SPOILER ALERT: The following interview discusses specific scenes from the first two episode of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”
It’s a mathematical fact: eight heroes are better than one. In the first two chapters of The CW‘s latest series, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” time traveler Rip Hunter gathered a crew of misfits — Atom, Firestorm, White Canary, Hawkgirl, Carter Hall, Captain Cold and Heat Wave — to take down Vandal Savage, once and for all. Together, they traveled back to the past in Hunter’s ship (christened Waverider) in order to change history. However, this isn’t a well-oiled team, and there’s a very real possibility that their best efforts may ultimately do more harm than good.
Director Glen Winter has become the go-to-guy for television superhero fare, having helmed numerous episodes of “Arrow” and “The Flash,” as well as the “Supergirl” pilot. In a discussion with CBR News about tackling his most ambitious project to date, Winter opened up about the challenge and reward in finding the “Legends of Tomorrow” characters’ voices while still delivering plenty of action.
CBR News: Most of these “legends” have already been established in “Arrow” and “Flash.” Did that mean the characters didn’t need much fine tuning?
Glen Winter: There were some places to fine tune. In the glimpses that we saw of Snart and Rory in previous episodes, we really didn’t get a lot of backstory as far as the complexity of their characters and their emotional core. There was discussion about how to bring more out of them. That’s going to play more over the course of the season than in the pilot, per se.
To answer your question, yes, it certainly helps that people weren’t trying to find the tone of their characters. There was a shorthand that was brought to it.
Stephen Amell has stated that you push the limits in your fight sequences. How did you approach the action for this series?
In “Legends,” we had a couple of complicated action sequences that we didn’t have a lot of time to do. This is a part of the process that I actually really enjoy. You seemingly have something that is unshootable in the time and money, where you have to go, “Okay, how do we make this shootable and still make it dynamic?” I just break it down into variable chunks. I want to put the audience in the middle of the action. I try to think of a way to shoot each action beat within the scene so it’s not necessarily always the same. I’ll shoot one piece off a crane. I’ll do one piece hand-to-hand. I’ll do one piece off a camera car. I just see the movie in my head.
We had two days to shoot the arms auction sequence, plus all the exposition. A lot of it comes down to the finances. I could only afford to have a crane for one of the days, so I had to shoot every shot with the crane first. You have to know what shots you want to do. “From 10:00 to 11:00, we’re going to shoot off this crane.” You get rid of all the crane shots, which means you are shooting out of order.
For that scene, I really wanted the people to feel like they were in the middle of the action. I wanted it to feel visceral, but I also wanted it to have a flowing, video quality. The slow motion is something we don’t get to do a lot of on “Arrow.” That is a different tone, so I felt we could play with speed ramping and slow motion.
Was there one sequence which stood out for you?
The piece I’m most proud of is when Atom goes crazy on the place. He flies out of Stein’s pocket. They write, “Atom basically comes in and shoots up the place.” I’m like, “Oh, my God. How am I going to do that? What is that? What does that even look like?” I decided I didn’t want to do it in a bunch of cuts. I wanted it to feel like one flowing, big piece. I shot it on the camera car. I shot it on high-res at 6k. We did it in one take. What you see there was literally shot in real time, in one take. They weaved it in and out in post. All those stunts, all those wire gags with stuntmen flying, they all were done in one queue as the camera zipped through the whole length of the warehouse, which was probably 150 feet. I like to try and push the boundaries of what we can achieve.
How did directing the “Supergirl” pilot and the “Arrow/Flash” crossover prepare you for “Legends of Tomorrow?”
Working on shows of this scope and size, one after the other, you just always think, “Wow. Nothing could be bigger than this episode.” Then, there’s another episode that’s even bigger. I’ve been in this world a couple of years, and every episode gets bigger and bigger. You just realize anything is possible. I’ll preface this by saying Episode 4 of “Arrow” last year, which was the Captain Cold one, and then going into the crossover — those were the hardest two episodes I’ve ever done in my life. Even on its hardest days, the “Supergirl” pilot wasn’t as hard as those days. So coming onto the “Legends” pilot, I just felt I was as prepared as I could ever be.
When you read the script, and it’s so over the top and so action-packed, you just go, “Okay, we can do this.” It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, but all you do is break it down into all its components. You attack it as you would anything else. It’s, “Right foot, left foot. How are we going to do it?” You hope there will be a new facet for every experience. The new facet for “Legends” was that there’s no #1 [actor] on the call sheet. There are seven or eight leads. For me, that was the intimidating part. I wasn’t as worried about the action and tone as I was with wrangling all these personalities and finding out how they all work together. Or, how to shoot a scene with eight people in the Waverider, day after day.
The other part of it that made it feel a bit different was, we sort of did two episodes in one. Originally, there was talk about airing that thing as a two-hour pilot. Sadly, it won’t be, but we shot it like it was. That allowed us to cross board it and make it was more convenient schedule-wise than it normally would be. The schedule was one of the most logical, well laid-out schedules I’ve had on any show as far as efficiency was concerned, because we were able to shoot two episodes together, at the same time.
Did stretching the pilot into two episodes allow you to prep and pace yourself better?
On “Supergirl,” we had a month to prep a 20-day shoot, and the same thing on this one. The only difference is, more of this was going to end up on the screen because we were shooting 20 days for a two-hour show. It did help us find a tone for the story a little bit more. The reality was, because we didn’t shoot it in order, it’s not like everyone learned from the first episode and could apply it to the second episode. There wasn’t a lot of perspective or lessons that were applied to the second half, because it didn’t matter.
It looked like a good chunk of these episodes were filmed on location instead of a soundstage.
As is typical with any pilot, most of the time you are going to shoot more on location. Because you don’t necessarily know if you are going to have a show that’s been picked up, they don’t want to invest a lot of money in the infrastructure, so you end up shooting more on location. The only set that was built was the Waverider.
That being said, because we knew there was a pickup for the show, it wasn’t a conventional pilot. All the resources of construction went into the Waverider. That’s continuing into the series. I don’t think they tend to build much. I think they tend to adapt locations because there’s so much time travel and so many eras to create.
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