Well, as promised, I’m dedicating today’s blog entry to a post-Whispers blow-by-blow. Since I was on set for this episode, I have plenty to talk about and, over the course of this breakdown, I’ll touch on a variety of subjects including revised scenes, deleted footage, and on-set anecdotes. And, seeing as how it looks like I’ll have a lot to say on this one, I may well run out of steam and have to pick things up tomorrow.
Before I get started, I’d just like to remind everyone that Will Waring, director of Whispers and countless other SG-1 and Atlantis episodes, has agreed to do a guest blog here, so start posting your comments. Quick, before he changes his mind!
To Das who asks: “What was your mindset while writing Whispers? Dead serious, tongue-in-cheek, something else?” Definitely tongue in cheek popcorn fun, from Carpenteresque fog to the Ringesque well crawl. In fact, Sheppard’s line late in the episode neatly summed up the spirit of the episode: “Great. Now all we need is for the prom queen and the kid in the wheelchair to wander off and we’re all set.”
Today’s pics: Behind the scenes on Whispers.
Today’s video: Stage 2 walk-thru II (up until the point where my camera battery died on me).
EXT. FOREST – NIGHT: A couple of locals run into a spot of bad luck.
This scene wasn’t in the first draft which actually started on Atlantis with Sheppard informing Beckett that Major Teldy’s team had found something off-world (the original end of tease was the reveal of the lab with Sheppard and Beckett). However, the network and Rob felt the script needed some action off the top. I thought about it and came up with this scene that 1) established the creepy mood we’d be touching on later in the episode and 2) offered me a way of working the gas masked figure (Michael) into the episode. Also, given that I wanted this episode to follow the traditional horror flick structure, I felt that a scare off the top was a terrific idea. The one point I was resolute about, however, was that we not reveal the look of the creature. Not here. Not yet. I also thought it important to establish some sort of unique sound for the creatures, something we could establish early and then use as a cue later in the episode to signal their approach. Editor Mike Banas came up with a temporary solution, a variation on a dolphin’s chittering which I found very effective. So effective, in fact, that when a new sound was created for the Day 1 mix, I asked them to put Mike’s original creation back.
Somebody asked about the creature twitching here and later in the episode. Some of it was actor action while some of it was the work of editor Mike Banas who lifted a frame or two from the cut to five the movement a peculiar, almost inhuman feel. He does this great effect later in the episode: 1) When the creature first spots Beckett in the fog and bares its teeth and 2) With the creature on the wall over Beckett’s head.
This was one of the last scenes we shot for this episode (yep, we shoot out of sequence for those who didn’t know). I remember it was very late and Will had set up a crane shot to open the scene. I was standing by the monitor, watching them rehearse and, as I stepped over to take my seat, the crane knocked over a ladder that came crashing down onto the spot where I’d been standing. Terry, our script supervisor, looked up at me, shocked, and informed me that if I hadn’t moved, they’d have been calling an ambulance for me.
INT. CATACOMBS – DAY: Major Teldy’s team make a mysterious discovery.
This scene wasn’t in the first draft either. Rather than pick things up one year later on Atlantis, I thought this scene would help make for a smoother transition. I love the look of the catacombs – slick and dark – and have to credit director of photography Michael Blundell for doing such a great job on, not only the catacombs, but this episode in general.
INT. BECKETT’S QUARTERS – DAY: Beckett and McKay chat. Sheppard enters with the news.
We wanted to have Beckett back for five episodes but we were faced with a bit of a problem. If he was back on Atlantis, then why weren’t we seeing him every episode? If he was back on Earth, then why was he coming back to Atlantis? In the end, I came up with a compromise solution: Beckett was going to participate in the Pegasus equivalent of Doctors Without Borders, heading off to treat the victims of the Hoffan plague. This would establish his presence in the galaxy and allow him quick access to Atlantis (and vice versa) should the need ever arise.
Given that this episode was running long, I had to make some significant trims to this scene, including a reference to Carson’s wee turtles which I named Michelle and Jeffrey after two of Paul’s most fervent supporters (if there had been a third turtle, I’d have called her Jen but, hey, I figured the letter of reference bought me some good will). Anyway, here’s the scene as originally scripted:
#McKay looks on as Beckett packs up his belongings.MCKAY: I can’t believe this. You were sick. We cured you. You go away for six months to recover. And then, finally, you come back – and only stay for a week before leaving again.
BECKETT: I’m sorry, Rodney, but I’ve come to realize that, for the time being, my place isn’t here.
MCKAY: Of course it is. Are you kidding me? It’s just like old times. You’re back on Atlantis, back in your lab, doing…whatever…it is you’re doing. This is great!
BECKETT: No, it isn’t. As a doctor, I can’t simply sit by while people in this galaxy are suffering. Especially since I had a hand in what’s happened to them.
MCKAY: You can’t blame yourself. Michael forced you to help him. He was the one who disseminated the drug.
BECKETT: And I was the one who helped the Hoffans perfect it.
McKay considers. Then –
MCKAY: Come on. You know how many times I’ve screwed up? Lots.
MCKAY: (then correcting himself) Well, not “lots”, certainly less than the average person, but still – it does happen. On occasion. (beat)Very rare occasions.
BECKETT: I have an opportunity to help these people, Rodney. To save some lives. And sleep a little better knowing that I’m making a difference.
Beckett glances up, notes a downcast Rodney. He adopts a more positive –
BECKETT: Besides, now that I’m back in the Pegasus galaxy, I’m just a step through the gate.
MCKAY: So you’ll be dropping by to visit?
BECKETT: Whenever I can.
BECKETT: Oh, I’ll be taking my turtles with me.
McKay, clearly reluctant to part with them –
MCKAY: Well, technically, they’re not really YOUR turtles. I mean, to be fair you wouldn’t have even known about them if I hadn’t told you –
Off Beckett –
MCKAY: But if you want them – fine.
Doing a poor job of disguising his disappointment –
MCKAY: By the way, little Jeffrey likes carrots so try to include a couple of slivers with each meal. And little Michelle really enjoys these cuttlebones Jeannie sent over –
BECKETT: Now that I think about it, I’ll be moving around a lot. I realize it’s a bit of an inconvenience, but would you mind taking care of them a little longer?
MCKAY: Sure. Okay.
BECKETT: Colonel, you’re just in time to give us a hand.
SHEPPARD: Actually, doc, you’re going to have to delay your travel plans. We just got word from Major Teldy.(beat) Her team has found another one of Michael’s labs.
Off Beckett –
EXT. FOREST – DAY: Sheppard and Beckett meet Teldy’s team.
I didn’t want Sheppard and co. to have access to a puddle jumper, so I established early on that the area is heavily forested (something we emphasize later on) and only accessible on foot. Martin Gero suggested I go a step further and make it even more inaccessible, so I added the reference to having to rappel down the mountainside.
This scene was shot on location on one of the coldest days in recent memory. Every time Will yelled “Cut!”, the actors would scurry over to a heater that had been set up for them in a tented area. When Glenn Mowat, our craft service specialist, wheeled out some chicken soup, I was one of the first in line – not because I like chicken soup but because I needed the cup to warm my hands. Anyway, it was a crisp day but the actors enjoyed themselves. I love the way Paul plays Beckett here – initially weary and complaining about the long walk and then suddenly spry as he jogs after the women. Joe and Paul had a lot of fun with their walk and talk and subsequent meeting with the all-female team, adlibbing the fist bump at the end of this scene.
And, since many of you are asking why Sheppard had to be introduced to Teldy’s team – while Sheppard is the base’s military commander, he seems significantly more off-world action than desk duty. While he certainly keeps updated on the individuals shuttling in and off the city, he doesn’t necessarily meet all of them so he might be surprised to learn that the Dr. Porter and Sgt. Mehra he was apprised on are actually women. Furthermore, the various team leaders (in this case Major Teldy) have the autonomy to put together their own teams. And since, as suggested in this team, Teldy’s team is new, it’s not that incredible that Sheppard would need an introduction.
Also, for those wondering about Sheppard’s turtleneck – that was a game day decision by Joe.
INT. MICHAEL’S LAB – DAY: Teldy’s team lead Sheppard and Beckett to the lab.
A great-looking lab that is actually about half as big as it looks onscreen. The back wall is actually a matte extension that gives the chamber more depth and, of course, room for more stasis pods. As for the mysterious figures in those pods – they’re mannequins.
A couple of references to our season four finale and season five premiere, The Last Man and Search and Rescue, which I’m sure most of you picked up: Sheppard’s line “The last thing I need is three tons of rubble falling on my head again.” and Porter’s informing him that she disabled the security protocols thanks to the lesson McKay learned the last time he attempted to access Michael’s data.
EXT. FOREST – DAY: Sheppard, Teldy, and Vega make their way to the village.
The dialogue in this scene seemed to change with each subsequent draft. In the first, Vega’s complaint about not having the puddle jumper handy leads to a discussion of the midway station and the IOA’s reluctance to re-establish the gate bridge because of the events of Midway. Eagle-eyed (or eared) readers of this blog will recognize this dialogue as part of the deleted Sheppard-Caldwell conversation from Kindred I. It didn’t make the cut here either. Teldy’s character went from Major to Colonel and back to Major, and in one version in which she was a Colonel, she gave Sheppard a good-natured ribbing. Ultimately, however, it felt inappropriate and my writing partner, Paul, argued that making her of equal rank diminished Sheppard’s status on Atlantis. So, this scene was changed yet again but, for what it’s worth…
We find Sheppard, Vega, and Teldy on their way. Sheppard leads.
VEGA: You know what I’d love right about now?
SHEPPARD: A beer?
VEGA: A puddle jumper.
OBSERVER’S POV – They are being watched.
SHEPPARD: That could’ve been arranged if I’d known we’d be doing this much walking.
TELDY: Area’s too heavily forested. Nowhere to land.
She sizes him up.
TELDY: Besides, this is great exercise. It’ll help build those calves.
SHEPPARD: My calves don’t need building.
TELDY: If you say so.
SHEPPARD: What was that?
TELDY: I’m agreeing with you. You have marvelous calves.
BACK ON our trio.
SHEPPARD: I didn’t say that.
TELDY: Of course not.
She sizes him up again.
TELDY: Tightens those glutes too.
Sheppard throws her a look. She smiles innocently back at him – and on they go.
INT. MICHAEL’S LAB – Dusty takes a walk, leaving Beckett and Porter to talk.
All of the characters were fun to write for, but Dusty held a special place in my heart. She’s like one of those embarrassing family members with no social filter, quick to speak her mind and oblivious to the reaction she elicits. She is stuck on babysitting duty, doesn’t like it, and makes no bones about it. Annoyed with the lovebirds, she takes a walk, allowing Beckett and Porter to bond. Originally, this scene was significantly longer. Again, some of the dialogue had to be cut for time including an interesting reference to Beckett’s dear mother and her reaction to his sudden resurrection. BTW, the original draft had her giving away his guitar, but Paul McGillion suggested a budgie would be funnier. It was.
PORTER: I’m sorry.
BECKETT: You have nothing to apologize for – and, frankly, neither does she. She’s right. Resurrections do make for very interesting reunions – especially when the dead man didn’t know he was dead to begin with.
PORTER: I can see how that could make things a little – uh, awkward.
BECKETT: Yes, that’s exactly how I would describe showing up on my mother’s doorstep two years after my funeral. Awkward.
PORTER: What did you tell her?
BECKETT: Certainly not the truth: “Ma, I’ve spent the last two years a prisoner of the vindictive alien hybrid I helped create. P.S. I’m a clone.” I told her I’d been kidnapped, that I actually hadn’t been killed in an explosion.
PORTER: How’d she take it?
BECKETT: Surprisingly well. When the initial shock wore off, the first words out of her mouth were: “Dear Lord! But I gave away your budgie!”
PORTER: I’m assuming you forgave her.
BECKETT: Oh, he went to a good home. And it was easy to forgive everyone for moving on. After all, I’d died. What was far more difficult was finding out that my life had gone on without me for almost a year after my disappearance.
Beckett reflects for a second then, catching himself, throws Porter a look –
BECKETT: What about you, Dr. Porter?
BECKETT: What about you, Alison? Any interesting experiences you’d care to share? Encountered any dangerous alien predators? Been cloned recently?
PORTER: No, but in all fairness, I’m new to the Pegasus galaxy. Sounds like cloning is more of a second year thing.
BECKETT: Third actually.
EXT. VILLAGE – DAY: Sheppard, Teldy, and Vega search the deserted village.
A fairly straightforward scene shot on our village set. The archway they step through leads out to the faux forest where we shot the later creature attack on this trio, and the opening scene.
INT. MICHAEL’S LAB – DAY: Beckett and Porter learn about the experiments. Dusty makes a surprise appearance.
Another fairly straightforward scene that serves to reveal a little more about the creatures in the pods, establish that night is about to fall, and allow Dusty to have a little fun with her babysitting charges by screwing with them. As scripted:
#A clearly creeped-out Porter stares at the mysterious figure within the pods. Suddenly -DUSTY(O.S.): Hey!
Porter and Beckett are startled. They turn and find –
Dusty standing in the entrance to the lab.
DUSTY: Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to startle you.
Although clearly she did.
DUSTY: Just wanted to let you know it’s going to get dark soon. Are we planning on making this an all-nighter?
Beckett and Porter exchange looks.
Director Will Waring does a wonderful job here, pushing in on the figure in the pod, turning back on a creeped-out Beckett and Porter, then playing Dusty’s off-screen “Hey!” and revealing her standing behind them.
EXT. VILLAGE – DAY: Sheppard, Teldy, and Vega corner a local who reveals what he knows about the abandoned village.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, this was actor Darren Dolinski’s first time on camera and I thought he did a terrific job – especially later in the big window snatch stunt. Christina was a stickler for proper military procedure and she and Leela consulted Atlantis armourer Rob Fournier for this scene. So, you’ll note that as Mirellus talks, Teldy backtracks to check out the area around the corner while Vega scans the building’s interior for trouble. And, yes, they did set a trap for Mirellus – which is why, when Mirellus swings out to follow Sheppard, he finds him seated on the steps, gun out, waiting for him.
EXT. FOREST – DAY: Beckett, Porter, and Dusty walk and talk.
I revised and trimmed this scene significantly from the first draft that offered some interesting insight into the women, Dusty in particular. Also, in the director’s cut, we see Mirellus step out from behind the tree and skulk off. In order to save time, and because I liked the mystery beat, we trimmed the end of the scene and kept the hidden individual’s identity a secret.
BECKETT: My mother, my friends, and my extended family in Scotland. You?
PORTER: My parents, two sisters, some friends, and a three year old labradoodle named Quigley who, my roommate tells me, is doing just fine without me. What about you, Dusty?
DUSTY: What about me?
BECKETT: Who did you leave back on Earth?
DUSTY: No one. A family I hardly speak to and an ex-husband I speak to may too much.
BECKETT: I hear you served with Stargate Command before transferring over.
DUSTY: Yeah, but Pegasus had more of what I was looking for.
BECKETT: And what was that?
DUSTY: Bad guys that needed killing. The Milky Way just hasn’t been the same since the Ori got their butts kicked.
BECKETT: Some would argue the situation has actually impro-
Suddenly Dusty stops, quiets them with an upraised hand. Beat.
BECKETT: What is it?
Dusty takes a step forward, weapon at the ready.
DUSTY: I thought I heard something.
Beckett and Porter exchange uneasy looks.
Dusty scans their surroundings. Beat. Then –
DUSTY: Probably nothing.
Dusty eases up, continues on her way. A creeped-out Beckett and Porter hurry after her.
Beat. As their footsteps recede in the distance, SWING BACK to reveal Mirellus concealed behind some forest cover. He watches them head off O.S., then quietly creeps out of hiding and hurries off in the direction they came from.
INT. MICHAEL’S LAB – NIGHT
Mirellus opens the pods. Nope, you didn’t miss this scene. It was never shot.
#Mirellus is standing in the entrance to the dimly lit lab.His eyes widen at the sight of the stasis pods. He hurries over, sets the torch aside and tries to open one of the pods, straining against whatever locking mechanism is in place – to no avail. Mirellus gives up and scans his surroundings. His eyes alight on –
The consoles. He approaches, gives them a cursory scan, and starts hitting buttons at random. The onscreen data changes. Frustrated, he goes over to another console, repeats the same process.
Unbeknownst to him, the front on one of the stasis pods slides up, releasing a coiling mist.
ON Mirellus, moving to another console, hitting buttons at random. A thick mist creeps in around him.
INT. CATACOMBS — NIGHT
Beat. Then –
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Sheppard, Teldy, and Vega leave Beckett, Porter, and Dusty for the night.
This scene remained fairly intact. The only line of dialogue I lost was Beckett’s request for a Venti vanilla bean frappuccino to go with Porter’s triple grande sugar free vanilla latte.
