This fifth episode of our fourth season is notable in that it was directed by our director of photography, Nathaniel Goodman. 
Nate and I worked on HEROES for three years, seasons 1-3, after which time I departed the show .  Nate - who aspired to direct a HEROES episode from early on – got his chance in the fourth season.  The episode turned out very well, I thought.  Nate and I became friends on that series and stayed in touch in the years between HEROES and FALLING SKIES.

The first season of FALLING SKIES was photographed by another frequent-collaborator of mine – a fellow named Chris Faloona (whose exploits are well documented in the season 1 FALLING SKIES blog.) 

The time between seasons on this show can be harrowing.  We finished filming Season One in November 2010 and TNT picked up Season 2 in July 2011.  Mr. Faloona, a highly sought-after fellow with a family to feed, had found other employment.  (It’s always the same each year – in fact, notice that, while we finished shooting Season 4 in February, Season 5 has only just this week been picked up – the cast and crew over the years have become more confident that the pickups are coming – but it’s all a bit of a nailbiting experience nonetheless.)

But I digress – what I meant to say was, that while it was at first sad to lose my trusted cohart, Mr. Faloona, my heart was soon gladdened when I found out that Nate was available – having just finished a year on the ­­­­BBC series TORCHWOOD.

It actually took a bit of convincing on my part.  Nate wasn’t that interested in taking over a second year show with an already established look.  It became my job to convince him that season 2 was going to be a complete re-invention from Season 1.  I meant it too.  I’m proud of FALLING SKIES first season – but I always felt that we got a bit buried in the high school – and that it limited the scope of the show.  Season 2 had a new head writer who wanted to have no locked-down sets or locations and desired to take the show on the road, literally, in a caravan of vehicles.  Beyond that  we were moving from Toronto to Vancouver.  I felt that there was a trust and confidence in me from Dreamworks and TNT after the successful first season, which gave me the confidence to expand our visual palatte.  All of these things gave me assurance when convincing Nate that we were really going  to change the look.

Once he took the job, Nate and I had many, many conversations about how we’d develop the look of the series.
First of all, came “what not to change” but what we could make better.   The most fundamental thing for me, came from my first meeting with Mr. Spielberg way back before Season1.  At that time he had said two key things:

1.  “No TV close-ups” - and he expanded upon that by saying that he wanted the show to be cinematic - meaning wide.  He wanted the audience to have to decide who they are supposed to look at in any scene.  So wide shots and group shots should be the norm and close-ups should be used only occasionally. He was not interested in a show where editing from single to single was the driving style.

2. “Children of Men” - was the touchstone movie.  This referred first to the tonal quality, i.e. to make the environment, the destruction and rubble and smoke and the urgency of the dramatic situation really important.  But stylistically it meant (a) that everything (or almost everything) would be filmed hand-held.   That we would “follow” our characters…  And also that the idea was that long takes and long masters were to be encouraged.  

Both of these instructions became lifesavers as we went into production, because I frequently found that the only way to get through a day with numerous scenes which had 7 to 12 characters in the same scene, and all of them talking, was to do long takes and to limit coverage.  If I (or any other director) tried to shoot close-up singles of every cast member in  a scene - we would not make the day.

With Nate, we were able to clarify and refine this as we went, by realizing that we had to be clear about whose scene is it?  Most frequently the scenes were Tom’s scene.  But sometimes they were, say,  an Anne’s scene or a Ben's scene and occasionally they were split - say Weaver/Tom or Pope/Maggie.  As we discovered, through trial and error that, the most efficient way to shoot the show was to block a scene and then only shoot a close-up of the person or person’s whose scene it was.  If it was a Tom scene, I’d shoot a master, then Tom’s close-up coverage, and then I would shoot group shots (two shots and three shots) from Tom’s point of view or over Tom’s shoulder.

The other thing that, I think especially in season 2, became the “look” of the show - was to try to keep the actors moving and the camera moving whenever possible.  I tried to encourage the camera operator’s to become participants in the filming - and to make (or look like they made) snap, improvisational decisions as they went.  The philosophy we came up with was to imagine that we were embedded journalists traveling with a group of soldiers.  The camera operators were to pretend that they did not know what was going to happen next.  For instance, rather than panning to an actor a beat before they spoke - they should pan to the actor a beat after they spoke, so that the film would look immediate and urgent.

