Directing humans is one thing, but directing zombies? That’s a whole other beast.
So is directing television, as episodic series are becoming more and more consumable on a multitude of devices. Washington Filmworks’ incentive project Z Nation has had a successful run thus far and now two Washington State filmmakers were given the opportunity to get behind the camera and helm some special episodes. Following the airing of two episodes directed by Filmworks Board Member Juan Mas and VFX supervisor Jason McKee, we sat down with the two to discuss challenges and surprises of television directing, the unique Washington locations gracing the screen, and what shocks audiences got from the episodes.
Mas and McKee found their experience directing Z Nation to be inspiring, fast, creative, and collaborative, with an added dose of resilience. Both also found there to be a few challenges and surprises along the way. Mas said that “every day was a challenge due to the page count, number of shooting days, and the hours in the day – but it was so gratifying to see the departments of production, from wardrobe to VFX, meet the crazy ideas I had with enthusiasm and just knocked it out of the park.”
McKee, meanwhile, found the schedule to be the most challenging in both production and post-production. “You never feel like you have enough time to do anything – so you have to find creative ways to ‘cut corners’, so to speak. One way I chose to do so was to design single shots that would take us quickly through multiple page scenes. It takes a while to set up but once you’ve figured it out you’re able to shoot that scene in a fraction of the time had you just shot the traditional coverage.”
From these directing surprises, Mas and McKee were able to muster up some advice for future television helmers. “I would tell people that it’s simple – you’re hired by the client to make a production for them and that’s not to say you can’t make it you’re own. You definitely should be engaged in how you’re telling that story – just know you’re making it for them first,” says McKee. Mas agreed, adding a bit of pragmatism: “You also must have a strong sense where those commercial breaks are coming, so that the story ramps up to a mini cliff-hanger so viewers will come back after the commercial break.”
In terms of locations, Mas was fortunate enough to film at the Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Airway Heights, WA. “Shooting around a casino that never closes is not easy, but it was a great location with fantastic production value with fun Zombie Slot Machines and amazing support from our local Native American community both on and off set.” And in the effects world, McKee found his episode to be very VFX-heavy. “There’s a sequence I was really excited to share with audiences that had a lot of effects – where Warren and 10k battle a UFO! That was pretty fun to do and frankly huge FX for our budget and schedule – and we’ve got eight great artists working on the show.”
Quick schedules, long shooting days, unique locations, and heavy effects – directing zombies isn’t your typical day in the office! These two Washington State directors clearly handled the energy of directing television with grace, enthusiasm, and passion. Washington Filmworks thanks Juan Mas and Jason McKee for sharing their experiences with us.
Tune into Z Nation Friday’s at 10pm on the Syfy Channel!