Guy Norman Bee -- director
Guy has directed 11 episodes of Supernatural -- highlights include Frontierland (a favourite of mine), Hello, Cruel World and Things We Left Behind.
Tell us about working as a director.
In episodic TV, it’s sort of luck of the draw which script you get, because usually they book you in months ahead of time. Sometimes it’s last minute, but that’s a little bit of an anomaly. Usually you know months ahead of time. They don’t necessarily team you up with a writer, or a specific episode. Ever third or fourth episode will usually be one that they spend more money on, maybe a sweeps episode – in the days when ratings mattered – I don’t know if they matter that much any more.
You get offered to direct a specific episode, are given the dates, and have to respond with a yes or a no. You have to get your schedule in line on dates. You never really have your pick of the scripts, or who is going to write your episode, so that’s always a bit of an X factor. Sometimes that’s great, some times it’s bad. Sometimes you’ll walk into a situation day one of prep and you can kind of take the virtual temperature of the room and know that this isn’t necessarily a script that everybody is jazzed about. Especially in a show that does 22 episodes a season, you can’t bat 1,000 – not all 22 are going to be stellar, there’s usually going to be 10-12 that are really good, the other 10 are sort of second rate and there are a few that nobody wants to talk about, let’s just shoot and get it over with.
A lot of times a script will come in, they’ll send it to the studio and the network, and the studio/network notes rip it apart and they want them to redo all of it, and it just leaves a bad taste.
As a director, you just keep singing and dancing and tap dancing through, you’ve got to make it the best you can make it. You can never throw your hands up and go, I can’t do this! That’s not your job, your job is to make it sing and make it great. You do everything you can to make your episode good if it’s a darling that the writers’ room and that the showrunners love, that the network loves, or the opposite.
What can you say about directing Frontierland, one of my favourite episodes?
Every season they had reserved an episode for Eric Kripke to potentially come in and direct, and Eric had decided that he had moved on, they were in Season 6, and so there was another episode available for me to direct. So it was pure luck, I got Gallows Pole; I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan so that was exciting. It’s so funny because I read it – I think at the time I had just seen the redo of True Grit, a Western; I had also been hopped up on Black Swan, which is a psychological thriller, where somebody is doubting their mental stability.
I read Gallows Pole, the first page, the first scene – it was Dean in a gunfight, out on the streets of some Western town. It was scripted that a tumbleweed comes rolling by, and of course I’m thinking this is Vancouver in January, there’s not going to be anything dry or tumbleweedy anywhere in sight. Obviously that got changed a little.
In my head, I’m like this is cool – Dean’s probably having a dream, the gunfighting will probably reveal that he’s in a gunfight with himself and he’ll wake up out of a cold sweat but there’s no way this whole episode is going to be taking place in the Old West, 1850s …
Of course as I kept reading, I thought oh cool, this is a Western, and then they told me about this set that they had for a show years ago called Bordertown, that existed in Maple Ridge – and of course as you know, they’d already shot there and a lot of shows shoot there, because it is a cool old Western town.
Eventually we changed the title to Frontiertown; it was cool, because I got to cast my friend Sam Hennings as Samuel Colt. A bunch of names had been floated; I had kind of forgotten about Sam and his name came up on a list. I said, “Look, if we can get Sam, he’s the perfect kind of gruff, older, disgruntled, been there done that attitude.”
In the years between season one and season six, I’d casually been a viewer of the show and I was intrigued by this Castiel character. It was fun to become friends with Misha on Family Matters, and then we came back to do Frontierland. Jim Beaver and I had been friends for years; just running into each other. I had never directed Jim until that episode.
Of course Jim reads the script and he’s like, “All those years on Deadwood, it takes place in the south, but I never got to ride a horse. Here I am, in another Western-themed episode and of course, I don’t get to ride a horse.” We trying to figure out a way to get Jim on a horse but it never worked out.
I have to say it was pretty funny seeing Jared on a horse – I know he knows how to ride, but …
That was interesting. We said, how are we going to make this the funniest we can? I said well there’s two things we can do, extend the stirrups all the way, as far as they can go, so it looks almost like his feet are dragging on the ground, or we pull the stirrups all the way up, so he’s sitting where his knees are up high so he looks like he’s on a tricycle. And of course we got the smallest horse we could find, the smallest adult horse that could hold however much Jared weighs.
We eventually went with just letting his legs dangle as long as they could dangle, like they were going to drag the ground. And it was scripted, that line, where we push in on Dean and he says, “That poor horse.”
Any funny stories you can share?
In Hello, Cruel World, the one where Cas walks into the water and the black ooze comes and affects people, somebody gets homicidal in a swim team … the guys shows up to investigate. We had a scene in Bobby’s house, where Sam’s doing some work on a computer, and Dean comes in with a bag full of groceries. We only did it in rehearsal, but the guys told me they rolled the camera because it’s like a signal, they’ll all look around and go roll camera, because during rehearsals the guys will cut up.
There’s no official slate on it or anything, but I think it’s out there somewhere. For some reason Jared had this metronome app, where you would push it and it would set the beats per minute – with your thumb and a slider – this was the early days of iPhone apps. He could start out slow, and could speed it up just by sliding his thumb.
During one of the rehearsals, I’m just back at the monitor and I go, “Okay, action. Let’s just see how everything lays.”
So Jensen comes in with the groceries, and Jared forgets – or just doesn’t turn off – the metronome app, and it’s sort of going at a decent speed. Jensen takes it upon himself to move his hips at the same speed as the app as the metronome is clicking. It starts out casual, kind of looks like he’s dancing a bit; meanwhile Jared’s back is to him, because he’s at the computer screen – and Jensen comes in and looks over his shoulder – the research he’s doing about this high school and these homicidal kids on the swim team. He also starts incrementally bringing up the frequency and the beats per minute of the app – which of course, Jensen goes right along with his hips – to the bag where everything in the bag of groceries starts to spill out. And he just lets it go because we’re all laughing. It just gets to the point where the metronome is going many beats per minute, and he has to hang onto the sink so he doesn’t fall, because his hips have taken over his whole body.
I have probably never laughed so hard in my whole life.
Jensen comes off as meek and mild-mannered, but he’s the one that took me aside and he told me that we had to do the Harlem Shake. He’s the one that came to me and said to do one of those. It’s the one on YouTube – Osric Chau even drove out, he’s the one in the body bag.
What’s a little known fact about Supernatural?
I was directing "Blood Brother" - We were joking around with Jensen when he said he was buying a boat... He needed a name and someone suggested "Captain and Danneel" - We all laughed and moved on then the scene where Benny (Ty Olsson) arrives by boat the art department named THAT boat "C & D" - Very funny watching Jensen realize what that stood for!
What are you up to next?
I’m working on Take Two, it’s the writers that created Castle. I’m excited because the star is Eddie Sybrian, who I did Third Watch with. We’ve remained pretty good friends over the years so it’ll be fun.
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Guy Norman Bee interview comments
"Amazing as usual, Carol! Thanks for all the tidbits." ~ Jennie
"This was an excellent article with a very, "c'mon in and have a seat" feeling. Guy is more than comfortable with those whom he directs and with the audience at large, a fact that has such a direct correlation to the success of the episodes he's directed. He impresses me as being very professional, while remaining extremely personable. And yes, "Jensen's hips" gave this interview a taste of "the crazy" that constitutes working with, probably, the most enjoyable and unique cast on television. I loved this Carol. I am so pleased that Guy Normanbee was your interview subject, and so enjoy that he graciously shared some of his experiences with us." ~ @Doris_Helmick