One of the longest (and hardest) shots I've ever done which I couldn't have done without Nate's support was a long tracking shot in Season 2 episode 2, which was really four or five scenes all done in one shot - it dollied along with the cast as they packed and prepared to move out and then went up and into a bus - it was about a three-minute long continuous shot.

Another important idea Nate brought to the table was to really try to play POV (point of view). Once we established whose scene it was, to only shoot (for instance) Tom and what Tom sees.

Nate also encouraged that we only to use wider lenses - mastering on 21mm  lenses and doing closeups on 35mm or 40mm lenses and, sometimes for women - using 50mm lenses for closeups.  The reasoning behind this goes to the “Children of Men” instruction - the wider lenses keep the environment in the frame all the time.

I also, personally, tended to shoot from lower angles - this is to keep the characters looking “bigger than life” and heroic.  I developed that philosophy on SMALLVILLE, when I was actively looking to do a comic-book show, and Nate and I pushed it to the limit on HEROES when we would frequently shoot our hero’s close-ups from a basement-like low angle (like THE MALTESE FALCON and other clssic noir movies).  On FALLING SKIES we aren’t as rigorous with this rule since, at the end of the day, it’s a war movie, not a comic-book movie or a noir movie.

Nate also brought a very specific and idea about how to do night lighting, which I had never heard of before.  In general, where Nate and I differ philosophically is that he is highly attached to being naturalistic, and I tend to be more interested in being stylized and pretty than naturalistic.  For instance if we were shooting a day exterior scene with two characters facing each other, if one were backlit by the sun – Nate would want to have the other front-lit, because that would be how it would be in real life.  I would want both characters back-lit, reality-be-damned, because to me it looks prettier.

One of Nate’s big contributions to the night lighting was to use balloon lighting and create a all-around even soft-lighting.  We actually inflate gigantic balls of silk, which are lit internally,  with helium and raise them way up into the air.  

The more traditional way to do night lighting is to use a  condor crane with a hard light  and createa hard-backlit “moonlight.”  The look, that became our night look, was softer and more even and oddly moodier than what I’ve become used to.  I’m constantly arguing with Nate to add a bit more light into the eyes of our characters at night and he challenges me to shoot things more unconventionally – but the grist of our arguments has, I think, always resulted in good things.

Beyond that, Nate has always been characterized by boundless enthusiasm and a desire to approach each and every scene from a unique perspective.  The thing he always says to me, which I value highly is, “Let’s first figure out what the scene is about and then we’ll figure out how best to shoot it to tell that story.”

Anyway – on to Nate directing this episode.  As he did on HEROES, Nate expressed to me and the other producers early and often, that he desired to direct an episode.  It took until the fourth season, mostly, because his contributions were so great as a photographer that the studio and producers (myself included) were reluctant to lose him in that role. 

When he got the chance on this episode he approached it with relish.  Luckily Bruce's script was tightly crafted in terms of character - and, while a little big at first, it was not hard t(in early drafts there were more interactions with the black hornet skitters and the burn-faced overlord made more appearances in the episode).

One of the more fun scenes for Nate to design was the scene where Hal taunts a mech into the open, Pope and Sarah hit it with a car, and the gigantic Volm nicknamed "Shaq" steals it's "heart."  The whole sequence was storyboarded carefully, but the idea that I thought was most fun was to play hitting the mech only from inside of Pope's car.  This sleight of hand saved money which actually allowed us to expand the scene and make it bigger.  All in all good fun!

The name's Weaver... Dan Weaver

Noah and Will on set

Nate and production designer Rob Grey get to work

The boys pose behind the scenes

Will and Nate review a take

spookey night lighting

between takes

Moon and Maxim

Sarah Carter contemplates the captured Espheni "Monk"

Nate Goodman explains how sh*ts gonna go sown the Shaq the Volm

Setting up a shot

Noah and line producer Grace Gilroy in the cast tent

Scarlett Byrne rests between takes

And she's up and back in action

Mind Wars,” prep meeting - in which Nate Goodman was attacked by a giant rabbit.


Aldenata said…
Espheni Portal to Hell leads to invasion by giant killer rabbits? Where's Jimmy Carter when we need him?

@Mind Wars:
Children of Men: all I know about that movie is that it caused EVERY filmmaker except the ones doing nature docs and rom coms (those too for all I know) to start pretending that they were war correspondents.

