Monday, October 30, 2006

Episode 6: Better Halves

Tonight’s episode is the second episode that I directed. It was, by design, a smaller episode… It follows fewer characters and goes to fewer locations than the first 5. HEROES, as you hopefully can tell, is a big and relatively expensive TV show. To balance out the big episodes, Tim Kring and the writers have planned that there will be three or four smaller, less expensive ones which, effectively, offset the costs of the big ones.

Also, truthfully, we’re still learning what stories to tell and how to tell them. Do we always need to see the whole cast in just a handful of scenes? Or should we, sometimes, concentrate on just a few of our characters and give them more intensively developed stories.

The good news was that the script, written by Natalie Chaidez, was great. It takes Peter into the next step of his journey. It presents Hiro with a challenge to his concept of what a hero is. It answers one of Claire’s important questions about her biology (or does it???) It amps up Niki’s story and explains who’s in the mirror. It also finally introduces Niki’s husband, DL, into the show – and resolves how much a menace to Niki’s life he is.

Natalie Chaidez – writer of episode 6

But despite the great drama and character development -- I wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose the visual design or the intensity that we’ve been developing for the last 5 weeks. Directing this episode was challenging… Most of it takes place in Niki’s house… A lot in a parking garage. A lot in Niki’s house. One scene outside Claire’s. One scene in a garage poker game. One scene in Isaac’s loft – AND THAT’S IT!!!

Compare that to my last episode, episode 3, where we were all over the world!!!

I’m very happy with the way the show came out. I reminded myself that Akira Kurosawa directed a whole movie ("High and Low") that took place in one house. I tried to use conventions of noir movies, supper low angles, super high down angles, and any other trick I could think of to keep the tension of the show alive… I think it worked, and taught me that the noir angles work for HEROES… great!

But all that aside, I thought I’d concentrate this blog on performance direction, and the role of the director as a director of actors in television.

Ultimately this is a performance-intensive episode. Everyone is great. Leonard Roberts is an obvious great addition to our story. But Ali Larter was faced with a particularly challenging task, one that she really rose to the occasion on.

Ali plays two characters in this episode. One, Niki, who is breaking down continuously and trying to hold it together while experiencing ever-escalating amounts of fear and trauma. Then, her alter-ego is introduced – a cool and in-control character we call “Jessica.”

On top of all that, the nature of filming is that we shoot wildly out of sequence – so that Ali from scene to scene had to play varying degrees of her breakdown. Now my job, and her job are to each do the homework (together and separately) to track what that character is doing at any one point and kind of regulate each other.

We also had the benefit, (rare in TV) to rehearse her scenes with DL and for Natalie to rework them a bit. This was an amazing asset.

I felt good about it all during shooting, but it wasn’t until I saw the first cut put together that I realized how masterfully Ali had handled the assignment.

To digress for a moment, I thought I’d describe my own journey as a performance director. I first came out of USC film school in 1984 – and was very well trained by that education in all of the technical aspects of film making. I understood lighting, production design, staging to camera etc. And I was ready in most respects to begin work in film. Unfortunately, at least at that time, there was not much emphasis on performance direction. There had been a kind of Hitchkokian “Actors are cattle, the director moves them where he wants and when he wants” attitude.

I was lucky enough to begin directing shortly out of school, but kept finding myself butting heads with actors – especially older, experienced ones. I would tell them to do something. They would ask “why?” And my only response was “Because it looks cool,” Or “Because I planned it this way – and it looks cool.”

After enough of this head butting I realized I was missing something in my skill set. So, I enrolled in an acting class with an acting coach named Larry Moss. This was like ten years ago, and Larry was a very well respected teacher… (A couple of years later Hillary Swank was holding the Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry,” and she said something like, “And I’d like to thank my acting coach Larry Moss without whom this performance would not have been possible.” Moments later Larry’s classes were a lot harder to get into.)

I took the class for about a year and took it very seriously. I did monologues; I got acting partners and put up scenes. What I learned (besides that I was a terrible actor) was that acting is an enormously difficult craft. If you’re doing the job well you are, as they say, “in the moment” and the minute the scene is over or the director yells “cut”you feel foolish and confused and vulnerable. The director of photography and production designer have hard jobs too, but they have more objectivity to know how they did.

I also learned that the currency of the craft is (a) emotion and (b) physical action. To communicate effectively to an actor you need to know what emotion or combination of emotions their character is experiencing and how that is to be physicalized with their bodies. The saying is that an actor’s body is their instrument – and it’s true. Like a cello or a paintbrush the actor uses their body, their voice and their emotions to depict a character.

Anyway, long story short, I believe I became a much better director of actors from that experience and I highly recommend studying acting to anyone who wants to direct. Also, as my own craft became more proficient - I learned that I can approach my craft similarly to how an actor approaches theirs. I too can “be in the moment,” meaning that I have certainly planned how I’m going to shoot and stage a scene and what results I want, but that if the scene evolves differently, or something I didn’t expect happens I can evolve my plan to incorporate it.

Finally, I learned that the best thing I can be for an actor is being a safety net. When an actor learns to trust me, we can have the experience where I encourage them to take any risk they want, and they can know that I will be observing them carefully, telling them when it works and when they have gone to far. In the years since Larry Moss’s class I have had a very fulfilling time working with actors. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

Another day at work for these three actors

Niki and DL together at last!

