Article by Tanavi Patel
In contrast to National City’s typically Californian climate it’s a cold muggy morning in Robson Square, Vancouver as MyMBUZZ awaits the arrival of the Supergirl’s crew.
With less than four weeks to air date, director Glen Winter and his technical crew have only five days to prepare the shoot before they begin production on the season two finale of the Melissa Benoist-starring show. The crew certainly has its work cut out, and MyMBUZZ was kindly invited to watch them pull it all together.
Out And About In National City
Director Glen Winter is first to arrive and wastes no time in explaining the fight scene he wants to take place. We’re excited to find out it’s between Superman and Supergirl! “They are going to crash land in the square and destroy the steps. Superman is not himself ” explains Winter.
The epic fight involves crashing into surrounding buildings and a pool of water which Glen decides to light up for epic effect. “We’re going to drop a burning police car in front of it so you get the flames reflecting off the water. I always try to have something on fire because it’s good production value – it’s relatively cheap, the light looks cool and it makes you feel like something big has happened.”
Winter also reveals that Mon-El is on hand saving civilians, one of whom is Glen’s own son Max!
Winter is excited for this scene but is aware of a wardrobe issue. “The suits can’t get wet probably, but it is one of the last things we’re going to shoot all season, so if they get wrecked they can deal with it next year. But I have to convince [executive producer] Andrew [Kreisberg].”
As you can see from the final episode, Winter clearly won the argument…
There’s a lot to think about so what was Glen’s creative process? “I just drank a lot of coffee and sit in my house rocking back and forth! It’s quite an emotional experience. I read the script on the plane four days ago, the next day came to work, had a concept meeting where everyone sits and talks about their expectations and we can do this and that, then we went and looked at locations and Tyler our production designer said Robson Square would be perfect. But the scene was written to take place in the middle of the street so I had to adapt it.”
Soon the technical crew arrives and about 50 staff from various departments like art, stunts, construction, sound and lighting descend on the scenic square to take notes as Winter re-enacts the scene.
As we step off the bus into the next location we notice a familiar-looking office building. It’s the same place Oliver met Waller in Hong Kong in season three of Arrow, and the location of the Black Siren fight in The Flash.
“It’s a building that’s got an eighth floor that’s been gutted,” explains location manager Hans Dayal. “It’s been gutted for a long time so we often use it. It has a lot of depth and the windows give it a creepy feel.”
Getting equipment up onto the eighth floor, however, can be a struggle, sometimes requiring a crane! And even though the building multitasks on the various Arrowverse shows, the production teams still have to make sure that it visually fits in witg which DC city it’s supposed to be in that week. “That’s the lighting department,” says Dayal. “There’s a LOT of light in Supergirl; it’s much brighter than the other shows.”
“This is for the fight between Supergirl and Rhea” Glen Winter explains. “They’re going to push each other through the floor and end up one flight down. Rhea is going to get thrown into the fan – there’s lots of sparks and then she melts because Lena and Mon-El have a machine that shoots lead into the atmosphere. They had used it before, except it wasn’t lead it shot out – they did something else with it.” Winter is referring to the black body field generator Lena used to thwart Miner’s team in episode 2.05 “Crossfire”, which Winter also directed.
The crew is nearing the end of a long 10-month shoot and exhaustion setting in makes the mood a little sillier; a barking dog has the team in giggles! “This is what happens when you yell ‘explosion’ and then breathe in the fumes for a living!” jokes First AD Peter “Dash” Dashkewytch.
We step out onto the rooftop where the stunts crew map out the explosions for the start of the fight scene where the Daxamite ships arrive and a tussle ensues involving Supergirl, Queen Rhea, Mon-El and Lena. They try to add in as many fiery explosions, or sparks, as possible! It’s the same rooftop where Barry met Oliver in the pilot of The Flash.
“Lillian at the moment has kind of joined forces with Supergirl but she really is still evil!” Winter tells us. “Lena and Mon-El are working with Lillian because they have a common enemy. The [refashioned generator] spits lead into the air, which causes all the aliens to melt. So Mon-El has to leave in a pod.”
Winter seems to have a penchant for creating sparks and discussion soon gravitates back to blowing up an electrical box and a natural gas pipe.
“Half the time we spend is coming up with reasons to have fire and blow up stuff,” jokes Winter.
Making sure the director’s vision for the fights materialises is stunt co-ordinator Simon Burnett who was Stephen Amell’s stunt double for five years before he moved over to Supergirl, and he does’t miss Arrow: “It’s a new adventure, it’s good!””
