Shoot the Messenger‘s second episode, airing Monday, dives deeper into the complex case Daisy, Kevin, and now Simon, are working.
Imagine those complexities compounded by the fact that you’re processing them out of order. That was the situation the cast of Shoot the Messenger faced during production on the first season, when the show was “block shot,” maximizing available sets and locations by shooting multiple episodes on the same day. I spoke with series stars Elyse Levesque, Lyriq Bent, and Lucas Bryant about the challenge of locking in their characters when they were shooting scenes keyed off of other scenes or plot developments that hadn’t yet been filmed.
Levesque had dabbled in block shooting on a much smaller scale, but doing it for an entire season of Shoot the Messenger was new territory for her. “On Cedar Cove, we would do two episodes at once. Usually the formula is that you block shoot one location all in one day [from different angles]. This was next level. When they told me what they were doing, I had a miniature panic attack,” she recalls. “I had prepped the whole first episode and then I got the shoot schedule and it was [episode scenes for episodes I didn’t have scripts for yet].”
“I can’t imagine having done it without someone like Sudz Sutherland at the helm. He directed five out of eight and he was present for many of the days when we were working with the other directors. It was a lot to negotiate in our mind. I feel bad for our continuity lady. It was must have been a nightmare. It was a full-on operation. It presented an interesting challenge. I remember the first week of filming, I did a scene from pretty much every episode [in one day and got] the scenes the night before. You almost really had to go with whatever was going on in the moment and hope that it plays.”
Bent says this was his first time block shooting, and it was daunting but turned out to be a great learning experience. “It was a very different way of shooting [and] quite shocking to me because now I had to, on a dime, refocus my thoughts on how to execute emotions and [tap] into those emotions a lot quicker and be honest and truthful to them,” he says.
“It was a very difficult and interesting experience but one that I’m so excited that I had, because a month later [I did it again] and I was in my element and I found myself at an advantage because of that experience. It almost makes sense to block shoot at this point. Change [and] the unknown are always things that I embrace. Things that scare me are the things that make me go at it. Everybody really pulled their bootstraps up and said, ‘this is what we’re doing.'”
Bryant enjoyed the challenge of the shooting style. He’d done batch shoots of multiple seasons for Haven, but not true block shooting on this scale. “It was intimidating to go into but it had its benefits and its difficulties. One of the great things was that because we were shooting according to location, we shot in The Gazette where Simon and Daisy work for about two weeks straight and we did all the scenes in the office in a row, not necessarily in order,” he explains.
“It meant that the people that we were having our day-to-day office life with were coming into the office and shooting office stuff for a continuous period of time. I think that really contributed to an authentic feel of the way this place runs rather than jumping in for a couple of hours every couple of days. We got to hang out intensely with each other for such a crammed time period.”
Bryant says it was interesting to watch the directors juggle the shooting arrangement, too. “We had a couple of directors [for the season] … each shooting multiple episodes, and they would do their best to schedule the director on the day [to shoot all of their episode’s scenes]. We did have situations where we had multiple directors in one day, and that got tricky. They’d shoot 90% of their episodes and disappear for two weeks until [we were back at their location].”
“One of the great benefits of the way they put together the shooting [was] that they had the scripts written, for the most part. You could see where you were going and why you were going there and chart that as an actor. When I was shooting Haven, I hardly ever knew what was coming next. I gave into that process by accepting that Nathan didn’t know what the hell was going to happen in the future, either. When you’re shooting eight episodes, you need to know where and why you are and how you got there.”
Shoot the Messenger airs Mondays at 9 pm/9:30 NT on CBC.
Updated March 2018: WGN America Season 1 is now airing in the US Monday nights at 10 pm/9c.
Photo Courtesy of CBC