Congratulations! Your twitter harrassment has paid off as, only days after mentioning his fantastic restaurant recommendation, Stargate Producer John G. Lenic finally finished off his fan Q&A and sent his responses our way. I’ve been working with John for going on ten years now and I can honestly say that he is one of the hardest working people on Stargate. First one in (regardless of how early the call) and last one out (no matter how late the shoot), he also happens to be one of the most important members of the production. And, perhaps most important of all – he’s a major foodie!
So, today, I turn this blog over to John G. Lenic – producer, gourmand, and crossfit fanatic…
Daniel Willis writes: “You started off on Stargate SG-1. What level of experience did you have at the time? What else had you worked on? What did you start off as?”
JL: I started on SG-1 as the Assistant to Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Greenburg, Co-Executive Producers at that time. I also was their Director Of Development for Gekko Film Corp. Previous to that, I had produced a music video, a documentary on the death of Kurt Cobain and was the Assistant to the Producer on 13 TV Movies Of The Week for NBC/ABC/CBS. You can check my imdb page to see all the titles, as they are too long to re-write here.
Silversi writes: “So SG-1’s theme song came with (unofficial?) lyrics: “Stargate it’s a great big world with a great big swirl and you step inside to another world…” Are there any official/unofficial lyrics to go with SGA’s theme— and possibly SGU’s?”
JL: I wish I knew…there are no Lyrics to the SGA theme that I am aware of and as for SGU, we will have to wait and hear the theme music. You can let me know if anything jumps to mind for Lyrics on that one.
Shiningwit writes: “Did you have any idea when working on COTG that the Stargate franchise would be so successful?”
JL: I knew from the time that I heard that Stargate was going to be produced as a TV series that it was going to be successful. I don’t think I realized just how successful, but I did know it had the ability to be a great series.
“What other projects have you worked on/are you working on?”
JL: Besides 13 TV Movies, I produced a couple random music videos, a documentary of how the death of Kurt Cobain affected so many young people and working on SG-1 gave me the opportunity to make a feature film with the wonderful David Hewlett. As for future things in development, Hewlett, Jane Loughman and I are developing a single camera comedy TV pilot called Starcrossed, about the behind the scenes workings of a Sci-Fi TV series. As for other projects, I have a couple in development but don’t really want to say much until we are further along, but one is with Argentinean Director/Writer Santiago Giralt.
“How do you relax in your spare time (assuming you have any)?”
JL: I have 2 dogs, so we do a lot of hiking in and around Vancouver. I also do Crossfit (www.crossfit.com or www.crossfit.ca), which is like going to the gym except a little more intense…it helps me get rid of stress and clear my mind. Crossfit is the method that Zach Snyder used to physically train all the actors for the movie 300. I also got Brian J. Smith and Alaina Huffman into as well.
Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Many thanks for taking part in this Q&A. We often hear that the Stargate crew and cast are like a “well oiled machine.” Having been there from day one when the cogs were being put together (so to speak), you have seen all of the changes. So, what has been the biggest change (in a logistical way) from COTG to SGU? Also, what is your favorite moment of the Stargate Franchise? Your appearance on 200 as a wedding guest? Thanks again Mr. L for your time and talent.”
JL: Good question…their have been a few logistical things to speak about. Firstly, from a logistical stand point, we used to shoot SG-1 on 16mm film, then in season 3 I think, we went to 35mm film and then in season 8 we went to the Sony F900 HD cameras and then on the last couple years of Atlantis, we went to the Panasonic HD cameras and now on SGU, we are using the Genesis HD system. You must realize that there are so many idiosyncrasies with working with each camera system. We had to adapt to each one both on set and in postproduction. All of the above had some pitfalls. The best one to work with thus far is the Genesis system. Although expensive to rent, the picture looks fantastic, as close to a film look as you are going to get in the digital domain. Film still is from a look perspective and in my opinion, the best looking format to shoot on. We extensively tested 9 different camera systems over a two-day period prior to settling on the Genesis system for SGU. The only reason that we didn’t go film is financial. Film still is roughly $18,000 more per episode then digital as you have all the developing and transferring of the film to do after it is shot.
Secondly, the change of cast over the 3 series has made a huge impact on our jobs. You have personalities that can affect everyone’s job and how they do it. In SG-1, we had RDA, who was fantastic to work with and so extremely charismatic. As a proud father he wanted to get home to his daughter every weekend. As we got into later seasons the travel took its toll and we had to give him extra days in LA on either side of the weekend. That meant that we had to schedule Amanda, Michael and Chris around him. Then Amanda had a baby, which involved more scheduling. Amanda, Michael and Chris were really great about everything though. We really got to know each other working 12 – 14 hours a day together, 5 days a week, for 10 years. It was a pleasure!