The next location is a narrow city alley where they prepare another fight scene which they have only seven hours to film. Despite the rain it’s still easy to picture the scene as Glen describes the explosive battle to take place with Mon-El and the Martians entering from the alley to clash with the Daxamites on the street. M’Gann returns with some White Martians to lend a helping hand, so presumably her quest on Mars was successful.
At lunch some of the crew talk about working with director Kevin Smith. “He’s awesome! At one point he let a writer direct, saying, ‘Since all writers want to be directors we’ll let Gabe direct a scene!’ He’s such a positive guy. Every time he shows up morale goes through the roof. Sometimes we randomly start clapping saying, ‘Let’s give it up for whoever!’ That’s from Kevin Smith. And he made T-shirts for the crew saying, ‘I caught the clap from Kevin Smith!’
Next we find ourselves… in a field! Construction co-ordinator Mike McLeod explains it’s actually used in an earlier episode: “Air Force one is attacked by Daxamites so they’re battling in the plane, then a wing gets shot off and it crashes in a field, and they continue the battle in the field. Mon-El’s pod lands here and, in the finale, it’s where Mon-El takes off to an undisclosed location.”
The team jokes about who’s going to cut the unruly grass and who’s going to guard the single stick with a yellow ribbon that marks the pod landing site, as they won’t be shooting there for a few days.
After that we travel to Langley to visit the Fortress of Solitude!
First we enter a swing (meaning temporary) set in which the crew has built the bridge of the Daxamite mothership, complete with thrones! This is where we’ll see Supergirl, Zod and Superman battle. The team plans a fight on the bridge which will include Superman being thrown into a door. It will involve sparks, naturally.
We pass by Mon-El’s pod as we enter the icy palace which is filled with magnificent icicles. Mike explains they have previously filled the place with thousands of small plastic crystals and fake snow!
Meeting the Cast
Finally it’s time to hit the main sets and we head to Lena Luthor’s office where we meet Katie McGrath and Chris Wood and the two immediately have us in stitches with their great witty banter.
As Wood recognises we’re British, Canadian Glen Winter asks McGrath, “You’re British right?”
“I’m Irish, but you’re American right?” she’s quick to reply. Winter apologises by way of a kiss on the cheek and Wood immediately feigns disappointment until he also receives a kiss from Glen!
Wood and McGrath tease Winter for taking us on a tech scout. “You always get wet in this city,” Wood starts.
“Well at least you got lunch,” says McGrath. “It’s why I took up acting – the free food.”
Chris agrees: “Yep, that’s why we’re here!”
“You got to see a bunch of people in Gore-Tex shuffling about making notes? Wow that’s exactly the excitement you were thinking of right?” says McGrath. Her quick wit makes her a joy to chat with.
“It makes you want to do it sometime, doesn’t it?” suggests Winter, tongue firmly in cheek.
“Not so much,” Wood replies without missing a beat.
“I would do it, in this dress,” jokes McGrath, pointing out her stunning red gown complete with tiara. As we comment on how fantastic they both look, with Wood wearing his Daxamite prince outfit, he replies, “Thank you, I had the same dress on earlier but I had to change.”
“He looked better in it than me and I had a moment,” says McGrath. “So I made him get out of it. He has better boobs than I do.”
Wood agrees: “It was embarrassing.”
McGrath also reveals how her mates back home enjoy teasing her – they clearly share her wicked sense of humour. As the rain continues to fall in Vancouver her friends keeps sending her photos from sunny London just to annoy her. “It’s killing me!” she insists.
She also insisted on recording a special message for BUZZ writer Dave Golder, who interviewed her back when she was on Merlin… We think she’s being tongue-in-cheek!
We catch a glimpse of Chris and Katie on set in action aboard a Daxamite space ship filming for episode 2.21. It’s fun to see Mon-El pulling out some super moves against the Daxamite soldiers/guards and enjoying the action. One such soldier stops to tell us about their suits. “It’s not bad! It’s plastic and has some flex to it. Originally it was a bit rigid so if you fell on it it would poke you but it’s alright!”
Our attention is drawn back to McGrath’s outfit and she says, “I have a crown, so I do feel like the producers may have just decided to reinterpret Morgana” (the character she played in Merlin). So has McGrath managed to bring period drama to Supergirl? “I figured they needed an excuse to use my boobs on the show, and they couldn’t really do that in contemporary costume so… They have been Morgana-ed!”
With Mon-El and Lena working together in the latter part of the season, it’s great to see the show making use of their chemistry as friends.
Exploring Supergirl’s world
When the crew breaks for a late lunch, we take the opportunity to tour the empty sets including the DEO, CatCo, and Kara’s loft. As the sets aren’t in use the lights are off and some furniture is covered, but there is still a warmth to the atmosphere on the sets.
