July 26, 2018: Joseph Mallozzi’s Top 10 Funnest Episodes!

Oh, sure.  As a viewer, your mileage may vary.  But, looking over the list of 100+ episodes of television on which I’ve been credited or co-credited as a writer, THESE were the ten I had the most fun writing…

Honorable Mentions…

The Ties That Bind/It’s Good To Be King (Stargate SG-1)

Yeah, it’s always the way.  You decide to do a Top 10, put together a long list, start narrowing it down and, in the end, you’re always left with 12.  So, rather than cast them aside, I include these two as Honorable Mentions, two scripts that were much fun to write but, to be honest, for one reason or another, didn’t fully deliver in the end.

#10

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Wormhole X-Treme (Stargate: SG-1)

No one can truly appreciate the banality, frustrations, and sheer ridiculousness of producing television unless they actually work in the industry…OR watch a show in which it is mercilessly lampooned.  Sci-fi handwavium, ruthless broadcasters, sexy female alien-obsessed executives – it’s all here.

#9

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Stuff To Steal, People To Kill (Dark Matter)

The only thing I love more than a good time travel episode is a good alternate reality episode, and this one was a blast delving into the colorful personalities of the badder versions of our bad guys.

#8

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Point of No Return (Stargate SG-1)

One of the things I loved about Stargate was the creative allowance it gave us to write humor.  I always reflect back fondly on this episode as one of the first instances in which we were just let loose to script the story as we envisioned it – conspiracy kook, Teal’c on the motel massage bed, and all.

#7

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Remnants (Stargate: Atlantis)

I’ve always been fan of multi-story scripts, especially when those seemingly disparate tales neatly dovetail at episode’s end.  Still, the highlight of this episode for me was Robert Picardo’s Woolsey,  a character who had come such a long way since his introduction back on SG-1.  He’d gone from pencil pushing jerk to principled ally and in this episode, his journey to redemption is fully completed thanks, in large part, to the terrific comedic timing of Bob Picardo who made Woolsey at turns vulnerable, sympathetic, and gosh darn lovable.

#6

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Kill Them All (Dark Matter)

What did I just say about those various moving pieces of the narrative ultimately falling into place?  Yes, in the worlds of Hannibal Smith: “I love it when a plan comes together.” and the moment FIVE utters this episode’s title phrase, it DOES come together in fast and furious fashion.

#5

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Ripple Effect (Stargate: SG-1)

This delightfully bonkers episode will forever hold a special place in my heart as probably my favorite episode of Stargate for its humorously bizarre instances involving varied AU SG-1’s, a dark timeline team, and that scene with Cam (Ben Browder) in his underwear.

#4

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Family Ties (Stargate: SG-1)

This one kicks off with a shot at Syfy’s failure to promote the show (Mitchell: “They cancelled it? Really? I didn’t even know the new season had started.) and ends with Teal’c unwittingly attending a reading of The Vagina Monologues (I remain convinced that, at that point, the network had stopped vetting the scripts because I don’t see how else they would have let this one go).  Fred Willard is a comic genius, Claudia Black gets to show off her expansive acting chops, and, oh yeah, more shots at Syfy –

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#3

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Window of Opportunity (Stargate: SG-1)

Yeah, you knew this one was going to be in the Top 3.  The original pitch for this episode was quite dark, but Executive Producer Robert Cooper steered us toward a more comic take.  After listening to his notes, I said: “But that’s Groundhog Day.” To which he replied: “Right.”  And so, we went ahead and wrote the Stargate version of Groundhog Day – which ended up being one of the franchise’s most beloved episodes.

#2

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Isn’t That A Paradox? (Dark Matter)

By this point in the series’ run, I was in a writing groove pretty much wholly due to my wonderful cast.  I knew that whatever I wrote for them, they would deliver – and boy did they ever.  TWO’s heartfelt yearning for the quiet life, THREE’S suburban rogue, a reminder that our FIVE is still very much a kid, SIX’s bike mastery, and Android’s not-quite-know-it-all attitude – all combine for an episode that, more than any other, leaves me with bittersweet memories of a show ended way too soon.

#1

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All The Time In The World (Dark Matter)

Was there ever any doubt?  I wasn’t even working off an outline when I sat down to write this script but from the moment I started, I was on fire, blazing through a first draft  with almost no interruption.  I was in the zone and this one came together beautifully in all of a day (A record!).  Whenever I watch the THREE/Android duet, I get downright wistful at the thought of where these two characters were headed had our audience been rewarded for tuning in.

Addendum – Since so many asked, 200 didn’t make the list because I was one of many writers who contributed to that one.  Having said that, the segments I wrote WERE a lot of fun…

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January 28, 2018: Smoooooth sailing!

Alright.  I’m in full script mode.  It usually takes me a few days of procrastinating and general agonizing before I hit my stride, but I’ve hit the ground running on this one.  I figure two weeks to complete a first draft breaks down to roughly four pages a day.  As tonight, I am three and half days ahead of schedule.   Of course, at some point, I’ll hit that wall – that point in the script where I’ll realize I’ve contradicted myself, overlooked a crucial plot point, or written my way into a hole out of which I shall never climb – but until then, it’s smooooooth sailing! Exploration and wonder abound, Harper’s on to everyone, and we’re barreling towards our Holy Shit act out.  What more could you ask for?

I am on a creative high.  OR it could be that roasted Buffalo Cauliflower Akemi made for dinner.

Though a more appropriate name for the dish would be Amazonian Cauliflower since, instead of using Frank’s Red Hot, Akemi instead basted the cauliflower with an entire bottle of Crazy Jerry’s Brain Damage Mind Blowin (habanero-based) Hot Sauce.  Ten pieces later and I was suffering symptoms of hypoxia.  Fortunately, we had the antidote on hand…

Yes.  When in doubt, ice-cream it out.

