Supernatural From Script to Screen: Season 10 with Todd Aronauer
We always called it The Little Show That Could...It’s a remarkable feat. It’s something that we’re all very proud of. We are like a family here, because we’ve been together so long. We joke around like we’re family and we bitch at each other like we’re family. It certainly feels good to be at a job, to be working for the same company for so long. It’s fun. It’s a good time.
– Todd Aronauer, Supernatural Producer in charge of Post Production
Supernatural From Script to Screen is a series of interviews with the crew of Supernatural by Jules Wilkinson, Supernatural Wiki Administrator.
I spoke to Post Production Producer Todd Aronauer on Thursday April 23rd, the week that filming finished on Season 10 of Supernatural. While the actors and much of the crew were heading off on vacation, Todd and the team in post- production were still hard at work.
FINISHING SEASON 10
JW - I know a couple of the last episodes were filmed out of order, which means the last episode shot, which finished filming on Tuesday 21st April, will actually go to air on 6th May. (10.21 Dark Dynasty was filmed last, and 10.23 Brother's Keeper filmed before 10.22 The Prisoner)
TA – Yes. That’s our fastest turnaround we’ve done during the entire run of the series so far. Hopefully we don’t try to top that.
JW - Obviously you were well prepared, but how early did you know that the switch was happening in the filming schedule?
TA - They gave us plenty of notice and I was in on those discussions from before there was a script. We just had a basic outline and the story-arcs for the end of the season, but we knew what actors we were going to need for each episode, and we found out that Felicia wasn’t going to be available had we shot the episodes in order. It just had to be done. So in writing the script, Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming knew that they had to keep it somewhat contained and be mindful of the limited post-production aspects. We knew Bob Singer was directing it, so that was a checkmark in our favor.
JW - What advantage did that give you?
TA - Bob knows the whole process extremely well. He’s well versed in all aspects of it.
He’s there breaking the story, he’s in with the writers, with the editors, with everybody from start to finish. So, during the script stage, he can be more Production savvy with his notes. The way he shoots, he can piece that together in his head beforehand about how he’ll want it cut together in the end. A lot of directors do that, but because Bob and Jeremy are the final approvals on the episodes, he’s just able to pick and choose his shots and shot design so that the editor can see what he’s thinking by the blocking and choices he had made on set. All his shots, all his angles, for the most part, are used in the final cut because he doesn’t shoot stuff just because it’s cool. He will get cool shots, but because it drives the story. Which can make a big difference!
The episode is being edited by Nicole Baer, so that was another check. All our editors are fantastic and Nicole is our most veteran. She has worked with Bob on so many episodes previously and they’ve worked well together in tight turnarounds. So it was a good team that fell into place.
JW - So this is like two weeks, isn’t it?
TA - It’s eight weekdays. Bob finished shooting on Tuesday. Nicole got the last day of dailies Wednesday. She’s done with her cut and has sent it on to Bob. Bob’s going to come in first thing in the morning and start working on his cut. He’ll turn it over his Director’s Cut Saturday night. So Bob gets two days. Producers will get two days. We’ll send it over to the network and studio and get their notes and then Lock picture.
Then comes our Spotting Sessions with Mark Meloche and the VFX crew and then Chris Lennertz, and Michael Lawshe´ and the sound crew and we have to do that on Monday! So, just a few days from now and less than a week from when we finish shooting.
JW - Wow. Then it goes to air the following Wednesday!
TA – Yes! So, the cuts, our sessions all of our turnarounds are just condensed. Our composer has much less time then he usually gets, as well as our sound crew, our VFX crew, Editorial, Color Correction, ADR...
For VFX, Production did what they could to schedule the VFX scenes to be shot early so that VFX can start working early. We’ve actually started getting some of the easier shots while the episode was still being shot. VFX gets copies of the dailies. And we have discussions beforehand, which shots they prefer we use, the director indicates his preferred takes on set. So, for an episode like this it is a lot more communication. It just really helps the process go a lot smoother. It’s a quicker process, but it’s not like we’re losing any quality.