I don't necessarily have a problem with this style, but is it not getting a little... overused these days? I mean, when you have movies about ROMAN LEGIONARIES being filmed as if there was some guy with a camera following them around the battlefield, just how "realistic" and "immersive" are you really trying to be?

(I think it would be both immersive and funny if, right in the middle of a firefight, someone were to turn towards the camera, slap the guy carrying it and tell him to quit screwing around, pick up a rifle and make himself useful.)

In all fairness, I can pretty much always tell what's going on in Falling Skies, which is more than can be said for a lot of shows where they like to do the "war correspondent" thing. So if that's how y'all want to shot it then more power to you, though I will say that I think I agree with Nate on the naturalistic filming style. I'm just gonna leave all this camera talk to people who own cameras and go back to talking about guns.
Aldenata said…
I really liked this episode, though I really don't know why. There were a few issues to point out, but that just helps make me pay attention:

1. Rabbit hunting: "Nice throw, son. Of course now we're just a few days away from cannibalism and you do realize who we could do the best without, right?"

Seriously, I have a little trouble believing that anyone still alive after three years of war would have any problem with rabbit stew. If anything, Matt should have been eager to have a hunk of real rabbit meat on his plate, considering what the usual alternative is for wartime urban residents...

"Oh kittens, in our hours of ease,
Uncertain toys and full of fleas.
When pain and anguish hang o'er men,
We turn you into sausage then."
-WWII British Children's Rhyme

2. If the Overlords can actually understand English, how come they need harnessed humans for mouthpieces? (Well, this one could just be special in that regard.) Surely it wouldn't be all that hard teaching them how to write. It would have taken time I suppose, but I saw no reason why the delay would have been too much of a problem for Anne. I may have missed it, but I don't even recall her showing the thing what head-motions to use for "yes" and "no".

3. Two guys smart enough to last this long but dumb enough to camp in the middle of a recently-used road? Clearly they weren't afraid of the Espheni, which means they were either a liability or an enemy. Kudos to Tom for being suspicious.

Nice to have Mormon friends if you're expecting hard times; their grocers and canneries are among the best for buying food in bulk and they sell to all comers. Seventh-Day Adventists also tend to be big on preparedness.

Though knocking over a Mormon farmhouse would be a very bad idea; they tend to be about as heavily-armed as us Baptists.

4. I've never had a chance to try it, but I've always wondered if the "shoot an empty sleeping bag and think you've killed the main characters" thing would ever really work. I could buy that someone might be too squeamish to check the bodies, but surely he'd be suspicious when they both failed to scream/thrash around/bleed/do all the other stuff that living things tend to do when repeatedly shot. Or are we supposed to believe that this is yet another apocalypse survivor who has never been hunting?

5. Weaver's drill sergeant was a fan of the eminently quotable G.K. Chesterton? So am I. Very fitting.

6. Clever plan having Shaq hack into the Espheni broadcasts, even though I highly doubt that anything like it would actually work. Maybe he could hijack one of the Mechs and cause it to be as obedient as a puppy? Not quite original, but it would be cute.

7. Can anyone tell me what that painting above Lexi's bed was? I'm familiar with it, but having trouble with the name.
Hyperion said…
As a fan of the technical arts of film/TV making it was very interesting to read Greg's blog entry about how he and Nate Goodman have worked together on the look of Falling Skies. Whatever else one can say about the show, I do believe the cinematography has always been a very strong point. This episode was a good example of how even the straightforward scenes involving, for example, Tom and his two captors were shot with a cinematic quality that I suppose we have now come to expect from shows like this.

In other respects this was a decent episode thanks to a strong focus on the Tom/Weaver/Matt story line with pretty brief interjections from the (now) two other story lines. The problem though is that it seems clear enough that it all ultimately converges on Chinatown which makes what happened with Tom this episode seem like a bit of a distraction on the road to the inevitable. If that convergence was truly in doubt then it would give a story like Tom's this episode more bite. But because that convergence is not in doubt it somewhat makes the viewer feel impatient for the main course to be served. It also makes you notice the so far very limited screen time for characters that are very compelling for many viewers, notably Ben and Maggie up to this point. Supposedly there will be a major story involving those two characters but again that just means we are all now waiting for it. Presumably the writers wanted some real soap amid all the grit...

