Written by: John Wirth
Directed by: David Solomon
WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS. SPOILERS MAY MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR BRAIN IS BEING SUCKED OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE BY ALIEN HARDWARE. IF YOU EXPERIENCE THIS SENSATION, STOP READING AND GO TO ANOTHER WEBSIGHT.
First an apology for getting the blog up late. I was at ComicCon in San Diego on Friday and Saturday doing press and a panel with the cast. Sunday had it's own craziness - and now here it is - Monday and I'm just posting.
ComicCon was a big success. The room we spoke in was filled with over three thousand people. They laughed and cheered and when we showed the clip in which Tom shoots Karen in the head, they gasped and then cheered long and hard. I was most impressed when moderator Will Wheaton took questions from the fans. The questions were really smart and thoughtful. I thought, “Dang, our FALLING SKIES fans really pay attention!” Anyway, if you were in the crowd that day (or even if you were not) thank you for your dedication to the show. Believe me, everyone on this cast and crew is very aware of you and all that we do, ultimately, is for you!
I haven’t downloaded my ComicCon pictures yet – but I’ll post the blog without them, and then add some later – so come back and review the blog if you don’t see some ComicCon pix at first.
Okay, so I hope you all will agree (or at least most of you, cause “all” is too much too hope for) that this was an excellent episode.
In my many years in the business, I’ve come to learn that you only get a couple a year where the script is great from the get-go, the process goes smoothly, the editing is additive and it all turns out fantastically.
And that’s how I feel about “Strange Brew.”
John Wirth, who sadly for us, during the shooting of this one, announced that he was going to be leaving in Season 4 to run “HELL ON WHEELS”, wrote the episode. Well, he left with a bang.
This storyline was pitched out to me way back in August before we had started shooting, by Remi Aubachon. And he and I both quickly reached the same conclusion. Because Noah Wyle was going to have to shave his beard, we would have to shoot this episode last, in December, after we’d completed the season finale.
That was complicated enough, but it became doubly complex when we learned that Moon Bloodgood was pregnant and would have to leave the show in October to have her baby. The implication of this was that we were going to have to shoot half of any scene involving Moon two months before we filmed anything else, and two months before we had a completed script for the episode. (I say “half” because, remember Noah still had his beard in October. )
And, as crazy as it was we did exactly that. If you remember, a couple of blogs ago I mentioned that I chose to direct episode 4 because that was Moon’s last episode of the year – but I also knew that we’d be directing scenes of her for this episode. John had to write the scene in the coffee shop with Tom and Anne, before even starting the rest of the script. He tells me that he had a pretty good outline and idea of what he wanted, but he was also busy writing his half of episode 6 at the same time. Anyway – it was crazy. We went out and scouted the coffee shop location, it was great but it was in downtown Vancouver and as we worked the schedule out for episode 4, there was no way we were going to move the company to downtown for half of one scene. So after getting assurances from my location manager that we definitely, absolutely positively would be able to use that coffee shop in December, two months from now – our production designer Rob Gray built half of the set on stage.
It was literally that – half a set – three walls.
My invaluable assistant Ashley spotted an extra she thought would be a good “shaved Tom” double and we brought him in.
Filming that half of the scene was bizarre. We didn’t have the script, just the scene. Noah and Moon worked the dialogue together, and Noah tried to work through all the details of his performance, like when he’d point, when he’d slap his palm on the table, when he’d stand, how many steps he’d back away from the table, etc. After he worked it out he tried to teach the photo double how to do the physicality. The man was lovely, and he did have Noah’s physique and jawline – but he had never done a job like this before. I’m sure it was an odd experience for him to have Noah telling him, “When I say these words, jab your hand at her – like this…” And, “On his line grab your scarf with your right hand, and stand up…” Etc. During the scene Moon had to look and act to the double, while Noah stood close by reading the lines. Two months later, when it was Noah’s turn to do the scene, he had no such luxury. Moon was off having a baby, so he had to act completely to Moon’s stand in, who learned the dialogue for the scene.
Also, creatively I wasn’t sure what techniques to employ to convey the weirdness of it all. I knew I wanted to heighten the surrealism of the scene – but I hadn’t had time to really prep it, and I wasn’t even going to be directing the episode – that was going to be done by David Solomon who, in October, was busy directing an episode of ONCE UPON A TIME. I went to an old favorite of mine, the swing-and-tilt lens. It’s a lens that swings the plane of focus to the diagonal, and was invented for architectural photography as a way to keep the whole building in focus when you were photographing it from the ground. When you use it on a traditional subject it has the odd and unsettling appearance of making something – say the human face- only partially in focus. Say, for instance, one eye and half of the lips are in focus and the rest of the face is out. When you move the lens during a shot the plane of focus shifts and it’s very weird – but at the same time somewhat subtle.
