Interview with Guy Norman Bee
Most often when we think of guest stars for a show, we think of those that are in front of the camera. But that is not where all the superstars work their magic. There is one guest star for each episode that stays behind the camera and has one of the most important roles for the series. That is the director, and we are fortunate to have one of the most well-known “Supernatural” directors for our interview series – Guy Norman Bee.
Guy offers a behind-the-camera view into an aspect of media production rarely talked about, but one of the most fascinating components of the industry. After consistently working for years as a Steadicam operator, he made the difficult transition to director and has since become one of the most popular and sought out one-hour drama directors in Hollywood.
He has directed three episodes of the “Supernatural” so far: "Asylum" (season 1), "Family Matters" (season 6), and the highly anticipated western "Frontierland" (season 6). He has also directed episodes of a number of other primetime shows, including “Criminal Minds,” “Harper's Island” (which starred Katie Cassidy and Jim Beaver of “Supernatural”), “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “Third Watch” and many more.
Guy Norman Bee continues to awe fans with his dynamic style and personality, and much to the delight of the “Supernatural” clan, this season we get to see Guy’s special talent on not one, not two, but three episodes. And, as Guy has so much fun with his work and the fans, we can expect more wonderful tweet teasers and twitpixs from him during his directing days. YEE HAW…oops, slipping back into “Frontierland” mode. Hehehe.
He is a competent and highly respected director that loves realism in his work, which he blends with atmospheric music befitting the action, plus colorful cinematography. He credits learning his directorial skills from his years as a camera operator, which allowed him to work closely with the superstars and directors on such huge feature films as “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” “Deep Impact,” “Titanic,” “Crazy in Alabama,” and more. What an absolute treat it is to have a director of his stature for our summer series.
As you’ll see in the interview, this is one busy boy, and we thank him tremendously for taking the time to do this discussion with us. But more importantly, we thank Guy for being the badass director that he is and hope that he never changes. I, for one, am looking forward to Guy’s magical touch in season seven. Enjoy!
How did you get started in directing television and why did you take that course in your career?
I was a camera operator for 12 years (1989-2000) and worked on a variety of projects through the years… in 1994 I was called by some producers at Warner Brothers who wanted to replace their Steadicam operator on a new drama series – that series was called “ER” and it had just premiered to great ratings.
I became the main camera operator from episode 7 of season #1 until the end of season #2 (around 40 episodes) – I went on to work on other TV series and movies but always kept in touch with the 2 main producers, John Wells and Chris Chulack. The deal I struck with them was that in the future I would love to rejoin them on a new series and help set the look and style of the new show from the pilot episode, with the agreement that I would eventually get a shot to direct an episode if it went to series.
At the beginning of ’99 I got a call from Mr. Chulack saying that he was directing a pilot called “Third Watch” in NYC and our deal stood… Help me with the pilot (as the camera operator) and if we get a 13 episode pickup you can direct an episode, (I quit the movie “Magnolia” turned down “West Wing” and moved to New York) – On a handshake I agreed and ended up directing 2 episodes that first season and eventually 13 episodes over the course of the first 4 seasons.
Your first directing episode for “Supernatural” was “Asylum” in 2005. Can you talk a little about your experience filming that episode? I understand it was filmed in a real insane asylum. Did the atmosphere of the building give you any unique ideas for filming any of the scenes? Did you have free reign to film anywhere in the building or were you restricted to certain areas?
I believe the episode was written knowing that this decommissioned (and creepy) mental institute (Riverview) existed and would make for a great location for the episode… it truly is another character in the story! I think we shot 7 days of our 9 day schedule at the Riverview location - Jerry Wanek and the art dept. recreated a few rooms on stage for us to shoot in – It’s virtually impossible to distinguish between the location and sets! The real location is not even close to that level of decay and filth – that was all the product of the art and paint departments… stunningly effective! The location is used by film crews quite frequently so it’s kept very clean for TV and movie projects that want to use the hallways as a modern hospital or school, we spent days making it look that crappy and then had to go back and clean it up!
Because it’s a “real” location creatively you get inspired and the creative juices flow but because it’s not a set you can’t remove walls or put camera and lighting equipment in the perfect places so you’re a bit handcuffed but I felt the trade off was worth it! We shot on every floor (including the basement) with the exception of the top floor… the crew members who had shot there previously (myself included) all had stories about the things that had taken place up there… and the ghost stories that went with them!
