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Nikita – Director and executive producer Danny Cannon on how to do a mini action movie every week

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Nikita - Craig Silverstein, Shane West, Maggie Q, Danny Cannon and McG
Craig Silverstein, Executive Producer, Shane West, Maggie Q, Danny Cannon, Executive Producer and McG, Executive Producer © 2010 The CW Network
Nikita - Danny Cannon
Director Danny Cannon © 2010 The CW Network

Born and raised in England, Emmy Award-nominated writer, director and producer (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) Danny Cannon serves as Executive Producer on The CW’s new series Nikita.

A revised version of La Femme Nikita, the series follows Nikita (Maggie Q) after she has broken away from the U.S. agency only known as  Division, that saved her from death row as a troubled teen, and that turned her into a trained assassin. Now looking for retribution, she is being chased by Michael (Shane West), one of the heads of Division.

You directed the pilot, what are the constraints when you try to literally do a little mini action movie every week? What are the disciplines and problems?

Nikita 1.03 - Shane West and Maggie Q
Episode 1.03 "Kill Jill" - Michael (Shane West) and Nikita (Maggie Q) © 2010 The CW

I’m on so many drugs, man! (he laughs) You know what? You just have an expectation. I like watching movies, and I’ll be honest, I don’t watch television. I got hired by Jerry Bruckheimer to do the CSI pilot because he wasn’t going to give me the movie I was asking for.

So I went out to impress him, and that’s all I do now. It’s like I’ll make small mini-movies as quick as I can, but without lowering any expectations. I’ll just keep ramming my head against the wall until it looks as good as I think it should. And it’s all about the crew around you and the cast around you and how good the script is.

Are you worried that you won’t be able to sustain it every week, or are the days of pyrotechnics over on a weekly basis on these types of shows?

Nikita 1.03 - Shane West and Maggie Q
Episode 1.03 "Kill Jill" - Michael (Shane West) and Nikita (Maggie Q) © 2010 The CW

I’m very proud that the pilot cost a third of what other pilots cost this year. And that’s because I did a cable show right before this that taught me how to go even faster. But it’s not about just speed.

A lot of it is to do with what’s the story about? Service the story.

We could use helicopters and blow more things up, but that’s got nothing to do with the story. And television has always been about characters and stories.

So I actually get more creative with less money, I believe.

Was it hard for the actors to work at such a pace?

Nikita 1.06 - Lyndsy Fonseca and Shane West
Episode 1.06 "Resistance" - Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) and Michael (Shane West)© 2010 The CW

What was interesting was watching a stunt guy work with them after we set up what we needed to accomplish. It was like watching dancers having to learn a dance step quickly. It was like being on Broadway watching Bob Fosse.

Some people can dance, and some people can’t. Maggie just can, and so can Shane. They’ll say, ‘Do this. Could you swing that right? Actually, flip it and go this way.’ And they just do it. It’s impressive to see people who are in control of their bodies.

It strikes me that your stunt coordinator is another star of the show. When you’re formulating an episode, is it written so that the stunt coordinator is consulted as to what organically comes out of the plot and also what Maggie is able to accomplish?

Nikita 1.03 - Maggie Q and Shane West
Episode 1.03 "Kill Jill" - Nikita (Maggie Q) and Michael (Shane West)© 2010 The CW

No. I never want to restrict the writer. Sometimes you go, ‘Could we do it this way so we can afford it or logistically we can make it happen?’ But no, I would never limit anybody. In preproduction, you say, ‘We need to get this across. She needs to get from here to here, and this is the guy in her way. I’d like to try some of these things.’

I’ll make a fool of myself by doing some flailing around. And our stunt coordinator, Branko, he’ll go off with his guys and play around or sometimes just throw me around. And then Maggie makes it her own bit, or Shane will make it his own little bit.

Like I said, it’s like a dance. You have to make it your own.