“Gen V” Director Shana Stein on Penultimate Episode’s Tie-In With “The Boys”
Gen V, the quick-footed spinoff to Prime Video’s debauchery-filled superhero satire The Boys, mimics its collegiate environment in its primed-for-combustion filming style. In the inaugural season’s penultimate episode, titled “Sick,” the main characters are confronted with institutional roadblocks and a boiling fervor on campus regarding supe rights.
“What I think the writers have done so beautifully and brilliantly in The Boys and Gen V is they’ve taken current issues and put the superhero spin on them to make social commentary,” Shana Stein, the episode’s director, said in an interview.
Leading up to the finale (the series has already been renewed for a second installment), the dark secret of Godolkin University is revealed right before its gatekeepers are eliminated. Protagonist Marie (Jaz Sinclair) attempts to enlist the help of conniving politician Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) to take down the inhumane supe prison lab called The Woods, despite her having an agenda of her own. Meanwhile, Asa Germann’s Sam experiences what it’s like to be a normal student — before falling prey to a radicalizing group on campus.
“We had a gazillion hundred extras out there — that was very old school, very low-tech,” Stein said of filming the episode’s frenetic town hall. “It was the first AD and I on stage acting out for the audience how to react to everything.”
We spoke to Stein about Gen V’s “common DNA” with The Boys and what makes the series pop on its own. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How does your approach to this spinoff compare to the predecessor of The Boys?
I’m a huge, huge fan of The Boys. In my prior experience, I did a show that we had multiple spinoffs of. So I was familiar with focusing on the DNA, and then there’s the new twist on it. It’s a combo platter of giving them more of what they want and then something new and unexpected, which I think the writers and producers did such a great job of delivering. It’s got all of the shock and humor and horror, and yet with these younger supes. In The Boys, where it was this big reveal that they were given Compound V, that information already exists here. Now they’re just trying to be supes living their best supe lives. There’s a lot of innocence there, and there’s a lot of hope in them still — it hasn’t been beaten out of them yet.
By the time I came on, they’d already established certain things [about] the look of the show. And they all were really great about communicating the stuff that they wanted to continue. The music is different — it doesn’t have the punk rock that The Boys [has]. It’s got more of a younger, college, more contemporary feel. A lot of the shooting style is similar, although it’s in different lensing. But [there’re] so many more supes that are good guys. Marie, who we’re on our hero’s journey with her … is she gonna change the world, or is the world gonna change her?
How much did you look to the comics that inspired Gen V versus balancing that with other coming-of-age college stories?
[The writers] did such a great job of taking the best stuff from the source material and then also letting it have its own life. I have watched all of The Boys — I want to say three times. I also looked at the original comics as well, which are now all up in my teenage son’s room. This is one of the things I absolutely love about the show: they don’t shy away from politics, they don’t shy away from challenging issues. It deals with some of the mental health issues that people go through, particularly young women in high school and university, with eating disorders and cutting and finding your power. It’s really complicated material that the writers have given us to play with. And I was so grateful to have such really incredibly talented, adept actors that could take it on. Episode 7 is a really emotional episode for a lot of the characters. As a director, it was really fun to work with the actors to bring that to life and give them the space to do their magic.
With this penultimate episode, you’re tying in a lot of the lore from The Boys: We see characters like Victoria Neuman and Grace Mallory. Could you talk about your approach to making sure every plotline is given space? How closely did you work with the writer Chelsea Grate?
Chelsea was wonderful. She was a great partner. She was on set with me every day, and I had her do a lot of prep as well. Michele [Fazekas] and Tara [Butters], the showrunners of the season, were great, and Eric [Kripke] is the master of the universe, and he’s also incredibly reachable. So I feel like if ever there’s a thing that’s a team sport, it’s making serious television. My job as a visiting director is to try to get their vision on the screen.
What were your collaborations like with VFX, and what was your approach to blocking those shots? I wanted to focus specifically on the montage with Sam, where he’s experiencing this childlike joy in discovering college life.
Asa is so lovely and such a wonderfully talented actor. It was such a joy seeing that scene when he was just alone and discovering in Emma’s room, and it was just us and the cameras — that was one of my favorite things to shoot just because we had so much fun with a different moment of the childlike discovery. Then, going to the outside, how he ends up getting involved with the Supe Lives Matter thing, it’s not initially because of that or any kind of alignment ideologically, it’s just because it’s fun, and the kids are out there.
When you talk about blocking, anything that’s stunts or VFX, we prep the hell out of it. First, we discuss it, we concept it, then start to shot-list it, and we’ll walk through what sets we have. When appropriate, we’ll storyboard it, and then I’ll go back and shot-list again. On The Boys and Gen V, they do a pre-vis process, which is wonderful because then everybody can see what we’re thinking. And so when we go on the day, it’s as efficient as possible, and I make sure that the producers are getting the footage that they want. So it’s a lot of communication and a lot of preparation and planning. With the sled coming down the hall, we had to try different things like the rigs that we use. I always say the action is math. It’s this plus this plus this equals your sequence.
Going off of that, the town hall scene is such a pressure cooker environment that requires a lot of movement and coordination across teams. What were your favorite aspects of filming that?
Yeah, that was pretty crazy. We had a very limited amount of time, we had a ton of extras, and we had four cameras; we had it organized by shot lists, and that one we didn’t have a pre-vis on. We had a gazillion hundred extras out there — that was very old school, very low-tech. It was the first AD and me on stage acting out for the audience how to react to everything. We needed our 400 extras to all respond in unison. So Joanna [Moore], the truly amazing first AD, was over there, and I was pantomiming it out for them. It was like ‘Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. Sonic boom! Sonic boom!’ and the whole crowd would turn. Then ‘Laser eyes! Laser eyes!’ That was so much fun. We just had a blast. We just act the fool. We’re the luckiest people alive. We get to play make-believe for a living. I’m eternally grateful. It was a dream come true.
Was there anything that challenged or colored your experience as a director shooting this particular episode?
It just reinforced for me what a team sport it is. I was so excited to come on; I was everybody’s biggest cheerleader. I just tried to create a safe space for everybody to do their job and to bring their best work. Gen V is its own thing within this universe, and it’s got its own tone and allowing that to be there and embracing the differences, and then celebrating also that common DNA.
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Featured image: Jaz Sinclair (Marie Moreau) and Derek Luh (Jordan Li) in “Gen V” Episode 7, “Sick.” Cr: Brooke Palmer/Prime Video.