Now, to top things off I thought, since Ali had done such an amazing job, I would do an interview with her and give her a chance to talk about “Niki”, “Jessica” and her process as an actor.


GB: Ali, your performance in episode 6 is so great. You play Niki, who is kind of continuously breaking down throughout the episode, and introduce a new character - Jessica – who is completely in control. And, of course we shoot in bits and pieces and completely out of sequence. So, for me, the control you demonstrated throughout this process to get to the result that’s onscreen, is fantastic. I’d like to talk about your process.

AL: Okay, let’s go.

GB: So.. You’d never done TV before HEROES, and it goes so fast with a new script coming out literally every week and a half. How do you break down and prepare your work?

AL: Well, first I just read the script once through and I try to see and feel my way into it, to have and instinctual emotional reaction. I believe that your first instincts are really valid..

Then I take the script and break it down chronologically. I try to track the characters intentions and feelings. I work on that and write down notes on the pages of the script. When we get to shooting my script looks like a roadmap.

Then, on the day of filming I check over my notes to remind myself of my intentions before we do the scene.

GB: Like in your trailer?

AL: Exactly. And also, when I’m doing a show as emotionally intense as episode 6, frankly there’s just no room for personal life for that period of time. It’s all about the work.

GB: I’ve found with actors, and with my own work as well, it’s really important to do a lot of homework and planning, but it’s also important in the moment on set to forget it all and be open to what’s happening right now. Your homework is valuable until it’s not.

AL: Right. That’s a great way of putting it.

GB: Talk about Niki and Jessica and the experience of playing these two very different characters.

AL: Before episode 6, really from the pilot, I felt deeply connected to Niki. She’s a voice I know. It’s more work to play Jessica.

GB: Even though Jessica is more like you?

AL: I know. I know.

GB: Why is that?

AL: Niki is so honest. She’s sensitive to the world around her. She’s my voice for women in bad situations who are trying to do the right thing. There’s something very honorable about her.

GB: And what about Jessica?

AL: Jessica is a struggle, because I have to own my sexuality and my voice to play her. I can’t rely on my emotional life.

GB: Because Jessica is so clearly focused and goal oriented? She seems like she’s very “Need-Plan-Result” oriented. There’s no second-guessing, or self-doubt in her..

AL: Exactly.

GB: Let’s talk about your relationship to directors in TV. You haven’t done TV before, but how do you deal with the fact that (a) there’s a new director every week, and that (b) some of them may be more technical than performance oriented and (c) they may only have the needs and point of view of their own script than the big picture of the character.

AL: Actually, in film, I always felt that I yearned for directors that were vocal with me. But I never got that. For some reason, at least the ones I worked with, were more worried about the technical versus the emotional needs. I’ve actually found that there’s more attention to performance here, than in the movies I’ve done.

It’s also great to have you and Allan (Arkush) always around to push my buttons. It’s great when, every once in awhile someone gets something out of you didn’t expect.

As an actor, I’m always open to anyone’s thoughts and opinions. I want to try anything. But I’ve also learned I’m not always going to have the director focus me, so I have to trust myself.

GB: How do you do that?

AL: Everything is a growing, ongoing emotional experience, including learning to trust myself. Also, the TV schedule moves so fast that it makes me trust my instincts.

GB: I also notice that you’re very interested and aware of where the camera is and what it’s doing? How did you get to that?

AL: I don’t know. I’ve always been aware of it. It’s great though when you get to know a director, like you, and know that your shots are so good. It gives me a freedom to act “within” the shot; do you know what I mean?

GB: I think so. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still love it… I’ve stayed fascinated in the way that - where you put the camera, and what lens you use, and how you move the camera, in harmony with the actors movements and performance, can lift up and support the performance. It’s possible to do a shot that is all about itself, that serves being “a cool shot” first and foremost, and I can certainly so that sometimes. It’s also possible and very common for the camera to, kind of, just layback and record the performance – in which case the actor is kind of on their own. What I try to do is lift up the performance, the same way the cello’s in an orchestra lift up and support the first violin. The violin is the star, but it is better for the cellos.

AL: Also if you’re doing a specific shot and I understand what it’s doing, I can sometimes lay back and give a subtler performance.

GB: Right on. Okay that’s enough of your time taken up between setups. I know people are going to love what you did in tonight’s episode.

AL: Thanks.

See ya’ll next week!!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Episode 5: Hiros

Spoiler Warning: There may be a few spoiler type things in this weeks blog...just wanted to let you all know...nothing to major, but in case you want to watch the show completely spoiler free you may want to just skim this week's entry!

Today: Monday October 23, 2006

Tonight episode 5 airs, and we get to find out what "Future Hiro's" message to Peter is...I'll say this, it is going to drive our characters for the next many episodes.

Episode 5 continues the tradition of yet-another-great-script. There is particularly great stuff with Hiro and Ando wandering the desert a la R2-D2 and C-3PO...And Nathan's first spontaneous flight (courtesy of escaping capture by HRG and the Haitian). We also get to see new characters cross in fun and unexpected ways. I personally love when Hiro and Nathan bump into each other in the desert diner. Adrian's reactions to the seemingly crazy Hiro are sooo funny. Nathan/Nikki (or is it Nathan/Jessica???) is pretty sexy too - dont'cha think?

