Before I get into my Stargate reminiscences, a little update on the V1 Jets front. For the full preamble, check out my April 19th entry (April 19, 2011: V1 Jets). In short: I booked a flight through V1 Jets, followed their instructions and sent them a wire payment but, since the wire payment did not reach them in time, they cancelled my flight. That was over a month ago. Since then, I’ve been consistently frustrated in my attempts to not only get a refund but even any sort of information on the status of said refund. Finally, fed up, I started complaining – to several consumer advocate groups and on this blog. The day after my entry, I received a call from a representative of V1 Jets who proposed a repayment plan. Relieved that this ordeal was apparently over, I asked him to forward me something I could review. He did and, while I appreciated the proposal, it wouldn’t have seen me fully reimbursed until well into 2012. I countered with an alternate proposal that would see me fully reimbursed, instead, five months after the fact – which I considered more than reasonable. However I wanted to run any language by a lawyer before signing any agreement. Whether it was the mention of the lawyer or the terms of the counter proposal (Seriously. Five months interest-free return of the principle!), I received a curt and offensive email back. Well, I’ve had it. I’ve been patient, understanding, sympathetic, and open to discussion. The company has responded with mild initial reassurances followed by giving me the run-around then topped it off with an attempt to bully me. Enough is enough. I was hoping we could settle this matter amicably but, apparently, that’s not possible. So, Tuesday, I do something I should have done from the very beginning: make a call to the lawyers and have them handle it.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s move on to those Stargate memories.
Now, originally, I was going to dedicate a blog entry to each season but, as I started to go over the various years, the various episodes, and the innumerable behind-the-scenes events that shaped the production, I quickly came to realize that I’d be hard-pressed to fit everything into one entry. I considered half seasons and then, ultimately, decided to just write and see where my memories take me. I could cover an entire season in one entry or it may take me two, three, maybe more. I’ll try to keep it enlightening and entertaining, particularly for those of you who followed the franchise from the start (or, at the very least, SG-1’s fourth season which is when Paul and I were welcomed into the Stargate family).
I got my start in animation. After sending out about a hundred resumes seeking employment in the entertainment field as a script-reader, I received one heartening response for a little animation studio in Montreal. At the time, it was called Crayon Animation and was in gearing up to produce an animated series based on The Busy World of Richard Scarry. The show’s story-editor at the time, a terrific guy and talented writer by the name of Thomas LaPierre, talked me through it: Based on the writing sample I’d provided, he was willing to give me a shot at pitching for the series. I was to read the series bible, then send them ideas for stories to be used in the show. If they liked an idea, they would buy it and send me to outline. If I did a good job on the outline, they would send me to script. And so, I studied the bible, came up with a couple of ideas, and sent them his way. This resulted in my first script sale ever: “Patrick Pig Learns to Talk”. It was a thrilling experience – and a lot of fun! – and the series quickly commanded my undivided attention. I wrote several scripts for the series, then moved on to other shows Crayon Animation had in production.
The company grew, changed it’s name to Cinar Animation, and I was soon hired as their Manager of Animation Development. For several years, I researched properties, developed shows for television, wrote bibles and scripts and, eventually, began story-editing as well. The story-editing proved quite lucrative and, in time, I decided to leave the 9 to 5 office environment in favor of the freedom of freelancing. I continued to story edit for Cinar, then Toronto’s Nelvana and their CBS Saturday morning line-up.
With my new writing partner, Paul, I made the transition to live action television with a writing-producing gig on a teen sitcom called Student Bodies. Paul and I wrote fully a third of the 65 episodes produced and had a wonderful time with the cast, crew, and the show’s producers. We shot the series in an abandoned high school and we would pace the empty corridors, running dialogue back and forth between each other before retiring to our office – a converted, carpeted classroom – to write. Occasionally, the actors or actresses would drop by to say hi or challenge us to a game on the air hockey table the production had gifted us after wrapping the big “air hockey” episode. It was a great experience and we knew how lucky we were. I didn’t think it could get any better. Until the position on Stargate came along.
But before Stargate, there were brief stints on Big Wolf on Campus, The Lost World, and other animation projects. In fact, despite my work in live action, animation continued to be my bread and butter. At the time, I was doing so well story-editing and writing animation that I actually took a pay cut to join team Stargate.
