Episode 410 "Back In The Hole"
POSTED BY: Scott Brazil
Executive Producer/Director
MAY 24, 2005
*The comments and opinions expressed below are solely those of their respective writers, and not those of FX Networks, LLC, Twentieth Century Fox, or their related and affiliated entities.*
 

Directing the Bottle

Episodic television can be a very expensive proposition. While some episodes cost more than others, there is a desire on everyone's part to hit a target budget by the end of the season. As a cable series with a limited amount of money to spend, our philosophy has been to spend more money on the first and last two episodes of each season. For the past three seasons, I have had the pleasure of directing these big-spending opening and closing episodes, all filled with drama and physical action. These are the "sexy" episodes, the ones that garner the most attention. In them, characters are introduced and killed off.   There is more time allotted to their production, more locations, more speaking roles. They're the episodes that any director wants to be offered.

Then there is the bottle episode. The sad little step child episode, spare on money, locations, sets and guest cast. (The sad little step child whose allowance is docked in order to buy big brother a new pair of sneaks.) We scrimp on the bottle episode in order to afford the extravagant season openers and closers. The bottle episode is the one guest directors don't want to be offered. They feel punished. Why cast a guest actor when a series regular can say the line? It's cheaper.   Why go on location when you can shoot the same scene on stage? It's cheaper. It is often a recipe for a mediocre episode - quiet, interior, no drive.

Not so on The Shield. We've had some enormously successful bottle episodes, directed by Nick Gomez in Season One, Scott Winant in Season Two and Peter Horton in Season Three. The success of a bottle episode relies on two equally important elements: a great script and a great cast. These are critical for any directing experience, but in a bottle show, every flaw in the script is magnified, any misinterpretation of a moment by an actor is obvious. There are no flashy action sequences to distract from the mistakes.

As Executive Producer on the series, I've been able to hog most of the splashy opening and closing episodes. I got to be with Michael Chiklis at the end of Season One when he gave an Emmy worthy performance. Vic arrives home to find his family has fled and he breaks down on the kitchen floor. I had the pleasure of directing Glenn Close in this season's premier when she established her character, Monica Rawling. A quiet, intelligent performance that, I hope, forces a viewer to watch episode two to find out what she was thinking, where she would lead Vic and the remnants of the Strike Team.  

I am the luckiest fucking episodic director to have done this season's bottle episode. It blows these experiences away. The script, written by Liz Craft and Sarah Fain, was packed with potential -- a loaded gun held to the temple of each character, an omni-present threat of emotional violence. Each moment brimmed with the danger of a life lived so close to the edge that catastrophe was likely. The cast embraced it with their usual relish.

Michael had so much to accomplish. Vic tries desperately to save his Strike Team as they disintegrate internally. He conveys his dilemma quietly, subtly (not being able to show any of it to Monica). This, of course, makes you want to get the camera in his face to watch all the secrets, lies and danger living in his eyes - they're the most expressive eyes on television

Glenn's strong and private Monica shares nothing - and everything - in her quiet, intense glances. She gives just enough to make you demand more. It is one of her gifts - damn her - you must keep watching because you are never fully satisfied.  

Anthony Anderson, working for a paupers wage, came to the show to prove that he is a suburb dramatic actor. Like the series itself, his performance of Antwon screams "Look at me! I will not be ignored! I will be respected. I will be noticed." And he is. His performance boils with rage as Antwon demands respect from Monica and Vic. When he gets none, he travels through a range of emotions usually only seen over a lifetime. He takes us on this journey while never leaving his chair.  

Benito Martinez shines this season like none before. While he had only three scenes in this episode, he lays himself bare emotionally and psychologically. It is usually a director's job to make the cast feel safe. In this case, it was my job to make sure Benito felt precarious. In Season Three, Aceveda was raped at gunpoint. I know Benito felt threatened and unsafe by the position in which the writers put his character, but that doesn't compare to the danger he imposed on himself in this episode. What incredible courage he has to be willing to explore the most dangerous place - an emotional freefall with no safety net.  

