Monday, July 22, 2013

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 8 - "STRANGE BREW"

SEASON 3 - EPISODE 8:  "STRANGE BREW"

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.

 
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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?


17 comments:

Adrian Hickman said...

First of all, thank you once again for catching us all off guard with the domestic opening. Yeah, for a second, I thought that ER was back on the air. :)

Second: the fool who wrote the AV Club snark about the episode couldn't buy a clue if he had a Titanium American Express. To actually question what Dai (Peter Shinkoda) alone has done in the show was bad enough. But he is more interested in his own cred than in really watching the show.

I've always wanted to know more about Tom's wife and the boys mother. Since the show started 6 months after the invasion, we were able to get into the action immediately, but I've always wondered why so many men survived yet is seems that so many mothers and wives are gone.

It has been wonderful to learn about Rebecca from the reminisces of Hal, Matt, Ben, and Tom. They allowed us to build our own mental pictures of life before Espheni.

And yes, the memories we were treated to were tempered by the fact that they were hallucinations, triple MacGuffins if you would. Still, there was much to show why Tom chose the path he did to fight for his family. It answered, at least for me, some of the questions about the road not taken in last weeks episode.

I was even glad to see you able to use a much bright color palette than the blue hued battle against the Espheni. The warm colors really helped to contrast against the cold reality of the current world.

And it was fun to see alternate identities for the cast, to see how they were re-imagined, even Doug Jones. And of course, Weaver with his THE END IS NEAR waring. BTW, the makeup was so good for him that I actually had two people in my twitter feed (adimike55) this is was the Pickett father warning him off.

And Dai was back as Mr. Dai Glass. The perfect choice for Tom to resurrect in his memory since Dai was so important to the 2nd Mass for two seasons.

And yes, I was impressed with both the cold open and the use of focus shift for Anne. The blackness immediately gets you attention and forces you to focus on just the sound, to create the picture in your mind. In a way, it reminded me of the opening of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, when the first few seconds are totally black (with a single chord swelling to a crescendo), and then exploding in blinding white. By going with the blackness, it contrasted so well the locale and the color palette of the Mason's home life.

Thankfully, Cousin Oliver didn't show up to ruin it. (Brady Bunch reference for all you young 'uns.)

And not enough credit can be given to Noah Wyle. While he has been great all along, this episode totally depended on believing him as he reacted to what he was seeming to see. It could have been a cliched performance, but it was at times amusing, and it the last scene in the bed, totally heartbreaking. And that scene served as a kind of epiphany for Tom, since his questions about the choices he may have made with the family were validated by Rebecca's "final words".

Yeah, there was other things going on in the show, but the focus on these scenes, and yes , the human drama of the show, is why I keep coming back every week.

I'll blog about it on my own sometimes read blog like I always do later this week, but your blog here sums up my feeling so well.

Thank you, Greg and Falling Skies crew.

Anonymous said...

My favorite episode so far on Falling Skies. Perfect way to show us life pre-invasion, without going for a boring flash-back...

And I agree with Adrian: not enough credit can be given to Noah Wyle. The last scene is one of the most moving I've ever seen on TV.

I must say I don't know the work of Jennifer Ferrin either, but she was just perfect, the chemistry worked right away. She is the Rebecca we could imagine when Tom and his boys were mentioning her over the last 3 years.

Perfect choice to start with a black, and perfect choice to end this episode with Boston, a destroyed street, the grid tower in the back, and a light that were all strongly reminiscent of the beginning of season 1, all this topped by a splendid music.

Big thank you!

Erwing Rommel said...

Herr Beeman,

Once again you the gang stole liberally from cinematic history. I'm sure you were betting that no on in the audience would notice the fact this entire episode was basically a rip off of "36 Hours" starring James Garner, Rod Taylor and Eve Saint Marie... But I did notice. In fact I kept on yelling out "Gold", "Sword", "Juno", "Utah" and "Omaha"!

However, the logic of the story you crafted did feel as if it were filmed with only notes at times. For example why were any of the cast from the present in Tom's past? Why didn't Tom's past actually have people in it from his past? I know you don't have the budget to do such a thing but to do what you did felt sloppy and as if some were creating the cliff note version of say "Belle De Jour" or some other great film by Bunuel...

Even the nonsensical quoting of Pope only made me laugh. As I am a Philosopher-- Analytical Philosophy of Mind is my specific specialty. The gobbly gook you spewed forth in this episode felt like it was cribbed from a Wikipedia Article. The end result would solipsism being Tom's ultimate conclusion and break from all reality.