Now, to be perfectly frank, I didn’t know much about the series. I’d watched one episode, an early series episode titled “Emancipation”, that I’d found so horrid it had turned me off the show. Amusingly enough, the exact same thing had happened to Paul with the very same episode. So, when our agent called to tell us Stargate: SG-1 was looking to staff for its fourth season, we were leery. It was a great opportunity but the prospect of working on a show we didn’t enjoy didn’t hold much appeal. But, in all fairness, our opinion of the show was based on a single episode and this was a great opportunity, so why not at least do a little research. And we did, watching episodes, reading scripts, and both, eventually agreeing that, hell, it was, in fact, a really good show (with the occasional bad episode, just like any other series). So Paul and I got to work and sent them production some pitches. They liked a few of our ideas and we were given a contract to write an outline. Same deal as my animation experience: if we did a good job on the outline, we’d be hired to write the script. But – and here’s where this opportunity differed from animation – if we did a good job on the script, we would be invited to join the writers’ room for the show’s fourth season.
An impressive three of the five pitches we sent clicked with Executive Producers Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, but the one they chose as our trial by fire was a story that would eventually become our second episode produced, “Scorched Earth”. After several conference calls with Brad and Robert, and several outlines, we were sent to script. I remember feeling somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing when Paul and I finished that first draft and sent it off. It was a tremendous opportunity to work on the biggest show being produced in Canada but, on the other hand, it also meant uprooting and leaving Montreal (the only city I’ve ever known) for a new life on the other side of the country in Vancouver. Apparently, Brad and Robert were on a flight to Hawaii (for what I believe what was the first of what would become a Stargate tradition: the post-season golf trip), with a single copy of our script. Brad deferred to Rob and held his figurative breath for most of the flight, convinced that a bad script would ruin his vacation. Rob finished reading the script, set it aside, and put Brad’s mind at ease: “It’s good.” And, soon after, we were offered the staff positions.
We moved to Vancouver for the start of SG-1’s fourth season. As we settled into our offices, Brad and Rob explained that the series would probably go five seasons (which would give the studio the magic 110 it needed for syndication) so, if all went well, we were more or less guaranteed two years work. Two years of gainful employment on the biggest production in Canada! I figured it couldn’t get any better. How wrong I was.
In those first few weeks, we settled in and met the various cast, crew members, and production personnel who would become a part of our daily lives over the course of our extended Stargate run. Two stand out looking back. The first was Peter Deluise who sat in with us to talk stories for the upcoming season as he was making the transition from series director to series writer/director. He was friendly, funny, incredibly animated – and Paul and I took an instant liking to the guy. At one point, he was talking about some story idea he had come up with (a story involving something called an “Unas” which meant nothing to me) when, somehow, the topic of his father came up. “Anyway,”he said, “my father – who is Dom DeLuise – said it was as big as a bread box…”. I don’t think Paul and I even listened to the rest of what he was saying. We simply exchanged looks, then threw them back at Peter and I said: “Whoa, whoa. What did you just say?” “My father, who is Dom DeLuise, said it was as big as a bread box,”Peter repeated, then continued on with his story. It was such a bizarre and unexpected throwaway that I still remember it fondly. Although Peter’s father, Dom, had done a guest spot in the show’s third season on an episode called Urgo (From what I hear, the cast and crew were in stitches throughout the shooting of Urgo given Dom’s propensity for hilarious improvisation), it wasn’t until many, many years later that I actually met the man. He delivered a speech at his son’s wedding that brought the house down.
The other stand-out introduction was to the man himself, Richard Dean Anderson (aka MacGyver). Although he had popped his head in to say hi when we first arrived, it wasn’t until I’d settled into my office that he actually swung by to say hi and welcome me to the show. I remember I was working on a script, my back to the door, my pug Jelly (she must have one at the time) at my feet, when Rick stepped in and re-introduced himself. We started chatting and I was momentarily distracted by something on my computer. When I turned around, he was gone. I barely had time to be register surprise when I glanced down and realized he hadn’t left – he was lying on his back on the carpeted floor of my office, playing with my dog. That simple act endeared him to me so much that, years later, no matter what the script critiques and changes requested, I had nothing but respect for the big-hearted guy. As I’ve often said: “People who like dogs are generally good and kind, while people who don’t like dogs are jerks at best and serial killers at worst”. Rick was – and continues to be – a dog guy, to the point that we nicknamed him “the dog whisperer” before Cesar Millan claimed the title.
Whew! That’s it for today. In my next entry, I tackle the individual episodes that made up the show’s fourth season, and some of the interesting behind-the-scene decisions, developments, and fallout!