Provided I make it through the night (And, at this point, it’s looking touch and go), I’ll power into the script’s third act tomorrow – and finalize my takes on both the Korean drama and anime series in advance of my call on Tuesday.

Well, off to bed…so that I can stay up and think about the next three scenes.

December 23, 2017: The Ten Types of Writers You’ll Find in a Writers’ Room!

THE BIG IDEA-ER: This individual comes into the room with a vision, a big idea, sometimes a single visual, occasionally a cool plot twist, and will move heaven and earth to see it realized.  In the hands of a pro, it will all come together in glorious fashion, but a lesser writer will drag the entire room kicking and screaming into the abyss.

THE MASTER SPINNER: This individual can take a kernel of an idea and spin it into narrative gold.  Fearless, endlessly creative, I’ve seen this type generate an entire episode from a single misheard word.

CAPTAIN LOGIC: As the vanguard of logic, this individual ensures that every beat of your story makes perfect sense, from character motivations to astrophysics.  On the one hand, this results in tight, well-structured episodes; on the other, they can be a real creative show-stopper.

THE DEFLATOR: This individual has a knack for throwing out lame ideas that will grind the proceedings to a halt, sucking the creative air out of the room and forcing the other writers to entertain their imbecilic notions before resuming track.

THE SPOT PICKER: This individual is generally quiet for the most part but, every once in a blue moon, will pipe up with an idea so brilliant that it will blow the story off its creative hinges.

THE FOLLOWER: This individual, generally a lost cause in the room, will offer little in the way of actionable contributions.  Fully aware of their shortcomings, they will follow up someone else’s brilliant idea with a slight embellishment or, in some cases, proclaim co-ownershp of the idea with an ass-covering: “I was just about to say that!”

THE CIRCLE-BACKER: This individual performs better as a solo artist than an in-room collaborator.  As such, they will often bring their work home with them after the writers’ room wraps up for the day, hashing out a solution to narrative roadblocks overnight, then returning with most, if not all, the answers the following morning.

THE GREENHORN: A newbie, this first-timer will make the occasional gaffes, pitch out the most implausible of ideas, but, over time, will find their footing and become a solid contributor.

THE CHARACTER GENERATOR: This individual will approach every story beat viewed through a character lens, eschewing plot concerns and construction for a single-minded focus on the characters – their actions, their motivations, and how each contributes to fleshing out and fully realizing them.

THE GHOST: A non-entity who will occasionally make their presence known with an idea as insubstantial as their presence in the room.

In truth, most writers are a mix of several of the above, but always predominantly one type.  I, for instance, am, for the most part, a definite Circle-Backer.  Which type are you?

June 12, 2017: Episode 301 BTS pics and video!

Hiatus?  What hiatus?!  Today, the Dark Matter writers’ room convened to start plotting the show’s (hopefully, if all goes according to plan) penultimate fourth season.  Joining me for the creative festivities were Carl Binder, Paul Mullie, Ivon Bartok, and Alison Hepburn.  Over the course of the late morning and mostly afternoon discussions, we covered season and character arcs, the stories, the opening two-parter, and some pretty awesome scifi “developments”.  The currently-airing third season is our biggest and boldest yet – and it’s going to be very hard to beat.  But we’ll try!

The show has premiered in Canada, the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Spain, and Portugal – and Latin America, France, the Middle East, Germany, and Brazil are soon to follow.  To celebrate, here are some of my favorite behind the scene pictures (and a video) from the first part of our two-part opener: Being Better Is So Much Harder…

The ladies run their lines and prepare for battle.

Torri Higginson as the ass-kicking Commander Delaney Truffault.

Zoie Palmer (Android) ready for her big jack-in-the-box scene.

Jeff Teravainen as the recently resurrected Lieutenant John Anders.  Anders Lives!!!

Laughter amidst all those tears – Melissa O’Neil (TWO) and Melanie Liburd (Nyx).

A trio of troublemakers: Melanie Liburd, Roger Cross, and Melissa O’Neil.

Anthony Lemke (THREE) in his sexy shirt.

Shooting the Anders/THREE reveal and drag-away…

Tomorrow, behind the scenes pics and vid from Episode 302: “It Doesn’t Have To Be Like This”.

March 3, 2017: What does a producer do?

What does a producer do?

I get this question a lot and the truth is: it really depends.  A producer’s duties can range from almost everything to absolutely nothing.  The title can be a distinction that accurately reflects an individual’s contribution to a particular production, or it can be little more than a vanity credit offered to placate shiftless idiots.

Producer titles come in various shapes and sizes.  There are Producers and Associate Producers and Assistant Producers and Supervising Producers and Line Producers and Co-Executive Producers and Executive Producers.  And, perhaps some day, we’ll also see Accomplice Producers and Appendage Producers and Almighty Pansophical Omniscient Producers.

I can dedicate an entire blog entry to these various producers titles, but let’s keep it personal.  My name is Joseph Mallozzi.  I am an Executive Producer on Dark Matter as well as being the show’s creator and its Showrunner.  THIS is what I do –

Prior to the commencement of  prep, I will come up with a season-long story and individual character arcs in addition to as as many stories as possible for the upcoming season.  I will then convene and oversee a writers’ room in which we attempt to break 13 stories – each a teaser, five acts, a tag, and every scene and narrative beat.  On days when the room spins its wheels, unable to gain traction on a story, I will go home and work on it myself, returning the next morning with a fresh tack and, if I’m lucky/inspired, a complete beat sheet.  Along the way, I assign scripts  and, eventually, provide notes and direction when the writers deliver their outlines.  I also provide notes on all scripts.

I write 5 of 13 scripts every season.  My writing partner, Paul, writes 5 as well.  I will do passes on every script, and these will range from tweaks to uncredited complete rewrites.  As we go through prep, I will make adjustments to these scripts, incorporating notes from Executive Producer Jay Firestone, input from the cast, losing or amalgamating scenes to ensure we are able shoot the episode in our allotted time, adding scenes if the episode is timing short, making adjustments to scenes to address actor availability issues.

In short, I start writing once one season ends and stop writing – well, technically never, but for the purposes of a single season – long after we’re finishing shooting, occasionally scripting extra or alternate dialogue for ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) as needed.

The goal is to have as many scripts ready as possible by the time we go to camera on our first episode.  I like to aim for 9 of 13.  This gives our various departments time to prepare and also offsets the possibilities of nasty surprises or mad scrambles down the line.  This seems like common sense and yet…

So much time and money is wasted on productions that fly by the seat of their pants, with writers scrambling to write scenes to be shot the next morning or productions prepping off outlines.  Sadly, these aren’t the exceptions but the norm in this business.  Having even 5 episodes before shooting begins is a luxury most productions don’t have.  Why not?  Various reasons but I’d say the two biggest are: a) Ineptitude (hiring people who don’t know what they’re doing who hire people who don’t know what they’re doing), b) Not Giving a Shit (people assuming this is the norm and who cares anyway?).

Why is our production different?  Because Jay Firestone, the President of Prodigy Pictures, the company that produces Dark Matter, will actually risk the money to pay for a writers’ room and scripts before that elusive official pick-up, thereby ensuring that if the show does get the greenlight , we’re in a position to run an efficient production and make the most of our talent and resources.  The result is a happy work environment and a better-looking show because our money is spent on sets and visual effects instead of being frittered away on last minute scrambles.

At the beginning of every season, I will oversee early prep as the production gears up, go over our budget, and generally make certain we have all our ducks in a row before we actually start shooting.  I’ll interview directors, put together a list with Jay and our Line Producer Norman Denver, go over potential recurring guest stars with our casting director Lisa Parasyn, cast any recurring guest stars with Jay, answer any questions the various department heads may have, and interview replacements for anyone we lost during the hiatus.

Once we get into prep on the individual episodes, I will sit in on every meeting, starting with the concept meeting and  ending with the production meeting, but including every meeting in between (Art Department, Hair & Makeup, Wardrobe, Background Casting, Playback, Stunts, Special Effects, Visual Effects, and Props).  I don’t micromanage my team.  They are all incredibly talented, creative people and my job is to give them direction, not orders.  I trust them to deliver the goods and they do, time and time again.

In addition, I will tweak and sign off on casting breakdowns, cast our episodic guest stars, sit in on the cast read-thru, have a tone meeting with the director, and answer any questions anyone may have about the script.

Since we work on a staggered schedule that sees us prepping an episode while another is being shot, I entrust on-set supervision to Co-Executive Producer Ivon Bartok who is there from crew call to wrap, a 12 hour day that usually starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m.  Occasionally, we start earlier.  All too often, we finish later.  I’ll usually come in early and set-sit until my first prep meeting, relinquishing my supervisory duties to Ivon who will deal with any issues or concerns that may crop up during the shoot.  If any do, I’m only a text away.

My days tend to consist of early mornings, prep meetings, writing, rewrites, countless approvals, and sporadic set visits.  As the season progresses, my duties may also include dealing with any network requests.

Once an episode has been completed, I will do my edit.  While many producers will go in and spend the day in the editing suite, I don’t have the time.  Instead, I will download the cut and watch it when I get home at night, once straight through, then a second time for notes.  I provide the editor with copious notes, anywhere from 25 to 100 and, once they’ve been addressed and a new cut is output (usually the following night) I will repeat the process, sending significantly fewer notes on my second pass.  The next day afternoon, I will go into editing and spend maybe 2-3 hours with my editor, completing my Producer’s Cut.

As post-production continues, other pieces of the puzzle are assembled: mixes (music and sound effects), color timing.  With VFX Supervisor Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, Paul, and Jay, I will approve the visual effects through its various stages, from concept to finished product.

Of course, while all this is going on, I continue to prep, write, rewrite, edit, and approve.  From start to finish, almost six months.

And when the last episode has been shot and the final episode locked, I will switch gears and start thinking about next year, coming up with  a season-long story and individual character arcs as well as as many stories as possible for the upcoming season.

Oh, and in addition to all this, I try to get word out about Dark Matter, doing interviews, updating a daily blog with photos, videos, concept drawings, and insights.  Our fans get to choose episode titles, quiz our cast and crew, and are given access and insights unlike those offered on any other show.

My plan is to rest after Dark Matter‘s fifth and final season, then start all over again with a new series.

That’s what THIS Executive Producer does.

October 24, 2016: My Writing Process!

The other day, I was asked to describe my writing process.  My first instinct was to say I didn’t have one but, upon further consideration, I realized that I do follow certain patterns when writing a script.

Step #1: PROCRASTINATE

I’ll do anything to avoid starting a script – surfing the net, doing my taxes, writing this blog – sometimes going weeks steadfastly distracting myself until, finally, fed up with my no-can-do attitude, I’ll capitulate and begin!

Step #2: LAY THE GROUNDWORK

I’ll open up a new file page, put my name, the date, and the title on the cover page, then set up the headers and, finally, write TEASE at the top of the first page. This always gives me a great sense of accomplishment and, satisfied with work well done, I’ll take the rest of the day off.

Step #3: OPENING WITH A GLACIAL PACE

The first scene of the episode is crucial and, for that reason, I will agonize over it for days, constructing the entire scene in my head before writing it down.  After several rewrites, I’ll set it aside and come back to it the next day, throw out what I’ve written, and take another stab at it.  Eventually, I’ll have a scene that I don’t love but honestly don’t hate as much as previous versions and, besides, I’ve got to get moving.  And so, the following day, I’ll rewrite the scene, then forge ahead and, usually, complete the tease.  This offers another great sense of accomplishment as I convince myself that 1/7th of the script is complete (tease down, next five acts and the tag to go!  That’s technically 1/7th – if you don’t take page count into consideration).

