Thursday, April 12, 2007

The House Between Episode # 5 ("Mirrored") Director's Notes.

This was The House Between episode that almost wasn't.

Basically - in some weird fashion - The House Between first season is a story - a mystery - consisting of three movements. "Arrived" and "Settled" comprise one block of character time and an introduction to the series. Occurring sometime later, episodes three and four - "Positioned" and "Visited" - form a second block. Finally, the concluding episodes you haven't seen yet - "Trashed" and "Departed?" - represent the third and climactic component of the year's story arc. Now, if I had the luxury of 24 episodes (which I'd really, really like...), the same development would have occurred across two dozen shows, not a half-dozen. But that's another story. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you don't make a TV show with the budget and time you want; but the budget and time you have.

So anyway, that leaves part 5 of the season, "Mirrored." The story you almost never saw. And if you ask a lot of the production team, perhaps the best script of the bunch. And the one everybody had the best time filming, I think. But more on that in a minute.

Some background: basically, the original plan had been to shoot six stories in seven days. Saner heads than I suggested six episodes...and a back-up day for re-shoots in case of disaster. But I wanted to go for broke; go for seven stories. "Mirrored" therefore, was written as that final optional episode, a standalone tale to fit in the middle of the continuity, that - if we didn't get to it - well, the story wouldn't really suffer all that much. Reading this explanation, I guess one could conclude it's somehow disposable.

But you won't say that once you've seen it. That's for sure. "Mirrored" is so filled with great character moments and pieces of the overall mystery, that I can't imagine the series without it. A lot in Year Two builds on things you see (or don't see...) in this story.

My inspiration for "Mirrored" is - as some commenters guessed - a classic Star Trek episode. But interestingly, it's not the episode "Mirror, Mirror" that this episode riffs on. Nope. Instead, it's an homage to my very favorite of all Star Trek episodes: D.C. Fontana's stirring and brilliant "This Side of Paradise." I guess I'm not a conventional Star Trek fan in that my favorite episode doesn't concern Romulans or Klingons or phaser battles...but rather a very personal journey for the characters, particularly Mr. Spock (though Captain Kirk goes through quite a lot too, in the show).

So anyway, back to shooting "Mirrored." By Day Five, we were so confident of our progress that everyone decided - more or less together, if I remember correctly, to shoot the episode in sequential order. We knew were going to get all the shows done, and it just seemed right. So, we tackled the script, and the cast jumped in with a re-energized level of engagement and excitement that you will see; that practically jumps from the screen. This isn't to say the cast wasn't great every day, only that "Mirrored" offered a fresh set of opportunities. You see, I had provided each actor a sort of secret "information' sheet about their characters. These forms discussed history, relationships, career, family, background and other data. The thing is, however, not all of this information gets to the screen when the scripts focus on, essentially, "the crisis of the week." "Mirrored" was different, however, because it brought to the surface many of these facets for all the characters. You'll see Astrid and Theresa and Travis and Arlo and Bill as you've never seen them before here. They're consistent with the other episodes, but showcasing new layers. And I think that's why I love the episode so much. And probably the same goes for the cast.

Day Five, shooting "MIrrored" was the only day we had a "closed" set during the shoot. There were some sequences where everybody had to leave the room (even the lighting directors...), leaving only two performers and two camera men. The reason? Some scenes are pretty emotional, pretty raw. And the actors really wanted to concentrate and focus on the work without it being a sort of sideshow.

The day remains special for me as a director because somehow we found the time to elaborate on the script at points, go deeper than we had imagined. For instance, we shot a few extra shots in a Travis/Astrid confrontation that weren't in the script but that just make that scene come to life. And feel so right and true. Also, I came up with a one sentence directing cue for Lee and Kim in a later scene, and boy oh boy did they run with it. It proved the key to a sequence that I think is hysterical. I'm not patting myself on the back; it was just a throwaway notion, and it was these two great actors who just went for broke. I love their moments together in "MIrrored." Kim really "exposes" a lot about Astrid in this episode, and again reveals the depth of her versatility. I've yet to find a scene she can't play (but I'm working on it!!!) And Lee? Well, as Tony Mercer commented after viewing a rough cut of the episode, The House Between can never get enough of Lee Hansen; he can go as "big" as he wants and not risk being over the top. I must say, I also believe Tony pinpointed exactly the right tone for Bill in this episode: he's the rock, the anchor, the steadiness which all the craziness orbits. He's a master of the "slow burn," and he puts that skill to great use here. And Alicia Wood. My god! Watching her in "Mirrored" I think you just fall in love with Theresa...I know I do. She has a gorgeous, fetching smile that Theresa doesn't often show...and it's breathtaking and heartbreaking here. And Jim -- our dependable Arlo - again beautifully navigates the unpredictable nature of his character: naive and innocent one moment, unexpectedly dangerous the next. That's why I love all these performers.

I don't want to go into too much detail about "Mirrored" but there are things about the show I will always love. Things you get to see that you never get to see in other House Between episodes. Yes, this is our sex romp. Yes, this is our funny episode. But it's also a touching one, I believe, an emotional one. I have written here before how "Settled" is the episode that I believe best expresses my core concepts for the series. "Mirrored" is a reflection of "Settled," a spin on the same sort of story, with a comedic bent.

Hope you like it! It's uploading as I type. In the meantime, check out this wiki on The House Between.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:07 AM

    Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the mushiest director of them all?

    Love you, too, John. ;-P

    This was absolutely the most nerve-wracking and the most fun day of the whole week for me. Building up to that one 'closed-set' sequence was tense; but we worked through it like pros (wait, do pros make fart jokes?), and the rest of the day was a hoot.


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