Monday, December 11, 2006

Hiatus 1

Interview With HEROES Production Designer RUTH AMMON

Warning: While I try to keep spoilers to a minimum – some do slip out.

While HEROES is on a six-week hiatus we’re still working hard on making episodes that will air in January. Today, for instance, we had two units shooting. The first is in downtown LA shooting the last day of episode 14 - involving Milo Ventemillia and a new (exciting) character doing a NYC street scene. As night falls they will do a big stunt high fall into a Taxicab. The other unit is shooting day 3 of episode 15 – scenes involving new disturbing developments at Claire’s house – and later a scene set backstage involving Hiro, Ando and chorus girls. Today, I, personally, scouted locations and laid out scenes for episode 16 (which we prep now but begin shooting in the new year) – I also spent time in the editing room, first doing a visual effects spotting session on episode 12 and 13 and later with Tim Kring and Dennis Hammer reviewing and polishing the edit of episode 12 (which looks like it’s gonna be terrific by the way.)

This TV show is like a freight train moving 100 miles an hour. You have to jump on, dive out of the way or get dragged under the wheels.

So… While we try to catch up to get new episodes on the air for you ASAP, I thought I’d do a couple of blogs about the behind the scenes.

Today I’m going to talk about, and with, our production designer Ruth Ammon.

The look and design of the show, its sets and locations, are as big a star as the cast… okay, who am I kidding… The sets aren’t nearly as sexy and they can’t go on TRL. But they’re still good.

Ruth is the person who deigns and/or finds every set we shoot on and runs one of the biggest departments on the show

GB: Ruth, what’s your background? How did you get started as a production designer?

RA: I was waiting tables at the Jersey shore. I waited on a producer, Peter Schulberg (his uncle Budd wrote “OnThe Waterfront”) who was making an after school special called “Mystery At Fire Island.” He said that I should be in the art department. That day I quit my low paying waitress job for a no-paying gig as an art department p.a. They didn’t pay me but they gave me a moped.

GB: Wow, that sounds like a pretty bold move. Did you have any design background at all before that?

RA: Yes. I had just graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown PA. I had studied Art History. This was my summer job to make money. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life at the time – but I knew it was in the arts. That was my background. A year abroad at Oxford had also stirred me up.

GB: But you didn’t have a formal architectural background per se?

RA: No.

GB: OK so then what?

RA: From that experience the production designer, named Vaughn Edwards invited me to come to New York City and work for him as an art department p.a. I moved there, and by luck, someone I knew moved out of their apartment and I moved in. I was still working for free, but I also had a free place to live and free meals.

GB: Sounds like fate.

RA: Fate. 100% fate. Fate and destiny pushed me into the film business. My whole career has been like that.

GB: Yeah, but you grabbed ahold of it. I think that’s worth noting for anyone aspiring to be in this business. When an opportunity appears, go with your gut and grab it, even if it doesn’t look like it’s “good enough” or pays enough. My own career has certainly been from one chance event that led to a relationship with someone who could help which led to another chance event… etc.

OK, so then what? How did you go from p.a. to production designer?

RA: I was an art department p.a., which is very different from a set p.a. – but I moved from job to job and shortly, to early really, fate came in again. I was a designer’s assistant on a very low budget independent movie called “Hard Choices.” The designer got a better job and left, and suddenly, because there was no one else, I became the production designer. After that I had one credit. So I could use that to get more work.

GB: That’s wild.

RA: I know. I’m so lucky. I have a great job. A really great job.

GB: I’m glad you feel that way. I love my job too. We’re in a rarified field doing really exciting stuff. We work crazy hard. I know you’re here every day at 6AM or 6:30AM and you leave at, like, 9 PM – but it’s very satisfying work. Especially on a show like this where the visual design is encouraged, appreciated, and seen. So many shows live only in close ups of actors. On HEROES your work is really on display.

RA: Yeah. It’s great.

GB: OK, so, the generally held belief is that the production designer is the person who designs and builds the sets, finds locations for the show and oversees the way the sets are decorated.

From your point of view, what is a production designer?

RA: The person in charge of the look of the film. Certainly that’s it in movies. In TV it moves so fast that you can’t really be in charge of everything.

For me, it’s about telling the story visually. Closing your eyes and pretending there are no words. I try to imagine how I can tell the story of the movie with color, architecture, surfaces, objects. How can a lampshade tell the story? How can a car? How can the color of a wall?

It’s crazy, but when I talk to the painters, we talk about the history of the wall. When was it built? When was it changed? When was it damaged? When was there an earthquake? What colors were in vogue when the wall was last painted? Where did water drip down and for how long? The painters love that. We have some of the best painters in the business on this show. Film or television included. Phenomenal painters and they are really into it.

GB: I notice you do talk with people in your department a lot about “character” which is actually, maybe unfortunately, unusual. I notice you wanting your designers and set decorators to be very specific about what objects a character surrounds themselves with, how and why they chose them and so on.

RA: It’s very important. You can’t just be generic and say, “She’s a grandmother.” You have to know what her background is, what her politics are. What she cares about. Why she does or doesn’t keep things around her.

I try to create a visual arc to the whole story… where do you want color or no color, what is the emotional impact of the scene visually.

I learned something important on this show - from you really - which is not to have preconceptions about what a set can or can’t be. We shot a room with four white walls and no windows and it looked great.

GB: Yeah. That was on episode 3, which I directed. The scene where Audrey first interrogates Matt. The schedule pre-dictated that we had to film the interrogation room the same day we filmed at Claire’s high school. And it had that white box of a room. I actually liked it because it had a viewing room attached and I had an idea (which wasn’t scripted) of someone’s hands in the foreground scribbling notes. I was also excited about shooting with the swing and tilt lenses and filming “flat space.” I embraced the space and so did John Aronson the cinematographer, who has a very bold untraditional point of view as well.

RA: It looked great.

GB: Back to you, you hadn’t done much TV before HEROES.

RA: Sketch comedy, “The State” – those guys do “Reno-911” now. And one season of “Without a Trace”

GB: Also the pilot of “Weeds”

RA: Right. My features were mostly comedies too, like “Drop Dead Gorgeous”

GB: So how did the Bruckheimer camp come to hire you for “”Without a Trace"?

RA: My book. And an interview. They were making a change at Christmas time – I think I was one of the few, the only, one available. Fate again.

GB: Your book is fabulous by the way. Beautiful. Without question it’s what got you the job here.

RA: Thank you. I worked hard on it. My book is very important to me. It’s my artwork. I take all my own pictures and I only take pictures if the set is lit the right way and from angles, which I feel, are cinematically the best angles to film from.

GB: Sounds a little obsessive.

RA: Yeah.

GB: But always with great result. Which brings us to us. To HEROES.

RA: Again, I think I was the only one available.