I have new and ongoing respect for Masi Oka. When I first heard that future Hiro was coming to give Peter a message and that he'd be wearing black leather and carrying a sword and wearing a goatee - It sounded cool, but I was worried. Worried that it would be corny and that Masi might not be able to pull it off.

As I watched the scene unfold on set, I grew a new respect for Masi - he brought a great dignity and pathos to the character and I fully believed him. What I've learned about Masi since is that he's a deeply methodical actor. All of his actions and behaviors are carefully thought and grounded in truth. So whether he's pain-filled Future Hiro or goofy Hiro in the diner going "beep-beep" when he asks for a ride, his behavior is grounded. As the (as-yet-unaired) episodes progress Masi's range gets tested more and more as he encounters tragedy and (yes possibly) romance. So far he has delivered in all cases.

One of the things that makes HEROES fun and challenging to direct is the many varieties of tones that have to be blended together in each and every episode. We swing from comedy, to spooky almost-horror movie scary, to action, to realistic drama. Each scene needs to be shot and performed in subtly different ways, and yet with unifying rules that make it all feel like one show.

Allan Arkush and I have been with the show as director-producers since May, while the first scripts where being written...And have been heavily involved in participating in the conception of the visual and performance style of the show.

Directing an episode, especially of this show, is an exhausting experience. Sort of like running a sprint for 10 or 11 days. Because Allan and I have to prep, edit and oversee many aspects of the show - in the end we will only be able to personally direct 5 or 6 episodes of the show each.

So beginning with episode 4 we will start having a series of visiting directors. These directors come in for one shot at a time - and while guided to some degree by the producers, writers, and myself - they are absolutely in charge of the shooting and performance direction of their episodes. I don't know why TV is this way, it would perhaps make more sense to have a set of 3 or 4 in-house directors who rotate the direction of all the episodes. But this is not how televison evolved. The in-house producer/director job, which Allan & I have, is a relatively new phenomenon. "X-FILES" was the first show I remember that had the position. Since then it has become more common. But usually there is only one.

Even though every show has the same writers, actors and crew, without question each director brings their own style and personality to their episodes. The other thing that's good and important about having visting directors is that they are the ONLY person who is focused only on that episode. Every other writer, producer and even the crew is thinking about multiple episodes - but not the director.

Tim Kring's system is that there is always a writer on set to oversee that the performances and dialogue are getting on film in the right way. But I try to also keep up with the filming day - and especially with the prep of the episode. The rule of thumb is "good script - good prep - good episode." In many ways, how you prepare to shoot a film is when the majority of critical decisions are made. Once you're actually shooting, ideally, you've got a map of what you intend to do. If most of the key logistical decisions are planned out, it leaves more room for the kind of spontaneity (of performance, of shooting) which is, I think, where the real magic comes in. Considering that "Heroes" is a new show and a big show - other than a little unplanned overtime and some hairstyles that producers weren't happy with, we have been pretty well prepared. At least we haven't had that many out-and-out disasters.

Episode 5 was being directed by Paul Shapiro (

Paul directed many episodes of SMALLVILLE, where I know him from. He has a great eye for composition. He also has a way of staging things so that, if two actors are in a scene, he'll stage them so they're both facing camera. At first, on SMALLVILLE, this drove me crazy. My own style is more about moving the camera and the actors so that the actors move into frontal shots at critcal moments. I argued with him about it at first, but then I started to see how it worked and that there was a way to make it feel natural. It allows the audience to see both actor's emotions simultaneously while keeping them separate from each other. It also allowed the lighting to be really beautiful. When your moving the actors all over the set and swinging the camera around everywhere, as I always do, there's no place for the DP to hide the lights. But when you play the actors "North-South" as Paul calls it (i.e. to and from camera) the DP can light from the sides and make it extra pretty.

Anyway, I stole the technique and now it is a staple on SMALLLVILLE. In fact, at this point when blocking the scenes in SMALLVILLE, the directors or DP's will use shorthand and say "Okay we're going to 'Shapiro' this part of the scene." Meaning both actors play out.

The day before filming begins, we take all of the department heads on a "Tech Scout" - it's the film equivilant of a technical rehersal in theatre. We visit all of the locations and sets we'll be filming on and discuss, sometimes shot-by-shot, how we'll shoot there.

Now, remember, shooting never stops on a TV show - so while the Director of Photography, Prop master, Location Manager, Gaffer (i.e. "the guy who makes the light" and the Key Grip (i.e. "the guy who makes the shadows) are spending all day talking about how we shoot the next episode - they've all left deputies in their stead to film the current episode.

TV is a crazy business, sometimes I truly wonder how we get anything on the air at all.

The tech scout begins - Our luxury bus

Paul Shapiro - Director of Episode 5

Pat Duffy - Assistant Director (i.e. the guy who schedules the episode & runs the set)

Alex Reid - Location Manager (i.e. he finds and manages all the places we shoot)

John Aronson - Director of Photography (i.e. he oversees all aspects of photography of the show)

Mark Kolpack - VFX Supervisor (i.e. he's in charge of visual effects)

Scouting Niki's House

Scouting the diner - we'll pick up and move the whole thing

Me and the gang scouting the convenience store

Yet another scout lunch - I'm thinking of borrowing this place's subtle use of design and color for the show

That's it for this week. Next week, an episode I directed. A very performance-intensive project for Ali Larter, and I'm thinkking of focusing on the relationship of the actor and director and performance direction in film.

