First, a lovely little article about some of the FX in this week's episode over at IF Magazine. We work our VFX guys pretty hard, and average about 300% more FX shots than the usual 1 hour show.
Tonight's episode, "The 12 Step Job" was one of the last written, a gang-bang by ... well, there were only two other writers on staff at that point besides myself, so I'm not sure that counts. More of a menage-a-trois with the script, involving Chris Downey and Amy Berg. I was off writing the first half of the season finale while they were wrestling this to the ground. We can discuss some of the funkier dynamics once you've seen it, but a.) the bad guy isn't our usual bad guy and b.) Aldis and Kane spent the week calling each other "Riggs" and "Murtaugh." We may have created a monster. This ep is a fanfic grenade. Oh, and c.) I'll show you the last page of the script, and we can discuss something that's been heating up the message boards. Let's just say -- it's been on purpose.
This was actually meant to be the last regular season ep before the two-parter finale. It's out of order, but for an interesting reason -- clearance issues for some background footage on "The Juror #6 Job" didn't come through, and we had to switch eps to buy time to yank-and-replace the background imagery. Ah, well, the best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft agley. Welcome to weekly television production.
(You know, if I had to do it again, I would name my company "Gangaftagley Productions.")
Although I like all the episodes we made this year, I will say the next four -- "12 Step", "Juror", "The First David Job" and "The Second David Job" are a straight run through what I always thought of the show becoming.
I've got two mailbags to dive into, and you people were chatty as all hell. Let's see what we've got ... oh, wait, I mentioned back here that there were a few things cut for time from "Mile High" that I really missed. Now, first, go back and watch that episode.
Okay. In no particular order a.) the flashback scenes from Tuscany and Paris were actually written, but not shot. b.) the scene explaining how the Security Guy was in chargeof the cover-up, so he had to die too, and most important, c.) when Hardison originally arrived at Genegrow in the morning, the security guards were distracted because they were talking to a police sketch artist who was sketching the "furry thing" based on their eyewitness testimony. I believe Berg still has that sketch around here somewhere.
Right, now the mailbag, covering "Mile High" and "Snow Job" and miscellany.
John Seavey: But the real question is, (in "Mile High") do your airplane restroom walls contain a trans-dimensional portal in the mirrors out of which zombies can inexplicably spring forth to assault the hapless occupant, as in the classic film "Flight of the Living Dead"?
Shit. That was the fourth thing we cut.
Kathryn: I have to say, what excites me most about tonight's ep is the fact y'all got Jeremy Roenick on! Yes, yes I know. Forget the con, the victims, Sophie speaking French, it's the hockey player that gets me.
You know what, Jeremy was frikkin' great, and a real pro. Apparently he wants to move into acting, his agents contacted us, and so we took a shot. He didn't let us down.
Alan Scott: (earlier post)I tend to construct the villain plan absent the heroes, then drop them in. (Alan) Is that the Dungeon Master school of writing?
Terrifyingly, yes. I've had very good experiences with characters letting me know that they had somethign much more interesting in mind than I did when I started writing the script. I tend to trust them and let them run around in the world.
R.A. Porter: What I want to know is if the causeway landing - which was ridiculously cool and looked really good considering your budget - was inspired by the urban myth about the Interstate Highway System of if it was just done because it was cool.
Necessity is ... that epsiode ended differently, and Dean came in and reminded us that we had a fully functioning VFX department in house, and we should take a run at a big action ending. The company had causeway footage, so we just used that.
We of course didn't write a water landing, because at that point, every water landing had fatalities. Didn't bank on a miracle.
On the other hand, these things are tricky. The Core opened up right after the Columbia tragedy, and of course has a big-ass sequence where the space shuttle nearly crashes, and winds up landing safely in the LA river. We waited, breaths held, as the audience watched the movie's space shuttle roll to a stop ... and then they burst into thunderous applause. People stood up and whistled. Fiction is how we work this collective id shit out, and you never know how it's going to break.
Keith DeCandido: The Doctor Who references made me jump about. The World of Warcraft bonding made me laugh loud enough to scare the cats. Bravo! (And we already know that Hardison's a Who fan, since he mentioned Torrenting Who episodes in "The Bank Shot Job," so he probably picked those aliases deliberately.) Now we just need a Farscape reference.
Berg picked the Who aliases (she's nto a fan, but knows how to make the boss chuckle), but yes, Hardison in theory builds all their fake ID's. They tend to be ... consistent. I'm shocked you haven't realized that while I say the show is based on 60's and 70's heist shows, it's plainly a Farscape rip-ioff. Hardison's laptop is even named Winona ...
