Vanessa's stuck in the science lab from hell ... and her mom's there, too? Be careful what you wish for ...
SPOILERS AHEAD as he speak with Neil LaBute about Van Helsing Season 2, Episode 10: "Base Pair."
1. After two episodes on the bench, Vanessa really takes center stage here. Were there any particular challenges in writing such a distinctly Vanessa-centric episode?
Vanessa is a character (and Kelly Overton is an actress) who likes to be up and moving — she relishes the physical contact with other characters, whether it's in battle or an argument or whatever that may be. We knew early in the writing of Season 2 that we wanted to have at least one episode that was all Vanessa, all the time, and this one turned out to be the right fit. One of our best writers, Jackie May, took on this episode and she created a nice layer of mystery along with the character study of Vanessa and her past. Our director (and Dmitri actor) Paul Johansson had to work quickly on this one — due to scheduling, he and director (and Axel actor) Jonathan Scarfe were shooting simultaneously back to back episodes and it stretched our cast and crew to their limits. Luckily for Paul, much of the action (other than the teaser, which gives us more access to the Red Balloon story) of episode 210 was limited to the BlakTek facility and so more time could be spent on shooting rather than moving trucks back and forth to various locations. One of the big challenges of this particular episode was just the amount of work that you hang on your lead actress, especially as she was then at a further stage in her pregnancy and being such a big part of the episode translated into a lot of time in front of the camera. Luckily, Kelly was a real trooper and between her and her amazing stunt double (Holly Raczynski) we managed to get everything on the page.
2. There's an old-school horror film feel going on in this episode in particular, complete with body horror elements, failed lab experiments and shady scientists. Were there any strong cinematic influences on this episode when you were writing it and shooting it?
I don't think these ideas were lost on us — the 'horror' elements — but one of the big difficulties we discussed was trying to have conventional 'scares' in a location that was, for the most part, well lit. I did a movie remake of The Wicker Man years ago and learned the hard way how hard it is to create a scary atmosphere when the sun is beating down and we ran that risk in the BlakTek labs and hallways. Between Paul (our director) and Brendan Uegama (our director of photography), I think we were able to find some solutions along the way but I still find it a tall order to create 'horror' in the day time or in a bright, well-lit space. God bless Stanley Kubrick and his insane take on Stephen King's The Shining to prove that it can be done, but it's not easy. Thankfully, our vampires supported us even at BlakTek and we let the blood flow on several occasions but that was the biggest hurdle for me: creating mood and suspense out of thin air and nicely lit interiors.
3. This episode also played out as something of a mystery, as Vanessa traverses this new environment, gauging who she can trust and who she can't. Was Kelly Overton kept in the dark about any of the plot and character twists to further fuel that sense of mystery?
No, Kelly had the script in hand at least an episode or two ahead of filming it — which is pretty standard practice for a show unless you're in some kind of difficult position — but things always change and she and the director and the writers are constantly tweaking things to make more sense, create greater suspense, fixing moments that you've already created previously and now they clash with what's on the page, etc. This part of the process is a constant give and take and you have to stay open to it, not get offended when an actor or a crew member has a question — you never know where the next great idea is going to come from. That said, I've been in situations where I liked the idea of two actors (in character) having their own secrets and not revealing them to the rest of the cast or crew, but you never want an actor feeling insecure about the material they're doing or in the dark about something that they should know. We want the audience to make their way through the mystery but the characters (and especially the actors), while sometimes seemingly at a loss, should always be in control of where the episode and their characters are going.
4. Vanessa's 'mother,' Abigail, had (at least for a while) an endearing 'fairy-tale grandmother' quality to her, to the point where I wished we could've seen her do some scenes with Dylan in some alternate reality where Dylan's still alive. Was the fairy tale atmosphere a conscious choice and something we'll see more of?
I'm glad that you noticed the fairy tale quality of this episode — I think Jackie did a great job in combining elements to create a very unique story this time around. Not only are there mystery beats throughout but the idea of 're-connecting with your past' and 'being careful of what you wish for' create an interesting dynamic between Vanessa and all the new characters she encounters in episode 210. Even the setting — a rock fortress in the middle of a snowy mountain range — has a quality of 'other-worldliness' or 'fairy tale' to it. We also deal with a character who is somewhat magical (he doesn't age), monsters in dungeons (or locked cages, at least) and voices whispering from behind walls. I think episode 210 feels and looks different than everything else we've done up until now, and that's a good thing. And just so the world knows it, that voice behind the wall was none other than yours truly! I did the work track for the editor and I expected it to be changed but it never was. How embarrassing!
5. Have to admit, I didn't see that final reveal coming…
Glad you didn't see the final beat coming — it would suck if you did but no doubt someone watching figured it out; mysteries are hard to pull off but I think we did a pretty good job of it. I thought that the final confrontation between Vanessa and Abigail was a great moment and played very well between the two actors (Kelly Overton and Colleen Winton) and seeing Vanessa on the floor, shot but still defiant, was a really strong beat in our story and says everything you need to know about that character. The big mystery now is what comes next for Vanessa (if anything)? I'll never tell...
6. What was your favorite scene in this episode, and why?
For all the great work that the actors did in the main story, I was really glad to see the isolated teaser that once again shows us a little fragment of the Red Balloon story. It was fun to create this contained moment for a character we don't know, stumbling along toward Crooked Falls and us recognizing the balloons and then suddenly, the entire moment turns from hopeful to horrid thanks to a feral vampire. The sound design is really delicious in that scene and I love all the vampire make-up this year as well (thanks to Tamar Ouziel and her wonderful team). I've really grown to love the 'teaser' (the scene before the credits) as a writer — it can be used in so many interesting ways, including flashbacks, isolated moments or peeks into the future. Look forward to more good teasers from us in the near future.