Hope you like tonight's show!


P.S. One last thing - people keep asking what does HRG mean...I'll give you a clue...It stands for something that is a trademark aspect of his look.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Episode 4: Come Together

Hey guys, sorry it’s taken a couple of extra days to post this. As we speak, episode 4 aired Monday, Episode 5 airs next Monday and we are in the middle of shooting 2nd unit on episodes 9 (which I’m directing) main unit of episode 10 – A HUGE new scene we’re adding to episode 7 and Episode 11 starts on Tuesday.

It’s been hectic… but great.

It’s such an amazing feeling to be working on something that you fully believe in, and have it be rewarded by having the fans dig it too. Believe me, myself and everyone else on the show appreciate that you guys are watching and enjoying what we’re up too. It makes all the hard work worth it.

And it has been hard… A show like HEROES, as you hopefully can tell, is a big complicated undertaking… That combined with the fact that the math of the air dates starts to catch up with you means that it gets a little crazy right about now. Think about it, it takes us (an average) of nine or ten shooting days to film every episode. But those are working days, Monday through Friday… So it takes 12 to 14 calendar days to make an episode. But, once we air, there’s a new episode on the air every 7 days…

We started filming in July and everything felt quite leisurely. By the time an episode finishes filming there will only be 5 weeks until it airs. That’s not a lot of time to edit it, do music, sound effects, visual effects and color correction.

So, we’ve been picking up time by filming weekends. I’m doing a couple of 7-day weeks in a row, and so are many others… It’s cool, but you get fried.

Anyway, episode 4 which just aired – How cool is the last 5 minutes??/ “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.” We made up crew shirts with that saying right away.

It was directed by Ernest Dickerson: He is a great guy who the cast really liked.

Here’s a few photos that I thought you’d like:



Next week I’ll have more… I promise.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Episode 3: One Giant Leap


Episode 3 airs tonight! It’s the first episode of “HEROES” which I directed and consequently there’s a lot more blog.

I won’t say too much from today’s point-of-view except that “HEROES” seems to be a hit. We’ve been picked up for a full season by NBC. No surprise to me, but it feels good.

I’m very proud of tonight’s episode. It has the style and scope I was going for. I feel I serviced well the excellent script written by my old “Smallville” pal Jeph Loeb.

Remember, all the rest written here was penned 2 ½ months ago when I was in production. It’s my experiences (and only my experiences) as we filmed episode 3. I hope you enjoy.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Finally had a day where I achieved everything I wanted…. Where all the pieces came together.

We started off in the morning with an interrogation scene between FBI agents played by Clea Duvall and Greg Grunberg.

I’ve been mostly talking about production, but in addition to shooting, a couple times a week I have to rush off to casting sessions. We read lots of actors for every part, whether it’s one liner’s like “Cop #1” who shouts “get your hands up!” or characters who are critical to the series and will run for many episodes.

Clea Duvall is an exceptional actress (Girl Interrupted and HBO’s Carnival). We were amazed she was even coming in, but she had seen the pilot and was a fan. (It’s great to be on a great show – makes everything easier!!!) She came in to read for a character named “Eden” (more about her later) but none of us felt it was right. Co-Executive Producer Jeph Loeb was hit by a brainstorm and said “What if we put her with Greg Grunberg?” There was already a storyline developing for Greg where he becomes involved in an FBI investigation – but there was no continuing character for him to run with. Everyone loved the idea right away. Our Casting Directors called Clea’s agent and asked if she was interested in this yet-to-be-written character. They said “yes” the writers began excitedly writing and…

There I was on set, working with Clea and Greg. It was kind of a simple scene and we were in a room that was so plain and, in some ways, flat – but glossy and unique. I finally felt like I got to shoot the kind of angles and lenses I’ve been wanting. A little “The Insider” a little “Bourne Identity” – I also used a swing and tilt lens which throws the plane of focus off in an eerie way. I’d been wanting to use this tool every day so far, but I’d never had the time. Finally I shot a scene with the kind of framing, long lenses, glossy surfaces and use of focus that I felt would contribute to the beautiful but subtlety unsettling vibe that I think will work for the show. I even tried the swing and tilt lens on a couple of Greg’s close-ups, keeping his eyes in focus and half his mouth – but got nervous about that though and covered my butt with a traditionally focused close-up.

That night I went out and shot one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever done, between Hayden and Matt Lanter. I won’t say too much about it here – but sometimes it’s challenging to do a scene that you want to disturb and unsettle the audience. The whole crew felt uncomfortable at the end. Hayden was full of enthusiasm at the beginning but I know by the end the material had disturbed her as well. It’s a funny business we’re in – creating emotional stories that are sometimes nice and sometimes not-so-nice. Anyway, it all went so well. The actors both gave their all. The location, the fog, the lighting, the shots all fell into place. I was pushing the crew and the cast hard – but suddenly I had gotten every shot I wanted and we wrapped a half hour early!

Finally a great day!!!

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Haven’t written in a few days. The show is falling into a rhythm now. We went to stage work last week, and it’s been cooler and easier.