Before I shot “Asylum” John Shiban and Richard Hatem sent me 2 DVD’s of movies that had inspired them while they were writing the script – “A Tale of Two Sisters” from South Korea and “Shutter” from Thailand (both have since been remade as American movies) – Of course I watched them and they scared the S$%t out of me but they were great inspiration for what we were going for!
One of my fondest memories of that episode was my introduction to the amazing Director of Photography, Serge Ladouceur. Aside from creating stunningly beautiful images quickly (it’s not easy!) Serge is a consummate gentleman – I could work the rest of my life with him as my only cameraman and be happy!
I knew the episode was a big fan favorite but most importantly to me is the fact that Jared and Jensen consider it one of their favorites… That’s priceless!
The next episode you directed wasn’t until this season’s “Family Matters.” Was it difficult to come back after five years and direct an episode again? The storyline underwent a noticeable evolution in that time, but did you see an evolution in the cast and crew, as well?
Honestly it was almost like no time had passed! When I showed up to prep in Sept. ’10 (almost exactly 5 years from the time I did “Asylum”) The offices and 95% of the crew were the same! A real testament to the chemistry created early on in the Supernatural family. I had been in touch with some of the crew and J&J in the years between because I travel to Vancouver for work quite a bit (Harper’s Island, Kyle X/Y, etc.) and hoped to “play” in the Supernatural sandbox again but it wasn’t until I changed agents and expressed an interest in seeing if I could do an episode in season 6 that lead to me getting the “Family Matters” gig.
I had seen a few episodes in the years between and thoroughly enjoyed them but I was particularly intrigued by the Castiel character… I said to Jensen that his character is kinda like another Winchester brother and he responded “Yeah, the brother that works less hours than me and Jared!”
Your photo with the J2s during “Family Matters” is fantastic. How did that come about?
It was my last or maybe 2nd to last day of photography on “Family Matters” – the set dresser, Chris Wishart had his camera with him and he was documenting the set post Alpha Vamp fight, I was talking with the boys and Chris motioned for us to pose… I grabbed the rubber shotgun that was yanked out of Mitch’s hands and tossed on the ground. We did a modified “Charlie’s Angels” pose… the “Ghostbusters” T-shirt was something I bought on Granville Street in Vancouver the previous weekend and was appropriate because in season 1 I nicknamed the boys The Ghostbusters!
What was your biggest challenge so far in directing on "Supernatural," and how has his "Supernatural" experience been different from other directing projects?
All 1 hour episodic drama is challenging… tons of work to do in 8 days – Your ability to make the schedule and get good performances and a variety of angles to edit together is how you survive as a TV director! Supernatural’s scripts are ambitious but because of the skill and talent in front of and behind the camera it’s always doable. The most challenging part is sometimes the weather which you cannot control and if the episode has extensive visual effects or prosthetics because that always takes extra time… we schedule accordingly but it’s never a guarantee things will go smoothly! I really enjoy doing the show because there is a distinct lack of ego with the cast and crew – It really is a close knit family that deeply cares for one another. The only agenda is to make each episode as kick ass as possible – period and they always treat me as one of their own!
There were tons of great moments in ”Frontierland,” but Jared riding a horse was particularly fun. Was that part of the original script or did it happen when the horse showed up for the scene? Also, was there any attempt to get Jensen on a horse, too?
Early on in prep we met with the horse wrangler to talk about getting the best visual joke of Jared and the horse… we had 2 ideas, 1 – shorten the stirrups so he looked like he was riding a tricycle or 2 - lengthen them all the way out to accentuate the length of his legs! We went with the 2nd option because it was hilarious with out being too slapstick… of course we picked the smallest normal sized horse we could find! Jared is comfortable with horses so all the uneasiness when he gets on and rides away is pure acting! It was never scripted for Jensen to ride a horse because he stayed behind in Sunrise but every day at lunch for the 4 days we were in Maple Ridge (Bordertown) both the boys rode with the horse wranglers and had a blast!
Rumor has it that during “Frontierland” the J2s went riding together between takes off camera. Is that true? If so, did you get any photos of them and could you tweet them for the fans?
