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Vampire Diaries: Ian Somerhalder blogs 'Days of Future Past'

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Welcome to Julie’s Diary! Every week during the season, Vampire Diaries showrunner Julie Plec will add an entry to her diary. From answering burning questions to giving behind-the-scenes stories and more, this is a place for fans to hear directly from Plec about the episode they just watched. 

Welcome back and thanks for watching “Days of Future Past,” written by Melinda Hsu Taylor and directed by our very own Ian Somerhalder. I’ve asked Ian to take the reins of the blog tonight as a special guest columnist, but before I hand them over, I did want to mention that I recently became aware of a conversation taking place in the television fan community about a story trope the writers and I were unfamiliar with, but one that has clearly touched a nerve. Part of this particular trope involves the statistically high death count of lesbian characters in television. As you can imagine (SPOILER ALERT), I was immediately concerned that our next episode featured the deaths of Nora and Mary Louise, the betrothed Heretics. Unfortunately on The Vampire Diaries, death is the probable outcome for nearly every character who passes through our universe. However, we realize we may have unintentionally offended as we sent this couple to meet their tragic fate. The conversation around this issue encourages me and hopefully the entire television landscape to do better on a larger scale as we all set out to tell stories that honor and are inclusive of the LGBTQ community. Thanks to the fan community for starting a dialogue and raising awareness, and reminding us that we as writers have a voice that allows us the freedom to help make this world a better place.

Thank you. And now, here’s Damon’s Diary:

Hello, Brother… I mean, hello Friday people… It’s Ian and for sure a bit of Damon typing here. My dear friend and boss Julie Plec and our amazing friends at EW were kind enough to let me jot down an entry into Julie’s weekly diary so that I could share a moment with you all to talk about episode 716 of The Vampire Diaries. The list of all the people who made this and every episode is so long it would take up this whole “Diary” entry, so I just wanted to say that I love and am thankful to every single member of this crew that makes this story come to life each week. I’m truly grateful to have had this opportunity to talk with you all after tonight’s episode and will get right to it.

The last time I got to direct an episode the story was much darker, more dangerous, pushing our characters (Caroline and Stefan) to the brink of pure evil. This time was a bit different. This story required a much more layered approach because it was setting up our current timeline, three years in the future. No more bookending the episodes with the flash forwards; we will stay right here. For now at least…

“Days of Future Past” had more story lines built into it, all of them laden with heavy consequences, all building simultaneously into an emotional crescendo and then abruptly ending in tragedy with our hero in the Hell Stone and no way to get him out.

I was actually very lucky, because I directed 616 last year and 716 this year, which fell within the window of the Christmas hiatus. I feel super fortunate to have had that stroke of scheduling luck because I got much more time with the script while I was on vacation with my family. It was great being there in the mountains with the peace and quiet of white snow that really allowed my mind to dream of shots, performance, and style.

Directing anything from a short film to an episode of television or a big-budget studio film is quite a journey with so many moving parts. Every moment, you are racing against the clock, living with two major issues breathing down your neck at ALL times. Yep, much like in life, those two major things are time and money. How quickly and successfully can you capture the story on the page, in your head, and on the story board in the time allowed, using a very set amount of money to do it? Kind of like life, right?

Again much like life and that famous movie quote we all know, directing a serialized show is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. You know the story only when the writers push send and the script shows up in your inbox… It’s pretty wild because you have no way of knowing in advance what the story will be, what to expect, and the anticipation makes it a game of patience. Then once you get it (hopefully on time), you have to study it intimately. Without a total understanding of the story and the journeys of the characters, it’s nearly impossible to try and tell it with cameras or actors. You need to know every scene, every beat, all the nuances, and how they all contribute to story as a whole. I once read an article that Anthony Hopkins will read a script 60 times while in production of the movie — I think this is great and always try to mirror someone as great as he. I figure if he does it, then it must work.

After sitting with the writers who are also the producers and understanding the tone of the overall episode, you start getting into choosing locations and walking through the sets with the director of photography, the writer, the producers, assistant director, production designer, the art departments, construction, and all the people who are going to bring it to life. The amount of information that the office staff processes in one day is incredible. It’s like its own little City Hall, with its own set of rules and utilities. We have our own fire protection, our own electricity, our own food supply, fuel trucks, and a huge piece of real estate allowing us to build the world that you see on the screen. In this awesome place, we get to put our noses to the grindstone as well as frolic for nine months a year. So after endless meetings, scouting, hair and makeup tests, wardrobe fittings, and lots of joke cracking, it’s time get serious, call action, and start shooting.

The story, the actors, the crew, the artists, the bosses, and the audience… thank you for letting this guy live his boyhood dream to be a director. Or at least attempt to be. It means the world, and I hope you enjoyed it.

I reached out on Twitter to see if you guys had any questions, and picked a few to answer.

@katteachart asked: What has been the most surprisingly eye-opening experience with being a director?

Honestly, the MOST eye-opening experience literally just HOW MUCH work goes on behind the scenes to make even five minutes of screen time — much less an entire season!

@somrhwlder asked: I have almost no time, and I only go to school. How do you have time to be an actor, director, and run ISF?

Ha! Great question! I have the best partner in the world, and she keeps me going! My beautiful wife is the healthiest person I’ve ever known and makes sure that I sleep, eat non-GMO healthy foods, exercise, and have a happy, healthy outlook. Lots of natural immune stimulants, vitamins, and meditation.

@yarosnikulina asked: What was the hardest scene that you’ve done in all seven years?

Episode 14 of Season 2. It’s when Damon is lying in the road, and the girl Jessica pulls up. She gets out of the car looking at this peculiar scene, a man lying in the middle the road drinking out of a flask… He is so distraught, missing being human, but he can tell no one his true feelings unless he compels them and kills them. It was such a cathartic scene for me to shoot.  A very close second was the scene at the end of episode 10 of this season when Damon tells his mom that he loves her and that he’s sorry in the battle! Wow, two great scenes…

@eldestdamon reached out with a deeply personal letter that you can find on that account about a difficult health struggle.

Wow. Nothing to say but wow, my friend… your strength, your wisdom, and your courage are nothing short of inspiring. If anything, just know that your ability and will to survive with the attitude and outlook that you possess cannot be found in most — it’s amazing to hear and I’m grateful. Keep up the good work and keep the writing coming — I will think about you on set in these scenes when the going gets tough. It’s all about survival, man, but as you’ve mastered, it’s also all about being happy. Spreading happiness and hope around is a gift that you give us all. I’m grateful that you’re on this earth. I hope to shake your hand as well, but until then, keep going, keep fighting, and at some point throughout each day, no matter how hard it may be, just smile or laugh, because when you do, the world smiles with you and laughs with you.

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