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!
















Hyperion said…
Hi Greg

I recently got into Falling Skies and have become an ardent fan. First let me say many thanks for your blog which is a unique insight to how these shows get made.

Up to this point I can safely say that Season 2 of FS was by far the best. I think a lot of that had to do with the show discovering that it had a truly compelling story line and character in Ben. The zenith of this came in episodes 6 and 7 (Homecoming and Molon Labe) which still stand as some of the best TV I have seen. There was a wonderful combination of drama, action, creepiness, and honest to goodness horror, all centered around standout performances from Connor Jessup and Jessy Schram. Watching Season 3 I frankly wondered why on earth the writers had not built further on all of that, with Ben being largely a supporting role. I get that you have to mix things up but I honestly feel that the Ben character was squandered in S3.

I am well aware of the teasers involving Ben in S4 but I really hope that overall the writers explore his alien-derived capabilities.

Since it is also clear that Chinatown/Lexi are going to be very important I have to believe that more time gets spent on that as the time dedicated to that in this episode was brief, to say the least. We know literally nothing about how Lexi is as she is; or how super-soldier Ben could be in a coma for 4 months but still wake up looking like Brad Pitt's better looking younger brother. (PS the show got insanely lucky in Connor Jessup changing from the geeky guy in Season 1 to heart-throb action hero.)

A few other comments: Anne's mania may be just a little too manic but perhaps that is something that comes down to earth with a thud. Also Pope is basically a one-note bore, and has been for about 2 seasons. Apparently he gets some love interest this year, but it had better cause some changes or this is a character that has more than run its course.

I hold out a lot of hope for S4, as FS grabbed me as a show by melding the inherent plot opportunities of an alien invasion with the Mason family drama as its core. I truly hope the show sticks to that.
Unknown said…
Thank you so much for what you're doing in this blog and for your awesome work with Falling Skies.

Season 3 was a disappointment, after how season 2 went, I expected more from season 3.

I didn't lose hope though, and I think that the beginning of season 4 has been totally intriguing and thrilling. I'm not going to judge a few "things" because, come on, is the first episode. People should be more patient and wait to see where the story is going.

As a negative note, the episode probably had a bit more confusion than it needed.

Congrats for the premiere, I really think this season is going to be the best one. I can't wait to see the next episode!

And I'm wondering which successful TV show Otto Carius is directing to can speak with that safety... LMFAO Haters gonna hate, I'm afraid... But he's watching the show, so, more audience even if it is from haters.
Aldenata said…
@Ghost in the Machine: y'all definitely took a gamble by dividing up the characters like this ("juggling chainsaws" might be a good metaphor), and I figured that I'd know real quick whether or not this season was going to be worth watching. I think it'll work out fine.

I've mentioned before that this series has been far too myopic for one involving an intergalactic war, and I think that spreading out the characters is a good way to remedy that, while still keeping that "character-driven focus" that them "mainstream audience" types seem to like for some reason.

Also, what you've done with the characters is absolutely awesome.

-Anne as an hardcore guerrilla leader, finally doing the kind of things that a guerrilla force should be doing. I could see her going full on Berserker before the Season ends; sewing uniforms from the skins of slain Espheni, sticking their heads on pikes and eating the rest of them.

She seems to be operating out of Berkley County, South Carolina; Francis Marion's old haunt. I'm sure Tom Mason would appreciate the juxtaposition.

What I would like to see is the nuts and bolts of running a post-apocalyptic insurgency. What is she doing to keep her men fed, sheltered, healthy, and supplied with enough ammunition and explosives to fight the enemy?

(Last part wouldn't be as hard as you might think. Gunpowder and thermite are not hard to produce under very primitive conditions. Nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose are, but I've heard of both being homebrewed by groups like Al Quaeda and the IRA... though it is said to be dangerous. Keep in mind that there's going to be a lot of issues with weapons fouling if she can't make smokeless powder.)

-Tom makes an excellent jailbird; running around as a Flamethrowing Renegade Biker when he ain't trying to be the next Mordechai Anielewicz.

I asked my neice if she thought that I should do like Tom; start wearing a shemagh and shades and riding around prisons on a dirtbike, shooting at people with a homemade flamethrower. She didn't fully understand the concept, being as she is a 2-year-old, but I think she would nonetheless support my decision.

-Matt... needs to work on his OpSec. I mean you can only expect so much from teenagers, but he must know that the Espheni will be doing their best to eavesdrop on any conversations they have. I hope the new girl ain't some kind of narc; they'll all get kicked out of Camp Espheni and sent off to be ambushed by...


