Oh yeah. That episode title's going in a macro.
We're shooting the S3 finale. This thing is giant. Even more giant than last year. Sure, last year we had an oil tanker. But the oil tanker wasn't moving. Dean is insane.
Let's do some housekeeping, first. Some people in the Comments have discussed using/starting a forum so they can chat about the show, discuss amongst themselves, etc. Some people have suggested this as a way to take some of the pressure off me in these little posts.
Rest assured, I have no problem with you guys doing it here. I would suggest the TNT forums for more wide-ranging discussions. There are only two problems over there. A.) They are unmoderated, as far as I know and B.) a chunk of the people who wind up at official network boards aren't big TV fans, but instead saw something that angered/annoyed them , went to the TNT website to find someone to complain to, and found themselves on the forums. So the percentage of pissed off "you hurt my feelings" posts are a little higher.
I don't think moderation is a problem. Almost all the online fans of Leverage hew to Wheaton's Dictum: "Don't be a dick." You guys self-police pretty sharply, which is one the the reasons I don't mind you hanging about here. You can do the same over at TNT. If you don't mind the occasional yahoo, I think the TNT boards would be a great place to hang out. I also like TWoP, personally.
That said, I really don't mind you kicking about here. Doesn't slow the process down at all.
A month before the writers returned, Downey and I were brainstorming in the old Writers Room. I was just figuring out how to jettison the drug trial plot from the season-opener prison plot. (yep, which became a part of #305. We use all the parts of the buffalo...) Downey was working on this high concept idea. "I want to do a totally silent heist set to music only. Classical music. Timed to that piece of classical music."
"You're mad," I said. (I will note I said it in an encouraging tone of voice.)
A classic heist meant a vault. What do we steal that would be in a heist, and also tie into a con? Bad guys are most vulnerable at the juncture points of their supply chain, the places where hard assets become liquid or laundered. The kids had done a ton of research on diamonds last year for "The Ice Man Job", and used just a fragment of it. Diamonds are classic heist targets.
We also wanted to open up the scope of the show a bit. The idea of doing Iranian dissidents had not even occurred to us yet (broken a month later, in the room), and diamonds tends to imply Africa. Fold those together, and going after a corrupt African businessman or diplomat seemed the logical choice. We couldn't leave Boston or reasonably duplicate an African city or exteriors in Portland, so it had to be someone living abroad. Downey dove into the research ...
... and found the guy. I mean, he's a real guy. He's almost a goddam supervillain. He's not in Boston but on the West Coast, and he's even worse than the guy in our show. I'm not going to post his name because although the person was just the start to a character based on a number of people, it's distressingly close enough to bug Legal. Oh, and also, I don't want to get shot in the face.
The reason this guy who is plainly, plainly plainly doing awful things is allowed to live in America in (possible) violation of several laws regarding foreign nationals and corruption is because he (allegedly) got himself declared a friend of the US by (allegedly) helping out with the War on Terror.
And here we have this other shiny new character, the Italian, who's plainly tied to intelligence agencies.
And suddenly, this is not a crazy idea.
Downey's wife is a very talented violinist. Went to Juillard and played in orchestras and such. She helped him pick out the piece. I am always fascinated by people who can ... do stuff, for lack of a better word. I've spent twenty odd years telling jokes and writing pulp, but it's more a career based on my failings and compulsions than one for which I could singularly train for for half my life, as she did for hers.
My one major contribution to the episode was The Excuse. I am good at rationalizing plot. It is my superpower.
"But WHY would they break into the vault during a classical concert?" Downey asked, foolishly bounding the story with logic.
"That's the only time they turn off the unbeatable motions sensors, because of the vibrations from the adjacent concert hall." I said.
"... go to the Arclight."
"I think I will."
Everything else, including the inspiration to use Aldis' real life violin experience, was Downey. He did some very detailed research on the hypnosis, and we got several sources to confirm that as long as we were just unlocking previous ability -- rather than teaching a new skill -- the way hypnosis was used in the ep was spiffy.
I will say again -- this episode is so good, I wish my name were on it.
Anything else, I think we'll cover in the questions. Let's see what we got here ...
@Emily: I loved that Parker got up and followed Hardison out at the end of 3x04. Will we be getting more, or more intense, Parker/Hardison moments in the future?
