BEEMAN’S BLOG – EPISODE 22 - "LANDSLIDE"
This is it, the penultimate episode of HEROES. There’s only one more to go. It’s kind of sad to see the end coming, although I must say it’s been a long journey. Actually, the way things lay out is weird. The shooting crew has been done for a few weeks. The editors and post production people are just now wrapping up. But the writer’s room is back in full force as of this week.
Season 2 is well under way; at least as far as the creative inception of it goes. It’ll be awhile before we air again, sometime in late September or early October. I believe the season 1 DVD will be out in the third week of September – which many of you have been asking about. Also, much excitement will be generated, I’m sure by HEROES ORIGINS. But there will be time to discuss that later.
This episode is one I directed which usually gives me a little more to say about.
Last week I described that episode 21, 22 and 23 were, in a way, 3 parts of one story. As a director, I looked at the episode as being similar to (my favorite) STAR WARS movie, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. My mission as a filmmaker was to bring together all of the characters and all set up all of the elements, setting the table for the finale’. There is action and tension aplenty, to be sure, but ultimately my goal was to ratchet up the tension and drama, so that you the viewer won’t be able to stand waiting another week for the finale.
Jesse Alexander’s script was very tight from the beginning, so we had to do almost no structural or character work on it at. Jesse’s a great guy. We hung out on set together and I got to know, and really like him. It’s weird, technically we’d worked together all year, but Jess almost never leaves the writer’s room. He’s like the engine up there, pushing through all these scripts making sure they all work. And I’m always prepping and hanging on set. So our paths hadn’t crossed that much. We had a lot of fun on this one.
JESSE ALEXANDER – THE WRITER
One thing that was exciting was that this episode literally brings all of our characters together in a way that we’ve never had before. Yes, many of them have crossed paths but here HRG, Claire, Ted, Matt and Peter come together in one story, Hiro, and Nathan in another, Candace and Micah in another. Nikki, DL, HRG, Matt, Suresh and Molly Walker in another.
To serve this idea., it struck me that I wanted to visually reinforce the idea of the heroes coming together. I imagined a sewing needle, making a loop and then piercing through it, as a visual metaphor. So, I made the decision that, whenever a new set of Heroes came together, I would use the camera to circle them and then push in, replicating the needle and thread shape. I circled Ted, Matt and Peter in the plaza with the camera (maybe a little to dizzyingly – but I like it); I had HRG and Claire walk in a big circle around the plaza. I circled around Peter, Claire and Ted as they realize Sylar is listening to their thoughts. I circled around Hiro and Ando as they saw Nathan. I did a half circle and push-in onto Jessica and DL as they see Nathan drive off… Etc. Not sure it worked or mattered, but I’ve come to believe that ANY visual plan, even a half-baked one, imbues a show with more integrity than no plan.
I remember the only scene that worried me was the one where Kaito trains Hiro to be a swordsman. I was worried that it would seem foolish that Hiro learned so much in just a few hours. Nobody else was worried about this; they told me that as long as it came of magical it would be fine. Still I worried about it. The scene was just Masi and 60+ year old (? I think) George Takei bashing each other with Samurai swords. After some heated debate, the idea sprung up to add the story of Kensei and the Dragon, and layer two aspects of this. One Hiro’s memories of being a boy, playing with his toy knights and dragons while his father read. The other was to pan across picture books of the story. The art department created the picture book. Jesse and I sat with Ruth Amon, and we i.d’ed the key moments of the story. I actually did some rough sketches of the illustrations and Ruth got an in-house artist (the same one who painted the tapestry in episode 12) to do the books. They were all done in four days and I think they look beautiful. Then, George and Masi got together with a swordmaster/stuntman (a guy who’d worked on THE LAST SAMAURAI.) We all spent an afternoon together working about the dramatic beats of the fight, and then George and Masi went off to practice. It was amazing, Masi got it right away. It’s complicated, sword fighting, kind of like a dance routine. And George has an amazingly strong will. He memorized and willed himself to do the routine. On the day we shot we had two stunt doubles standing by. We never used Masi’s once, and George’s is used only a few times in the very wide shoots. Those guys did a great job. And let me remark upon what a nice guy George Takei is. (Masi does a great imitation of him.) We made sure to find a great warehouse to shoot in, and I encouraged our DP Nate Goodman to “Bruckheimer” it up, with shafts of smokey light streaming in. That’s not really Nate’s thing, he’s more realistic. But after I pressed for a while we did it, and I think it looks good. In post the sequence took awhile too come together. It was too long. The flashbacks (which were shot in color) weren’t having the impact they should. Also, the original concept was that George Takai would read the story as narration – but in English. Tim Kring analyzed that this wasn’t working because we had never heard Hiro’s father speak English, ever. We reconceived the sequence by (a) shortening it (b) having Masi read the voice over (b) by making the flashback black and white – as we had in “Company Man” and (d) by never showing Hiro’s father’s face in the flashback’s. This seemed to subtly make it feel like a memory.