Our production designer, Ruth Ammon, has built standing sets for Suresh’s apartment, Isaac’s loft and Claire’s house. They are all great, and show the variation in location and style. What’s great about this show is how many different shows it is all in one. Architecturally, these three spaces are very different. Funky brownstone interior for Suresh. Big open aired loft for Isaac. Newly-built Americana for Claire. My favorite is Suresh’s. It is beautifully designed to be lit, and to have great angles and depth. I loved shooting it.

Ruth Ammon – Heroes Production Designer

Allen Arkush and I have finished our “main unit” work. But “HEROES” is laying out the way “Smallville” did. We shoot 8 days of main unit and then we each have two full days of “second unit” work. Second unit usually means stunts and explosions with no actors involved… But in our world it just means a whole ‘nother unit with actors and hair and makeup. (As well as stunts, actions and explosions!)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Just saw the final mix of the pilot episode, along with the re-shoots of the flying sequence at the end. (An earlier, unfinished version of the pilot leaked onto the internet in July – but this is the finished version.) This show is SO COOL. I am so lucky.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Today was a particularly fun and ultimately satisfying day.

A month ago, in the writers room, Jeph Loeb pitched a scene where Hiro, in order to prove himself to Ando, freezes time to save the life of a little girl. They are following a (9th Wonders!) comic book that Hiro has obtained from the future, which tells that they will save a girl dressed in a school uniform from an out-of-control truck… At first there is nobody on the street and Ando is very dubious. But then a school bell rings and 50 schoolgirls appear… It was a great scene and I knew right away I had to (a) fight the budget battles to keep that scene in the show and (b) top whatever I’d done on “Smallville…”

Now, I have done several “frozen time” sequences on “Smallville.” On that show we call it “Clark-Time,” which is when we are with Clark Kent as he runs in superspeed – from his perspective the world appears to be frozen. This scene was similar – but I wanted to do something much bigger and with more scope than we had ever done on “Smallville.”

I literally wanted to freeze a Tokyo street full of pedestrians and traffic. Some big movies (starting with “The Matrix”) have developed complex systems with high speed cameras or a series of sequenced 35-mm still cameras to “flash-capture” a moment in time.

But Heroes is a TV show. We can’t afford that. So our technique was to have a whole bunch of extras hold really still… and to build a series of special props and green-screen rigs to hold them in awkward positions that would sell time stopping.

One thing I learned on “Smallville” was that things-defying-gravity is what sells frozen time. Water spilling, birds stopped in mid-flight, etc.

On this one, my key ideas were (a) a little girl jumping rope, frozen in mid-air. (b) the girl in danger falling backwards, frozen off balance. (c) the truck that’s about to hit her in mid-collision, halfway crashed through a table of toy robots which are all frozen in mid air.

Like Clark Kent, Hiro is the only thing moving in the shot. The world is frozen around him. He squints hard. Opens his eyes. Turns in amazement at the world and then runs to the girl, ducking under the toy robots, which are frozen in mid-air from the crash, and pushes the frozen girl out of the way.

A scene like this is obviously complex and requires a lot of planning. And I knew our TV schedule would only allow one day to film the whole scene (which includes a page and a half of dialogue before the action starts.)

We started by scouting for locations. My take on Japan is that it should be clean and high-tech looking – to stand in contrast to what New York, Texas and LA look like. The street also had to be one on which we could completely control traffic and on which we wouldn’t see distant traffic or pedestrians. Moving traffic in the background would ruin the effect.

After much scouting we found the perfect place in Los Angeles’ “Little Tokyo” (what are the odds?). I brought the crew down there twice to specifically decide on where we would stage every key event and how we would build the rigs to support them. Then, I went back with a storyboard artist and laid out every shot we were going to shoot which he would illustrate. On a sequence like this it’s critical to have a visual plan of the scene for the crew to follow. Drawing it out also helps you facilitate discussion and time management.

I’d worked with an artist on the “Aquaman” pilot named Cesar Lemus… His drawings are clean and realistic and his shading is beautiful. Out of film school - I started out as a storyboard artist myself… So my standards are high. The boards need to look realistic and they have to accurately represent real achievable camera angles…

Here’s the final result:

Finally I auditioned a dozen 10-12 year-old Japanese girls. Basically they all showed up as a group on a night I was shooting other scenes. I had a bunch of wooden crates laid out and in between takes I ran back from the set and I asked the girls to lay back in awkward “falling down” positions and hold perfectly still for a minute and a half. It was a funny sight. All the little girls were wonderful, but two of them were the best “freezers…” and I picked them to be the “jump rope girl” and the “Hiro girl.”

Every day of shooting is physically and emotionally strenuous. A twelve hour day is the norm in the film business and the director never gets a moment’s rest. But some days are harder than others. This day, for me, was an all-out sprint from beginning to end. We had planned it well and I had the storyboards as a guide. But to get all the work done we had to hustle, hustle, hustle and shoot fast.

I haven’t mentioned Masi and James yet (who play Hiro and Ando) But they are both a true delight! They are both fun, lighthearted and easy to work with. To me they are a classic comedy team – Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby for a new era. And it won’t surprise me a bit if Masi breaks out big as a star this year. He’s a wonderful guy with wonderful fun energy. What’s good about his character, of all the “HEROES” he’s the one who loves having his power.

Anyway – you can see we all had a good time on this crazy day.

