Back in 2008, I had the pleasure of chatting with Supernatural Producer/Director Robert Singer on the eve of “Monster Movie.” The episode was a real departure from Supernatural’s usual style but it turned out to be one of the most creative and entertaining episodes of the run. It’s still one of my favorites.
Originally posted at SFUniverse, I’m bringing it back for your reading pleasure.
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Tomorrow, Supernatural pays homage to the horror movies of the 30′s when Sam and Dean investigate a shapeshifter with a love for classic Universal monsters! It’s an all black & white episode filled with thrills, chills and a whole lot of laughs.
I got the scoop on how the whole thing came together from Supernatural executive producer, and director of Monster Movie, Robert Singer.
“We had a great time doing it,” says Singer. “[But the trick was] keeping it modern, while paying respect to James Whale and the way those guys shot those great black & white movies.”
In order to capture the look and particularly the tone of the era, Singer and crew had to make a few adjustments in their normal routine.
“The lighting is a little different that Serge did. We tried to emulate as much as we could that old 30′s movie horror lighting, which is very deep shadows and hot spots and people walking out of blackness into harsh lights and things like that.”
Singer also found that he had to vary his usual shooting style.
“My personal preference for close-ups is to shoot them with long lenses and throw the background out of focus. We didn’t do that very much. We were in the mid-range with lenses that were used in the 30′s and 40′s – like a 27-65 (for all you would be DP’s) would be the longest. That was odd for me to get used to.”
Singer also kept the simplicity of the early horror movies in mind when he staged the scenes, avoiding intricate camera moves, which are a staple on Supernatural, and sometimes by intentionally going with a low-tech solution.
“We have a thing with the Wolf Man and it’s a couple who are making out in a car on lover’s lane. Before I got [to the studio in Vancouver] they were looking for locations to do that scene and I said, let’s not have a real location like anyone would have nowadays. Let’s create our own lover’s lane on stage, have a backdrop with a moon on it, put the ground fog in and all that stuff they used to do. Let’s go for it. The result of that is you watch it and you get a smile because the reality of it is the reality of a 30′s movie.”
But still, Singer had to be careful not to let the spoofing take over the story.
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
“I didn’t feel we ever got shticky. One thing about doing this is the boys can’t comment on what’s going on with a wink. The comedy from their point of view, the reaction, is very subtle, it’s got a wink in its eye but it’s never over the top. If Sam and Dean are accepting this then the audience will, too. I think my meter was in the right place.”
Singer’s “meter” was definitely in the right place when he directed last year’s laugh-a-minute episode, “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Though Jared Padalecki has said he feels more comfortable with the dramatic scenes than the comedic ones, you wouldn’t know it by his performance in this classic episode.
“If [Jared] had his druthers, the emotional stuff feels more in his wheelhouse, [but] he’s really, really, really, good at the physical comedy,” says director Singer. “He did stuff in “Bad Day at Black Rock” that had me cracking up. I’d sit at the monitor and watch it and he did some pratfalls that were fantastic and when he did the thing with the gum stuck to his shoe. . . I think he’s selling himself short.”
And the other half of the team?
“Jensen, he has facial stuff and eye rolls and long takes that are classic. Jensen is particularly fantastic at that, he can do Jack Benny takes with the best of them.”
Now that the show is in its fourth season, with the writers writing to each of the boy’s strengths, it’s easy to hit the ground running, says Singer.
MIXED BAG OF TRICKS
“They get it right away. We have a ten-minute talk before shooting and off we go.”
Which is probably the norm on shows such as CSI or Two and a Half Men where the tone and style is set from day one. Not so on Supernatural.
“The good thing about our show, because we’re doing a little movie every week, you shoot it in the way that’s appropriate to the text. Some shows are more languid and very long lensy and moody and other shows have more action and that’s a lot of cuts and handheld stuff. Comedy is wider, generally – you do more 2 and 3 shots, a lot of reaction shots.
“I’ve been lucky on this show that I’ve run the gamut in the ones that I’ve done and it’s nice to have those change-ups. You don’t feel like you’re getting into a rut because they’re all so different.”
And different is the perfect word for this week’s episode. Singer claims it’s the most fun he’s ever had directing the series but still, he’s not sure that the younger members of the audience will ‘get it.’
“It was the third one we shot, but I think that there was some part of it that scared the network. They thought it was early to be doing such an off-the-wall episode; they wanted to get a run at more traditional stuff before we launched this on the public and maybe they were right. I hope it’s well received. A lot of our audience is young, whether they’ll get the jokes, we’ll find out from the blogs. I hope they do and if they don’t, maybe they’ll say, ‘hey, what’s that all about’ and they’ll go rent some of those movies.”
I couldn’t let Bob go without asking him about that one little fact that’s been bugging me since the season premiere. When Dean and Bobby showed up at Sam’s motel room and Kristy answered the door, was she Kristy, or was she already Ruby on the inside?
Says Singer, “You’re not supposed to know that it’s Ruby but she was [Ruby] at that moment in time. She was playing a part because she didn’t want Dean to know. The answer to how Ruby became Genevieve is coming up.”
And last but not least, he takes on my favorite question.
Captain Kirk vs. Captain Jack Sparrow?
“That’s a question? (laugh) Personally, I’m a Captain Jack Sparrow fan more than Captain Kirk. I was not a great Star Trek devotee. In retrospect, I find it so utterly campy that it’s fun but I don’t think it was meant to be at the time. But Jack Sparrow is one of the great characterizations.”
Want to know how others stars answered this question? Click here for my Kirk vs Sparrow page.
“Monster Movie” – Jensen Ackles as Dean, Todd Stashwick as Dracula, Jared Padalecki as Sam in SUPERNATURAL on The CW. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW ©2008 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.