As one of the chief architects of the Arrowverse, Marc Guggenheim has been involved with crafting over 200 hours of The CW's superhero universe. He co-created Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow, oversaw this season's epic "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover, and conceived and wrote the tie-in animated series Vixen and Freedom Fighters: The Ray. But he'd never stepped behind the camera to direct.
That changes with this week's episode of Legends of Tomorrow, "The One Where We're Trapped on TV," an ambitious installment that features call-outs to several iconic TV series. Following last week's heartbreaking defeat by the Fates sisters, the team has been transported into various television shows, unaware of their true identities or that they are living in a dystopian timeline that's been rewritten by the Loom of Fate.
Nate, Zari, and Behrad star in Ultimate Buds, a Friends-like sitcom; Constantine and Astra are transported to Highcastle Abbey, a Downton Abbey homage; and Sara and Ava give inspired impressions of Kirk and Spock in Star Trip, a parody of the classic Star Trek series. Later, they all wind up on Mister Parker's Cul de Sac, a twisted version of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Those disparate settings made Guggenheim's directorial debut particularly challenging. And though he is a consulting producer on Legends, he was not involved in creating the script for this episode, which was written by executive producers Grainne Godfree and James Egan last fall while Guggenheim was busy working on the final episodes of Arrow (including the potential Green Arrow and the Canaries spinoff) and the "Crisis" crossover. And that was by design. "I wanted to get the true experience, it should be like being an episodic director where I'm just handed a script," he tells SYFY WIRE.
Originally, Guggenheim had playfully lobbied his colleagues for a gentle introduction to the director's chair. "I kept sticking my head in the writers' room and saying, 'Give me an easy one!'" he says. "And they come up with five different looks instead. I think we all had a really good laugh about it. It was interesting because it was kind of like film school. The one thing I knew pretty much from the very beginning was that I wanted to direct each of those five worlds in the style that has already been established. It really required a lot of going back and watching a lot of the shows we were homaging with a different eye, with an eye towards what makes this show visually a show."
The results are convincing, including some impressive craftsmanship to recreate the aesthetic of each show. The Ultimate Buds set is a perfect replica of Monica and Rachel's apartment from Friends, which was built from scratch. "I gotta give a major shout out to the art department," Guggenheim says. "Any one of those looks is a full episode’s worth of work. To do it five times over — and just to be clear, it's not like they got five times the amount of money or five times the amount of time. They did all this in the normal prep schedule."
Guggenheim says he finally took the directing plunge to help jolt him out of a creative slump, at the encouragement of Arrowverse boss Greg Berlanti. "He suggested that I do something that scared me," Guggenheim says. "And he suggested that I direct. I had never really thought about directing, but the idea kind of grew in my consciousness, and the more I thought about it the more excited I got about the prospect. Also terrified."
Though he's a TV veteran (his other credits including everything from Law & Order to Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia), he admits it was a tough task — but ultimately a rewarding one. "The first day was really hard; we had 14 hours [of shooting] and a million set-ups and I was like, 'This is nightmare, I just need to survive,'" he admits. "By the end of the second day I was like, 'I can do this, I'm not panicking, but I never want to do this again.' By the end of the third day, I was like, 'When can I direct again?' So I was definitely surprised by how much I ended up really enjoying the experience."
Luckily, Legends' current fifth season (which concludes June 2) finished production prior to the coronavirus crisis. The ensuing pause has given Guggenheim a chance to fulfill his New Year's resolution of writing new creator-owned comic books (he's a longtime writer for both Marvel and DC), and get started on several projects in development, including the screenplays for potential film adaptations of the Image Comics series Prophet and the Spider-Man character Jackpot.
As for the Arrowverse, Guggenheim does hint at another potential animated tie-in series. "There's something in the works that is really, really awesome," he teases. "And will make a lot of people happy." Beyond that, it's yet to be determined when he might return to Earth-Prime. "With the end of 'Crisis,' with the end of Arrow, I felt like a chapter had definitely ended," he says. "I was in the process of talking with Warner Bros. about what the next chapter would look like when the pandemic hit. At some point I imagine we will resume those conversations, but the answer is unfortunately lost in the limbo that we're all currently living in."
DC's Legends of Tomorrow "The One Where We're Trapped on TV" airs Tuesday, May 26 at 9 PM ET on The CW.