GB: Not exactly. We were a little late hiring our designer. Many of the other shows that had been picked up already had someone lined up. But you got a very strong recommendation from John Aronson who was already hired as DP, and whom you’d worked with of “Without a Trace.” Dennis Hammer was already very focused on you. I had just been hired and was still feeling very tentative with Tim, and Dennis and Allen who had all worked together for five years and had shorthand. But they invited my opinion in. We kept using the word “real” – meaning, that we had to believe in the spaces that these people lived in and the words “texture” and “layers” because real people’s environments are built up over time.

Your book perfectly reflected what we were talking about.

RA: Good. I feel lucky. Because I only find I get hired, or even go up for certain shows – maybe I’m a bit difficult – but I find I only get hired on shows where the producers want someone who wants to be involved in all aspects of the visual design, and wants to get involved with all the other departments.

GB: HEROES is kooky big right?

RA: Kooky, kooky, kooky big! And on every level.

For example. On every episode you always do a set list. Which is just a list of the sets the characters will be in, in the episode. On most shows there’s just a handful and most of them are recurring from pervious episodes. On HEROES it’s almost always a full page and always at least half of them are brand-new sets we either have to build or find.

We shoot more sets per episode than any other show. I’m sure of it.

And we’re building so much. We build 3 or 4 sets per episode and a lot of them are really big. And we still have to develop the character of each set (like we’ve been talking about) as we go. Our construction coordinator was voted MVP by one of our producers.

Right now, I think, I’m in a fog I have no sense of when an episode begins or ends or what show we’re shooting or what day it is.

GB: Let’s talk about a couple of sets specifically. The clock repair shop where Sylar worked in episode 10 was very popular.

RA: I know… I know…

GB: But I always sensed you were disappointed with it.

RA: I wanted it to be bigger. But it became smaller because of financial restrictions and space restrictions. When I knew how small it was going to be, I painted the walls shiny black.

GB: I think people really liked the glass window with the big clock in reverse and the hundreds of cabinets and clocks.

RA: That’s it. The set became all about the set dec. But that’s New York. That’s a place I know. A place I’ve been in. So it was easy for me.

Also, I think if it worked visually, it’s because I designed it to allow camera movement without pulling walls.

GB: Ok another one that impressed me. The Odessa police station where a lot of episode 11 takes place. Peter’s cell, hallways, interrogation room. A lot of the episode happens in it and it feels big and real…

So, from the time you knew we were going to build it, to the time it was shooting on camera… How many days was that?

RA: I would say... eight

GB: That’s crazy.

RA: I know but I had it in my head and I wanted to build it and because of other things that were going on at that time there were less financial restrictions than on most of the other sets. I didn’t want us to shoot a Barney Fife police station.

GB: Still it looks great and to do it in so little time is phenomenal.

RA: It was fun. There are sort of two levels to our Odessa Texas. The old west traditional, like our diner, and the new generation – kind of a falsely optimistic world that’s over scale and perfect but will crumble in ten years.

GB: Like the High School.

RA: Yes.

GB: I love Claire’s high school.

RA: I knew I was going to enjoy myself on this job when all the producers liked that location – because it was a bold and not obvious choice.

GB: I love it. It’s very “Triumph of the Will.” It reflects a kind of grandiosity and menace that seems so appropriate for Claire’s story. It reflects what’s going on in her family life. It looks clean and strong and secure, but on closer look, it’s oppressive and a little frightening.

RA: I never read comic books and can’t keep up with some of you when you talk about them. But I’ve come to appreciate the strong graphic visualization that you guys love. We can push things over the top all the time.

GB: Really? But Tim has always mandated “real.” And I do think the show – at least the environments – feel “”real.” How do you think we balance that?

RA: Because there’s no style for style’s sake. Because everything’s thought out. We don’t punch holes in the wall for light to stream through just so it will look cool. We come up with logical valid reasons for our light sources.

GB: Speaking of… You think about light and design light into your sets more than any other designer I’ve ever worked with,

RA: Because that’s what you see. What’s lit or not lit is the first stroke of design. I try to build windows and lights into my sets because – it’s like painting, light is what shapes the architecture, light is what says what it is.

Besides if you don’t light it someone else will and you might not like the results.

GB: What else?

RA: Just that, my focus is also very much on having the set be the smoothest set for production it can be. Not just the look, but how easily the walls move so the crew can access it. How easily it lights. If the crew is happy and not fumbling about the set the actors can relax.

A well-finished set will get the best performances from the actors because they will believe in where they are.

GB: Awesome. Thanks for your time.

RA: My pleasure.


Ruth Ammon and director Paul Shapiro on location

A new little set that's being built - HEROES it's like a TV show only bigger

Set detail - it's all about the details

Ruth and her crew hard at work

Ruth in the ever popular van

Ruth with one foot in

Location scouting (with Alex Reid location manager) "I wuv you thiiis much"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Episode 11: Fallout

Last night’s was episode 11, which in some ways is the end of the first chapter of the first season. After last night we stop airing new episodes until late January.

It’s actually amazing that we’ve gotten that many episodes on the air in a row. I’ve worked on a lot of TV and - on any show that premieres in late September or early October - I’ve never seen one that got more that 9 on the air. Most 1 hour shows on TV shoot for eight shooting days… more or less 10 working days. A new episode airs every 7 days. The math of all this catches up to you, until there’s less and less time per episode to edit, do music and sound effects and visual effects. Add to that the fact that HEROES usually shoots for 10 or 12 days and it gets even worse.

Everyone who works in post production kicked butt on this … I’ll single out Donn Aron the editor - he did an amazing job in a short amount of time – and did some particularly inventive things in Peter’s dream sequence and in the scene where Matt interrogates Peter… Look for all the hidden jump cuts and speed-ups as the two guys try to read each other’s minds…. Hats off also to Lori Motyer the co-producer who is in charge of all things in post production. There was less than a week from the time Allan Arkush and the editor locked picture for Lori to color time the show, on-line it, oversee the sound mix and the visual affects and make sure that it physically got finished.

Editor Donn Aron

Co-Producer Lori Motyer's empty office (she was too busy running around working to be photographed)

The episode was directed by John Badham. He has a few credits:

It was crazy working with John Badham – I mean for God’s sakes he directed SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, WAR GAMES, BLUE THUNDER and STAKEOUT. So it was frankly kinda weird to be like, “OK Mr. Badham, here’s how we shoot our show. And… “Make sure you get plenty of low angles and cool shots.”

I was actually pretty nervous meeting him – but he was full-on the world’s nicest guy. A true pro and a true gentleman. What surprised me when I went to his imdb sight was how much television he had done – starting in the late sixties and continuing recently it is A LOT. He’s the kind of director you really want on a show like this. No matter how big the scene was he was never flustered. He was cool with all of us producers and our many strong opinions about how we want our show to be. And he shot things with seeming effortlessness.