Also really why did you make Noah leer at his son's girlfriend in an Aqualung like fashion? Matt I could see but Noah's leer in that scene was creepy and yet so funny!

As for the rest of the show-- really why are the Volm not firing the weapon at the closest target to the weapon? It creates a feedback of some sort so why is it that it will only work in one of four locations and not Charleston. If so why isn't the weapon being constructed in one of those four hot spots and not hundreds of miles from the target area?

Sounds like the Volm need a diversion. Think D-DAY and Gen. Patton. I really hope that is what the weapon in Charleston is and the real weapon is constructed somewhere closer to the target.

Finally-- who green lit this episode? They might want to give more consideration to the episode's content in the future before doing so...

Good Bye...

Erwing "The Desert Fox" Rommel

Adrian Hickman said...

I thought that I recognized the actress that played Rebecca, Jennifer Ferrin. She played Dana in NBC's THE CAPE, if I am correct.

THE CAPE was criminally underrated and one of my favorite shows from a couple of years ago. Great choice.

Thank you for letting us meet Tom;s wife and the Mason boys' mother.

Adrian Hickman said...

I actually own 36 HOURS on DVD (I've loved Rod Taylor ever since I saw WAR OF THE WORLDS as a kid) and it ran on TCM last month. How was this a ripoff of that film? I'm a bit curious.

36 Hours was about deception, that a US soldier was captured and a real life physical deception was set up by the Germans to convince him that the war was over, the US had won, and to eventually get him to talk about a military mission that he had secret access to. There were no people from his past life, no skewing of reality, and no one showing up in alternate identities.

This episode was psychological, at least from what I saw, and the hallucinations were in Tom's mind as he was subconsciously working out answers while under alien influence . Pope did not pretend to join a faculty, Anthony was not on staff, Jeanne was not a secretary, and Dai did NOT actually return from the dead to fake being Anne's husband.

While every show draws influence from other things that have been produced before it,to call this a "rip-off" of 36 HOURS does not make sense to me.

Erwing Rommel said...

Herr Hickman,

Please do try not to be so obtuse-- there are simple reasons why "36 Hours"does not have people in alternative identities because simply put the production of "36 Hours" had more money! If FS had the money they too would have more characters from Tom's past being played by new actors. However, their budget must be very very small and it only allowed for one new character: Mrs. Mason (1).

As for the rest of your comments-- Karen is doing the same exact deception that the Germans pull on James Garner. It is all psychological as well The plot is nearly verbatim minus the entire winning the war thing. They instead used per-invasion period to lull Mason into telling the big secret plan about the Wonder Weapon!

This episode was a total hamfisted attempt to play the psychological card.

Michael Horne said...

Just wanted to add my voice to the comments. I loved this episode and the ending made me cry (and it takes a lot for TV to make me cry!)

Noah Wyle once again proved that he's one of the most talented actors around. We're truly lucky to have him as the lead for the series.

I didn't catch who wrote the music for this episode, but please pass on this fan's congratulations and appreciation - put simply, it was just beautiful.

Definitely one of my favourite episodes of the series so far.

Adrian Hickman said...

36 Hours had more money? That is your reasoning? That FS went with the hallucination because of budget?

But you said that this was a rip off of 36 Hours.

You still have to cast people, you still have to script scenes, you still have to build a set, you still have to shoot the production.

Money was the difference in how this plot was handled?

OK, tell me if 36 Hours was the first film ever to use a plot device like this?

Setting up a real deception designed to get information versus a hallucination scenario where the character seems to be working out questions and doubts in his mind while being help under torture conditions (questions that were partially fueled by the Picketts last week)? Yeah, that's a rip off. Right.

I don't think anyone in the FS production denies that other ideas that preceeded it have influenced a scene or episode. The question is how well they did it and did they make it effective in the overall FS storyline.

They did.

How original is using a "Desert Fox" alias? If you want originality, try using an original identity.

Only "Herr" I enjoy are the potato chips made near me in Nottingham PA.

At least you are still watching, so there must be something in the show that you like. Greg Beeman and company have your attention.

More spirited debate to come, I am sure.

See you in the next post. :)

Adrian Hickman said...

Micheal Horne,

Thank you for the music comment. I'm a huge fan of both the score that they have chosen as well as some of the music used in scenes like the liberty tree. Very smart selections and underscore.

