I was watching the NFL playoffs and, at one point, one of the defenders for the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepted a pass and started to run it back, zigzagging his way through defenders and, most importantly, his own players. Nothing can slow down your progress like an unwitting teammate backstepping into your path. I could almost hear the Steeler fans screaming “Get out of the way! Get out of the way!” Surely good advice here tonight as I hand the reins over to Executive Producer Robert Cooper for his much-anticipated Q&A. Yeah, yeah, I know. “Get out of the way!”
Getting out of the way…
RC: Wow. So many questions. Sorry I don’t have time to answer all of them. I really appreciate how thoughtful many of you have been about the episode. It takes so much time and energy to see a show through to completion. Sometimes, when it’s over, it really doesn’t seem worth all the work because most people watch it in an hour and then forget it. Thanks to all of you who made it feel worthwhile. Many of you had similar questions so forgive me if I only answer them once.
Lee writes: “Questions for Mr. Robert Cooper; writer and director extraordinaire of Vegas…First, I absolutely loved this episode! It was off the charts great, stupendous, amazingly wonderful and so unexpectedly different, that those who loved it, will love it forever, those who don’t, will never be able to appreciate it’s is exceptional, revealing wisdom. Now to the Q’s:
How are you so awesome?
What is the most difficult aspect of shooting Vegas in Vegas?
What editing choices resulted in changing look and feel of the story?
Did Joel Goldsmith help with the choosing of the songs used in this episode or did you have them chosen before filming began?
Did you have to pay for the use of the songs in this episode?
Finally, I was wondering if there are any plans to use similar scripting, filming methods and popular music choices in the making of SGU?”
RC: My parents deserve a lot of credit for any awesomeness I might possess.
The most difficult aspect of shooting in Vegas was, as always, a lack of money. Sorry, but that’s what it usually comes down to. We went way over budget on this episode but it’s never enough. Money equals time. We had two days to shoot something that we needed much more time to do properly. We had a crew most of us had never worked with that had to be flown in from LA. Getting a casino property to agree to let us do what we wanted was a challenge as well. Planet Hollywood made it all possible. We did have one big mishap where one of the camera crews forgot to reload film before the big stunt. — the one where the Wraith jumps from the roof. We didn’t know until after the footage came back and it was too late. We pieced it together from the angles we got but the hero angle I really wanted is missing.
I chose the songs asking many people their opinions along the way. Yes, we paid for them. Another significant budget overage. I have to credit Charlie Cohen Executive VP of MGM for wanting to make the end of season five as special as it could be. Joel Goldsmith was very excited about stepping outside the box for an episode. His music is brilliant as usual. He wrote everything except the three songs we bought. Vegas was an experiment in many ways. It was an opportunity to break the mold and try something different. Universe will not follow the style of Vegas but it will most definitely be much different than previous Stargate series. The shooting style and use of more contemporary music are part of what will hopefully make Universe stand out.
Teri writes: “ A question for Mr. Cooper regarding “Vegas”…. Awesome episode! I believe I saw Rodney wearing a wedding ring in one scene. It was after the scene when Jennifer walks by Rodney & Sheppard in the hall and they gave each other “the look”. Can you tell us who he is married to in this alternate universe? Jennifer, perhaps? Thanks for your time!”
RC: The ring was not originally intended. David noticed he had forgotten to take off his own wedding ring for one of his first takes on camera. He then suggested we leave it on. I thought it was a fun touch. In my mind, he’s married to Jennifer in the AU but that’s the great thing about episodes like this. There isn’t time to try and answer every question and we can all imagine the version we want.
Ruffles writes: “Questions for Mr. Cooper regarding Vegas –
1. How did the original Wraith ship find Earth?
2. I noticed Rodney wearing a wedding ring. Did David Hewlett forget to take his off or were he and Keller (or someone else) married.
3. Sheppard chose to steal money from a crime scene. Rodney never mentions Sheppard’s family. Is his family not wealthy in this reality or has he already blown through all the money or have the ties been cut completely here?
4. I loved the look at this Wraith – both physically (cool markings on his back!) and mentally. Who taught the Wraith how to drive, put on makeup, and play poker?
5. Was Woolsey in charge of the SGC instead of Landry?
6. If the Daedalus was close enough for sensor scans, why didn’t it fire at the trailer?
In your mind, did Sheppard die or was he rescued?”
RC: The original wraith ship found earth by capturing an atlantis team and getting the information out of them. How? You don’t want to know. I guess Sheppard’s family cut him off. Another tragic aspect to this character’s plight. As far as the wraith goes, they are very smart and resourceful. I imagine this dude crawled away from the crash, hid in the hills to avoid capture. He then observed a small rural community from a distance for some time. Then, one dark night, he snuck into a home and fed on the occupants. He then learned to use a computer, scoured the internet and watched TV to learn as much as he could about Earth and how things worked. While initially confused about a few things like the popularity of soccer and Dr. Who, eventually, all he needed to do at that point was use the dead person’s identity to order pretty much everything he needed to start compiling his disguise and the device. It is incredible what you can order online these days.
