Richard Speight, Jr. has been a part of the Supernatural series since his debut as the Trickster in Season 2. As well as appearing in 12 episodes of Supernatural, Speight has directed seven episodes of the series. As Supernatural heads into its final season, Speight is slated to direct four more episodes in Season 15. In anticipation of the upcoming season, let’s delve into Speight’s previous work as a director on Supernatural.
Over the past dozen years, Speight has been involved with Supernatural as an actor, director, and panelist and emcee for Supernatural conventions around the world. Speight has also been a writer, actor and director for Kings of Con, a 10-episode scripted series he created with fellow SPN alum Rob Benedict that puts a comedic spin on the convention world. Last year Speight directed an episode of Lucifer and is scheduled to direct several more in the upcoming season.
While directing episodes of Supernatural, Speight has had the opportunity to pay homage to directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Sergio Leone, and in Season 15, Wes Anderson. At the 2019 Toronto Supernatural convention, Speight discussed how Supernatural allows directors to switch genres based on the story.
“Supernatural is so well-crafted and well-established that it can go black-and-white, it can be meta, it can be silly, it can be referential, it can wink at the audience so to speak; it can do all these things and switch styles without ever jumping the shark—without ever losing its identity. And that’s amazing that it can do that, so I’ve been taking full advantage of that opportunity.”
Just My Imagination (S11E08)
Speight had an impressive debut as a director on Supernatural with “Just My Imagination.” A humorous but heartfelt story, written by Jenny Klein, it’s a great fit for Speight’s comedic sensibilities.
The opening sequence of “Just My Imagination” is filled with fun music, bright colors, and toys, and abruptly ends in murder. At the bunker, a mysterious figure lurks behind Sam, but the tension is broken when he stumbles upon a table of sugary snacks and his childhood friend Sully. “Just My Imagination” establishes juxtaposition between light and dark throughout the episode.
We’ve seen kid stuff before— giant teddy bears, killer clowns— but this may be one of the best representations of childhood themes viewed through a Supernatural lens. It’s funny, heartfelt, and includes fantastic imagery— a mother unknowingly spreading glittery gore across her face, a rubber ducky floating in a pool of blood, and a child’s friend being stalked through sheets hung out to dry after a recent bed-wetting.
In “Just my Imagination,” Speight allows viewers to take in the whole scene with wide shots. This filmmaking style allows the details crafted by the Supernatural crew to shine through— intricate candy treats, blue-starred sheets, Mr. Rogers-styled sweaters, a tool-filled shed, and Sully holding a hobo stick in preparation for running away.
But it’s the way the characters, particularly Sully (played by Nate Torrence) and Sam (played by Jared Padalecki), interact that makes this episode so good. At the 2019 Nashville convention, Speight shared that after seeing Torrence’s audition tape, he asked the casting department to reconsider him for the role of Sully, even though they were looking at a different actor. He noted the importance of getting the right guest actor, commenting, “Nate Torrence, I think, makes that episode. ”
Torrence plays Sully with a great combination of earnestness, whimsy, and compassion. He manages to be both funny and touching, perfectly delivering lines like, “Even when he’s dead, Sparkle can’t stop shining.” Sam’s heartfelt conversations with Sully bring out the best in Padalecki’s acting, giving the episode emotional depth. Sitting among old toys and miscellaneous tools, Sam shares his regrets and fears with Sully. Their conversation about the Cage is one of Sam’s most vulnerable moments in the series. Speight knows the show, and this monster-of-the-week episode demonstrates what we love about Supernatural.
Stuck in the Middle (With You) (S12E12)
This Quentin Tarantino-inspired episode is one of our favorites in terms of unique themes and great imagery. There are so many things to love about this episode—the camera work, the music, the references. Written by Davy Perez, “Stuck in the Middle (With You)” uses Tarantino signatures such as a non-linear narrative, title cards, repeating fragments of scenes from the perspective of different characters, and musical cues to set the tone.
“Stuck in the Middle (With You)” tells the story of a heist gone wrong. The opening scene mirrors Reservoir Dogs, with the camera panning around a table, over the shoulders of the characters. Later, there’s a slow-motion shot of the group walking down the street recreating another classic scene from the Tarantino film.