Hoping for a digital release of the music.

Anonymous said...

I love your blogs, and your show! Falling Skies is my favorite summer show, and Ben Mason is my favorite character! I loved his evolution throughout the series, and I remain interested and optimistic about his relationship with Denny. I hope to see more of her, and that she is given character developments and depth. I feel like Ben and Denny have the potential to have television's best written male/female friendship! If there is a romance in the works for them, as a viewer - I just need it to be rightfully earned by both characters!

Edward Ghazaley said...

To have my comment in the appropriate location, I am re-posting it here:
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!!

msstargate said...

I loved this episode if for no other reason than the return of Dai. I have so wished that Dai (or Peter) would reappear as a series regular.

Anonymous said...

THank you again and again Greg for this blog. It is so helpful for someone pursuing independent film to hear about these kinds of behind the scenes decisions, discussions, plans etc. Often one just sees the behind the scenes filming, but not the decisions that went into making them.

And thank you Adrian Hickman for addressing a particular type of commentary that comes up here every week.

Erwin Rommel said...

Herr Hickman,

Yes, in fact having more money allows you to do more stuff. I'm fairly confident that if FS had the cash-flow they would more then willing have used more guest stars in the episode.

However, the rest of your comments are just wrong. Both "36 Hours" and "Strange Brew" use the same troupe-- The "Evil Genius" as Descartes called him in the thought experiment. In both cases be it a real world deception or pure mental construct the result is the same: a deception is created to control the subject's concept of reality.

Reality-- is the overall arching theme in both examples I've given. It doesn't matter how the deception itself was attained or perpetrated if you like better the results will psychological no matter what.

And yes, this episode is a rip-off of "36 Hours"-- from the creation of alternative realities to force a subject to spill information to very nature of the episodes formula.

I'm sorry Hickman-- it is just the truth.

The Desert Fox!

Adrian Hickman said...


Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning.

Aldenata said...

@Strange Brew:

1. Best episode of the season, if not the series.

Several of my kinfolk had gathered around my TV to watch falling skies, as I'm the only one with a functioning DVR right now. At the points where Tom Mason shot Karen and Weaver in the face, I started hitting the back button to make it look like he was repeatedly shooting them in face. Oh, what chuckles we had. The youngest ones had the greatest laughs of all from it.

(What am I doing to those kids…?)

Weaver as a crazy homeless man, Tom engaged in a meticulous analysis of history, Pope quoting Schopenhauer (very fitting for his character, though I prefer Kierkegaard and Camus myself), Tom going balls-out crazy and shooting people, Tom throwing a skitter off a balcony.

Crazy homeless men, history, philosophical pessimism, headshots, long-distance falls. Everything that happened in this episode needs to happen more often in this series.

2. Never heard of 36 Hours before, though I did read "Beware of the Dog" in school. Sounds like an interesting movie.

I thought this smacked of the Wachowskis when I first saw it, but it turns out that the better parts of the Matrix were based off a Grant Morrison comic. Vox Day raises good points on the issue, and he more recently gave some tips on how an otherwise-competent SF/F writer can avoid creating cliched, disjointed worlds (the creators might not even notice they're doing it, but the audience will).

Though, if you are not an otherwise-competent SF/F writer then, to paraphrase Grant Morrison, you should keep on stealing.

3. I loved Crazy Homeless Weaver so much that I wrote this in his honour. It was… deeply disturbing.

4. I'll agree with the Field Marshal on one point: Pope's Simulacrum rant seemed a little forced and I'm guessing you only used it because Zhuangzi's butterfly dream may have seemed cliché (unless you were trying to draw Phillip K Dick analogies, but I didn't see it; if you plan on going cyberpunk next season then…)

Still, I see enough evidence elsewhere in Pope's character (that Raft of the Medusa painting in his bar, for one) to think that someone on your staff is a student of philosophical pessimism. It's a shame that y'all ain't updating his blog anymore, as I think it shed light into his personality that would be very hard to portray on film.

5. Boston, Chicago, New York, Jacksonville… what do those cities have in common? Hate to say it, but the very first thing to come to my mind was "port cities".

6. This episode was so awesome that I'm almost reluctant to ask why Tom took Karen at her word when she claimed his wife and daughter were dead (if she really wants to hurt him, why not just cattle-prod them, as she even threatened to do?), how he could have survived that fall, why he didn't take Karen down with him instead her henchman, and why she didn't send someone to bring him back.

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