September 12, 2008: With Special Guest Star Director Will Waring, and the FX Stage Tour Part V
Hey, look at who dropped by with the answers to all of your burning questions. None other than fab Stargate Atlantis director Will Waring! Initially reluctant to guest here and lay bare his inner soul, Will finally came around after a little coaxing, a dash of needling, and some good old-fashioned sleep-deprivation.
Check out Will’s Q&A, then scroll down to the bottom of this entry for Part 5 of our stroll through the FX Stage. And, in the coming days: the fan protest, my dinner with Bob Picardo, Atlantis physics consultant Mika McKinnon, pics from the set, and a video tour of Stage 3.
First a big thanks to Joe for finally letting me onto his blog , and a thanks to Joe and Paul for another great SGA year. Ok here goes.
Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “(i) Can I ask you the pineapple question? Including both SG1 and SGA, how many episodes have had pineapples appear in the background as an innocent prop? I think the story is that you had to drive a car through a scene at the start of your career and a pineapple rolled around the back windscreen and since then you have tried to incorporate a pineapple in every epiosde you direct…Is this true? Anyway, curious to know if you have kept count of the pineapples.
(ii) What for you as a director is the most fun part of your job? and also the reverse…what is the least fun part of the job?
Thank you for taking the time to read (and answer) the questions…. I too also love the audio commentaries you take part in for the DVD box sets…. Your insights into what happened on set really bring the episode to a real context..Many thanks for this and (as always) please keep up the good work!”
1) What pineapple? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
2) The most fun is seeing a plan come together, watching a great performance in a scene, and seeing a cut come together better than imagined, or reading a script and laughing out loud going holy shit can we do that? It’s fun to watch the great crew and cast work together to pull off what we do every day. The least fun is running out of time and sometimes being the mean school bus driver.
Alexandria writes: “Will – You did a truly amazing job bringing the story to life. Is is more difficult to direct a horror style episode than the normal Atlantis episodes? I definitely think Alfred Hitchcock would be proud especially given how the suspense built up beautifully.
You are too kind. There are actually hundreds of hardworking people that bring this (and every episode) to life. From James’s amazing production design that includes the creatures design drawings before Todd Masters and his crew work their art to the plastic model of the creature doll, Set dressing has to make all those crazy busted market kiosks, rigging crews have to pre-light and pre-rig all the rock and roll trusses for the flyaway tents, Michael Blundell gets to do all the scary low level lighting. (He actually really mostly only used flashlights in the tunnels). Hordes of special make-up people have to come in at ungodly hours to make the creatures look, well you know. Costumes have to be designed and made and torn and fitted, special effects runs around with foggers and bullet hits and water sprayers and huge exhaust fans to de-fog the stage after each take, dead grass and trees have to be gathered and bolted to stands, visual effects people painstakingly fix things frame by frame painting out wires adding fog and muzzle flashes, editors and music composers and a stellar cast and shooting crew. And it all starts with Joes’ story. Was this episode more difficult? Oh hell yeah.
Thornyrose writes: “What inspired you to make the jump from camera operator to director, and how did you go about convincing people to give you the opportunity? Was there any particular aspect of Whispers that you found especially challenging? What would be a “dream project” for you to work on in the future, in or outside of the Stargate franchise? With the changing technology, such as HD, do you feel that they provide more opportunities, or more challenges or difficulties than the older technology you first began working with? And finally, how hard was it to film Whispers with Mr. Mallozzi prowling about the sets? Thank you very much for guest appearing on Mr. Mallozzi’s blog, and thanks Mr. M. for lining up yet another great guest.”
Jim Menard covered my jump to directing in his earlier,whoops the cats outta the bag, blog entry. I thought I’d get some second units to cut my teeth on or a clip show (the kind where the cast plays poker and remembers when), but no such easy start.… I got to direct Meridian! As to HD and ‘older’ tech, if by older you mean 35mm film cameras well I’m still a fan of the plain old 35mm Panaflex, nuff said.
Joe’s prowling the set kept us all on our toes, “Look sharp people, the boss is here!” Actually having the executive producer/show runner, who also wrote the episode, and as a bonus is a super nice guy, on set every day is a real boost. Plus he kept us hopped up on his fancy chocolates.
Chevron7 writes: “1. One of my fave Atlantis eps was Common Ground. How difficult was it shooting in the cells when Sheppard was talking to the wraith (now Todd)? Was there much of a choice of angles etc without giving away the identity of the neighbouring cellmate? What was the location night shoot like?