They did ride every day at lunchtime but I don’t know if any pics exist – I’ll check with Clif though, he was with them as they rode off… I was probably eating and/or trying to stay dry and warm in my trailer!
You, Jim Beaver and Misha Collins had a lot of fun tweeting pixs one day on “Frontierland.” Clif joined in and jokingly threatened to throw all of you off the set. As you probably know, the fans love these kinds of antics. What prompted it?
I think that was mostly a joke – If you know Clif then you know he’s a big teddy bear! We were all aware that shooting anything “Spoilery” would not be cool so most of what was tweeted I believe, was in Bobby’s house and didn’t give away too much! In the future I’ll send Twitpics but am always mindful of giving anything away!
Are there any rules in place from the network or any higher ups about what kind of content you can and can’t share on Twitter?
Nobody ever talked to me about any rules but I just used common sense! I was fairly new to twitter but I knew that anything I sent might be seen by the studio, network or the producers and that if I sent a picture that either gave away a storyline or was good quality that it would go viral quick which I assumed is a no,no! That’s not why I’m there – That’s not my job… I tried to tease without revealing any details!
When you were asked to direct another episode of “Supernatural,” did you know it was a western and select it for that reason, or did you first find out when you were sent the script?
I think 5 days after “Family Matters” aired I got a call from my agent saying that Bob Singer had called him and there was an offer to direct another episode mid-January… Those kinda calls are the best ones to get! I had no idea what the subject matter was going to be I just knew it was #617 and having shot in Vancouver in January in the past I knew it would be cold and wet! I got the script the day before I traveled up and thought it was awesome – I had no idea that in the history of the show that everyone had been trying to figure out how to make a western episode and that Sera had always said that they write the show like it’s a western! I had recently seen “True Grit” and so I was excited about jumping in to a western – I had also just seen “Black Swan” and was also interested in exploring the idea that you struggle with your inner id/ego as if it’s another person so when I read the first scene I actually thought the “Gunfight” was Dean dreaming that he was fighting himself and that that would be the only part of the episode that would be a “Western” – I was wrong!
What is your most memorable experience from “Frontierland?” Will we see any great bloopers from the episode?
I don’t really have 1 in particular; I guess I just have an overall great memory about how excited Jensen and Jared were to do the episode… they were downright giddy! I also remember going to visit the set during my prep and how sick some of the cast and crew were! Jim Beaver was hilarious when I had to break the news to him that he was indeed in the Western episode but he does not travel back to the old west… he said “4 seasons on ‘Deadwood’ and I never got on a horse once, now we do a western episode and I never leave my damn house!” I remember some hilarious outtakes and I pray they show up on the season 6 DVD!
Can you explain how this fantastic shot came about? Was it something you noticed right away or didn’t catch until later, such as going through the dailies? How was the lighting handled for that scene?
Jerry Wanek built us this great “Boneyard” on the outskirts of the main western set… we knew it would be a night shoot and it’s a shame because the detail would have been revealed much better if it was shot during the day! This was the last scene shot that day and we wanted to shoot toward the town first because that required all the big lights down the road to illuminate the town… as we started to shoot the first set up a strange fog rolled in and obscured the town – it almost looked like a fake backdrop behind the boys then as we rolled the cameras it thinned out but it still created this light haze that just looked stunning – happy accident!
As you know, I’m a great admirer of Serge’s work, and this scene is a perfect example of how incredibly talented he is!
You have developed a very strong positive bond with one of the most vocal fan bases in fandom with your work on “Supernatural.” What prompted you to reach out to the fan community on Twitter and Facebook? How do you feel about the fan response? We definitely appreciate having such unprecedented access to a director, but what do you get from us (that makes up for all our incessant and importunate questions!)?
I accidently stumbled upon the fandom when I came up in Sept. to do “Family Matters” - I had been on twitter for about a month and had a few followers – I started my Twitter account to track my webseries “Raisin’ Junior” and that was it… A Supernatural fan saw that I had tweeted about my trip up north to work on an episode and welcomed me back – she loved “Asylum” and wondered where I’d been since then! I thanked her and then watched my followers start to climb as she must have retweeted our conversation! 99% of the people that I correspond with are incredibly supportive and a joy to talk to and if I have the time I always try and respond… As a director in TV I come in as a guest, do my job and move on so I don’t hear a lot from the studio, network or fans… Social Networks allow me to get instant feedback from the people that really know the shows I do and it’s great to hear the compliments, but I can take criticism too… (you might get unfollowed but I can take it!)