Speight took the script a step further by incorporating Western elements. The fight sequence at Ramiel’s house is well choreographed, beautifully filmed, and complimented with a western-themed musical score. As Ramiel returns home, we see the Winchesters preparing their weapons in one continuous shot. The fight scene at Ramiel’s house replicates a saloon brawl, with Castiel thrown out a window, Dean jumping over the side of the porch, and Sam getting a glass broken over his head and falling through the railing. The fight between Ramiel and Castiel plays out like a classic standoff. Speight used a split-focus diopter, a technique used by Tarantino and in some westerns. For the shots of Sam gripping a lighter along his leg like a pistol and Ramiel holding out his watch, the split-diopter lens puts objects both near and far into focus,
The collaboration between series cinematographer Serge Ladouceur and Speight results in beautiful imagery throughout “Stuck in the Middle (With You).” Memorable shots include branches shadowing Dean’s face, trees reflecting on the car window as Mary and Wally talk, the light of the moon shining down on Ramiel and Castiel as they fight, and the flickering of holy-oil flames reflecting on faces in the barn.
Close-ups of characters’ faces and their weapons amp up the tension. Speight isn’t afraid to use blood, glittery or otherwise. Mary holds her phone in a blood-covered hand as she calls her sons to tell them of Castiel’s condition. The angel is covered in dirt, blood, and black ooze. Beauty, gore, and stylized filmmaking create a fun and memorable episode in “Stuck in the Middle (With You).”
Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes (S12E20)
In “Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes,” Alicia and Max Banes ask the Winchesters for help. Sam says to Dean, “Their mom’s on a hunting trip and hasn’t been home for a week,” echoing Dean’s line from the pilot, “Dad’s on a hunting trip, and he hasn’t been home in a few days.” Meanwhile, Dean is leaving messages for his mom, who has been hunting with Ketch. Writer Steve Yockey first introduced us to the Banes twins in “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” and brings them back in this family-themed episode.
Most of the story takes place inside the British Men of Letters’ base and the boarding house where Tasha Banes is staying. The boarding house set is wonderfully designed with woodsy wallpaper, stained glass, and other details. The opening scene in which Tasha follows her spell to the cellar is beautifully filmed, including an interesting shot of her shadow on the cellar floor.
Having the Winchesters and Baneses reunite at a mountainside park adds some variety to the settings, though it requires managing additional directing challenges such as wind and light. The park meeting ends up creating a nice opportunity for Dean to show off the Impala’s weapon cache.
There are moments of revelation throughout “Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes,” but the focus remains on family. Throughout the episode, the narratives of the Winchesters and Baneses intersect and diverge. While Max tries to salvage what’s left of his family, we hear Dean in a voiceover telling his brother, “Sam, we do terrible things all the time to save each other. I mean that’s what you do for family. Who am I to stop him?”
War of the Worlds (S13E07)
“War of the Worlds,” written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, is a complicated episode with a few different storylines, many locations, several fight sequences, and returning characters.
Storywise there is a lot going on in this episode, but it’s the unexpected interactions and details that stand out. Kevin’s excitement at opening a rift, Lucifer finding himself out on the street with no power, the banter between Castiel and Lucifer, and Ketch eating a sandwich in chains—all of these character moments bring some levity to “War of the Worlds.”
There are also great set details, like the magnificently designed and lighted church with the hanging iron maiden where Michael tortures Lucifer, the pile of cellphones marked with law enforcement agencies, the extended shot of Asmodeus trying to sense Jack, and the camera panning across the lantern-lit witch’s cottage. Speight has an eye for these particulars.
Unfinished Business (S13E20)
Gabriel as Loki is a story that goes back to Season 2 of Supernatural. In “Unfinished Business,” writer Meredith Glynn added a new layer to this already complicated narrative.
“Unfinished Business” presented Speight with challenges few directors face. As well as directing the episode, Speight was playing two distinct roles. As both director and actor, he had to determine the best way to differentiate the two characters, how to keep their interaction dynamic, and how to block fight sequences between two characters who look alike.
