Superhero films and TV shows have become woven into the world’s entertainment fabric. The characters that these productions are based on might have been simply for adolescent boys decades ago but they are certainly mainstream these days. The increasing proliferation of CGI has made these heroes (and the villains which they battle) capable of doing the impossible in ways that are no longer restricted to one’s imagination. The directors who steer these stories often use this digital magic to create the visual experience that easily encourage us into believing. For director Alexandra La Roche however, the process sometimes worked the opposite way. Directing the CW TV production “Flash”, La Roche was called upon to not only to help the human actors seem otherworldly but to also perform the inverse. This widely popular series is entering its fourth season and while she confirms that the work is substantial, so are the pay offs. Alexandra is a true industry professional with years of experience so it’s no wonder that she is so valued by “Flash.” She readily admits that getting to the director’s chair is not always easy but it is very sweet once achieved.
La Roche believes that every production comes down to the story. The big budget, the marquee names, and the most lavish sets won’t mean anything if you don’t possess a great story. Even with all of these factors, the caveat is that you must truly understand the story as the director. Alexandra’s years as a script supervisor taught her this essential ingredient of every production. As script supervisor (SS), she often served as the right hand of many directors, assisting them in making key decisions due to her deep knowledge of the plot and characters. Of course, this perspective sounds like a guide for every director and it was a natural transition for La Roche to start directing. The film and TV industry is the type of setting in which you will see highly creative people switching roles. When famed producer/writer/actor/ director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Good Will Hunting, etc.) came to “Flash” to guest direct, La Roche worked alongside him as his SS. She recalls, “I adored working with him. He is a born leader and collaborator and he was truly inspirational. I would suggest a shot and he would like it, but rather than just doing the shot, he would announce loudly ‘This is Alexandra’s shot, best shot ever!!’ He was generous in a way that was sincere and empowering. He speaks a lot in public and he gave kudos to me and the DP and the AD at every turn, saying I basically co-directed the shows with him.” Smith confirms, “Alexandra crushes it as a director. She gets the best out of her cast. I love what she does as a director!”
It’s Alexandra’s contention that her effectiveness as a director is a direct product of her years as a script supervisor. A director should understand every facet of the story but also deeply understand the characters. She often takes great pains to listen to the writers she works with as they are the keystone. Taking a cue from Andrew Kreisberg (writer for “Flash”), she embraced the tragedy and the humor of the show and story, taking great care to not go to “over the top” and focus on the characters. In her own words, “Flash IS a superhero show, it doesn’t have to try to be one.”
Grant Gustin (who plays the lead in “Flash”) appreciates his director’s ability to help him make Flash real as he describes, ““There are very few directors that work with the level of understanding and preparation that Lexie works with. She has an ability to clearly communicate her vision, so we can all better bring that vision to life. My favorite part of working with Lexie is the joy she brings along with her everywhere she goes. Remember, we do this because we love it and it's fun.”
With “Flash” and production of its ilk, CGI is a necessary component. The viewing public has come to expect the inclusion of this technique to create the stunning visuals that make the characters so special. In a role reversal, La Roche was tasked with taking a character who had been completely CGI and bringing them to life. “Wrath of Savitar” was the first episode in which Savitar (the main antagonist of the season) escapes from the speed force where he has been trapped. While Savitar had been the main bad guy for the entire season, up until this episode he was 100% CGI. There was no physical character. For this and subsequent episodes, he was played by an actor/stuntman in a costume. Alexandra explains, “Using the Savitar suit was a big risk. Firstly, we have to use some CG on all of our speedsters as we can’t make people run at superspeed. Usually a suit is created with a character and then the CG elements are made based on that. In this instance, the character was all CGI until episode 315. The audience had never seen a suit before. This is a huge risk. Everyone loved the CGI version, but it was just too expensive to use extensively. When we first talked about using the suit, it was either suit or CGI, not mixing the two in the same scene or the difference would be too jarring. That proved impractical. It took a lot of meetings to get Encore, our vfx house, to agree to changing their CG asset to more visually reflect our suit. We all loved the CG version, but in changing it to match our new suit, we were able to spend more money on stunts and really cool vfx sequences and less on the more mundane but costly effects of having a CG character talk and walk. We got a lot more money for freed up for the vfx and I had a great time conceiving of great ways to spend it!” This prime example of the minutia that is so prevalent in the work of a director clarifies a primary focus of La Roche’s ideas about directing. Considering the needs of the story, the production budget, and the actors…this all requires one to envision solutions and manifest them by helping the other professionals you work with see them as well. All involved parties must give a little bit for the final outcome to achieve success.
All of this preparation, cooperation, and compromise is worth it when everyone witnesses a great take. Recalling one of her favorite experiences directing “Flash” Alexandra notes, “We shot at an old sugar factory that I had fought hard to get approved as it was not scripted. I had also fought hard to get my sequence approved. It was very complex and very different than what was scripted but I really believed in it. All of this made it a big risk. We had twelve hours to get it all in, including a free fall from four stories up. My AD Bob Crippen was on point that night as was everyone. You could just feel that everyone knew it was going to be tough but that we had to get it. We had a 3rd camera crew that night and Bob recommended that we send them off to do the stunt. They were at the 2nd location and I was at the first, running back and forth between. When we finished the big sequence at the first location, we switched. The 3rd camera came and did all the plate work leftover and we moved to the 2nd location to complete that work. More running back and forth. This was a great night because at 4:30 in the morning when we had to pull the plug, we had gotten it all. It took preparation and organization but on nights like that, it’s the only way. It was a great finale sequence as I knew it would be, once that night was done. Up until then, I hoped, but I didn’t know if we could pull it off. When I got to editing, they couldn’t believe we had shot all that in one night. Making the seemingly impossible happen, with and without CGI…that’s what keeps me excited about being in this business.”