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How long after Falling Skies wrapped did you head back to Smallville, and what was it like to make the transition between shows?
It was actually a while. We wrapped Falling Skies in November. I came back and I was posting. I had already booked an episode of a show called The Defenders with Jim Belushi that I did in December, and then I got called and directed an episode of No Ordinary Family. During the whole time that I was directing those episodes, which were completely separate jobs, I was running back and forth to the editing room and still dealing with post [for Falling Skies]. And then it’s weird. Right around the exact time that we were wrapping up Falling Skies, I had gotten a call out of the blue from Kelly and Brian asking me to do the final episode of Smallville. I was thrilled.
It came at a good time. I was just in the clear [from Falling Skies] when they called.
It was wonderful and great that I got to wrap it up and complete things with the family that I had started with. I was very happy with how the show ended and how they turned Tom into Superman, and the final Clark-Lois scenes, I thought were really important. I was very happy with the big picture of that episode. I was really excited when I first read the suit coming out of the ice. John Schneider came in… he wasn’t originally in the Fortress, and it was his idea, saying “I really want to be there with the suit.” Everyone loved that idea, but that was generated by him. “I really want to give Clark the cape,” was what John Schneider said. Everyone loved that. But it wasn’t the original idea, and John really made that happen. So I loved that.
I loved the whole scene in the Fortress. I loved the review of the saves, and I really loved everything that happened 7 years in the future. I was really excited to do it, and it was really important to get right. I didn’t get any more time than you normally get, so I had to get it right really quickly, but we had very good conversations about it and I definitely directed little details and moments and nuances, but then I think those two actors really jumped on it and did a great job.
I was happy with it. I know some people have issues with the digital Clark, and Tom not wearing the suit, but to tell you the truth, in a weird way, I [also] was coming at it from the outside. I was not part of the show for all those years. I had always been a fan. I watched through Season 7, but I sort of drifted away after that. Not for any reason; I still loved the show, I just got busy with other stuff. So I was coming in clean. I didn’t know that much about the Darkseid story, and I didn’t really know that much about the Green Arrow story. I wanted to service that story as best I could, but the way that Clark’s story wrapped up was always what I expected. It was never important to me to see Tom Welling wear the Superman suit. And it was never something that I thought mattered.
Miles and Al always said “no flights, no tights,” and I was really hoping – and I had discussed it with Miles and Al years ago – that the final image of the show should be a replication of the first time we see Christopher Reeve, when he runs across the street and he rips open the shirt. It’s funny, because we obviously went and reviewed that scene, and it’s a little clunkier than you remember. I think your mind’s eye remembers that scene as amazing. But in fact, it’s kind of clunky, and the shot’s basically out of focus. When he rips his shirt open, it’s out of focus, and it’s not as amazing as you think it was, but your mind’s eye makes it better. But I always thought that was going to be the final moment, and when I read that…. the first thing I did when I got the script was I flipped to the last page, and then when I read that I was like “YEAH!”
When are you returning to your Falling Skies family and starting to shoot again?
First of all we have to get picked up, which we’re not officially picked up yet. The writers’ room is running, and the opening night’s numbers exceeded everyone’s expectations, so it looks very good. I think it’ll take another week or two before the official pickup happens. But the machinery is in place and everything’s moving forward, and I think we will start shooting, God willing, in October.
Did you have longer to shoot episodes of Falling Skies compared to Smallville or Heroes?
No, less. To make a basis of comparison, a typical Smallville episode was always done, in my day, I think it went down to nine days after I left, but a Smallville episode in my day, through Season 5, was always a ten-day episode. Heroes, it would range from 10 to 17 days of shooting. Falling Skies was done in eight days each. Very fast. And it’s definitely a big budget series from TNT’s point of view, but it’s a smaller budget than Smallville and a much smaller budget than Heroes, by a lot. So we had to develop a shooting style to go fast. We came up with this kind of documentary shooting style. That had to be the way to go faster. Long takes, and long continuous masters without edits, and a kind of “snatch and grab” documentary style was the technique to get the big page count. We were doing much higher page counts per day than any of the other shows I’ve ever worked on.
