Best of 2013 (Behind the Scenes): Jaunting on 'The Tomorrow People'
In episode 5 of The Tomorrow People‘s first season, viewers were introduced to a very effective, very sweaty decision-making tool put in place by our favorite evolutionary friends. When John, as leader, refused to let The Tomorrow People go top-side to have a real night out on the town, Cara challenged him to a jaunt. It appeared she was ready to fight for her right to party.
However, what ensued was not your typical fight. John and Cara used their powers of telekinesis and telepathy to gain possession of a stick and force the other to submit. Spoiler: Cara won. But the real star of the show was the jaunting scene itself. Packed full of special effects, the scene quickly became a fan favorite.
We talked to Tomorrow People stunt coordinator JJ Makaro, along with stars of the scene Peyton List and Luke Mitchell (all separately) about everything from how jaunting was born to how exactly they film a scene full of teleports.
For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2013 (Behind the Scenes) coverage.
As told by: JJ Makaro, Peyton List, and Luke Mitchell
On creating and preparing the scene:
JJ MAKARO: When we first got the scene, it was a fight between two people with staffs. We tried to do a little bit of that to see how it would work out, but no matter what we did with it, it just always just looked like two people fighting with staffs. It didn’t have its own flavor. It didn’t get a real story of its own. So we went to using two Escrima sticks for a little bit and we tried that again with the same results – it just looked like two people fighting with Escrima sticks. It became apparent that what we really needed was some rules. One of the first things we did is we got rid of all of the weapons and brought it down to being just one stick that they had to fight over. The rules we came up with were that you must have possession of the stick thereby making it so they had to try to get it from the other person, and the reason they needed that stick was they had to use it in making the opponent submit. So that got us into, rather than two people pounding on each other, they’re trying to do some sort of strategy. Then it becomes, with the telekinesis and the teleportation, why are they not just teleporting all over the place? So we had to a justification for that, and part of it was that if they teleport too many times, they just get too tired and the other guy will win out of that. But the other thing we did is, you weren’t allowed to do any kind of telekinesis or teleportation until one of you had possession of the stick. After the first person took possession of the stick, then you could start teleporting and moving around.
The next thing I added into it was that you can only TK and TP if you didn’t have control of the stick. It’s a little dicey in the edit, but if you watch closely enough, when Peyton goes to teleport behind him, she actually lets go of the stick and then pops up behind him so that he has possession of it which means she’s allowed to do it. It didn’t come through as much on the fight as I would’ve liked, but now they had to battle with the stick, they had to think about how they were going to teleport, where they were going to go with everything.
Whenever we teleport on this show we try to keep physics in mind. If somebody’s going in a direction and they teleport somewhere else, then they haven’t lost their momentum. They still keep going. There’s one spot where Cara throws John, and he starts flying away from her but what he does is he redirects himself so he ends up flying into her from a different direction. So we had a couple of things like that. That was the overall where we got to in the end, but it took a while to do it. It took us probably about 2 weeks of playing around on it before we actually came up with what we thought would be a good sport.
PEYTON LIST: Well we knew it was going to be a really big fight. We knew this was going to be our biggest one probably that we had since episode 2 and episode 3 in terms of using the special effects and the powers while doing the fight and sort of creating something that means something. So a lot went into it. We had several days of rehearsals going into it, and then we actually shot it over two days because there’s so many people and it’s such this big huge ordeal together.
LUKE MITCHELL: It’s great. The stunt guys, they keep throwing stuff at us. It’s always new. It’s always different. It’s always a different style of fighting. And then they introduce a prop weapon. And they always show us a video with the stunt guys, the actual choreography, before we attempt any choreography. And so they show us and it’s full speed and it’s with the special effects and everything, and Peyton and I just look at each other going, “Oh god what are we doing?”And then obviously through the process of rehearsals, and they give us a little bit of training, and all that sort of stuff, we get better and better, and then it’s the beauty of editing to make us look even better.
JM: That’s part of the process. Once we get going, we film everything. By the time we go to camera, we know where each jump is going to happen, where each TK and TP is going to happen. One of the most difficult parts about doing this series is keeping in mind these tricks in the middle of all the action. We tend to do a lot of making the videos. I have two very good fight choreographers that work on the show and literally we have these long conversations between the three of us about how it’s going to go. Then you run it and you see the things you don’t like and you start shaving it from there.
On how they filmed the fight scene with teleportation and telekinesis:
PL: To do the teleporting, the special effects supervisor, he has to have a clean plate, which is essentially the person who’s teleporting not in the frame. He has to have you there, and then he has to have you not there. So you’re doing the motion of a teleport, and you go through that motion while everybody else who’s in the shot has to freeze. So normally we’re teleporting at the opening part of a scene, halfway through a scene, at the end of a scene. But this was throughout the entire thing. It can get a little confusing. They’re calling out things off-camera: “And clear. And run this way. And run that way.” It’s complicated. Sometimes it’s a lot to keep track of, especially when you’re going at such a fast speed, but I thought it turned out so cool, and we had a lot of teleports, a lot in that fight.
LM: So basically what looks really cool on screen is actually the dorkiest, most uncool scene to do in real life, because you’re in this fight and you’re doing this and you’re in the zone and then it’s like, “Oh you got to teleport now,” so I throw a punch, and then everyone freezes, and then because I’m teleporting, after I’ve frozen, then I have to run around the camera and then get into the new position and then they call “un-freeze” and then that’s the teleport, which obviously they add the special effects to and it’s obviously seamless once it’s in the editing room. But on the day, that’s how clunky it is. It disrupts the flow entirely, so you get into a bit of a rhythm doing the fight stuff and then everyone has to freeze and then there’s a certain amount of time before they call unfreeze, and it’s crazy. It’s like we’re kids again, just playing some crazy game in the school yard. It’s hilarious.