Out of the Atlantis cast, I really enjoyed working with David Hewlett and Rachel Luttrell; they are both wonderful and talented people. I wish them luck in their future non-SG endeavors, as I know they both have other projects that they are passionate about in the works.
There are so many, but here goes an attempt at a few of them…
One Favorite moment was the last day of shooting on season 10. Robert Cooper, who was directing at the time, wanted to shoot the last scene of the episode as the last thing we did. He wanted it to be a moment to remember. We set it up and brought the cast in as usual, except this time they were all in tears, along with all the crewmembers that had been on the show for all 10 seasons. That truly was a moment to remember and reflect upon, as I don’t know how many people get the opportunity to work on the same project for 10 years.
Another favorite moment came on SGU when Robert Carlyle shot a scene by himself for the pilot. In the scene, he comes into his room in Icarus, puts his iPod in to listen to a piece of music, sits on the bed and looks at a picture and starts to cry. There was not a dry eye behind the monitor. It made everyone there realize we were in the presence of a star actor.
My other favorite moments for me are this season on SGU. Coming to work every day with such great people makes for a lot of laughter throughout the days. People like Julie Reider, our accountant, George Horie, my partner in crime, the amazing production office, Nathan, Tanja, David and Chad who put up with me and of course Brad and Robert, who really are instrumental in why we all love to work there and why we have had so many of the same people return year after year.
Patricia Lee writes: Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to answer questions. We have only seen you on a few behind the scenes features. Will we get to see you more on the DVD extras soon?”
JL: I don’t know if you will see me in any DVD extras anytime soon. I tend to shy away from the camera and don’t seek them out. Probably a better question for Ivon Bartok as he produces those DVD features you watch.
“Having various jobs on the Stargate franchise over the last twelve-plus years, what were your most challenging and easiest positions?”
JL: Good question… Easiest isn’t really a position that exists in the film and TV industry but I would have to say that I absolutely loved working with Rick and Mike. Also when I worked with Rick and Mike I was in a position that, although I had my own responsibilities, they paled in comparison to the responsibilities that I have now with managing the budget and schedule for the show.
I would have to say that the hardest thing over the years was when we shot both SG-1 and Atlantis simultaneously. It really wasn’t a good way to make television, in my opinion. Although, it saved money financially, I feel strongly that both shows suffered from not only a creative stand point but also from a cast and crew burn out perspective. We had to share sets and stage space and you had to know the schedules for each show before you could schedule anything. It was something that, given the choice, I wouldn’t want to do again.
“Can you please try to convince TPTB to film a writer’s spin session for the DVD extras? As a fan, I would love to see the process. Or, if the writers are totally opposed to that idea, how about having Ivon show us the different phases a show goes through before it is completed?”
JL: I am not sure how well a piece like this would do. I know it may be of interest to some of the fans, but truly, it would be very boring and horrible to shoot as the writer’s spin sessions can last over a period of days.
“As a producer for Stargate, I am sure you have had moments when you have wondered if you will be able to organize something in time for shooting. Could you give us an example of a “SNAFU” that you were able to rectify at the last moment, thus prompting your well-deserved nickname of “Miracle Worker?””
JL: Mother Theresa was a miracle worker…I just work hard and luckily get to do what I love. Probably a question best asked of somebody else.
“Have you pulled any good or bad jokes on the set or in the office? Have any been played on you, and if so, will you share a story or two? Do you have any interesting Joe Mallozzi stories?”
JL: I don’t really have any good Joe Mallozzi stories except that he is the best-dressed man on the show and tells the best stories. He can make anyone feel gullible. Our Production Office especially one of our coordinators, Tanja Balic likes to make fun of the way I apparently pose for the camera, so above her desk are various shots of me in the pose she says I make and then a lot of other pictures of others striking as she calls it, “The Lenic” pose.
“Can I please be your date for Joe’s Chocolate Party? I can be in Vancouver in less than three hours. I had to ask! You never get anything unless you put yourself out there, right?”
JL: I would totally invite you, but I am afraid that my partner may have something to say about that as he is a huge chocolate lover and loves that party.
“Along the same lines as “if you don’t ask, you never know,” would you ever consider instituting a “bring-a-fan” workday? Joe could have an occasional contest and the winners could win a day shadowing a producer. Now that would be the best prize ever!”
