Supernatural Pilot: A Closer Look

Just like Sam and Dean Winchester, Supernatural has grown and changed over the past five seasons. The color pallet has gone through a few revisions, characters have come and gone and it’s developed a language that anyone who watches weekly will understand.

After taking a closer look at a recent episode, I thought it would be fun to go back to the beginning and see how it all began. You know the plot. You know the backstory. What I want you to see are the production choices that sold the Supernatural pilot not just to the network but to the fans.

As Eric Kripke will tell you in the Season One DVD commentary, creating that first episode was a collaborative effort, but much of the credit goes to the director and the DP.

David Nutter directed the Supernatural pilot and that’s special because he’s the king of pilots. If he were a jockey, he’d be called the “winningest,” because his percentage of pilots that go on to series was like 99% at the time. Kripke says that when Nutter agreed, he turned to producer Peter Johnson and said, ‘we have a series.’

The DP was Aaron Schneider and he’s largely responsible for the ominous dark and shadowy look of the pilot.

So let’s take a closer look, shall we?

So I know this looks like a blank screen, but it’s actually a photo of Mary who has just left Sam’s nursery. Pretty bold, huh? The Supernatural pilot is dark – too dark in spots and that’s probably why they lightened things up a little after this.

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Here’s a better shot of Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith). The pilot uses a lot of lamp lighting which gives a warm, glow to the set. Notice the picture under the lamp. John’s grandparents maybe?

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Hmm, even as a baby Sam’s hair grew like nobody’s business! The real reason for the hair difference is that they had three babies playing Sam. I love the lighting in the second picture, that beautiful red glow from the fire and the emergency lights and Jeffrey Dean Morgan really sells the pain.

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TV is all about visual storytelling, so they give you a visual connection to show you that the tall, sweet guy you’re about to see (Jared Padalecki) is the baby from the previous scene, all grown up. What has always bothered me about this photo is that it doesn’t look like Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

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Sam and Jess go to a Halloween party at the local rathskeller and it’s a marvel of colors, glowing lights and visual interest. This screen shot doesn’t do it justice.

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That night, Sam and Jess go to sleep. This shot of the two of them was recreated down to the camera move in the Second Season episode “What Is and What Should Never Be.” They do this kind of recreation in several episodes and it’s always a nice wink for the fans.

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From here on in, shadows play an important part creating the moody tone for the series. Here we have the first meeting of Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam but the director was brave enough to play a lot of it in the dark. That’s taking a big chance, not allowing the viewer to see their expressions but on Supernatural, it works.

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Continue to Part Two

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