2. You also directed the very huge Meridian. No pressure, just Daniel’s farewell Do you ever find yourself being swept up by the emotional performances like everyone’s individual farewells to Daniel in the isolation room or are you too busy looking at all of the technical things?
3. Does everyone hand you the video camera at family events?
4. What are some of your favourite films to watch?
5. I was going to stop at 4 but it suddenly occurred to me that you get all of the death episodes. Why is that? Do the actors worry when they hear you’re attached to an episode?”
Thanks, one of mine also! Great script written by Ken Cuperus and Brad Wright. Shooting in the cells was actually a lot of fun because the walls were wild and the ceiling was shootable. Bruno (our Gaffer) lit those scenes on a second unit day. Removing all the light from ‘Todd” before the reveal worked out really good keeping him in the shadows. Night locations are not my faves because of the time crunch and everybody is knackered on the first night out. Brenton, our DP taught me just how far you can cheat a reverse shot in the woods at night and now I do that on almost every exterior, day or night.
2) Meridian, In the farewell scenes I like to keep things simple so there are no distractions, and when you have those performances, yeah I get caught up. You just let go of anything technical and just watch the scene. In Sunday when the bagpipes start playing in the funeral scene? Did all the wide shots without the pipes then had him play for real in the close ups, yeah that works, you can’t help it.
4) Action, Comedy, Suspense, Horror, Romantic Period Costume Dramas (really!)
5) Luck of the draw, and I’m sure they do but it has nothing to do with the script.
DasNdanger writes: “First, Common Ground is my favorite episode ever, it’s what got me hooked on SGA. Several things I loved about it, especially the handling of the cell scenes and the cut away from Sheppard coming face-to-face with his cellmate for the first time, to Ladon saying something like, “Of course, you would see him only as the monster who tried to take your city away from you.” The two-fold meaning behind that statment was just so perfectly placed, it’s one of my favorite nuances of the episode.
So, a couple of questions:
1. In your mind, how long had Todd been held captive?
2. After the last feeding in the prision, Todd leers at Kolya as he’s taken away. I found this very effective in suggesting his readiness to turn on his master. Who’s idea was this – the writer’s, Chris’, or yours?
3. In the scene where Todd is looking down through the bars at Sheppard, I swear he’s positively purring under his breath as Sheppard says “I could’a sworn I was gonna wake up dead today.” Again, a little detail that caught my attention and made me think more deeply about the scene. Was Todd’s ‘purring’ vocalization here your idea, and if so, what was your thinking behind it?
4. Funniest moment in the episode was when Todd ‘pointed’ the gun at Shep as he examined it – hilarious, without one word being said. Was this scene done as scripted, or did the actors ad lib at all?
I could go on for hours about this episode, but will stop there. I just thank you so very much for being a part of its creation.”
Thanks see above, doesn’t Todd reference how long he’s been there?
2) 3) and 4) These are all straight from Chris whom I didn’t get to see out of make up till the episode was almost over! It was real interesting carrying on all these heart to hearts with 6’3” of imposing wraith, But with really smiley eyes!
Monica writes: “For Will Waring: Thank you for this Q&A session. I really enjoyed Common Ground and Sunday and I hope you’ll continue on with the Stargate franchise. For Whispers… (1) rehersals were emphasized before the fog was brought in but were there still accidents filming those scenes? (2) How much can the actors see through their creature masks? (3) Were the stasis pod chambers a 100%practical set, or was the ‘extended length’ look of them CG’d in? (4) The forest location scenes…from what I read before, filming on location is not usually done for small scenes alone because of the cost factor. Were other scenes from other episode(s) filmed together at this location then? or is this so close to the studio that it doesn’t matter? (5) the P90 flashlights malfunctioning…how was that done on set? did the actors turn it off without showing the camera or did the props person rig a remote control for them? (6) are you a fan of horror or have you filmed horror before? you’ve captured the tone of it for Whispers! Thank you!”
Muddypiddypop writes: “Question for Mr. Waring. When you shoot an episode like Whispers, how do you choreograph movement with limited visibility? It seemed that scenes with running or lots of actors had less fog, but ones with walking had more fog.”
We rehearsed everything without fog to be safe and keep ourselves sane, then down would come the tent, which measured about 20 by 30 feet and 20 feet high, and we would fill it for shooting. Fog is so tough to shoot in, too much and you can’t see shit and the lights wont penetrate, too little and you see the edges of the tent and what’s beyond, if you are too close to the actor the fog looks thin and too far, you get the idea. Even with all the tests we shot it was a learning process every step of the way.