Masi and me tough guys

A Tokyo luxury car

Jeph Loeb and I man the monitors

Masi, James and Umi our Japanese language consultant

Masi with a red tongue from Japanese frozen ice

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Okay, as well as yesterday went…. Today was the opposite. A true comedy of errors.

We were up in Palmdale, California – in a stretch endless desert and one two lane blacktop. It’s a night scene where Niki’s character discovers the bodies which (she suspects) her husband DL buried. She then digs her own shallow grave and buries the bodies stuffed in her trunk.

Well, it was about 100 degrees, which was the first problem… The second problem was ultimately a communications problem with the art department. We wanted to create a road that dead-ended into nowhere. There was none like that, so we came up with the idea that we’d create a “ROAD ENDS” barrier across the road and 60 yards of sand to tell the story. My concept was that art department would build the barricade in such a way that, when it got time to do that shot at the end of the day – we’d drag it across the road and the crew would quickly shovel sand onto the road. When we got there in the morning the barricade was built in a semi-permanent way and the road was dressed with sand and tumbleweeds and grass. It was beautiful. Only problem was that the trucks and equipment were on one side and the set was on the other. So now, rather than pushing or driving equipment 100 yards to the set we had to drive everything a half an hour AROUND….

But that was just the beginning. In the scene, Niki is supposed to throw a bloody shovel in the trunk and then sit in the front seat and then face her nemesis-reflection. So, I’m in the middle of rehearsal with Ali Larter, I have my fingers in the classic “frame the shot pose.” I’m walking along with Ali talking saying, “So you throw the shovel in the trunk, you cross to the door, you open the door and sit down and you look in the…” I lower my shot-framing fingers, confused… “Hey! Where’s the mirror?” The Cadillac had no rear view mirror. I look over to a bunch of transportation guys who start shrugging, saying “That’s the way it came.”

I’m like, “(a) This character spends a lot of time looking in the mirror, (b) it’s in the script…” More shrugs.

My next 45 minutes were spent watching guys run around taking mirrors off their own cars and trying to Jerry-rig them onto a 57 Caddy. The final result looked terrible, but we were hours behind so we just went with it.

Later, just as I was about to film a shot of the Cadillac driving by the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign we’d dressed in – a sudden wind came up. The sign took to the air like a kite. Crashed thirty feet down the road and split in half.

I looked to my Assistant Director. “Do we have a backup sign?” He shook his head “No.” This time I shrugged. “Okay, let’s skip that shot.”

Then the “A” camera went down. Broken in the heat.

The camera crew got it working again. Then the “B” camera went down... Jeph Loeb turned to me and said, “At the point where we have NO cameras – we’ll have to call the studio and tell them we’ve stopped filming.”

We limped along like this all day. It seemed like every shot had a problem with it. Through it all, Ali Larter was a trooper. Even though she was on the verge of heat stroke and her makeup was literally melting off her face – she hung in there.

We finally finished the day. Several hours of double-double-golden time later – but – with a pretty cool scene in the can…

Oh, and, by the way – I think I just finished shooting on Episode 3!!!

On to Episode 4!!!




Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Just saw the Editor’s assembly of my episode. This is usually a horrible experience for directors… Billy Wilder’s famous quote is “Your movie is never as good as your dailies and never as bad as the first cut.”

Actually the cut was not bad. It’s 8-plus minutes longer than the final version that will air and feels kind of flabby. There was very little temp music or sound effects. I think I’ll load it up before showing it to the other producers. Music and sound effects (the right ones) Some scenes really please me – Niki and her mother in law, Greg Grundberg’s scenes with Clea Duvall, Adrian and Milo. Others feel off – I am anxious, but not suicidal.

The editor is Scott Boyd. ( I’ve never worked with him, but he has great credits and is a super nice guy. Throughout the shoot he was very complimentary about the performances and the way the film was cutting together. He made many great choices – some I wouldn’t have thought of – one in particular is the way he dealt with Sylar psychic control of Audrey.

Scott Boyd - Heroes Editor

The show is certainly physically beautiful. The actors, the sets, the lighting. The scenes and the performances feel grounded and real – like the pilot.

I have about 4 days to recut this version and turn it in to Tim Kring. Until he’s happy I’ll be a wreck.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Episode 2: Don't Look Back


October 2, 2006

Hey guys… Welcome to my Blog.

Tonight the 2nd episode of Heroes airs.

I realized, after posting last week that it may seem schizo to you guys for me to be writing: “Tomorrow we start filming.” The weird thing is that we started production of HEROES back in July, but the work we did then is only now hitting the air. Actually as we speak I am directing episode 9, and have already finished episode 6.

But, way back last summer, Craig and I talked about me doing a production diary for the fans… If I waited until shows aired I’d be stuck recounting what happened, for me, 3 months ago. So I started writing thoughts down as I went…

But now it’s today and I’ve decided the best solution is to bend back and forth between the past and the present (kind of like Hiro!) – giving perspective from today and from back when we were shooting…

Tonight’s episode was directed by Allan Arkush, the other producing-director on the show: . He’s been a long time collaborator with Tim Kring. He directed the pilot of “Crossing Jordan” and has been producing that show with Tim ever since.

For my part Allan has been enourmousely ingratiating and inviting to me. From the start he and Tim and Dennis Hammer were very open and encouraging of my ideas and involvement. Believe me that is not always the case.

