Things to do, things to do …
Fourth season is an odd season for TV shows. Not just for meta-structure reasons, but because it tends to be a very high turnover year on most TV staffs. For those of you who are curious, most TV writer contracts are for three years. After three years, young writers are ready (and urged by their agents) to go off and work on other staffs, make more connections, taken more responsibilities, etc.
The first year staff consisted of myself and Chris Downey as showrunners; the widely beloved Amy Berg (@bergopolis); intrepid ex-journalist Albert Kim (@MagicBranch); scrappy Victoriana heroine Christine Boylan (@KitMoxie); and the Wonder Twins, Melissa Glenn (@theothermelissa) and Jessica Reider. By the end of third year Berg was already on Eureka; Albert went off to Nikita; Boylan to Castle; and the Wonder Twins to Hawaii Five-O. That's a full staff turnover of all the original writers. The ones who were here for the long days of "Exactly what the hell IS this show?"
That said, we managed a soft landing in Year Four. Filthy Assistant Becky Kirsch (@BeckyKirsch) has been with me since before the pilot. After three years of scribbling down our whims and distilling our rants into outlines, she was more than ready to become a staff writer. Also, we'd hired two of our freelancers to staff Year Three: M.Scott Veach (@mscottveach) had first come in on #206, "The Top Hat Job". Our rule is that the freelancer comes into the room to rebreak and write their episodes. Scott impressed us enough in Year Two that we added him to the room for Year 3 -- I believe that, after his trial weeks, the Wonder Twins actually asked "Can we keep him?" As if a giant, shambling computer genius polymath sheepdog had wandered into the room.
Geoff Thorne (@dreamnasium) had sold us the idea for #303 "The Inside Job" back during Year Two. He had the best set of pitches we'd heard of all the freelancers, and so we added him in Year Three. Usually, when a show runner decides to make your episode his directing debut, it means you have a good sense of the show.
With some money freed up by various means, we added a lot of young talent. There are shows that run on the "Four Executive Producers" model, but both Downey and I like young, hungry writers who haven't picked up habits on other shows. Also, as we've discussed, this show is an idea shark. We burn three or four plot lines a show that would be the single a plot line for most crime procedurals. Between that churn and the sheer volume of research necessary to keep us, well if not interesting, at least different, more brains are better.
We added staff writers Jeremy Bernstein (@fajitas) and Jenn Kao (@kaogirl). We found two story editors: Joe Hortua from Life (@jhortua) and one of the co-creators of Jericho, Josh Schaer (@joshuaschaer1). Then we did something we've never done -- brought in a very experienced hand, the life-saving Paul Guyot (@Fizzhogg). Paul was crucial this year, as a quirk of scheduling meant that both Chris and I were out of the room together when we were absent. I directed Downey's episode #404, and we shot episode #411 -- which he wrote -- and #412 -- which I wrote and directed -- not just sequentially, but simultaneously.
That will make more sense when you see them.
#403 was the first story broken properly in the room for this season. #401 was written a bit AFTER a few of the others were broken. (Common for season openers. For example, #102 "The Homecoming Job" was actually written and shot sixth for the season) Geoffrey Thorne already had a couple months of tangling with #402. So $403 was when we got to take the new staff out for a spin, kick the tires.
There we were, the first week with almost all new humans, kicking about Leverage ideas. Downey and I were originally concerned going into the new year with a mostly new staff. What we hadn't anticipated (but should've) was the difference between staffing a show that does not exist, and one that has aired 44 episodes -- the writers knew the character voices, some of them were actual fans of the show. They came in with the Leverage stories they wanted to tell, as opposed to cool con stories we then hammered into Leverage stories. (Jenn Kao, as you'll see, actually wound up writing her first pitch idea, the one-liner that got her hired.)
After the first day of pleasantries, learning each other's spouse's names, what our lunch ordering system would be like, Josh threw out a backhanded pitch. "You remember that movie FX? I think a guy like that, who can manipulate perception the same way the Leverage team can, that's a good villain." With blood in the water, the room surged. We broke it in three days, in the room.
Again, for those of you not in the TV business, this is not normal for one-hour shows. On many one hour shows,
a.) you bring your idea to the show runner. OR
a*.) The show runner assigns you a story he thinks would be good for the show.
b.) You bugger off and outline it.
c.) Get notes on the outline.
d.) Bugger off and write it.
e.) Turn it in and if you're lucky, get more notes. Often your script is word-one rewritten by the show runner.
