Legends of Tomorrow producer Marc Guggenheim previews his wild genre-hopping directorial debut: 'It wasn't just madness. It was also infused with this incredible heart and this incredible emotion.'

By Chancellor Agard
May 25, 2020 at 03:24 PM EDT
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DC's Legends of Tomorrow

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  • The CW
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DC's Legends of Tomorrow star Nick Zano already knows this week's episode will be an instant classic.

"That's one of the best episodes of our series," Zano tells EW about the hour, titled "The One Where We're Trapped on TV." "That episode is super special and very unique."

He's not lying. In fact, Tuesday's outing stands from the pack for two reasons. First, there's the wild and chaotic premise. To save the Legends from the Fates, Charlie (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) scatters them across several different TV shows: a cheeky Friends parody called Ultimate Buds; a Downton Abbey send-up titled Highcastle Abbey; and a loving Star Trek homage called Star Trip. Legends has never been afraid to go meta, but this episode takes that inclination to the extreme — and you can get a taste of what's in store from the exclusive clip above.

This episode is also special because it marks former Arrow executive producer/Legends consulting producer Marc Guggenheim's directorial debut. For years, Guggenheim resisted directing because he thought he didn't want to do it, but then last year, he had lunch with Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti. At the time, Guggenheim was experiencing a "professional malaise" and Berlanti thought doing something that scared him, like directing, would help him overcome it.

"At the time, it felt like going to someone and saying, 'I need to lose weight' and them telling you, 'Great, you know what you need to do? Take piano lessons,'"Guggenheim told EW during an interview in January. "I didn't connect doing something that scared me with shocking me out of my creative malaise, but it really, really did. It was one of the most rewarding creative experiences I've ever had."

Jack Rowand/The CW

EW's Chancellor Agard and Sydney Buckbaum catch up with Guggenheim on this week's Superhero Insider (available Friday on SiriusXM On Demand), during which the TV veteran explains why he chose to make his directorial debut on Legends instead of Arrow.

"I've always contended for eight years that Arrow is not for first-time directors. Now, we've had first-time directors on the show before, but those are generally the exception. I didn't feel like in good conscience I could say that for eight years running and then direct my first episode as an episode of Arrow. It felt like it smacked of hypocrisy," he says. "The other reason, quite frankly, that Legends made sense was that I knew sort of almost immediately that I would have to pick an episode late in the season to get as far away from 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' as I could get. Obviously, Arrow wrapped long before Legends did. For a variety of reasons, Legends made the most sense, which is probably the only time anyone uses the phrase 'made sense' and Legends in the same sentence."

Of course, he couldn't have predicted that the writers were going to hand him such a difficult script. For the episode, Guggenheim and the production team had to develop different sets and shooting styles for each TV genre featured in the hour.

"[When the art department was] constructing a set for the Ultimate Buds show, I said, 'Construct this like a proscenium setting,' which is basically how multi-cam sitcoms work. It's usually like a three-wall set and you're facing in this one specific direction. We got three cameras working. Multi-cam is usually four or five, but we couldn't afford that. We got as many cameras as we could," he says. "Truth be told, all of the shows, I tried to shoot in the style of those shows. For Ultimate Buds, it’s multi-cam. For Mister Parker’s Cul-De-Sac, it’s two cameras but both sort of on these unilateral dollies. Downton Abbey, long lens, really rich lighting, but when you go into the kitchen with the servants, then you go handheld. With Star Trek, a lot of dolly, a lot of push-ins."

Jack Rowand/The CW

The episode has a fifth look, too: The grey dystopian Loom World created by the Fates. "The point of inspiration there was the movie Brazil by Terry Gilliam," says Guggenheim. "So, [I] tried to look at the lighting, and the production design, and the camera moves of that movie. I took a little bit more liberty in the Loom-World stuff in terms of moving the camera just because I wasn’t specifically homaging, unlike the television shows."

The other thing Guggenheim did is that he opted for practical effects over special effects whenever he could. For example, the trio's journey from Ultimate Buds to Highcastle Abbey depicted in the clip above was originally supposed to be achieved digitally; however, during a prep meeting, Guggenheim remembered a trick they used on Eli Stone. The cheat involved taking a door frame from one location and moving it to another one so it looked like the characters walked through the door and right onto a new set.

"I wanted to use that trick but kind of do it on steroids," he says. "When we’re behind Behrad, Zari, and Nate [walking through the door], we’re actually behind photo doubles. Tala, Shy, and Nick are already on the Downton Abbey set in costume hiding behind the doors that then get closed when the camera has overtaken them. It’s just all done in camera and it was a lot of fun. It was really born out of a desire to not do digital unnecessarily. I love digital effects. I’ve, you know, spent a good chunk of my career doing digital effects, but I always only want to use that tool if it’s necessary. It’s a lot more fun to me to do stuff in-camera whenever it’s feasible."

"Similarly, with the Star Trip spaceships, I wanted to do those with miniatures instead of [CGI]. I kept waiting for someone to tell me no, that it would be too expensive. But the truth is everyone was so accommodating and brought their A-game. So, we got a chance to do a little second unit work filming miniatures up against a green screen the way they used to do in the old days," he says. "It was a lot of fun. That was a really great day because we did the old ILM trick that they did on Star Wars, which is: You don’t move the ship, you move the camera. So, the ships never moved, but by moving the camera against the green screen, it looks as though the ships are moving."

Guggenheim also loved this episode because it's not just about the meta antics. There's also a lot of emotion, particularly sadness, at the heart of the team's adventure on the small screen.

"Grainne Godfree and James Eagan, they wrote such an incredible script that wasn't just insane. It wasn't just madness. It was also infused with this incredible heart and this incredible emotion," says Guggenheim. "There’s some scenes in there that are real tug-at-your heartstrings kind of moments, and they really gave me a chance to direct almost everything there is to direct — like comedy, visual effects, and competing styles, and different types of shows, and different types of emotional moments. It’s kind of all in there. It was in boot camp."

Guggenheim definitely impressed the cast with his first time behind the camera. Says Zano, "Gugs showed up in such a big way and killed it. It was his directorial debut and they asked the world of him."

Watch the exclusive clip above.

DC's Legends of Tomorrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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DC's Legends of Tomorrow

Led by White Canary, a band of superhero misfits defend the time stream with an assortment of wacky threats in the fourth Arrowverse series.
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