Last year, in addition to starring in the CW’s “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” Caity Lotz participated in the 2019 Warner Bros. Television Group Directors’ Workshop. All of the graduates of that program went on to receive offers to direct episodes of Warner Bros.-produced series; Lotz, perhaps naturally, received an offer to direct her own show.
Although in the past actors from the “Arrowverse” who have gone on to direct episodes of their series have done so by shadowing directors on set first, Lotz tells Variety she wanted to go through more thorough training to see what it would really feel like to bring a story from shot list to screen, with everything in between.
“The program is like a boot camp,” she says. “It’s less about the creative side of it and more about the rigors of TV — working with all of the different departments and on your first day of prep, what happens? What can be expected? When you go on the tech scout where does the director sit on the bus? Just the logistics and rules of what people will expect from you.”
Lotz participated in the program (alongside her “Legends” co-star Jes Macallan, as well as eight others who happened to be currently starring in or staffed on Warner Bros.-produced television series — although the program is open to anyone who meets the criteria) during the summer hiatus between the fourth and fifth seasons of her show, and she also traveled back up to Vancouver after “Legends” wrapped to shadow onset at “Arrow.”
Once the producers at “Legends” decided she would direct an episode of the fifth season, it became about finding the right one — and setting Lotz up for success. As Captain Sara Lance in the time travel superhero drama, Lotz is usually needed on-screen, steering the Waverider ship — as well as her crew — to pivotal moments in the past, present and future to stop some of the greatest villains from screwing with the timeline.
When the team behind the show realized they wanted Lotz to direct the fifth episode of the fifth season, entitled “Mortal Khanbat,” they worked in a story point that Sara would leave the ship in the episode before her directorial debut and basically be off-screen for the majority of two episodes. In the story, Sara had to help some other friends from the “Arrowverse,” while in reality, Lotz needed the first week to focus on prepping and the second to actually direct it.
“Mortal Khanbat” airs Feb. 25 and focuses on Ava (Macallan) leading the rest of the titular legends in an attempt to defeat Genghis Khan (guest star Terry Chen), who has mysteriously arrived in 1990s Hong Kong. Additionally, Constantine (Matt Ryan) has been cursed to die imminently, and Charlie’s (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) secret past is starting to catch up with her.
“I’m good with action — it’s sort of my specialty — and they made sure to write a very action-heavy episode for me,” Lotz says.
The action in “Mortal Khanbat” consists of multiple shoot-outs, including one in a teahouse in Hong Kong that Lotz looks back on as one of the big challenges of the shoot.
“In that teahouse, I should have had more extras. That was something where they were like, ‘Oh you want 10 or so people?’ And you’re like, ‘Yeah, sure,'” she explains. “I needed more extras to make that look really good — but then the hard part is, all of the extras that would be there, because we were blowing that room up, would have to be stunt performers, which means it’s very, very expensive.”
Another major challenge was the scheduling of her days.
“There was this one really cool insert shot that I wanted to get, and it was from underneath — putting the camera underneath and the glass was going to break on top of it — and just to set up that one shot, it took an hour to set it up and to get it. But then you’re on set going, ‘Should I have done that? I lost an hour to that one shot.’ And your AD and everyone is like, ‘We’ve got to go, we’ve got to go,’ and you’re dropping shots left and right. The hard part is, you don’t just get to do your exact vision and the best version of it. Sixty-percent of the job is just being able to throw it all away, think on the fly and figure it out,” Lotz says.
This came into play for the “big, final, crazy shootout” scene, as well. In this instance it was not time but instead location that caused Lotz to have to make adjustments. After having made a shot list for very specific blocking in a very specific location, on the last night of prep, production told her they lost that location.
“I had to completely change the blocking and all the shot-listing for my giant action sequence. I had a giant crane, and at the new location, the ceilings were too low, so we weren’t going to be able to get a crane in there. So I had to re-plan all of my crane shots — and that’s the night before we started shooting,” she says. “It gave me lots of empathy, not only for the director but every single department.”
As an actor, Lotz acknowledges that usually you have to focus on your dialogue and emotional beats with other actors, but someone else is telling you where to stand, when to cross the room and how to fight. Directing, she says, “requires all aspects of your mind,” which is why she likes it so much.
And, after working with the “Legends” cast as a performer for the last four years, she wanted to make sure to engage with the actors as much as possible when she stepped behind the camera. This included stealing away for extra rehearsal time in between setups and when the crew was lighting, which is not something they normally do, she notes.
“Excitement is contagious and every time I stepped into a meeting or on set, I was super excited for the day and for the shots and what we were doing, and I think that made them all excited for the day,” she says.
Now that she has one episode under her belt as a director, Lotz is already looking ahead to what she will do differently next time. She shares she feels ready to helm an episode that does feature her as an actor a bit more than “Mortal Khanbat,” but she is also eager to sit down with producers from other “Arrowverse” series to be considered as a guest director on those shows. “That’s my goal,” she says.
There is no shortage of the “Arrowverse” universe to mine, with the five current CW series already renewed for the 2020-21 television season, as well as at least one more new one coming. Whatever comes next for Lotz as a director, though, she is looking forward to “being able to relax into it a bit more — and also being more realistic about the shots that I want to get so not all of my plans have to be flushed down the toilet.”
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.