I used this technique on Moon’s face during the scene for the parts where she starts to get angrier and more confrontational to Tom.
In editing, my brilliant film editor Don Aron added very subtle jump cuts and effected dissolves to further make the scene become bizarre.
Another idea that I think worked out great was beginning the episode in blackness with a sound montage from all of the previous seasons. Remi got this idea from watching “Zero-Dark-Thirty” which opens in a similar way. The script originally called for the episode to open on a Boston sports radio talk show, and we had that in the cut at first. But once the sound montage was in, it became clear to me that something more jarring was needed. I suggested to Don that we find the most annoying alarm clock buzzer we could, and that we bleed it through as if it were a sound effect from the battle at first and then it reveals itself to be an alarm clock. All of these techniques were complimented by the excellent opening shot David Solomon made, which began on a close up of Tom’s eyes, too tight to see he was beardless, which then panned to the alarm clock radio as Tom reaches over to turn it off (at which point we’re realizing something is off here) and then pans back with Tom’s hand but now wider to see he is shaven and then continues as Rebecca rolls into frame. An excellent first moment!
I think the fun part of this episode was seeing, or imagining we see life before the invasion. Steven Spielberg has always been adamant that he doesn’t want to see “before” or the day of the invasion. But this was a way to have our cake and eat it too.
It was also a fun way to have all of our cast re-imagined in different roles within Tom’s mind. Of course you noticed the return of Peter Shinkoda, who died as “Dai” last season. Peter was greeted by much hugging and adulation by the cast that loves him so much when he showed up (literally on our last day of filming for the year.) But did you catch Doug Jones (who plays “Cochise”) as a teacher in the lounge with Tom? I think, though, that the actor who loved their new role the most was Will Patton. When we told him, “And you’ll be playing a crazy homeless man.” I could see his eyes light up. Will dug into his part with relish, and had a lot of fun.
The other thing I think is worth noting is actor Jennifer Ferrin who plays Rebecca Mason. This was a big role to step into – because the Mason wife and mother has been much discussed and eulogized and fought over by Tom and the boys over the three seasons. John Wirth had worked with Jennifer and strongly recommended her. To tell you the truth, none of the rest of us were that familiar with her, and we went after some bigger names at first – but no one was available. Noah didn’t know her work, and was, perhaps a bit nervous. But halfway through the first take of their first scene (which ironically was the last scene where Tom, still bearded, imagines his wife is there in his old bedroom, pushing him to not look back) their chemistry came alive immediately. There was a tenderness and familiarity and history.
That’s what I love about the craft of acting. When two actors really know what they’re doing, and even though they might have just met thirty minutes before in the makeup trailer – they can create a life together – a whole world in fact – with they’re bodies and their voice.
I love my job!
|NOAH AND WILL, HAPPY TOGETHER!|
|ON THE CREEPY ESPHENI SET , CONNOR JESSUP WITH DIRECTOR DAVID SOLOMON IN THE B.G.|
|WILL AT WORK - I THINK HE REALLY LIKED THIS CHARACTER|
|ON SET AT THE MASON HOUSE|
|ME 'N THE SHRAMINATOR (IT SNOWED FOR TWO DAYS ALL WINTER IN VANCOUVER - BOTH WERE THE PERFECT DAYS FOR US TO CREATE XMAS IN BOSTON... WE GET LUCKY LIKE THAT ON "FALLING SKIES")|
|WILL AT WORK - I THINK HE REALLY, REALLY LIKED THIS ROLE|
|CINEMATOGRAPHER NATE GOODMAN EXPERIENCES THE COLD SHIZNAZZ THAT IS CANADA|
|LACI MALLEY AS TOM'S ASSISTANT|
|THEY CALL HIM "MR. SHINKODA"|
|ME AND COLLIN AND SARAH|
|THIS WAS OUR VERY LAST DAY OF SHOOTING FOR THE YEAR|
|CONNOR ON SET|
|WILL AND OUR CAMERA OPERATOR MIKE WRINCH - DO YOU NOTICE ANYTHING UNUSUAL ABOUT THIS PHOTO?|