Director Allan Arkush

Allan and 2nd unit DP Nate Goodman

Allan’s episode is terrific. It’s visual and emotionally rich… a worthy successor to the pilot. It also introduces Greg Grunberg and much more!

Looking back, we started this series in a very unusual way… Because we had 2 scripts and because many scenes in both scripts were in the same locations – the decision was made to block shoot the episodes. This means we were both shooting both episodes at the same time. Some days Allan would shoot a couple of scenes in the morning and I’d finish the day, some days visa-versa. Some days he’d have the whole day, some days I would. We even through in a scene or two from episode 4.

It was kooky.

Normally, in TV, a director preps for 7 days, shoots for 8 days and then edits for 3 or 4 days before turning the show over to the producers Allan Arkush and I were shooting episodes 2 and 3 for, like 20 days… Not normal…

And now as I prepare to shoot episode 9, HEROES still isn’t made like a normal show. But then again, neither was SMALLVILLE. Maybe I like abnormal. (I know I like big and good!!!)


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Damn. Middle of the night day before first day of shooting. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I still get nervous before the first day. It’s like football players say, you have to get out on the field and get knocked down a couple of times before the butterflies go away.

The structure of this shoot is weird. Because the cast is in just a few scenes per episode and always on the same location in each episode – we’ve chosen to “block shoot” – i.e. we’re shooting two episodes at the same time.

Tomorrow we’re downtown LA creating New York. Allan Arkush is taking the morning directing episode 2 scenes of Hiro in NYC. I’m taking the afternoon directing Milo V. and Tawny in hotel lobby. And later Greg G. in a bar.

I want to achieve a very specific look. Long lenses. Reflective surfaces. Pretty but unbalanced compositions. The goal is to create a slightly nervous feeling in the audience… like our characters are being watched. I also, always love the camera moving drifting – want the film to cut together sensuously. At the same time I have to photograph the faces of the cast. TV is an intimate medium. These characters are invited into our homes. Gotta find the balance of all this.

But who am I kidding? You never really know what’s going to happen or what you’re going to do until you get there. Something will go wrong. We’ll be behind schedule. An actor will surprise me with a nuance I didn’t suspect. Right now I know every shot I want to shoot. What I’ll actually do tomorrow will be different.

4 AM – Call time’s 7…. Gotta get some sleep.

Monday, July 17, 2006

First day is over. I never got over the nerves. New crew I’d never worked with. Tough schedule. Two location moves in downtown LA (which is crazy!)…

Got the set from Allan on time. His stuff with Masi went great… He did a scene of Hiro in NYC happy, enjoying himself. Masi was so funny ad-libbing “Go Yankees” and stuff like that. Really fun stuff. I took over and things started going wrong.

I was doing a scene with Milo and Tawny, in the lobby of a apartment building.. We smoked the building with special effect smoke for a specific look… then the fire alarm went off. Then the fire department showed up. Then two crazy homeless guys decided to have a fistfight on the sidewalk in front of our set. I looked at my watch and I’d lost an hour and fifteen minutes. Oh well… It’s TV Jake – no excuses – you wrap after twelve shooting hours no matter what.

Good news: The lobby where we’re shooting the Peter/Simone scene is beautiful. Fit the look I’m going for perfectly. Glossy marble and brass surfaces with bright reflective light. Crew was great. The camera moved gently on long lenses. Bit the bullet and took twenty extra minutes to film a huge wide cinematic shot – a high angle down of the whole lobby for the last shot of scene. Very lonely and very “who’s watching them?”

Actors were great... Their first time working together since the pilot two months ago. My first time working with them ever. Every actor is different, and my job is to give them the space and encouragement to create valid legitimate emotions in an absolutely awkward environment – with a hundred crew members staring at them; cameras, microphones and lights stuck in their faces. Milo has great such sincerity in his performance. He and Tawny were really working looking for emotional nuance. Last shot I did pushed into a tight CU of her face. Wow. Her eyes are so radiant. Felt like hard work on all three of our parts, digging for the emotion. Trying different things. Tawny had it the toughest – a lot of emotional gear shifts. She has to come into the scene upset by her previous interaction with Isaac, then be surprised that Peter’s there, then she feels how much she likes him. Then he gives her bad news, which makes her sad, but she has to cover that. Then he leaves and she has to reflect upon the choices she’s made and is making. That’s a lot of emotional territory to cover.

Got to the bar at 5:30 PM to shoot Greg’s scene. That’s about an hour and a half behind. I knew I’d never make it. So I started prepping the producers that we’re going to be eating some big overtime money right away on day one. Knew I had to go fast. It’s a fun, easy scene, but needs a lot of specific shots to tell the story. Can’t tell you too much, but basically Greg’s having fun with his powers for the first time.

What a great guy Greg Grunberg is. Easy to work with and a lot of laughs. We talked briefly about what we both expected/wanted out of the scene and shot it. Unlike the previous scene, this went easy and well… Just the mechanics of getting all the shots took time. The D.P. John Aronson and Camera operator Nate Goodman get and support the look I’m going for and found ways to make it better. Finished the scene and felt pretty good about it. An hour and a half of overtime. That’s $11,000 to the studio. Ouch!

Went home thinking of the shots I hadn’t gotten and the overtime I hadn’t wanted to go into… It’s OK… I’ve done this a long time, and I know when I do have it and I don’t it. Both scenes will work. I got enough to cut together. It’ll be good.