DasNDanger writes: “I’m going to start early with questions for Mr. Cooper, lest I forget (asking a couple Wraith-related non-Vegas questions, too…if that’s okay):
1. In reply to a question of mine, Mr. Wright gave you most of the credit for the creation of the Wraith. So, first, THANK YOU. They are absolutely beautiful in style and design. Did you base their look on any insect in particular? If you care to share, what were some of your inspirations for their design?
2. The Vegas Wraith seemed to be nippleless. Was this the case, and if so, what was the thinking behind it – just going for a cool look, or was it yet another clue to their physiology?
3. In Vegas, when the Wraith is sitting in the trailer, flashing back to how he came to earth, he pulls off part of his mask and it’s in a star pattern, over his left eye, like Todd’s tattoo. Was that a bit of foreshadowing, or just a coincidence? We have speculated that he was sensing Todd’s thoughts, and visa versa…so at that moment was he reflecting Todd’s insanity, or just his own desperation?
4. In line with the above, how much – if any – mental contact did AU Todd and the other Wraith have? In your mind, was Todd ‘helping’ the other Wraith design the transmitter, or in any other way exchanging information with him?
5. Extra Wraith ‘nostrils’ – are they true nostrils, or more like sensory pits…or just sexy-cool holes in their face?
6. Wraith tattoos – just personal adornment, or do they have some significance?
7. I will try one last time…please, oh please…Wraith finger armor thingys – WHAT the hell are they for??!!! ”
RC: Mr. Wright was being generous. I was interested in putting a twist on the vampire mythology. James Robbins, our production designer and extraordinary artist, came up with much of the visual look. We always wanted them to have a dark goth-like quality.
We were amazed when we all looked back and realized that in five seasons we had never seen a wraith with his shirt off. We decided it was an opportunity to show subtle and not-so subtle differences.
The Wraith doesn’t actually pull off part of his mask — it was scraped off when he hit the ground after having jumped from the building. You don’t really see that side of his face after he falls. He’s just revealing it by lowering his hands. I wanted a shot that showed the fifty-fifty — highlighting the disguise and the real wraith look underneath. Plus, I thought it looked cool. My inspiration was a similar shot of the Joker from Tim Burton’s Batman.
Any visual connection to Todd was what we like to call a happy accident. I do think there was some mental link between them but never thought to draw that comparison as you suggested. Of course, I shouldn’t admit that. I don’t think Todd was necessarily helping him but I believe Todd was aware of what was going on and that’s why he was so confident he knew what was going to happen.
We thought the face-holes both looked alien and suggested an extra-sensory capability. I thought it made them look a bit like sharks which is kind of what they are — more intelligent feeding machines.
I think the tattoos could represent an association to a particular group or queen or an expression of individuality and an artistic decoration — another nod toward goth and gang style on Earth. You decide.
It’s a secret. Actually, James Robbins again deserves credit. They’re meant to be like rings. Decoration. James says he wanted the wraith to have culture. These little visual details add depth to the Wraith and make fans crazy about their meaning.
Hayloh writes: “ Questions for Mr. Cooper:
1. I was confused by the AU Rodney’s reminicing about a Sheppard he once knew. As far as I know only one AU Rodney has met our Sheppard and the JS he knew didn’t match this one. Is this because his bunch had found a way through to AU’s as well as our team and found other Atlantis teams? (Sorry, that is almost as confusing as Quantum Physics. Funny that)
2. The lead up to the whole poker scene and the scene itself were cut beautifully. How much of that was left to the editors? How much input was given by you? (The B Roll was pretty awesome btw)
3. I think that you captured a mood in this episode that was completely outside any other Atlantis ep. Did you always want to explore something as wildly different in regards to characters and the over all feel of the show?
4. Will you be adding to the audio commentary for this episode? If so, could you please add stuff about the cameras (type, lenses etc) and the editing process? (This question doesn’t really need answering here, it is just a request.
5. I know people are curious to know if Sheppard was saved at the end. I would like to hope not. If he had been saved the tragic hero would not exist. He turned back for a nobler cause than himself which indicates to me that no matter what AU you are in each person has the same core, the same driving force. Is that what you were aiming for?
Lastly, thank you for your time and for creating such a huge almost end to the television series. Also for the last five years which have been a remarkable journey of imagination and ingenuity. I was hoping one day to get my hands dirty with paint and work on creating the worlds you helped envision, alas, that will not happen but I will continue to be artistically inspired, in part, by what you have all given us.”