Well, by now you've seen #305, and there was genuine concern in #307. There's definitely a new equilibrium.
@CtRokJ: Did Aldis really do the solo part in the second episode?
Aldis can indeed play the violin, and can play the part. "Poorly," he will demure, but for chrissake he's one of those guys who goes out and learns incredibly difficult things just to prove he can. I think he's out getting his pilot's license today, no joke. Such people are never satisfied.
However, we needed to have the orchestra and Aldis work to a synch track so we could time the crosscuts in the edit. Any discrepancies you may see between his performance and what would be required to play the piece occur solely because we futzed with the timing of the soundtrack. This happens in the little edits, time squeezes, etc. His fingering, on the day, was utterly flawless.
@jocelyn: For 304, the scene with Eliot and the victim at the end, for a moment I thought Eliot was trying to get some tail. Does that make me insensitive? But great that we saw that Eliot isn't all fists of fury.
That is not flirting, that's guilt. I find it interesting to speculate that while the rest of the team is working toward some sort of redemption, Eliot Spencer is quite sure he's damned, and has become comfortable with that. He will seek ... to make amends, rather than be saved.
@Caitlin: Is there any reason in particular as to why Hardison wants to lead a group of his own? Or is he just trying to plan ahead in case one of these times the team splits up and they stay split up.
@Anonymous: Question: I know you've said you guys see a pupil-mentor relationship between Hardison and Nate and that Nate pushes Hardison because he sees potential. Saw a little of that in the Juror No. 6 Job. Was Nate's utter bastardness with the smack down reveal to Hardison part of Nate's trying to push Hardison or does he really believe that Hardison doesn't have the stuff to run his own crew? Will we see some development of the pupil-mentor thing between them this season?
Becoming Nate is the primo evolutionary step for a young brain-worker thief like Hardison. That conflict was meant to point out not only that Nate has changed, but imply that maybe Hardison needs to re-evaluate his own worldview. And sense of self. Nate knows he probably cannot talk Hardison out of trying, but he'll be damned if he doesn't make sure Hardison knows everything it entails.
@Nicole: For 3.04 - 1) I know Aldis actually plays violin - did he play for the recording used in the episode, or was that the music department? 2) Does Hardison react so badly to Nate hypnotizing him because of the s2 finale? Everyone seemed to find Sophie's programming funny... or is it the same inherent issue of control through obfuscation?
1.) See above. 2) Hardison's pride is his intellect, and what comes with that is a sense of control. To a great degree Hardison became a hacker so he could seize the levers of control in a world he found unfair. Nate taking away that control is a worse blow than lying to him.
@Jennifer: Was the camera Parker was using in 304 Beth's own?
Nope, prop. Just in case we had to bang it up.
@Michael: I'm just curious if the team ever gets concerned about some of the higher-profile appearances they tend to make while on cons. Examples from this week: Hardison plays for a hall-load of rich folks (presumably for a whole country) and Nate shows his face to a reporter with camera crew. Is there any concern from the team of retribution or do they just assume all will go well? I feel like that second option is a bit silly, what with Sterling always winning and all...
@Nina May: what about Eliot? Isn't he kind of hiding from people, hence the long hair? And someone pointed out how, way back in the first season (Miracle Job, I think?) he was camera-phobic. Done again in Runway, iirc. Of all the stuff he's protesting, wouldn't that kind of exposure be near the top of his list? An obscure Japanese power drink ad, a bogus news report, it begins to add up....
It's more an understanding of just how big the world is -- although you've seen Eliot's reaction to being online in #307 by now. If I asked you to pull Gordon Brown out of a lineup, I doubt most people could do it. Hardison played for a bunch of rich folk who could barely see his face, and a radio audience. Calculated risk. One that Sophie, you could argue, abuses mightily in the big winter finale.
@Claire: In 3.04, how did Sophie end up in the vault with the team at the end?
Walked in with the others. Missed it in the edit. We cut it, our fault.
@Scott: It's been a while since I've seen The Miracle Job, but did Sophie reprise her character from that ep for The Scheherazade Job? That Kiwi accent is awfully familiar.