-"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."?

End of the Hindu/Buddhist reincarnation cylce; interesting choice of afterlife. I admit that Comparative Religion was never my strong point but as I understand it, Nirvana means "to blow out", as the light on a candle; it may usually be taken to mean "paradise", but it can also be translated as "elimination". What translation is Lexi going for?

Am I reading too much into this? I almost certianly am.

Pacifist Chinatown is confounding but I'll withold judgement until we know more about it. Adult Lexi speaks of unity between three races, but as far as I can tell we now have confirmation of at least five intellegent races (Humans, Skitters, Espheni, Volm, those creepy new flying things). Which of the three does she plan on fitting into her New World Order?

I've always wondered what a lightning strike would do to a mech.

Malls? I don't know why people think a shopping mall would be an inherently better place to hang out post-apocalypse than, say, a train station or a cathedral or a sports stadium or any other permanent structure intended to hold large numbers of people. If anything, places like malls and hospitals are probably going to be LESS desirable because they would be such prominent targets for looters, who would leave them uninhabitable if not destroy them entirely.
Unknown said…
@Aldenata: Thanks for the info! Taking more seriously now Otto Carius's comments :)(and thanks for reading my comment) The science article that you shared is very interesting! "Theoretically possible" opens many doors!

-Nirvana means "to blow out", as the light on a candle; it may usually be taken to mean "paradise", but it can also be translated as "elimination"- Wow, had no idea about this. It will probably be taken as paradise till... Read the synopsis of the episodes and you will see in which episode it can turn into "elimination".

And @Otto Carius: I'm curious to know if you liked something in the episode? Any positive note? :)

Otto Carius said…
Here is a positive thing:

The images were in focus and they didn't feel the need to over use lens flare.
Aldenata said…
@Falling Skies Spain: Thanks. I'm a fan of both post-apocalyptic and military science-fiction (Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle, Travis Taylor and as my handle might indicate John Ringo) and I try to put a lot of thought into. Falling Skies seems to be trying to appeal to folks like me so I can appreciate the effort (mil-SF is hard), and the rest of my folk like it so I try using it as a learning opportunity. Similar to Jericho. Often we learn as much from what they get wrong as from what they get right.

@ Otto Carius: Tom Mason has a Shemagh, kameraden. Surely you cannot deny that shemaghs are awesome.

(was going to say that flamethrower was his best accessory, realized that shemagh was less likely to explode on him)
Aldenata said…
...should put more thought into proofreading my comments.
Otto Carius said…
Shemag? What the hell is that? I'll tell you what is truly awesome the power of 8.8cm Kwk36/L56 in the hands of a master tank gunner firing APCB Gr.40 at a mv of 900mps. Even more impressive the Rhinemetal-Borsig 120mm L55 tank gun of today's era firing projectiles at 1750mps from the muzzle. However, I'm a bit of a nostalgic person so I want to a series where people are fighting like it is 1944 in the Eastern Front.

As for this series I'm not sure, I care one bit the characters-- I just like how it is now head long falling into NAZIS GERMANY!

When, this happened I couldn't help but channel spirit of Otto Carius and well reading a bunch of books of Panzer Aces didn't hurt either for my own project!
Aldenata said…
Y'know, I agree with you that the Nazi Germany parallels, much like the American Revolution parallels before them, don't really work. Actually, I think there's an even "better" mold that this new coalition fits.

So comrades, come rally,
And the last fight let us face.
The Internationale,
Unites the human race.

(The Fithp did the same thing in Footfall)
Otto Carius said…
You mean Shemagh... I see now.... I thought you were naming the Volm weapon that Tom once had. You were speaking about his costume as the Ghost.

The problem with this series: too many changes in executive producers and not one of them with a coherent idea about what should happen. And Spielberg's strength is feature length work (I use that term loosely) and not extended episodic storytelling.

WWII Overrated? Hell, no. WWII has some of the best tank battles of all time. In fact it is the only really major conflict where Tank Technology has truly been put to a real test. I hate to say it, but, the Russian and German tank battles on the Eastern Front--EPIC!

I don't think the show should try to be some allegory for WWII, WWI, Vietnam, Revolutionary War, or anything else actually. I think the Humans should leave the planet and join the Volm and become refugees in the Universe. That's how I would end the series the planet is made uninhabitable for any life. The ultimate Phyrric victory to say the least.
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