JL: It is a fun idea, except we have so many labor rules and workers’ compensation issues that make it impossible for us to do that.
GateFanSamJack writes: “How hard would it be to get a theatrical release for the third SG-1 movie?”
JL: Putting a movie into theaters costs a few million dollars more then just releasing it on DVD. MGM would really have to get behind the project to invest that kind of money and I think the statistics show that even though the movie would probably do OK in theaters, I think that it is much more lucrative as a DVD release.
“How has the Stargate franchise’s relationship with the U.S. Air Force changed from SG-1 to SGA to SGU?”
JL: On SG-1 the USAF was involved heavily as we used the footage of Cheyenne Mountain in each episode. They wanted to make sure that on Earth we showed every member of military personnel the right way. They were all over us if somebody was shown “out of regs”. On one episode they actually told us that if we didn’t make an effort to fix (re-shoot) the scene where this female military officer on the Daedalus wore her hair down that they would not permit us to use the Cheyenne Mountain footage in the episode. We had to use that footage, so we ended up cutting around the scene to a point where the USAF was comfortable.
On Atlantis, they weren’t involved nearly as much as they didn’t really care what we did while we were on the other side of the universe. They did try at one point in season 1 to get Joe Flanigan to cut his hair so that it was within regulation. Joe didn’t respond too well to that, so the Air Force ended up backing off.
“What would be included in a script that would blow the budget when SG-1 started? How does that compare to 2009?”
JL: SG-1 was extremely underfunded in its first season, so every episode was extremely over budget. Usually the big sets and/or big visual effects are our biggest issues.
“Heroes 2 is one of my favorite episodes, partly because of how punked I was by that interview editing scene before they cut to big explosions off-world. The DVD commentaries hinted that this episode’s production didn’t follow the original plan. What made life interesting for you during the production of that episode?”
JL: Well, it started out as a single 1-hour episode and due to the amount of footage that was shot; we were able to turn it into a 2-part episode. That made it interesting cause we had to go back and shoot scenes that had to be seamlessly edited to scenes that shot two months prior. If I remember, we didn’t actually shoot that Alkesh bombing sequence until we shot the second part…that tremendous explosion took a lot of prep time and the amount of explosives that Wray Douglas and his team used was insane.
Morjana writes: Hi John! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions. You’re so young! IMDB writes your first credit in 1994. Were you a film school graduate? Is that how you got started as a film producer?”
JL: I went for a two-year film and TV program at UCLA and then came back to Vancouver and went to Vancouver Film School. I have always wanted to be a producer and just knowing that, at a young age made me able to choose the best path to take. It did take a lot of hard work and proving myself, but I think it has all paid off.
“Favorite memory from working on SG-1, SGA, Continuum and A Dog’s Breakfast?”
JL: SG-1 went for 10 years and 2 movies, so I have so many great memories. One that I failed to mention earlier was when I, as a producer’s assistant in season 1 was asked by Amanda Tapping to accompany her down the red carpet to the opening of the Vancouver Planet Hollywood. Seems so cheesy now, cause it was Planet Hollywood, but back in the day, it was huge. Arnold Swarzenegger and Bruce Willis were there as well as every other celebrity shooting in Vancouver at the time. They had a whole city block shut down for the red carpet…and people were everywhere cheering and it was such a great high. It was so much fun.
“Could you please explain the differences between being a production manager and a producer?”
JL: A producer is legally and financially responsible for the show. A producer is also responsible for the schedule and the execution of the final shooting schedule. A production manager works with the producer to make sure everything stays on budget. The PM deals with the day to day crew and operations side while the producer deals with the cast, script and scheduling.
“Just how awesome is Joe Mallozzi?”
JL: Joe is one of the greatest guys to work with. He is extremely gracious and sympathetic to everyone’s needs. He is also the best-dressed producer around.
“Your most favorite anecdote from all your years working on Stargate?”
JL: I left this question to the very end out of all the questions Joe sent me in the hopes of finding that one great anecdote from the last 13 years. There have been so many great times, so many hard times and so many truly memorable times over the years that I can’t name just one. This is a great place to come to work everyday, with great people and I couldn’t imagine having a better place to have called home for the last 13 years.
Major D. Davis writes: Thank you so much for doing this Q&A. I am really grateful when TPTB take time from their busy schedules to answer fans’ questions. So here come the questions. Will the budget for the upcoming movies (Atlantis and SG-1) be seven million dollars like the previous two?”
JL: We have not been given any parameters for the movies yet. It is quite a financial process to coming up with a final budget number. We are waiting to find out if BC will match the tax credits of Ontario. That will determine how much we will be able to spend on the movies.