So will that main course be worth it? I really hope so after all this separation but the Lexi thing is still very much in doubt as a plot driver. She elicits zero empathy from the audience, and I mean zero, zilch, nada. At this point most of us really just want to see her and Lourdes drown in an open sewer as commenter Nunya Bidnezz so memorably put it. The problem is that even if later in the season she is on the side of the humans, that sentiment will not go away, and the most you can wish for the character is that she dies honorably, but that she does please die (preferably taking Lourdes with her).

When TNT announced the fifth and final season of FS they did so on Facebook etc with a picture of the three Mason brothers together. I don't think this is an accident as that brotherly dynamic is something that the audience has always responded to very strongly, and I can only hope to all that is holy that this comes back somehow in this season and even more so in the final season. I know that they wanted to do new and different things this season but why mess so badly with something that really resonates - the brother thing worked for 10 seasons for Supernatural!

A couple of smaller comments. At the beginning for Matt to stop his father shooting the rabbit when they have not eaten for 3 days and more than 3 years into an alien apocalypse was simply ludicrous. It is oh-so-dumb things like this that really prevent this show realising its potential. Is there not someone overseeing all this who can stop and point out how jaw-droppingly ridiculous something like that is?

And finally the Anne as protective mama bear even when she is being Darth Vader choked by her "daughter" has gotten so old you could dry it out and sell it as a relic of the Ark. Speaking of Star Wars references, we also got a sort of reverse "I am your father" from Lexi right at the end. George Lucas really needs to get better copyright lawyers... A cheap shot I know, but when you publicly say your inspiration is The Empire Strikes Back you might want to find ways to be, you know, different and creative.
Hyperion said…
And one other thing. The crap gets beaten out of Ben via Anne hitting the Monk, but that is the last we see of him the whole episode. Is he OK? What happens? Does Anne apologise after rushing to Lexi's side as she did with Deni earlier in the season? This is a major character the audience has known of for 4 seasons and yet there is no follow up at all, even for 30 seconds. Again this is just poor writing and shows a tin ear for what the audience might want to get closure on.
Otto Carius said…
The entire idea that Children of Men was the first to use a documentary style technique is bit absurd really. If we want to be accurate the style was pioneered by Roberto Rossellini's films like Rome Open city right after the War. And it was originally called Italian Neorealism.

It was a landmark film at the time. Personally, I think it is a great way to tell a war story. However, I think that Falling Skies (FS) fails in the more important parts of story telling. And this is what makes the show fail.

Personally, I feel this entire episode was a waste of time. It was supposed to show how little Matty was the future of humanity. This of course seems to entail vegetarianism and forgiveness? I'm not sure what exactly Matty was supposed to teach us this week? That hungry little kids won't poppy kill bunnies because they cute and cuddly? Or that the kids will turn blood thirsty and then give up on this quest when it happens to be a human in their sights? Let me tell you this it is easy to turn people into killers! Everything in the past 4 years of Matt's life is pushing him to violence-not pacifism. He would have PTSD for sure and with that comes paranoia and often aggressive tendencies. So, I'm thinking that he would put the bullet in his head.

I don't know what is dumber-- The two hobos camping on a road or Tom, Weaver and Matty using it. Clearly, if the Espheni are using patrols, moving children around, and so and so fourth they are using the fast means possible to them on ground-ROADS! Which means they are guarded, maintained, and thus crawling with all sorts of Alien personnel. Oh, wait I'm wrong this is the FS Universe-- scratch all that. The roads free and clear and random wooded locations are full of Enemy Personnel. See it all makes sense!

You know what would have been a better episode actually-- if Weaver and Tom whacked those two people with no questions asked. Why you say? Because it would show that Tom and Weaver are on the real age of what we call humanity. And I like an anti hero.

Nunya Bidnezz said…
Hm. I don't think this was the strongest episode of the season.

What's Her Name (bad sign that I've forgotten it already) is definitely a Mary Sue. Boring and dismissed.

What happened to Matt's development as a soldier of the apocalypse? Suddenly, he's a bleeding heart who won't let Daddy shoot a rabbit to put food on the table and then won't kill a human enemy. Very disappointing.

Enough Lexi. Enough Lourdes. Enough Anne. Hopefully the fifth and final season will start with these problem characters solved.
Otto Carius said…

PTSD-- comes in many forms. Some people do curl up and whither away.

