<I>The Flight Attendant</I>: Episode 5 director Pete Chatmon
Issue: May/June 2022

The Flight Attendant: Episode 5 director Pete Chatmon

Season 2 of the HBO Max dark comedy series The Flight Attendant debuted in April. This season spans eight episodes in which Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) is living her best sober life in Los Angeles while moonlighting as a CIA asset in her spare time. An overseas assignment leads her to inadvertently witness a murder, leaving her entangled in another case of international intrigue. The season filmed in Los Angeles, Berlin and Reykjavik.

Pete Chatmon (pictured) directed Episode 5 for this season, and recently shared with Post his experience working on the show.

How did you get involved with directing Episode 5 of The Flight Attendant?

“It was a series of fortunate events that came as a result of collaborating with some really-talented people over the past few years. I directed two episodes of You in Season 3 (Episodes 307 and 308) for which Silver Tree was the producing director. Then, a few months later, I directed two episodes of Love Life in Season 2 (Episodes 202 and 204), and the cinematographer for my episodes was Adrian Peng Correia. He and I chatted about how much I loved Season 1 of The Flight Attendant, for which he had been a cinematographer, and he was gracious enough to send a note to Kaley saying how well we worked together. That, coupled with a great working relationship with Silver, and the fact that both Berlanti Productions and HBO were familiar with my work, all came together in a perfect storm. The Flight Attendant can be a beast of a show, so I also think the fact that I have experience with both comedy and drama on premium cable and streaming shows was a definite plus, and icing on the cake.”

What were some of the challenges you faced as a director?

“The biggest challenges in the episode were, of course, navigating the tone tightrope of comedy and drama, which is a staple of the show.
The synchronized swimming sequence was an awesome challenge that we were able to resolve with time-tested, vintage filmmaking! It was all accomplished in-camera and the importance of framing and camera placement made all the difference. 

“Production designer Nina Ruscio and I spoke at length about creating a portal into another part of Cassie’s mind that would introduce us to the synchronized swimming world (via The Mind Palace) and I requested the design of the set allow our camera to boom down enough to communicate the high angle from which Cassie would see the swimming. Co-showrunner Steve Yockey had the awesome idea of having the swimmers bump Cassie on their way to the portal, allowing another bit of connective tissue to make it all work. We shot the swimming at Warner Ranch, where their pool has underground ports to capture shots that look into the pool, without having to place the camera and camera person underwater — an incredible time saver. I also have to mention Brittany Parks, who choreographed the sequence and provided rhythmic solutions to all of the creative ideas I had. 

“One thing I’m proud of that worked really well was having the vodka bottle presented to Cassie, almost as an offering, after the swimmer emerges from the water into a pose. It was somewhat like a commercial in many ways, but at this moment, for Cassie, it felt like the right cinematic approach because the urge to drink was getting harder and harder for her to resist, and I wanted the audience to be in her shoes — to feel that.

“The other creative challenge I’d mention is, of course, The Mind Palace. These sequences were accomplished by a mixture of in-camera solutions and VFX. Co-showrunners Steve Yockey and Natalie Chaidez had a clear vision for the language of this unique place in Cassie’s mind, but this episode broke away from some established elements, which was really cool. I was able to avoid motion control by using Kaley’s doubles to make many of the shots work, which was important because there was so much heavy emotional lifting for her to do in this episode that I wanted to avoid weighing things down with too many technical needs for her performance.

“With all of the above to be considered, this was probably the most storyboarded episode of television that I’ve directed up to this point.”

How did everything come together in post?

“Having worked with many of the folks on this team on my You episodes, I knew things would be smooth, quick and seamless. Stephanie Johnson, producer, and Elizabeth Rojas, visual effects coordinator, were awesome to collaborate with from prep through production, and deep into post, as far as making sure what I envisioned could be accomplished. Because of our early conversations, as well as the storyboards I worked on with Bridget Shaw, I think we had a pretty concrete plan to tackle the demands of each scene. 

“Another very important piece was Daniel Jeannette, our on-set VFX supervisor, who made sure that whenever there was motion control or compositing of the multiple Cassie characters, all of our eyelines would be correct and matches on action, among other things, would also work in the edit.”

Can you point to a challenging VFX sequence?

“When we first see Cassie fall off the wagon in the present day, there is a scene in The Mind Palace where Gold Dress Cassie is perched up high, pouring from her glass into the world’s largest martini glass. It’s designed to show just how bad Cassie wants a drink, but it also begins to initiate some of the visual language of how enticing this is for her, as much as she’s trying to fight it. This was accomplished by having Kaley sit on a ladder, safely tethered by ropes that our stunt coordinator Dan Brown oversaw, and then she simply poured from a real martini glass into a plexi-glass box, situated on top of a wooden platform covered with green screen paint. From there, Stephanie, Elizabeth and their team brought it all together in post in such an amazing way.”

What gear were you using for the shoot and edit?

“The series was shot on the Sony Venice and edited on Avid Media Composer.”

Who served as DP and editor for your episode? 

“My cinematographer was Jay Feather, who also directed an episode of the show in Season 1. My co-editors were Rita Sanders and Katie Ruzicka. Their assistant editor was Francesca Castro. The entire show is powered by such amazing talent, both behind and in front of the camera, and it was such a pleasure to direct this episode. I hope to work with everyone again in the future!”