Thursday October 23, 2014
Last night’s episode was bananas, it seemed like a heart attack waiting to happen after every scene. Abel hearing Gemma! Juice in jail! And BOBBY! R.I.P. Bobby’s Right Eye.
I recently sat down with our staff writer, Gladys Rodriguez and our script coordinator, Josh Botana to discuss the Greensleeves episode that they co- wrote with Kurt Sutter.
A lot of us aren’t familiar with how a writing room operates can you talk to me about the process of breaking the story of 707 from concept to script?
Gladys: Breaking 707 was like every other episode. We usually know what tent poles we need to hit in the episode and put those up on the white board first. Loose beats. Our lovely whiteboard writer, Co-Producer Roberto Patino (who has the penmanship of a feminine serial killer), will jot down the “beats” (scene ideas) that we throw at him.
In the early breaking of the episode, we’ll do columns for our A, B, and C stories. We pitch on what we call the “action engine” first, which is always the main action that drives the A story. Originally for 707, we had a whole thing with the East Dub Crew and burying them in cement that eventually changed into Greensleeves and Winsome for the action engine.
Then for the B story, it’s usually the Gemma story. We knew we wanted the confession to Thomas to happen in this episode and it was gonna be a big pivotal turning point of the season, so we started with that and worked our way forward. Then the C story is all Juice. Although in 707, we combined some of it with the A story in the beginning with the Jax/Juice scene. Kurt comes in throughout the week and we’ll pitch our A/B/C beats. He’ll give us his thoughts and then we’ll adjust based on what notes he has. Once he’s approved the stories (usually takes about a week or so), we’re ready to ‘blend’ the story beats, meaning putting the scenes in order. We’ll order the story, pitch multiple scenarios all day long for a day or so, then once we have it, our Writers’ Assistant, John Barcheski, will type it all up and send it to us. We pitch it to Kurt the next day, he gives notes, we’ll adjust, and then from that we write the beat sheet and are off on script.
Josh and I decided to split it evenly by story. He wrote the teaser and the majority of the A story, I wrote the B and C story, and a scene or two of the A, and ending montage. After a couple weeks, we hand it in to the room for notes. They give us their notes and we do another draft. Then it gets turned into Kurt who will do his pass. Voilà, 707 is cooked.
And Josh I heard this was your first television script. How does it feel to have your very first script air on television?
Josh: I’m elated. I just feel honored and grateful that Kurt gave me the opportunity to write on the show. It’s literally a dream come true. From the breaking to the writing, the process exceeded almost all of my expectation.
What was the experience like sitting in the writers’ room as a writer for the first time?
Josh: It was intimidating to say the least. This show is stacked with writing talent, it’s like a murder’s row of TV drama. It was hard trying to keep up at first, but they were all so nurturing and supportive that by the end of my tenure they had made me better. I’m so thankful that I had this room on my first script.
Gladys, you’ve been on the show since season 2, what was has been your most memorable experience thus far?
Gladys: In Season 3, I took over writing this very production blog (Samcro Blogger!) and got the once in a lifetime opportunity to interview Stephen King, one of my favorite writers. I was a nervous wreck. I went to set to where we shot Gemma’s dad’s house and met Mr. King’s manager, Rand, who I had been emailing with. We had to wait a bit because he was shooting the scene where he pulls up in his red Harley as Bachman. Then in between scenes, Rand introduces me and I think I made a fool of myself when I blurted out how much his book On Writing meant to me. Mr. King was so gracious and easygoing and cool and just how you want your celebrity idol to be. We did the interview and after my videographer calls cut, he says “Oh shit, I didn’t hit record.” I look at him with murder in my eyes, ready to call DL over to handle him. Then he starts laughing, only kidding. I almost punched him in the throat but Mr. King kept his cool, even laughed about it saying it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. So I’d have to say this was my most memorable moment.
What was favorite scene that you wrote in 707?