RC: Seems a lot of people were left wondering about this aspect to the story. I purposely left it somewhat unclear. Obviously, a story should be complete enough for people to follow what is going on and enjoy it, but personally, I like it when there are things that challenge your imagination. In this case, the alternate reality is not one we’ve seen before. No one is a version of the characters we’ve met before. This Rodney has some similarities to Rod but it’s not Rod. This Rodney opened a rift much as our McKay did when he met Rod in McKay and Mrs. Miller. This Rodney met yet another Sheppard in yet another reality that bears very close resemblance to our reality. That’s the beauty of alternate reality theory. There are infinite variations and when you start bridging them, any variation can interact.
Mike Banas cut this episode and deserves a huge amount of credit for how it came together. Surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve worked with Mike. He spent countless hours studying various techniques employed by CSI and a variety of other films and television shows. After he took a first crack, we worked very closely on getting things to where they ended up. His enthusiasm and editing artistry made this episode much better than it would have been without him.
A lot has been said about how different Vegas was from the series. I think it’s refreshing to try different things every now and then. Some people don’t like the fact that we went so far outside the box in the second to last episode. When I pitched the idea a year earlier, I didn’t know the series would be canceled. For me, I find that when you look at something too long you no longer really see it for what it is. I think that by looking away and then looking back, you gain a new perspective. I found it really interesting to look at the Sheppard character from a different perspective — the kind of perspective sci-fi can give you. It let us explore Sheppard in a way we could not have done any other way and maybe understand who our Sheppard is a little better as a result. I think it would have been a shame not to do this before the show was over. As far as the visual style, I really wanted to challenge myself as a director to see if I could pull off something different from the things I’ve grown more comfortable doing. One of my heroes, Steven Spielberg recently said in his acceptance at the Golden Globe awards that he always gets the feeling when he’s making a film that he can’t believe he’s actually “getting away with this”. If he doesn’t think he’s going to have that feeling — that ‘taking a crazy risk’ feeling, he doesn’t make the film. Directing is way too hard, too physically and mentally draining to do without that extra adrenaline. It’s something I don’t think I could do if I didn’t get that “I can’t believe I’m getting to do this” feeling. That “will the audience really buy this” feeling. That “holy shit we’re really shooting a Wraith playing poker with Sopranos guys” feeling!
I’m sure at some point we’ll do a commentary for the episode. I can tell you we made a concerted effort to set a specific look or “style” with the camera and lenses. We stuck pretty much to the dolly or steadicam (of course there are exceptions) and went either with very long lenses or very wide lenses. Long lenses tend to give you that ‘movie’ look. CSI does this a lot and it’s one of the reasons their shows look so damn good. It’s harder to do on sets built for TV because they’re generally not big enough to get the camera back far enough. Also HD lenses don’t have as much depth of field as 35mm. We shot about half of Vegas on 35mm rather than the usual HD for a variety of reasons. Mobility, location/production issues and HD doesn’t handle explosions or high-speed work very well. See if you can guess what was shot HD and what was film. The other thing CSI does is a ton of work in post. We did that too on this episode. It’s easier to manipulate the image in the color-timing when the shots don’t move around quite as much. You can add vignettes and focus mattes or specific windows that adjust color or shading in either subtle or very dramatic ways. We spend three days on this show compared to just one for the average Atlantis.
This was a tragedy. The hero always dies at the end of a tragedy. It’s a dark story about a lonely man with a broken past who sees a chance to be a hero and possibly end his life-long pain. I don’t think every version of Sheppard would be this heroic. I think Rodney’s point was that this reality is very similar to one in which a version Sheppard he met was heroic. The fun of AU is the variation and similarity. Some people obviously don’t like tragedies. The final sequence is set at sunset — not exactly by design but I think it worked out. We tried to make it progressively more magic hour as the sequence goes on. You can see the sun setting behind the mountains as the trailer explodes. Some have asked why Rodney doesn’t send help. Even if he did, it would not have been local. This is a high security situation. Sheppard gets up from his car and falls, dying, probably no more than five minutes after the explosion. We hear Harriman say the planes ETA is three minutes and they were already scrambled, meaning a chopper from area 51 with a special forces ground crew prepared to handle that type of situation would be at least ten minutes away. Sorry, but Romeo doesn’t save Juliet and live happily ever after. Of course, like I said, the show was designed so you could imagine it plays out the way you want. If you want to believe you hear the helicopter arriving over the final shot I can’t stop you.
Quade1 writes: “Rob, I loved Vegas, one of my favorite Atlantis episodes in an already great Season 5. What prompted you to come up with such an offbeat type episode? How have you guys convinced many popular people in recent episodes? And could this be a regular occurence in SGU?”