Director John Badham

John and Masi

Also, how cool was the final sequence – Peter’s dream sequence in NYC – Like I say, HEROES is like a TV show, only bigger. We shut down 4 city blocks on a Sunday. We jammed the streets with empty cars to create a deserted, neutron bomb look. It was also the first time ever that the whole cast was together. We had cranes stedicams and three cameras - It was intense amount of work to do in one day… And beside the scene you saw Monday night there was a second version shot with more characters and more information which will be used in one or more future episodes

All very exciting…. STAY TUNED!!!!

HEROES it's like a TV show, only bigger

Milo taking pictures - a handsome lad

Milo and I

The whole cast together

Getting picture taken for TV Guide

Tawny Cypress

Lori Motyer - HEROES Co-Producer/Head of Post for real

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Episode 9: Homecoming

Sorry I missed the last couple of episodes. It’s been kinda crazed getting the show on the air lately as the time between shooting and air gets shorter and shorter.

Anyway… last night the cheerleader was finally saved… At least for now!

“Homecoming” is an episode I directed. All in all, I’m pretty proud of the episode and the way it came out. It looks and feels the way I wanted it to, I’m happy with all the performances and the tone and pace of the show. As always, it starts with script… In this case, Adam Armus and Kay Foster wrote a great one.

Milo Ventimiglia really stepped up as the hero of the show. His performance gets better and better with each episode. Hayden is great as always… It always feels to me that, whoever she’s in a scene with, I believe in the authenticity of the relationship. Also, Jack Coleman continues to be awesome. In this one, we show (I believe) that he is, in fact, a worried father. Whatever his overall assignment is, he genuinely loves Claire. I wonder if his love for her will eventually bring him into conflict with whoever he works for? I also wonder if whoever he works for knows that Claire has powers? I know I work on the show, but I legitimately don’t know the answers to things like that and I speculate along with you.

Today I guess I’ll talk about what my personal experience is from the time I first read the script through completing the episode. I thought I’d focus on 3 things… (1) the opening sequence at the school… (2) Sylar’s attack on Claire and Jackie and… (3) the fulfillment of Isaac’s paintings.

When I first get the first draft of a script I’m going to direct it’s very important that I get away from everybody and have the time to read it straight through without interruption. I don’t make any notes. I just read and try to pay attention to my emotional reaction. Ultimately everything we do is to convey/evoke an emotional response… it’s important to know what that response should be. Many times, during this first read, specific images or shot sequences pop into my head. I try to pay attention to them. Also, if anything isn’t working or doesn’t make sense I try to remember that. This first read is the most valuable and authentic experience I can have. In short order a lot of other people come into the mix with their own impressions and with lots of ideas of what is and what isn’t possible. If I don’t have a solid idea of what I think, I can, quickly, get swamped by what others think.

The next thing I do is re-read the script again. Ideally right then and there. But this time I make lots of notes. I break down each scene by location, time of day and page length. I make note of stunts, visual effects or things like rain or any other complexity. I also jot down any of the creative first impressions or script problems I have. A HEROES script is, roughly, 50 pages – I can usually get through this two-step process in about 2 hours. By the end of this process I have the script thoroughly in my head and I have a solid breakdown of all it’s elements.

TV is a game of attrition, so anything that stands out in a script as being difficult to do, expensive or time consuming will eventually get attacked. It’s important for me, at the very earliest stage, to decide what I want to fight for and what I’m willing to let go. When I produce for other directors, I attack. When I direct, I fight for. This is all very normal. Every idea and scene gets challenged and if any one of the various film-making partners is ever willing to let go of one (even under great duress) then it probably wasn’t necessary in the first place.

The Film and TV business has a high level of creative conflict – which can be very healthy or unhealthy depending on the environment. On HEROES the exec producers Tim Kring, Dennis Hammer and Allan Arkush make sure it’s healthy.

So… The three scenes I mentioned. The first is the opening of the show, the homecoming queen announcement at Claire’s high school. The original script had a different scene than what is currently in the show. It was a pep rally with the high school band playing. Claire and the other cheerleaders doing a routine, while all the jocks, freaks and geeks watched. It was then followed up by the principle standing on stage and announcing the homecoming queen.

Now I loved this sequence on the page. One of the things I love about HEROES is the many different tones that can work together in this show. This scene evoked for me kind of an AMERICAN BEAUTY vibe – Americana, hope, dreams, all tinged with melancholy and a vague kind of fear. I instantly knew how to shoot it. And whenever I have an instant sense of how to shoot something I (now) know it will turn out well… I was going to shoot everything in slow motion – creating very impressionistic images – starting on a pulsing shape that would later be revealed to be a pom pom. Then skirts…. Then shoes… then hands… then the crowd – the maniacal cheering faces of the jocks, the disinterested faces of the geeks. I would reveal ever more and slowly introduce Claire in the routine - determined yet somehow sad.

Anyhow, somewhere in prep, this scene got attacked. Too many extras would be needed, the marching band would be expensive, the choreography of the cheerleaders would take too long… I started to lose ground “I have a great plan, it’s going to turn out great” wasn’t enough – I couldn’t promise I could shoot it in less than half a day, and on those grounds the scene was cut and a simpler version (the one currently in the show) was conceived.

Now I’ve leaned through hard experience that to dwell on a loss, in this game, is useless -- I had to find a way to make the new scene as visually exciting as the other one had been. The new script that came out was a little different – somehow my emotional impression was of a more comedic/ironic scene - and less a tragic one. Kind of like the Lindsey Lohan movie, MEAN GIRLS… So I went with that, and came up with a new way to shoot the scene – playing a number of angles on a formation of cheerleaders moving to the lunchroom… Queens of all they survey.

It still took me a long time to shoot all the pieces I wanted, and I had to compensate by creating the idea of a long walk to where the principle is putting up the homecoming announcements. I knew that Hayden and Danielle Savre (Jackie) were solid enough actors that I could bank on getting the whole scene out in one shot – so I played most of their dialogue on a long steadicam shot. Ironically I shot probably 15 shots for the first page and 1 shot for a page and a half of dialogue…. Also, stedicam is not a tool we use much on HEROES, but it felt right to enhance the teen-comedy vibe I was going for.

The second scene I’d like to talk about is when Sylar kills Jackie in the locker room --- There was no controversy about this scene except that I had to do whatever I was going to do in two days. Basically I had twelve total hours spread out over two days . It had to be spread out because both girls are under 18 and can only work 10 hours a day and because we were shooting at a real locker room and we needed to stop before the football game.

I fell in love with this locker room, mostly because of the ceilings which I thought were very graphic. There was some pressure to build the locker room on stage – but I resisted this one because I knew it would never be big enough to get the West Texas vibe.

