Special Features Producer Ivon Bartok started on the franchise around the same time we did. Back then, though, he wasn’t doing Special Features. He was just a recent Toronto-transplant looking to land a job as an assistant to Gecko Films Corp., a partnership between actor Richard Dean Anderson and Executive Producer Michael Greenburg. I remember strolling through the production offices with Paul and glimpsing Ivon for the first time as he sat alongside his competition for the position, a cute brunette. He seemed like a nice enough guy but, in the interest of full disclosure, Paul and I were rooting for the cute brunette. As it turned out, the interview process ended in disappointment for the cute brunette (and, by extension, Paul and I) as Ivon got the job. Over the years, he developed his skills and, eventually, moved on to special features where he produced what were, without a doubt, the best dvd extras the franchise has ever created. He also became a good friend and, more recently (check out entires related to my last trip to Tokyo) an excellent travel companion.
SG-1’s fourth season also served as a launch point for both Paul and my career. With the support of Executive Producers Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, we were given the opportunity to learn the ropes, first by sitting in on all aspects of the production process from prep week to post-production edits, and eventually by being entrusted with the task of running our own episodes. We learned a lot in that first season, and it was all thanks to Brad and Robert who trusted us and helped us grow as both writers and producers. And we weren’t the only ones. Throughout the run of the franchise, Brad and Robert adopted the same approach to many, many others involved in the production, promoting from within and allowing talent to flourish. Paul and I – and countless others – will be forever in their debt.
As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, our first episode produced was actually our second episode written (Scorched Earth being the first)…
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY (406)
We had no idea this episode would become so beloved by fandom and yet, looking back, it’s easy to see why. It’s one of those fun episodes with a fairly straightforward premise that allows our characters to shine in ways unexpected. Specifically, Jack and Teal’c who, in past episodes, have relied on Carter and Daniel to handle the science and Ancient, and suddenly find themselves having to step into their team members’ shoes. Yes, it’s our version of Groundhog Day but it works because the time-loop conceit is secondary to the heart of this story: the characters. And yet, in its earliest form, the pitch for this story was very different, much darker in tone. It involved the team gating to a planet and becoming trapped in a seemingly endless time loop orchestrated by a dying race seeking to buy more time to come up with a solution to an impending armageddon (which became the backstory of the device’s genesis mentioned in the episode by Malikai). Rob suggested another spin on the time loop angle and, while I was dubious at first (“Isn’t this Groundhog Day?”I remember asking. “Yeah,”was Rob’s counter.), I was proven wrong (that happened a lot with regard to some of Rob’s ideas those first couple of years).
A lot to love about this episode but it was the “time off” montage that remains my favorite. And, like the Ground Hog Day aspects of this episode, it almost didn’t happen. The episode was timing short, it was clear we would need to come up with some extra scenes, and that gave Brad the opportunity to do something he had always wanted to do: see our characters golfing through the stargate. And so, several scenes were added (they were all scripted, not improvised as some fans assumed): the juggling, Teal’c’s repeated door run-in, Jack riding his bike through the corridors of the SGC, Jack trying his hand at pottery, the golfing through the gate and, oh yes, THE KISS. The latter was Paul’s idea and I loved it. Note: We made sure to have Jack tender his official resignation before dipping Carter and planting one on her, just to make sure we didn’t catch any flak from our Air Force tech advisors.
A great episode with a lot to love about it, but two things about the production stand out for me. The first was Paul’s ballistic reaction to the scene in which a frozen Maybourne is discovered. In this case, Paul (aka Captain Logic) could not accept the fact that someone could be frozen in a standing upright position. Rather, he argued, if you were freezing to death, you would be hunkered down, trying to keep warm. The fact that Maybourne is discovered on his feet, frozen solid, suggests a sudden freeze – which isn’t what happened here. Anyway, it wouldn’t be the last logic issue to set my writing partner off, but it was memorable for being a fiery first. As for the second thing that stands out about this episode for me: the title. I swear, I thought Rob was kidding when he said he was going to call it Watergate.
Peter DeLuise kicks off his writers’ room stint in fine style with this episode, the first in a string of Unas episodes. Peter’s office was located across the hall from mine and, whenever someone would bring their kid to the production office, they would invariably stop to visit with Peter who had a whole routine for the lucky little guests, an act that always started with “Pull my finger” and always ended with an imitation of Barney the Dinosaur. It goes without saying, the kids loved him and stopping by his office was always the high point of any tour. Until years later when I decorated my office with cool supervillain-themed statues.
The first script we ever wrote for Stargate, the one that got us our staff position, was produced as the fourth season’s ninth episode. Before Paul eventually came up with the Scorched Earth title, I was simply referring to the script as “Whose Planet Is It Anyway?”. The onscreen version of this episode differed in several respects from the early script, the biggest difference being the ending. In the original version, Daniel convinces Lotan to make a difficult decision and the caretaker does, destroying his ship and the building blocks of an entire race, leaving the planet to the Enkarans. In the episode’s final scene, Daniel sits alone in his quarters, listening to Lotan’s parting gift: the music of a now extinct race. The ending was changed to allow for a compromise that led to a happier resolution for all. While I didn’t mind the shift to a more positive conclusion to the story, I still regret that the solution to the issue seemed, in hindsight, somewhat convenient and obvious.
Another aspect of the script that didn’t make it onto the screen was a resolution to the Jack/Daniel conflict at the core of the episode. At one point, Jack makes the painful decision to trigger a bomb that would destroy Lotan’s ship, knowing Daniel is aboard. The bomb never detonates but the intention was there – an attempt to save an entire race by sacrificing the life of a close friend. A defensible decision? Fandom was split – and the divide was made even greater by the fact that there was no apparent resolution to the conflict. No apology from Jack. Nothing. Well, in truth, one had been scripted – an apology of sorts that saw Jack approach Daniel at episode’s end and say something along the lines of: “Just so you know, I’m glad I didn’t blow up that ship.” To which Daniel responded: “Just so you know, so am I.” For some reason, the actors found it too on the nose and suggested they would come up with something on the day. Which, unfortunately, never happened. That was a big learning experience and, from that episode on for as long as we did table reads, if I knew an actor didn’t like a line, even if they didn’t ask for an alternate, I would supply one.
I liked the premise of this episode and the first couple of versions of the script even more. Whether it was because the episode came up short or simply because I was aware of those early drafts, Beneath the Surface came up short for me. In the end, it seemed to lack the emotional core present in those early versions where the relationship between the amnesiac Jack and Sam was a lot less nebulous. They WERE together and, given the ground work we’d laid in the episodes leading up to this one – the admission of feelings, the time loop kiss – it seemed like a logical progression. However, there was some feeling (most notably from Amanda) that it was too much too soon and that the arc might prove a disservice to the characters, so the episode’s romantic elements was stripped away. I loved the notion of our two main characters having to abandon their established relationship for a forgotten life in which they are no longer together.
Some fans were disappointed. Others breathed a sigh of relief.