Sunday, July 14, 2013

SEASON 3, EPISODE 7: "THE PICKETT LINE"


 SEASON 3, EPISODE 7: "THE PICKETT LINE"

DIRECTED BY:  
Sergio Mimica-Gezzan 

WRITTEN BY:

Heather V. Regnier 
Jordan Rosenberg 

WARNING:  THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS.  IF READING SPOILERS MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE BEEN WAYLAID BY HIGHWAYMEN AND LEFT FOR DEAD - THEN STOP READING NOW!!!


“The Pickett Line” is another episode where it rained, and rained and rained!  Oh my God, did it rain.  During the opening scene, where Tom and Ben walk along below a cliff face and encounter the dying rebel skitter, it was POURING rain, the wind was HOWLING and the temperature was just above freezing.    Assistant Directors rushed into flapping tents that night, huddled over barely working cell phones to hurridly discuss with the Producers whether we should pull the plug on the night.  But the decision was made to press on.  Noah Wyle and Connor Jessup, for their part, wanted to keep going.  At this point in the season, Noah had been through three particularly physically grueling episodes in a row ("Be Silent And Come Out," "Search And Recover" and now this one) He’d been either standing in the pelting rain, sloshing around in freezing cold rivers, been beaten up or thrown around in various ways for about a month.   There was something of a thousand yard stare in his eyes.  He was beyond complaining or even resisting – he just wanted to move forward, one foot in front of the other.  Luckily, Noah works well under duress, and on this night and on the rest of this episode, the elements fueled a certain passion in his performance.
The good news was that Noah really liked this script.  He was excited about, and had been advocating for, an adventure like this – in which it was all about Tom and his sons, on the move – a family - together.    He also knew the work of Christopher Heyerdahl who plays Duane Pickett, the patriarch of his clan.  You may recognize him as "The Swede" in HELL ON WHEELS ...  (A series writer John Wirth is taking over as head writer this year btw.)   We had had an excellent cast read-through on this episode and Noah was excited to work with Chris as a scene partner.
Remi Aubuchon, our head writer, saw this episode as an opportunity to explore “what if?”  What if, Tom and his sons had made a different choice than to engage the fight against the aliens and to join up with the resistance and eventually the 2nd Mass.?  What if, instead, they had gathered their supplies and disappeared into the woods – determined to survive as a family.  To Remi this was a question that he imagined Tom had been asking himself for quite some time – what if, selfish or not, they had just gone into survival mode – would things have been better?
Remi had attempted to explore this storyline at least once or twice before.  In early drafts of the Season 2 premiere episode, there was a lengthy subplot where Tom, having escaped the alien ship, found himself living with a woman and her two children who had been surviving in the woods – at first seemingly quite happily.  In that story Tom began to regret his decision to fight, and to imagine that he could find Ben and Hal and Matt and bring them to the halcyon woods.  (Of course all was not as it appeared and the perfect bliss of the woods eventually turned ugly – but that is another story - one of many stories that were explored, but remain untold.)  For various reasons that subplot was abandoned before we began production – but the theme stayed in Remi’s mind and he kept looking for a way to explore it.
The opportunity came now.  When Tom and his boys (Pariah’s in Charleston to some degree) left on horseback to find Anne and Lexi, the writers created an alternate-universe family who were living and surviving away from the fight.   In this story Tom sees, quite clearly, that there is no avoiding consequences in this post-invasion world.
Meanwhile – back in Charleston – Stephen Collins  returns as President Hathaway.  The opening image we see of him is Cochise is carrying him in.  This posed a problem, because Doug Jones  – who plays Cochise – is already weighed down by about 50 pounds of latex and rubber – and he could barely see out of his mask.  Carrying an adult male, even the slender (but tall!) Stephen Collins, was going to be impossible.  I had encountered this problem before on SMALLVILLE .  On that show Tom Welling, playing Clark, was always having to carry unconscious people around and it had to look effortless.  He was Okay for a few minutes with the petite Kristen Kruek – but anyone larger and we had to use an elaborate crane that held up the unconscious person, who wore a harness, and the crane had to move around wherever Tom walked – and afterwards we digitally removed all of the wires.  That concept was discussed in prep here – but FALLING SKIES moves faster and shoots much more page count per day than SMALLVILLE did.  Our Skitter-creator and prosthetics effects maven, Todd Masters, suggested an alternate idea.  He had a lifelike human dummy made of a kind of foam rubber that only weighed forty pounds or so.  He suggested that he and his and his team would roughly carve a Stephen Collins face onto it and that Doug Jones would be able to carry that much more easily.  And that’s what we did.  The dummy is excellent and to this day when I watch the scene I can’t tell the one from the other.
