Strike Back director Bill Eagles on helming TV’s top action series

Strike Back is TV’s most impressive show, and director Bill Eagles told what goes into making it that good ahead of the Strike Back season 6 finale.

There’s so much that goes into every episode of Strike Back. The Cinemax series is known for its impressive action sequences and relentless pace, but all of that requires a tremendous amount of work from its cast and crew.

Hidden Remote connected with Bill Eagles, who directed four of the 10 episodes in Strike Back Season 6 and was responsible for that unbelievable one-shot last week, to discuss what it’s like being behind the camera on this complex series. Bill explained the ins and outs of directing an episode and told us what it meant to him to rejoin the show last season after directing episodes of the previous incarnation.

Learn more about directing Strike Back in our interview below, then don’t miss more of Bill’s work in the season finale Friday at 10 p.m.!

Hidden Remote: You directed previous Strike Back episodes during the Scott and Stonebridge era. What did it mean to you to return to the show?

Bill Eagles: A lot of the people behind the show, I know those teams. So it was really good to return to a production environment which knew me, which trusted me, which was excited to have me back.

But then to have people stepping into the shoes of Phil [Winchester] and Sully [Sullivan Stapleton], and beginning the process all over again of discovering those characters was fantastically interesting. The new cast brought things to show which were completely unique and distinct and set a new tone.

I think they’re equally good, but they have their strengths in different areas. To see our new guys slip into those shoes and get the military vibe, get the energy of the show, get the high stakes game that they’re in, and also the high stakes of where we shoot this show. If we’re on top of a skyscraper, we’re on top of a skyscraper, we’re 60 stories up. Or if we’re jumping out of a helicopter, we’re jumping out of a real one. We do things for real.

So you can get a sense of adrenaline, of excitement, there’s nostalgia for the old there was the love of finding the new.

HR: The actors have all said Strike Back is like no other acting job they’ve had. So as a director, do you also find you have to do things differently here than you would directing any other show?

Eagles: I get a lot more license to direct this show than I might on a preexisting episodic show. [If] we’re working on a long-running American show, there are all sorts of ground rules that are being set by the pilot director, the showrunner and the writing team. You’ve got cast who’ve probably been there maybe for more than one season, several seasons. You’ve got a whole lot of give-ins when you walk in the door.

Now on Strike Back…I’m working with very new, fresh actors who have got lots to discover, and as a director, I’m allowed to work and mold and construct the way those personalities grow, the way those characters develop—alongside the showrunner, alongside the producers and the writers, but I get a lot more input on a show like that. Especially when it’s being rebooted and it’s in such an early stage of development.

HR: There’s a lot of destruction on the show. Do you have to have conversations about how much you can wreck or blow up?

Eagles: We do have conversations like that. And I mean to be working with [showrunner] Jack Lothian…He sets out his story in graphic detail, and we’ve got to follow it and make sure we cross every T and dot every I. But along the way, we say, “Jack, Jack, Jack! What if? What if a tank came over the hill rather than just a Jeep? What if we roll the car three times and it falls off in a pit?” And he’ll consider it.

Sometimes the excitement of the show just gets the better of all of us. We make the explosion bigger, we make the ambush larger, we make the death rate higher. We tend to go bigger very often, and that’s part of the fun of it.

HR: You have a remarkable crew on Strike Back. Can you speak about them and what they bring to each shoot?

Eagles: The cameraman I work with, Mike Spragg, I work with very often and a wonderful operator called Steve Murray, and Adi Visser…We have a shorthand. So often you walk on a scene when you’re shooting a piece of drama, and you block the scene. You bring the crew in and you say we’re going to shoot from here, we’re going to shoot from there, we can do close-ups here, we’re going to get close-ups there. You let them all know what’s happening.

With Strike Back, I know everybody so well, and they know me. We block the scene and it’s complicated—people come in, people leave, somebody gets shot, something explodes. And everybody knows. We have the shorthand. So you don’t have to laboriously tick every little box. We just go to it. We’re the well-oiled machine.

Maybe it’s a cliche, but there’s a lot of truth in it when you’re on a show like this with a cast that you know and you love, and know and enjoy working with as a director. And behind that, you’ve got the pyro guys. How big do you want this fireball, Bill? Do you want it to be as big as the door, or as big as a house, or 20 feet or 30 feet high? It’s amazing. You know, we want a 40-foot high fireball. And that’s what we get.

HR: You’ve directed episodes of other complex shows, like 12 Monkeys and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Is there anything in that past experience that’s been applicable to filming on Strike Back?

Eagles: Strike Back‘s its own animal. It has the scale of TV which is unprecedented. The level of action that we put in there is three, four, five times that of a similar American show. The level of the explosions and all the rest of it. And the way that we involve our real cast is also premium and very unusual in TV.

Our cast is really up for running in front of some giant bomb and getting quite close to the flames and jumping on tall buildings and that whole kind of thing. And rolling in cars and everything. That’s just part of our tradition.

I totally love the American system, doing shows in a more traditional way. I love that. There are all sorts of reasons why we should do it in that way. But Strike Back, we go to strange places. And a lot of this stuff is real—all the explosions around and all the gunfire. There’s a high intensity about the shoot days on Strike Back which is consistent. You might have that on a couple of days, with an American episode, but on Strike Back it’s every day.

HR: Strike Back is known for its action, but directors such as yourself also have more than that to keep in mind, as well. Talk about those considerations.

Eagles: The show is known as an action show, and that’s one of its selling properties. We do action bigger and better, we think, than anybody else on television. But it’s also a character show, and it’s a show about the bond between soldiers. We put them under immense pressure, immense levels of lethal danger, and we see how those pressures produce bonds and connections.

We have real soldiers on the set. We have guys that have been in special ops as our military advisors, and we say, how would you respond to the end of this. Would you all be shaken and white-faced and not able to speak? And [they say] no, what you’re doing is right. That there’s this dark gallows humor. You might have a moment where you sleep maybe later on. You might have some aftereffects down the line. But in the moment it’s the thing that glues you together. You look out for each other.

Most TV shows are about family, either real or substitute families. We deal with metaphorical families all the time. And never more so than in Strike Back. As we know, the test of any character is when you put them under pressure. You learn what people are made of. That’s what we’re mining in our storytelling.

We show the techniques behind it, we show the excitement and the action—but also we show the deep bonds between people, and when we’re casting, we look for that chemistry in our cast. And it’s those moments when there’s the glow, the warm glow, the pat on the back, somebody saved somebody’s life. Those are the moments I think that make Strike Back the glorious show that it is.

Next: How Strike Back created its ambitious one-shot

Strike Back airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Cinemax. For more on Strike Back and other Cinemax shows, follow the Cinemax category at Hidden Remote.

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