RC: First of all, thank-you. I answered some of this already but regarding what prompted me to come up with this episode… We often sit around the writer’s room and discuss various things we’d love to see on the show. A wraith on Earth is one of them. We always agreed it would be fun to see a wraith trying to blend in. To be honest I don’t really like discussing my personal life publicly. It’s personal. But everything a writer writes is inspired by their own experiences and when I pitched this idea I was having a bit of a rough time. Exploring some darker themes in the show was sort of like therapy that helped me get through it. I also had taken some time off and when I do, I inevitably watch a lot of TV. Hey, it’s my job. The scene generally plays out like this:
My wife: You sure are watching a lot of TV.
Me: I’m working.
I hadn’t seen a lot of CSI prior to this particular period although I’d seen enough to admire how unbelievably good it looked. As someone trying to be successful selling to the television marketplace, I thought I should at least check out the highest rated franchise of on TV for the last few years see if I could figure out why it was so popular. After all, I would love for one of my shows to be that successful. I know this strikes mortal fear into the hearts of a portion of the Stargate audience. He’s selling out! He wants to cater to the masses and the lowest common denominator! All I can say is, watch and decide. Anyway, what struck me the most about watching CSI was how stylistically identifiable it was. You knew what you were watching. It had a look. It was so unique that it would make the perfect format to impose on an Atlantis for one episode so that the change would be instantly recognizable. The idea was to make you think you had turned on the wrong show. Why was John Sheppard in a different series? As though the channels were bleeding into each other the way the AR’s cross over in the story. Also, I thought it would be fun to see if I could emulate the style of CSI as a director. The fact is, the CSI thing only really hangs around for the first couple of acts and then, as we start to figure things out, the style morphs into more of an Atlantis. I was also greatly inspired by No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood during the time I was writing Vegas. Not that the end result is anywhere near comparable.
Sparrow_hawk writes: “I’ve started thinking about Vegas questions for Robert Cooper:
1. The first question related to the scene with Todd in the glass cell. McKay said that Todd was “a poet” but it seemed to me that Todd was describing what the other Wraith was seeing. Was there a telepathic link between the two and was Todd essentially seeing through the other Wraith’s eyes?
I loved the scenes of the Wraith putting on his makeup and then walking through the crowd, as well as the chase scene – heck I loved it all! But I especially enjoyed the way the music fit with the action, I and I always suspected that the Wraith would like hard rock/metal. How did you decide on the music that was used for those scenes? I guess “Sympathy for the Devil” is pretty obvious, but why the Marilyn Manson? “
RC: I’ve already said I think that Todd was seeing what the Wraith on the outside was experiencing. He was also insane, even by wraith standards. Interesting note for those debating the mind-reading powers of the wraith. The queen in Rising also guessed Sheppard’s name. The moment in Vegas where Todd does it is meant to be a call-back. I don’t think they can so much read minds as get in your head – like McKay says. But they do have some funky mental powers that would make them very good at poker.
I thought everyone just naturally assumed the wraith would listen to Marilyn Manson. I also would have loved to get a White Zombie song but I ran out of money. Many of you have wondered what the song is for the chase sequence. It’s Joel’s music. Pretty awesome.
Mel writes: “Questions for Mr. Cooper:
1. Was there a specific reason as to why Jason Momoa and Rachel Luttrell were not featured in Vegas? I just think that their characters could have been fit into the mix somewhere and was wondering why they were left out.
2. Was there anything you wrote for the episode that did not make the cut? If so, could you give an example?”
RC: I know many of you disagree but I really didn’t want to wedge Ronan and Teyla in someplace they didn’t belong. I think it would have been distracting. In fact, I think you could argue that without Sheppard being part of the program. Teyla and Ronan never became part of the team.
Yes, there were some scenes that didn’t make the cut for time and we have finished an extended version for the DVD’s that will include roughly four extra minutes of running time. Some of the changes are minor but some of the scenes had to be recut and the longer versions are quite different. Interestingly, in some cases, I’m not really sure which ones I like better. I guess I’m glad both exist.
Jean writes: “Some questions for Mr. Cooper:
I really enjoyed Vegas, it obviously had a very different feel from the usual SGA episodes, but tied in quite nicely to the Stargate universe.
1. Did you have in mind from the beginning that there would be no linking back to “our” reality and that the whole story would stay within this alternate reality?
2. Joe Flanigan is a Johnny Cash fan – did he have any input to your picking “Solitary Man”?
3. What was your thinking behind Sheppard wearing the silver crucifix in the last scenes after he finds out about space aliens from Rodney?
4. Do you think Sheppard was fulfilling his destiny fighting the Wraith? Do you think that is always his fate, in some form or other?
Thanks for taking the time”
RC: I always wanted this to be a completely self-contained alternate reality story. It’s one of the things that I think made it somewhat original from other AR stories we’ve done. I fought the notion that we needed a scene with our team in our realty at the end. Instead, I chose to imply jeopardy to our reality through the POV of the McKay we had followed throughout the episode.
Joe and I discussed a few options. I listened to a number of JC songs and even cut the driving sequence to Ring of Fire which lyrically fit the story very well. But Solitary Man is the song that stuck in my head. For about a week, it was literally driving me crazy.
