John Terlesky is an executive producer on the show and also directed two episodes (2 and 13). He spoke recently from Albuquerque, NM, where the show is shooting Episodes 2 through 13, following the pilot, which was shot in Morocco. Like the team of The Brave, his is also tasked with a number of challenges, including the mission to keep production value high, but on a tighter budget and much shorter turnaround than the pilot.
“You’ve encapsulated it perfectly,” says Terlesky of the show’s challenges. “We are trying to continue the standard of the pilot as best we can. We have significantly less of a budget and significantly less days to shoot it in. It requires everything we have to crack that nut.”
The pilot was shot over 15 days. Subsequent episodes are allotted just eight. Editorially, the show is very tight. “The funny thing is that our story — more so than other shows in this genre — is very mission centric,” notes the director. “We really have the mission, and that’s it. It’s very dense storytelling.”
The DIA is set in Washington, DC, where Anne Heche’s character and her group of analysts monitor the field team from a large control room filled with flat-screen displays. Most of the screens are blue during production, as their graphics haven’t yet been completed.
“Every single monitor in the pilot was blue,” recalls Terlesky. “I don’t think they had any pre-made graphics. We have blue because we still don’t have elements finished by the time they are starting to shoot. It takes a considerable amount of lead time to do that, and obviously, on a television schedule, we don’t have that.”
Visual effects also carry over into the field. While the pilot was shot in Morocco, the rest of the episodes are being produced in Albuquerque. As such, set extensions are being used to help create shots that reflect the Middle East and beyond.
“We are in Albuquerque because these units tend to operate largely in the Middle East or Africa, or Afghanistan, and Albuquerque works great for those environments,” says Terlesky. “We don’t have old world Europe in Albuquerque. You can fake that in Montreal and New York. That’s one of the things we are struggling with to pull off. The episode we are working on today is supposed to be Paris and we’ll be leaning even more on visual effects, putting up set extensions and so forth.”
For Episode 3, director of photography Mike Spragg went to Budapest and shot plates that would be used as a substitute for a small city in Ukraine.
“We have a certain amount of stock footage,” Terlesky adds, “and we are leaning on that, and trying where we can to do cheats. We don’t have any further plans to go abroad. With the budgets being what they are, we just don’t have it in there for these foreign trips.”
The 'surveillance' aspect of the show brings up challenges during production, too. “Every scene that you are shooting, you are shooting with actors, you are also shooting a drone angle, you are shooting a chest cam, you are potentially shooting a secondary surveillance angle if somebody else has eyes on it. It’s very demanding in terms of shooting, because the scene is not necessarily done when you are done with the actors. You are getting so many different perspectives that have to play in different venues. It’s very time consuming. And we are trying to continue to find ways to solve the problem in getting all that and still make our schedules.”
Arri’s Alexa is the main camera for the show, and it is also used for scenes that resemble FaceTime messaging. “We use the Alexas when there is a lot of FaceTime messaging between Anne Heche and the team,” he notes. “In addition to showing Anne’s coverage, you also have to shoot the Webcam POV. Generally on a laptop computer, they tend to be wide angle and not very attractive, so we tend to shoot that on the Alexa because we want to make our actors look good and not be distorted and weird looking in the footage. We cheat on that and move in the Alexa, and light it properly.”
Additional surveillance and drone footage is captured using GoPros, Sony A7s or Canon 5Ds.
Beyond set extensions and surveillance footage, visual effects include muzzle flashes and bullet hits, as well as helicopters. Episode 3 has 120 visual effects, for example. “There is a significant amount of helicopters flying,” he notes. “We don’t have any flying helicopters. That’s all being done with visual effects. Our visual effects supervisor on the pilot, and the series, is Bill Kent, and he chiefly works with FuseFX. I don’t know if they are sub-contracting out any of the other shots. I worked with those guys on The Blacklist: Redemption as well.”
The Brave’s storyline is almost always told from the heroes’ point of view. “We don’t go over and shoot the villain’s point of view,” says Terlesky. “We pretty much tell it from where our guys are standing. We don’t use a lot of slow-motion or tricks that take you out of the moment. We try to keep it straightforward and make it pretty and light it well, but we are not doing stuff that is over-stylized.”
The Brave airs on NBC on Monday evenings.