Yes indeed. We kind of like the idea of certain classic con characters recurring in similar situations. Saves them having to create from the ground up each time, easier to lose themselves in those characters. More than happy to admit that's inspired by the recurring Jimmie Joe Meeker character Rockford would whip out on a semi-regular basis.
@ZacharyPruckowski: One thing I kind of odd about 304 is that the CIA list felt kinda unnecessary - Nate also had the smuggled diamonds to show the brother right there, so I'm not really convinced he had to bluff them out with the envelope. Or is there just no way to tell the smuggled diamonds from legit ones?
While Nate knew that the diamonds were illegal, that's an awful complicated explanation that in theory Moto could argue away. With cops on the way and Secret Service in play, he needed to take the pins out of the guy on the fly. He knew that if the Italian sent him for the Envelope, the Envelope is Very Bad.
Also, we really, really need you to pay attention to that Envelope.
@Siobhan: 1) Why was Eliot pretend-walking in the fake news feed, instead of standing still. He still looked like he was fake walking in the on-air shot because the background mob were not moving! That shot just didn't work. 2) And, since we're on Eliot, why is it that 98% of his facial expressions are scowls? Whereas the rest of the cast expresses a full range of emotions. I know he's trying to establish an angry character but geez, he's just getting really 1-dimensionally BORING. We've seen glimpses of lots of other characters in him. Please let them out. Is the perpetual sulleness a directive to him, or the actor's personal choice for the character?
1.) We thought that we were getting a different bit of stock footage. I thought it still matched pretty great, but YMMV. 2.) Again, YMMV. I think at this point in the season -- four in, it may appear that way. But after 305's Love's Labour Lost with the FDA rep, #306 and the intensity of #307, I hope your opinion's changed. And there's an excellent chance that in the winter episodes, you're going to see just why he's been a little pre-occupied this year.
@Kris: The mildly jaunty musical cue at the end of 304 threw me a bit, especially once Parker walked out (which was great) and Sophie gave Nate that glare. Was there an intention to lighten the whole "damn, Nate's kind of a bastard" thing and the general heaviness of that moment for Hardison? Or am I misreading the character beat?
No, that's it. We wanted to remind people that although Nate's a bastard, we're kind of used to it by now.
@Calla: Finally, I have to ask: after Sophie conned the team in The First David Job, and that really pissed of Eliot ("You don't con your own team!"), why would Sophie risk playing Eliot with the tea pouring incident in ep 0302 and why would Nate risk playing Hardison in ep 304 with the hypnotism? ... Every time they seem to take some steps closer to trusting one another, something comes along to push them back. Is that the message - that they can't and shouldn't be able to trust their team 100% and when they believe they might could, they must be reminded? Or are you basically just saying that people in families are often assholes to each other, but because they're family you forgive them and you love them and you give them an infinite number of second changes?
Sophie was doing just that with Eliot -- playing. A bit like my wife gently mocks my obsessive pen collection on my desk. As for Nate, well, I think we know why he did that by now. He's all about pushing buttons. I cannot say this enough: Nate Ford is not a nice man.
Your second guess is more accurate than your first when it comes to explaining how we treat the family/team dynamic.
@Just Ruth: Kudos to Aldis - my daughter is a music major in strings and she gave high praise in that while faking the solo, Aldis had the fingering (left hand) correct while only his bowing was off-tempo. She gets very picky about faking. So, do we get Chris and a guitar soon?
And his bowing was off only because we switched the music in the mix. No question there, just wanted Aldis to see people dug it. As to Christian and the guitar, well ...
@Dawn/StL-MO: ohn thought of 3 more questions: 1) I know Tim knew Giancarlo Esposito from TAPS & Nero Wolfe, but did Tim know Kari Matchett, who plays Nate’s ex, Maggie, just from when they were in Nero Wolfe together or had he known her prior to Nero Wolfe? They’ve got the best connection & rhythm with each other; 2) Heard Wil Wheaton's Chaos is coming back. Will it be for the Season 3 Finale or sooner? & 3) Although the first episode was shot in Chicago, was the L-team supposedly in California first Season? Thanks again for taking the time to do this for all us "grifters" & "con-verts"!
1.) I believe he'd met her before that, but Nero Wolfe was their first regular gig together. I miss the hell out of having her on the show. 2.) Sooner. 3.) They were in LA for season 1, re-formed in Boston for Seasons 2 and 3.