Now, going back to my first impression, when I read the script this scene read very brutally – like a slasher movie almost. Again one of the things I love about HEROES is the varied tones and I love that we don’t pull our punches, like many TV shows do. This scene needed to be horrific and disturbing – as much to establish the gravitas for Claire about what she’s up against as anything else - and that’s what I set out to do.

I did the whole scene hand held to give it an edgy vibe. I had the cameraman rush in at the action when Claire jumped on Sylar and whip pan on and off action just as an action was happening… all techniques to add a disturbing, disorienting feeling.

This is the kind of scene that needs a lot of cuts, all from the right angles, and which doesn’t take it’s final form until the editing room, when the right sound effects and music can be added. We went for big sound effects and eerie slow music. That plus a lot of blood and gore and a yucky creepy sequence is born!!!!


Finally, this episode also fulfilled most of the paintings that were created in episode 4 and 5… i.e. the one that Peter and Isaac discuss in episode 5 that “Tell a story like a comic book.” They are: frightened Claire close up, Cheerleader running up the stairs, Sylar standing over the dead body of the cheerleader, locker door being hurled telepathically at Peter, Hiro and Ando standing under a bloody Homecoming banner.

The paintings which Tim Sale creates for the show happen in two ways – sometimes we film the event first and give Tim the frame we want to match to. Remember when Hiro and Ando stood under the rocket ship in Tokyo and looked at the exact same frame in the comic book. Well, we’d filmed the Hiro/Ando shot first and did the comic panel as an insert later. That way is way easier for all concerned.

But… the paintings in Isaac’s loft were a different story. Tim Kring and the writer’s gave Tim the idea of what they wanted and Tim painted the paintings in a vacuum, before we ever had sets or clear ideas of how we’d end up shooting the scenes.

Now it was time to re-create most of the paintings in the episode. I took this task to heart, knowing that if we could recreate the paintings as closely as possible HEROES would look like a cool-ass show that had been carefully planned from the very beginning. The first was the painting of Claire running up the stadium stairs – this one had already been done in episode 4 and my job was just to make sure we got back to the same angle and re-created the shot as closely as possible. The second was Sylar standing over Claire’s (actually Jackie’s) dead body. This one was really hard, because Tim had painted the image in an unnatural perspective with a HUGE Sylar standing over a tiny dead cheerleader. I tried my best. Put Sylar in the right position. Put the cheerleader in the right position. But couldn’t match the shadow or the scale. Finally had to match Peter having lockers thrown at him by Sylar’s force. At the time the writer’s conceived of this one and Tim Sale painted it – no one had any idea how it would play out – just that it was a cool painting. I had to vamp the space this happened it, but in the end it’s a pretty good match. The last painting, of Hiro and Ando standing under the bloody Homecoming banner was another challenge. When Mr. Sale painted it, no one had any idea that he was even going to make the banner bloody, much less how we’d accomplish it. This painting actually plays out in episode 11 – but we had to come up with a way to set it up in #9, which we did in the scene where Jackie gets murdered.

Okay --

That’s it for now!

Lotsa photos this week!


Me on the right… Another happy day directing.

Sendhil Ramamurthy in India (actually the Universal backlot)

TV Guide declares him “crush-able” – whose to disagree?

We had COWS!!! That’s how big HEROES is!!!

Milo and Tawny on set.

The writers - Adam Armus & Kay Foster

Leonard and Noah goofing off!

HEROES – it’s like a TV show – only bigger.

First official photo of Sylar.

Hayden and I having a bloody good time.

Hayden & Danielle - bloody, bloody chearleaders!!!!!!

Look whose watching!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Episode 6: Better Halves

Tonight’s episode is the second episode that I directed. It was, by design, a smaller episode… It follows fewer characters and goes to fewer locations than the first 5. HEROES, as you hopefully can tell, is a big and relatively expensive TV show. To balance out the big episodes, Tim Kring and the writers have planned that there will be three or four smaller, less expensive ones which, effectively, offset the costs of the big ones.

Also, truthfully, we’re still learning what stories to tell and how to tell them. Do we always need to see the whole cast in just a handful of scenes? Or should we, sometimes, concentrate on just a few of our characters and give them more intensively developed stories.

The good news was that the script, written by Natalie Chaidez, was great. It takes Peter into the next step of his journey. It presents Hiro with a challenge to his concept of what a hero is. It answers one of Claire’s important questions about her biology (or does it???) It amps up Niki’s story and explains who’s in the mirror. It also finally introduces Niki’s husband, DL, into the show – and resolves how much a menace to Niki’s life he is.

Natalie Chaidez – writer of episode 6

But despite the great drama and character development -- I wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose the visual design or the intensity that we’ve been developing for the last 5 weeks. Directing this episode was challenging… Most of it takes place in Niki’s house… A lot in a parking garage. A lot in Niki’s house. One scene outside Claire’s. One scene in a garage poker game. One scene in Isaac’s loft – AND THAT’S IT!!!

Compare that to my last episode, episode 3, where we were all over the world!!!

I’m very happy with the way the show came out. I reminded myself that Akira Kurosawa directed a whole movie ("High and Low") that took place in one house. I tried to use conventions of noir movies, supper low angles, super high down angles, and any other trick I could think of to keep the tension of the show alive… I think it worked, and taught me that the noir angles work for HEROES… great!

But all that aside, I thought I’d concentrate this blog on performance direction, and the role of the director as a director of actors in television.

Ultimately this is a performance-intensive episode. Everyone is great. Leonard Roberts is an obvious great addition to our story. But Ali Larter was faced with a particularly challenging task, one that she really rose to the occasion on.

Ali plays two characters in this episode. One, Niki, who is breaking down continuously and trying to hold it together while experiencing ever-escalating amounts of fear and trauma. Then, her alter-ego is introduced – a cool and in-control character we call “Jessica.”

On top of all that, the nature of filming is that we shoot wildly out of sequence – so that Ali from scene to scene had to play varying degrees of her breakdown. Now my job, and her job are to each do the homework (together and separately) to track what that character is doing at any one point and kind of regulate each other.

We also had the benefit, (rare in TV) to rehearse her scenes with DL and for Natalie to rework them a bit. This was an amazing asset.

I felt good about it all during shooting, but it wasn’t until I saw the first cut put together that I realized how masterfully Ali had handled the assignment.

To digress for a moment, I thought I’d describe my own journey as a performance director. I first came out of USC film school in 1984 – and was very well trained by that education in all of the technical aspects of film making. I understood lighting, production design, staging to camera etc. And I was ready in most respects to begin work in film. Unfortunately, at least at that time, there was not much emphasis on performance direction. There had been a kind of Hitchkokian “Actors are cattle, the director moves them where he wants and when he wants” attitude.

I was lucky enough to begin directing shortly out of school, but kept finding myself butting heads with actors – especially older, experienced ones. I would tell them to do something. They would ask “why?” And my only response was “Because it looks cool,” Or “Because I planned it this way – and it looks cool.”

