World War X

No one could have predicted that Spender, or the Cigarette-Smoking Man or even Skinner would don Nazi uniforms during Season Six, yet, that’s exactly what happened. Chris Carter’s imaginative narrative for his groundbreaking “real time” episode sends Mulder to the Bermuda Triangle where he boards a ship missing since 1939. On board, he encounters all the show’s characters — only they are not themselves but strangers from another era.

The beautifully restored Queen Mary, which is also an operating hotel, provided the ideal location for the historic episode, explains location manager Ed Lippman. “Chris Carter knew he needed an old ship and asked us what we knew of up front. We said the ‘Queen Mary,’” he says. “[Carter] actually came down and spent a long time walking the ship before he even wrote this episode, so he specifically wrote it to the location. Quite frankly, with this kind of location there’s nothing else in town that could have matched it. There’s only a few places in the country you could have pulled this off.”

Despite the authenticity of the ship, the production team still had their work cut out for them. All of the ship’s modern aspects, everything from painting to doorknobs, had to be replaced to fit with the period setting of the episode. Extensive exterior sequences required the crew to shoot the ocean vistas with no signs of civilization. Since views from the Queen Mary include the skyline of Long Beach, some special effects magic was required.

“We’re hanging a 30-by-80-foot green screen 20 feet out that will block out the city of Long Beach, so that when we pull [Mulder] up over the edge, we’ll have the option of seeing straight out with the camera and matting in our storm effect and not having to deal with the city of Long Beach,” Lippman says. “With a little luck in post-production, people will go, ‘Where in the hell did they do that?’”

The interior shots were equally complicated: The Queen Mary’s confined hallways and low-ceiling rooms needed to hold a larger-than-usual cast, which included hundreds of extras recruited to appear as the participants in an elaborate ballroom brawl. Extras casting directors Bill Dance and Terrence Harris hand-picked all of the people for the scene.

“We sculpt [the actors] together in terms of, “What do you think of this person? Do they have the right hair? Does this person look Nazi?” Dance explains. “The hair cannot be streaked or anything like that. It has to be either to the mid-neck for the ladies or long so we can make it look period. [When casting] the dancers, we had people come in [and asked them], ‘Can you do the Lindy Hop or the swing?’ Not professional dancers where it looks too showy, but people that can do it very naturally, yet have the period look, the pale complexions.”

It was up to costume designer Christine Peters to find all the period garb for the dancers, as well as uniforms for the ship’s crew and the Nazis who storm the boat. Such a task required locating existing costumes, some of which might seem familiar to viewers. “I managed to get costumes from Titanic for the British naval crew,” Peters says. “We’ve got probably 150 uniforms. It’s not the sort of thing where you can just fill a truck up on the day and just hand them things. Every extra for this episode has been pre-fit, the ballroom dancers, everyone.”

During the brawl, those carefully selected costumes took a beating. Some 50 or 60 extras were involved in a melée with 13 professional stunt people, according to stunt coordinator Danny Weselis.

“It took a few hours to choreograph and block out every move [because of] the way we’re shooting this episode with hardly any cuts. We just had to pay attention to where all the cameras were and make sure all the hits were hits and there were no misses.”

The unusual shooting method for the episode was foremost in the mind of director of photography Bill Roe, too. Generally, cuts or pick-up shots are inserted during editing to make scenes flow more smoothly. Because of the way this episode was shot, everything had to be perfect when director Carter yelled “Cut” for the final time. “You can usually get away with things, help things as you go, with different cuts and different shots, but when you’re doing it all in one [continuous take], it requires a lot of planning,” Roe says. “The hardest part is trying to find the right place for the light and still make it look good. Working at a practical location doesn’t help, especially when they don’t want you touching the Queen Mary walls. No drilling, no taping, no nothing.”

The secret to accomplishing such an extraordinary task, according to co-executive producer Michael Watkins, likes in extensive planning and a ready-for-anything attitude. Plenty of rehearsal time doesn’t hurt, either.

“All the actors have to be on board. It’s like comedians will tell you, it’s timing. We rehearse seven, eight, nine, ten pages in a row, and then walk through, change the lighting, move the actors. It becomes a series of events that all have to take place not unlike a live theater. The performance has to continue and go on from one venue to another. There’s no going back for inserts. It has to be complete and total. The sphere has to be an enclosed world by itself.”

 
 
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