I suffered a head injury yesterday afternoon. No, not playing pick-up football. No, not in a fistfight with an angry Weir fan. I got conked in the head with a book. Seriously. I was at a bookstore, looking for Robert Reed’s Marrow, when I spotted it sitting atop a pile on the top shelf of the SF & Fantasy section. Standing up on my tiptoes and reaching out so far I think I may have partially separated my shoulder, I managed to touch the low title on the totem pole. I stretched and managed to carefully slide the pile out. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was thinking. That pile was coming down. The only uncertainty was how many books I could catch on the way. And I certainly didn’t expect to catch one with my head. The corner of a nice fat fantasy book (curse that Tad Williams!) bounced off the top of my forehead as the rest of the titles showered down around me. I caught exactly none. But I did end up buying the Reed book (a recommendation by SFSignal’s JP Frantz) along with Jeffrey Ford’s Memoranda, Steph Swainston’s The Year of Our War, Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat, Brian Lumley’s Necroscope (which I’m considering making next month’s BOTMC horror selection) and, yes, Tad Williams‘ Otherland, vol. 1.
Speaking of the book club, author Stephen Dobyns turned his Q&A around in record time so I’ll be turning this blog over to him tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you’re all very busy reading this month’s selections because the week of September 15th fast approaches when we’ll be discussing Justina Robson’s Keeping It Real with author Justina Robson. The following week, author Glen Cook be dropping by to field your questions about this month’s fantasy selection, The Black Company, and author Sarah Langan will be joining us the week after that to talk about The Missing, this month’s horror selection.
Oh, hey, the NFL kicked off today. This week, me and the rest of the gang in the writers’ room made our dark horse (sub-500 team last year that will have the best record this season) and reverse dark horse (team with a winning record last year that will have the worst record this season). I won last year’s dark horse pool with the Browns. This year, I’m rooting for the Buffalo Bills to impress, and the Tampta Baby Buccaneers to disappoint. GO BILL! DON’T GO BUCS!
Today’s blog entry is dedicated to birthday gal StarWars9771
Anyway, continuing with the Whispers breakdown…
INT. MICHAEL’S LAB – NIGHT: Mirellus‘s revelation.
Another straightforward scene. Sheppard realizes the answer to dealing with Michael’s experiment lies in the data, and since his wraith reading skills are as rusty as Teldy’s, they set off to find Beckett and Porter.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Beckett heads out to investigate.
Unable to contact Sheppard, Beckett is going stir crazy. His friend is in trouble and he is, in effect, stranded and can‘t help him. At which point he hears the sound of movement outside. As he explains to Porter, if there’s a threat out there, they’re as good as sitting ducks. Subscribing to the theory that the best defense is a good offense, he heads out to check the perimeter. In his mind, he can look around and stay close enough to the house in the event Porter sounds the alarm. Unfortunately, his little stroll takes an unexpected turn.
This run-in with the creature in the fog offers a good example of what I was referring to in yesterday’s entry re: editor Mike Banas dropping a frame in the cut to give the creature’s movement a bizarre, inhuman jump. One second the creature is turning and, in a split second, it’s teeth are bared as it has zeroed in on Beckett.
EXT. MARKETPLACE – NIGHT: Beckett encounters one of the creatures.
A fun little sequence. During prep, we discussed the various ways we could pull off the wall crawling stunt. Initially, we considered a harness and wires but, after some discussion, that idea was shelved in favor a little camera trickery. We built a section of wall that we lay on the floor, then had Paul lie atop the piece. By lifting his head and keeping the camera tight on him, it looks like he is sitting up. Thus, when the creature crawls up to him, it appears as though it’s defying gravity.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Porter is gone. The others return.
In my mind, Porter is alone in the house, waiting for Beckett to return from his perimeter sweep when, perhaps, she spots movement outside. Assuming he’s come back, she opens the door and calls out to him. No response. A cautious step out onto the porch to see if she can spot him is all it would take for one of the creatures to present itself, between here and the doorway. She bolts, retreating into the fog…
When the others return, Beckett explains his theory on the creatures, and the fact that they exude the fog they use a predatory device. In my mind, a dozen creatures do not create enough fog to obscure an entire town. Rather, the mist they exude from the gills in their neck react with the surrounding atmosphere, sort of like a drop of dye turning a bucketful of clear water green.