JM: It’s a very complex system of filming when we want to do this because you’ll get part way through the fight and everybody has to freeze so that the one person who’s teleporting gets to the next spot, then we pick up the fight again. If you got a gag or something flying at somebody, you’ve got to stop long enough to put that in. And on TV you’re used to doing masters of fights, so they’ll do the full sequence, and then they’ll go and set up cameras and shoot from a different angle and get a couple pieces that they can look at. But this stuff that we’re doing, the style of the work we’re doing, forces us to do it all right as linearly as possible. We have to go to that spot, stop, make the changes we need to make, go further, make the changes, and still maintain the energy.
Sometimes it’s just insane. We’ll be rolling the camera and all of a sudden they’ll just have to freeze and Peyton will step out and her stunt double will step in because we’re going to throw her on the ground really hard, and you’ll have Luke move over to the other side of the room because he’s teleporting at that point, and somebody else run a line from the stick to the person so they can actually TK it into their hands. When you get a lot of guys doing that at the same time, it gets really really hard for continuity for trying to keep track of it. We’ve got our editors to try and figure out what the hell we were doing. Sometimes we look like we’re completely off our nut.
PL: The choreography itself was much much longer than what actually was seen. The fight itself was double the length of what you saw. And I think they tend to make the fights longer to begin with just so that you have plenty to choose from, and then the director and the editor can cut it down and make it the way they want it. It’s funny because on the day you’re going, “Oh wait, but we’re not doing this part and I’ve been practicing this part,” “But we’re not going to have this cool part,” and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because what they put together at the end still looks amazing.
LM: We ended up shooting that, it got spread over two days because we were running behind in the schedule. and so we started shooting it one day and shot it for a couple of hours, and then we ran out of time and then we had to come back another day to shoot it, and we pretty much ended up re-shooting the entire scene. We spent like five hours on it for the second time, so I think we probably, all in all, spent almost an entire day shooting this scene when you add the two days together. From what you can see, it was quite strenuous, and Peyton and I were just exhausted by the end of it.
On what the actors found most difficult:
LM: It’s one thing rehearsing it from start to finish without cameras and just getting the moves down, then once it comes to filming you might just shoot a particular section and then we’ll jump to this section, then we’ll jump to that section. My brain’s not very good at jumping from section to section. When you memorize your lines for the scene, I’m not very good at picking up from halfway through and going. I know the start of the scene and I know where I’m headed and I can just go right through. But the stopping and starting thing I find quite difficult, so it was very challenging. I’m not sure exactly how long it took me to get it in my body but we do a whole bunch of rehearsals. We start off going slowly. We call it by saying we’re going to do this at 25 percent. We’ll speed it up; we’ll try it at 50 percent. And we’ll try it at 75 percent. And we very rarely do full speed in rehearsals. Only when we need to.
PL: I think the trickiest part is not getting sweaty and looking consistent. We’ll be doing a scene like that and running through and Luke and I are at the end just trying to gasp for air and they’re like, “Okay go again.” And I’m going “But I look like I just jaunted. I look like I already did it.” I’m going,”Breathe. This never happened. Start over.” So that’s tricky. Thank goodness for hair and makeup, right?
LM: I just gave up on that part of it because your body temperature just gets to a certain point it’s like, yeah, you’re not going to remove this sweat from me. I’m going to be sweaty, and that’s all there is to it. They got to a point in the day where the makeup ladies would come up to me and just kind of look at me and go “Alright.” [Laughs] They wouldn’t do anything to me. It’s good because it adds a little more reality to it. It is hard work even though we’re not actually fighting. The choreography is still hard. It’s almost more energy-zapping not hitting the people than if you were to fight. If you were to fight and actually hit someone, you don’t have to stop yourself, so you use up the energy but then you hit them and that’s what stops your punch or whatever. But when you’re not hitting someone, you exert the energy, and then you also have to stop yourself or be really mentally focused not to hit them but still be close enough to look like you’re hitting them. It’s exhausting. This fake fighting is exhausting.
PL: We actually came out unscathed. You’re going to always wind up with a couple little bumps and bruises along the way naturally, but we pretty much we made it through that one pretty successfully. I think the worst part probably was the end of the sequence John is thrown up against this metal, it’s like a gate, but he had to keep slamming himself over and over again into this thing and he’s shirtless, so eventually he starts resetting and starting over, and you look over, and his back is just totally red because he’s been hitting it so many times. But for the most part, fingers crossed, we’re trying to be careful and trying to come out unscathed.
LM: Every time they write a scene for Peyton and I, Cara and John, Cara always gets the upper hand. They always do it in a way that John kind of flubs it a little bit. But look, to be honest, it’s better that way than the other way around. I don’t think I’d feel too good about John actually beating up Cara. It’s not meant to be like that. It’s more a tit-for-tat sparring kind of deal where it’s more of a chess game as opposed to brute strength, “I’m going to beat you up.” It’s a challenge. They’re not actually trying to hurt each other. They’re just testing each other’s abilities.
On the future of jaunting:
PL: I vote Russell, Stephen. That’s the next one. That’s what I’m going to go for. In. Done.
JM: I’m hoping that it becomes a national sport like Quidditch. I hope that fans start doing their own jaunting scenes and working it out. I’m not sure how they’re going to do the teleporting but hopefully they will do that. Maybe they can cloth a stick together and then everybody freezes and the one guy who’s teleporting can run to his spot. Wouldn’t that be fun? I think that’d be really, really fun. We tried to keep the rules simple for that reason. We’re hoping that we get to have a few more jaunts and tournaments and get to refine the rules and make them a little more obvious and see the fun of what’s going on with that.
The Tomorrow People