D.P. NATE GOOODMAN
MASI AND GEORGE SQUARE OFF
SAMUARAI TAKEI 2
GEORGE AND LIL’ HIRO
MASI, LEONARD AND I
Another challenge is that, the whole episode takes place exclusively in New York. It’s the first one that has. We tried hard on this one to make it look right. In the scenes where Peter, Ted and Claire cross the street and in the scene of Ted’s takedown, I felt we finally had the appropriate amount of taxi’s and traffic and pedestrian. The AD’s (assistant directors) scrambled to manage all the traffic (forty cars ten cabs) and extras (100 bodies). Stargate added the Chrysler tower. I’m proud of our New York shot in L.A. I shot it all on very long lenses to compress everything together and had the camera’s drifting back and forth with a semi-hand-held feel to give the shots a kind of jostling crowded energy. I think it worked.
One strange random thing that happened is that the Stanley Cup suddenly showed up on set. The folks from the NHL wanted to get some shots of Milo and Hayden hanging out with the cup, for promotional reasons. Strange stuff happens in this business – I’ve learned not to question it. But I made sure to get a shot or two of me with the Stanley Cup. See, I spent five years in Canada on SMALLVILLLE, with a hockey-crazed Canadian crew. I was an anomaly to them. I didn’t care about hockey at all. Not in Canada, in America or internationally. Those poor saps all love a team called the Vancouver Canucks (which seems similar to loving the Mets, Cubs or White Sox – a true love, but doomed to pain and heartbreak.) Sure enough, as planned, my photo’s successfully created a feeling of envy and injustice in my old friend’s hearts.
ME – LINING UP A SHOT AS OTHERS LISTEN, RIVITED
HAYDEN, MILO AND I
FBI AGENT AUDREY HANSEN TAKES DOWN TED
MILO, HAYDEN AND STANLEY CUP
(WHAT BIZARENESS IS GOING ON HERE?)
MILO, ZACH, STANLEY AND I
ME AND STANLLEY CUP
(THIS IS THE ONE THAT REALLY GOT THE SMALLVILLE GUYS ENVIOUS)
Okay, I’m gonna pause for a second and reflect upon how cool our show is. And I want to tip my hand to the whole writing staff for really planning this whole year. Let’s talk about Molly Walker. She was seen briefly in episode 2 and 3, and had only a handful of lines in those two episodes. But, way back when we first cast her, we were told that she would be important and that we had to cast a very good actress. Way back in August the writers wrote an elaborate two-page Matt/Molly scene that was full of emotional twists and turns. We auditioned Adair Tishlerat that time. She is a great little actress... http://us.imdb.com/name/nm1442940/ She is mature and engaged and highly able to access her emotions. (Probably a lot like Hayden was at age 10!) Nineteen episodes later (last week) she reappears and now, in 22, a comparable scene to that original audition scene occurs. It’s this level of planning and layering that, I believe makes our show special.
I’m very proud of the whole of Act 4 – from commercial to commercial this means: the sequences, which begin with Matt, HRG, Jessica riding the elevator through Sylar flipping the FBI van. I feel that, as a sustained film, this section is one of the most successful I’ve done. The design of the first part was to gradually and systematically build tension. The first shot is a 4 shot in the elevator. This is static, designed for a little comic relief. (Actually, this wasn’t in the script. Greg Grundberg thought of it, after we’d already finished filming the elevator. He said, “Wouldn’t it be funny to have a four shot of all of us, just riding the elevator, muzak’s playing and Jessica’s looking at me and I’m all nervous.”) I was like “Sh*t. That’s a great idea.” Then I did what you’re never supposed to do, I said, “Guys, we’re going back to the elevator set. Start re-lighting!”)
