SEASON 3, EPISODE 7: "THE PICKETT LINE"
|Heather V. Regnier|
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!!!
|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"|
|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|