Tomorrow is another day!

Tuesday July 18, 2006

Tim Kring and Dennis Hammer seem happy with the dailies…whew!

Thursday July 20, 2006

Luckily, the studio, producers and most importantly, Tim seem happy with the dailies. Everyone reviews everything we shot the day before in its raw, unedited form, and we discuss what is and isn’t working – a few notes and issues both from myself and others – but for the most part, the plan is working.

Yesterday we were up in Canyon Country North of Los Angeles. There’s a location there that we’re using for the Odessa High School. It’s a cool and unusual building – really feels like Texas to me. Modern, clean and mildly oppressive.

Alan had done a really fun scene before where the police and fireman from the pilot have lined up the cheerleaders to find out who was the hero from the train wreck. Everything had gone well.

Today the temperature was 105 degrees and up. Really tough on the crew and cast. Just staying focused is hard. And despite the heat, the DP still has to bring out big lights to balance the shadow areas. Imagine standing under a heat lamp on a 100+ degree day.

That’s what Hayden Panettiere had to put up with. Thursday was my first day working with her. My kids and I were already fans of hers from “Raising Helen” and “Tiger Cruise” – she’s easy and fun. Like a lot of young actors, her attitude is “no big deal” – but then she’ll deliver complex emotional performances as easy as pie. I did one scene in front of the school with Hayden and Jack Coleman, who plays her father – a character we call “HRG”. From the pilot you see why theirs is a complex relationship. My job was to make sure that they expressed a very loving relationship. Claire’s relationship with her Mom is more troubled. But her Dad, from her point of view, is the greatest. No matter what his mysterious career is, it doesn’t affect her (at least not yet).

The shoot was frustrating. Allan Arkush was filming Episode 2 scenes with Ali Larter in the morning and had some mechanical trouble with the insert car. Anyway, an hour later than I wanted, I got a camera and some crew – but not a full crew. I’d had a real plan for how I wanted to shoot the school scene – using really long lenses, a swing and tilt lens, some handheld – all to create a visual tension that would be counter to the light family emotion and comedy of the scene. But I ended up rushing and the heat was so blistering. I ended up happy with the performances, and feeling like I’d shot pretty shots that would all flow together – but that I hadn’t really achieved the subtlety of the style I was looking for.


Then we had a night scene – a high school pep rally with a huge bonfire. The special effects guys did a great job. We had 100 extras and lots of cool cars circled around, and it looked great. I had a 3 page scene (which usually adds up to three minutes or so of screen time) to film with Hayden and Matt Lanter, who plays a high school quarterback who might be interested in her.

Hayden Panettiere And Matt Lanter

As always, when there’s a lot of continuous dialogue, I try to get the actors on the move, walking and talking. If actors stand in one spot for three minutes it’s deadly dull. I set up a very complex master shot – craning down past the partiers to find Hayden at the bonfire – she’s joined by Matt and they walk across the whole parking lot, through a huge crowd. They end up in and “over the shoulder” onto Hayden for the last half-page. Then as they exit a mysterious character appears, watching them!!!… ANYWAY… Getting 100 extras and 25 cars and a big bonfire and a complex crane move and two actors plus one mysterious character to line up takes time. I thought it would take an hour and a half to shoot, but it took 2 and a half hours to get it in the can! That’s okay, except Hayden is only sixteen – and being a minor she can’t work past midnight. It got dark at 8:45, so by the time I had my first shot done, it was 11:15pm. That meant I only had 45 minutes I needed to clean up the four close-ups left in the scene. I don’t know how many people have been on film sets… But if you are ever are, the general impression is that nothing is happening. Nothing seems to be happening because it takes a LOOOONG time to do all the things necessary to get every single little shot done. Every shot needs to be rehearsed. And then the camera has to get in place and focus marks need to be taken. And the it has to be lit. And then hair and makeup need to do touch-ups, etc., etc.!

Anyway, this night I blasted through three shots (thank God the actors were spot on with their dialogue) and ended up doing one close up of Matt with a photo double of Hayden. It went well and looked good -- but I felt I was rushing so much – I keep wondering “could I have done better?”

The film business may seem exciting and glamorous from the outside – I don’t know. And, thank God, for the last several years of my career I’ve produced work I’m proud of artistically… BUT… On a day to day basis it’s gut-churning and frustrating. You start off with big plans, having had lots of conversations with the writers and other producers about the visual style and the nuances of performance – and then, on the day, you have to rush as fast as you can with problem after problem occurring. Lights explode in the heat, extras faint, cameras break, and after finally getting a perfect take, the camera operator announces it wasn’t in focus. So as a director, your perfect plan begins to get nipped away at. You can start saying to yourself, “Okay maybe I don’t need that one shot.” Then, later, “Well, it won’t be as good, but I can probably combine those two angles into one,” and so on and so on. And in addition to all that, there is constant financial pressure to go faster – to have less cranes and Steadicams and special lenses and stuff like that, stuff that you feel will make it cooler. There’s an old movie by Francois Truffaut, Day For Night, that really captures this torturous experience. Nevertheless, I’ve found, that in the act of fighting for everything you believe in – despite all logic and financial pressure – in trying and failing to achieve a great vision – you end up with something still much better than if you’d been reasonable in the first place.