SEASON 4, EPISODE 5 - "MIND WARS"
WRITTEN BY: BRUCE MARSHALL ROMANS
DIRECTED BY: NATHANIEL GOODMAN
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
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|
|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.|