'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' director breaks down last week's amazing fight scene
On last week’s episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Skye (Chloe Bennet) got a chance to shine when she used her combination of S.H.I.E.L.D. training and Inhuman powers to take down HYDRA and save Lincoln from a fate worse than death. The director of the episode, Kevin Tancheroen, also got a moment to shine with his single-take action sequence that was more reminiscent of dance choreography than modern television cinematography. HitFix Harpy spoke with Tancheroen by phone about how that jaw-dropping scene came to be.
But first, see what all the buzz was about!
HITFIX HARPY: Thanks for taking the time to talk about that amazing sequence last week. It was great to see something so stylistically complex on primetime television.
Kevin Tancharoen: I’m so happy that you liked it. It seems there’s a lot of people responding to it. I talked to Matt Mullins, the fight coordinator/choreographer, and Tanner the stunt coordinator. We’re all very thrilled. And Chloe Bennet really wanted to make that shot dynamic – I’ve really got to give the prompts to her. She did a really, really phenomenal job.
I think people are just so tired of the really choppy Jason Bourne…
Yeah, in their face shaky cam.
I’m so happy you said that. These are conversations I have quite often. I really actually love the Bourne series and I thought esthetically it fit that movie. What I didn’t like is that everyone started copying it. It just started feeling like “Jason Bourne was cool so we should do that.” My personal preference doesn’t lean toward that style of frenetic shooting. Maybe that’s just because of my background in choreography. It’s drilled in my head that the camera has to complement the movement of the action.
At first I think a lot of people thought we were crazy for trying to pull off a one-take action shot on our schedule. But we pulled it off.
How did that pitch meeting go?
At first it started with me and the fight coordinator. Everyone really liked the May versus May fight with the slam on the table counter. So we were trying to figure out what we could do next and I jokingly said, “Let’s do a one shot action scene.” Then we looked at each other and thought maybe we should.
Was it a daunting prospect for the show’s schedule?
Everybody was on board to do it. But there are just a million things that can happen on the day of shooting. There were so many stunt people. There had to be a steam shot that went off at the right time. It was just a lot of variables. But luckily for us it took four takes and we got it.
That’s kind of amazing. Which one did you end up using?
We used the last one actually which is amazing. There were a couple of little things wrong on the first three shots. But we were pretty stubborn about making sure it was all done in one shot so we didn’t have to cut around it. And luckily for us – well not luckily because it was unfortunate – but on the last take Chloe hurt her elbow a little bit, nothing really bad. So luckily we got it on the last take because she just hit it ever so slightly while she was doing a frontward roll and it like tapped the ground. She could have kept going but she wasn’t 100 percent anymore.
How long did Chloe and the stunt guys have to practice before the shot?
I’m always a big believer in rehearsal. But the thing with our schedule on this show is it’s incredibly aggressive. So rehearsal was a little difficult because there are always a million things going on. But we were able to sneak in one rehearsal at a gymnastics place. Me and the fight coordinator and the stunt people and Chloe just went in and we rehearsed for a couple of hours. Then we snuck in one more very, very small rehearsal on the stage day and that was it. So we had maybe a few hours of rehearsal for her to make that all come together.
That’s a pretty intense timetable.
It was great. Chloe’s become a helluva action hero. If you give her something she’ll learn it. With that said, we had perhaps five things we had to change on the day of filming because that’s the first time that we got to see the set. They don’t build set until maybe a couple of days before the shoot or even the day before the shoot or, sometimes even the morning of the shoot. We didn’t have time to go to the art department and the set decorators and tell them how it needed to be configured. So the morning of the shot we had to reconfigure some of the action and then walk the camera operator through it.
If it weren’t for the crew, knowing how to work really fast and keep up the pace, I’m not really convinced we would have gotten it.
It turned out great. I thought for sure there would have had to have been more time involved to get – that just seems like a lot of moving parts.
It is a lot of moving parts. For example. The steam effect had to go at the right time. With the air canister, it’s not one of those things where you press a button and it just shoots out. You have to warm it up and let it roll for ten seconds and then turn it off and then pray to God that by the time you get to it it has enough juice left in it.
Our special effects guy had to time it out perfectly with Chloe’s gunshot. He had to like anticipate her running to the corner and mentally countdown “Five, four, three, two..” and press the button. But it worked.
I kind of wish in hindsight that somebody videotaped the video village while this was going on. There were a couple of producers behind me and the look on our faces as it was all happening. We’re holding our breath, thinking “Please make sure this all goes right. I hope the camera operator doesn’t fall over.”
Our camera operator – it was handheld. So he had his eye on the eyepiece and had to run all over the place with this really heavy camera on his shoulder. We got lucky. We made it work. It was a very exciting set day. Everyone was pretty amped.
When you guys filmed this, did you know that the director of “Daredevil” had done his own long shot in episode two or was this just serendipity?
No, we totally did not know that. When we were coming up with it we had no idea because schedules vary so drastically. So for a second when I saw it, I thought “Damn.” But then it was great because it’s all within the Marvel Universe so it felt like a cohesive creative concept at play here.
I feel like for people who grew up loving film and loving process there was something very magical about the craft and how they in a way films were made back in a day when there was a lack of technology. I think when you have a one-shot take, people subconsciously recognize that it was a massive effort and everyone had to be on the same page and everyone had to work as a unit.
Are you directing any more this season on S.H.I.E.L.D. or was that sequence your pièce de résistance?
That was my final episode for this season. Let’s see what happens. No one knows if there’s a season three quite yet but everyone’s knocking on wood. I’m knocking on wood as well.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs on Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC.