Larry Teng Tells Stories of MEDIUM, HAWAII FIVE-0, CRIMINAL MINDS
“I wouldn’t trade my path for anything. It’s been a very graceful transition.” That’s how Director Larry Teng responded to me when I asked how it felt to reach his ultimate goal of directing serial television.
He told me, “I’ve always seen and considered myself a Director. Producing was a means to get there.”
It’s Not as Easy as It Looks
And that experience as a Producer included extensive work on Medium that paid off in the end.
When I hinted at how it must have felt to watch someone else perform his dream of directing while he took the role of Producer, Teng chuckled. “It can be difficult,” he said, “seeing what’s happening in front of you. You have to understand you’re wearing the Producer’s hat right now, or you’re wearing the Director’s hat. You have to be discreet about both jobs. When I’m producing, my job is to make sure the story’s being told. And, the truth is, there are a lot of different ways to tell that story. On set, I would just be sure that the Director is achieving that goal and not let myself get in the way of that. It’s a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ kind of thing. You swap places. You don’t want that happening to yourself either. I wouldn’t want another Director directing my scenes for me.”
There Are Many Sides to Directing
But what about directorial freedom? I was curious as to whether or not there was any. “I do have a lot of freedom,” Teng revealed. “In Criminal Minds (“Painless” episode), I was encouraged to have a point of view and to go after it. Medium (with the seven episodes he directed) was a very specific kind of storytelling, seeing the story through her (star Patricia Arquette’s) eyes. You cater toward the character as to how you want the story told. In Hawaii Five-0 (“Ua Hopu,” “Mai Ka Wa Kahiko,” “Ka Hakaka Maika’i,” “Ma Ke Kahakai”), there’s a visual grandeur built into the show. There’s a little more mission. It’s a different kind of storytelling specific to the need. You have to have the full cooperation of the island when you’re shooting. It’s one of the bigger budget shows out there. And it really shoots itself. It’s a beautiful location. That’s one reason we are able to do the big scope movie stuff that we do. Overall, it’s not like you’re wearing handcuffs directing.”
It’s Easier Said Than Done
There have been challenges, however. Teng revealed that, “Anytime you work on a show as ambitious as Hawaii Five-0, you still try to do the show in eight days. You have to understand where you want to spend your time on a show like that. You have to have enough daylight to shoot a lot of different scenes. You’re always chasing the sun. And, there’s also the potential for breakdown of equipment that’s not always readily accessible to you as it would be in a production center like L.A.”
Of the episodic television Teng has directed to this point, he told me he has two favorites. “‘Then…And Again” (2009) from Medium was “a great flashback episode” and Hawaii Five-0’s “Ua Hopu” (2012) “felt like a mini movie to do.”
Those earlier challenges we spoke about reared their ugly heads in the shooting of “Ua Hopu.” Teng said, “It was an all-day shoot in the jungle. We had two and a half hours to do it. Alex (O’Loughlin) and Mark (Dacascos) only had about an hour that Sunday to really choreograph, which is like no time at all. Normally, you have like a full day. So, coming on set, we narrowed about four hours work down to two and a half. Alex and Mark only had one hour rehearsal time. That is normally a full day as well. It was also the last scene of the day. So, the closer it got to quitting time, we started to lose a little bit of light. Also, with something like that, you don’t want to harm your actors. So, you want to make sure it’s safe. You break down the fight scene into movements, like four separate sections. But, at the end of the day, it came out great for that show, I think.”
You Learn from Others
When I asked about Producers and Directors that have influenced him, Teng said Tony Scott (The Pillars of the Earth, The Good Wife, Top Gun, Prometheus) came to mind “because of the genre of TV I do right now, with Hawaii Five-0 or Criminal Minds or whatever.” And he admires the style of directing that Paul Greengrass has.
He also told me he would some day like to work in cable. “Cable is a great place right now to do cool, out-of-the-box television.” Series he would like to direct include AMC’s The Killing and The Walking Dead.
You Never Forget
Looking back, I asked Teng for a favorite directing memory. He wasted no time replying. “There was an episode of Medium called “Apocalypse…Now?” which was the first time I directed. I sill remember the first scene, the first shot, and the first day. I still remember what that was like, and Patricia (Arquette) being so kind. The cast and crew welcomed me. It’s the one I really remember, the one I will remember and never forget, and it’s the first one. In the end, the episode turned out really well. It felt good. It also had some really good actors in it. It’s definitely the one I want to take away as being the most special.”
Something told me as I spoke with Teng that there would be many more special memories to come. Teng’s directorial seems set to reach the stars.
Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at suite101.com, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover.
This article originally appeared at suite101.com.