The new series Limitless, based on the 2011 film directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper, will premiere on CBS on September 22. We got a chance to visit the edit bay and speak to writer Craig Sweeney (Elementary, Medium) about the show.
The series stars Jake McDorman as Brian Finch, a man whom the FBI is feeding the drug NZT-48, which enhances brain abilities, increases IQ to four digits and allows perfect recall of events, and they ask him to help solve crimes. Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) plays agent Rebecca Harris, who’s father has a connection to the drug as well. Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man) is executive producing and directed the first two episodes of the show, which takes place after the events of the film. As you may have heard, Cooper will appear in the pilot.
Sweeney told us that it’s been a long process getting this show from film to TV. They made a pilot back in March of last year, which he said they had plenty of money for and Webb’s direction, making it far easier than the actual show. However, it was a matter of taking a film and crunching that down into a pilot budget. “Then the challenge becomes, okay, how do you do that – you shoot a typical weekly episode in less time than you had to make the pilot.”
We got to see scenes from the pilot and learned a bit about how they approached the visuals. First off, we learned about the structure of that particular story. Sweeney told us that he normally hates the trope of seeing a guy tied to a chair and spending the rest of the hour learning how he got in that chair. “It’s a bit of a shop-worn conceit in TV writing. I try to dodge it as much as I can. But when I thought about what I wanted this pilot to be like, it seemed like – I felt like you almost had to do it, because I wanted to show the same action set piece – the set piece you see at the beginning of the show is filmed – the audience has no knowledge of NZT or what has happened to Brian (McDorman) so it’s filmed with a very naturalistic technique and plays in a much more visceral and non-stylized way. We shot the same action sequence two ways. What happens then is, you go back in time and you catch up to the events of the beginning of the show, but now you know what’s going on – you now experience the chase as he experiences it with his heightened perceptions,” he explained.
So, what do those heightened perceptions look like? There is an amber cast to his vision, as if you’re looking through polarized sunglasses. Everything is clear and you get a voiceover of how Brian is planning everything. One of the scenes we saw was Brian running away from FBI agents through a street full of moving cars. Then we see it from his perspective. (Still a third person shot, just with “Brian vision.”) Sweeney told us they shut down Times Square for this shot and that they had the stunt guy run the sequence over and over, then run it with McDorman, than with the actor by himself. He was surprised, he told us, at how fast he picked it up.
When you see it from Brian’s perspective, he’s calculating his speed, the speed of the cars, trajectory, etc. He outruns them, and then is faced with a decision. In Brian vision, we see him look at all three possibilities for escape. One will get him caught by the cops – running into the park, which his memory tells him recently got an enhanced police presence. One is heading down into the subway station.
In the station, we meet Rebecca Harris, who looks at him for a long moment, then watches as he jumps onto the subway tracks and stands there as the car stops dead in front of him. When we see it with Brian vision, we realize that, in seconds, he recognizes her name and the fact that her father is connected to the drugs. We see that she notices a change in his eyes that is clearly from NZT. He calculates the speed of the train, when it will stop and if he can stand his ground. Then he escapes through a tunnel everyone forgot about and his newly eidetic memory allows him to remember. Sweeney told us a bit about how they did the scene. He explained that they had the subway edifice on a truck and the entire thing was on a tow line so it would stop in time. He said that, even knowing that, seeing the stunt guy just stand there and not blink as it got that close to his face was mind-blowing. Sweeney even appears in the show as a hot dog vendor named Cecil that Brian imparts a brilliant business plan to.
Another scene we got to see was Brian doing a bit of parlor to jump down a fire escape to get away from the FBI. We learned that the stunt guy jumped vertically down from level to level, but had to arc out a bit so as not to get hurt. They showed us how they took his work, bent in the arc with CGI, then added shots of McDorman doing the same scene on a wire to make the finished product.
The show, which also stars Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Hill Harper, and features Colin Salmon as returning character Jared Sands, a former intelligence officer who works as a fixer for Morra (Cooper), has been getting a lot of early buzz.
Check out the Limitless pilot on September 22 and tell us if you love it as much as the film.