@Cameron: Q1: Does the mystery Italian lady have a far enough reach to keep Stirling from coming after Nate and the gang this season? Q2: Twice now a season has started off or ended with Eliot being upset that a member of the team pulled a con on them. I don't really want to ask for spoilers, but is the reason it was repeated because it will play into a future storyline for Eliot, or was it just for continuity?
1.) Yes. Though to be fair, it's possible that the Italian does not have an antagonistic relationship with Sterling. 2.) Eliot, really, is the most reasonable and direct of the bunch. It just annoys him, but he's gotten used to it.
@DaveMB: Math geek note: Props to the writers in that Eliot's partial information about the six-digit passcode narrowed it down to a very reasonable 24 possibilities. But would Parker really have had to write them all down on her cute little notepad?
I think we've seen by now Parker has a head for math when it comes to rotating objects in space, so to speak.
@Jezebel: 1.) Was this posted for wide distribution on the internet? a) If so, was that responsible? Wouldn't there be a concern that this would cause real riots and anger among the people? b) If it was just sent to the president and his brother, wouldn't the president have investigated the rioting and discovered that there actually was no rioting? (As I'm sure you know, this level of nitpicking only comes from people that truly love a show) 2.) Loved the tackling by Nnamdi Asomugha, and I am definitely not an Oakland Raiders fan. Well done.
The con was mostly for Moto's sake. We didn't need everyone to believe it, we just needed enough people to get pissed off about it to further spin Moto into paranoia and make his borther the President believe ... well, that Moto was more of a fuckwit than he already knew. 2.) Nnamdi Asomugha hits like a moving goddam house. Good on Kane for taking the hit -- he went that far across the floor because he insisted on doing it for real. Beth also did her own fight stuff with him.
@kausingkyan: 2) Also with Kane - that weird kung-fu-ish thing that he did at the end of the bar fight in 304 was....kinda weird. He's been making a lot more cheeky comments and stuff this season (not that it's bad). Is there a reason to this? 3) The scene where Kane takes care of the guard while Parker is working on finding the right combination to the entry keypad seems kinda faulty. Would Eliot really just stand there and get thrown into the wall? It didn't seem like the guy was much of a threat, I think Eliot would have held his own against the guy, especially since some of the same guys were so easily taken out in the bar at the beginning of the episode. What happened?
1.) Eliot's just spooking the guys. He wanted them freaked and gone, not escalating. Eliot is probably a little looser this year, although some of you (see above) see him as grimmer. Probably means we hit the right balance. 2.) Note how Eliot felt his shoulder after Nnamdi grabbed him the first time, while Eliot was disguised as the janitor. We were setting up that this guy was way, way tougher than most. The rest is television/storytelling shorthand. If Eliot looks worried, then you should be worried. Even if you can't tell the difference between Guard #1 and Retired GRU Dude, he can.
@jesspye: Christian kanes fight seen are immense but Elliot never seems to get hurt, he never seems to be sporting an injury is there gonna be a fight.coming up where we can see just how brutal it can be on Elliot
We've shown it a couple times, and Eliot's battered body is the plot initiator for #307. Assume he eats a lot of Advil.
@zvi: I was just left with one question for 304. Why didn't they tie up the security guard the second time? Clearly this guy was not as susceptible to blackout as most of the security guards in the greater Boston area, and needed to be restrained.
As we know from "The Mile High Job", when Eliot knocks people out: "They tend to stay out." Although Nnamdi showed remarkable resilience, the det cord was too much for him.
@Anonymous: Did Hutton intentionally use or did Peter W direct him to use one of Nate's "con" voices in the scene in 3.04 where Nate finds out the musical piece? Because on first viewing, I thought his delivery of Nate's lines were odd . . . almost overly excited. After the reveal in the end when you find out what Nate knew, it made sense that it may have been an intentional acting choice since Nate sometimes oversells his cons almost as bad as Hardison. If so, that's some hard core attention to character detail and I lurv them for it. 2.) Did Nate REALLY not read what was in the envelope? I mean come on, Nate! Get some inside scoop before she has someone strangle you over dinner!
1.) Tim definitely informed Nate's tone with that foreknowledge in that performance. 2.) That is a really, really good question.