As for the effects of the fog – Beckett theorizes that, since Michael wore a gas mask when experimenting on these creatures, it stood to reason that prolonged exposure to the mist might not be such a good idea. Given that the team’s exposure to the fog was limited in comparison to what Michael must have experienced, it’s arguable whether they would feel any of the purported side effects. That said, like Keller’s exposure to the pathogen from Michael’s lab in The Seed, these effects could have manifested themselves at a later date and provided story fodder for a future episode. Had we done a sixth season of course.
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT: Sheppard, Teldy, and Dusty split up to search for Porter.
Yep, they split up. And in this case, it makes perfect sense. They can cover three times the area in one third the time, and, with Porter out there alone, time is of the essence. They’re armed and, knowing the creatures are blind and hunt by sound, they’re ready for them.
In the first draft, I had the team use flares which, I thought, would have looked mighty cool in the fog. Unfortunately, they turned out to be a problem. For starters, they’re a potential fire hazard – especially when you’re shooting on a sound stage carpeted with dry wood and mulch. Second, the smoke they give off is apparently toxic. Who knew? Finally, they’re noisy – so it wouldn’t make much sense for the team to use flares unless they wanted to draw the creatures right to them. So we opted for the chem flares (production-friendly, unique to Stargate chem flares compliments of Production Designer James Robbins). The conceit is that, unlike the flashlights or radios, these flares are contained units, chemical in nature (which is why Sheppard shakes them to turn them on), and thus unaffected by the fog.
For the well scramble, we built a portion of the well, a green screen half pipe, lay it on the ground, and had our actor/creature crawl along it toward camera (and, also, away from camera after which we ran the film backward to give the creature‘s movements an erratic appearance. It‘s a camera trick that was used to great effect in the final scene of the original Carrie and a ghostly visit in Stir of Echoes). Our VFX department did the rest – creating the rest of the wall, adding a little more fog, and tweaking the creature’s movement.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Mirellus, we barely new ye!
This was actually a deceptively complicated stunt. We required glass and wood to break and fly inwards but, as our stunt coordinator, James Bamford, pointed out, even something as thin and light as balsa wood could cause injury. In the end, we ended up with a suitable and safe alternative, using candy glass (mmmm) to approximate the look of real glass. A bigger problem was the timing of the stunt. The stuntmen/creatures waiting outside had to burst through the boarded-up window a) correctly and b) at precisely the right second. If they came in too early or too late, we would have to re-set and do the whole thing over again. If the glass and wood didn’t break away properly, we would have to re-set and do the whole thing over again. If the stuntment/creatures overshot their marks and missed, we would have to re-set and do the whole thing over again. As we set up for the shot, I turned to Wray Douglas, our SPFX Supervisor, and asked him whether he was prepared to go again if need be. “We’ll get it right the first time,”he informed me, displaying incredible confidence in his team. And, as it turned out, that confidence was well-placed because they got it right the first time.
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT: Sheppard and co. run into a spot of trouble.
My writing partner Paul tried to kill this gag in two separate drafts. First, he couldn’t imagine how a flare could be used as a weapon. Fortunately, these were unique chem flares and, as noted in an earlier scene in which Sheppard stabs one into the ground to act as a home beacon, they CAN be used as a weapon. Second, he argued that it would be impossible to pull off the reveal because that would require a fog thickness level nigh unattainable. By normal means certainly, but fortunately we had a brilliant VFX team to rely on. They had CG fog elements to help obscure the advancing creature until the second she popped out to reveal herself.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Sheppard and co. find Teldy in the house.
But Beckett is long gone. While we were watching the mix, someone (it may have been Paul or Martin) found it strange that no one expressed concern for Beckett when Teldy points out the blood, so we ADR’d a line from Porter “Carson?!”. Had we had the time, I would have also liked to ADR the lines: “No, it was probably Mirellus.” followed by a “Thank God it was only the insignificant villager!”.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Sheppard and Teldy’s team brainstorm.
One of the things I liked about this episode was that everyone had something to do. Dusty saves Beckett from the wall crawler and helps take out the creatures from her vantage point overlooking the well, Teldy is in on the creature kills both overlooking the well and in the catacombs, Sheppard rescues Porter, sets the trap that lures the creatures, and helps dispatch of the last group, Beckett figures out what they are dealing with and saves Sheppard and, here, Porter comes up with the final plan.