Gladys: The Gemma confession scene. I loved writing her, especially this season. She’s such a complex mess with a huge secret that’s suffocating her and having her finally break down was SO MUCH FUN to write. She trusts no one at this point and thinks Jax is going to kill her and needs so badly to unburden herself and apologize to her grandson about what she did. It’s the first time this season we’ve seen her really crack. She thinks she’s saying goodbye.
I think it may have changed in the final version, but my favorite line I wrote was the end of that scene:
..I never meant to hurt her, baby.
I’m sorry she’s in heaven… I’m
sorry grandma killed mommy.
Because that’s some FUCKED UP SHIT!
Josh: The scene where Abel overhears Gemma’s secret, which Gladys wrote, was so well done. I love it, it’s very powerful. She’s a super talented writer. Of my scenes, I’m really proud of the Juice story line. The teaser open where the club is at JT’s memorial was an honor to write, it has so much club tradition and history built into it, and I was really just trying not to fuck it up. I’m really proud of this episode and so happy that I was afforded the opportunity to write it with this amazing staff. Thank you Kurt Sutter, Peter Elkoff, Charles Murrray, Kem Nunn, Mike Daniels, Roberto Patino, Gladys Rodriguez, John Barcheski, Katie Curtright and Alex Eldridge. You guys are the best!
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Wednesday October 15, 2014
Describe to me the editing process from day one of filming right up to the airdate.
Doc: We get the footage the day after it’s shot. So if I’m editing an episode that starts filming on a Monday, by Tuesday afternoon I’m already watching that material and starting to put it together. For each scene, there are many different set-ups (camera angles, such as a wide shot, a medium shot or a close-up) and many takes (multiple versions of each set-up).
My job is to take all of these pieces and put them together in the best way to tell the story. The editorial style is Sons is very invisible– we don’t ever want viewers to be thinking about the editing, we just want them to be engrossed in the story and present with the characters. As an editor, the starting place is making a scene that was shot over the course of a few hours with those multiple set-ups and takes feel like you are watching it play out in real time as a bystander. If the viewer is engaged and the editing is well done, something that took 4 hours to shoot will feel like we are watching it unfold in real-time over the course of 2 or 3 minutes. From there you can push or pull certain moments for emphasis and experiment with different ways to tell part of the story. For example, in 706, the scene in Diosa when Alvarez comes in and tells Nero he has to come with him, at any given time, you could be on Alvarez’s face or Nero’s. The fun in putting that scene together was the history between these two characters and playing with how much trust they have with each other at this moment. By staying on Nero a little longer to get an extra cautionary glance, or by going to Alvarez for a beat when he is deciding whether or not to believe Nero, you can build the tension between these two guys. Then when Alvarez puts Nero in the closet, as a viewer, you aren’t sure what’s next.
After an episode is finished shooting, I have a couple of days to continue working on the show by myself. Then the director comes and we work together for 4 days. After that, Kurt and Craig Yahata come in and we work on the show until it’s ready to go to the studio and network for feedback. Sometimes early on you get a version of a scene that is working and it remains largely unchanged throughout this process, while other times you have many different versions of the same scene until you get one that feels right.
Once we get to a point where the show is “picture locked,” meaning the images aren’t going to change, the good people at our post production house Modern start color correcting the final picture, while simultaneously the post production sound dept. at Smart Sound takes the audio of the show and gives it a proper edit and mix. Ultimately, the picture and the sound are married back together at the end and that is what goes on the air.
That’s a very truncated version, but that’s how an episode goes from being shot to being on the air.
In the scene between Gemma and Gertie, how do you edit the overall emotional tone to get the point across?
Doc: Both actors absolutely nailed these scenes and really made my job easy. When the performances are this good, the last thing you want is to get in the way with the editing. My approach was to just cut it in a very naturalistic, unobtrusive way. My favorite moment of the scene is when Gemma says “My son lost his wife recently. We were close.” It’s such a big moment and it’s so messed up because Gemma was the one who shoved a fork in Tara’s head! As far as editing, it was a conscious decision to use the close-up of Gemma for the first time at this moment. Until that point of the scene, you are watching from side shots that have both actors in it. Going to the close up for the first time there really showcases Katey’s performance and punches you in the gut as a viewer with all of that emotion.
