‘Supernatural’: Behind the Scenes of Season 11’s ‘Baby’ (PHOTOS)
Supernatural took on one of its craziest concepts yet in Season 11’s “Baby,” an episode “told” from the perspective of Dean’s beloved car.
And it took a lot to make the unique hour work. Series star Jensen Ackles (Dean), episode writer Robbie Thompson and director Thomas J. Wright look back at “Baby.”
Robbie Thompson: As much as I love writing monsters and action scenes and fight scenes, my favorite scenes to write are in the car with the boys. Number one, you get two great actors who know those characters almost as much as the rest of us do; probably more. And it’s in a controlled environment, so they can play around a little bit and have those moments.
We’re a really plot-driven show, which is great. As a writer, any time there’s structure, it’s fantastic. But as a result, you don’t always get to have moments of pausing and shining a light on different aspects of characters we’d all love. You’re trying to get to the next scene or figuring out a clue.
I kept realizing, through the course of writing, in the car scenes you always got one or two fun moments. The first episode I ever wrote, I put in “All Out of Love,” and it was a very honest moment between two brothers. I kept writing those moments, and thought, wouldn’t it be fun to write a whole episode of just those scenes? And the scenes we never get to see: the moments between moments.
I pitched it a couple of times before, and [former showrunner] Jeremy [Carver] and [executive producer] Bob [Singer] were open to it. But I didn’t have what they call a “story.” That was sort of a problem. This year, the timing of it ended up working out right. The first three episodes felt like a movie in some respect, so it felt like time to take a pause, take a breath, and let the boys just be the boys. And so when I was pitching it out, I pitched it out with that intention to Jeremy and Bob, who were always open to unusual ideas.
Thomas J. Wright: “Baby,” they actually got to me early, because they had really saved it for me to do. My first read on it was, “Wow. Terrific.” It was really different. And so of course, my head’s spinning about all kinds of things that get in the way. But eventually it all calmed down, and I was just really happy to get this episode, because it was a lot of fun.
Jensen Ackles: There was nothing I could rely on that we’ve done before, because this was a completely different thing that we’d ever done, both storytelling and technically. The fact that we were shooting everything from essentially one character’s perspective, and that character happens to be a car, but keeping everything inside, I knew it was going to be much more of a technical challenge than it was a performance challenge. Performance-wise, it didn’t change a whole lot other than the fact that it was actually a little bit more freeing, I would say, because they would set up multiple cameras and multiple angles, and then they’d just send us off on the road with nobody else in the car but the actors. And so we were able to just kind of free-form, and do the scene. If we messed up, we’d stop, we’d go back, and just continue on.
But it was really interesting because it really felt like Sam and Dean driving along the highway in an Impala. You didn’t have, you know, two dozen crewmen staring at you holding equipment, holding a boom, holding a camera, working the dolly. There was none of that, it was just two guys in a car driving, with little cameras set up around the car, so that aspect of the filmmaking, it was almost a little more like a live performance, which was really cool, you know? Because that’s something is a totally different medium within the acting realm, that if you’re film and television, you don’t get to experience that much. Unless you’re doing live television, which is half-hour comedy format, which is a totally different ballgame too. But even that, you’ve got camera guys and you can start and stop, and you can go back, and you’ve got marks and you’ve gotta find your light, and you’ve gotta do all that while an audience is watching. With this, it was none of that.
There was a few times, when we were still trying to dial in the process of filming it, where and I remember Jared [Padalecki (Sam)] said he had a hard time with it. So basically what they did was, they had to mount a camera onto the hood of the car, facing directly into the windshield and covering whoever’s coverage that was. So they did Jared first, and essentially he couldn’t see straight ahead down the road. All he could see was right and left, because there was a huge, there was a bounce, and then in order to have the camera there, it had to have a black flap underneath it which protected the reflection off the glass. Very technical stuff and it took forever just to rig the car.