JW - Is it harder to do a turnaround this quick late in the season though, rather than earlier?
TA - That’s a good question. I guess it just depends on the nature of the episode and where it falls in the schedule. Who’s directing it would be a big factor, and how complicated of a script and story and VFX and all that stuff. If it was thrown at us last minute without us being able to prep for it, then it would be whole different animal but at the end of the day, it's gotta get done, with quality and on time.
JW - It’s got to go to air! Is it a bit fun - the pressure - or would you rather not have it?
TA - You know, it’s good to get these things that kind of mix it up a bit. Because this type of show is different than other types of shows, that are on the air. I’m not saying that we’re the only one, but we’re a show that kind of has all genre aspects that we can throw out at any given time in one episode. Or we can gear one episode towards horror or towards comedy or towards emotional drama. So, we just have all those weapons at our disposal. And sometimes we through them all at you at once and sometimes we pick and choose.
TEN SEASONS OF SUPERNATURAL
JW - It’s the end of Season 10. Ten years in television - that’s like dog years, isn’t it, it's really 100 real years?
TA - It’s a remarkable feat. It’s something that we’re all very proud of. We are like a family here, because we’ve been together so long. We joke around like we’re family and we bitch at each other like we’re family. It certainly feels good to be at a job, to be working for the same company for so long. It’s fun. It’s a good time.
JW - The show now has a bigger reputation and profile than it’s ever had, which is unusual. Usually by year ten shows, you’re getting pushed to Friday night and there’s sort of people who are like ‘oh, is that still on?’ Whereas you’ve seen the Supernatural, it's in Hall H at Comic Con and getting covered in Variety .
TA - We always called it The Little Show That Could. When we started it was on the WB - a different network and they already had Smallville which had been on for several years before us. So, when we started we were always compared with Smallville. It was always ‘Well, Smallville does it this way’ Smallville does it that way’, and I pulled my hair out the first season. It just infuriated me because that’s great, but we’re NOT like Smallville. It’s a different show. We have a small cast, and we do things differently. Yes, we’re on the same network, yes we have a lot of VFX and it’s a genre show, but we’re not the same. It took us a while to get our own identity, get our own respect, and just be noticed on our own merit.
JW- Over that decade we've also moved from an era where you only could view a show on its home network.
A - That’s true. There are now all these alternate platforms to be able to watch the show. Netflix, Hulu, syndication on TNT. People have found the show and not necessarily through CW, but because there are so many different outlets in which you can watch it. It’s helped grow our audience.
JW - And a whole younger audience too.
TA - Exactly, they were six when we started and now their parents are letting them watch it. And people want to binge watch, and they want to binge watch something that has a lot of episodes.
JW - How do you think the show’s changed in ten years?
TA - We’ve gone through so many different storylines, we’ve explored so many different emotional themes and different relationships between the brothers and external relationships with other people. We’ve had some ups and downs with individual episodes and with standalones and mythology episodes, and our just goofballs episodes. We started shooting on film and then went over to digital in season 4. We’ve been through different incarnations of cameras from then til now and we just shot the final sequence of our season finale using a drone. It is really going to be epic. We’ve explored a lot and we’re always trying to explore as much as we can. (Note– look for the drone footage in the final scenes of Brother's Keeper as the Darkness arrives)
Over the past ten years, film making, is so much more accessible now. The viewers have become much more knowledgeable and much more intelligent, and it makes it much more difficult to hide those imperfections - a bad picture edit or a bad sound edit, or a music cue that’s just not right. People pick up on it now. And because people can DVR it and watch it later digitally, they go frame by frame. The cameras are so much better technically, they pick up so much more, but also viewers are looking for those fuck-ups.
JW - Even after you produce the show for broadcast, it then has these different lives almost with closed-captioning, or then there’s countries where there’s dubbing, or subtitling and everything as well. Do you have any input on the dubbing or subtitling that happens in other counties?
TA - Not in other languages, no. Warner Brothers has an international department that work closely with us.
JW - Well, for example, in Australia, Supernatural often gets - they’re very tiny - but they often get cuts for violence.
