Friday, March 21, 2008

The House Between 2.8: "Ruined"

The final episode of The House Between's second season finds the denizens fighting for their lives against the Dark Matter Entity. Astrid holds the key to salvation...or destruction. Produced by Joseph Maddrey for the Lulu Show LLC. Written and directed by: John Kenneth Muir.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The House Between Episode 2.8 "Ruined" Director Notes

Tomorrow we arrive at “Ruined,” the blazing second season finale of The House Between. As I contemplate these director notes today, I realize that there are so many things I can’t say or reveal, because the final story is utterly jam-packed with surprises, shocks, reversals and twists. So, if you’ll forgive me, I have to speak in infuriating generalities today. Also: fewer episode photographs than usual. Can’t show too much of “Ruined.” Not yet. Many of the surprises are visual ones. Especially the last five minutes of the show.

The blog has been sparse of late (the last two weeks…) because I have been sleepless and sick, but also because “Ruined” has been an absolute ball buster to edit and assemble. There are more effects shots contained in this one episode than in the entire House Between series so far. If we actually had a budget, this would be a budget buster. We don’t have a budget (not to speak of…) so it has been a “time” buster instead, as I compose layer after layer of effect. To paraphrase Scotty on Star Trek, my Dell hard-drive “canna’ take much more of this!”

Storywise, “Ruined” picks up in exactly the same instant that “Caged” ended last week. The entirety of Season Two has been leading to this climax, this denouement. This is the moment (and episode) where plot threads, story arcs, throwaway lines and character crises come together and everything makes sense. The circle gets squared. Or something like that. Full circle.

“Ruined” features a new villain and an old one; it also resurrects previous interludes in season one and two and infuses them with new, altered and powerful meaning. It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. It is the end of the status quo and a giant step off a precipice into unchartered waters.

My producer Joseph Maddrey pulled me back from the edge of total annihilation in the writing stage and added a single, brilliant line (for Bill) that would lead us down the path of Season Three. I’m glad he did that. If only so I have somewhere to go in the writing.

See? Generalities. Infuriating ones.

Looking at literary and filmic antecedents, “Ruined” is The House Between’s version of A Christmas Carol…meets The Evil Dead. When I first began conceiving every arc for Season Two, I knew this episode was where the season needed to end, though the exact events did change a little bit, based on intervening stories. Visually, ‘Ruined” references the second Sapphire & Steel serial (which involved a creeping blackness consuming an abandoned rail station), Bride of Frankenstein and – in my favorite moment – a tribute to the classic Twilight Zone opening. Honestly, crafting my own Twilight Zone-style shot has been a kick (but time consuming…).

I remember that shooting “Ruined” was one of the worst days of the entire production. The cast and crew were sick and exhausted. Honestly, it was extremely rough. I missed my son. I missed my wife. I missed my bed.

Plus, it was heartbreaking contemplating the farewells. I’m not one for goodbyes. Alicia finished the day first and had to leave early to meet another commitment (a wedding I think). And it actually hurt to say goodbye to her. I can’t explain it exactly, but these actors (and behind-the-scenes crew) are simultaneously like children, friends, and siblings to me. Contemplating Alicia’s early departure, I realized it was truly the end of the family reunion. I remember a special night during the second season when Kathryn, Alicia and I decided to hang out at the house at the end of the universe long after shooting was done…just the three of us. We were all exhausted, but we three stayed together in the kitchen, drank beers, and talked about friendship, love, and the future. It’s an occasion I’ll always cherish. That night was on my mind as Alicia (my Theresa!) said her farewells.

And off they went, one by one. We lost Craig Eckrich next, soon after Alicia. If you ever meet Craig, you’ve made a friend for life. This guy is the epitome of the word “team player,” and will do anything to pitch in. No task is too small or too big. He lives by a simple and decent code: if you need him, he’s there. His character, Brick, finished second.

And then Arlo was done, and poor Jim – still under the weather – finally got to sit down and begin healing. Then Travis went, and I remember congratulating Lee for surviving the second season. Then Bill’s turn came, and Tony’s last moment before the camera was a disturbing one. If you follow the series, you know what I mean. Bill always has something terrible happen to him at least once a season. God knows why we saved that moment for his last this year, but it was oddly and disconcertingly…final.

One by one, these characters I had long since fallen in love with, these remarkable performers and friends, stepped before the cameras for the last time, and it was difficult saying goodbye to them. I was now sad as well as tired.

But the day ended in a magical and unexpected way. For the first time in days, the house was all but empty, most of the cast and crew gone home, and I had the chance to share that space “at the end of the universe” with a small creative team and the last cast member, Kim Breeding. How strange and right, I thought, that The House Between Year Two should end in the same way that The House Between Year One had begun. With Astrid (and Kim) in that limbo in (mostly) isolation. With few pages left to shoot, with the bulk of the work behind us, with the set feeling like a “house with all the children gone,” I just found time to enjoy Kim doing some of her finest work ever. It was a nice way to go out. All the pressure had dropped away for a change, and though the scenes were harsh and disturbing, there was also a relaxed element to the shoot.

But that was just shooting, believe me. There’s nothing relaxed about the way “Ruined” punctuates the season, and tomorrow you’ll get to see for yourself. I hope you enjoy the show, and I hope you have enjoyed the second season. Please write in here or on the discussion boards at Sy Fy Portal and let us know what you think of our efforts.

Next week – the blog gets back to normal business: movie reviews, TV flashbacks, and retro-toys. But tomorrow..."Ruined."