There are two scenes in this episode that weren’t filmed until weeks after the completion of principle photography.  The first is the scene where Cochise takes President Hathaway, Marina and Weaver down to see the big Volm gun.  When I first read the scene that concludes our first episode of this year – the one where Tom takes Weaver down to see the big gun – my strong instinct was that this was a location that was going to recur more than once in the season, but which would recur in a limited way.   I confirmed with Remi that this was likely to be the case – and then I proposed that we delay shooting the scene until we had a block of scenes from various episodes.  That sounded good on paper – but there were two problems, which I didn’t foresee.  First – we budgeted the visual effects properly for the scene, but we didn’t really put enough money aside for the set.  It wasn’t irresponsibility, it was just that we (a) didn’t know exactly what the set was going to be and (b) the natural instinct to push off to tomorrow what doesn’t have to be done today kicked in (like – why fix a leaky roof on such a sunny day?) 
The concept of “what was the location where the Volm built the gun” wasn’t really resolved right away.  Rob Gray and I talked about it a lot, but slowly and over time.  We eventually landed on the idea that, before the invasion, across the river from our main Charleston set – was a big skyscraper that was about to be built when the invasion hit.  When the Volm arrived they commandeered the underground space (the six or seven stories below-ground a skyscraper will always have.) And that the Volm gun had been built there in a space still surrounded by rebar and steel girder infrastructure.
When it came time to actually build the set (months after episode 1 and weeks after this episode, 7) Rob Gray and his team really had to scramble. They built they built the tunnel, seen in the first episode, and the platform our actors stood on (which was surrounded by only a few feet on every side by art-directed dirt.)  This was surrounded on all sides by blue screen.  As always the work, though quickly done, was excellent!
The second problem I hadn’t foreseen was the idea that President Hathaway or any other non-series-regular being part of the scene.  So, because we couldn’t finish the scene in the body of episode 7 we had to wait until Mr. Collins was available to return to Vancouver.  These two scenes were almost the very last things we shot at the end of our shooting year.
But when it’s all said and done, I’m very happy with the way the scenes look.  I love the big camera moves that swoop in and out past the big gun.  And I love the way our VFX team at Zoic made the gun look.
The other scene that wasn’t shot until much later was the one scene between Maggie and Pope.  This scene came about because, when the episode was first edited together, it came in several minutes short.  This necessitated us scrambling to add something.  In the original story, and in the first draft – there was a running storyline that followed Maggie, who, distressed about Hal and the Mason’s leaving…  Decided to follow them.  We saw her tracking them once or twice, and then she appeared and joined the fray as the action was heating up near the end.
In the end, the powers-that-be decided to drop this story.  For one thing, the storyline was adding shooting time we just couldn’t afford and for another – it felt better to keep the integrity of an all-Mason-boys episode.  
But when Maggie's story was cut out it left her (and Sarah Carter) as a woman without an episode.  All the other parts of the story, Pope’s antics with Weaver and the President Hathaway/Lourdes story were finished.  We discussed trying to retrofit Maggie into those stories, but it didn’t make sense.  
When the idea began to circulate, that we may have to shoot another scene for time, Sarah Carter came to me and suggested the essence of the scene that’s in the episode now.  She suggested that a scene between she and Pope would be valuable, because there was so much between those characters that was as-yet unexplored.  I passed the idea on to Remi – and Remi loved it.   He wrote the scene quickly and  we shot it a few days later.  The scene as it stands is a bit of a one-off, in that it’s not especially connected to the rest of the episode…  But I really like the energy both Sarah and Collin bring to the table.  I really like the scene and am glad it’s there.
Alright!  No more words...   Pictures!!!
 