To Shawna who wonders why the team just didn’t go back to Atlantis after the local warned them of the dangers – 1. Unlike the local, the team knew the reason for the perceived danger. Michael was snatching villagers and experimenting on them. But the danger no longer exists because Michael has long abandoned the lab. That is, until the local releases the experiments. 2. We establish the fact that it is quite a walk from the catacombs to the gate (necessitated a climb up a mountainside as well). It’s not uncommon for teams on fact-finding missions to stay overnight. In this case, it was simply convenient to do so.
INT. CATACOMBS/LAB: Sweeping through the darkened catacombs and into the labs. The pods are opened.
Will’s direction, Greg Fox’s camera work, and Joel Goldsmith’s score combined to make this one of my favorite sequences in the episode. On the day, Will decided to play a practical joke on camera operator Fox and actually hid in the pod. Greg swept down the catacomb, into the lab, pushed in on the stasis pod – at which point Will slammed his hand up against the door, hoping to scare the beejeebers out of him. Alas, Greg was cool under pressure.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Beckett and Porter bond…much to Dusty’s chagrin.
I needed Dusty to be reading something in this scene and so, rather than have the art department make up a phony book, I contacted my buddy, editor Lou Anders over at Pyr, and asked his permission to use The Martian General’s Daughter by Theodore Judson. In the end, the cover is partly hidden and you can’t quite make out the title – but fear not! The book makes a second, clearer appearance in the first part of our mid-season two-parter, First Contact, in which we find gate technician Chuck reading it. Evidently, it was Atlantis’s book of the month.
Many of you know that Will Waring includes his trademark pineapple in every episode he directs. If you look closely, you’ll notice the pineapple appears in this scene – as Dusty’s pineapple bookmark.
EXT. FOREST – NIGHT: Sheppard, Teldy, and Vega experience flashlight trouble.
When it comes to horror movies, flashlights in the dark are fun, but no flashlights in the dark are even more fun! Again, props go to director of photography Michael Blundell as well as Wray Douglas, Scott Stofer, and the rest of the SPFX crew for the light and fog.
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT: Dusty takes a late-night stroll.
The creatures were originally conceived as eyeless humans but, when we got into prep on the episode, Todd Masters pointed out that completely covering the perfomers’ eyes would make taking direction, much less walking around, night impossible for them. So Todd and his crew came up with a creeptastic alternative – a fleshy webbing that covered the eyes yet allowed the actors limited visibility.
I thought it might be fun to work in a representation of these monsters in rudimentary doll form, perhaps the work of some crazy local who swore he glimpsed the creatures in the distant woods only to be summarily dismissed by his neighbors. Exactly what happened to him or his fellow citizens is a mystery. The only clue left behind is this creepy little memento.
By the way, somebody asked me which Stargate prop I would bring home with me, given the choice. Well, no question. It would be the creepy doll, lovingly designed by our Production Designer James Robbins.
Also, the well at the heart of the village, while incredibly heavy (it required a forklift to move around) isn’t real. It was maybe two and a half to three feet deep. Tops! The rising fog was achieved by having a member of the SPFX crew curl up inside and release the mist on cue. As for the seeming depth of the well when Dusty drops the stone – let’s give it up for Mark Savela and the rest of the gang at VFX.
EXT. FOREST – NIGHT: Sheppard, Teldy, Vega, and Mirellus are attacked. Vega buys it.
In the original draft, Teldy was the one who bought it here but, after some discussion with Paul and Martin, we decided that the audience would be expecting it. What they certainly wouldn’t be expecting would be for Vega to buy it.
On the day, we shot Leela’s coverage, then had a stunt double step in. She was harnessed and then yanked back into the fog (and onto a nice comfy mat) by our stunt coordinator James Bam Bam Bamford. Once we’d finished shooting the episode, Mark Savela and the VFX team added CG fog elements to obscure her so that it looked she was literally being swallowed up by the mist.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Beckett and Porter hole up while Dusty heads off to investigate.
I love this scene for Dusty’s take charge attitude. She’s calling the shots, she’s going out to investigate, and Beckett is staying put. Period. As Porter points out in a later scene, if Beckett had continued to argue, Dusty probably would’ve decked him. A far cry from the weak, damsel in distress a number of fans were imagining when news of the all-female team first broke. This, by the way, was Janina’s last scene of the episode.
INT. CATACOMBS/LAB – NIGHT: Mirellus reveals that he was the one who released the creatures.
Yep, that’s pretty much what happens in this scene. Another matte extension, this time revealing all of the pods have been opened.
To be continued…