After that all of the shots in the sequnce begin to move. In the scene with Suresh and Molly, the compositions are balanced and the camera is slowly pushing in. When we cut to the over’s, again the camera slowly is pushing in. I visualized a plunger in a tube, relentlessly pushing in and in and in to add pressure. When HRG and Matt get off the elevator, I got to faster push in’s and following shots, all done with very low angles. I described to the music composers here that I wanted the music to have a highly rhythmic beat, like a metronome that slowly increased in tempo. When we go back to Suresh, the push in’s are slow again, but the music tempo’s up. He knows what’s coming – so the pressure is still rising. Then in the sequence where HRG shoots Thompson, I did a relatively long sustained shot. From the time Matt and HRG and Thompson duck behind the wall to the time HRG shoots Thompson is all one long-ish shot, with the camera kind of gliding around to show what we need to see just when we need to see it. I LOVE long takes, but I haven’t found too many opportunities on HEROES to do them, because so frequently there is so much obligation to specifically show the audience certain things at certain times. But here it felt possible. And isn’t HRG a badass when he kills Thompson? No hesitation. No regret. Jack Coleman shows again the complexity of this character who loves fully yet kills without mercy to protect his family.
A moment later I went into an even longer sustained shot, which I’m very happy with. It begins on the monitor in Suresh’s room, showing HRG and Matt leaving Thompson’s body. The shot pans to Suresh, he goes over to Molly and comforts her. Then back to the monitor’s. HRG and Matt are right outside the door. Back to Suresh panicking. Then the camera travels through the wall to reveal Matt and HRG outside – but it’s still all one shot. We get on their backs as they enter the room – we wonder – where did Suresh go? And we follow them right up to the curtain, which opens and then we push into Molly. This sustained shot adds tension because it’s happening in real time. The video monitors where actually done with a live feed. We built a false wall for the camera to move past. It was cool.
I also want to tip my hat to Greg Grundberg in this episode. I don’t think I compliment him enough, because he always just shows up and does his thing flawlessly and makes it look easy. But, in this episode in particular I feel Greg brought some legit comic relief to the scenes, without losing any of his character’s integrity. The act out of the third segment, i.e. his reaction when Jessica says “Didn’t I throw you out a window?” was priceless. I also love the moment when he tells Jessica “Good luck,” and the elevator doors close revealing Matt in the reflection and he quips, “Nice seeing you too.” Greg is just funny – and a show like this needs funny to break up all the tension.
The scene of Sylar flipping the truck was emotionally easier for me, but physically harder. The whole scene was carefully storyboarded and I had to just set up the shots and wait for our FX Gary D’Amico to do hhis thing flipping the truck. The truck was actually towed down the road on a line and, at a critical moment, Gary blew a cannon that was welded inside the back of the truck. As has been the case all season, Gary’s rig worked flawlessly. I had 5 camera’s rolling. Then I had to get some shots of Zachary Quinto doing his evil Sylar theme – get Matt last name hung iupside down in one of the most uncomfortable harnesses known too man and voila’… The scene went together like butter. The reason it was hard is because we had to shoot all night until dawn, and it was thirty-six degrees with a howling wind. Oh well.
Also, I’d like to mention the final sequence in which Nathan gives his speech and it’s intercut with all of our other characters moving into position for the final battle. Bottom line, it was all 100% scripted by Jesse Alexander. A lot of times I talk about this or that thing that we came up with spontaneously, and those moments are special and additive to the script. But the script is always the foundation. This sequence was laid out line-for-line, shot-for-shot in the script. Certain key words in Nathan’s speech were meant to lay up against certain pictures. I followed the map. It’s interesting because in the first cut, the editor cut it differently than written – and it just didn’t work. It laid their flat. I got it more on track, and later Jesse went into the cutting room and made sure the lines he wrote laid up against the pictures he’s imagined. When that happened it was suddenly massively more powerful. It’s great when film works that way.
And finally, in my HEROES IT’S LIKE A TV SHOW, ONLY BIGGER, I’d like to discuss two sequences. The set where Nikki/Jessica and DL confront Linderman was built for this episode ONLY with 260 degrees of blue screen wrapping the set outside the 10-foot high windows. Okay, NO TV SHOW DOES THAT! Also, for the final sequence of Sylar on the rooftop we built a big set piece 15 feet in the air with a 50-foot wide, 30-foot high blue screen. ALMOST NO TV SHOW DOES THAT EITHER.
And, come on, what about that ending. Sylar's all bad-ass and he whispers “Boom!” Whose not coming back to watch next week after that?!?
I love my job!
HEROES – IT’S LIKE A TV SHOW ONLY BIGGER
HEROES – IT’S LIKE A TV SHOW ONLY BIGGER
ALI LARTER AND MALCOM MCDOWELL
SNEAKING OFF TO LUNCH ONE DAY
(KOREAN BBQ –MMMMMM))
HIRO GIVES HIS CONDOLENCES TO DEAD ISAAC
MILO AND ADRIAN AFTER A HARD DAY’S WORK
Ok that’s it for now. Next week… Everything blows up!