You have been directing since 1999, and have been a part of such notable series as “The Third Watch,” “Veronica Mars,” “Jericho,” and “Criminal Minds,” to name a few. How do you approach directing a new series for the first time? Is there special preparation you do based on the type of show you will be directing? Do you have a different approach to filming the episode depending on whether you are directing a drama, comedy or sci-fi?
I love new shows because it’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of something fresh and you can impress the producers early on and hopefully get invited back in the future! There is also a great feeling when you come into a show that’s been on the air for a few seasons because it’s a well oiled machine and they’re past the “Teething Pains” of a 1st year show. You always want the producers to tell you what they want you to put the emphasis on and what they want you to avoid – that way you know what’s expected. I don’t alter my style too much from show to show unless there is a motif that I need to keep alive (slow motion, handheld camera, lots of close-ups, etc.) If I’ve been hired to direct a show generally they want me to come in with a distinct POV and style and lead the cast and crew… not to have my hand held and be wishy-washy! I always have to remember I’m a guest and expected to collaborate well - I also need to make sure I satisfy many fronts and leave a good impression!
You spent 12 years as a steadicam operator before becoming a director. How is this experience beneficial to your directing?
The camera operator is a unique position to be in (and honestly the best job in the world!) You are equal parts artist, storyteller and technician – You straddle the line between physically making the shot for the Director of Photography and telling the story through the lens for the director. My 12 years as an operator was without a question the best training ground/classroom to learning the craft of directing, and honestly I learned more from the bad directors I operated for then the good ones!
When you operate the camera you are in the same space and breathing the same air as the actors and in the case of Steadicam you are as much a part of blocking and hitting marks as they are so you learn how to work with them on a technical level, you also hear how directors speak to them and change performance and the nuances of getting different variations from take to take – I always soaked this up! I once got a great compliment from a mentor of mine, he said “Guy’s best attribute is not his eyes, it’s his ears” - You always have to remember we are trying to communicate a story through our camera but to do that you have to communicate with your cast and crew and part of that is listening to what is expected of you!
Besides “Supernatural,” what projects have you especially enjoyed working on and why?
I generally find enjoyment in every project I work on… It was fun to direct an episode of “ER” in season 7 because I was the camera operator for the first 2 seasons – it was like coming home from college! “Third Watch” was great for me because it was the first thing I got to direct and after getting very close to the cast and crew from the pilot and first 12 episodes I had amazing support, (I ended up directing 13 episodes.) I’ve done 2 pilots that were cool because I was setting a visual style and had a big hand in casting the regular cast… lotta pressure!
In no particular order I had a blast on “Veronica Mars” (Kristen Bell is awesome), “Terminator:SCC” was a great experience, “Jericho” was a very under-appreciated show that I considered pretty groundbreaking… and I’ve directed 10 episodes of “Criminal Minds” where I have a wonderful relationship with that cast and crew!
What’s in your future? Do you have any directing projects coming up that you can share with us?
I will be traveling up to Vancouver on Monday 7/18 to start prep on episode #703 of Supernatural, but wait… I’ll be doing episodes #709 AND #721 as well! I also have an episode of a new CW show called “The Secret Circle” coming up in August/September which shoots in Vancouver as well. In October/November I’m doing another CW show (see a pattern here?) called “Ringer” which is the return to episodic TV of Sarah Michelle Geller. I’m starting 2012 with a TNT show called “Southland” that I consider one of the best gritty cop dramas ever and it’s a return to my roots in the John Wells camp.
You can keep track of Guy on his website http://guybee.com/upcoming-production/ and follow him on Twitter @guynormanbee. Also check out his episode of “The Nine Lives of Chloe King” which airs Tuesday, 7/26, at 9pm on ABC Family.
I and all here at The Winchester Family Business wish to send a special thank you to Guy Norman Bee for participating in our interview series. He brings to light a part of the industry we rarely get to see, and he does it with respect and admiration for all those he works with.
For all the latest Supernatural info and article links, follow The Winchester Family Business on Twitter at @WinFamBusiness
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