There are one hour rooms that run closer to ours, and one hour rooms that in theory do not need a room at all. Where the writers barely talk to each other. Ones where the writers meet for a couple hours a week on meta-structure issues, or meet intensely for a few weeks pre-season to break out the season arcs. Every show is different.
There are also rooms that start at 2pm and run until 2am. Those showrunners are dicks. I'm planting my flag on that.
We run a sitcom room. You can pitch an episode, but you only maintain as much creative control over it as the prep you've done. If you come in with something meticulously plotted, with a ton of research, more of it will stay intact. The room is there to solve problems, not suborn your work. On the other hand, ideas expand to fill a vacuum. If you don't know what that fourth act is, the room may well give you one you weren't expecting.
Sure, once the episode is broken, it's the writer's completely. He/she writes the two-pager, then the outline, then the draft, addressing notes form Downey and I along the way. Occasionally I'll do a pass on a trouble spot, or to address production concerns in prep, but that's it. Once they're in prep and on set, the writers -- no matter their experience level -- are steering the ship. Or at least lashing themselves to the wheel and trying not to scream too loudly. Lose a location the day before shooting? Good luck, kid.
But back when that proto-episode hits the table, best idea wins. "Best idea" as judged by myself and Downey, so it's a rigged game. That does, however, allow the writers to harbor a secret righteous belief that their pure version would have been better. This is particularly useful when they are on set and can use this as a shield about their soul when things are going horribly, horribly wrong. Never deprive a man of his right to second-guess his boss. It's one of the few refuges he has in a troubled world.
Where were -- right, sorry. We started with the villain: what does "image manipulation" mean in this current day? That lead us into politics. The current GOP battle for the nominee brings this into high relief: one bad day, one bad photo, one note-perfect hint that something's hinky -- you're done. We already had a ton of research on the Carvilles and Roves of the world for the election-stealing episode. (I respect Rove's absolute commitment to ruthlessness and fine understanding of systems design).
We then attacked the emotional through line. Fun fact -- if you ever find a Leverage episode pitch, it has both a logline and a "heartline", to let the network know what character story we'll be exploring through this plot. We had the overall arc this year of consequences; the consequences of becoming involved with someone, good and bad; the consequences of your past -- and for Nate, the consequences of being an arrogant son of a bitch who's letting his anger and his brilliance become a shield. Yeah, yeah, I know, we're just a little pulp adventure show, but we do try.
Parallel stories then, made text when Nate says "How would we take down me?" Josh, a little vertiginous at the speed, went off and wrote a hell of a script. He managed to touch on some meta-points I found amusing -- Nate's desire for "the gloat", for example, aligns with Dean Devlin's Holy Trinity of what makes a good Leverage episode.
We then got insanely lucky with casting, nabbing the super-fine Michael Gladis, late of Mad Men. There's something about episodes where we really lock in on the bad guy ... We can't do them every week, they eat up a disproportionate amount of page space relative to our leads and their stories. But in this case, Gladis just planted this feet and swung. He had a ton of fun, and watching he and Hutton dig in, and I mean dig in, no quarter asked on those two-handers. You almost feel a little sad for him, that moment in the spotlight. Some of the writers performed for a living and we know, that feeling, when they love you -- that is a drug that is almost cruel to inflict on someone who's not ready. And there's Nate just out of the spotlight …
The final shot, where Nate and the villain both walk off into darkness, was conceived by the director Marc Roskin. It's a lovely moment, when a guy who's in charge of seeing stuff figures out how to really nail what the guy who's in charge of saying stuff is trying to say. Roskin is a fantastic director, and you should go buy the DVD to hear his commentary on how he set up the very spiffy car crash shot.
This is also the first appearance of Val Lundrum as Detective Grayson, in a throw-away. Veach had mostly completed his draft of "The Experimental Job", where she plays an important part, and we though it would be fun to lay in the character early in the season.
Wow, that was … either detailed or indulgent, depending on how your coffee was this morning. On to your filthy questions!
@Miranda: Starting with the Evil Speech of Evil. Nice.