It was Joe Flannigan’s idea to wear the cross at the end. We both liked the idea that his past experience had made him angry with God but that everything he had just learned had scared him and made him hope there really was one. I think that his character thought he had had committed his last sin when he stole the money and was going to seek retribution somehow. He didn’t realize he would find it in such a big way so quickly until he pieced together the clues on his drive.
Our Sheppard has demonstrated suicidal tendencies in a few critical situations. I’ve always loved Mel Gibson’s character in the first Lethal Weapon. Here’s a guy who starts out putting a gun in his mouth and then not pulling the trigger. Incredible for a Hollywood movie. The hero is not only suicidal but apparently also a coward. Of course, as the movie progresses we learn he’s not a coward at all, but the pain in his life has made him willing to take risks many of us would not take because he’s not afraid to die. For me, I think that is what I was trying to do with the alternate reality Sheppard.
Lorr54 writes: “Mr. Cooper, thank you for such a riveting episode and for agreeing to guest blog. I know there will probably be a lot of overlap in the questions, but I would like to pose a couple for you. 1 – What stunts did Joe Flanigan do? 2 – Was Mr. Flanigan really in the car being showered with debris during the firefight (or was it CGI debris) and was he really as close as it looked to the explosion of the trailer? 3 – Do you feel Mr. Flanigan and the other actors played it like you imagined when you wrote the script? 4 – Being such a departure from the normal Atlantis episode and characters, did Mr. Flanigan and the other actors have any input, and what of it actually got on screen? 5 – What was your inspiration for Vegas? I’m sure it could just as easily been focused on an AU McKay and a power generator experiment SNAFU or any number of other scenarios. What made you decide to focus it on Sheppard? Again, thank you!”
RC: Joe did a lot of his own stunts. A lot of the running. He dove over the car with blasts going off around him. The shot of the explosion was done in two passes and married together with VFX. Joe was not that close to the explosion but it sure looks like he was.
Joe really was in the car while a bunch of special effects hits were going off. He was very committed to make this episode look real. Our stunts and effects guys are amazing and very conscious of safety. In a couple of shots we added some CG debris because we didn’t think there was enough.
We all spoke about how each actor was going to play his alternate reality self. Joe and I discusses the fact that this Sheppard was not going to talk very much at all. I know Joe was very excited about having to find ways to express what was going on visually rather than in dialogue. One of my all-time favorite shows is The Shield and I recently read a great article with its creator Shawn Ryan. He said “you have to learn to trust your actors. They can tell a story with their faces.” When I look at a lot of television, it’s very talky. Talk is cheap. It’s always better when you can tell a story visually. Sheppard puts the bag of money in his trunk. To me, that simple action says way more than the long monologue McKay later gives about Sheppard’s past.
OHinNJ writes: “1) My impression from the episode was that the AU Rodney was married (hence the wedding ring), but having an affair with AU Jennifer – or at least contemplating it (hence the look he gave her). Am I right?
2) This ep had such a different look and feel for SGA. Did you have the specifics of that look and feel in mind as you were writing? (i.e. Sheppard’s car, the type of gun he carried, the music, the look of the Wraith, the lighting of the Area 51 (?) offices, etc.) Or did those come as you were prepping to film?
3) In the scene where Rodney and John are talking outside, there seemed to be a lot of airplane noise in the background. Was that on purpose, or were there just a lot of planes flying overhead when you were shooting?
4) There were lots of little scenes that I loved in this ep. One was the Wraith striding out of his trailer to shoot John, music blaring. So cool! What was your favorite scene, and why?”
RC: The airplane noise was added to cover the sound of the Skytrain which was right beside where we were filming the exterior Area 51 scene on our lot at the Bridge Studios. And it added some texture to the environment. But mostly the first thing. Thanks for the compliments. Filming in Vegas was a thrill of a lifetime for me. The poker scene with Frank Vincent and Steve Schirripa was one of those things I couldn’t believe I was getting to do.
Michelle writes: “How much time did you spend filming on Planet Hollywood’s premises? Were they enthusiastic to have the production there? Did you truck down all the equipment, or use local stuff?
The lighting was so different from a typical episode. What was the strategy behind it, and did it take much longer than usual?
Can you list the Stargate cameos in the casino and at the poker table? I saw Brad Wright, but others said there was Joel Goldsmith too, but I didn’t think that was him!
How did Sheppard get the cut on his cheek — was it in a scene you had to cut for time?
Did you mean for some of the scenes to be more a parody of CSI, or strictly an homage? I think you out-did CSI with the heart shriveling, for example!
How did the Atlantis expedition survive and thrive without Sheppard, his ATA gene, and his particular actions that saved Atlantis and woke the Wraith? Five years later, it seems things would have diverged very greatly from “our” reality, given how often Sheppard saved the expedition and/or Rodney.
