Legends of Tomorrow has gone to the past, to the future, and now it’s going inside the tube: On Tuesday’s episode (The CW, 9/8c), Charlie scatters her Waverider teammates throughout various TV shows to protect them from her sisters’ wrath.
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The installment marks the television directorial debut of former Arrow EP/current Legends consulting producer Marc Guggenheim, who was given the challenge of not only creating homages to Friends, Star Trek and Downton Abbey, but also had to figure out how not to crack up while shooting the hilarious hour. (Believe me, that’s a very tall task when you’re watching Dominic Purcell channel Khan!)
Below, Guggenheim details the old-school touches he brought to the “inventive” and heartfelt episode, and previews the difficult choice the Legends will face.
TVLINE | Of all the Arrowverse shows, what made Legends the right fit for your directorial debut? Was it just about timing, or was there something specifically about the show itself that made you want to direct it?
It was a little bit about timing. I never really wanted to direct Arrow. I’ve always sort of felt that Arrow is not a show that first-time directors should do — and that’s not to say that we haven’t had first-time directors on Arrow. But just the nature of the show, the nature of the action, it’s not a starter show, and I’ve been saying that, basically, for eight years. It would have been highly hypocritical of me to suddenly direct my first episode [on] Arrow. In Legends, obviously, I’ve worked on and have a closer connection to that show than I do the other shows, so it just made the most sense. Also, with Legends, I knew what kind of support system I would have there.
TVLINE | As a producer, having some insight into what’s happening on the show, did you handpick this episode? Or was it just random that you got something so magical?
Honestly, the only thing I handpicked was the slot. I wanted to pick an episode that was as far away from “Crisis on Infinite Earths” as I could get, because I didn’t want to be still working post [production] on “Crisis” and directing my first episode of television. As it turns out, there was a little bit of overlap. I did review some visual effects shots for “Crisis” while I was working on this episode.
I said to the writers, “Can you make it easy, please, like a clip show or something?” and then they gave me this, which was definitely throwing me in the deep end of the pool, but I really could not have asked for a better script. I wasn’t quite sure how tempted I would be to rewrite or do any sort of writing work on a script that I directed, and what was so great about the script that Grainne [Godfree] and James [Eagan] wrote was that I was never even tempted. From the very first draft, it was just a fantastic piece of writing. It was inventive, and it was fun, and it had heart to it. It was everything you could ask for in a script, including a huge intimidation factor, because when a script comes in that good, your first instinct is, “I have to make sure I don’t screw it up.”
TVLINE | What can you say about the TV show parodies that we’re going to see in this episode?
It’s Friends, Star Trek [and] Downton Abbey, with a bit of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood thrown in for good measure. What was so much fun about working on these little homages was we shot each one true to the spirit of those individual shows. For example, for Friends, the art department created a set that was like the proscenium, multi-camera set for a half-hour comedy, and we shot it like a multi-cam half-hour. We had three cameras working, and we staged it like you would stage an episode of Friends. With Downton Abbey, we favored long lenses, and when we’re in the kitchen with the servants, we go handheld.
With Star Trek, it’s a lot of dollies and sort of dramatic push-ins. So we really tried to not just make it look like the individual shows, but really make them feel [like the shows]. In fact, with Star Trip, we even shot the spaceships practically. We did miniatures instead of our normal CGI. So we built a Romulan ship, and we built the Faterider, and then we did a whole day of shooting against green screen. We did the old-school technique that, I think, ILM developed for Star Wars, where you move the camera, not the ships, and it creates the illusion that the ship is moving. So we brought out all the old-school techniques.
TVLINE | When you’re directing an episode like this that is so humorous, is it hard to keep a straight face on set? Was there a particular moment that you were just like dying?
So, so many times! Honestly, so many times. The truth of the matter is, a lot of times, if you looked over at me, I had both my hands over my mouth to make sure that I wouldn’t be audibly laughing. Or even, a lot of times, the actors are so great, you want to just yell out, “Yes!” or exclaim just how good this is, like you want to kind of squeal with delight. So it’s a quality problem, but it’s definitely one of the harder aspects of directing a show like this.
TVLINE | I couldn’t decide what was more wonderful: Caity Lotz’s Shatner impression or Dominic Purcell as Khan.
The funny thing about Dom is — and I think they’re both amazing — he’s actually never seen Wrath of Khan. So what you’re seeing there is his impression of my impression of Ricardo Montalbán. Everyone in the cast really absorbed and took to their parts like a duck to water, but Dom, he’s got the Khan bare chest outfit with the long, flowing hair, and he was just having the time of his life. It was really great to see. That’s the great thing about the Legends cast is there’s nothing off-limits. They tackle everything with absolute abandon.
TVLINE | As amusing as this episode is, it’s not just a one-off, funny Episode of the Week. How does it move the story arcs forward?
I think the last three episodes of the season are kind of a trilogy. Episode 13 leads into [Episode] 14, [which] leads into [Episode] 15. Without giving anything away, it says a lot about the relationship that Charlie has with the Legends and the relationship the Legends have with themselves. And in this episode, all the characters have to make a very sort of personal choice. It’s the classic hero’s journey choice of, “Do I live It’s a Wonderful Life, or do I accept reality and all the burdens and consequences that that brings?”