Not just the Evil Speech of Evil -- laying out exactly how we will eventually begin him down. Legitimizing a somewhat shaggy-dog plot by making it the effective villain plot. Old pulp trick.
And yes, I am fully aware that's not how Photoshop works. But it is boring to watch Photoshop render, and our job is to entertain you. Rendering is not entertaining. Just ask our VFX guys.
@Gina: Oh, Parker! How could you say that about Yoda? You may have just torpedoed any chance of a relationship with Hardison! (Hardison's little yelp of shock was the funniest thing I've heard all day!)
We are tweaking Hardison a bit there. He cares just a bit too much, in the way that we all care about something a bit too much. That reaction was all Aldis, btw. He just killed it.
@Anonymous: Hardison as a thug is hilarious! He is funny no matter what he does... But his bad ass is fantastic.
It was a pleasure to realize (and this was Josh) that we had an African-American character who was the least convincing street hoodlum of the group. Maybe Dulee Hill over on our brother show PSYCH would be worse …
@SueN: So how long until Eliot rearranges Nate's face? I do have to wonder how much longer Eliot's going to tolerate being brushed off by Nate. He's the one most directly responsible for the team's safety, is raising some very valid concerns … and Nate's treating him like a lackey. Given this season's "theme," are we going to see any consequences of that?
Also, when Eliot left (after being dismissed by Nate), Parker seemed to follow. Was she showing a moment of solidarity with Eliot? It seemed like a nice nod to their developing rapport, as well as a none-too-subtle jab at Nate. I mean, how bad is your behavior if Parker is offended?
@Becks: There seems to be a lot of tension between Nate and Eliot this season. Are we going to see that come to a head at some point?
Eliot's job is to keep them safe, and that just means reminding Nate of when he's banging off the guardrails. As long as Nate doesn't go through them, they should be fine. And Parker knows when to leave Nate alone. There are times it's just not worth talking to him.
@Gibbs: WHAT THE HECK? How did Nate get away with talking Crap to Eliot without getting his face punched? NOT COOL! Also what's up with Hardison repeatedly calling Parker "woman"? Not bitching, Love you guys to no end. Good to see the bantering between siblings again, missed it.
Hmm, are they really that hostile to each other? Don't see it, but then again, I'm attaching these form this end of the telescope.
The "woman's" and "girls" are Aldis's improvs.
@Sarah W: Parker said, "Squee." Parker said, "Squee." I . . . I love you guys.
That is the dead sexiest "squee" on earth. When we were editing this, Downey noted "you know, you don't need the rest of the con to convince this guy to embrace fame. If anything on earth made women who looked like that come up to me and talk to me in a bar, I would do nothing but that for the rest of my life."
@SPrite: Random question from way back in season 2 opener and all of season 2. Is Eliot still in the military? Is this a secret arc?
Eliot still does contract work. Nice catch. You actually meet a friend of his in the winter episodes.
@Rachael: I don't understand the bit about the negatives from the car accident. I took three semesters of photography in college with real cameras and film and dark rooms and all that stuff and I don't understand how you could alter real negatives. Can anyone help me with that part?
It is tricky as hell, and super hard to do. There were some Hollywood scandal guys in the 50's who were aces at it, apparently.
The trick is, you don't alter the negatives -- you create new negatives off an altered print. So at the time Rockwell would have gotten the negative, developed it, altered the print, then locked off the camera and reshot the roll, print by print, then substituting the negative. He's taking advantage of the prejudice, at the time, that negatives immediately convey authenticity.
To a great degree, it's like how you collapse layers on a pdf. Kind of. @PurpleOps in the comments did a good job of explaining it.
@PurpleOps: I'm also concerned that the show may be trying TOO hard to make Nate unlikable. Your DVD commentaries keep repeating the point, and the episodes now seem to be driving it home VERY strongly. We still need to be able to root for him, and his crew still needs to work with (not for) him and support him.
See, this is always tricky. I don't find darker. conflicted Nate unlikable. He's still helping people, still risking his neck personally, often, to do so. I still find him charming as hell, even when he's being a jerk. But that's me. Again, all we can do is deliver the show in our heads, and see where it lands.
@demonbrat-98 I loved the "And I didn't even stab him" nod to continuity.
The show timeline really is just two years so far, three by the end of this season. Parker's changing, but not that fast.