It seems like Joe did a lot of his own stunts, for example, jumping down the stairs and jumping over the Camaro right after the Wraith shot him. How did that come about, and were you ever nervous about it?
Why did Sheppard quit the police force?
What were you looking for in this alternate Sheppard, and did Joe F give you what you had imagined? How about David as a less neurotic, scarier McKay — was that something you suggested, or was it David’s input?
The very last scene seems to take place at twilight, and the behind-the-scenes images at mgm.com show it was getting quite dark in some pics. Was that because filming ran long, or was it meant to show that Sheppard was sitting alone by his car for a long time before walking away and collapsing?
Why was Sheppard wearing a crucifix necklace in those last scenes? (Somehow the silver chain just made the last shot sadder, I have to say.)
Thanks very much for answering, and for a very interesting episode.”
RC: We shot at Planet Hollywood for two very long days and nights. We were there longer for prep and wrap. They were amazing.
In total, this episode was shot over ten days while a normal episode usually takes around seven.
Aside from Brad and his wife Debbie at the blackjack table, there are a few other cameos. Joel Goldsmith is indeed at the poker table, as is Todd Brunson and Roy Winston (both professional poker players) and Charlie Cohen from MGM. Also, the studly guy rolling the dice at the craps table is none other that our own special features producer Ivon Bartok.
I never meant for this episode to be a parody. As I’ve explained, it was supposed to make you think you were watching the wrong show. Maybe secretly I was hoping CSI’s audience would all get fooled and twenty million viewers would tune into Atlantis.
It’s true, things would be different in this reality without Sheppard in the program. However, there are many other people who have ATA gene including Lorne. But that’s one of the reasons we decided to have David play this McKay so much more confidently. We thought McKay would have been thrust into more of a leadership role and would have developed more confidence.
For logistical reasons, the explosion was scheduled toward the end of the day. It actually took longer than planned to set up and we ended up racing sunset to get our day. We tried to make it flow as though the sun is setting throughout the final scene. It doesn’t take long for the light to disappear. Maybe five minutes or so after sundown. Trust me.
Noir writes: “All my questions are already asked by other people – except one: What pocket cards had the Wraith in his last hand?”
RC: He’s a wraith. He was bluffing.
Gen writes: “Hang on, there’s my question: how did the idea come up to bring in the two actors from the Sopranos (sorry, I can’t remember their names)? How did you pull it off, did you write that crazy finger story for them, did they have some input?”
RC: That story is too good not to be true. In fact, it happened to Joe Flannigan. I asked him if he would mind if I put it in the script with a few embellishments and he said sure. At least his nanny didn’t have her finger bitten off for nothing. For the record, in reality it was just the tip of her finger, and they were her dogs.
Trish writes: “1) How am I so awesome? Remember last time I asked how are YOU so awesome and you responded with how am I so awesome? It’s my shining personality, isn’t it? But really, you are way more awesome than I could ever be.
2) Did you film that scene of AU Shep and the wraith at the poker game in Planet Hollywood or a different hotel or maybe a sound stage? And did you get a chance to eat at Pampas in the Miracle Mile Shops right next to the Planet Hollywood? Really excellent Brazilian food.
3) Who really wanted to use the Johnny Cash song? I just loved that to bits and think the person responsible should get a huge hug.
The line about the Star Trek Experince being shut down was perfect! I go to Vegas at least once a year and miss that ride! Do you think we’d ever get a Stargate Experience in Vegas or any other city? Because that would be THE MOST AWESOME ride ever!”
RC: Us awesome people always remember when we tell each other how awesome we are. because we’re awesome. FYI, the Star Trek experience exchange was all Picardo’s idea.
Perragrin writes: “Joe was right when he said it was beautiful. Your writing and directing have combined together with an outstanding performance from Joe Flanigan, to give us one of the best episodes thus far. With so many fantastic stories already spanning across five seasons, i’d be hard put to name one particular favourite. But if I did, then it’d have to be this one. I’m in awe. Thanks ever so
There’s so much i’d like to pick your brains on with regards to the episode, but in an attempt to prevent Joe’s blog from being completely spammed, i’ll try to keep things short
1. It was inevitable that Johnny Cash made an appearance somewhere, if only because it was Sheppard. It was Joe. And it fit the both of them perfectly. But who’s choice was ‘Solitary Man’? Yours? Joe’s? Anyone else’s?
2. Early on, we see Sheppard suddenly sporting a cut to his face and as many times as I have re-watched the episode, there seems to be no explanation for it. Was it a brawl? Gambling orientated? Job orientated? Or did Joe simply forget to duck when working with Bambam?
3. What inspired you to take this particular direction with episode 19? Are you a CSI fan? I guess i’m just curious to know where the idea came from, when almost every other episode over the past five years has been Pegasus-centric.