I TOOK THIS PHOTO FROM A MONITOR ON SET - THOUGHT IT LOOKED COOL!
THIS WAS ANOTHER ONE OF OUR RAINY DAYS
ON SET - ON HORSEBACK

THEY CALL ME MR. POPE

DREW AND MAXIM RELAX BETWEEN TAKES (THEY WERE UNDER A TARP AND SO AWAY FROM THE PELTING RAIN)

SARAH CARTER WAITS TO BE CALLED TO SET

WILL PATTON ADDRESSES THE CROWD

WAITING IN THE WINGS BEFORE "ACTION"
STEPHEN COLLINS AND DOUG JONES AS COCHISE (AN INTERESTING ASIDE:  STEPHEN HAD MANY SCENES WITH DOUG IN THE TWO EPISODES THEY DID TOGETHER, BUT BECAUSE DOUG SPENDS THREE HOURS GETTING INTO HIS MAKEUP BEFORE THE REST OF THE CAST ARRIVES - STEPHEN NEVER SAW WHAT DOUG LOOKED LIKE UNTIL THEY MET AT AN EVENT MONTHS LATER.)
SERGIO DIRECTS STEPHEN
ANOTHER DAY AT WORK
MY OLD PAL FROM "SMALLVILLE" - DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY BARRY DONLEVY

DEATH BE NOT PROUD


YOU TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S GOING ON HERE - WINNER GETS A DOUGHNUT
 

17 comments:

Adrian Hickman said...

It's President Foamthaway!!! I'll take a Tim Horton's please.

Another great episode, and yes, it was nice to see the Mason family all included in the story.

I was also impressed with the use of Matt (Maxim) again. In the last few episodes, his adventures had occured mainly outside the Mason family structure, in an alternate family headed by Pope and the late Crazy Lee.

As such, he took risks, he craved danger, he seemed ready to do whatever. He looked much older than his years, developing almost a Gavroche quality to the character. He was pure 2nd Mass and looked "gung-ho" as he lobbed pineapple grenades and whatever else he needed to do.

However, back within the Mason family structure, he suddenly looked younger and more little brother, not less afraid, but with different motivations now. Maybe it was the cap that was put on Season Three's new "Matt Mason hair style), but it took him back to the Matt we knew in seasons One and Two, the Matt who climbed in bed with his dad at the end of a terribly scary episode for him in Season 2 (Clair De Lune).

When he shot the gun, it was obvious that he knew it had to be done and they he could do it, but Maxim's reaction and the look of his face was just heartbreaking. He looked like a boy who was about to break down because it took all of his courage to protect the family. This wasn't a game, it was love.

The Big Gun scene was great and Doug Jones is doing a great job make the Cochise suit work. About the only sadness in his playing of Cochise is that I've seen his sense of humor and Cochise is as serious as a heart attack. Jusr once, I'd love to see Cochise channel the manic Doug Jones.

While I had dismissed Lourdes as the mole, I still think that the mole is only the tip of the iceberg. I did think of her because of how bitter she was to have lost Jamil last year. I wasn't sure if that anger of that loss had taken hold of her.

Unless I am missing something, Lourdes just wasn't in a position to gather as much intel about the 2ndMass as was needed by the Epsheni. There has to be more afoot.

I was wondering when we'd get back to Pope and Maggie's past relationship. I've always felt that her pairing with Hal causing some of the jealousy that Pope felt towards all of the Masons. To finally get some insight into their past was a great idea.

The semi-"It's A Wonderful Life / Sliding Doors" look at what the Mason family might have been had they chosen to run and hide was a nice touch. Second chances always make for great ways to reinforce character traits or discover new ones.

Weaver had a line I so need on a t-shirt. TRUTH IS ONE SWIRLY BITCH.

Now, about Lourdes running and seemingly praying in the chapel. I'm usually pretty good at understanding these scenes but I haven't fully gotten my head around it yet.

As usual, and I know afew may knock the episode for not having enough aliens, it is a pleasure to have a sci-fi drama with so much meat on it's bones that doesn't have to rely on cool SFX to make the show exciting. The personal stories work so beautifully.

Erwin Rommel said...

Herr Beeman,

I believe the literary term you grouping about in your blog for to describe the relationship between The Mason Family and The Picket Family is "FOIL"... Papa Picket is a foil to Tom Mason.

