Director Marc Guggenheim Sends ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ Across TV’s Time & Space

Legends of Tomorrow Season 5 Episode 14
Jack Rowand/The CW

Even as they have jumped through time, battled crazed mythical creatures and hunted down Hell’s worst escapees, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow have always made room for new passengers on the Waverider.

Over the course of their five seasons, Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and company welcomed tons of newbies aboard some we’ve loved, some we’ve loathed) for the show’s patented brand of bonkers adventure, so it’s sort of fitting that they would be the crew to help series co-creator Marc Guggenheim earn his wings as a first-time director.

In tonight’s episode, “The One Where We’re Trapped on TV,” Guggenheim—who served as co-showrunner on Arrow until Season 6 and on Legends‘ first four seasons before stepping down in 2018 to become an executive consultant to both shows—gets to play around with the gang for an hour set largely within Loom World, an 1984-ish dystopian alternate universe where the Fates have taken over mankind’s free will. One of their most useful tools of control: TV shows that look a lot like some of our most-loved favorites (like Downton Abbey and Star Trek) except for their subliminal messaging to stay in line.

Without spoiling how our heroes wind up in Loom World, we can say that the script and concept are a perfect combo that allows longtime television fan Guggenheim to spoof the medium to extra-large laughs, while also advancing Legend‘s ongoing Encores storyline and setting up next week’s season finale. Here, he explains how it all came together and why it took so long for him to step behind the camera.

This is a phenomenally fun episode, but you are also moving so much story as well.

Marc Guggenheim: They gave me an amazing script. I mean, a simply incredible script. And I was kind of blown away by just how clever Grainne Godfree and James Eagan [who wrote the hour] were. It’s like a love letter to television and they did an incredible job.

It’s so crazy the way everyone gets used in it.

Yeah. Everyone has a moment, even characters like Behrad (Shayan Sobhian) and Mona (Ramona Young) and even Gary (Adam Tsekhman). So it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of episode. I asked them to give me a nice, simple episode, like a clip show or something. I definitely feel like I got thrown into the deep end, but in the best possible way.

Because this was your first time directing Legends?

Anything, I’ve never directed anything before.

How’s that possible?

It’s weird, right? Directing was something that I quite frankly was never that interested in doing. I think I might have considered it on Eli Stone if it had a third season, I probably would have directed an episode of that show, but I haven’t had the desire. So about a year ago, I was sort of in the midst of a professional-creative crisis and I was out to lunch with Greg Berlanti. I was sort of telling him what was on my mind, and he’s like, “Look, I think you need to do something new and you need to do this and it’s going to scare you.” And when he said that, he planted that seed.

Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim (Chris Frawley/The CW)

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And he actually turned out to be so correct. It was a weird piece of advice at that time. But I really did find myself creatively reinvigorated by the experience. And this is coming of off [a lot]…I finished the Crisis crossover, we finished Arrow and I was exhausted. That’s when my episode went into prep. And that was by design. I chose this particular episode so that I would be as far away from Crisis on Infinite Earths as possible. But what that also meant was I was exhausted. But it really was a breath of fresh air, like a jolt, you know?

At the same time, were you also you working on the Canaries spinoff?

Yeah. I have to say my writing on the Canary spinoff, that I had done before I directed. It’s funny, because my work in the editing room on the Canaries spinoff was after I directed Legends, if I’m not mistaken. All credit to Arrow‘s [co-EPs] Jill Blankenship, Oscar Balderrama and [showrunner] Beth Schwartz for really creating the space for me to be able to go off and direct. And apart from reviewing a couple of miscellaneous visual effects shots for Crisis, I was able to just focus on this, which was really great.

And how was it getting to direct actors who you’ve worked with for years playing roles outside of their normal characters?

It was so strange. It was so many different levels of weirdness. [Laughs] And also there were some actors who I hadn’t worked with, but I have to say, they were all amazing, they all brought their A-game. They’re all so accomplished that it was kind of like playing a video game a lot of times. They would do a take, I’d give a note and then, the very next take, their performance was different. When you’re working with actors who know their characters so well and have got such great command of their craft, it’s this incredible experience. They make you look good, they make you seem really smart. So it was great.

And they were all so supportive. It’s different given when a former showrunner, I think, comes on and it’s their first directing experience. I don’t imagine that there are a lot of sets that are as welcoming and encouraging and supportive as the one that I stepped onto. They were really incredible. And that also includes the crew, as well.

You somehow managed to create a world that didn’t feel familiar…you know how all the shows that shoot in Vancouver share so many locations.

That was always a big part of the challenge of creating Loom World. Obviously we were still in Vancouver and we actually shot the Loom World sequences at BC Place, which all the shows have shot at numerous times. So it was a challenge to get it to look different and get it to feel different. I have to give a major shout out to the art department because these poor folks, they had design not just Loom World. They also had to design literally every set. Just doing the Star Trek one would have been a huge amount of work for any art department. To have to do that on top of a ’90s sitcom, on top of a Downton Abbey homage, on top of Loom World, on top of Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac? It’s crazy.

Shayan Sobhian as Behrad Taraz, Matt Ryan as Constantine, Tala Ashe as Zari and Nick Zano as Nate Heywood/Steel (Jack Rowand/The CW)

And all of them had to have a different production design because the lighting and the look of each is so specific.

First of all, the lighting, you got to give it up for David Geddes, he’s been our Director of Photography since the pilot, but he’s also directed numerous episodes himself. And I told him what I wanted to do was sort of mimic the shooting style of each of the “shows” that we were spoofing. So for example, “Ultimate Buds,” we laid it out like a multi-camera sitcom set and we shot with three cameras, very similar to the way you would shoot a sitcom. And with Downton Abbey, it’s a lot of long lens shots and rich lighting. One thing that I noticed, having watched Downton Abbey, was that every time they’re in the kitchen or with the servants, they go handheld. So we did that too. Star Trek, lot of dolly, lot of push-ins. And that was a lot of fun. I think that’s something we all enjoyed was homaging all these different shows and even in Loom World, we took a lot of our inspiration, not just from 1984, but from Brazil.

There is a moment that I actually laughed out loud…the Star Trip explosion. I was howling at the excessive action.

[Laughs] Thank you. It was funny, we were joking that the stunt team had nothing to do in this episode. I’m like all right, we’ve got something! That explosion, again, was a great example of the crew going the extra mile. Because it wasn’t scripted that way. It was something like “The ship gets hit” and the stunt guys are like, “We can give you three ratchets and practical explosions.” It was so much fun. And I think Caity just killed it with her Shatner impression. One thing that was really great about the experiences is I think we all ended up having a really good time. Every day I think everyone was enjoying themselves.

You basically created Legends from whole cloth. You had Ray (Brandon Routh) already planted in the Arrow-verse, but this was your thing. You got to put this all together. How do you feel now seeing how far it has come?

I love it. I love the fact that there’s so much goodwill for this show. And it’s weird, I look back on the pilot, which on the one hand is the most different show ever. And it’s so different from what the show became, but there are moments in the pilot—like the bar fight in the ’70s to the score of “Love Will Keep Us Together”—that showed you inklings of what the show could be. Watching it evolve and watching it get even zanier and crazier after I stepped down as co-showrunner, it’s a great feeling. The writers are such a great, great group of people and Phil Klemmer creates and fosters such a wonderful environment. It’s so nice, it’s very gratifying. It’s like watching your kid grow up to become a Nobel Prize Laureate or something.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW