Back in the day, Exec. Producer Brad Wright used to say: “Fast is good, but good is better than fast.” To which then writer/director Peter DeLuise would invariably reply: “GotitgoodisbetterthafastGotit!”. But there was no rush. Usually. Stargate was a well-oiled machine, this in no small part due to the writing department’s ability to have a good half-dozen scripts banked before production started on a given season. And, in addition to those banked scripts, there were always a good three or four other scripts in various stages of development as well. But even though we were well-prepared, once production started, those scripts got eaten up mighty quickly. The show’s writers wore both writer and producer hats, so it was all too easy to get swept up in other aspects of prep and post and, before you knew it, we’d be facing a dreaded scheduling crunch. Which brings me to another expression I used to hear all the time: “You’ve got to feed the beast” – the beast, of course, a reference to the production’s relentless appetite for new material. Before you knew it, that comfy six script cushion was gone and you were scrambling to get more scripts completed before those looming concept meetings. And yet, despite the challenges, we got it done. Every year, we managed to write and produce about 20 episodes of television. Hell, for a couple of years, we even pulled off 40! How did we do it? Well, we were well-organized, we had an incredibly supportive creative team, and our schedules, while often tight, were very doable.
I’ve come to learn that Stargate was the exception rather than the rule. We were lucky in many respects, not just in terms of the people we worked with within the production, but the individuals we dealt with on the outside as well. Our studio, MGM, always had our backs and granted us the creative leeway to get the show done, on time and on budget. Our network, SyFy, despite some fan criticism to the contrary, demonstrated a passion for good SF, good stories, always making a positive contribution to the creative and production process.
Yes, we were very lucky, but I’ve come to believe that you make your own luck. And you make it, not by saying yes, being incredibly accommodating, bending over backwards to please, but by being realistic – and ruthless if need be. I’ve learned that working hard against seemingly impossible odds is a sucker bet because once you make that commitment, regardless of how difficult the circumstances, your determined “I’ll try my best” quickly morphs into “I’ll get it done no problem!” to the ears of others. Suddenly, the entire burden shifts. It’s no longer “us” but “you” and you’d damn well better get the job done because, if you don’t, it’s all on “you”.
Instead of telling people what they want to hear, you’ve got to tell them what they need to hear. And, sometimes, what they need to hear is no. No, that’s not going to work. No, you’ll never produce the show you have your heart set on with that budget. No, we can’t complete the script in the time allotted. No, I won’t work for less even if it is a fantastic project, a terrific opportunity, and you would consider it a personal favor.
Now, on the surface, you would think people don’t like to hear “no” and, on the surface, you may be right. But here’s something else I’ve come to learn over my many years in the business: People may not like “no”, but they respect it. “I tried my best to make you happy” – not so much.
Just a little something to think about as you weigh your next job offer.
Or if you’re planning on making me one.