For its cast and crew, the end of the long-running medical drama was a time of of hard work and emotional ups and downs. First assistant director Vince Duque was an essential part of it all.
Vince Duque, worked as first assistant director for the TV series House since 2009 and considered it a distinct honor to be a part of the groundbreaking show and its final days. In our recent phone interview he discussed the challenges and the joys of bringing the popular series to its emotional yet uplifting end.
Filming the finale must have been quite an ordeal. How did you recover from it?
It was a very interesting recovery because there was the actual process of shooting the episode and then the cathartic sense of going on vacation and kind of getting away from it. There wasn’t really a process of coping with leaving the show while we were doing it. For example all throughout the episode [I would have to announce something like], “Okay, that’s a series wrap on Omar Epps.” And that’s pretty significant. There would be scenes like that every day and I couldn’t get caught up in it because I had to keep everyone focused on shooting the episode.
How emotional must that have been for everybody involved?
We didn’t have a sort of bereavement seminar. There was such weird energy. We were shooting the episode and people had left the show to do other shows so we weren’t necessarily at 100 percent. The crew that we had for the final episode wasn’t necessarily the crew we had in the middle of the year or beginning of the year. There were a lot of new people doing an episode that was in itself incredibly difficult, more difficult than I think we’ve been used to in the last year or year and a half.
I was really impressed and surprised by how the series ended. Usually viewers have some idea of how a series finalé will go but not this time. How did you manage to keep the details of this episode under wraps?
I’d have to give credit to the writing staff, the assistants and the production office. I would also love to give credit to Geoffrey Colo and Alex Solether, the guys in our publicity department who had to fend off the media. There was very limited distribution [of the script]. Only a few people got Act 6, which was the ending. Even throughout the episode only certain people could have all six acts, which made shooting even more difficult because critical crew members like the set costumers needed to know what was going on on set for continuity. For example, the funeral. They didn’t know there was a funeral. They couldn’t necessarily prepare so costume designer, Cathy Crandall, had to find a way to organize information and disseminate critical logistical information to her department in a way they weren’t used to. Combine that with the fact that we had new crew members in different departments, especially in key positions learning the show, which was already a very complicated show to do.
Just thinking about it probably exhausts you.
It was a lot. I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished. We really came together and I’m very impressed and honored to be a part of a group of people who really hunkered down and pulled it together. Because, really, so many forces were at work trying to pull this apart. I don’t mean maliciously, but it was a difficult episode on so many levels. We were talking about how we were dealing with things like ‘this is the last scene in the outer office!’ We had to think about that and how everybody else was coping. It was just very strange but we somehow kept it together. I can’t even believe it.
Let’s go back a little and talk about when you found out the show was ending. How did things change for your and your crew when you were given the news the show would not be going on to season nine?
Yeah, it was a combination of a few things, one of them being certain key people leaving for other shows. It was soon after that we heard that our show was going down. It was the beginning of the end. How were people coping through the last four episodes? People were dealing with this in their own different ways. Their attention was dividing [between] the anxiety of leaving and trying to get another job and then grasping the notion that the show was going to be over. Yet that didn’t really manifest itself until the end when we were shooting the final episode and then even more so when we had the wrap party. I can’t articulate properly how it manifested itself but it was very acutely on the surface and yet...beneath the surface.
I had made these shirts for the crew that said “Keep Calm and Carry On”, a take on an old World War II propaganda slogan. I loved that saying and used the House logo on it instead of the Queen’s crown. When I had worn that shirt in the past, Hugh made comments on it. He really loved it. So I bought those shirts for everybody and it was really great to see people wearing them. In a subconscious way it reminded everyone that everything was going to work out and we have to focus.
How was it working so closely with series creator David Shore for the final episode?
I’m honored to have worked with him directly like that [and] I give David Shore a lot of credit for [sticking to his guns]. After over eight years of being at the helm, he was really calm and collected and had a specific vision of how he wanted to do the episode. To his credit, he took me, Director of Photography, Gale Tattersall and our Executive Producer Andrew Bernstein, and really created this nucleus of a team to get us through the episode. It was a free flow exchange of ideas and communication with all of us.
Another person I have to give credit to is Jeremy Cassells, the production designer. Without him we would have been [clueless] as to what this building was going to look like and how it was going to work. We had to build this thing in two weeks. Comparatively, for [the episode] “Help Me”, when we built that gigantic building collapse, we had at least a month or so to build that. We had to do this in two weeks. So between Jeremy and Steve Howard, who was the Construction Coordinator, we had his construction guys working around the clock to get this building made and fireproofed. You saw in the episode that we lit the set on fire.
It wasn’t CGI?
There was definitely some augmentation but we had an exterior location in downtown Los Angeles and the special effects team (who really did a great job on this episode) rigged this building so fire was coming out of it. Then it exploded. We also built a replica interior set that they ignited on fire. We pulled it off. It’s miraculous, a testament to how smart and how clever and how professional our crew really is.
What was your last day on the set like?
The last scene that I did was inside the building (a smaller crew had gone to shoot the motorcycle drive away five days later). But the last thing we were shooting was House realizing he can make a change. It was 11PM and we were going to do champagne. We had done the majority of the shooting already so everybody had this feeling of release. Yet we had a big day still. I remember the last scene I had with Hugh. I put my hand out, shook his hand and said, “Sir it’s been an honor to work with you these three years.” I remember before we cut, after his last shot, on my last day, we winked at each other before we went out to the ‘circus’, where everybody was waiting for him to say goodbye. This moment between the two of us said, “We did it. We got through the episode.” I won’t forget it. It was a great moment.
There are a few very important people Duque wanted to be sure to mention since they were “so, so critical to the success of the episode”. Besides the aforementioned Production Designer Jeremy Cassells, Construction Coordinator Steve Howard, and Executive Producer Andrew Bernstein, Duque wanted to mention his AD team Diane Calhoun, Gary Cotti, Christine Danahy, Allison Rushton, Sam Luu, and PAs Derek Oishi, Matt McKinnon, and Letia Cloutson, Producer Marcy Kaplan and the production office team.
Keep calm and carry on.