DaveMB: METH-uen? I guess the local-color experts can't be on set the whole time... (It's MeTHUen.) Seriously, a great episode.
You're lucky we didn't make him say Gloucester or Worcester.
@Kristin: This week's Leverage finally got me to post how great of a job you guys did this week. Definitely outstanding. There are so many wonderful tidbits foreveryone. When Nate kicked Eliot off the job I finally understood why you didn't answer anyone's "eliot seems really angry this season" questions from last week. 1.)It seems odd to me though that a senator knows about the leverage team? Seems really high profile for them even if it is an old friend of Nate's. 2.) Also, aside from staging, why did eliot move over to the seat next to parker when they were discussing Rockwell in the beginning? It seemed odd to devote a camera angle and cut to it. 3.) How is it Sophie has been the voice of reason this season? She has been the team's moral compass for quite sometime but it seems to really be shining this season. Definite character development. 4.) Why was Nate so hungover the next day? Yes, he's an alcoholic but I thought he was functioning. Sleeping in his clothes seems like such a reversion back to season one Nate. Is that the parallel we are supposed to draw from that?
Thank the staff Kristin. All I do is drink and keep track of the index cards. 1.)The District Attorney and Nate were childhood friends, and Boston is a city of corruption and fixers. 2.) Just staging. 3.) It's intentional. Sophie is on much more of an even keel than Nate is, as you'll see. She's always had personal conflict, but never the level of self-destructive anger and bullshit he deals with. 4.) More lack of sleep, than the booze, or a combo plate. I'll admit, there are nights when I can drink for six hours and feel fine, and there are raggy nights where three drinks will make me sour the next morning.
@Calla: 1.)Eliot does seem to be on Nate's case a lot this season, as does Sophie, only Nate is calling Eliot out on it a lot more than with Sophie. Is this because Sophie is better able to work her way around Nate's rough edges and come at things from several different angles where as Eliot goes straight from direct to angry? 2.) Finally, I wanted to ask about Nate. Nate said, "We take Rockwell down the same way we'd take me down." And Sophie kept saying she was afraid Nate would manage to go down with Rockwell. Would Nate succumb to the limelight like Rockwell did? Is he feeling under appreciated, despite the fact that they've had 3 (now 4) very successful cons in a row, even if Nate took a bit of an unorthodox route in the last two?
1.) That's a good explanation. As you've seen, she soon comes at it from a very different angle. Ahem. 2.) Not so much succumb to the limelight, but in his compulsive need to win tie himself to Rockwell's fate, over-extend himself.
@RRabit42: We've seen some of the marks recognize when they're being conned. What kept Rockwell from noticing that Nate was listing all of his own tactics back to him? Nate was definitely not subtle about this. Blinded by the realization that being in the spotlight could be attractive?
There's actually a moment, early in the show, where Rockwell shuns the limelight because he knows how dangerous it is. We made it text. But you can't -- or only the strongest can -- logic yourself out of the way that feels.
@Famous4it: 1.) Is Nate scared of anything? 2.) And I'm just curious: does the team have their own keys to the apartment. I know Parker doesn't need one, and Hardison's the landlord, but what about Sophie and Eliot. Did Nate or Hardison give them some or did obtain them in a more underhand manner...
1.) The only thing Nate Ford is afraid of is failing. 2.) Hardison gave them all keys. Assume that for a while Nate tried changing the locks on a regular basis, but then just gave up.
@Allyone: 1.) If Nate is an honest man, does that mean he can no longer be a con artist? Cause you guys are making me nervous there. 2.) Is Nate really so susceptible to fame, as Rockwell was, or is it just the idea that you would need to draw him out to bring him down? I see Nate's gloating as more a function of anger than desire for recognition.
1.) There's definitely a different edge to how we write Nate on the con than when he called himself an honest man. He can give himself permission to be a bit more of a dick. 2.) Not susceptible to fame, but to validation, to … need.
@MercedesA: So, every time Nate mouths off to, or generally dismisses Elliots' concerns I feel a general sphincter clench in the country! The tension between the two is palpable. (1) What is the outcome going to be? (2) Will Elliot be the one to walk away this time, just so Nate gets a taste of what it would be like without his muscle? (3) Will one of the weaker members have to get hurt for Nate to consider his drinking? (4) Is the tension due to the nature of Nates' relationship with Sophie? Or, (5) Is it that he's keeping the relationship from the team, or thinks he is? After all it is a form of conning the team.