@Anonymous: Okay, now, questions; 1) Hypnosis, seriously? My issue isn’t that Nate hypnotized Hardison – I get that, plot wise – my issue is that the hypnosis just *worked* and we’re all supposed to believe that without question. I had no idea what was going on in this episode – in a good way; I knew Nate was planning a mini-con around Hardison, I just didn’t know what it was. I have to say, I was fairly disappointed with the hypnosis twist. If you could please, please just justify/explain this in some way, I’d be eternally grateful. 2a) Was it a purposeful thing to get Parker and Eliot involved in the planning portion of the con – Parker with the security system, and Eliot dealing with the victim, and his interactions with Nate and Sophie in the kitchen scene? It felt like you were establishing that Parker and Eliot were more…not mature, though it read that way a little bit; just more confident in their skills. Eliot and Parker know what they can do and they know where and why they need a crew to do what they do together, whereas Hardison is under the impression that he can do everything himself (which made me flashback to The Fairy Godparents Job). Or was the juxtaposition of that just a coincidence, since Parker obviously *would* know the security system the best and Eliot *has* fought in those countries? 2b) Just an add on – Is Eliot working with the “adults” while planning cons and such going to become a more regular thing?
1.) As above, Downey did some pretty detailed research. Generally, we try not to lie to you without some basis in fact. That one's actually pretty dead on as long as we used it in the context we did. 2a.) We like the planning scenes during reconaissance, and definitely wanted to hit on the fact that Parker is very good at that aspect of the job. The team are definitely more Nate's peers now. Similar answer for 2b) although that's more related to the more aggressive openings I referenced in the #303 post-game.
@Sonja: At the end of 304, when they hand the journalist the cheque, Nate says 'We ended up with this Stradivarius'. How did they 'end up' with it in a way where they were obviously able to sell it - presumably even without press coverage. Wouldn't the sale of such a high profile item involve a paper trail from Boston to Wadata and back if done legally and be impossible so soon after aquiring it in a more creative way?
Sophie still has friends who move these sorts of items. Our guys definitely still play in Crime World when it suits them.
@quivo: Why did you guys decide to create an utterly risible fake African country for 304? Could you not turn up a real country to rescue?
For that matter, why did you guys choose yet another "what these people need is a honky" setup? It bombed for me in 302 (particularly the 'touching' scene with the rescued guy crying over the video phone to his family), and it bombed BIG TIME for me in 304. Of course, the little details you flubbed did not help -- such as how none of the actors involved looked like they were from anywhere more exotic than North America, and none of them could put on anything more than a generic "african" accent.
I understand that this is a lighthearted caper show, but really. When Russians and Eastern Europeans are involved, the crew is taking down mobsters, corrupt businessmen and so forth. But when brown people are involved, the crew is fighting their governments!! And bringing them justice!! It is really, really done, really boring, quite a bit faily, and just an all around disappointment.
I would love to answer your question. On my blog. Where I do this for free. Ahem.
This isn't quite as vexing as when we were accused of promoting rape culture last year, but it's worth addressing seriously, as its something we -- and I mean every reasonably diligent screenwriter in Hollywood -- deal with on a regular basis.
As far as the "fake country" aspect, that's a legal issue. When we pick non-descript people doing something as part of a culture, we can get away with it. But we were naming the president of a country and his brother, and accusing the brother of heinous international crimes. If we, for example, said this was Zimbabwe, there's a real guy who's president of that country, and a real guy who's his brother. One only needs read this epic story of clearance fail to see what can happen then. It's the same reason we created the town of Belbridge for our season finale last year, and generally have to fake up town and county names when we reference them. We could use Iran because, well, fuck them, they're evil. But also, we never pinned down a specific identifiable guy. (There's another reason, relating to world-building credibility, but that's for a later post)
I believe Geoff Thorne came up with Wadata, riffing on the Black Panther's homeland of Wakanda.
As far as "these people need a honky", well, bluntly ... what the fuck are we supposed to do?
Hey, I said "bluntly."
We tend to start the episodes by picking a bad guy. Now, most of our bad guys have been white dudes in suits. This is because the corporate, political and judicial power structure in the US tends to be white dudes in suits. In endless research, when we call up the photos of the guys who do the nasty shit we're basing episodes on, they come up Old White Dude. That's just the way it is ...