4. From a viewers standpoint, there’s absolutely nothing negative I can say about ‘Vegas’. It really is a beautiful way to pay tribute to five seasons of sheer brilliance. As the Writer/Director, are there any parts that you might have liked to change after seeing the final cut? Or, were you happy with the end result?
The final desert scene.. is played out wonderfully by Joe. And the music, lighting, special effects, etc all add to the haunting mood and resulting impact it has on the viewer. How difficult was it to film that particular scene? There’s explosions, burning fires, debris everywhere, a setting sun.. Did it take alot of coordination to get things absolutely spot on and are you pleased with the way things turned out?”
RC: The cut on Sheppard’s face was another one of those details I felt helped created the full reality of this episode outside what we saw on screen. In my mind, Sheppard has been roughed up by some guys looking for money he owed. I did write a version of the scene in which the only line of dialogue was Sheppard’s: “Not in the face!” The scene never made my first draft.
As far as what I think of the episode, it’s complicated. I tend to see the flaws. What could have been if I had more money and time, or talent. I don’t think it’s all bad. I see some things that I realize are as good as they could be under the circumstances. But you have to understand, you live with your work for so long that it’s very hard to see it from any kind of realistic outside perspective. It is gratifying when someone enjoys it as much as you say you did. Thanks for saying so.
Sulien writes: “1) Who chose the Johnny Cash song “Solitary Man” for the last scene in Vegas? That was absolute perfection, not only considering the circumstances, but also John Sheppard in general.
2) I think that nickel plated, pearl handled .45 was the perfect choice for a weapon to epitomize John Sheppard! Whose idea was it to use that specific hand gun?
Did you use stock footage of the A10 Warthogs, or did the Air Force give you a fly by? I’ve got a soft spot for those planes and loved them taking out the Wraith! Wooohooo!”
RC: I guess that’s just how good the VFX department is. They were all CG.
JES writes: “ I quite enjoyed the music during the episode, particularly the one I heard as “The Beat of the Meatball.” I kept thinking–What meatball and why is it beating? My daughter then informed me that they were saying “The Beautiful People.” Well–that clearly makes more sense. We’re off to visit a hearing specialist and then local nursing homes today. But before I am locked away could you tell me—did you choose the music yourself or was it a joint effort and, if so, with whom?”
RC: Could be one of the funniest misheard lyric stories ever.
Candace writes: “1. I’m wondering if this is the reality that Rod, the alternate McKay that we met in season 4…if this is him and his reality? Isn’t that the only alternate McKay that we met? And if so, what was with McKay talking about the alternate John and McKay being involved?? Maybe I’m getting the wrong impression, or heard it wrong. But ever since Joe shared with everyone that he always saw one of the Atlantis characters as gay besides Vega, I’ve been kinda paraniod…
Hoping to be a writer one day myself, I always wonder about other people’s writing methods. How do you approach beginning a new project? Whether it’s an epi for SG or something else entirely. Do you begin with character, plot…or something else. Or does it all just kinda show up… Basically, what’s your writing method from start to finish? In the simpliest terms”
RC: In the simpliest terms? First have something to say. Then say it well. Don’t worry, I can’t spell either. It’s indicative of a creative mind. If you want to get more complicated, try a four year undergraduate program and twenty-years of trying to figure it out and when you do, let me know.
Shingwit writes: “For Rob Cooper: Congrats on a brilliant episode I had a really good laugh at the homage to CSI (a pity Grissom wasn’t in it mind) I love exploring the multiverse and all its combinations. Which particular string theory do you subscribe to? There seem to be so many these days.”
RC: Well, I guess if pressed I have to say I’m partial to IIB — Supersymmetry between forces and matter, with closed strings only, no tachyon, massless fermions only spin one way (chiral). Or in layman’s terms: The big ball of string theory.
DasNDanger writes: “So, my question – when the so-called heroes of Atlantis engage in torture and talk of genocide against another race that they have deemed ‘the enemy’, what message do you think it sends in this day and age where real torture, and real genocide, is practiced against those who are considered a threat by those who justify their actions as the saviors of their people, if not of the whole world? Do you think it could have a desensitizing affect on our view of the real atrocities committed around the world, basically justifying the idea that – as long as we are the heroes – any and everything can be done to anyone who is perceived as a threat, all morality be damned?”
RC: When McKay said they “tried everything” to get information from Todd, he meant trick questions, bribery and ‘friendship’ therapy. Look, seriously, I don’t want to make light of something very serious and important. I am well aware of the reality of true horror that exists in the world. Unfortunately, without some form of escapism I think we’d all go completely insane. Quite frankly, I hope everyone recognizes this is just entertainment. I certainly hope it doesn’t have the impact you seem to be suggesting it might. But let’s say it does. I don’t believe I’m condoning torture in this episode. I’m just realistically representing that it happens in certain situations. Also, if we were about to be invaded by life-sucking aliens I would hope there are people who would find someway of stopping it. For the children. Having said all that, I’ll state for the record we should all make sure we don’t torture anyone today or ever. It’s very bad.