After enough of this head butting I realized I was missing something in my skill set. So, I enrolled in an acting class with an acting coach named Larry Moss. This was like ten years ago, and Larry was a very well respected teacher… (A couple of years later Hillary Swank was holding the Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry,” and she said something like, “And I’d like to thank my acting coach Larry Moss without whom this performance would not have been possible.” Moments later Larry’s classes were a lot harder to get into.)

I took the class for about a year and took it very seriously. I did monologues; I got acting partners and put up scenes. What I learned (besides that I was a terrible actor) was that acting is an enormously difficult craft. If you’re doing the job well you are, as they say, “in the moment” and the minute the scene is over or the director yells “cut”you feel foolish and confused and vulnerable. The director of photography and production designer have hard jobs too, but they have more objectivity to know how they did.

I also learned that the currency of the craft is (a) emotion and (b) physical action. To communicate effectively to an actor you need to know what emotion or combination of emotions their character is experiencing and how that is to be physicalized with their bodies. The saying is that an actor’s body is their instrument – and it’s true. Like a cello or a paintbrush the actor uses their body, their voice and their emotions to depict a character.

Anyway, long story short, I believe I became a much better director of actors from that experience and I highly recommend studying acting to anyone who wants to direct. Also, as my own craft became more proficient - I learned that I can approach my craft similarly to how an actor approaches theirs. I too can “be in the moment,” meaning that I have certainly planned how I’m going to shoot and stage a scene and what results I want, but that if the scene evolves differently, or something I didn’t expect happens I can evolve my plan to incorporate it.

Finally, I learned that the best thing I can be for an actor is being a safety net. When an actor learns to trust me, we can have the experience where I encourage them to take any risk they want, and they can know that I will be observing them carefully, telling them when it works and when they have gone to far. In the years since Larry Moss’s class I have had a very fulfilling time working with actors. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

Another day at work for these three actors

Niki and DL together at last!

Now, to top things off I thought, since Ali had done such an amazing job, I would do an interview with her and give her a chance to talk about “Niki”, “Jessica” and her process as an actor.


GB: Ali, your performance in episode 6 is so great. You play Niki, who is kind of continuously breaking down throughout the episode, and introduce a new character - Jessica – who is completely in control. And, of course we shoot in bits and pieces and completely out of sequence. So, for me, the control you demonstrated throughout this process to get to the result that’s onscreen, is fantastic. I’d like to talk about your process.

AL: Okay, let’s go.

GB: So.. You’d never done TV before HEROES, and it goes so fast with a new script coming out literally every week and a half. How do you break down and prepare your work?

AL: Well, first I just read the script once through and I try to see and feel my way into it, to have and instinctual emotional reaction. I believe that your first instincts are really valid..

Then I take the script and break it down chronologically. I try to track the characters intentions and feelings. I work on that and write down notes on the pages of the script. When we get to shooting my script looks like a roadmap.

Then, on the day of filming I check over my notes to remind myself of my intentions before we do the scene.

GB: Like in your trailer?

AL: Exactly. And also, when I’m doing a show as emotionally intense as episode 6, frankly there’s just no room for personal life for that period of time. It’s all about the work.

GB: I’ve found with actors, and with my own work as well, it’s really important to do a lot of homework and planning, but it’s also important in the moment on set to forget it all and be open to what’s happening right now. Your homework is valuable until it’s not.

AL: Right. That’s a great way of putting it.

GB: Talk about Niki and Jessica and the experience of playing these two very different characters.

AL: Before episode 6, really from the pilot, I felt deeply connected to Niki. She’s a voice I know. It’s more work to play Jessica.

GB: Even though Jessica is more like you?

AL: I know. I know.

GB: Why is that?

AL: Niki is so honest. She’s sensitive to the world around her. She’s my voice for women in bad situations who are trying to do the right thing. There’s something very honorable about her.

GB: And what about Jessica?

AL: Jessica is a struggle, because I have to own my sexuality and my voice to play her. I can’t rely on my emotional life.

GB: Because Jessica is so clearly focused and goal oriented? She seems like she’s very “Need-Plan-Result” oriented. There’s no second-guessing, or self-doubt in her..

AL: Exactly.

GB: Let’s talk about your relationship to directors in TV. You haven’t done TV before, but how do you deal with the fact that (a) there’s a new director every week, and that (b) some of them may be more technical than performance oriented and (c) they may only have the needs and point of view of their own script than the big picture of the character.

AL: Actually, in film, I always felt that I yearned for directors that were vocal with me. But I never got that. For some reason, at least the ones I worked with, were more worried about the technical versus the emotional needs. I’ve actually found that there’s more attention to performance here, than in the movies I’ve done.

It’s also great to have you and Allan (Arkush) always around to push my buttons. It’s great when, every once in awhile someone gets something out of you didn’t expect.

As an actor, I’m always open to anyone’s thoughts and opinions. I want to try anything. But I’ve also learned I’m not always going to have the director focus me, so I have to trust myself.

GB: How do you do that?

AL: Everything is a growing, ongoing emotional experience, including learning to trust myself. Also, the TV schedule moves so fast that it makes me trust my instincts.

GB: I also notice that you’re very interested and aware of where the camera is and what it’s doing? How did you get to that?

AL: I don’t know. I’ve always been aware of it. It’s great though when you get to know a director, like you, and know that your shots are so good. It gives me a freedom to act “within” the shot; do you know what I mean?

GB: I think so. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still love it… I’ve stayed fascinated in the way that - where you put the camera, and what lens you use, and how you move the camera, in harmony with the actors movements and performance, can lift up and support the performance. It’s possible to do a shot that is all about itself, that serves being “a cool shot” first and foremost, and I can certainly so that sometimes. It’s also possible and very common for the camera to, kind of, just layback and record the performance – in which case the actor is kind of on their own. What I try to do is lift up the performance, the same way the cello’s in an orchestra lift up and support the first violin. The violin is the star, but it is better for the cellos.

AL: Also if you’re doing a specific shot and I understand what it’s doing, I can sometimes lay back and give a subtler performance.

GB: Right on. Okay that’s enough of your time taken up between setups. I know people are going to love what you did in tonight’s episode.

AL: Thanks.

See ya’ll next week!!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Episode 5: Hiros

Spoiler Warning: There may be a few spoiler type things in this weeks blog...just wanted to let you all know...nothing to major, but in case you want to watch the show completely spoiler free you may want to just skim this week's entry!

Today: Monday October 23, 2006

Tonight episode 5 airs, and we get to find out what "Future Hiro's" message to Peter is...I'll say this, it is going to drive our characters for the next many episodes.

