Thursday, April 26, 2007

The House Between Episode # 6 ("Trashed") Director's Notes

Tomorrow, the second-to-last episode of The House Between's first season, "Trashed" goes live. Before that happens, I wanted to write these notes about the creation, making, shooting and editing of the show.

When I first conceived The House Between, a central metaphor was the notion of the mysterious house as "Earth," the place we all live...and share. One of the first questions I then asked was: what do you do with all the trash? If these people can't leave the house (like we can't escape Earth...yet), how do they accommodate the garbage that human beings so casually but monumentally generate? As the story "Trashed" opens, we see that matters in the house between are getting kind of...smelly. The kitchen is a mess, and trash is an issue. Once I had that notion, the idea of something being trashed kept coming up in my writing. Our villain, Sange, arrives via a faulty transit and his body is "trashed" in the process. He tells a story about something even more frightening...about an act that "trashes" the foundations of reality itself. Voila - I had an episode!

I don't want to go into too many details about the storyline, but as you can likely tell from the preview last week (and the teaser called "Violator" posted some time ago...), Sange - the intruder in the house - makes life difficult for our dramatis personae. In more specific terms "Sange" is a telepath from the same psychic "astronaut" program that Theresa graduated from.

And I guess that leads us to another one of the core ideas I wanted to get across in this story. If "Mirrored" was the tale that sort of broke down Theresa's armor and revealed the psychic's vulnerable side, the die is cast here, and she is forced into the middle of a situation where she must take sides. On one hand is Sange, and on the other is her ad hoc family in the house. It's a battle of families, and the family unit is a big metaphor for me on The House Between. Here, Sange represents the family of origin, sort of, the place where Theresa grew up and still feels the pull of old responsibilities. But the others in the house represent the family she has come to join in the course of her life. In a situation like this, which family do you choose? The one you came from, or the one you're with now? That's a big question for a lot of adults, I think, and certainly the answer varies by circumstance and situation.

However, you'll notice that the character of Sange often says absolutely terrible, sexist, demeaning things to Theresa. I saw this behavior as not merely "Black Hat-ism," meaning that Sange is a nasty villain, but as an acknowledgment that sometimes, for some people, there are unpleasant traits in brothers, fathers, or moms from the family of origin. Someone you love might be a racist; a homophobe, anti-Semitic. How do you continue to get along with that person when their behavior is just so blatantly unacceptable? We find our ways, and that's sort of the notion I wanted to get across. You know: what happens when your brother meets your friends, and they don't get along? I don't think that after this episode, Theresa can rightly claim she's not a part of the house between "family" matter how much she denies it. She's down in the trenches...with the rest of us unevolved humans.

In terms of genre, I think you'll detect perhaps a resonance of The Terminator here -- the notion of an intruder showing up with a mission to kill somebody, in this case, the mysterious "Draftsman." I must also note, lines of dialogue from "Space Seed," Aliens, and The Blair Witch Project (!) all rear their familiar heads at various points in the episode. Voiced by Sange, Travis and Arlo respectively.

We shot "Trashed" on Friday, June 9, 2006, and our cast of regulars was joined by guest star - and horror film scholar - Florent Christol, as Sange. I must say, Flo had an interesting effect on all the ladies in the cast and crew. They all melted like butter upon hearing his mellifluous French accent. If anyone quibbles with this assessment, I have Exhibit A: ENDLESS footage of the actresses smiling, laughing, flubbing lines, and so forth, during their scenes with Flo. Truly, Flo was a great sport about coming in and playing a heavy (with lots of dialogue...), and even getting heavily made-up for his transit "wounds." Flo showed up, had to mouth sexual taunts at Astrid, was tied to a staircase (!) and then had his face melted. All in a day's work!

And that's where my spfx genius Rob Floyd came in. He did some absolutely beautiful make-up for Sange's transit injuries. Really spectacular, accomplished stuff. Rob is always coming up with great gags and stunts, and "Trashed" was no exception. Between special effects and fight scenes (and regular cast make-up...), Rob had his hands full on this episode and did an awesome job.