Walton Goggins is brilliant, raw, exciting and a method actor to the point of distraction. Yet he is accessible. Walton, as Shane, coveys something - don't ask him how, he won't know - to which every man aspires. He is strong and masculine, yet vulnerable. Noble yet misguided. Always searching for someone's honest affection. Shane has betrayed every character on the show yet they all seem to care about him. They see so much of themselves in him.

Kenneth Johnson, a man of few words but great presence, conveys so much fear while searching for the strength to become a man - finally a peer of Vic's.

CCH Pounder's Claudette tries to find the balance between noble honesty and manipulation while interrogating the innocent sister of a suspected serial killer. She delicately shows us crass "cop moves" while letting us know how it pains her to do so.

Jay Karnes is my alter ego. He would say I am his. Maybe, between us, there is a whole person. He is timid yet willing to take Dutch to a place he's never been. At first, Jay was concerned the audience wouldn't understand where Dutch was in this episode, that his emotional state hadn't been properly set up. But then he gave in, let go of his fears and delivered a performance that let us know how self-tortured Dutch has been since strangling the cat in Season Three.

Catherine Dent and Michael Jace had the job of carrying the "comic runner" of the episode. A thankless job, as in an episode such as this one, the comedic storyline is usually the first to hit the cutting room floor. Yet Catherine and Michael so deftly navigated the absurd comedic circumstances with which they were confronted, never losing sight of the underlying tension created by murder of two fellow officers, that they elevated the material to a level that demanded attention.

These tremendous performances were superbly captured by Rohn Schmidt, our intuitive and inspired Director of Photography, and Bill Gierhart and Rich Cantu, our camera operators. Every subtle detail was squeezed out of the film by our passionate editor, Hunter Via.  

All of which brings us to a new and interesting problem for The Shield.   The editors cut was 17 minutes longer than acceptable broadcast length. That means we would need to CUT OUT 17 minutes of story, character and passion. Well, that's TV.   Everything is usually better when it's tighter. Sometimes, beloved scenes are sacrificed for the good of the whole episode. I was able to make five minutes worth of cuts before walking down the hall to tell Shawn Ryan that I just couldn't cut anymore, he had to weigh in.  

In addition to creating the show, Shawn has been the driving creative force behind every episode. He has a finely tuned bullshit meter and cuts material from episodes mercilessly to get to the core. He finds the most honest place where each scene must live. I asked for his thoughts on the show before I cut further. To my surprise, at midnight, I received a copy of an email he sent to the network and studio requesting an extra half hour of broadcast time. He sent me a separate email telling me to put back what I had cut and to stop wrecking it by tightening. Now, Shawn avoids work better than anyone I know. He was the kid in college that wrote the paper an hour before class and still managed an A. I knew this was his way of buying a couple more days before being forced to make the requisite cuts. I was quite wrong. He made an impassioned plea to the network to play it as a 90 minute episode. After seeing the directors cut, they agreed with Shawn.   And in what now seems to be typical fashion for a highly regarded renegade network, FX President John Landgraf made it happen. It is impossible to estimate how many network chairs spun around trying to figure out his decision. Bluntly, he liked the episode. He has taken a risk, inspired by the work of many enormously gifted individuals.

 

 
ARCHIVE
MARCH 15, 2005
Episode 401 "The Cure"
MARCH 22, 2005
Episode 402 "Grave"
MARCH 29 , 2005
Episode 403 "Bang"
APRIL 5 , 2005
Episode 404 "Dog House"
APRIL 12 , 2005
Episode 405 "Tar Baby"
APRIL 19 , 2005
Episode 406 "Insurgents"
MAY 3 , 2005
Episode 408 "Cut Throat "
MAY 17 , 2005
Episode 409 "String Theory"
MAY 17 , 2005
Episode 409 "String Theory"
MAY 24 , 2005
Episode 410 "Back In The Hole"
MAY 31 , 2005
Episode 411 "A Thousand Deaths"
JUNE 7 , 2005
Episode 412 "Judas Priest"