Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LEVERAGE #214 & #215 Post-Game

Turns out directing a television episode kind of takes your full attention. Sorry for the space-out.

Well, the damn DVD is out so you can rewatch, so I should drag myself away from Episode 312 (airs 311) and dish out a little fan-service. Actually, no the fan service is in 306. And 307. Let's just say you might want to go rent The Defiant Ones.

In any event, the first half of the Season 3 Summer Finale is kicking my ass, so let me get some typing done where I actually accomplish something.

Actually started plotting this two-parter out fully knowing the last scene of the season. Nate Ford has been saying "I'm not a thief" for two years, and eventually that sort of denial is going to catch up with you. To a great degree, Nate's angst first season was caused because he can not accept he's not who he used to be. Nate has issues second season because he can not accept what he has become. I'm always a little confused by the people who called this a "cliffhanger" season finale. Absolutely wrong. As always, if the season ender wound up being the last episode of Leverage ever made, it would be a satisfying ending to the show. Nate Ford, finally accepting who he is, bleeding out on the deck for his new, broken family -- I could have finished the series there and been ridiculously happy. But then we never would have gotten to meet Nate Ford's dad, and that would be a shame.

Ep #215 actually paid off a lot of longstanding ideas we'd had for the show. I'd wanted to do an episode where we started with the team on the run since S1 (I was actually planning on directing it); the identical hotel room bit had been a wall card for quite some time; Apollo had explained the hotel room billing computer hack that fall: the Eliot counting beat had been something I'd talked to Kane about the previous year; tie all that in with the new Tara dynamic, and the script actually wrote itself pretty quickly.

So quickly, in fact, it was outlined and written before episode #214. If you look at #215, you can see that you require NO KNOWLEDGE of what went down in #214 other than "the mayor sold them out, and it's bigger than it looks". Production actually prepped off the matching outlines -- I did a dramatic (if by dramatic you mean "drunk") staged reading of both of them, and then promptly delivered a finished #215.

Setups are always harder.

#214 slapped me around like a red-headed stepchild until Downey reminded me that we had a perfectly good minor league baseball park in Portland. At the same time, a rather monumental graft case went down in New Jersey, involving mayors, rabbis, and organ smuggling.

Thank you, Writing Gods. I will slaughter a film school student to your golden idol next Midsomer.

#214 became our City of Industry. The Mayor's borderline over-the-top speech is adapted from actual wiretaps. People talk like this. I know, I don't believe it either! Richard Kind did an amazing job, managing to be gritty and believable in #214, and then transitioning to victim in #215 -- hell, transitioning in that one long, great half-circle shot Dean does in #214, revealing a backlit, tall, menacing and strangely hot Paul Blackthorne. (What? The man looks good in a suit. I'm allowed to notice that.)

The real fun, of course, was bringing Gina back. Sophie got an unbelievable sendoff in "The Two Live Crew Job", and I was honestly a little worried that it would feel cheap to bring her back. But then, as soon as Annie Kroy started talking, I could feel myself physically relax. The team's back together. Don't get me wrong, Jeri Ryan knocked it out of the park every week, and I'd go work for her -- not with her, for her -- in a heartbeat. But hearing those rhythms again ... ahhh.

It almost mitigated my guilt at making a 13 month pregnant Gina totter down tiny, near-vertical metal stairs into the belly of an oil tanker full of toxic chemicals and sharp objects. She was a trooper. We were frikkin' wrecks.

Mark Sheppard -- Sterling -- almost didn't show up in this (and damn, look at that entrance in #214. Nobody else on the show's gotten a better entrance). We were struggling to establish some new, terrifying Big Bad FBI agent, and in just 84 minutes, plus two bad guys, plus Agent Nevins, we just didn't have the real estate. We kept saying in the meetings "You know, this should really be Sterling ... but it's not insurance." Then, during one late night Skype session, the following onversation took place:

John: God-DAMMIT this would all be easier if Sterling were the Interpol guy.
Dean: Why isn't he?
John: What?
Dean: Why don't we just make Sterling Interpol?
John: ... is this one of those ideas that sounds brilliant because it is brilliant, or because it's late and we're tired?
Dean: BOTH!!