Jill: Definitely a fun episode - but was there a scene cut that linked Hardison's "birthday" to getting back into the main guy's desk? Or did I look away at the wrong moment and miss it?
It was cut -- more of just an angle to establish geography, but the location didn't cooperate.
Joshua James: Question ... it seems from the sample you posted that you all use traditional screenplay formatting for your scripts, as opposed to (what I've read, anyway) TV format (with Scenes A, B, C, and action lines all in CAPS) ... true? If so, how did that come about and is that possibly a new thing (because screenplay format is more accessible, I think)?
That format you mentioned (SCENE A, ALL CAPS ACTION) is the traditonal half-hour multi-camera format. One-hours (traditonally "single camera") have generally used filmic formatting for, well, as long as I've been doing it, which is around a dozen years now. I can check with my more veteran writer friends and see if the half-hour format was ever the standard for both styles of show.
Michael Clear: When Parker was giving the instructions about water landings and the emergency exits, was it clueless insensitivity that generated the comments about drowning and burning to death or was it the puckish sense of humor of someone who isn't afraid of being fired? Also, the amount of background research the team does is amazing. How do they always know that every man Sophie meets wants to sleep with her?
Annoyance at having to play a role, along with her usual cluelessness. The lecture to Sara Rue, however ("death haunts us all") is actually pure, sincere Parker.
As for the second bit ... yeah. When we finished the first take of the pilot, with Saul Rubinek trading barbs with her face to face, he stumbled over to me after the first take. I asked him if he was okay. He smiled grimly and muttered "John, you have no idea what it's like to be the full focus of that woman's attention."
Andrew Cunningham: When it comes to snipping bits, I'd far rather you cut the client meetings. They tend to be rather dreary, with lots of concerned looks and restrained tears - and this episode had enough references to what they were up to that it would have worked just fine without the opening scene. I wonder if you haven't got into a habit where you assume you need to drive home the cause they're working for, when that side of things occasionally serves as a sour note in an otherwise terrific episode.
You know, the client scenes are tricky. We're of two minds about them ourselves, but we've found that the eps where you don't connect with the clients don't land as well. I think we found a good balance later in the season, but yeah, they're the bane of our existence. Murder shows have it easy -- the victim's dead, and they can just show up.
Richard Jensen: The plane landing at the end was a pretty spiffy bit of CGI. I was wondering if it was done in house or if you had to farm those shots out to an outside effects house?
All in-house (see above.) Welcome to the future of television. Everything under one roof. When we began working on Leverage, the Electric Entertainment offices were on a studio lot. Across the way, a giant steel and glass building was under construction - a new post house. I idly asked Mark Franco, our VFX supervisor, what they did in that building. "Everything we do on six Macs," he answered.
"So that's not the future of visual effects?" I asked.
"John, the future of visual effects is four guys in a garage with a bong."
Patrick: The twist didn't make any sense to me. Why would Haldeman send his head of security on the plane to kill the accountant if he was just going to blow up the plane, the head of security doesn't need to be around to make sure she dies ...
See above. He was in on the original cover-up, but that bit got cut for time. Ah, the bitch-goddess of pipe. You never know what people will miss ...
All right, most of the next are off the "Snow Job" open thread:
Kimm: In addition to being filmed early in the process, was it also originally scheduled earlier in the season? It sure seemed like it to me - even though that really didn't take away from the enjoyment of the show.
Should have been the third or fourth episode. It was the second shot, based on a real-life scam, and we used a returning serviceman because the fact that the 2005 Bankruptcy bill didn't protect active-duty servicemen pissed me off. The second episode aired, however, "the Homecoming Job", also had a serviceman as a vic because we were working backwards off the giant pool of cash gone missing in Iraq. But it was written sixth -- no way we could have anticipated that victim duplication. So in retrospect, we would have split up the episodes by a few anyway.
Scott Edwards: Now, when you say second episode filmed, is that "after the pilot" or "including the pilot". I was watching this and it totally felt like the third episode (after the Nigerian job and the Homecoming Job). Nate's drinking problem just felt like it was something of an early show to a season.
Filming order was "The Nigerian Job" (the pilot), then the writer's strike, then "The Bank Shot Job", then "The Snow Job" and then "The Wedding Job." "Bank Shot" was always meant for the middle, and I'd always reserved the #2 shows as a soft relaunch I'd write later, so the original ep broadcast order should go Nigerian/Homecoming/Snow Job/Wedding. I'd argue that the group belonging in the first half of the season, except "Homecoming", can probably be shuffled in that half about to no great damage to the character arcs.
On the other-othe rhand, Nate's drinking flares up in a nice place where the epsiode landed in the season. So ... there's no lesson there. Just "so."