Shooting the actual scenes took no time, the day was spent really rigging the car, making sure that there were no reflections, making sure that everything was gonna stay in focus, that the cameras were gonna stay mounted to the car, because that’s the last thing you want is, you know, hitting a bump and then all of a suddenly the two-hundred-thousand dollar camera goes flying off the car. So gripping it down, making sure everything was dialed in properly before they sent us out on the road, and this particular camera shot completely obscured Jared’s view of the road. And he was sitting in the passenger seat, so it was okay, but he was still like, “This is really making me uncomfortable. Like, I can’t see where we’re going!” And I’m like, “Just wait ’til they go to my coverage!” Which they ended up doing! And they were like, “Jensen, can you see?” and I’m like, “I’ll use peripheral, just make sure nobody’s down the road in the center of the lane, because I’ll hit ’em.”
So luckily, I’m very comfortable driving that car, and very comfortable performing while driving and we were able to get it done. But yeah, I would say the technical hurdles that we had to jump were really the most challenging. The performing of it was really kind of fun, and unique, and free.
Thompson: I think early on in the break[ing of the episode], we started talking about the Jack Kirby comic books, starting late and then flashing back. That sort of helped us loosen it up. It was fun to not know where it was going. It was a little scary, because the show is very regimented. I don’t want to say it’s a formula, because that sounds bad, but it has a set structure when it’s a monster of the week episode like this one. It was fun to wander; my goal for it was, “I want to write a really long scene.” Typically, our scenes are like two to three pages long. The scene where they sleep in the car, it’s six minutes. They did each take on their coverage…and those boys did the entire scene flawlessly. It was fun to let the scene breathe.
Wright: The most difficult for us to get I guess—this sounds crazy, out of all the stuff we did—was the shot of Jensen and Jared lying down in the car at the end of the scene, and doing the shot above them. Because here are two big guys, right? Two really big guys, and they could lay in the seats in the car! Because their they were hanging out at the knees on. So I had to set the shot such that you didn’t realize the doors were open, and that they just stretched out, laid down, and went to sleep. But in reality, when you see the thing, it was kind of funny, because they’re in the car with their legs and feet are sticking up, so that was the most difficult one, actually! That I can remember.
But it kind of was a kick, because it really read simply until we got them in the car and started to rehearse the scene, and all of a sudden we realized that they couldn’t really lay down in the car. So we got this car sitting out on the bridge, and there were two guys in it, and their feet and legs are sticking out the doors, so it’s kind of funny. It worked beautifully. I mean, everybody loved it. Everybody loved the shot, it worked really well.
Ackles: A lot of those moments were just kind of real. You know, I don’t think it’s any secret that Jared and I are very good friends when the camera’s not rolling. And so, he and I spend… it’s almost sad to say that I think he and I spend more time together than we do with our own wives, unfortunately, because we spend so much time at work. So there is certainly a brotherly rapport that he and I have, constantly. And we joke, and we laugh, and we have a lot of inside jokes between us, and we know each other’s comedy. We know know each other pretty well, so when we’re just sitting there, gearing up for [shooting] I noticed that they took a lot of stuff that wasn’t actually in the script. Or at least moments that weren’t, where Jared and I were not really in-character just yet. And it was because they had to set up, then the crew ran away, and we had to drive over to our start mark.
So those whole few minutes of us just kind of driving the car with the camera rolling, they actually took some of that footage and spliced it in with the final edit. But those are moments, you can do them as those brother moments, but it’s also just two really good friends hanging out.
Wright: The camera never gets out of the car til the last shot, and I did the last shot myself. And, as they drive away. But the camera never got out of the car, everything happened from the car’s point of view, of course, and the actors, every single one of them, did their own driving, did their own stunts, and it was like, “Here’s what we’re doing in this scene now, guys.” You’d have a little talk with them, everybody goes over their material; the boys for instance, Jensen and Jared, I would go over the stuff with them. They were right on, as usual. And I say, “Here’s where you’re driving to, when you’re done, come back, and we’ll do it again if we have to,” whatever.
