WRITTEN BY: CAROL BARBEE
DIRECTED BY: GREG BEEMAN
WARNING! SPOILERS! IF SPOILERS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE MASKED NAZI PUNKS ARE SHOOTING YOU DOWN -- THEN LEAVE NOW!!!!
ME AND MY PALS (HUMAN AND OTHERWISE) - LIVIN' THE DREAM ON THE SET OF TNT'S " FALLING SKIES"
My memories of the production are just pushing through the exhaustion, putting one foot in front of the other.
I remember that I kept calling my editor (the brilliant one-of-a-kind Donn Aron) and I kept asking him "Is it okay?" "How does it look?" He told me, on a couple of occasions, "It's going together really well, it's going to be a good episode." But, while I was shooting it, I couldn't feel it.
Because of the Christmas break - I didn't see the first editor's cut until early January... And, guess what - I thought it was good! It really flowed together, I had done some complex shotmaking and interesting scene staging that I was proud of. I thought the emotional arc between Tom and Anne was strong and I felt emotional when they got married at the end. I loved the story of Ben guiding Maggie with her spike-enhanced abilities and I like what happened between Hal and Ben. In fact, I think this is my favorite of the three episodes I directed this season - even though it was, by far, the lowest budgeted one. I like the stories that were told and am happy with the performances that I was able to collaborate on with the actors (Ben-Hal) (Ben-Maggie) (Tom-Anne) etc.
It makes me remember what I already knew, but which is easy to forget - you can not tell when you are in the middle of filming (probably any artistic project). Never get too comfortable or too nervous - just do your best every day and it'll work itself out. (Truthfully, in the end, it's all about script - all I can do is enhance the visual aspect of the storytelling, and I can enhance and focus the scene-by-scene performances and the arc of the performance from the actors.)
So, back to the episode -- As I said - The prep had been hard, but I had a good plan. There was a lot of action to film at night - specifically (in the episode) from the time the Espheni drone bombs the sight where Tom and co. are grabbing the Volm cache, to the end of the firefight with the Espeheni (cum Nazi) Youth Brigade - there was a lot of planning to do. Between the explosion, the fire and all of the shooting and running around - it was a lot of work to organize.
Falling Skies looks great when we film at night - but it means that the crew and the cast and I are filming at night - all night (until 4 or 5 AM - once until 6:30AM) in the sub-sub-zero weather. I'm not complaining - it's just part of the job - but it takes a certain degree of physical and emotional preperation (a lot more than filming in 75 degree sunny Los Angeles, for instance.)
As a director, a scene like that has a lot of moving parts. The way to approach it is to mentally break it down into bite sized bits until it's broken up into it's smallest parts (for a director thats "shots") - so in this case here's all the parts (I'm not even counting the daytime work.):
. the Espheni ship arrives and bombs the group
. Tom and the the others re-group, Matt is gone, Kent and the other Team-Leaders arrive and shoot at them
.Tom and Anne break off and shoot two Team-Leaders following them
. Tom and Ann get shot at by Kent, They run for cover, Anne is shot but manages to slide to safety, Tom takes cover in a cargo container, Tom and Kent exchange dialogue, Kent kicks over gas and fires at it the cargo container catches on fire, Anne runs to save Tom and Tom shoots Kent, Tom stands over Kent as he dies (btw - that's a lot of beats in one sequence)
.Matt chases Mira and gets shot with a dart in the neck, other Team Leaders appear
. Weaver shoots at the Team leaders. Matt runs Team Weaver and Cochise stun blast the Team Leaders. Weaver and Cochise save Matt. Mira escapes.
. Matt and Tom escape.
So here's the process I have to go through directorially:
First I have to find a location that I like and that suits all the work we have to do (in this case this meant it had to include the scenes approaching and leaving the Volm cache sight as well.) This takes a day or two on it's own.
Our location manager and production designer have thought about it and present me, usually, with photographs from a number of places that might work. I'll narrow that down to two or three from the photos. In this case, though, the two or three I selected happened to be pretty far from each other - so it took a couple of days just to find them. At each place, Bryan Knight, the assistant director; Rob Grey, the production designer; Nate Goodman, the director of photography; Grace Gilroy, the line producer and I walk all the choices discussing the pros and cons and feasibility of each place. This includes, not only, how does it look, but mundane things like - can we get the big night lights where we need them to be? Is there enough road access that we can work fast enough? And so on.
At each place that has potential, I have to walk around and, at least, rough in how I would stage the scenes. I have to work quickly, shooting from the hip (but knowing in the back of my mind that I can change my mind a little later - as long as the location has enough flexibility to do so.) We go back to the production office and discuss exactly how we'll shoot the scenes - being as specific a possible. After we've done that (which will take a few hours twice or so over a day or two) we then try to figure out how many hours, realistically, it will take to shoot the scenes. One of the best ways to be efficient is to shoot out lighting directions - i.e. shoot all the shots facing (for instance) west/southwest and then later shoot all the shots facing (for instance) east/northeast... This is logical but may cause me to have to shoot way out of story order - which can be hard on the actor (and my) brains. But night lighting is one of the biggest time consuming factors. The other is transportation time - i.e., how long does it take to physically get equipment from base camp to set? How long will it take to get the actors from hair & makeup to the set? etc. TV is a game of inches - we have 12 budgeted shooting hours per day - but even if I went over that (which I can't do consistently and keep my job) - the sun will come up at some point and I will have to stop.
After all that, we add it up, and, inevitably, the first couple of times through - Guess what? To shoot what's written and what I think are all the shots needed to tell the story will take 18 hours more than we have over the three 12-hour days we have to shoot."
At that point I have to (a) go back to the writers and tell them we have to reduce the script. For some reason, they are never happy with this. I try to bring specific ideas to the table that can cut beats without dissembling the key story points. (b) I also have to compromise what I want to shoot. I have to, literally, play a version of "Name That Tune" in my mind... Like "OK, I can tell that story in 4 shots, not the 12 I originally wanted." For some reason at first this always seems impossible - although even after I've cut it down to what I feel is the absolute minimum number of shots in prep, on the day of shooting I usually have to drop a few more.
All this is pretty normal, but tedious. And we, frequently, have to do this on several story areas. The shootout I've been describing... Maggie's gunplay spike-practice scene... And the final wedding all had to get smaller than what was in the original script.
After the first night of filming the above-described action it snowed. And not a little, a lot. Vancouver rarely gets snow, but this year they sure did. So while I filmed the day scene where Tom and co. walk back to the camp, a crew of special effects guys ran around all day with heated air blowers and blow torches melting the snow around the set where I'd already filmed the night before (We couldn't have snow appear halfway through the scene without a horrible discontinuity.)
I also just had to accept that, inexplicably, in the middle of the episode, our heroes are returning to camp across a vast snow covered field. (I was comforted by the fact that, at least it was really, really beautiful.) I'm also happy with a super nice moment that happens in that scene when Tom looks at Anne walking ahead of them, and Anne looks back with affection. It is, for me a nice congruity between performance (including a very natural moment from Moon) and design and editing. I love when a moment works like that!
I thought I'd take a moment to talk about two of our guest cast and how they came to be in the show this year.
First, thirteen-year-old, Desiree Ross who plays Matt's somewhat-love-interest, Mira. Maxim was nervous and excited that he was going to have his (I think) first on-screen kiss and asked me frequently how the casting was going. We read a lot of young ladies in Vancouver... A few where close.. But there was always some missing quality. I kept trying to talk myself into one or the other, but I knew in my heart it wasn't right. Meanwhile the casting directors in Los Angeles were reading a few young ladies. I really didn't want to cast this role out of Los Angeles. That would mean additional monies for flights, hotel rooms and per diems, which (because a minor would also need an adult supervisor to accompany them) adds up to a lot of money, which could otherwise be allocated to other areas of the series.
But then our casting director called and said, "There's a girl out of South Carolina that you really should see." Well, if I didn't want to cast out of L.A. I really didn't want to cast out of the East Coast... that's a way more expensive pair of plane tickets.
But then I saw Desiree's tape.
She just stole it. That's what happens when the right person reads. They are just right and you just have to forget all the other stuff.
I love working with young people and have done it a lot... (My resume includes a large number of Disney Channel movies in the 1990's). I find them to be, generally, eager and spontaneous and open. Desiree was certainly that, she brought a great naturalness to the role, and was willing to push and take chances whenever I directed her.
13-year-old Desiree Ross - what she really looks like
The other actor is Dakota Daulby, who plays Kent. He is from Vancouver (whew)... He had read last year for role of the harnessed kid who shows up with the skitter at Charleston to tell Tom the state of the skitter rebellion. He had been my first choice for that role, because I thought he had an eerie other-worldiness - but I was overruled by a group vote.
This year, he read for Kent and was excellent. David Eick particularly responded to his audition. He had long flowing hair when I first met him, and immediately after his audition I asked if he'd be willing to cut it if he got the part. You'd be suprised how many actors balk at this. But Dakota was game for a Nazi haircut. He said he'd never played a bad guy before... Which is hard for me to believe. I'm sure he'll play more.
I think he died very well in, what I feel, is a creepy and chilling final moment.
19-year-old Vancouver actor Dakota Daulby - what he really looks like
That meant we had to shoot an additional scene.
Whenever this happens (It's happened before - in Season 1 a lot ) - it's always tricky because the next episodes are shooting and specific cast members aren't available. Also whatever we shoot has to be clean and simple no VFX or FX and not too many characters. I suggested that maybe there was a scene to shoot that could involve Ben and Maggie - either before or after the jump - going into more depth about the powers...
Well, Carol Barbee took this idea and ran with it. She wrote a scene that, I think, is one of the best in the episode. Sarah Carter and Connor loved the words and the emotion and where it took their characters. I put it on it's feet (i.e. staged it) as a long walk and talk that could be shot in just two angles (with two sizes). We shot the whole thing in less than two hours... I love it when stuff like that happens.
|AFTER THE JUMP... WOO-HOO JUMPING OFF OF 3 STORY BUILDINGS IS FUN|
|DANGER = GAS MASKS|
|MY MOST ADORED MOON|
|KENT AND COMPANY|
|THE GANG'S ALL HERE!|
|CONNOR CONTEMPLATES MAGGIE'S SHOOTING ABILITIES|
|ME - GEARING UP FOR A LONG NIGHT OF SHOOTING|
|TWO BRO'S - ROB GRAY AND NATE GOODMAN|
|MAXIM AND Desiree Ross|
|NOAH AND WILL - LIKE I KEEP SAYING - DON'T MESS WITH THEM!|