“What is the budget for Air (all three parts) and what is the normal budget for a SGU episode?”
JL: I am afraid that we still have to have some financial secrets in this industry, which is why I cannot answer this question.
“How hard is it to arrange to shoot somewhere offsite or in the forest? How big of a crew do you normally bring?”
JL: These days it isn’t too hard to arrange an off site shoot. Most locations around Vancouver are used to it all by now so the process is pretty streamlined. Our shooting crew usually runs around 90 – 130 people, depending on how many shooting elements and/or extras are required on location.
“So far on SGU, what is your primary subtask, such as breaking up the budget, calling places and getting permits to shoot offsite, making sure there is food for everyone, making sure all of the equipment is accounted for, etc.?”
JL: Scheduling and managing the budget are my primary tasks. Secondarily, the management of the cast, the directors and their needs.
“What are your favorite TV shows that you watch regularly?”
JL: True Blood, Nip/Tuck, Brothers and Sisters, Top Chef, American Idol, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Amazing Race, The F Word, The Biggest Loser. Those are the shows I watch regularly and would probably watch more if I had the time. I watch most shows on DVD, where I can take my time; otherwise my DVR gets full too quickly.
“If you weren’t employed by the Stargate team, would Stargate be a show you would watch regularly and enjoy?”
JL: I am really looking forward to SGU as it is Sci-Fi and drama and the scripts so far have been fantastic.
Everiss writes: “I’m not sure if this is the right kind of question for a producer, but what is your understanding of time travel in SG-1 and SGA? Specifically, when someone interferes with the past do they change the base timeline, or do they create an AU branch? Also, if they are creating an AU, do the key scientists like Sam and Rodney, realize that? These questions have nagged at me, particularly as shown in SGA’s The Last Man.”
JL: I am afraid that I am not really that up to speed with the “Science” aspect of the show. I would suggest asking this question of Joe Mallozzi or Brad Wright as they have both had a hand in writing time travel episodes.
Snakey writes: “Thank you for all of your years of great SG producing and best wishes for many years to come. I have seen in some TV shows where the opening credits go on and on for sometimes 15 minutes, while also including some six, seven or eight producers or executive producers mentioned separately. Why are there so many on one episode and why couldn’t they just be named together to cut down on the length of time for said credits? You guys aren’t really that egotistic, are you?”
JL: As a show progresses in age, the only true way to show you appreciate a person’s work, and commitment, is to give them a credit for their work. Separate cards are a personal contract negotiation and industry standard.
Michelle writes: “I had the pleasure of meeting John Lenic at the A Dog’s Breakfast screening in LA! My questions are geeky, FYI. I love the whole idea of being a production manager. What software do you use for your job (for example, for scheduling and budgeting)? Do you use your mobile devices to send out schedules to everyone?”
JL: I know some shows have switched over to EP Budgeting and Scheduling but here we still use Movie Magic Budgeting and Scheduling. We find the Movie Magic versions to be more user friendly for the most part.
“How do you communicate last-minute production changes on-the-fly so the crew doesn’t lose too much time?”
JL: We use the Assistant Directors and Production Office to broadcast to all crew any last minute changes that happen.
“What sort of issues arise among various teams, and how do you mediate them?”
JL: Meetings — lots and lots of meetings. Sometimes, too many, but it truly is the best way to solve issues by getting everyone in the same room.
“How much freedom do you have if you need to spend more than you had budgeted because of some contingency?”
JL: We have a great relationship with MGM and as long as at the end of the season once everything is said and done, we are on budget, we are able to add some contingency to certain episodes if we feel it is necessary.
“How does your role fit with those of the director and the executive producers?”
JL: I see my role as trying to facilitate the best I can at getting both the EP’s and Director’s vision to the screen. Yes, sometimes we have to sit down and talk about financially feasible ways of making things work, but for the most part we get creative and give everybody what they are looking for.
“What percentage of your time do you spend on set/location versus around the office?”
JL: I would like to be able to spend a lot more time on set, but when you are constantly prepping the upcoming episode it is hard to break away from those meetings during the day. Once everything is on set it is often too late for change, but if you have a good prep, everything happens the way it was supposed to…most of the time.
“Great work on ADB! Was it worth all of the mud and the rain?”
JL: ADB was so much fun to make and I absolutely adore David Hewlett and Jane Loughman, so that made up for the rain. The mud and rain just made things more interesting. It was great to see a group of people who just wanted to make a movie and we all pulled everything together and it all worked. We were so happy for that.