Having a trusting relationship with the Supernatural crew built over years of working on the series as both actor and director creates the collaboration and preparation necessary to master complicated scenes such as these. At the 2019 Toronto Supernatural convention, Speight explained the importance of drawing on the expertise of the crew:
“It was a super fun experience that really bonded me to the crew in a way another episode wouldn’t have, because I had to lean on them in ways you don’t when you’re at the monitor.”
There are some important visual effects in “Unfinished Business,” including glimpses of the true faces of demigods Narfi and Sleipnir, the sigil bomb Kevin activates, and Jack protecting Mary with his wings. In Toronto, Speight explained that after becoming a director he had a lot to learn about effects:
“Demon deaths and things that the show has established are the same. So they have that down pat. But the show, as you know, tells different stories every week so there’s a different effect every week. And so you’ve got to figure out what is that effect. What does that look like? How does that creature die? Or how does that creature attack? Or what are its powers? What do its eyes do? How much of this is practical, meaning can we put fake claws on and contact lenses? Or, are we going to go back in and do digital, having teeth grow and that kind of stuff? So it’s always a balance act between practical effects department and the visual effects department to see what’s going to work best and what we can execute.”
“Unfinished Business” fills in some unexpected backstory for Gabriel and focuses on his desire for revenge, referencing Tarantino’s Kill Bill, but with a film noir twist. The music, slow motion imagery, and Gabriel’s death list and weaponry connect to the theme as well. One of the most innovative scenes in “Unfinished Business” is a firefight lit only by flashes of gunfire. In contrast to the stylized images of Gabriel’s story, the apocalypse world is filled with torches, lightning, and dark shadows, reflecting the horror and heartbreak experienced by those fighting Michael and his forces.
Gods and Monsters (S14E02)
“Gods and Monsters” was the second episode written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner that Speight directed. It begins with what may be the best cold open of Season 14. Michael is experimenting on supernatural creatures in a dilapidated church. This scene showcases so much of we love about Supernatural—a terrifying villain, a richly detailed set, good use of light and shadow, horror-themed music, and a little humor.
The details of the church help bring the scenes to life. Similarly, many of the scenes in the bunker are wide shots that make full use of the build. This frames the characters with interesting architectural details and reveals the richness of the bunker sets.
Supernatural is one of the few series in which actors can play more than one role. In fact, most of the series regulars have played two or more characters either because they were possessed by a demon or angel, played alternative universe versions of themselves, or played a character who had taken on the form of another character. In “Gods and Monsters,” both Jensen Ackles and Mark Pellegrino have scenes as two different characters, adding to the complexity of the storytelling.
Speight doesn’t shy away from the horror aspect of Supernatural. The shots of Nick’s bloody hammer at the end of the episode reinforce the way in which Lucifer has affected Nick’s psyche.
Written by Steven Yockey, “Optimism” is a fun, quirky episode that’s right in Speight’s wheelhouse. Speight get things started right, with a great opening that uses “Saturday Night Fever” in an unexpected way. Speight leans into the romantic comedy aspect of the episode. Jack is learning about courting and love, at one point locking himself in the bathroom to talk to Dean while librarian Harper waits in the living room. Harper’s love letter to Jack provides a final nod to the genre.
There are a lot of interesting shots throughout the episode—Harper reshelving books, Dean seen from inside the bunker refrigerator, a close-up of the Impala as it pulls up to the diner, Dean and Jack standing in front of the farm picture, the interview montage at the diner, and switching between Harper drinking coffee at a diner and Jack drinking coffee at the bunker. Some of the fun set details include the roosters all around the Dick’s Red Rooster Diner, the many rules at the library, and the Musca sitting at the bus stop under a pest control ad. With a messy bug hunt, “Optimism” reminds us that a little gore can sometimes be fun.
Collaboration in Directing
At the 2019 Toronto Supernatural convention, Speight emphasized the importance of collaboration in the creative process:
“Making TV, making movies, doing a play, all of it is a team sport … their best work magnifies your best work, and it builds upon each other.”
It’s evident that Richard Speight, Jr.’s knowledge of the Supernatural characters and the series, as well as a spirit of cooperation, informs his work as a director. We’re looking forward to seeing what he brings to season 15.