The tent idea itself was a genius idea from James; cause after that first fog test where we filled stage six there were a lot of long faces. So we broke down the fog scenes and figured on 4 tents, one around the house, one for the alley that Porter hides in, one around the tunnel were Becket meets his buddy, and the large one that could hold the well, the market and what ever else was needed, this let us only fog the entire stage on a limited basis.
The stunt performers could not see too much at the best of times then add heavy fog and low lighting and a bunch of dead trees with eyeball pokey branches.
Half the room is practical half is CG.
We had only a half-day of Whispers exteriors so we piggybacked it with a Tracker day, you will see that where the two teams met takes place in the same location as the where the villagers leave in Tracker.
The p-90 flashlights were a model shop creation on wireless remote control so that the actors could react to the situation and not be thinking about timing cues.
Yes, no, and thanks.
Jumperpilot writes: “Questions for Will: When directing an episode do you tend to be more picky with the camera operators because of your background, or do you give them more leeway, or does it depend on the person? Also, do the pineapples you put in your episodes always make it to the final cut, or are they sometimes in scenes that don’t make it through editing? Thank you for your work in the Stargate franchise so far and I hope it continues into Universe. By the way, “Whispers” was a fun episode. Everything fit together nicely. Great job!”
I can’t help myself, But lately I’m learning to let that go, maybe it’s because they‘re great operators!
Many many times they don’t make it through editing, and glad you had fun.
Jedi43 writes: “Where was the pineapple hidden in Whispers?”
It’s the bookmark in Dusty’s novel.
Linda Gagne writes: “Which episode would you say was the most difficult to do and why?
Do you like directing more action episodes or emotional episodes?
Which episode was the most fun for you?
Which character do you look forward to directing?”
Whispers for difficulty and read all answers for the why. Uh, actiony/emotional episodes? If I had to pick I’d lean to the emotional, nothing better than two actors and a great scene. For fun, Tracker, there is this one scene where I’ll burst out laughing every time I see it. Ohhh can’t pick only one character.
Ellen writes: “Thanks for directing a classic Atlantis episode! I noticed a lot of possible homages to some of my favourite horror movies in the course of the episode, including the Descent (always great to see well-drawn, well-acted female characters in horror), the Mist and Evil Dead. Were these deliberate? What are your favourite horror movies?”
Thanks Ellen happy to oblige and glad you enjoyed it, Joe wrote a very cool script. At the beginning of prep Joe gave me a pile of films to view for creepiness, atmosphere, horror, and cool shots. Ringu, The Descent, Shutter, Session 9, I am Legend, Silent Hill, and Dead Birds. We’d sit and watch sections and discuss what we liked or not, so yeah lots of deliberate nods . My faves? Maybe a little off beat but, Polanski’s The Tenant, Herzogs Nosferatu, and anything with zombies.
AMZ writes: “You’ve done a lot of work as a camera operator and I’m just wondering which you were more interested in at the start of your career – camera operation or directing?
Also, in a similar vein, do you think the knowledge you gained from working as a camera operator has influenced the way you approach things as a director? If so, could you give an example (or two)?
“Whispers” seems quite different in style to a lot of the other episodes you’ve directed for the Stargate series’. Was there a conscious decision to try something new for this episode?
How did you approach it, considering the scare factor is quite high?
And finally, thanks for agreeing to do a q&a with us! It’s been great getting to know your work on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, and I’ll definitely keep an eye on other projects your involved in down the track. Like most people who’ve worked on Stargate Atlantis, you’re incredibly talented, and it’s great to get the opportunity to ask you questions first-hand (well, sort of first-hand anyway, thanks Joe!). “
Early on operating for sure, just like that guy on the crane in the Marlboro cigarette ads. And I think I might stage things differently due to my background. But every script and scene is different so uh maybe yes. See above for approach taken on Whispers.
Squeakiep writes: “What was the creepiest thing about filming “Whispers” for you? Was it tough to keep a “creeped out” attitude going for the actors, or were they there from the start? It was a wickedly scarry episode and one that will leave me scared for life!”
It was really creepy having all these eyeless creatures shuffling about set constantly inching closer and closer gnashing their teeth and then there was this one guy in the gas mask who kept asking for his mom. The cast could go from cutups to creeped out in a split second.