1.) You'll see. Not what you think. 2.) Oddly, one team-mate does decide to teach the crew a lesson this year … 3.) None of them are "weaker". And if you go back over the seasons, Nate's always the one who suffers most for his drinking. 4.)No, Eliot can just see Nate's starting to edge close to those guardrails.5.) As of this episode, there's no "relationship" to speak of. Yet.
@Brave: 1)I'll say "if" but it's more of a "when" the rest of the team finds out about Nate/Sophie will they feel like they've been betrayed by the duo? Because Elliot doesn't like when people con their own crew. 2)Just like my first question. With the way the team has become a family will that add tension because of secrets kept? Like what Elliot did last season and Nate/Sophie? 3) Does the rest of the team even know that Elliot killed all those people? 4) Will Nate ever realize he can't be an honest man when he is in fact a thief? I would say he's an honest thief. 5)In the last scene with Nate/Sophie was that her way of telling him she loves him either way? 6)Did we get an answer to who Nate chose to be in that last scene when he left the drink on the bar and turned the light to darkness or was it just a plot point to the episode? 7)Nate actually let someone in on his childhood, is that a sign of him improving on any front? 8)So I'm thinking since Rockwell had a skeleton in his closet, is there one in Nate's we haven't been privy too? 9)Nate seems to need validation and recognition in what they are doing. In some twisted way is he getting or going to get that satisfaction from the "Big Bad"?
1.) As you see in #408, it's more that they're annoyed than betrayed. People I know aren't "betrayed" when their friends start sleeping together. Annoyed, but not betrayed. 2.) There aren't a lot of secrets in this crew anymore. Or at least, they're acknowledged "don't go there" secrets. Friends respect boundaries. 3.) They know something unpleasant happened. 4.) It's always hard to give up who we think we are. 5.) "I love you" with a caveat. Figure it out, one way or another. 6.) It's an ongoing arc. The ending was more, well … foreshadowing isn't the right word. But Nate is going into the darkness, and it may be the ending Rockwell had, or it may be something else. But it ain't good. 7.) Nate's good at sharing surface stuff. That's a longer post. 8.) Nope, the Nate you see is the one you got. Everything that happened back in Act Zero is just there to support his multi-season arc. 9.) Oh no. Oh, oh no.
@Philip Okita: Was Parker wanting to go to the "You can't love him until you love yourself" talk a total Parker/Hardison moment?
More a general "Holy Shit, you mean there are instructions on how to be a normal person?"
@Odie: Where were Parker and Eliot when they were going through the brochures and eating Chinese takeout?
Back room of the bar. Odd angle, that's all.
Hmm, the comments then become a fairly spirited discussion of Nate's relationship and responsibility to the team. Damn you people are clever. All right, skipping down a bunch …
@Oona: I do worry a bit that we're revisiting Nate's identity crisis from the first two seasons, yet I know we're way early and you guys are smarter than that, I just worry by nature. Any chance that the thing Nate's anger can't beat is something less related to cons and more related to his relationship with, oh I don't know, someone on the team whose name he may have forgotten? (Hey, a girl's gotta try.)
You're close. But don't worry, Nate knows who he is, even if he has a hard time verbalizing it.
@NO Illusions: Great episode! One question: didn't Nate tell Eliot to take the job off? So did Eliot rejoin on his own (unofficially or else through the rest of the team) or did Nate ask him back? Thanks :)
No, that was more a cooling off walkaway. Assume Eliot came in and took over the car hit on his own, with no apologies on either side given.
@Devinoch: Are we ever going to see a Nate/Hardison pairing for an extended time in an episode? We've seen most other pairings, even briefly, but we haven't seen Hardison and Nate paired up for a long point of time, and I feel like the two could do with a little bit of bonding.
#416, a great great episode by Joe Hortua.
@Raven Akurei: 1.) Will Leverage have a presence at Comicon this year? I've seen a couple writers/producers on the panel lists but haven't found a show panel. Leverage had one last year and I was hoping to catch one this year. 2.) And related question more about the industry: big fan-shows and cons that generate buzz - and occasionally draw off resources. Obviously to the fans these are big deals, but what about within the TV industry? How much pressure is there from the top to attend? How important of a marketing tool is it really? Coming from the video game industry, I'm curious about your view of the super-mega-con.
