Both the Stephen King book and film by the same title are well-known and have received immense critical and public praise. “Dead Zone” the TV series included many of the same main characters and themes but had a decidedly different take and sensibility. Both humor and drama were ever present in the TV production. Dead Zone the series was entirely its own creation. The series had its own version of the characters. They were very unique from the book and the movie. The show established stylistic methods for their interpretation of how things worked in this world. For instance, when Johnny experienced a vision, the show utilized a method called a “match move morph” wherein a Steadicam moved seamless around Johnny (Anthony Michael Hall) in one setting, revealing him inside the setting where the vision is taking place.
While the style and some of the specifics of the TV presentation were different from the film and book, La Roche’s five seasons serving as script supervisor allowed a seamless transition into directing. Her deep knowledge of the show, the actors, and the producers’ preferences gave her a substantial head start. As a SS, she had often whispered ideas to directors about shots or coverage or acting beats; now as the director, she finally got to streamline the process to create exactly what she envisioned. What didn’t come so easy was the ticking clock looming over her head to keep the production on time and on budget. She points to Producer Shawn Piller as her mentor for this experience. She recalls her interactions with him on her first day directing, “Shawn was with me. He and I both thought I would be a strong director with the actors but action was something entirely different. The first day of shooting was the big gun battle between SWAT and a religious sect in which the sect has set up an ambush. We had rigged explosions, live gunfire, dust hits, and of course lots of characters firing. Four cameras and a lot of moving pieces. By lunch, Shawn declared that ‘an action director is born!’ It was a great feeling to have everyone involved in the production feeling energized about having me direct.”
Alexandra relates, “One of my most vivid memories is getting to the set at five AM on a summer’s day with a seven AM call. We were shooting an episode titled ‘Vortex.’ ‘Vortex’ was about a vision Johnny gets where a little girl steps on a land mine and explodes. The episode revolves around him trying to prevent this tragedy. In order to do this, he and Bruce infiltrate a Waco style cult. Two of the followers of this cult are a little girl and her mother, who have no idea that the leader of the cult is planning on making them all martyrs to the cause by blowing up the whole compound. Meanwhile, the sheriff and federal authorities are also investigating and there is a lot of conflict about Johnny and Bruce being involved. Johnny is able to save all the followers except the leader, who ultimately dies in the explosions. The shoot was a big day, with the sect members escaping through a mine field where the little girl runs off and Johnny has to talk her into trusting him. We also had a flashback scene of the little girl exploding and the big explosion of the compound with six cameras. There was a great deal of gunfire and a lot of moving pieces that had to be mapped out. I remember walking the set and setting up flags; just me, visualizing each scene, where the cameras would be and where all the actors would start and end. It was a sunny hot summer morning and that silence before the storm was magic.”
Anthony Michael Hall was not only the star of the show but had also sat in the director’s chair himself for “Dead Zone.” The duality of his acting and directing knowledge/talent made him a strong adversary on set. La Roche stipulates that she would take time to discuss her notes, blocking, etc. to Hall and all the actors to create a trust that would translate on screen. Hall professes, “Alexandra La Roche exhibited a driving force and strength as a creative team leader. Having directed an episode myself, I know how much knowledge she has of directing. Our cast trusted her input implicitly. Her ability to work with our incoming guest stars made her a strong support that we have all come to rely on.” Impact award-winner (for MASH) and Emmy-nominated David Ogden Stiers adds, “Alexandra’s grasp of the moment (dramatically and technically), her unflappability in the heat of confusion, and her precision is as dependable as the sunlight she brings to the work in the morning – and maintains throughout the day’s rigors. In conversation with other crafts and disciplines on set I’ve been amazed by their observations of her courtesy as well as her awareness of their tasks and consideration of their needs. There is a sort of nickname in New Zealand for a standout person: Tall Poppy. Alexandra is our Tall Poppy.”
Directing “Dead Zone” may have been La Roche’s early foray into directing but was far from her last. Her path hearkens back to the early days of film when director’s learned by experience on the set. She concedes that her course was not through film school and, although she notes that this path has worked well for so many directors whom she admires, she values her years working with directors as a support. She admits that the many gracious and talented directors whom she worked with taught her a great deal about being prepared, being flexible, expecting the unexpected, and communication. It is often those unobvious professionals who shake things up and present their own unique approach and voice in the arts. Taking notice of Alexandra La Roche might be the smartest thing you can do.