We back-wrote the promotion into the episode that was shooting, I believe, that very next day. The coda with the newscaster in Ep #212, "The Zanzibar Marketplace Job", was re-edited and looped to announce Sterling's move to Interpol.

Yeah, just like Lost, we plan waaaaay ahead.

Right, most everything else should be in the quetions. Let's see what you got, people ... oh, yeesh. You know what? I'm going to split this into two posts. This is bloody huge.

#214 Questions

@sammie323: Dean Devlin directed this one. Has he directed any other episodes?

Dean directed the pilot, establishing the look of the show, and also, ahh, about ten more. he does the season opener and season finale every year, plus a midseason spare. The episode he's shooting right now is the first time he's directed an episode I didn't write.

@Vanessa: Major kudos on the full-circle personal revenge theme. Last season started & ended with personal revenge. This season is full circle too with Lt. Bennano. Awesome job guys!

We got very lucky there. We were struggling for a victim, and it's only because Robert Blanche managed to take a day-player role in the season opener and turn it into a fan favorite (he's like a tall, brawny Columbo) did we have that resource. This is whay TV is fun. Actors! As much as I will embrace the arrival of the robot actors, some part of me will miss those spontaneous little surprises. A small part. Now, robot actors, say it exactly the way it sounds in my brain! MWA-ha-hah ...

Ahem.


@Barb: Eliot is pretty good at baseball for a guy who showed a pretty strong distaste of it. Any comment on if that was planned ahead/useful talent of Kane's/convenient for the plot/just for fun?

Some part of us was infintely amused at the idea that for years, Eliot had been using baseball bats, just never for their intended purpose. So, you know, natural swing.

Worth noting that I originally just had Eliot good at baseball, as part of his all-American heritage. Dean was the one who insisted that he not like it. When I, in a shocked voice, asked who the FUCK doesn't like baseball, Dean replied "Me." And then he explained his position with the speech I took verbatim and put in Eliot's mouth.

@Sean Fagan: Isn't professional baseball -- even for a minor league team -- a bit too public for someone who needs to hang in the shadows?

We actually discussed this. There's a reaosn Eliot's hair is long -- it's to throw off people who knew him back when. But mainly, well, I love baseball. And I would be hard-pressed to name three humans off the Red Sox farm team. It's suitably low key.

@Monica: i have learned that i really need to pay attention to the credits at the beginning because if maybe i had i would have seen that Mark Sheppard would be in this episode and i wouldn't have been surprised to see sterling at the end.

You wouldn't have seen it even if you looked. Mark asked that his credit be removed, so as not to spoil the surprise. Ridiculously generous of him.

@Teresa: Also, is Lucille a tribute to BB King's Lucille?

Indeed it is.

@Becky: Which one of you came up with the 'Oh be still my heart, if my heart were in my pants' line?

If you read the blog, you know I tend to go to the "pants" well farily often. Chris Downey bailed my ass out and wrote a chunk of #214, but that one's mine.

@missabiggs0428: The team discovered that Culpepper was wired because they were getting feedback. If the feedback was caused by the FBI listening on the same frequency, wouldn't they(the FBI) have been able to hear the team talking to one another?

Nope, the frequencies were close enough to interfere, not precise. Also, Hardison does some funky encoding on the earbuds.

@Amakusa42: Doesn't Sterling have any sense of gratitude? So far the team has protected his old job, gotten him a new one, and made him an international news hero. Shouldn't he help them out?

In Sterling's mind he cut Nate a break, manipulated criminals into helping him recover stoeln property, and the international accolades are his because of his talent and hard work.

@Beth Pettit: I was curious if you guys ever considered doing anything with the Shanghai Tunnels that run under the city. It might be tight to shoot down there but they are an awesome location with a really interesting history.