Step #4: CREATIVE DRIVE

The beginning of a script is always tough as I’ll re-read and rewrite those early scenes endlessly in the hopes that racing through them will give me the momentum to carry me through the rest of the act.  Instead, I usually stumble and crash half a page into new territory.  Fortunately, the cure for my writer’s block is only an elevator ride away.  Once I’m behind the wheel of my car, far away from the distractions of the internet and the chocolate in my fridge, I can finally focus. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing while driving.  I’m not sure why it is but the 20 minute drive to work is golden time, allowing me to run and refine dialogue so that, by the time I get into the office, I’m ready to write!

Step #5: PUSH!  PUUUUSH!

That’s it!  Don’t let up!  Lock your door, ignore the distractions, and keep at it! You’re almost there.  Yes!  Yes!  You’ve done it!  Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of a Tease and First Act!  It may not be much to look at now but, like any mom and dad, you’ll grow to love it.  Or get used to it.

Step #6: RINSE! REPEAT!

Completing the first act is a HUUUGE accomplishment.   Believe it or not, the hardest part is over.  Now it’s simply a matter of repeating the techniques and superstitious  rituals that got you here.  Re-read, rewrite, go for a drive, lie awake into the wee hours playing scenes in your head, drink some sake, seek out positive reviews, comments or messages to remind you of your salad days and motivate yourself to achieve the perception of unparalleled visionary heights, you sad, creatively-spent has-been.

Step #7: RIDE THE WAVE!

At some point in the writing of the script, amidst the seemingly endless hours agonizing over turns of phrase or Rubik-like plots, you’ll get into a groove and the words will start to flow, smoother and faster.  And suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and you can do no wrong.  You’re in the zone and it’s glorious!  Great characters moments, tight dialogue runs, clever developments – it’s as if some future you has traveled back in time to give you all the answers. Sadly, this inspired burst is fleeting, usually lasting 5 to 15 pages before dissipating and leaving you the shattered mess you once were.  But the key is to recognize the wave and ride it as long as you can.  Just last month, I rode my best wave ever on Dark Matter Episode 304, blazing through a record 32 pages in a white heat.

Step #8: FEAR THE DEADLINE!

By this point, I’m hopefully at least halfway through the script.  I can often rely on a late closing burst as all the story’s narrative points converge in those final pages of the fourth act, giving me the momentum to  drive through another modest chunk.  If that doesn’t work, then the prospect of a looming deadline will be enough to spur me forward.

Step #9: CAP IT WITH SOMETHING SPECIAL!

Beginning a script is tough, but ending one can be just as hard UNLESS you’ve got the Holy Shit conclusion already in your head.  And you should!  Start strong, but end even stronger.  Yes, it’s important for the viewers who will no doubt be blown away by your inspired moment, but it’s equally crucial to your creative mental well-being capping the episode with an ending YOU know will blow them away.  The shocking reveal at the end of the show’s very first episode, the reveal of Jace Corso in Episode 3, TWO being blown out the airlock, the Android going down in Episode 12, the captured crew being escorted off the ship by the G.A. with SIX revealed as the mole in the season one finale, the bloodbath in the palace in Episode 212 – all deliciously devious moments I envisioned for ages and saved for script’s end, like a decadent bite of dessert you look forward to at the end of a long and exhausting dinner party.

Step #10: IGNORE IT LIKE AN EX THAT SPURNED YOU!

Once the script is complete, I’ll set it aside and move on to other things.  Resist the urge to give it any attention.  Don’t you remember the difficult times?  The frustration?  The thankless hours and days spent trying to make it work?!!  Play hard to get.  Ideally, I give it a few days before I pick it up and give it another read and another pass.  After that, it’s someone else’s problem…

Until they give you notes.  Then it’s your problem again.

June 4, 2016: Looking back on Stargate! Looking ahead to Dark Matter!

Ah, there are no better motivations than anger or a deadline and, in the case of this new pilot, I can draw on both.  A little over halfway done and it’s coming along swimmingly.  Hoping to have it done soon so that I can get some feedback, do a rewrite, and then go out with it in the next couple of months.  As much as I enjoyed my time in Toronto, being back home these couple of days made me realize how truly awesome it would be to set up a show here.

So, in yesterday’s blog entry, I uploaded some pics from the Stargate archives. I’ve been going through a lot of these old files and am amazed by the brilliant work of James Robbins who, prior to taking over as Production Designer on Stargate: Atlantis, spent many years in the art department conceiving, creating, and designing some of the franchise’s most memorable visuals.  Like for instance…

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The wraith pod from the Atlantis pilot.  Or…

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The wraith mothership.  Or…

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The headpieces for the wraith warriors.

Just incredible stuff.  You can check out more of James Robbins’ over at his website:

The Art of James Robbins

Speaking of art, on one of our last days in Toronto, Akemi and I had dinner with actress Ellen Wong (Dark Matter’s Misaki Han) and her husband Adam.  It was Ellen’s birthday and, to commemorate the  special day, we gifted her this awesome framed painting by a budding local artist:

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Speaking of the new commander of the royal guard of Ishida, check her out…in uniform:

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And, of course, you remember her ride…

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So, today I resume one of my favorite spotlight features of this blog: The Screenshot of the Day!  Each screenshot will be selected at random and uploaded without context.  Assume what you will!

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August 2, 2015: #DarkMatter fandom roll call! The art of Jon Hrubesch!

While we’re no closer to settling on a name for Dark Matter fandom, we’ve got some pretty terrific candidates for the individual character fan groups.

Roll call!

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#FANDROIDS = Fans of The Raza’s whimsically endearing Android.

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#SIXPACK/#6PACK = Fans of The Raza’s principled shuttle pilot.

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#FIVEHIVE/#5HIVE = Fans of The Raza’s quirky tech monkey.

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#FOURCLAN/#4CLAN = Fans of The Raza’s  detached but deadly royal.

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#THREESCOMPANY/#3sCOMPANY = Fans of The Raza’s resident rogue.

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#TWOCREW/#2CREW = Fans of The Raza’s kick-ass commander.