... but how long before not using a black villain becomes a statement rather than a fact of the culture we're discussing? Is that reverse racism? And if we then use a black villain for the sake of using a black villain, isn't that a reverse tokenism?
This is the shit we argue about, and worry about, and try to be honest about, ceaselessly. And trust me, we get called on it, internally, constantly.
Also, as a proper Progressive, I have the White Guilt Collar, and all the meetings where we talk about how we control the media, and Oprah kicks the shit out of me ...
In this case, we found a black villain. I mean, a really, really nasty real guy. His villainy is based on his connection with his home government (in RL), and it fit a heist we wanted to do. So ... do we not use this guy because we have a majority Caucasian team, and that would fall into the "they need a honky" trap? So we never do a black villain? Or just never an international black villain? You can't be implying we only help brown people in foreign-set stories, because a quick perusal though the archives will show that's not true. And implying we only do government corruption stories with brown people isn't true -- look at "The Homecoming Job" or "The Three Strikes Job" and "The Maltese Falcon Job." If you look at the characters of the Mayor in Belbridge and Moto of Wadata, those are remarkably similar characters, except one is the Mayor of a Massachusetts city (who is probably in RL white) and the other is involved in an African government (who is probably in RL black).
Of course, there is no way to win. When discussing the character of the Reporter who was trying to end corruption in her homeland, we originally discussed making her a crusading international reporter, and possibly white. But we didn't, because we thought that would be patronizing and a case of "they need a honky."
Which means we made the victim black ... that led you into thinking we were being patronizing.
Hey, I get it. Being a person of color and dealing with the way POC are portrayed in American media can be incredibly frustrating. I dealt with this as a writer on Cosby, dealt with it casting Global Frequency and in other casting situations, dealt with it when creating a Hispanic superhero for DC. But in this case I have to respectfully disagree. I think we do a pretty decent job, and will try to do better with bringing more people of color onto the show in both major and minor roles. I'll just leave you with two things:
1.) You may feel somewhat differently if we do an episode where we take on the government of a white European country. If that ever happens. Before next year.
2.) I'd avoid telling Nnamdi Asomugha that he's not convincingly African. Seriously. That would not go well.
@Ian: Alexander Moto bought the Stradivarius for $4,500,000. At the end of the episode, they claim they've sold the Strad, and they give their client a check for $500,000, unless I have the freeze-frame wrong. What happened to the other $4 mil? Did they sell the Strad at a massive loss? Did they pocket the extra cash?
You goddam freeze-framing... I kid, I kid. Assume they funneled the rest through other worthy cover charities.
@Regan: 3) Nate's insistence that Hardison doesn't have what it takes because he's not ruthless enough toward his own team in 304 worked well with the plot, but it didn't really ring true to me. In fact, in the Runway Job it was pointed out that Nate would never have left Sophie in a potentially dangerous situation just to finish the con. Given that Nate has acknowledged the crew as his family, why are we seeing him take a turn for the harsher this season?
Not abandoning a crew member is just good con sense. No one will trust a ringleader who bails on his guys (hence the threat we made in #207). But manipulating them is fair game.
@Anonymous: Also, and this is for you Rogers - Eliot needs a FLAW. When Parker gets crazy or Nate gets self-destructive or Hardison goes overboard on a con, those things are fun to watch. Eliot kicks everyone's ass, feeds everyone and feels really bad about disadvantaged kids. He can become a baseball or a music star with no apparent effort. If he never does anything wrong, it gets boring. I know CK based Eliot on BA Baracus, but BA Baracus was not a character - he was a caricature - and Eliot and this show are better than that.
Oh, Eliot has flaws. He's just less flawed than the others. I'll be blunt, I'm not "drama for the sake of drama" guy. Eliot couldn't last long if his flaws were the type that the others indulge in. He worked a lot of his shit out well before he met the others ... a lot, but not all. Just assume Eliot's on one end of the "screwed up" spectrum, while the others are arrayed ... as you please. But I have no problem with a character who's got it pretty together compared to the others. I'm not Whedon, for chrissake.
All right, I think we got everyone there. Thanks as always for your time and attention, and let's see if I can't catch up on another one before the end of the week.