The action sequence in episode 706 was pretty intense with the take down of the East Dub crew, how do keep the scene moving and keep the audience on the edge of their seat?
Doc: By this point, we know the MC and Bastards mean business, so there is a built in danger to the chase that is a great starting point. Also, anytime you have bikes, cars and guns, it makes things a little more exciting. With this scene, we were building up to the quiet, tense moment before Dulane gets shot, so it made sense to juxtapose that with the loud, fast, intense chase leading up to it.
With action sequences, there are so many moving parts and moving pieces. I start by cutting a version that simply doesn’t confuse me. We talk about “geography” a lot as it relates to action sequences. The key geography of this action sequence was making sure it was clear that East Dub got boxed in by the MC, the Bastards and the Mayans. Guy Ferland, the director, got this great shot through the windshield of Dulane’s car that really tells the story. You see the car’s hood and you see a line of bikes blocking his way. Then you pop out wide overhead to get the full lay of the land and see that entire direction is blocked. Then you cut back behind and see the MC come in to block the other direction.
Once all the guys are stopped, there’s this great quiet intensity. It was fun to linger in that a bit before all of a sudden T.O. executes Dulane. Then another quiet moment with Jax before he orders the firing on the rest of the guys. Jax is so detached about it– it’s so unsettling and great.
I hear you have a sidekick, how does she help your editing process?
Doc: I do have a sidekick– my dog Zoë frequents the office and sports a Sons of Anarchy dog collar. She keeps the mood light, even when spending hours and hours putting together these intense scenes. When I first started bringing her, she’d get excited when she’d hear motorcycle sounds because she likes to try to chase motorcycles in real life, but she’s since learned that the motorcycle sounds in my office don’t mean there’s an actual motorcycle somewhere.
What was your most exciting editing experience on Sons of Anarchy?
Doc: It was such an incredible experience to come into Sons of Anarchy as a fan first (I started working on the show at the beginning of Season 6). It’s a remarkable group of people in front of and behind the camera who make this show what it is and it’s such a privilege to have an inside view of how it all comes together.
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Thursday October 9, 2014
That was quite an episode last night. I still can’t get over the last scene with Gemma and Juice on the deserted road and all the run-ins with the club? What is going to happen to Gemma and Juice??!?!
One of the things I’ve really been impressed with throughout the years is the locations. I recently sat down with our locations manager, Dan Cooley, to discuss how he found the locations in last night’s episode.
Describe to me your process once you got the script for 705?
Dan Cooley: 705 was the first of 3 episodes Directed by the incomparable Dr. Peter Weller and “dead or alive” we were coming with him on yet another entertaining ride. Executive Producer, Paris Barclay affectionately refers to the scripts as the “book of words,” so in lieu of having one until the end of prep we would have to work off of a synopsis. Imagine playing Speed-Chess blindfolded or a game of Jenga with early on set Parkinson’s… it was shaky at best but spirit of the show and the fraternal brotherhood of what the audience sees on screen every week has found it’s way into our scout van. Instead of falling apart or breaking down when our backs are against the wall, we band together from the Producers, Director, Location Manager, Production Designer, 1st AD, Van Driver, Cast, and Crew to put the best product on TV each and every week.
It all starts with scouting a few different options (quality over quantity) for each location scripted. The aforementioned folks load into a Scout Van together and hit the road to weigh in on what locations work best for creative look, story, schedule, cost, and logistics before making our selections. Then what we’ve selected gets sent to Kurt for final approval. Once approved, we organize a Technical Scout for all of the heads of the departments (25-30 people) to see those locations before we arrive to film them so we discuss everything from how we intend to maim and murder certain characters or simply where we will park our trucks and stage our gear. Then the Locations Department negotiates the contracts to pay each location, obtain all the necessary City and/or County approvals through permits, and most importantly find a place to park close to the nearest bathroom.