However, the writers of this episode seem to believe that some how a foil will save this episode from otherwise poor writing that dominate this lack-luster romp in the sci-fi genre.

Not to mention the Esphine are once again the most inept space invaders in the Universe! Sun Tzu always supported the greatest victory of all is the one where no combat exists! And the given the fact the Esphine can infect humans with biotech and then even alter the genome itself-- why would they attack EARTH WITH WEAPONS? Why wouldn't they just infect the planet control the population and breed a new slave race?

Or do you not even see the logical error you introduced into your very story trying to always write the next "shock and awe" episode? In this season you basically destroyed any reason the Esphine would attack at all. They could just send trillions of little biological agents to Earth infect the population and breed out the Human genome in several hundreds years while they put all of their military might to problem of the Volm.

So, perhaps your writers should read more of those books I keep suggesting plus maybe a simple primer on logic!

Anonymous said...

I want to compliment Falling Skies on their amazing new characters this season. I should especially express how much I LOVE Denny. I hope to see more of her, and that she becomes a regular in season 4. Don't be alarmed Greg Beeman, or fellow blog-readers, if I continuously post/rally on Denny's behalf!

Anonymous said...

Just got through the audio commentary on both the Season 1 & 2 DVDs. You tend to not realize while watching a show, how much detail, time and effort really goes into bringing it to life. The commentary made me respect and love the show even more. I just bought Season 3 from iTunes but I will also buy the DVD for the audio commentary. Falling Skies is a show I'm more than happy to support - but be warned if anything happens to Pope... I'm out ;)

Edward Ghazaley said...

Although there are no posts about episode eight, I want to commend the people who created and worked on it. Sundays episode (Ep. 8 ) brought back what I loved most about Falling Skies.(the realism and the ability for the series to actually put me in the scene.) The contrast with the past(pre-invasion) and the present and the great visual scenes (the white snow versus the dark and empty houses) really impressed me. Falling Skies (at least season 1) was so real. It felt like I was a part of all this invasion. I was totally absorbed by the series. Episode 8 reminded me of this. The last few minutes were nostalgic and touching. Seeing the abandoned streets and houses powerfully and effectively reestablished season 1's realism and emotion-once again engrossing me. Great Episode!!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Edward Ghazaley's comments. Thank you for bringing us back to season 1's realism... if such a thing can exist in alien sci-fi... This was the best episode of the season.

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Aldenata said...

@Pickett Line
1. Another so-so episode. Had some nice depth to it but was ruined by deficit plotting.

2. "I hate to say it but we have oatmeal… and grits."

Yup. Get used to it, Yankee.

The protagonist in my contribution to this universe (also a New Englander) mentions her dislike of having to eat so much sorghum on at least once, and several chapters deal largely with the problems of getting food, eating food, and growing more food.

Rice can be grown in South Carolina, and would probably be a common dish after doomsday. There's also old staples like corn, squash, beans, okra, turnips, peanuts and so on. To say nothing of shrimping and fishing. We've seen what looked like some tomato plants in the background, but beyond that I'm kind of surprised how little attention is given to agriculture.

What coffee they have will likely be brewed from acorns, potato peels, chicory, dandelion roots, etc. It is theoretically possible to grow coffee plants in some parts of the American South, but it would be very, very hard to ever do so on a practical scale.

3. Pope is right; Charleston does need to do more networking. For a series built around the premise of intergalactic war, Falling Skies has been… myopic in focus. Right now it almost seems like there's no humans left in the world outside Charleston, and of those only half a dozen of them ever seem to do anything in the war against the Eshpeni.

4. There should be more people out in the country than this one bandit family; even a 90% initial dieoff wouldn't turn the entire country into a moonscape. Humans might be all but extinct in the cities after two years, and the suburbs probably emptied even faster. The countryside? No. There's just too much of it.

If the Picketts have never seen skitters, it lends credence to my theory that the Espheni lack the ability or inclination to exert very much control beyond their towers. I think it would be similar to American forces in Vietnam: going into the hinterlands with sporadic sweeps that never accomplished anything whilst camping out in the hamlets and cities, defenses of which were nonetheless hopelessly porous.