It all depends on the person and the type of trauma they experienced. I have a cousin who has a serious case of PTSD and he is aggressive and paranoid at times because of it. My Grandfather a WWII Army Air Corps POW in France had problems if you walked up behind him or touched him from rear. So you never made any sudden movements behind him after WWII. My guess is Matt most likely would become more aggressive and paranoid. Especially after his time in Nazis-Boarding School under the Espheni thumb. However, he could be turn comatose as well. However, given the general depiction of Mat's personality now-- aggression would be my guess given this scenario.

As for the "Hobos" my point was that you have to believe one of two things: a) The Brothers are either so stupid they camp out in the open that is only by pure luck they still live; or b) the Espheni who are using the roads seem to forget that they make great Partisan Ambush sites... so they clearly leave them totally unguarded. Neither of these options seems too great to me. However, that is about all we are left with when consider why Tom, Col. Weaver, and Matt are also on this road system. Other then the obvious, hey it was convenient to write they meet on roadway x.

To me this scenario would make more sense if Tom and the Gang meet Brothers X in a secluded area off the beaten path. It would also make more sense if the Brothers didn't happen to know he was the Ghost as well. Perhaps, they are just bounty hunters searching for any humans. That would make sense.

For me the red flags were all over the place. 1) No way any solider is going to use the open roads. 2) No way any solider is going to just sit around a campfire in the open. 3) No way is any soldier going to any unknown personnel human or otherwise out in the open. They are either bait or working for the enemy. It seems like the story was supposed to be a Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood type scenario-- which I thought was so boring.

Finally, we have the fact that the Brother played by Aaron Douglas doesn't check the people he just killed? Really, what is this amateur hour? These people clearly would never be any good at this entire Espheni Bounty Hunter biz... they would be dead long before they ever actually could bring some one into the custody of the Espheni.

At the end of the day I still like the idea of the Tom and Col Weaver just whacking them no questions asked.

To answer you question-- I am actually working on my MFA in Film.

Anonymous said…
Tector is played by the great Ryan Robbins, not the (great) Ryan Reynolds! Shame!

What a selfless (and rebellious) act to sacrifice himself for the group. Godspeed Aloysius (Tector) Murphy.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Hyperion.
Nobody likes when you don't end up what you started, but you pass to the next scenes, and forget about the previous
If anyone even picked up Ben from the floor? Does Ann is worried by the fact that she probably broke his ribs? Any of these things, unfortunately, we haven't seen and it is very annoying. Such errors spoil even the best episodes.
But I have to admit that the idea of ​​using connection beetwen spikes-humans and Espheni in such way was ingenious and interesting.
I would like to see this more in S5.

Question: if Espheni so well understand the motives, weaknesses, and people feelings whyt they don't use this more?
It's logical. If Espheni hurt Ben enough, Tom would do everything what they want.
For several seasons we see that Espheni particularly want to get rid of Tom.
It's strange that Espheni hasn't came up with the idea like this. Just take his son or hurt him by this connection and Tom will be polite (Espheni would think that Tom will not expose his son)
Alverstone said…
When Anne starts to beat the overlord, all the injuries inflicted on it were also inflicted on Ben. This suggests, the monk created a bond or connection with Ben That would result in Ben's death should someone try to kill him. he title mind wars is fitting considering the small monk use this new-found connection with Ben that warp his mind and use him is his own benefit.

One of the best scenes in S4, however I wonder if that was the purpose of the connection? Or meybe The Monk used the connection with Ben only because to give him information about the flower and Ben felt his pain just a coincidence?

this type of connection between Ben and Overlord is very interesting,and It would be nice to see again this think . It can lead to an interesting idea in S5.
Why Espheni not use the connection that they have with Ben? They can hurt him, and take advantage of the fact that he is the Tom's son.

For example, if they can joined Ben that he felt death or pain of any Espheni, people would stop killing them or something.Like The Monk did it in episode 5
 It would be a big obstacle for people if they couldn't kill the Overlord so simple, and that is a chance for a good story for Ben's character . It's seems logical.
It's strange how such intelligent race like Espheni (In S3 Overlord showed that they knows that people are weak and they are ruled by feelings) didn't use this, if they know that is the only weapon for people....
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