The vastness of the DEO set is impressive, and the balcony with its Supergirl-sized hole!
CatCo is in a state of disarray with papers strewn everywhere, but the attention to detail is still obvious, with front-page posters on the wall.
Kara’s loft is a little walk from the other sets and up a flight of stairs, but has a homely feel, and pretty comfortable bed! We also take a peak into a part of the loft we never see: Supergirl’s bathroom!
We then visit the green screen stage where shots of Supergirl flying are filmed. It’s apparently the biggest green screen stage on TV! It’s also a “floating set” so it rocks back and forth when they use the wires.
Supergirl’s stunt double, Atlin Mitchell, then joins in to enact a DEO fight scene in full Supergirl costume. Atlin previously played Caity Lotz’s stunt double on Arrow. There are seven people in the stunt team, working on various scenes simultaneously. It’s certainly fast-paced as stunt co-ordinator Simon Burnett explains he only has a couple of days to choreograph and practice the fights before they shoot! Plus each hero has their own style of fighting.
“We try to keep true to the lore and we give each person a style that we try and stick to. Atlin and I have known each other since we were kids and we’ve worked together for years so we’ve developed this shorthand that makes it easier.”
Regarding working with Stephen Amell he adds, “Stephen does a lot more stunts than most but as you can see with the schedule you need two people really doing fights, so it’s difficult.”
Finally we head to the alien dive bar, but not before we walk along a corridor that looks a little familiar. It was used to film Dean Cain’s rescue of Kara and Mon-El in episode 2.07. The rest of the Cadmus scenes were filmed in an entirely different location but as Dean Cain was only available in for the studio sessions and not for the location filming, they used one of the studio’s own corridors instead.
The dive bar has partly been turned into a triage area for episode 2×21, “Because the city is under attack there’s a bunch of people hiding here,”explains Glen Winter. “I love the scenes in here because there’s so much depth.”
And sitting in the booth we realise it’s pretty relaxing too, plus apparently you can really pour drinks at the bar! We make use of the amenable bar atmosphere to chat more to Winter. For him there isn’t much difference between shooting season one and season two, in terms of vibe despite the change of network. “It has got a lot more sci-fi though; that happens with all the Berlanti-verse shows!”
His favourite Supergirl episode is 1.11, which introduces the white Martians. He may have worked with three iterations of Superman (Dean Cain, Brandon Routh and Tyler Hoechlin) but his all-time favourite is Christopher Reeve – a popular choice.
More Cast Moments
We return to the shoot and finally see Melissa in action, in a blooper-reel worthy moment. As she takes on Daxamites with Lillian Luthor she charges down a spaceship corridor… and straight into the camera!
We also watch a location shoot in which Maggie and the NCPD take on the Daxamites who have taken the fight onto the streets. Simon Burnett explains, “We’ve just done an action scene where we crashed a bunch of cars and drove through a bus stop and shot a bunch of people. Nothing new. It’s all about the Daxamites taking over the world.”
Maggie herself, Floriana Lima, then appears and introduces herself with, “Hi, I have coffee all over me!” She seems very down-to-earth and when Simon commends her on her badass shooting style she simply says, “I don’t know – they told me how to do it. No tricks, I faked it!”
Later we meet up with Katie McGrath and Ben Bray, who is directing episode 2×21. He’s also directed episodes of Arrow as well as Legends of Tomorrow episode 2×15. He also has a lot of love for fellow directors Glen Winter and Antonio Negret. “Glen invented the transitions and they are amazing, eg, the one on Arrow which transitions from an arrow in his quiver to what looks like an arrow in shadow but then the camera pulls back to reveal a branch. He’s so talented, I hate him!”
So what’s Bray’s favourite transition of his own? “The chess piece transition in Arrow’s ‘Back To Bratva’.” Bray reveals there will be a transition with Rhea and Lena involving Christmas lights which he’s very proud of. Expect to see lots more episodes directed by Bray next season – he’s already signed up for Supergirl, Arrow and Legends, and is due to work on Lethal Weapon as well.
We have to explain transitioning to Katie McGrath as she’s not an Arrow watcher. There have been a few flashbacks in Supergirl, so I mention the flashback to Lena being adopted by the Luthors. McGrath was excited to see Lena’s backstory being explored but never met the actress playing young Lena. “I heard she was precocious,” she says, “which is perfect for a young me!” We will discover more about Lena’s past, especially now McGrath has been made a series three regular!
It’s finally time to head home with our Supergirl caps to shield us from Vancouver’s persistent rain, but it can’t dampen our excitement for the finale and what promises to be a even better season three with Supergirl still flying high.
The finale of Supergirl airs Tuesday 30th May on Sky1 in the UK and repeats on Sky2.