Episode 5 continues the tradition of yet-another-great-script. There is particularly great stuff with Hiro and Ando wandering the desert a la R2-D2 and C-3PO...And Nathan's first spontaneous flight (courtesy of escaping capture by HRG and the Haitian). We also get to see new characters cross in fun and unexpected ways. I personally love when Hiro and Nathan bump into each other in the desert diner. Adrian's reactions to the seemingly crazy Hiro are sooo funny. Nathan/Nikki (or is it Nathan/Jessica???) is pretty sexy too - dont'cha think?

I have new and ongoing respect for Masi Oka. When I first heard that future Hiro was coming to give Peter a message and that he'd be wearing black leather and carrying a sword and wearing a goatee - It sounded cool, but I was worried. Worried that it would be corny and that Masi might not be able to pull it off.

As I watched the scene unfold on set, I grew a new respect for Masi - he brought a great dignity and pathos to the character and I fully believed him. What I've learned about Masi since is that he's a deeply methodical actor. All of his actions and behaviors are carefully thought and grounded in truth. So whether he's pain-filled Future Hiro or goofy Hiro in the diner going "beep-beep" when he asks for a ride, his behavior is grounded. As the (as-yet-unaired) episodes progress Masi's range gets tested more and more as he encounters tragedy and (yes possibly) romance. So far he has delivered in all cases.

One of the things that makes HEROES fun and challenging to direct is the many varieties of tones that have to be blended together in each and every episode. We swing from comedy, to spooky almost-horror movie scary, to action, to realistic drama. Each scene needs to be shot and performed in subtly different ways, and yet with unifying rules that make it all feel like one show.

Allan Arkush and I have been with the show as director-producers since May, while the first scripts where being written...And have been heavily involved in participating in the conception of the visual and performance style of the show.

Directing an episode, especially of this show, is an exhausting experience. Sort of like running a sprint for 10 or 11 days. Because Allan and I have to prep, edit and oversee many aspects of the show - in the end we will only be able to personally direct 5 or 6 episodes of the show each.

So beginning with episode 4 we will start having a series of visiting directors. These directors come in for one shot at a time - and while guided to some degree by the producers, writers, and myself - they are absolutely in charge of the shooting and performance direction of their episodes. I don't know why TV is this way, it would perhaps make more sense to have a set of 3 or 4 in-house directors who rotate the direction of all the episodes. But this is not how televison evolved. The in-house producer/director job, which Allan & I have, is a relatively new phenomenon. "X-FILES" was the first show I remember that had the position. Since then it has become more common. But usually there is only one.

Even though every show has the same writers, actors and crew, without question each director brings their own style and personality to their episodes. The other thing that's good and important about having visting directors is that they are the ONLY person who is focused only on that episode. Every other writer, producer and even the crew is thinking about multiple episodes - but not the director.

Tim Kring's system is that there is always a writer on set to oversee that the performances and dialogue are getting on film in the right way. But I try to also keep up with the filming day - and especially with the prep of the episode. The rule of thumb is "good script - good prep - good episode." In many ways, how you prepare to shoot a film is when the majority of critical decisions are made. Once you're actually shooting, ideally, you've got a map of what you intend to do. If most of the key logistical decisions are planned out, it leaves more room for the kind of spontaneity (of performance, of shooting) which is, I think, where the real magic comes in. Considering that "Heroes" is a new show and a big show - other than a little unplanned overtime and some hairstyles that producers weren't happy with, we have been pretty well prepared. At least we haven't had that many out-and-out disasters.

Episode 5 was being directed by Paul Shapiro (

Paul directed many episodes of SMALLVILLE, where I know him from. He has a great eye for composition. He also has a way of staging things so that, if two actors are in a scene, he'll stage them so they're both facing camera. At first, on SMALLVILLE, this drove me crazy. My own style is more about moving the camera and the actors so that the actors move into frontal shots at critcal moments. I argued with him about it at first, but then I started to see how it worked and that there was a way to make it feel natural. It allows the audience to see both actor's emotions simultaneously while keeping them separate from each other. It also allowed the lighting to be really beautiful. When your moving the actors all over the set and swinging the camera around everywhere, as I always do, there's no place for the DP to hide the lights. But when you play the actors "North-South" as Paul calls it (i.e. to and from camera) the DP can light from the sides and make it extra pretty.

Anyway, I stole the technique and now it is a staple on SMALLLVILLE. In fact, at this point when blocking the scenes in SMALLVILLE, the directors or DP's will use shorthand and say "Okay we're going to 'Shapiro' this part of the scene." Meaning both actors play out.

The day before filming begins, we take all of the department heads on a "Tech Scout" - it's the film equivilant of a technical rehersal in theatre. We visit all of the locations and sets we'll be filming on and discuss, sometimes shot-by-shot, how we'll shoot there.

Now, remember, shooting never stops on a TV show - so while the Director of Photography, Prop master, Location Manager, Gaffer (i.e. "the guy who makes the light" and the Key Grip (i.e. "the guy who makes the shadows) are spending all day talking about how we shoot the next episode - they've all left deputies in their stead to film the current episode.

TV is a crazy business, sometimes I truly wonder how we get anything on the air at all.

The tech scout begins - Our luxury bus

Paul Shapiro - Director of Episode 5

Pat Duffy - Assistant Director (i.e. the guy who schedules the episode & runs the set)

Alex Reid - Location Manager (i.e. he finds and manages all the places we shoot)

John Aronson - Director of Photography (i.e. he oversees all aspects of photography of the show)

Mark Kolpack - VFX Supervisor (i.e. he's in charge of visual effects)

Scouting Niki's House

Scouting the diner - we'll pick up and move the whole thing

Me and the gang scouting the convenience store

Yet another scout lunch - I'm thinking of borrowing this place's subtle use of design and color for the show

That's it for this week. Next week, an episode I directed. A very performance-intensive project for Ali Larter, and I'm thinkking of focusing on the relationship of the actor and director and performance direction in film.

Hope you like tonight's show!


P.S. One last thing - people keep asking what does HRG mean...I'll give you a clue...It stands for something that is a trademark aspect of his look.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Episode 4: Come Together

Hey guys, sorry it’s taken a couple of extra days to post this. As we speak, episode 4 aired Monday, Episode 5 airs next Monday and we are in the middle of shooting 2nd unit on episodes 9 (which I’m directing) main unit of episode 10 – A HUGE new scene we’re adding to episode 7 and Episode 11 starts on Tuesday.

It’s been hectic… but great.

It’s such an amazing feeling to be working on something that you fully believe in, and have it be rewarded by having the fans dig it too. Believe me, myself and everyone else on the show appreciate that you guys are watching and enjoying what we’re up too. It makes all the hard work worth it.