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#ONESIES/#1SIES = Fans of The Raza’s principled warrior.

Artist Jon Hrubesch, whose artwork was just featured in Episode 108’s Transfer Transit sequence –

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– left a comment on yesterday’s entry.  I followed up and had him send me links to the gorgeous works on display –

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Mighty spectacular, no?  You can check out more of Jon’s art here:

http://jonhrubesch.deviantart.com/gallery/

And, while we’re on the subject of eye candy, check out the work of our VFX team on Episode 108’s Vega5:

Finally, here a few more Dark Matter Episode 108 reviews for your perusal:

http://www.mikesfilmtalk.com/2015/08/01/dark-matter-episode-eight-recap-and-review/

“Each episode moves the story forward while simultaneously shedding more light on each character and generating still more questions. This formula ensures attention levels do not wane and keeps the viewer guessing. Dark Matter is part of SyFy Friday and is great television that should not be missed.”

http://noobist.com/uncategorized/dark-matter-episode-8-review-recap/

” And what’s more, how will this revelation affect the group dynamic going forward since they’re trying the whole no-secrets-and-lies thing? This should be good.”

http://www.idiotbox.co.uk/dark-matter-review-episode-8-33965/

“First up let me just say that I love everything about the cloning transporter system, it’s such a brilliant idea and one that is so wonderfully SciFi, just the concept of it is awesome enough so it’s brilliant to see it used to such an effect here. Also great was the strong focus on Six who for me is easily the most easy to connect with of the bunch which is largely down to him having the clearest and most compelling back story, at least so far.”

April 12, 2015: Dark Matter – A 7+ year journey!

I was actually developing Dark Matter as far back as 2007.  That year comes to mind because, in 2007, we were producing Stargate: Atlantis’s fourth season and I remember walking the corridors of the ship we constructed for episode #405, Travelers, and saying to Paul: “We’ve got to find a way to keep these sets. They’d be perfect for Dark Matter!”  In retrospect, it was probably a good thing we didn’t hold on to those sets.  The storage costs over seven years would have no doubt eclipsed the price tag of our spanking new sets.

The nice thing about waiting seven years for your show to get green lit is that it gives you plenty of time to develop the hell out of it.  Characters, their journeys, seasonal and series arcs – you’d be surprised how much you can flesh out over the course of 84+ months.

With a more than fully fleshed out show on our hands,  the plan was to roll right into Dark Matter if and when Stargate ever ended.  I’d been preparing myself for Stargate’s eventual end since Stargate: SG-1’s fifth season, back in early 2000, so I’d grown inured to the dread of cancellation.  As a result, when the end did come, and Stargate: Universe was cancelled in 2011, I was taken by surprise.  I wasn’t ready!

This business is funny sometimes.  Given the fact that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had effectively established MGM’s t.v. division and made the studio TONS of money with Stargate, I imagined they be set.  A studio deal.  A couple of blind pilots.  Offers to use their years of experience to help shepherd or run whatever other productions the studio had in the pipeline.  No?  A letter of reference?   A hearty handshake?  A “Thanks for multi millions?” scribbled on a post-it?

If they weren’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the guys that had earned them enough cash to purchase a tiny country (something modest with a lot of beachfront property), I figured my chances were…slimmer…

“I’m sorry.  What department did you say you used to work in?”

“Uh, television.  A t.v. show actually.  We ran for seventeen seasons, produced over three hundred episodes and two movies?   Stargate?  STARGATE?!”

“Could you spell that?”

Even with a writing/producing background on one of the most successful franchises in television history, the chances of selling a pitch are slim.  People love great ideas.  They love great scripts.  But, usually, not enough to buy them.  Established properties on the other hand…well, that’s a different story.  And that’s something I was well aware of from my days working development.

And so, rather than roll the dice on a pitch tour, I made a single call – to Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse Comics and presented him my idea for Dark Matter.  He loved it and, in no time, we were in business with publisher Mike Richardson on a four-issue SF comic book series.  That would eventually be collected into a trade paperback.  Which would be used as a visual aid and sales document to help Prodigy Pictures President Jay Firestone sell the show.

So, much respect for Mike Richardson, Keith Goldberg, artist Garry Brown, colorist Ryan Hill, editor Patrick Thorpe and the rest of the gang at Dark Horse Comics (Kari Yadro, Aub Driver, Spencer Cushing et al.)

And much respect for Executive Producers Jay Firestone and Vanessa Piazza for getting the show to air.

And much respect for my terrific cast, crew, VFX, and post personnel helped me produce one hell of an awesome SF series.  And a ship-based SF series no less!

August 6, 2014: Closing in on that first draft! Beware food! Eat cardboard and live longer! (Wait. Now there’s a new study that says cardboard is bad for you too?)

Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #1
Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #1

Well, I’m exhausted.  Although I only wrote seven pages today, I also ended up rewriting another twenty.  By the time the dust settled on my laptop this evening, I’d hit the 50 page mark.  All I have to do now is finish off this conversation, completing Act V, then write the tag which will include not one, not two, but THREE surprises.  So when the series finally airs, make sure to wait for those final credits – otherwise, you’ll miss something VERY important.  And then you’ll definitely feel like odd person out at the water cooler Monday morning.

Anyway, I hope to get my writing producing partner, Paul, a first draft by Friday so that I can take a break…from episode #2 by starting the script for 3 episode #4.

We’ve also started talking about potential first season directors – and who will helm our big two-part opener.  Quite a few incredibly talented candidates – some of whom you are no doubt familiar with…

Speaking of chocolate…What?  We weren’t talking about chocolate?  Well, NOW that we’re on the subject: http://www.answers.com/article/1184282/7-scientifically-supported-reasons-to-eat-chocolate-every-day?param4=fb-ca-de-health&param1=null&param2=null&param5=5&param6=6

Uh oh: http://www.businessinsider.com/gluten-sensitivity-and-study-replication-2014-5  Apparently only 1% of Americans suffer from celiac allergy.  And I apparently know ALL of them.