How hard was it to find the seedy motel that Juice was staying in? Did you look at several locations?
Dan Cooley: Finding the seedy Motel that Juice was staying in was not a tough find as they are a plethora of them in the Valley close to our Stage. We look at 3 options but almost instantly selected the Ritz in North Hollywood because of its amazing signage. The first scene we would shoot there was at night and the vibrant colors of their sign was so perfect we barely had to do a thing to instance it’s beauty.
In the script Juice and Gemma are driving in the middle of nowhere, which seems like a hard location to find in Southern California, how do you find the right look for that?
Dan Cooley: The Juice and Gemma Road was a tougher find because finding desolate roads we can have full control in such a populated area like South California can be challenging at best but we shoot so many roads that we have found a few tricks along the way like traveling into canyon on the outskirts of state parks which close at dark. This enables to have the control need to shoot such intense scenes.
What has been your favorite location that you have found that really highlights the world of Sons of Anarchy?
Dan Cooley: My favorite location is anywhere we find good people. Locations are a specialized department where we often find ourselves in parts of town that people who lived in those areas their whole lives don’t venture into for better or worse. But it is the people we meet along the way that make Location Managing the experience that it is for better or worse but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my job and all of the challenges that come with it and I love working on SOA because we truly have the best crew in the business.
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Wednesday October 1, 2014
How are you all doing out there? What a crazy episode. I still can’t believe Scoops and Sweets is gone. I was just getting used to it and now Diosa is all shot up with dead escorts?! Colette Jane dead?! Ugh. How will they recover from this? It seems like every corner they turned another crazy outcome happened.
A photo of the aftermath, courtesy of our Set Dec Team.
It seems crazy to think that the show is winding down and we will be wrapping the series forever. On Friday of last week, Kurt Sutter hosted a crew appreciation day where the cast and crew gathered to eat some fabulous food and prizes were auctioned off. It was a wonderful time for us to all get together and enjoy the fruits of our labor. It was also bittersweet as it was the last one ever! I can only hope I get to work with all these incredible people again, and I wanted to share some pictures of the event below so you can get a taste of how great it truly is to work on this show.
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Wednesday September 24, 2014
Episode 703, “Playing with Monsters,” was directed by the very talented Craig Yahata.
The episode was Craig’s first time in the director’s chair and he did not disappoint!
Craig has been with us for seven seasons working as the main producer in post.
The third episode also gave us another directorial debut. Ms. Lyla Winston directed her first porn movie on the Red Woody stages starring Skankenstien played by Puma Swede and her doctor, Jenna Jameson.
Red Woody is a new stage that was built for season 7 and our production designer Charlie Lagola did a fantastic job putting together a realistic porn studio. What do you think of the Red Woody stages and Lyla’s new role? It’s very different than Caracara!
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Monday September 22, 2014
Yes, I’m a week late on my blog post of the premiere but I’m still recovering from the epic party and that season 7 opening episode, whew. Listening to Bohemian Rhapsody will never be the same, right?!
The Season 7 Premiere Event did not disappoint, it was the biggest red carpet in the history of FX. The premiere was held at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and I’ve never seen so many fans come out to support the cast. You truly are the best! I was on the red carpet with host, Chris Franjola from Anarchy Afterword taking some photos of the cast walking down the red carpet. Did I mention it was 100 degrees that day? Red carpets are a lot of work!
How about 702? What do you think is going to happen this season? Will Jax ever find out about Gemma helping Juice and her epic lie? In the meantime, while your head is still spinning over the drama, enjoy this season 7 behind the scenes photo of the boys on set. Our very talented Gaffer, Tony Anderson, took the photo below.
Enjoy! –Samcro Blogger
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