And it has been hard… A show like HEROES, as you hopefully can tell, is a big complicated undertaking… That combined with the fact that the math of the air dates starts to catch up with you means that it gets a little crazy right about now. Think about it, it takes us (an average) of nine or ten shooting days to film every episode. But those are working days, Monday through Friday… So it takes 12 to 14 calendar days to make an episode. But, once we air, there’s a new episode on the air every 7 days…

We started filming in July and everything felt quite leisurely. By the time an episode finishes filming there will only be 5 weeks until it airs. That’s not a lot of time to edit it, do music, sound effects, visual effects and color correction.

So, we’ve been picking up time by filming weekends. I’m doing a couple of 7-day weeks in a row, and so are many others… It’s cool, but you get fried.

Anyway, episode 4 which just aired – How cool is the last 5 minutes??/ “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.” We made up crew shirts with that saying right away.

It was directed by Ernest Dickerson: He is a great guy who the cast really liked.

Here’s a few photos that I thought you’d like:



Next week I’ll have more… I promise.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Episode 3: One Giant Leap


Episode 3 airs tonight! It’s the first episode of “HEROES” which I directed and consequently there’s a lot more blog.

I won’t say too much from today’s point-of-view except that “HEROES” seems to be a hit. We’ve been picked up for a full season by NBC. No surprise to me, but it feels good.

I’m very proud of tonight’s episode. It has the style and scope I was going for. I feel I serviced well the excellent script written by my old “Smallville” pal Jeph Loeb.

Remember, all the rest written here was penned 2 ½ months ago when I was in production. It’s my experiences (and only my experiences) as we filmed episode 3. I hope you enjoy.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Finally had a day where I achieved everything I wanted…. Where all the pieces came together.

We started off in the morning with an interrogation scene between FBI agents played by Clea Duvall and Greg Grunberg.

I’ve been mostly talking about production, but in addition to shooting, a couple times a week I have to rush off to casting sessions. We read lots of actors for every part, whether it’s one liner’s like “Cop #1” who shouts “get your hands up!” or characters who are critical to the series and will run for many episodes.

Clea Duvall is an exceptional actress (Girl Interrupted and HBO’s Carnival). We were amazed she was even coming in, but she had seen the pilot and was a fan. (It’s great to be on a great show – makes everything easier!!!) She came in to read for a character named “Eden” (more about her later) but none of us felt it was right. Co-Executive Producer Jeph Loeb was hit by a brainstorm and said “What if we put her with Greg Grunberg?” There was already a storyline developing for Greg where he becomes involved in an FBI investigation – but there was no continuing character for him to run with. Everyone loved the idea right away. Our Casting Directors called Clea’s agent and asked if she was interested in this yet-to-be-written character. They said “yes” the writers began excitedly writing and…

There I was on set, working with Clea and Greg. It was kind of a simple scene and we were in a room that was so plain and, in some ways, flat – but glossy and unique. I finally felt like I got to shoot the kind of angles and lenses I’ve been wanting. A little “The Insider” a little “Bourne Identity” – I also used a swing and tilt lens which throws the plane of focus off in an eerie way. I’d been wanting to use this tool every day so far, but I’d never had the time. Finally I shot a scene with the kind of framing, long lenses, glossy surfaces and use of focus that I felt would contribute to the beautiful but subtlety unsettling vibe that I think will work for the show. I even tried the swing and tilt lens on a couple of Greg’s close-ups, keeping his eyes in focus and half his mouth – but got nervous about that though and covered my butt with a traditionally focused close-up.

That night I went out and shot one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever done, between Hayden and Matt Lanter. I won’t say too much about it here – but sometimes it’s challenging to do a scene that you want to disturb and unsettle the audience. The whole crew felt uncomfortable at the end. Hayden was full of enthusiasm at the beginning but I know by the end the material had disturbed her as well. It’s a funny business we’re in – creating emotional stories that are sometimes nice and sometimes not-so-nice. Anyway, it all went so well. The actors both gave their all. The location, the fog, the lighting, the shots all fell into place. I was pushing the crew and the cast hard – but suddenly I had gotten every shot I wanted and we wrapped a half hour early!

Finally a great day!!!

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Haven’t written in a few days. The show is falling into a rhythm now. We went to stage work last week, and it’s been cooler and easier.

Our production designer, Ruth Ammon, has built standing sets for Suresh’s apartment, Isaac’s loft and Claire’s house. They are all great, and show the variation in location and style. What’s great about this show is how many different shows it is all in one. Architecturally, these three spaces are very different. Funky brownstone interior for Suresh. Big open aired loft for Isaac. Newly-built Americana for Claire. My favorite is Suresh’s. It is beautifully designed to be lit, and to have great angles and depth. I loved shooting it.

Ruth Ammon – Heroes Production Designer

Allen Arkush and I have finished our “main unit” work. But “HEROES” is laying out the way “Smallville” did. We shoot 8 days of main unit and then we each have two full days of “second unit” work. Second unit usually means stunts and explosions with no actors involved… But in our world it just means a whole ‘nother unit with actors and hair and makeup. (As well as stunts, actions and explosions!)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Just saw the final mix of the pilot episode, along with the re-shoots of the flying sequence at the end. (An earlier, unfinished version of the pilot leaked onto the internet in July – but this is the finished version.) This show is SO COOL. I am so lucky.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Today was a particularly fun and ultimately satisfying day.

A month ago, in the writers room, Jeph Loeb pitched a scene where Hiro, in order to prove himself to Ando, freezes time to save the life of a little girl. They are following a (9th Wonders!) comic book that Hiro has obtained from the future, which tells that they will save a girl dressed in a school uniform from an out-of-control truck… At first there is nobody on the street and Ando is very dubious. But then a school bell rings and 50 schoolgirls appear… It was a great scene and I knew right away I had to (a) fight the budget battles to keep that scene in the show and (b) top whatever I’d done on “Smallville…”

Now, I have done several “frozen time” sequences on “Smallville.” On that show we call it “Clark-Time,” which is when we are with Clark Kent as he runs in superspeed – from his perspective the world appears to be frozen. This scene was similar – but I wanted to do something much bigger and with more scope than we had ever done on “Smallville.”

I literally wanted to freeze a Tokyo street full of pedestrians and traffic. Some big movies (starting with “The Matrix”) have developed complex systems with high speed cameras or a series of sequenced 35-mm still cameras to “flash-capture” a moment in time.

But Heroes is a TV show. We can’t afford that. So our technique was to have a whole bunch of extras hold really still… and to build a series of special props and green-screen rigs to hold them in awkward positions that would sell time stopping.

One thing I learned on “Smallville” was that things-defying-gravity is what sells frozen time. Water spilling, birds stopped in mid-flight, etc.

On this one, my key ideas were (a) a little girl jumping rope, frozen in mid-air. (b) the girl in danger falling backwards, frozen off balance. (c) the truck that’s about to hit her in mid-collision, halfway crashed through a table of toy robots which are all frozen in mid air.