Richard Jensen: 1) I'm curious about the discussions in the writer's room about how far to take Nate's drinking problem. You need it because it gives an emotional grounding to the character. But if it gets too heavy, it could (To use your term) derail the fun train. Can't wait to see where your going with it.
It's a constant argument. It does pay off, and I have to say I'm a bit surprised by the people who think it's gone away. Go find me the episode where he doesn't have a drink in his hand -- particularly when he's stressed.
It may just be that because I'm a high-functioning ... well, not alcoholic, but I am a writer, for chrissake -- I tend to write characters who are not obviously drunk when they are, indeed, drinking.
Laci: this doesn't relate to the Snow Job- I have it DVRed and haven't watched it yet... but, I wanted to know if any of the writers are connected to the Midwest or Kansas in general. I have noticed that the state has been mentioned a few times, and you really never see it mentioned in TV or movies. Not unless you're talking about the Wizard of Oz or tornadoes. Just curious.
Kansas is the perfect comedy name for a state. Has a "k" sound.
Caseyko74: Also, why not use the name of a real county in Mississippi? Was it a clearance issue or just not wanting to offend anyone there?
Clearance. Counties get very tetchy about shows implying they lock up heroic Iraq veterans or cut deals with con men in order to arrest contractors.
ita: How long has Nate been single? With all this history with Sophie I can't but wonder what his status with the mother of his son was.
Hi ita! Nate's been single about a year and a half -- his marriage broke up almost immediately after the death of his son. Nate and Sophie, as detailed in "The Miracle Job", had a very borderline relationship, but never slept together during Nate's marriage. Many people may find that not cool, but I think Nate's a more interesting character for having been tempted but never succumbing, rather than being so saintlike he's never been tempted.
That's why Sophie said "I knew you two years ago." Nate dropped off the face of the earth when Sam died, and started drinking (more) heavily. She's just now figuring out he's not the man she thought he was ...
Michael: I still don't get how or why ppl in the movie/tvshow biz seem to think this is irrelevant or whatever, but PLEASE OH PLEASE, if you show somebody from Germany, allegedly speaking German, why does it have to be somebody who can't and who very obviously doesn't! Would it really cost too much to find somebody for the job who could actually deliver that ONE fucking line right? And also maybe correct it from the writing, where it was obviously fucked up?
As addressed in the comments -- the line was written by a native German speaker, but delivered (very funnily) by an Austrian actress. Unfortunately, at the time, we had no idea the trouble this caused, until our intrepid assistant had to run down the version for the dubbing. The line, if you're curious, was: " "This is the only thing that belongs to me. I curse the day Father put me on a sled."
Mitchy: If I have any complaints at all, it'd be that we don't see how or why, exactly, everyone stays with Nate (Sophie excepted). Eliott had good reason to walk out, so did Parker yet they didn't. Will that get explored at some point? I know we've had eps saying "we're more than a team" but I don't really think it's been established WHY they would feel that, when they're such loners as a rule.
They don't feel that way at this moment -- that's why the next couple eps are about them forming the team they become during "Bank Shot." Nate, at this moment, has a LOT of currency to make up, and that's why Sophie gives him the warning at the end. She knows it was a near thing that everyone stayed.
Darkrose: One thing, though...I know it's just a TV show and I should really just relax, but there are a couple of things that are straining my ability to suspend disbelief. It was nice to see Jonathan Frakes notice Nate talking to himself, but it made me wonder why more people don't notice. The bit in "Mile-High Job" where Alec ducks behind the cabinet door, still talking struck me as particularly silly.
Ideally, they can whisper, almost sub-vocalize with those earbuds -- but acting in a whisper, particularly when conveying pipe, sucks. So we tend to try to block the scenes so people are clear of them. Sometimes, we screw up. I'd absolutely admit that scene is one of them. We should have blocked the actress so she crossed out fo the room, or Aldis moved farther from her.
Darkrose cont'd: The other thing I'm wondering is how the team's clients find them. Given that they work for law-abiding people who got screwed over, it doesn't seem like it would be easy for them to find a bunch of thieves. In "Snow Job", the victim apparently uses his one phone call to get in touch with Nate--how did he get their number?
The other long-running conflict in the show's development -- how to explain where the clients come from. Hardison glosses over it in "Homecoming", but assume they seek out news items that pique their interest, mixed with legitimate web links off legal aid websites, etc. It was one of those things we spent a lot of page count on in one version of the show, but nobody really missed it.
All right, this is your open thread for "The 12 Step Job." Also, we're starting to put together the DVD set for Season 1, including Commentaries. We will consider all reasonable suggestions for DVD bonus features as submitted in the Comments below.