They're really a bear to get equipment into. We talk about them every year, and who knows?

@Toni: I'm just wondering about how angry Hardison was over losing Lucille. That must be coming from a much deeper place than just a blown up van. Yes, Nate's drunk again, but he was drunk for most of the first season and no one was this angry. So are there more issues we haven't seen yet that will come out next week and next season?

He's not just drunk, he's letting his hubris and rage control him. Nate is way, way off his game. He's also not listening to the team, which he's never done before. Before, when he walked them into bad spots, he always had the game laid out. They coulg tell he was winging it, and they went along out of loyalty and faith.

@Brad: Speaking of being a Portlander, this may be a stupid question, but were those really the Beavers playing the Beavers, or did you use professional actors?

Yep. They really went out of their way to help us shot the episode, including putting Christian up at bat. He put one on the warning track, I am obligated to mention.

@Improper Bostonian: I do have a question...is the show staying based in "Boston" for s3? If so then I have a question for you...."Nate's" bar is (and I'm guessing) Southie. Guessing that from Nate being Irish and Irish Mob ref's. So you have an Irish pub in Southie (?) and there are no signs/pics of the Red Sox, Celtics or any Boston teams? Come on now......gotta show something.

Boston for S3, and you do not want to know what it woudl cost us to put a real team logo anywher ein that bar. Professional sports leagues are not fans of Fair Use.

@Clynngo: "Do you smell soup? I SMELL SOUP." Brilliant.

Annnnnd that one's Downey. It's his sitcom writing past, he does so love a good call and response.

@puspa: 1. Nate specifically mentioned he hated being in the hospital to Sophie? Would that be because he wants Sophie to find out who Det Bonanno was meeting before they shot him?
2. How does Detective Bonanno "know" Nate was behind some of the cases he got called in for?

1.) No, he was trying to appeal to Sophie's soft side, because she knows how hospitals upset him. it was, frankly, a shittily manipulative thing to say. 2.) He's Columbo.

@Richard Howe: Nate's going to jail, isn't he?

Nicely done.

@Dan Reads Comics: Hardison loves Star Wars, Star Trek, WoW, and baseball. He sounds like every computer geek I know. Is he a comics fan too (considering the showrunner, at least one of the team has to be)? Or is that up to Aldis? Also, will we see the true20 stats of the other characters on the show?

Hardison makes the Wednesday run every week. He's a big Jeff Parker, Mark Waid and Gail Simone fan. As far as RPG stats go for the characters, well, you don't need me for that anymore.

@Anonymous: 1 - what is the timeline for these episodes (ie how long has Tara been with them/Sophie been away)? The bottle job had snow (so would appear to be winter) but looking on google for confirmation I read that the baseball season runs from April to October over there. So, was there snow in Feb/March and then the baseball season started or what? Really anal I know, but if there was some time between them it would explain how Tara is now working better with the team

Assume there are multiple jobs in between the broadcast ones. You know, the ones covered in the comic books and tie-in novels. Each season is, um, smeared out over a few months of world-time, while we then play the hiatuses as straight real time.

@Irene: 1. During the fundraiser, Mayor (Kind) moves the balloons as Tara and Nate stand up. Was that supposed to mean something deeper? Or was that just ad lib because the prop was in the way of their sightlines when they filmed? 2. I remember Tara noticing "Lucille" smelled, but was there more to the story/that a longer running gag? Poor Hardison. (Still shouldn't pout when half the FBI is immediately behind you though).

1.) Nope, just a nice bit of staging on Richard's part. 2.) No one respects the van.

@babysmoke: Now the question: have you (and the rest of the cast/crew) had to defend Leverage vehemently whenever people say that you're copying Hustle? What do you say to them?

Eh. They do eight (very good) eps a season, they're not thematically or stylistically similar (they're straight criminals, not Robin Hoods), they tend to run straight cons, no action -- it honestly comes up less than you think.