And I needn’t remind you that like red meat animals fats coconut oil eggs coffee gluten (?), sugar is bad for you: http://dailyburn.com/life/health/sugar-bad-for-you-health-effects/?fb_action_ids=10204200568245260&fb_action_types=og.comments&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

My favorite part of this article: “…people who consumed more than a quarter of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die than those who restricted their intake to less than 10 percent of total calories, regardless of age, sex, level of activity and body-mass index.”

To which I reply: “Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests that people who were born face a whopping 100% mortality rate (!) irrespective of age, sex, level of activity and body-mass index.”

Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #2
Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #2

July 30, 2014: Fade in…humor!

It NEVER gets any easier.  Inevitably, the jubilation of convening with your fellow writers and hashing out a terrific story is extinguished by the prospect of having to actually write the damn script.  You sit down, type FADE IN and then…What?  Oh, you know what the scene is going to be (You just broke it the other week) and you can imagine the great version (Not the actual words, mind you, but the reactions of people who read it or watch the finished product.  Best Scene Ever!), but actually realizing it to its fullest potential…now that’s where things get sticky.

I once worked with a writer who would force out a first pass, no matter how half-assed, just to get something down before returning to it for countless rewrites, revisions that – in theory – would develop and improve on what he’d written. Sure. And I once worked with another writer who’d always tell me: “Shit don’t take a good buff.”  In other words, you can polish that half-assed pass all you want but, in the end, all you’ll end up with is a polished half-assed pass.  Which is why, when I sit down to write a script, those first few lines have to be tight.  I’ll work through a variety of false starts – a dozen, often more – before finding the right opening exchange, then develop the scene from that promising beginning.  I’ll pace (or drive or shower or eat or feign interest in the conversations going on around me) and run the scene in my head, over and over, building the beats, the dialogue, the set-ups, the pay-offs until, satisfied, I’ll finally sit down and actually, physically, start writing.  And, once I have it all down, I’ll re-read and reconsider and revise and rewrite and, once I’m satisfied, I’ll move on to the next scene and repeat the process.  Then, the next morning, I’ll start from the top: re-reading, reconsidering, revising and rewriting – all the while reflecting, with a certain wistfulness, on how nice it had been to sit in company and create something.

So, today I completed the Tease of episode #2 and I’m at the point where I’ve gone over it so many times I can almost recite it by heart.  I pushed ahead and wrote the first two scenes of Act I, hitting and surpassing my “5 pages a day” target.  It’s interesting how the characters seem to take on a life of their own on the page.  It’s early and, as much as I struggle to maintain quality equality, I already do have my favorites.  I think the key, as I progress through this first draft, is to find those unique instances of humor in each of the crew members because humor, I’ve always felt, goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, making them a little vulnerable and, thus, so much easier for the viewers at home to connect with them.  I think back to my time on Stargate and characters like Jack O’Neill, Vala Mal Doran, Rodney McKay, Eli Wallace – even Teal’c, Ronon Dex, General Hank Landry, Todd the Wraith, and Richard Woolsey.  All funny in their own distinct way.  It’s just a matter of finding, and drawing out, those distinct instances in each.

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What do you think?  What humorous instances endeared you to a particular Stargate character?

July 28, 2014: 12 down! 1 to go!

Another day, another story.  This episode, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, was envisioned as a tough one that would take a couple of days to break.  But, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, we ended up breaking it over the course of a single day.  And that leaves us with one final story remaining: episode 13, the big season finale.  As we were heading out to our cars this afternoon, one writer remarked that this one probably WOULD take us a couple of days due to its complex plot. Maybe.  But, then again, maybe not.  I have the tease, tag, all five act breaks, and the major moves in my head.  In fact, I’ve had them in my head for over a year now.  After writing the pilot, THIS was the episode my mind automatically went to whenever I imagined getting the green light on the series.  The big closer, the Holy Sh*t! season finale that will trigger the colossal fan forum meltdown after its eventual airing.  As my buddy would say: “It’s gonna be bananas!”

Alas, as you may have noticed, there was no official announcement at Comic Con. Apparently, they’re still crossing the last t’s, dotting the final i’s, and executing the finishing squiggly flourishes that accompany most official-looking signatures.  So…soon.  Soon.

In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead.  I’d like to see a revised pilot and first drafts of episodes #2, 3, and 4 by end of August, first drafts of episodes #5, 6, and 7 by end of September, and first drafts of #8, 9, and 10 by the time I touch down in Toronto in early November.  We’ve already generated a list of potential directors while, internally, we’ve started talking about casting.  We’ve got quite a few colorful roles to cast and finding the right people isn’t going to be easy – but we do have a few familiar faces we’d like to bring in for an audition.  Or two.  Ultimately, we’ll be looking for actors who are not only good, but good to work with.  And we know a few. smile

Damn, I’m going to miss going into the office to spin stories.  I’d like to say it’s been hard and rewarding work but, the truth is, it’s simply been a hell of a lot of fun.

We HAVE to do this again.  Next season!

Jelly is out like a Chicago White Sox designated hitter.
After an exhausting day of waiting for me to come home, Jelly is out like a Chicago White Sox designated hitter.

July 18, 2014: The Highs and Lows of the Writers’ Room!

The thing I miss most about my days on Stargate is the writers’ room: the camaraderie, the laughs, the heated discussions and, every so often, the occasional creative accomplishments.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was hard, sometimes frustrating work but, when all was said and done, they were productive sessions that generated some great television.  And fun times.  We were lucky.  A successful writers’ room has as much to do with talent as it does personality.  Being good at what you do is important, but so is getting along with others.  And, in the case of Stargate, we were fortunate in that respect.  We didn’t always agree, but we got along and, in the end, I like to think it showed in the shows we produced – while I was there, some 340 hours of television.