INT. HOUSE – NIGHT: Sheppard goes over the plan.
To those asking, the reason the laptop wasn’t affected by the fog is explained in the exchange between Sheppard and Porter. She cautions against letting the fog near the laptop to which Sheppard replies: “I’ll lower it about halfway down the well. That should keep it out of reach and working long enough for all nine of them to show.”
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT: Teldy’s team takes up high ground positions while Sheppard sets the trap.
Another fave sequence. I remember both Nicole’s father and Janina’s boyfriend and friends were on set for the pyrotechnics. We shot the Christina/Nicole coverage first, then turned around on Janina. Ivon (who was covering the episode for a special feature) and I (covering it for the blog, natch) took up positions previously occupied by Christina and Nicole. I was a little too close to the edge of the balcony because when Will yelled “Action!”, the opening pyro burst almost crispy-fried my eyebrows.
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT: The gals open up on the creatures.
This is the scene where armourer Rob Fournier’s gun school really paid off. Our actresses were put through the paces with P-90s and handguns prior to shooting the episode. It was more of a refresher course for Christina who had plenty of gun handling experience prior to Whispers (and you can tell by the way she unloads, expertly reloads, and resumes firing). Janina and Nicole were newbies and, after the first day, Janina’s fingers were so raw and painful she was actually dreading the sequence. Will and I pitched her the possibility that, in addition to the gum chewing, she could be wrapping her fingers in a cool preparatory shot or two. Janina liked the idea but, on the idea, decided to tough it out.
This scene was particularly hellish for our stunt creatures. There were a bunch of them and they had to negotiate the heavy fog and their wandering fellow creatures with very limited visibility through their eye webbing. We shot it once and Will, wanting to take advantage of the fog before it dissipated, yelled “Back to first positions!”. Watching these poor souls scramble to find their opening marks was truly a sight to behold.
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT: Teldy’s team take stock.
The first draft was vague about the number of creatures out there Martin Gero suggested I actually make this a plot point, 12 pods = 12 creatures. This gave me the idea for the episode’s final twist. Here, it’s the opportunity for a gag when Dusty seemingly miscounts the number of kills – and has a final creature pop up. Love the shot of the three of them simultaneously opening up on the final creature.
INT. CATACOMBS – NIGHT: Sheppard and co. make their way back to the lab.
Ah, the episode is over. Nothing else to do know but clean up some loose ends. Wait! What was that?! In true horror movie fashion, it’s never over when you think it’s over…
INT. LAB – NIGHT: Sheppard finds the other pods.
Ah, the old French reverse. We’re on Sheppard as he triggers the door and steps through, then pick him up on the other side where he is looking at the secret room. The secret room is, in reality, the same lab set shot from the opposite direction and slightly altered by our visual effects department.
INT. CATACOMBS – NIGHT: Sheppard and co. have to deal with the final batch.
The entire cast and crew should be credited for going above and beyond the call of duty in this episode. In particular, I’d like to make mention of Stunt Coordinator James Bam Bam Bamford and his stunt crew who really went all out. This reveal, for instance, called for Porter to turn and be confronted with a creature hanging upside-down from the ceiling. Well, we reinforced the ceiling and built a rung for the stuntman/creature to hook his legs over and hang off of. Apparently, it was incredibly uncomfortable.
This creature takedown was tricky. I remember we were running late on the day. It was a complicated sequence and, on the first take, the creatures overran the position. In the second take, another overrun. And, because we were running late, there was no third take. As a result, Will had to pick up some shots later in the schedule and insert those fog-obscured shots into the sequence.
INT. CARSON’S QUARTERS – ATLANTIS – DAY: Carson finally heads off.
This episode was intended as an audition of sorts and, in the end, Christina, Nicole, and Janina did a great job with their respective characters. I loved all three cand we certainly aimed to bring them back. However, by the time this episode was being shot, we had already developed over two-thirds of the stories for season 5 and, once we got into spinning stories for the final 5, addressing existing arcs and setting up the big finale became the top priority. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that if we received the sixth season pick-up, Teldy and co. would be back. I even toyed with the idea of placing Beckett on the team. Sadly, we didn’t receive the pick-up We did, however, get the greenight on an SGA movie so it’s more than likely we’ll see Teldy and her team again some time in the not too distant future.