@Jazz: 1. How many takes were needed to do the comercial that Ray Chapell did?
2. From the Pilot how did they get from the street to the top of the 44 story building?

1.) Just a few. As noted, my directing debut. 2.) Maintenance elevators to the roof, then back down to the sealed floor.

@Darkrose: Why does Hardison suggest again that they let the cops handle this right after he presumably looks up Culpepper? A local mayor shouldn't be that scary. Does he know something he's not sharing with the team?

A shot-up cop is bad enough. A shot -up cop tied to a corrupt mayor and a pissed off (and generally pissed) Nate is a definite no-go.

@David Hunt: First, my actual QUESTION: I want to second Sherri's query about why Sterling gave up his very lucrative job and corner office at IYS. I've been meaning to ask this since "Zanzibar." He obviously worked his ass off and stabbed several colleagues in the back to get there. Plus he's got to be giving up oodles of money. There's no way that Interpol can come close to matching what he's getting...at least monetarily. So what does Sterling want so badly that being in Interpol gives him? Or will we find that out next week?

Interpol in the Leverage-verse is not this world's Interpol. It is, basically, SHIELD. Or maybe UNCLE. It's the law-enforcement all-star team.

@lark8girl: here is much more to Sterling and this gives us plenty of opportunities in the upcoming episodes. Not only were they friends, Nate was just as much of a threat to the team when they were on their own as Sterling was. Nate's no saint and Sterling's not exactly the devil.

We cannot say this often enough. Sterling is the good guy.

@Ally: 1) You've said Nate is an addict in many ways, and clearly, there's an aspect of comitting these crimes that he's addicted to, even if he won't admit it. Is it just that "geting even" fills his angry place or is it also the thrill of the con? I'm sure I know the answer, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on that issue. 2) Did Tara really not care if Nate killed the mayor in the end or was she just playing Nate a little to get him out of his angry haze?

1.) Its both, and in S3 he finally gets to explore that. 2.) I honestly am not sure of the answer. I'd say she was fine with him killing the Mayor, although she wouldn't choose it as Option A.

@Anna: Tara calling out "Jabberwocky" as a codeword - yet another clue to her past? Why do I always get a rogue NSA vibe around her?

I'd say her training rhymes with "schmilitary bintelligence."

@Michelle Rodeghier: Parker kissing the van after they loaded it with explosives. My question is- was that written in the script, or did Beth come up with that on her own? It was so perfect, and so Parker- like to sympathize with Hardison!!

Beth came up with it. I was there when she did it, and I didn;t even notice until the first screening.

@Brouke: 1. A lot has happened since Sophie left. Will she, or any of the team, partly hold her responsible? As in, if Sophie hadn't left such and such wouldn't have happened. 2. Will we get to see what exactly Sophie has been doing while she's away?

1.)the team knows who's responsible for his drunk actions. 2.) Kind of.

@Rebecca: Does Beth speak Spanish? Is that how that part got in there, or was she using Gina's former language coach?

I'm not sure if Beth speaks Spanish. I was in the middle of plowing through my Spanish lessons, I'm pretty sure that was on the brain when I wrote the bit.

@Maureen: Question: Is it possible that Sterling is going to be coming around in season 3 to hire our team to occasionally work for Interpol? And are we going to be seeing more international "jobs"? That would take the show in a new direction and make the jobs stakes more risky. And it would also be very cool.

No, Sterling won't be hiring them. Yes to the "more international jobs."

Okay, the answers to #215 questions in the next post ...

28 comments:

Richard Jensen said...

Welcome back, sir! Hope the directing gig didn't fry your brain too much.
I guess my question for Season 3 is if Sterling won't be hiring the team, may we assume that at some point, Nate and Sterling square off Highlander style? Or are you saving that for Season five?

LarryFleming said...

Wow John, you show back up and give us this treat. There is a lot of fun and love in your answers. Thank You!!