BUT while the writers’ room can offer exhilarating highs, it can also mete out crushing lows.  In the case of the former, take last week’s creative output for example.  We ended up breaking an episode a day, a blistering pace that is not only impressive but almost unheard of in most rooms.  On the flip side, you need look no further than today’s disappointing gathering that wasn’t just unproductive but actually counter-productive in that the basic story we agreed had merit last night suddenly evaporated over the course of the morning, leaving us with NO story heading into the weekend.

Yep, it can be damn frustrating, but it DOES happen.  And the reasons why it happens are the following:

1. The story is deemed too similar to something that has come before.

This is a tough one because, if you look harder enough, anything can be deemed similar to something that has come before – especially when you’re talking about science fiction.  The Purge was an episode of the original Star Trek series, but that didn’t keep it from making $64 million.  Elysium was another movie with similarities to an old Star Trek episode.  It made $93 million.  Hell, South Park even did in an episode called “Simpsons Already Did It!” in which we are reminded that, just like science fiction, the world animation is fraught with the dangers of unintended imitation.

Closer to home, one of our very first episodes of Stargate: SG-1, “Window of Opportunity”, was unabashedly inspired by the movie Groundhog Day, but that didn’t stop us from producing what turned out to be one of the franchise’s most beloved episodes.  And, in the end, the admitted similarities to Groundhog Day, while enormously entertaining, were less important than how OUR characters responded to them.

So, yes, stories involving time loops and bleak alternate realities and emotional robots have been done before.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t be done again – so long as you can make them unique to the world and characters you have created.

2. Logic issues.

Even in the far-out world of science “fiction”, you must operate within established parameters.  A theoretical FTL drive wouldn’t work that way.  You can’t perform an EVA without a space suit.  Difficult to argue against these.

3. Suspect character motivations.

This one’s a little tricky because it often comes down to a matter of opinion.  “I don’t believe this character would do that.” can be neatly countered with: “Well, I do.”  Sure, there are instances where certain actions would be completely out of character – but in these instances, you’re presumably dealing with an idea from a writer who doesn’t know the show.  For the most part, character motivations come down to proper set up.  Would mercenary Character X risk his life for the robot?  At first blush, probably not.  But what if the robot just saved his life – AND holds the key to solving the shipboard mystery that could pay off handsomely?  Then, maybe he just might.

4. Bias

Yes, it happens.  Sometimes, someone just doesn’t like the story or is grouchy and in a combative mood – in which case they’ll attempt to argue #1-3.

Two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with were Brad Wright and Robert Cooper who had two very different approaches in the room.  Brad always excelled at pinpointing the heart of the story and finding a way to make it work.  To him, the bells and whistles were less important than the emotional crux of the narrative (ie. how it affected our characters on a personal level).  Once he could identify that, he would work tirelessly to build a great episode.  Robert, on the other hand, was a straight shooter who never shied away from telling you what he felt wasn’t working – BUT, invariably, ALWAYS offered alternative solutions.  No one could spin ideas like Rob.

All this to say I miss those guys and could have really used their expertise today.

No story brainstorming for me this weekend.  I’m taking a break to revise the pilot and put together overviews of our first six episodes covering synopses and production requirements (sets, locations, significant props, and visual effects) for each.  It’s all preliminary but it’s designed to ensure we’re all on the same page moving forward.  And, hopefully, steers them in the proper creative direction as we head into prep.  After all, we’ve got a spaceship to build!

 

November 26, 2013: Projects on deck!

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That Super Secret Project:

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.  Especially in the film & television industry.  Particularly when legal departments get involved.  Such is the case with this project that was humming along quite nicely until….  I was contacted, we had our initial discussions, I pitched out what Brad W. used to term “a Grinchy idea”, everyone loved it, everyone got excited, work commenced and then…lawyers got involved.  It’s really a shame.  While, realistically, this project wouldn’t have contributed much in the way of my career, it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to work on and, more importantly, something you all would have really enjoyed. Hopefully, this is just a final hurdle that has to be overcome but if it isn’t, and the projects gets deep-sixed by suits and skewed logic, I may have to release the hounds.  And, ladies and gentlemen, you are the hounds!

That Project in Development:

I’ve never understood why development has to take so long.  I suspect that having to do rewrites on outlines may be a contributing factor.  A little frustrating, but the people we’re working with, on both the production and network side, are very smart and a lot of fun to deal with.  I would simply prefer to have fun and deal with them on an actual first season.  Anyway, I’ve done my pass on the outline, sent it over to Paul who will work on it tomorrow, and it’ll be off to the network before the weekend.  And, by next week, we’ll finally have the go-ahead to go to script.

That SF Novel We Developed and Pitched:

We were hired to develop a series concept and pitch for a novel written by one of science fiction’s greatest authors.  We took it out to some broadcasters in Toronto and, later this week, we’re meeting up with our production partners to discuss taking our dog and pony show south of the border.  Pitching is always a long shot, but we’ve got a great take on the material and some incredibly supportive people backing us.

That SF Novel We’ve Been Asked to Consider Developing for Television:

While I was in Tokyo, my agent phoned up Paul, my writing partner, and informed him that a production company was looking to develop a television series based on a novel by one of SF’s most wildly imaginative authors.  I read (actually, re-read) the book and talked it over with Paul.  It’s a mind-bender – with a lot of potential.  Our agent is setting up a Hi-how’re-you-doin?/Get-to-know-you/What’s-your-take-on-the-material? call for next week.

That SF Novel We Were Hired to Develop for Television:

Paul and I, along with our production partner, beat out a pretty solid series premise complete with major story and character arcs, twists and turns.  Alas, in interim, the project has been temporarily shelved and we’ve asked to shift focus to…

That Action Feature:

Based on an idea by one of our energetic and compulsively creative production partners, we actually spent an afternoon beating out the broad strokes of the story while we were in Toronto a couple of months back.  Once some questions get answered, Paul and I can actually sit down and put together an outline.

