Rudy Bednar: What the Boy SawQ: This episode of Final Witness wins the prize for Most Remote Location. You shot St. Petersburg, Russia – that’s pretty crazy for a small-budget TV show. What do you remember about the shoots?
A: First --- it was December so we were all thinking Doctor Zhivago
– blinding-white winter wonderland... what we got was rain and gloom. The opulent city that Peter The Great built on a gigantic scale and on a gigantic bog -- the Venice of the north -- played nicely in contrast to the Oakland Hills, soaking up the California sun with its mountain forests and San Francisco Bay views.
The old soundstage where we shot our interviews was like the land that time forgot. Everything was covered in an inch-thick blanket of dust -- opening 5-inch thick doors, stepping into a world haunted by Stanislavski's actors and Eisenstein’s camera...it felt like a good place to be after the revolution.
The city was on edge too – we may be re-creating something that happened in the past, but the city is a living, breathing thing. There was tension in the air as Occupy Moscow was about to move to St. Petersburg and the police where on full alert. Who were we, what where we doing? Opposition to Putin was growing in Moscow...our local fixers were nervous -- actors kissing on a bridge seemed hardly a threat -- but this was a country with a very suspicious past...and we had just come from Oakland, with it's very angry Occupy movement in full swing.
And, as if the world didn’t already seem small enough, late one night trying to get a money transfer from the States, producer Alex Friedman and I waited in a café next door to the Western Union office. Two months earlier we had done a Lady Gaga special together and recorded an original cover of "White Christmas" -- a little after 2AM I hear that live recording being piped into the café. Alex and I looked at each other, stunned. We laughed. More Stoli, please.Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
A: The day our two principle actors, Loren Lester and Zuzana Lova, arrived in California. It was supposed to be a “get settled in” day, but we thought it might be good to do Nina's coming to America scene on a boat in the San Francisco Bay. So when the light seemed right we quickly boarded a ferry, and with a DSLR camera we began to photograph Hans and Nina starting their journey. Great energy and fun all around.
I also remember - we shot a marriage counseling session -- Scenes From A Marriage
as it were -- with Loren and Zuzana. The day was jammed and we had only 45 minutes to finish - the time of an actual session. The actors quickly climbed into their characters and began to dig under the skin of their partner revealing the complexes, projections and neuroses that eventually undermined that relationship. I wish we could have had another 45-minute session, as the actors were just navigating their way down the road of a marriage in such deep trouble. (AND – by the way - the young woman playing the marriage counselor, Jennifer Stuckert, had auditioned for the part of Nina and when we saw she actually had a clinical practice as a therapist we asked her to play that part!)Q: What is your favorite scene in the finished product?
A: In the story Hans and Nina first meet in a café in St.Petersburg -- she was interpreting for her friend with whom Hans had made a date. But the real attraction for him was Nina across the table. His date left confused and angry, day turned to night and the American computer nerd with the cowboy hat captured the Russian doctor’s heart.Q: The little boy playing Rory carries a lot of the emotional investment. How did you get him to engage? Any stories?
When we were shooting the judo scene with father and son at the dojo, the actor playing Rory was upset - he had enough of "Hans" pushing him too hard and wanted to call it a day -- we used his real frustration as the emotional core of that scene as it felt pretty true to life according to many accounts.Q: Final Witness embeds a lot of true-to-life details w/out calling attention to them....wanna name some now?
AL The scene at the very end of the show, in the graveyard, that’s actually Irina, Nina's mother, and Nio, Nina’s daughter, visiting Nina's grave in St Petersburg. It was amazing to be there to see that.Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned about the story while you were working on it?
A: Nina and Hans’ two children had filed a wrongful death suit a few years ago. Finally this summer it was tried, and the kids’ lawyer was suing Hans for $25 million. We learned that on July 17, 2012 2012 the jury awarded Rory and Nio $60 million after only 3 hours of deliberation.Q: What is the single most important thing you can tell us to help us understand who Nina Reiser was?
A: She would do anything for the love of her children...even if it meant putting herself directly in harm’s way.