Red said...

Love this blog and I've referred it to a friend who's writing her first TV show. She's hoping either Syfy or Lifetime. Kinda indicates what kind of show it is, huh?

I've read her treatment and pilot script, As you mention, the actors, directors, and editors do so much to bring a script alive. I really hope her show gets picked up!

It's fun reading your answers here, especially about S3. A friend of mine reviews TV for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and gave me his screening copy of S3, ep1.

I loved it and feel you all did a great job answering what happened after the Maltese Falcon and setting up an arc for the new season.

No questions right now; I'll wait until you open the floor to everyone else.

As for the Hustle issue, because of your hiatus, I watched Hustle S1. Only 5 episodes a season? The Brits sure treat TV differently there.

My response to those comments that deride a show as derivative is:
a. All stories riff on stories that came before. There are very very few absolutely original works.
b. Anything totally original would have people really confused as they try to figure out WTF is going on, because everything is new.
c. Who says only one con/spy/police/medical/family, etc show can ever, ever exist, ever?
d. A show is much more than a premise.

So looking forward to S3!

Sammie323 said...

Thanks for the answers. Even though it's a lot of work, I hope you'll still do the Q&As for Season 3.

You mean the writers of Lost didn't plan on Walt hitting puberty?

Modern day Molly Brown said...

I love reading the questions and responses. I work with middle schoolers all day and your answers make me laugh out loud! It's almost as good as dark chocolate and red wine! Thanks for taking the time!

Jennifer said...

I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to do this! I look forward to it as it's become a huge part of my Leverage experience. I cannot wait for the new season. It sure sounds like it's going to be even better then last year.
Again, thank you John for everything that you and the Leverage crew do to entertain us :)

Shelley said...

Tie-in novels? Oh please say this is really happening!

WV: minga -- low budget manga

gwangung said...

Thank you, Writing Gods. I will slaughter a film school student to your golden idol next Midsomer.

Shouldn't this be done on general principles anyway?

Interpol in the Leverage-verse is not this world's Interpol. It is, basically, SHIELD. Or maybe UNCLE. It's the law-enforcement all-star team.

If Sterling's the Good Guy, the star of his own show, then he'd want to be part of legitimate law enforcement and not just become rich.

Anonymous said...

Hustle does six episodes a season, all clever, but standard con episodes. The tone of the two is similar, but in 60 minutes, Hustle gets 1/4 the character development, half the humor, no Robin Hood element, and none of the quirkiness that Leverage manages in 45. Anyone who sees the two as any more similar than that isn't seeing beyond the very superficial -- and doesn't deserve Leverage, anyway!

RLW said...

Are you directly involved in the RPG or are you just sitting back and letting the tens of dollars roll in?

Also, having just rewatched the first season of Hustle, if people can't see the differences between the shows, they are daft. Hustle is a fine show, but sometimes it comes off as far too clinical.

Marquis said...

You're telling me Hardison isn't an Ellis fan?

I can't imagine, Hardison doesn't dream that he's The Drummer.

missabiggs0428 said...

Thanks for your time. I love that you do this. I think I've said this before but I will say it again. I have never felt so 'involved' in a television show before in my life. I've never cared so much before as I do about this show and it is largely due to the fact that you, and everyone else associated with the show, keep us so involved. It is of course also because it is the awesome show that it is! Thanks again for all that you do for us. It is much appreciated!

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Kris said...

#214 slapped me around like a red-headed stepchild until Downey reminded me that we had a perfectly good minor league baseball park in Portland. At the same time, a rather monumental graft case went down in New Jersey, involving mayors, rabbis, and organ smuggling.

Thank you, Writing Gods. I will slaughter a film school student to your golden idol next Midsomer.


If by "slaughter" you really mean "hire one so someone can learn from the awesome group of people I get to work with everyday" then I can probably help you with that.

(Actually, I could probably come up with some suggestions using the traditional definition of the word, also.)

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