1.) With the benefit of hindsight, no were prepping the finale. No time for Con in 2010. 2.) It is a limited marketing tool, but any sort of internal reinforcement that the show is popular, particularly with a very passionate audience, is crucial to protecting it in the shark-waters of television cancellation.
@Meagan: 1) The scene with Sophie and Hardison (btw, LOVE them together, they should have more to do together) while Hardison is working on Nate's backround check and Sophie says something, looks over to him and then gets all blustered...what was that about? Is she mad he wasn't listening and participating in her lil mind meld thing like Nate does with her. (Like I mentioned before, I love scenes with just Sophie and Hardison...their scenes have a different vibe then the rest and I am intriqued) Question 2.) When Eliot and Parker were checking out the brochures and Eliot mentions the seminiar "you can't love him until you love yourself" and Parker says "we should go to that one"...it seemed like it was played for laughs but instead of the usual "there's something wrong with you" look, he looks at her with real thoughtfulness...was this another acknowledgement of sorts that he knows there's something going on with Parker and Hardison and of her trying to work through her issues?
1.) That was an actor choice. I honestly, on reviewing, am not sure what the intent is there. They do have great chemistry together, you're right. And there's a great Sophie/Hardison scene coming up in #416. To tell you the truth, you get a much better sense of Sophie and Hardison's working relationship over the course of the next few episodes. 2.) Yep, nice choice on Christian's part.
@Fish: I know you can't do it this year (since you've practically finished scripting the season), but will we ever get to hear updates of Hardison's World of Warcraft character? The last time we heard about it, he mentioned that the "new expansion" was going to be dope (since I assume at the time you wrote/filmed it, Blizzard hadn't announced the Wrath of the Lich King title)... but we've now completed that expansion and are in the middle of Cataclysm. At some point we need to know how he feels about the rebuilt Azeroth. Not to mention what his character actually is (my guess would be Forsaken warlock with Enchanting/Engineering professions.)
Hardison, like myself, is an alt-aholic with multiple builds. But always Horde. And he digs new Azeroth. Lately, though, he's been playing a lot of FPS on consoles.
@Robin: I know you have no question, but describing Nate and Eliot as " The man with the way in, and the man with the way out, as it were" is something I wish I'd written. Nicely done.
@Elaine: I'm working on the Commentary transcripts thing.
@Emma: In a completely unrelated-to-the-episode question, I have to ask: how influenced are you/the writers by the late, great Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series? I'm probably letting my fannish glee read too much into things but I can't help but draw parallels between my favorite show and my favorite heist author -- they plan cons in the back room of a bar! Nate's mastermind plans always go awry! You have an episode named "The Bank Shot Job"! (although, admittedly, the team doesn't actually steal the entire bank in that episode.)
She's named Parker, isn't she?
@Kevin: we played the Leverage RPG last week. That's the best licensed game I've ever played, hands down.
Play report! I want a play report!
@allyone: Just thought of another question - Hardison created an extensive alias for Nate online in this one. Did he then go back and scrub the web to remove all that? As much as there's been talk of past marks going after the team, it would be kind of a funny riff to have someone go after not the team member but the alias that was created for them for a con.
Hardison has a full post-con protocol he follows. We have had something similar happen, in "The Juror Number 6 Job", where it was one of Parker's aliases that got them sucked into the game. And that alias recurs in #411 "The Girls Night Out Job."
@Kate: I was interested to see another figure from Nate's past make an appearance in this ep. Especially one who seemed to have cleaned up more than Nate himself. Can we look forward to seeing more of the team's other affiliations make an appearance? What do you think are the pitfalls and demands of using a character from backstory in appearances like this?
A few folks swing by - one of Eliot's army buddies makes an appearance a little later in the season. I think the pitfall of any "past" character is that they take you out of the current action and relationships, where all the interesting story should be happening.
@JeanG: Did you do the pardison part for the parker/hardison's fans?
Oh, you get far, far more fanservice in #405, as you've seen.
Okay, not bad. Stay tuned, another one of these should go up in a semi-timely manner.