Dark Matter:

Our production partner did an incredible job putting all the pieces in place on this one.  We were good to go.  All we needed was the green light.  We waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And finally received word from one of our broadcaster partners.  But it wasn’t “green light”.  It was “pass”.  Wait?  What?!  Apparently, it came down to two projects and, in the 11th hour, the decision was made to go with the other one.  I was…what’s the opposite of “placidly pleased” to hear it.  I was later informed that it had been very VERY CLOSE – which, believe it or not, actually makes me feel worse.  Not to be deterred, our production partner is back on his horse in search of an alternate broadcast entity – or alternate formula that will see Dark Matter get made.  I mean, come on!  Who’s got a hankering for a ship-based SF series?

That Genre series:

When one door closes, another opens – or, sometimes, it’s the same door that’s left slightly ajar because you were quick enough to thrust your foot in the jamb.  Such is the case with this opportunity.  We simply need to agree on a suitable, modestly-budgeted genre series to go in with.  And that has proven a bit of a challenge – not so much the agreement on the project itself but the agreement on a  meeting in which to reach an agreement.

That Urban Fantasy series:

We completed various drafts of a series overview and pilot script until it met everyone’s satisfaction.  And then…it seemed to fall into a black hole.  No more notes.  No word of a pass.  Just radio silence.  I imagine that, some day, it will eventually resurface: tomorrow, next year, in the far future when it is discovered by alien archeologists.

That Southern Gothic pilot:

I’m 17 pages into this one.  I’ve got oodles of research material (provided by Savannah native and technical advisor JeffW – Get well soon, buddy!) and an intervening scene to write.  My partner on this one just sent me her pass on the cafe scene.  It’s great.  I’ll tweak it, write the next scene, and then pitch things back to her – hopefully before week’s end.  But with Thanksgiving (football) on the horizon, I’m not sure how likely that will be.

The Horror feature:

This one made the rounds but, alas, no takers.

The Other Horror feature:

I was pitched the idea for this one by a long-time friend and excellent writer who came up with the devilish premise.  I loved the set-up but couldn’t quite get my head around how to attack it…until, the other week, in my addled, exhausted, food-poisoned state, the solution suddenly came to me.  I wrote out my take, sent it his way, he loved it, and sent me some ideas of his own.  Now, all we need is that crucial, cook, and wholly unexpected (tough to do) turn that will have it all fall into place.  Since my partner on this one has his hands full with actual paid production work, looks like I’ll be taking the lead once we nailed down those final story elements.  Can’t wait to get started.

And assorted others:

Opportunities in the field of comic books (going after the film & television rights to an establish series, launching an original series as a springboard to a t.v. series), other established SF, fantasy, and horror properties we’re considering for development with one of our production partners.

So, yes, on the one hand, very busy which should keep me out of trouble (ie. gang life, the competitive twerking circuit, etc.).  On the other hand, I’m getting a might antsy working from home and if one of these projects doesn’t pop soon, I may just have to bite the bullet and consider staffing south of the border.

No, not telenovelas.  Not THAT south.

May 16, 2013: Jennifer Finnigan drops by! You sure you want me to read that?

1Well, look who it is!  It’s my good buddy and former co-worker: uber-talented/super-successful actress Jennifer Finnigan.  She’s in town shooting a movie (with my other pal, Cas) and dropped by the other night to say hi, eat some rotisserie chicken and, of course, check out the Dark Matter comic book (soon to be television?) series.  Turns out she’s looking for an SF project and this could be the one!

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I worked with Jen way back when we were both first getting started, on a teen sitcom called Student Bodies (Student Bodies (TV series) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).  Once the show ended, she moved to Hollywood where she landed the part of Bridget Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful, playing the role for 3+ years and winning three consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards along the way.  From there, it was on to Crossing Jordan were she recurred as pathologist Dr. Devan Maguire, then to her own series, Committed, and, eventually, on to CBS’s Close To Home where she headlined as deputy DA Annabeth Chase.  She recently wrapped production on David E. Kelley’s Monday Mornings and, after finishing up this latest Lifetime movie (which will take her to Brazil and India), she’ll be producing her first feature alongside hubby, Jonathan Silverman – provided she finds the time between work, travel, and games night at her pal Nathan Fillion’s place.

Lucky Magazine Hosts The 1st Annual "Lucky Shops LA"

Anyway, it was great catching up with her these last couple of days and here’s hoping we do get the opportunity to work together again sooner than later.

Meanwhile, Jen’s castmate on the Lifetime movie (and my house guest) Cas left today for a con appearance in Detroit.  Detroit!  Yeesh.  You’d think he could come up with a better cover story than that.  He’ll be gone until Monday and, in that time, he has asked me to read a pitch document and the first ten pages of a script he wrote for a personal project.  Over lunch today, I made it clear to him that if he really wanted me to read his stuff – REALLY wanted me to read it – then, I certainly would…with the understanding that I would NOT be critiquing it as his good buddy Joe but as former Executive Producer/professional writer Joseph Mallozzi.  It’s the same fair warning I give everyone who asks me to read something they’ve written.  I don’t want to waste their time and, more importantly, MY time reading something simply for form’s sake.  If you really want my opinion, I’ll give it to you – but be prepared for the worst.  I would consider it disrespectful of me to pull my punches.  The whole point of the exercise is to identify the flaws and weaknesses of a concept or script and maybe offer suggestions as to how they can be addressed.  It is certainly NOT to offer blanket congratulations on a job well done.

Cas apparently understands this and has given me the go ahead.  So I’ll start reading it tomorrow – AFTER I finally sit down to read my friend Trevor’s outline which has been sitting in my inbox far too long.

Again, I assume this sort of thing isn’t limited to show business.  I’m certain you’ve all found yourself in situations where friends or family members have requested honest input on some thing or other.  So how did you respond in situations where, quite clearly, tough love was required?  Were you painfully honest or was discretion the better part of valor?  Do tell.