So we go through the stuff, [yell] “Action,” they drive off and we couldn’t really see them or be with them until they came back, and we could check the camera, and decided whether we needed to do another take or not. So they would take off and we’d see ’em when they’d get back. Then we’d look at the chip and either send them out for another take or whatever. The same with the girls in the car when we were shooting all the action stuff in the car. They were great. The actors were fantastic, every one of them. It’s like they just walked in, they do this all the time, and most of them had never done this.
So for a bottle show…in reality, we were out all over the countryside. And it was just a great experience. I keep saying it, because it was. And everything just went really well.
Ackles: We’re so used to a certain style of filmmaking, doing the show for over a decade now, that the fight scenes are usually done very similar. They’re done handheld, the camera operator [is] usually right in there with you, and you’re very aware of where that camera is, because A) you want to make sure that you’re on camera, and B) you want to make sure you don’t hit the camera. And so that’s usually a very well-choreographed dance. But when you take a camera and you keep it inside the car, then, I remember we asked [the crew], “Okay, where are we on camera, where are we not on camera?” They kind of gave us the screen size: “Okay, don’t go past the stump and on the right side, don’t go past the second tree.” It’s like, really? We have a whole stage to play with!
So we just did the scene as though there was nobody there, it was kind of great. And that’s really cool. We’re used to having equipment so close to us, and being very aware of that, so it kind of maybe curved the performances to cater to the lens. But when you take the lens away, it’s just like, “Oh! Well. All right, let’s just have a fight!”
Wright: We had five cars [during filming]. Because while we going running and shooting and playing the scenes, we would be prepping another car for what followed, so we didn’t lose a lot of time. It took a little more time than usual to prep cameras in and on the car, because I was using so many.
So if I’m looking one way, I have to really be careful what I’m seeing, because of where I placed the other cameras. In other words, this camera can’t look into the face of that camera, you know. So it would take a little time, and then the guys had special rigs. And after the first day, I’d say, the crew was becoming smooth as silk, and the third day, they had it down, pretty much. And were doing some pretty complicated shots.
The girls driving, they did all of that themselves. And we found this big lot, and the stunt coordinator and myself talked to them about how I wanted to do this, and he said, “Okay girls, here’s what you have to do.” And I said, “Okay girls, when you’re acting, here’s what I want you to do while you’re driving the car at 50 miles an hour around in a circle.” And they took off like they were at Disneyland or somewhere. It was, and they didn’t want to get out because they were having so much fun. It was all well-controlled and everything really prepped well, so we knew from one spot to the next exactly what was going on. We had sets built out on locations. It was a big deal. But it was a lot of fun!
Ackles: [What I learned as a director is] you don’t have to go the proven path when capturing certain elements of the show. I don’t mean let’s reinvent the wheel of Supernatural; but I just mean, like, this was so out-of-the-box, technically, in the way that we captured the film, in the way that we captured the action and tell the story, and it worked in my opinion. I think it was one of our best episodes ever. And I think that breaking from the norm every now and again to kind of serve the audience something that’s a little different is not a bad thing. Shaking it up a bit is a great thing, and I always think about the quote that [late Supernatural director] Kim Manners gave me many years ago. He said, “Give them what they want, the way they don’t expect it.” I think that, if we can continue to do shows like “Baby,” we’re still kind of in the pocket.
Thompson: Each department went how do we turn this potential weakness—that it’s only going to be the car—into a strength? Everybody elevated their game, it was a lot of fun to put together.
“Baby” was hands down the most fun I had writing on the show. It was a challenge, it was difficult at times. But to be able to live in those spaces with those actors and that director, it was a lot of fun.
Supernatural, Season Premiere, Thursday, October 13, 9/8c, The CW