I read in your review of the show that it feels like a big budget movie. I’ve read that comment in a few places. I’m very proud of that. We were very organized and efficient in this series with a lot of talented people from the top down working very hard and very fast. So if it comes off that way, like a big show, then I’m very proud.
Beyond Sarah Carter, is there any chance we might see any favorite actors from Smallville or Heroes on Falling Skies in the future?
Anything’s possible. I don’t know enough about Season 2 yet to know what new characters are going to be coming in, but anything’s possible. There’s no plan. But I’m personally on very friendly terms with almost all of them, so anything’s possible.
Fred Toye, who directed for Falling Skies, had alien experience doing V, didn’t he?
Yeah. He did V, and he was an editor on Taken originally, and he was an editor on LOST, and then he moved up to Director under JJ on LOST and worked in the LOST camp for a while. He was also a producer-director on Fringe, so his pedigree’s pretty good.
I actually knew Fred through Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb. They were always bringing him up for Heroes, but it never quite worked out to hire him on Heroes, and so, believe it or not, I brought him on to do Melrose Place, where he did a great job for me, and I really, really like him. He’s a super nice guy. And it was a similar situation. It’s always hard for me to hire the guy who follows me when I’m directing, because I don’t get as much time to prep with them. So if I’m directing episode two, [then] whoever’s directing episode three, I really have to trust, because I’m not going to get to prep him and get to walk him through to what I want as much as I usually do with the directors, so I hired Fred in that position because I had a similar experience with him on Melrose Place where he really took the ball and ran with it.
How did you find the school that was used as a home base for the group?
The writers had originally written a mall. They had wanted a mall, and I think that would have been really cool, because it would have been that kind of “Dawn of the Dead” [feeling]. I think it would be very interesting if they’re in a mall, and here are all of these material goods that used to matter to us so much that are no longer relevant at all. But truthfully, there were no malls in Toronto, but also, when we started to look at it, we realized what it would take to fill a mall with stuff, it was cost-prohibitive. So, I think I had the idea of a school, and we started look for a school which was much more likely to find, and the writers really liked that idea, and I think we were able to create the similar evocation because of the children’s drawings, and the little desks.
I remember a very powerful scene in Children of Men. There’s a scene where late in the show they end up in this school room, but now it’s been 18 years since there were no kids, and it’s all dusty and crappy, and it was very poignant because you remember late in the movie that there’s been no kids for a long time. So I thought that as devastated as the world was, it was really interesting that the school has just been kind of abandoned. So there were still trophies, and there were still posters, and one of the things that Rob Gray, the production designer, thought about is that during the time the school was going, the alien ships would have been overhead, but like they say in the beginning of the pilot, they sat there for a long time and no one knew if they were good or they were bad. So there are a lot of little essays and articles, asking “Are they good? Can we trust them?” So there’s a lot of detail in the school, which is all from the point of view of people who know that the aliens are there but they don’t know if they’re good or bad, because they hadn’t attacked yet. In our mind, the minute the attack happened, the school was evacuated and abandoned. So we had to find the school. It was abandoned. There was no electricity, there was no running water in that school, and it was pretty rough. It was kind of like a soundstage because we shot there a lot, but it was really just a location.
One of the other things I loved that Rob Gray created – it was his idea to create this big mural which was like the history of America from the time that Columbus landed through Lincoln, and through Kennedy, and through the Moon landing and George Washington, and there’s this big mural in a courtyard which is the backdrop of a number of scenes. I thought that was very evocative, too, because it makes you think about what’s been lost.
What is brewing between Tom and Weaver? There seems to be some conflict growing there.
There’s a lot of conflict. They have very different philosophies, which they express very clearly. Weaver wants to fight and battle, and he feels that the civilians hold him down. Tom, in the second episode, states his point of view, which is yes, the civilians hold us down, but they’re our best reason for fighting. He’s been specifically empowered to protect people, so that engenders a lot of conflict, but also, Weaver is a very high-strung guy, and he’s under a lot of stress, so that will create some conflict down the road, too.
We do learn a lot more about Weaver’s backstory as the series goes on, and it’s complicated. He’s a much more complicated guy with a lot more depth and colors than it appears at the beginning.
What is your interaction like with the Falling Skies writers, and is it different from what you did with Heroes or Smallville?
It’s actually pretty similar. I’ve been very blessed. What usually happens with me when I’m on a new show, is the actors are always very dubious about the directors. Most actors in the world have been really screwed over by directors. So usually the first episode I’m directing, the actors are very cautious with me, and usually when they see the episode they start to trust me, and hopefully later on there’s a lot of trust. I love actors, I love performance, I try to really respect their process and understand their point of view, and directing performance is as important as anything else I do. It’s similar with the writers. I try very hard not to be the guy who just goes “we can’t afford that. That’s too hard. Here’s a sh*tty idea to replace your good idea.” Part of what I need to do is go “that’s not feasible, that’s too much, that’s too big,” or “that’s too expensive,” so I really try to get into their heads of what really mattered to them, and what they were going for, so if I propose any production alternatives, I try to be with the understanding of “What was the writer going for?” and usually, the writers eventually start to trust me, and it’s a really good collaboration where I get to feed back some ideas. I usually find my role is additive. I go, “here’s what they’re going for, how about this? Here’s a new idea to support your other idea.”
Mark [Verheiden] and I already knew each other very well, but with Graham Yost I eventually developed a very good, super-positive relationship where he was allowing me to have a lot of input. I’ll say one thing about Falling Skies, it was a very collaborative group. Everyone got to have opinions about everybody else’s thing, and everyone got a lot of feedback. Everyone was really working together.
Why should people check out the series if they hadn’t yet?
It’s just good storytelling. At the end of the day, it’s just good storytelling. It’s fun. It’s exciting. I think it’s relevant to what’s going on in the world today. There’s been a lot of alien invasion shows, but I think the new idea is the warrior dad. The warrior professor dad who is trying to keep his family together; who is trying to keep humanity alive and trying to keep human dignity alive in the midst of ridiculously impossible circumstances. To me, that’s the new twist on the genre. It’s a very established genre, but it’s really about the characters. One of the writers said, it’s like seeing World War II from the point of view of a resistance fighter. You don’t really know what the big picture is. You have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world. You only know what you know, and you only know that you have to protect your group, and you have to protect your family, and you have to do the best you can to figure out how to fight and how to survive. But our heroes don’t know anything of what’s going on in the big picture, and we always stay with their point of view. In that sense, it was a storytelling that I really liked. From a directorial standpoint – it was no frills. Heroes and Smallville both had a lot of style tricks. We went into flashbacks, we went into people’s eyes. We would vibrate the camera. We would go into alternate realities. We would go into very stylized places – the Fortress of Solitude is a very stylized place. You can go zipping into Clark’s eye and have a whole fantasy scene in his eye. Lana can die, and then there’s an alternate reality where Lana doesn’t die. All sorts of stuff. Heroes was the same thing. You go to the future, you go to the past. Very stylized. This is very real time. It was no frills. In the cutting room, I said to the editors we don’t do dissolves. We don’t do jump cuts. We don’t do anything fancy. We don’t do anything where the style is imposing on the story. It’s hand held, it’s documentary, everything happens in real time. It’s very no-frills storytelling. And I think it adds a sort of gritty vitality to it, which is different than what I’ve done. I’m usually doing all kinds of wacky crap.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
I feel proud of the show. Our numbers were huge. It’s been very supported by TNT which has been great. It can’t be overstated how important it is to have the network believe in you, because they help bring people to the table to watch it. But I was happy to work on it. It was an exciting experience, and hopefully we’ll do it again.
Thanks again to Mr. Beeman for taking the time for this interview. Read more about Falling Skies here at KSiteTV, be sure to follow us on Twitter, check out Beeman’s blog, and come join us on our Falling Skies forum! And don’t forget a new episode of Falling Skies airs Sunday night, June 26, on TNT