Like Clark Kent, Hiro is the only thing moving in the shot. The world is frozen around him. He squints hard. Opens his eyes. Turns in amazement at the world and then runs to the girl, ducking under the toy robots, which are frozen in mid-air from the crash, and pushes the frozen girl out of the way.

A scene like this is obviously complex and requires a lot of planning. And I knew our TV schedule would only allow one day to film the whole scene (which includes a page and a half of dialogue before the action starts.)

We started by scouting for locations. My take on Japan is that it should be clean and high-tech looking – to stand in contrast to what New York, Texas and LA look like. The street also had to be one on which we could completely control traffic and on which we wouldn’t see distant traffic or pedestrians. Moving traffic in the background would ruin the effect.

After much scouting we found the perfect place in Los Angeles’ “Little Tokyo” (what are the odds?). I brought the crew down there twice to specifically decide on where we would stage every key event and how we would build the rigs to support them. Then, I went back with a storyboard artist and laid out every shot we were going to shoot which he would illustrate. On a sequence like this it’s critical to have a visual plan of the scene for the crew to follow. Drawing it out also helps you facilitate discussion and time management.

I’d worked with an artist on the “Aquaman” pilot named Cesar Lemus… His drawings are clean and realistic and his shading is beautiful. Out of film school - I started out as a storyboard artist myself… So my standards are high. The boards need to look realistic and they have to accurately represent real achievable camera angles…

Here’s the final result:

Finally I auditioned a dozen 10-12 year-old Japanese girls. Basically they all showed up as a group on a night I was shooting other scenes. I had a bunch of wooden crates laid out and in between takes I ran back from the set and I asked the girls to lay back in awkward “falling down” positions and hold perfectly still for a minute and a half. It was a funny sight. All the little girls were wonderful, but two of them were the best “freezers…” and I picked them to be the “jump rope girl” and the “Hiro girl.”

Every day of shooting is physically and emotionally strenuous. A twelve hour day is the norm in the film business and the director never gets a moment’s rest. But some days are harder than others. This day, for me, was an all-out sprint from beginning to end. We had planned it well and I had the storyboards as a guide. But to get all the work done we had to hustle, hustle, hustle and shoot fast.

I haven’t mentioned Masi and James yet (who play Hiro and Ando) But they are both a true delight! They are both fun, lighthearted and easy to work with. To me they are a classic comedy team – Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby for a new era. And it won’t surprise me a bit if Masi breaks out big as a star this year. He’s a wonderful guy with wonderful fun energy. What’s good about his character, of all the “HEROES” he’s the one who loves having his power.

Anyway – you can see we all had a good time on this crazy day.

Masi and me tough guys

A Tokyo luxury car

Jeph Loeb and I man the monitors

Masi, James and Umi our Japanese language consultant

Masi with a red tongue from Japanese frozen ice

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Okay, as well as yesterday went…. Today was the opposite. A true comedy of errors.

We were up in Palmdale, California – in a stretch endless desert and one two lane blacktop. It’s a night scene where Niki’s character discovers the bodies which (she suspects) her husband DL buried. She then digs her own shallow grave and buries the bodies stuffed in her trunk.

Well, it was about 100 degrees, which was the first problem… The second problem was ultimately a communications problem with the art department. We wanted to create a road that dead-ended into nowhere. There was none like that, so we came up with the idea that we’d create a “ROAD ENDS” barrier across the road and 60 yards of sand to tell the story. My concept was that art department would build the barricade in such a way that, when it got time to do that shot at the end of the day – we’d drag it across the road and the crew would quickly shovel sand onto the road. When we got there in the morning the barricade was built in a semi-permanent way and the road was dressed with sand and tumbleweeds and grass. It was beautiful. Only problem was that the trucks and equipment were on one side and the set was on the other. So now, rather than pushing or driving equipment 100 yards to the set we had to drive everything a half an hour AROUND….

But that was just the beginning. In the scene, Niki is supposed to throw a bloody shovel in the trunk and then sit in the front seat and then face her nemesis-reflection. So, I’m in the middle of rehearsal with Ali Larter, I have my fingers in the classic “frame the shot pose.” I’m walking along with Ali talking saying, “So you throw the shovel in the trunk, you cross to the door, you open the door and sit down and you look in the…” I lower my shot-framing fingers, confused… “Hey! Where’s the mirror?” The Cadillac had no rear view mirror. I look over to a bunch of transportation guys who start shrugging, saying “That’s the way it came.”

I’m like, “(a) This character spends a lot of time looking in the mirror, (b) it’s in the script…” More shrugs.

My next 45 minutes were spent watching guys run around taking mirrors off their own cars and trying to Jerry-rig them onto a 57 Caddy. The final result looked terrible, but we were hours behind so we just went with it.

Later, just as I was about to film a shot of the Cadillac driving by the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign we’d dressed in – a sudden wind came up. The sign took to the air like a kite. Crashed thirty feet down the road and split in half.

I looked to my Assistant Director. “Do we have a backup sign?” He shook his head “No.” This time I shrugged. “Okay, let’s skip that shot.”

Then the “A” camera went down. Broken in the heat.

The camera crew got it working again. Then the “B” camera went down... Jeph Loeb turned to me and said, “At the point where we have NO cameras – we’ll have to call the studio and tell them we’ve stopped filming.”

We limped along like this all day. It seemed like every shot had a problem with it. Through it all, Ali Larter was a trooper. Even though she was on the verge of heat stroke and her makeup was literally melting off her face – she hung in there.

We finally finished the day. Several hours of double-double-golden time later – but – with a pretty cool scene in the can…

Oh, and, by the way – I think I just finished shooting on Episode 3!!!

On to Episode 4!!!




Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Just saw the Editor’s assembly of my episode. This is usually a horrible experience for directors… Billy Wilder’s famous quote is “Your movie is never as good as your dailies and never as bad as the first cut.”

Actually the cut was not bad. It’s 8-plus minutes longer than the final version that will air and feels kind of flabby. There was very little temp music or sound effects. I think I’ll load it up before showing it to the other producers. Music and sound effects (the right ones) Some scenes really please me – Niki and her mother in law, Greg Grundberg’s scenes with Clea Duvall, Adrian and Milo. Others feel off – I am anxious, but not suicidal.

The editor is Scott Boyd. ( I’ve never worked with him, but he has great credits and is a super nice guy. Throughout the shoot he was very complimentary about the performances and the way the film was cutting together. He made many great choices – some I wouldn’t have thought of – one in particular is the way he dealt with Sylar psychic control of Audrey.

Scott Boyd - Heroes Editor

The show is certainly physically beautiful. The actors, the sets, the lighting. The scenes and the performances feel grounded and real – like the pilot.

I have about 4 days to recut this version and turn it in to Tim Kring. Until he’s happy I’ll be a wreck.