TA - Charles Beeson once mentioned a few seasons back, just the difference that he had working back home in the UK, with what they broadcast compared to us. They would never broadcast the violence that we have, but we would never broadcast the nudity or the sexual positions that they would over there.
JW - And language. Cursing, as you say. That’s a huge difference. Watching to network TV in the States, you'd think ‘no one swears!’
TA - Well, I do!
THE 200TH EPISODE
JW - You talked about the different genres and styles of episodes that Supernatural gets to do and the 200th episode being a musical episode, what was that like?
TA - I know a lot of the initial notes and the driving overall arc of it was that we had to think about how high school girls would do it, as opposed to a TV show would stage it.
JW - So it had to look like a high school stage production.
TA - Yes, that was the thought process. For us in post, there was a lot of pre-production that we had to do. Scheduling, getting actors in, getting the songs, doing rehearsals and the recordings. Katie Sarife (who played Marie) and the other girls were so gung-ho from start to finish. They were phenomenal to work with.
Katie had to come in and do a pre-record that we scheduled in Jay Gruska's studio. She came in wanting to get it right, as opposed to just getting it done, which are two totally different mindsets. And she was game for anything that she needed to do, and just knocked it out of the park.
JW - What did you think when you first read the concept for the episode? Because, Supernatural does things that are out of the box, but this was a step further.
TA - We had always joked about doing a musical but we had never envisioned it coming together in quite this way. In our minds it was our boys doing a lot of the singing, so, I think it was perfect that they didn’t sing, and it was left up to the girls and the musical. I thought it came together exceptionally well. I don’t usually tell people that they have to watch the show, but that was one where I was saying, “you gotta see this episode.” And a lot of people were coming up to me who don’t normally watch it, who just out of the blue said, “Oh, by the way, I saw the 200th episode. It was fantastic. It was absolutely hilarious” and asking me questions about it. It’s good to get that feedback from people.
JW - It was pretty special and I think a classic Supernatural episode in that it covered so many genres - because it was funny, it had the monster of the week, and some really deep emotional moments as well. And of course ending with the acapella of Carry On; there was not a dry eye in the house.
TA - Yeah, that got everybody a little emotional.
JW - A little tear.
TA - A little single man tear.
SEASON 10 OF SPN
JW - Any other standouts from this season in terms of challenges or things you enjoyed, or things that happened where you thought, “oh I didn’t think we could do that”?
TA - Definitely the 200th episode. When I saw the rough cut of the special feature for the DVD, I was like “holy shit, was that this year?!” It feels like it was so long ago!
JW - And on top of those great directors, as always there Serge Ladouceur's brilliant cinematography and somehow Jerry Wanek brings just more and more amazing stuff with the production design.
TA - A lot of times we’re in editing and we’re just like, “oh, what location is that?” and they’re like “Oh, it’s something Jerry built.” Of course it is! But yeah, top to bottom, people have really shown up to play in this season.
JW - It’s been a great season for music too. There’s been some wonderful tracks and that. Is that something you’re aware of, or did you just come into this season thinking ‘yup, I’m going to get all my favourites in!’ ?
TA - Most of the time, we’re just trying to find the best song for that particular moment. Sometimes what’s scripted by the writer, in the final cut just doesn’t work like it did on the page, and we just have to find something else. There have been songs that have been scripted and, even on the page, you’re just like ‘Why? Why? What’s going on here?” and then there are other times where you might think it doesn’t work, but then seeing it in the cut, you’re like ‘alright! I take that back, you’re absolutely right.’ And then there are times that when you see it on the page and you’re screaming, ‘we gotta keep this. It’s perfect for this moment.’
JW - And then you’ve got to try to get it and pay for it, and if there’s issues with that.
TA - Bands are much more willing these days to play ball because TV is another way to get people to listen to your music. Especially the music we use – these bands don’t get played on the pop stations and recent hits stations. So, it’s another outlet for another set of viewers to hear your music. So, they're more than happy to work with us. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense at all why they decline, and sometimes when they accept, you’re just like “really?!”