So what might we see in unoccupied areas? Small towns and farming/ranching/fishing communities practically untouched by the war (though suffering greatly from the breakdown of modern civilization—think Jericho), probably trading food for finished goods with those closer to the cities. Refugees hiding out in remote terrain or bombed-over areas. Partisans doing the same, but also launching ambushes on any Skitter units that wander into their area of operations. Post-invasion communities like the 2nd Mass and Charleston. Marauders like the Picketts, and anti-marauder patrols from any of the other groups.

Aldenata said...


5. Was Marina Peralta's old boss this Senator Jim Webb? I knew there was a reason why I liked her; I'm guessing that in this version of history she's the one that got in trouble for trying to bring his gun into the Senate. It would be amazing if y'all could have him pull a Colonel Porter and return from the dead to help run things in Keystone or elsewhere.

6. More people should have been shot in the various Mason-Pickett standoffs.

-The Masons get jumped and none of their assailants gets shot? I can believe it; I mean, they have been in Condition Red for two years now, but we all let our guard down sometimes.

-Only one person gets shot when the Masons hunt them down? Fine, the Masons are a lot more experienced and the Picketts may not have thought that they would have been tracked so quickly or so easily, so I can see them having a relatively bloodless takedown if that's what they want.

-No one gets shot when Duane grabs a gun out from under the bed? (Who doesn't check a hillbilly's bed for a guns? I have two under mine.) There were four Masons in the room, all of them armed, all of them with their eyes on the bed and at least one with his finger on the trigger. He and his brother should have been Swiss-cheesed in the time it took him to reach for the weapon, bring it to bear, cock it and aim it.

The smart thing for Duane to do would have been to grab the gun and fire it from under, not over, the bed. Even then, he would have been very lucky not to hit his own children, and not get hit himself in the return fire. Any way you look at it, he was operating from a position of weakness.

Fun fact: the shotguns you see in the windows or under the counters in some pawn shops, liquor stores and rural gas stations? Those are usually for show, and ain't what a would-be robber has to worry about. Most stores like that have armed employees instructed to shoot THROUGH the counter. Bad guy never knew what hit him.

-Duane and kids hesitating to fire before and during the basement fight. Yes, David Grossman did demonstrate that deliberately killing members of one's own species is very psychologically taxing, but are we supposed to believe that a family of highway robbers has never done it before?

7. That said, there is something to commend in those who can do the unacceptable thing (point in case: Pope). I hope the Picketts survived, and think they could come in handy later

8. How can a megamech sneak up on someone?

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He looked much older than his years, developing almost a Gavroche quality to the character. He was pure 2nd Mass and looked "gung-ho" as he lobbed pineapple grenades and whatever else he needed to do.
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Anonymous said...

Beeman, trying to catch up with you old friend. Hit me up at wowamilucky at yahoo dot com so we can reconnect. Yours, Charlie FInk

Jerry LaBoda said...

Don't know if anyone is reading any posts while the new season is "in production" but thought that I would leave you a little something just in case you do check from time to time what might be left.

As a fan of Falling Skies since its inception I have known about the website and the many features that you all choose to share with us. One I didn't know, though, until the past season was Beeman's Blog. I really do hope Mr. Beeman reads what folks say because I am a big fan of his and the shows he has had a hand in.

Watching the credits to reruns of Smallville in the mornings on TNT I caught a glimpse of his credit... Smallville is but one of a number of series I have followed from the beginning until the end but it got me curious to see what else Greg Beeman had done in the past and low and behold a number of the shows I am really fond of had his hands all over them.

From the heart I wish to express my thanks to you for the work you have done bringing some truly great shows to Television... Smallville, Falling Skies, Heroes and others too many to list. I don't know how big or how little your efforts were involved but some of the best shows that I have enjoyed have you stamped all over them!!!

Thank you... for all that you have done and for all that you will yet do!!! Here's to hoping for continued success and looking forward to see what you will be able to bring about in the future!!!

Best Wishes,
Jerry M. LaBoda...
A Beeman fan!!!

Reginald James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reginald James said...

Keep rollin' Mr. Beeman!

All the best,

Reginald James aka Agent Kent Harper

yeşil said...

placing the fake president to where it should be .