PolarWonder writes: “Hey I have a question for Will, what was your favorite episode to direct and why? Also who was your favorite character from SG-1?”
Couldn’t possibly pick one. But Meridian stands out. I guess you always remember your first. Really dug Whispers, Tracker, Collateral damage, Common Ground.
Aboleyn24 writes: “Did anyone put on the gas mask and run around set asking “Are you my mummy?” during the shoot and if not what a lost opportunity.
Also you are responsible (because I refuse to take the blame) for scaring the crap out of my eight year old son. As a special treat, he wanted to stay up and watch so I let him. I think I had to peel him off the ceiling when the creature jumped on Sheppard. The boy screamed and was literally airborne off the couch. I was thinking its SGA how scary could it be, I was wrong.”
OK… I do not know that reference. And for scaring your son? Sweeet!
Ellie writes: “To Will Waring: thanks for the commentaries on the DVDs. Always interesting!
Do you think that the 43 minutes constraint on TV episodes makes for better quality storytelling (No time for self indulgence from the director or writer!)? Or is it just too creatively frustrating (Do you end up cutting so many corners that you wish you were filming movies instead?)
So many movies seem to be about quantity rather than quality these days. 45 mins of plot padded to fill 3 hours. On the other hand, SGA leaves me feeling like I’ve watched a whole movie every time! I love every single episode. Very satisfying they’re so crammed full of good stuff!
Will, thanks for taking the time to answer my – very crammed! – question!”
Thanks Ellie, 43 minutes does fly by pretty quick. By indulgence do you mean like hiding things in the shot? As for corner cutting, well that‘ll happen when the sun starts to drop or the clock is really kicking your ass. And if you feel you’ve watched a mini movie every episode then that’s all in the stories the writers tell.
Ytimyona writes: “What is your favorite film to shoot with??? (HD, 35mm, et cetera…)
What has been your favorite non-Stargate project to work on???”
I’m a big fan of 35mm cuase that’s how I started and everyone knows its language , its fast and light and works every time , that said, nothing can keep you shooting into the darkening evening longer than HD. My fave non Gate project? Operating on Elf.
Perragrin writes: “Will, firstly thanks ever so for popping by and putting up with the Inquisition. You’ve directed some of my favourite episodes in the past and I appreciate the added bonus of listening to your audio commentaries on the DVD’s. A week or so ago, I was watching/listening to the audio commentary fo ‘Travelers’ and was amused to hear you talking about the complications involved in building the set depicting the inside of Larin’s ship. Quite a few of your directed episodes seem to involve either complicated or intricate sets and it begs a couple of inherently nosy questions:
1. Do you choose to direct an episode that will involve a fair amount of complicated – and often cramped – set work, or are you ‘pinpointed’ for the job?
2. It must have been fairly difficult at times, directing for ‘The Seed’, simply due to the jungle-like nature of the set. Do you ever get to the point where you think something just isn’t going to work because of it’s complexity.. and if so, how do you go about compromising without actually dragging one of the Writers onto the set by the scuff of their necks?”
Glad you enjoyed it; Jim Menard and I had a blast in that set. Too bad we only got to see it that once. Director’s slots are scheduled early on, before all the scripts are written. The Seed was complex and not everything worked out like we tested. In prep Jim and I shot all these tests with the ‘vines’ like dragging over a body and playing back in reverse, whipping sticky vines around wrists, they all worked perfectly in the test day…not so much on shoot day. In fact I had to shoot inserts at a later date because the vines just were not co-operating on set. Ivon has some good rants from me on that one.
I’d never go for the scruffs of their necks, they lift weights! And speed dial on the cell works just fine.
LyraLori writes: “Questions for Will Waring-Do you have a favorite film director or director of photography or someone whose style or work you really admire? And I don’t mean on SG-1 or Atlantis. Is there a particular style of filming that you’ve wanted to try that you haven’t gotten the chance-like black and white? Or another genre? And last, did you get a degree in film and if so, where? Thanks Will! I love your stuff! Good luck in your post-Atlantis future.”
Good question but I’ve learnt the most from our Directors and DP’s.
And I’ll watch anything if the trailer grabs me, which is how I lost 2 hours and 12 bucks on Bangkok Dangerous. Ever since film school (out at UBC where I did an MFA in film) I’ve wanted to try a noirish b+w, that would be a hoot. As to a Post Atlantis future? Taking a dog shiatsu course for Fondy’s shop!
Thanks to Joe for having me out and thanks for the questions!