Take the Taylor Swift song. It wasn’t scripted to have a song there. Bob Singer just threw it out there and it stuck.
JW - Can I just stop you there! Bob’s a Taylor Swift fan?
TA – Not as far as I know but maybe secretly. So, we’re all like, “huh?!” and then as soon as we put it in the cut with those shots where they turn the radio on and with the comment that they make earlier in the show. It just fit perfectly. We had to get it. And she approved! Same thing with Celine Dion when we used her a few seasons ago
JW: One of the others was Behind Blue Eyes over the final montage in 10.18 Book of the Damned. That whole sequence, the song just sold that. Just took it to the next level.
TA - Yeah, Phil had been trying to get that song into a show for a couple seasons now, and it just worked perfectly with that episode.
JW - Do you have any favourite needle drops from this season?
TA - I gotta say, I’m not a Taylor Swift fan, but it did work phenomenally well in that episode.
JW – We mentioned the use of Carry On Wayward Son in the 200th episode before. I've always wondered what is the history of how it became the theme song of the show and the fandom?
TA - We first used in the recap at the head of "Salvation", the penultimate ep of Season 1. "Fight the Good Fight" by Triumph was in the season 1 finale recap. In Season 2, we liked the way Carry On worked and used it as the Season 2 finale. The Season 3 finale, the shortened season due to the writer's strike, is when we really solidified it as our end of season anthem and made the decision to always use on the season finale.
Season 10 DVD
JW – I know you're also doing work on the Season 10 DVD special features.
TA -I was just watching a rough cut of a DVD extra, bonus material about 25 to 30 minutes long into a lot of detail. It follows the episode from pre-recording to rehearsals, through production. So, they talk to composers Jay Gruska and Chris Lennertz and all the cast gets interviewed in it. It’s a great piece. I certainly don’t want to give anything away but it’s definitely worth the DVD purchase!
JW -I know the one thing fandom looks forward to always is the gag reel. It's one of the few gag reels I see on DVDs that is actually funny and not just people fluffing their lines.
TA - It’s not hard to find those gags! We usually pull them throughout the season and just have too many to put in. As with the deleted scenes, where people are furious they don’t make the DVDs, people get furious when we don’t put certain gags in the gag reel, because they heard the actors at a Convention say, “Oh, there was this great moment ...”
JW - “It was the funniest thing you’ll ever see.”
TA - Meanwhile, the question real is, was the camera rolling? Was the audio rolling? I don’t think so. But we put together a great gag reel this year that is pretty funny. It’ll be something that I’m sure the fans will get a huge kick out of.
JW - Misha’s mockumentary from last year’s DVD was a highlight too.
TA - Yeah, Misha came to Phil and I one day and he asked if we could make it happen. He pitched us the idea, and asked if it something worth trying. We thought it was hilarious, and Misha and I went to work on the outline and the gags -. You know, what’s doable and what’s not doable. We had a 15 page outline by the end of it, which was way too long
JW - “This is a whole series!”
TA - Yes, we pared it down quite a bit but the rough cut still timed out to 40 minutes. But it was a lot of fun, coming up with some of those gags and jokes and then just seeing everybody being so game for it. It really sold it.
JW - It was definitely a classic, and I think it’s another thing that’s a feature of Supernatural is the people who work on the show’s willingness to make fun of themselves.
TA - That’s true, and in a piece like that, you’re able to see just how much people do like each other, to be able to put themselves out there like that and actually having fun doing it. They’re also taking time out of their day. They’re staying a little bit later than when they would need to after their full day of work. It took time, to piece that together, but I thought it came together really nicely.
JW - The DVD productions for Supernatural have always been excellent. I really appreciate the effort that goes into getting those special features done, because they do add so much - whether it's about the mythology stuff, or behind the scenes with the crew.
