Since Burn Notice is the first TV series I have ever worked on, it was my introduction to an odd phenomenon that happens with any new show. Given the length of time production takes – shooting episodes, editing them, scoring them, etc. you don't actually get to see an episode of your show for almost a month after you start shooting the first episode. It's still being put together. You've seen the pilot, of course, but that's pretty different from the average episode. So for a little while, you're sort of flying blind. You haven't been able to assemble an episode yet, but you're blithely writing more, hoping that you're not flying into a mountain.
The first three episodes of the show were written well before we went into production. "Family Business" was the first show we shot after we'd seen the cuts of earlier episodes. Suddenly, we had a much better idea of how an episode of the show would work. I think the difference really shows in Family Business and the shows that come after it. I'm proud of all of them, but I feel like we kind of hit our stride at that point in the season.
Sandy Bookstaver, the director, is someone I had never laid eyes on before the episode started prepping. We were instantly friends, though, and it was a blast working on the show with him. He brought a ton of style to the show, and stretched us creatively with his meticulous attention to making every shot as cool as possible. He's best known for his work on Jericho, where he honed the fine art of making something "awesome" (that's his favorite word) on very little money.
Casting was an issue from the beginning. We wrote the episode without actually thinking about how hard it is to cast three members of an Israeli family. They have to be good actors, who can do an Israeli accent, who look enough alike to be family. When I realized what we were up against, I was pretty scared. The auditions were held in LA, and we had to look at them online. The first part we cast was Ari. To be honest, I looked at the headshots of the actors, I saw Guri Weinberg, and I said, "That's the guy." Then I watched the auditions, and...that was the guy. There was something about him, something simultaneously funny, and charming, and scary. He has a magnetic screen presence and is a fantastic actor. He needs to be a star. Like, now.
Joel Swetow, our Eli, was another find. We liked him at first because he had intense eyes like Guri, but the more I saw of him, the more I realized that there was no other guy for the part. Again: scary, charming, dangerous. He's playing the older guy, and he delivers one of the best ass-kickings of the season. He also managed to be a great villain with a human side. The look on his face when he realizes what his son has done is heartbreaking. When he said "Ari...what did you do?" you could feel the set just change. I got chills. Real, actual chills. We found out, the next day that the guys at the lab that developed the negative called to say they loved the scene. When you make a jaded lab technician perk up at four in the morning while he's running film through a machine, that's when you know you've got something cool.
For Ilan, we needed a third actor who was local to Miami, since it was a smaller part. Finding someone to play an intense-eyed Israeli who looks like Guri and Joel in Miami is very, very, very difficult. I called my friend Paul Gutrecht in New York. Paul is a guy who I have known for years, worked with for years, and is one of my closest friends in the world. Since I had been the best man at his wedding, I figured I could ask if he would please come out of acting retirement for me to do the role – we just weren't going to find someone else in time. He took off work, came down to Miami, and we were in business.
Seth Peterson, of course, came back as Nate. He's such a fun actor to work with and a hilarious guy. A joy to have on the set. Scott Michael Campbell, as Jake, was also great – I hadn't met him before, but he was a real pro and brought a kind of flawed, vulnerable humanity to the part.
My favorite moment from the episode: Sandy asked if I thought Jeff Donovan could stand stock still in front of a huge explosion without flinching. I said yes, then went to Jeff Donovan and said "Uh, Jeff, are you cool with this? I kind of said you'd do it." He just laughed; there was never any doubt in his mind. Watch it in the episode. That explosion was right behind him, and it was LOUD. He did not flinch a bit.
My other favorite moment from the episode: the restaurant where we were shooting, the Setai, is one of the best restaurants in Miami. They invited me and Sandy to have dinner there before we shot...wow. I have to say, my experience of being the creator of a TV show is that there is basically zero glamour. It's just me bumming around with my backpack and writing all the time...and I mean constantly. I eat meals on the set and sitting in a hotel room. I stay up all night at least once a week. But going to dinner at the Setai with Sandy was actually a little glamorous.
Unfortunately, I had been up all night the night before, so I was hallucinating a little bit (shadows flickering at the corners of my eyes, and everything had a glassy look). But still, it was – as Sandy Bookstaver would say – awesome.