This was also the episode in which Tony Mercer (Bill) had a killer monologue. Seriously, it was a difficult, involved chunk of dialogue (chunk meaning about six pages...). At one point, I sent Kathryn, my wife (and a therapist...) to check on Tony while he was rehearshing to make sure the script hadn't driven him to the point of insanity. This was after about a half-hour in which Tony had gone into an endless repeating loop of the speech. But Tony's preparation paid off, and he carried off the scene with his typical brilliance and commitment. Why isn't this guy in Hollywood movies yet?

And then, digging into my repository of memories (the ones I wish I could suppress...), there was the scene between Tony, Lee and Kim that took 21 takes. Now, to be fair, I should clarify. It wasn't that these three were messing up a lot or anything. Occasionally, it was me, and people watching the scene who would screw it up...from laughing so hard. The scene begins with Lee (Travis) tossing a pair of garbage bags onto the second floor hallway floor, and every time Lee did it, he'd do it a different way, or with a funny expression, and various spectators would crack up. This is actually one of my favorite scenes in the show, watching these three do that scene. Just wait till the blooper reel...

I thought "Visited" was our special effects show (that's the one with the creepy-crawly Outdwellers) but "Trashed" takes the cake. It's my own mini-Phantom Menace, I guess, as there's more than forty separate optical special effects in this installment. You'll notice about twenty-five - the rest are actually effects-within-effects if that makes sense (meaning more than one optical per shot...). This level of effects integration has made editing a bear, to say the least, but oddly rewarding and challenging. Every time I compose a new special effects shot, my computer crashes and I have to re-boot, so this has been time-consuming.

The original cut of "Trashed" came in at over 35 minutes, and had to be pared down dramatically. This means that the episode actually has several deleted scenes. Other episodes feature deleted moments, or moments we didn't get to shoot (but which are in the script...), but whole scenes are gone from "Trashed" and I hate that, but if they didn't move the story along, they were trimmed.

In particular, Lee Hansen, Rick Coulter (DP) and myself shot a secret scene one morning that is just a beautiful character moment for Travis; and furthers nicely the dynamics of the Travis-Astrid-Bill triangle. I liked it a lot - especially because none of the other actors knew about it, and because it fit so well into the larger Travis story arc. I also like this moment because it shows you what Travis is up to when people aren't paying attention...and that's kind of his "shtick' in "Trashed," messing with people for the hell of it, particularly Arlo. much as I like the scene, it just didn't really work well in "Trashed," and kind of diverted attention away from the central plot. Lee has such personal magnetism and presence as Travis, that the scene played like a set-up for a pay-off that never came. Everyone would be waiting all episode to see what would come of this scoundrel-like behavior.

Another loss I truly mourn is the John Muir version of the horror movie cliche about the evil killer who makes one last attempt to complete his mission before being dispatched. Seriously...these shots are like two of my favorites on the entire show. I had the camera on the floor and was lurching it towards Flo while he crawled for his prey. Again -- great shot, but it didn't fit particularly well once the scene was cut together. Damn! This one will see the light of day on the special extended director's remix.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy "Trashed" when it premieres tomorrow. Until then, enjoy the deleted scene with Travis. That rascal.


  1. Anonymous8:46 AM

    In all the years I've known you, Hansen, you never told me you wanted to smell my feet. I feel cheated.

    John, this is hilarious. I had no idea you guys filmed this - how many more 'secret' scenes are you sitting on? I can't wait for the DVD with 100 hours of extra footage! LOL

  2. You know, the funny thing is that this is just the "edited" version of the scene Lee did.

    What's missing? Well, Travis reads Bill's diary (talk about a violation...) and says "Why is he [meaning Bill...] writing about Astrid? Doesn't he know that Astrid's mine..."

    Interesting, no? i'll restore all that (and what was originally probably a two-minute scene...) for the DVD deleted scenes.

  3. Anonymous12:40 PM


    Seriously, I almost forgot about that shot. BTW, I'm not a foot fetishist. That was all pure JKM.

  4. Anonymous2:40 AM

    Hysterical, Lee.....did you shake your fist while typing that line?!?

    The two best bits of business in the scene are the way his eyes light up right before he grabs the dress, and right after he smells the shoe. Classic!!!


Buck Rogers: "The Satyr"

"There are strange viruses here on this planet." - Cyra (Anne E. Curry) warns Buck about the dangers of Arcanus in "...