TA - The WB Home Video Department are always asking “so what else? You guys have any other good ideas that we could try doing?” We owe a lot to the Home Video Department in getting the mockumentary done- providing the cameras, they sent a crew to set to get all the additional footage that they needed as well. Without them being so accommodating, we never would have been able to get it done ourselves. We just wanted to do something fun for the fans, and have something they’ll enjoy watching. And have some fun doing it!
JW - This is an area of controversy amongst fandom because every time they hear about a deleted scene, they’re cursing your name, because of course everyone decides that it’s the most important scene ever. I don’t know if you’re aware but there was a scene of Sam making a grilled cheese sandwich that caused some fans to become so outraged, because they claimed it was integral to Sam's character development, that it became known as Grilled Cheese-Gate!
TA – I know the scene but didn’t know of the controversy of Grilled Cheese-Gate. We take a lot of heat and a lot of flack from twitter and social media about some of that stuff. I can go on and on about this but ultimately there’s always a reason something gets cut. In this particular instance, If it was that great of a scene, it would’ve stayed in the show.
We gotta be quick with our storytelling and we gotta be mindful of what’s necessary to tell the story and what’s just fluff. Some of that fluff needs to stay, but not all of it. Some of the jokes that are funny on paper just aren’t as funny as you think they are. Some of the long emotional scenes, might be repeating material from another scene. There's a lot of factors that go into those scenes being cut. The grilled cheese scene, well it was Sam making a grilled cheese. There was no dialogue and he had his shirt on the whole time.
JW - It wasn’t even Nude Grilled Cheese Gate?
TA - [laughing] No. But that was a matter of cutting the show down for time. We told the story we needed to tell. A lot of these things don’t make the DVDs, because they’re cut for a reason. I know that a lot of people were furious about the “Dean working-out” scene which was cut this season. Again, if it was that great of a scene, it wouldn’t have been cut. And again, no dialogue and completely clothed the entire scene.
JW - Maybe you just need to have a little grilled cheese icon easter egg on the DVD somewhere.
TA - You know, we keep talking about a pop-up episode and maybe we can do something like this for a DVD, where we have little pop-ups that explain that there was a Grilled Cheese scene here, but don’t worry about it! [laughing]
JW - You could have fan comments from twitter and have them popping up. “Where’s the grilled cheese sandwhich?” “Why has Dean still got his shirt on?”
TA - It could be the whole twitter feed when people live-tweet the show!
SEASON 11 AND BEYOND!
JW - Supernatural got an early pickup for Season 11 this year. How does that effect you during the latter half of the season?
TA – It's always good to know as early as possible.
We’ve had a bunch of different milestones throughout the year, because we had the 200th episode, which was the fifth episode of the year. So, there was a lot of build-up to that, and then we had a party, and then the new year and then hearing about the pick-up, just one thing after another, finishing with this really tight turn around. It’s been go go go, the entire year, which is good, but it does seem long.
JW - The 200th episode does seem a long time ago now! And I suppose even more so for you, since because you were been talking about it and working on it since June last year.
TA - Since episode 1! Since the pilot we’ve been talking about the 200th. I actually said to Jensen, at our 100th episode party “hey buddy, we’re half-way there!”
JW - I’m glad you got to have some good parties. Those milestones are important. There’s a few who get a chance to work on a successful show for ten years in television.
TA - Yup, half-way there!
JW - I’ll remind you of that when we’re talking about the 400th episode.
TA - I think my kids will be working on the show at that point!
Supernatural From Script to Screen is a series of interviews with the crew of Supernatural by Jules Wilkinson, Supernatural Wiki Administrator.
Many thanks to Todd Aronauer for his generosity in doing this interview and also to Holly Ollis, Director, Publicity at Warner Bros. Television.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Please link back to this article if quoting from it.
- [[Supernatural From Script to Screen: Todd Aronauer]
- Supernatural From Script to Screen: VFX Supervisor Mark Meloche
- Supernatural From Script to Screen: First Assistant Director Kevin Parks
- Supernatural From Script to Screen: Director's Commentary on "Trial and Error" with Kevin Parks
For inquiries about the Supernatural Wiki, you can contact Jules at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview conducted 23 April 2015; posted 18th June 2015