Thursday, March 15, 2007

The House Between Episode # 3 ("Positioned") Director's Notes

Well, episode three of The House Between premieres tomorrow, Friday - here on the blog, on Veoh and at www.thehousebetween.com. In preparation for the premiere of "Positioned," I thought I'd share some of my memories of writing and shooting this episode.

First of all, "Positioned" is my tribute to the action genre as it once was, and - as the dialogue describes it - the story is basically "Die Hard in a Kitchen." On next-to-no budget. A couple of years I proposed a film reference book called Die Hard in a Book, which studied all the variations of the Die Hard scenario, such as Under Siege, Speed, Passenger 57, and the like. There were no takers, alas, but while preparing for the book, I catalogued all the common "conventions" of the Die Hard action sub-genre. When writing "Positioned" I incorporated many of those commonalities. I'm sure you'll recognize a few standards.


Yet the action genre without a meaningful context carries no interest for me as a storyteller or viewer, so "Positioned" also furthers and deepens my central metaphor for The House Between, which is - simply stated - The House = Earth. There's no escape from either (at least not today...), and those of us who dwell here, though vastly different in color, creed and beliefs, must learn how to get along and share the limited resources, whether they be oil, water or food. That's the idea underlying this installment, but with each character representing a nation on Earth, in a sense; each having their unique way of handling the crisis. Theresa, Travis, Bill, Astrid and Arlo each take very, very different approaches to problem resolution based on their personalities, ideologies and personal histories.

To me, that's the core of "Positioned" even more than the action veneer.


This is an opportune time for me to go on at length about the catalyst or "loki" (mischief) character in this episode, the one-and-only Travis Crabtree. Travis gets a lot of funny quips in The House Between, basically serving as my Cordelia/Anya or Spike. But Travis is also - at times - quite the physical menace. I must proclaim here that Lee Hansen, who plays Travis, is nothing like his acerbic, aggressive character except that he shares a razor sharp intellect and wit. Actually, Lee Hansen is the funniest human being I've ever met. And also, he's one of the sweetest and most gentle souls you could ever hope to encounter. I suspect that sometimes during shooting he found it distasteful playing someone who would often commit such despicable acts. Because above everything else, Lee is an exceptionally nice human being. Still, I admire Lee as the great actor he is because he really threw himself into the part, and in particular, makes this episode work on all thrusters. Travis is the engine that makes "Positioned" go; and if Lee had not committed to the material 100%, I don't think the show would really work. Lee isn't just adept with the barbs, either...he's quite the physical presence. Again, that's absolutely necessary for Travis. If you're ever in a room with Lee Hansen, his charisma wins you over in about three seconds flat...and I think that quality translates well to the screen. Even when Travis is being really, really bad, he's compelling.

Jim Blanton's Arlo also has amazing scene in this episode. I'll never forget shooting his "revelatory" sequence (set on a staircase...). It was in the middle of a long day, and Tony and Jim had been rehearsing together for some time on the front porch (I think...) while Alicia, Lee and Kim continued shooting other sequences. Jim and Tony had a long scene (pages and pages and pages...) filled with a lot of difficult dialogue - almost all of it Arlo's. Then, it was time for the scene, and Jim nailed it the first time. We did it a second time, just for safety's sake, and he was equally brilliant the second time around. I have such respect for what Jim brings to Arlo, in some ways the most difficult character to get a handle on. He understands Arlo's child-like core, and really brings that aspect to the forefront of his performance. After the scene, I remember thinking that Tony was great reacting to Arlo in the scene, and he told me his reaction was "real,"...that he just listened to Jim tell his story, and got lost in that world. It was a great moment for both of them. Very genuine and very true. Arlo's staircase scene is one of my favorite in the entire run of episodes.

Other things I recall about this episode: This is the first time during the week that d.p. Rick Coulter and I unplugged our cameras from their tripods, and began swooping around the house for increased intensity. It's not as herky-jerky as your average Battlestar Galactica episode, but the untethered look I think works well for the episode and supports the content. Instead of remaining relatively static and resorting to zooms or cuts to close-ups, you'll see in this episode, the camera races right up to character's faces. It's a little exaggerated...but it's part and parcel of the action genre.

Also, if you watch closely, you'll notice that the lighting this week is more garish and bright than it has been in previous installments. As if the intensity of the events are impacting the very environs of the house. Also, my lighting directors Bobby and Kevin came up with the brilliant notion of utilizing the ceiling fan in one room as - in essence - a strobe light. Those shots work beautifully, and again contribute to the more wild, "big" nature of "Positioned."

I started my "Positioned" day by walking into the house and finding my able stunt choreographer, Rob Floyd, putting all five actors through their paces for the climactic fight scene. I strode into the middle of one rehearsal, and it was amazing to watch the actors hitting their marks and getting everything right on every beat. It really was like a dance. Rob orchestrated the whole thing with his typical enthusiasm, demonstrated some difficult fmoves himself and did a fantastic job with the sequence.

As I remember all these things, I suddenly recall the biggest problem with this episode. Basically, "Positioned" was designed to take place on two sides of one (kitchen...) door, as characters "positioned" and jockeyed for superiority. So imagine my surprise when I got to our location, script in hand, and realized that there was no kitchen door. Many of the doors in the house had been taken off their hinges and completely removed from the premises. Suddenly, the very foundation of the episode was in trouble. The fix was easy: Travis now takes the living room (where there IS a door...) AND the kitchen, but still, this issue gave me a few hours of heartburn.

I also recall that there was a scene which we didn't shoot in this script. About half-way through, Travis and Astrid are having their parlay in the kitchen, and to assert his dominance over her, Travis demands that Astrid take her shirt off...and cook and serve him dinner in her bra. I think the general consensus, brought forward by my mindful producer, Joe Maddrey, was that this was a little over the top and exploitative, even for Travis.

Finally, the character of Bill went through some interesting growth in this episode. I had originally envisioned the character as an analytical fellow, a kind of cold fish scientist. Tony plays the role with such passion and intensity and realism, however, that there's nothing remote about him. In the original script for "Positioned," Bill often stood back and analyzed the situation, remarking about the cleverness of Travis's "die hard in a kitchen" maneuver. Meanwhile, it was the women - Theresa and Astrid - who attempted to resolve the crisis. This didn't exactly sit well with Tony.

Joe had already told me he had reservations about the characterization on the page while vetting the script before shooting, and Tony came to me during shooting and - without ego - asked me a simple and direct question. "Do you want the audience to like Bill?" And then he added. "Because right now...I don't like him." Of course, I did want Bill to be likable, and thanks to Tony and Joe, I understood - on set - we needed to do everything we could to beef Bill up a little bit for this installment Tony worked closely with the other actors to tweak some of his lines...so that Bill didn't come off as so uninvolved, or worse...cowardly.

Finally, the day we shot "Positioned," I had a migraine headache all friggin' day. In no small part due, I'm certain, to the fact that we had been up the previous night shooting till 2:00 am.

Hope you enjoy the show!

2 comments:

  1. What? No exploiting the actresses?! Damn that producer!!!

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  2. astrid9:50 AM

    I would do anything for love...but I won't do that. ;-P

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