Will Dixon writes: “1) Now that you’ve achieved your life long dream and ‘directed’ a few times (nice job on ‘Ark of Truth’), was it all you thought it’d be and more? Or have you now decided that ‘calling action’ is way overrated.
What’s your golf handicap these days…still kicking your ball out of the bushes when no one’s looking?”
RC: To the rest of you, Will Dixon gave me my first real staff job in television and happens to have one of the sweetest swings in amateur golf. To answer Will, thanks for the shout out. Calling action hasn’t gotten old yet. It does feel weird though. Like I’m not supposed to be the guy saying it. And sometimes I forget to say cut.
My game is horrible. I did shoot 78 once, a year and a half ago, and then after the round I found out my grandmother had died that morning. No joke. Haven’t broken 90 since. Haven’t played much either. Why don’t you give me a call? Isn’t it odd that we’ve come to a place in the world where we communicate over someone else’s blog instead of picking up the damn phone?
6. How difficult was it to acquire the music for this episode? I have never seen licensed music in a Stargate episode before, excepting “Unending”.
Finally, what is a question that you were hoping to be asked when you agreed to this Q&A? Was there a question you wanted to answer that wasn’t asked? And please answer, too.”
RC: Kerry McDowall our post-production co-ordinator put in a lot of extra time and effort negotiating the deals for the songs. I’m very grateful to her for that.
I’d have been disappointed if someone didn’t ask me how come I’m so awesome. Fortunately, someone did.
Fred writes: “Firstly, thank you for all your tireless work on Stargate throughout the years. It is much appreciated. Secondly, when you write a script you know you’re going to direct, do you write it any differently than you do for a script you aren’t directing (such as more or less camera directions)? Thirdly, in “Vegas,” why were the writer and director credits combined (”Written and Directed by”), whereas in your previous writer/director outings, did you have the credits separated?”
RC: I really don’t like credits over the show very much. They interfere with the content so, the less the better. I also never liked having my name come up so often. I asked in previous years to combine them but was told it was a guild thing or something. Finally, I insisted.
Pissed off Teyla Fan writes: “I don’t understand why the wraith were at earth…If John never went to Atlantis then the wraith wouldn’t have been alerted and they wouldn’t have gone to Athos and captured the earthlings, that’s how they found out about earth in our universe, right? Also I don’t understand why Teyla wasn’t in the ep…Some say it wouldn’t have made sense for her to be there but to me it made as much sense as the wraith being there…”
RC: My question for you is why can’t you imagine a scenario in which someone else wakes the wraith? Daniel Jackson perhaps? Or Colonel James Samuel. (I just made up that name.) Just because John Sheppard did it in the reality of the series doesn’t mean it can’t happen differently in the alternate reality. That’s what makes it alternate. To me, it seems you are actively trying to find a reason why this entire episode shouldn’t exist because you’re pissed off that Teyla wasn’t in it. Of course your reply to me might be, why couldn’t I imagine a good reason for Teyla to be in the episode? That is my failing.
I heard another criticism in which someone dismissed the episode because they thought it was impossible that the Wraith could use the limited power available in Nevada to do something “not even a ZPM could do” as Zelenka says. They were fairly condescending, suggesting this stupid plotting was reason enough to negate the rest of the episode. Actually, I never said he was exclusively using power from Nevada. Just that he was tapping in to local power to boost the device over the top. In fact, I said he had amassed enough fissionable material to potentially blow up half the United States. He also only needed the power surge for a brief time. But all that is beside the point. There may be very valid reasons to hate this episode but I’m not sure this example is one of them.
I know some people feel that we writers of Stargate dismiss any and all criticism. I promise you that is not true. I for one have taken a major step back recently to look at the work I’ve been doing, and how I can make it better. I don’t know if it will help but I’m trying. Sometimes people are very obviously set on criticizing for a particular reason no matter what (you Keller hating Beckett fans know who you are). That is prejudicial and there’s nothing any of us can do about that. It’s often a reflection of the critic’s own state of mind not the work itself. We all try as hard as we can to make sure stories are as well-thought out as possible but at the end of the day, you have to proceed with something. You have to imagine the reasons stories should exist rather than why they shouldn’t or nothing would ever get made. So, please don’t be so pissed off Teyla fan. I did help create the character and wrote a few Teyla centric episodes over the years.
Obviously I could go on forever but I guess I should get back to working on other things for some of you to love and some of you to hate. Thanks to our gracious host for inviting me back to his super-terrific-happy-webblog of fun. Hey Joe, you have to let me know if you get more hits than usual. If you do, I suggest dropping in the word nipple more often. Just a thought.