 3 or four shots of the lifeboat in the scene.  My idea, which I wasn’t sure would work until I’d rehearsed with the cast, was to shoot the scene all in one shot.  There weren’t many scenes in this script that I felt could be done this way – but this was one.  The vision I had was to crane down out of the sky and discover the lifeboat – as we found it the characters would be seen exiting the ship and Paterson, who essentially had a monologue would come forward into the foreground and play out to camera.  When he threw up, Mason would drop below frame and then the rest of the cast would pass him one by one and the camera would move back away as they passed.  A very simple shot actually, and I argued that it would only be one shot instead of three or four.  Of course the “one shot” was 53 seconds long and every frame had to be tracked… But hey it looked great.
 Final product (the lifeboat in the b.g. is all digital)

 Abigale and I are both outstanding in our field 
(Get it? "out standing in our field" #grandpajokes)

A big part of a director's day is waiting... and waiting... 
That day we shot the lifeboat scene was a big day but one of the most fun. In addition the “arrival scene” I just described, we also shot the “Robert Johnson hitchhiking” scene and the “Gas Station scene” and the “Exterior Juke Joint”
I had a fun moment with Paterson on the road during the hitchhiking scene.  This episode, obviously, belonged to Mason.  And it was the first time his character got to go to the past.  Now, Paterson Joseph has been a joy to work with all along, but here it was my honor to work with him as he got to stretch out in his role.  There are so many moments that he got to play with – drunk in the beginning, amazed at being in the past, in awe of being in the presence of the Blues Legends at the juke joint, and mostly the beautiful (I think) scene where Rufus compels Mason to not quit and we see the depth of affection between these two men.
But, on the day on the road, there was a moment that made me smile.  Paterson and I were alone briefly by the 1930’s car and he said, “This is fantastic.  It really feels like I’ve made it right now, more so than all the other work I’ve done in the U.S.  I think of myself as a boy in England and what my dreams were.  And here I am in an American suit from the 30’s, driving and American car, in America, and it just feels great!”  I couldn’t help but smile.  What a nice moment to share.
Another one of my favorite moments from set happened later that night, during the scene outside of the gas station.  All of the cast were killing it, and Kamal had his biggest speech.  He was doing great and my only direction to him was to know that, dig deep and find the love of the music he was talking about giving up.  I loved the scene and so did Slem.  As I called “cut” on one set up, Slem ran over to the cast with a big smile of his own. “Man,” he said, “This is so awesome.  We have three strong black men all from different parts of the world, all with different accents all in the same scene.” 
It was another great moment on an episode of TV that was very special for me.

 3 fine gentlemen
 Cu from the episode on Paterson 40mm lens

CU Kamal 40mm lens

Anslem Richardson
Malcom Barrett
Paterson Joseph
Kamal Naiqui
Abigale Spencer
Matt Lanter

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Comments

Ken Row said…
Thank you for blogging again. I've missed reading your posts.
Greg Beeman said…
Thanks Ken for finding the blog again!
Anonymous said…
Mr. Beeman!

Huge fan here!

I was wondering if you have an address where you can receive fanmail?

I would love to have some posters of your work signed!

Please email me to lance0119@yahoo.com if so. Thanks very much!
Greg Beeman said…
You can send mail to me c/o CAA, attn: Rob Kenneally's office, 2000 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067

I will sign it and send it back to you. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
WOW THANK YOU SIR!
lionel abi said…
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