July 31, 2017: Reflecting back on Robert C. Cooper’s directorial debut way-back-when!

Well look who dropped by the comments section.  None other than Robert C. Cooper.  I mentioned his upcoming miniseries, Unspeakable, in yesterday’s entry and, today, he left the following message:

“Thanks for the shout out Joe! If you’re interested in following the progress then head on over to http://www.unspeakableseries.com and please like us on Facebook at Unspeakabletv!”

Ah, this takes me back to Rob’s directorial debut, back on a little show called Stargate: SG-1

So what inspired Rob to become a director? His love for the art?  Creative ambition?  Would you believe…fear.

Parents be warned…

And what did I expect from Rob’s debut?  Well, I never had a doubt…

June 22, 2017: From Window of Opportunity to All The Time In The World!

About 18 years ago, my writing partner, Paul, and I landed staff positions on a little scifi series called Stargate: SG-1 (You may have heard of it!).  With one script under our neophyte belts, we were given the green light to start work on our second.  It was based on a pitch that involved the team traveling off-world to a planet facing imminent extinction.  In an attempt to stave the coming apocalypse, certain members of this civilization were “resetting the clock”, inadvertently trapping SG-1 in a  recurring 24 hour time loop.

When it came time to hash out an outline, series co-showrunner Robert C. Cooper had a few notes:

1 – We already have one cool piece of technology on the show = the stargate!  Use it instead of our proposed “time-loopy device” to create the problem.

2 – Forget the people on this other planet.  Let’s make this episode about OUR characters.  Focus on them and their efforts to get out of the loop.

3 – Play up the humor of the situation.

As we received more notes on the planned script, it suddenly dawned me.  “We’re doing Groundhog Day!”, a reference to the Bill Murray comedy which sees his character, weatherman Phil Connors, reliving the same day over and over and over again.  Rob’s response was “Yeah!” and to throw me a look that seemed to say: “It took you this long to figure it out.”

I considered.  We couldn’t just do a Stargate version of Groundhog Day.  Could we?

Well, before there was Groundhog Day there was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “Cause and Effect”.

And before “Cause and Effect”, there was Ken Grimwood’s novel Replay.

And before Replay there was a Philip K. Dick short story called “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts”.

And before “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts”, well, it’s possible there was something else.

The point is I could have thrown my hands up and said “It’s too similar to something that’s already been done” and moved on.  Of course, had I done that, I never would have co-written “Window Of Opportunity”, an episode very similar to Groundhog Day – that nevertheless consistently ranks as one of Stargate fandom’s favorite episode of the entire 300+ episode franchise.  And how to account for this episode’s lasting popularity?  Well, how about the fact that, while the time loop premise has been done before, what makes it so memorable is OUR CHARACTERS being trapped.

WoW offers so many memorable moments: the juggling, the Fruit Loops, the kiss, golfing through the stargate.  It was fun and funny and, despite its similarities to what had come before, stood out and left a lasting impression for many fans.

Fast-forward to this same time last year.  We were assembling the Dark Matter writers’ room in anticipation of a third season pick-up.  Among the numerous stories I wanted to tell was our own version of the time loop episode.  And so, after breaking our first three episodes, we sat down to beat out the story.  We went back and forth, argued, hit roadblocks, reconsidered and then, by day’s end, we had…absolutely nothing.  I went home that night, came up with second narrative attack, and presented it to the room – only to have it go up in flames.  Eventually, we tabled Episode 304: The Time Loop Episode, and moved on to Episode 305.  By the we wrapped up the season 3 writers’ room, we had 7 outlines for the first 8 or so episodes.  I don’t have to tell you which episode we never got around to breaking.

That summer, I wrote the scripts for Episode 301 and 303 but, before sitting down to start on 304, I decided to do a little research.  And said research involved me reading Dick’s “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts”, and watching movies like Run Lola Run and Groundhog Day and Source Code, and checking out t.v. episodes like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Cause and Effect”, The X-Files’ “Monday”, Supernatural’s “Mystery Spot”, Farscape’s “Back and Back and Back to the Future”, Futurama’s “Meanwhile” and “The Late Philip J. Fry”, Star Trek: Voyager’s “Coda”, and a lot more.  I wanted to distill the time loop narrative to its structural touchstones, and then write the greatest time loop episode ever – one that honored what came before but would be uniquely Dark Matter in its approach.

I was, admittedly, scared to death as I sat down, sans outline that Saturday morning, and started writing.  And, as I wrote, the pieces of the story started falling into place: the mid-loop start, harried THREE, the Android’s assist, third time’s the charm, the complication, the flash-forwards, the treasure trove of teasers.  I ended up writing 32 pages that day, the most I’ve ever written in one sitting, then finished the script the following day.  And then I slept for about 12 hours.

The episode was directed by Ron Murphy and he did a terrific job in delivering one of the craziest episodes we’ve ever done on this show.

And then there’s the cast, lead by Anthony Lemke and his loopy THREE: Melissa O’Neill, Zoie Palmer, Jodelle Ferland, Ayisha Issa, Mishka Thebaud, Alex Mallari Jr., and guest star Michael Reventar – all of who tear it up.

Don’t believe me?  Check out Aimee Hicks’ preview at SpoilerTV or Tom Gardiner’s preview at ThreeIfBySpace or…

Greg David for TV, eh?: Things Get Loopy In Episode 4

We’ve gotten a mere peek at Anthony Lemke’s comic timing over the past two seasons. This week’s script allows him to go full-on and it’s a goshdarn treat. I won’t give anything away but I’ll admit I watched pretty much every scene Three was in with a stupid grin on my face. Even the soundtrack in those scenes is different, with a funky bass thump to note this isn’t your usual Dark Matter episode.

Jennifer Griffin for ScreenSpy: The Raza Crew Grapple With Time in Episode 304 “All The Time in the World”

I won’t lie. We’re kind of excited about this one.

Mary Powers at TVGeekTalk: Dark Matter Advance Preview: All The Time In The World

It’s been a while since we had a Three-centric episode, and this one reminded me of what a great talent Lemke brings to the role and how fortunate the series is to have him.

Seriously.  If you have plans tomorrow night that DON’T involve staying home to watch this episode of Dark Matter, change them!

Dark Matter Episode 304 – Friday, June 23rd at 9:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 p.m PDT) on SYFY and Space Channel.

 

 

 

June 25, 2016: 6 Days to the Dark Matter Season 2 Premiere! Tell your friends!

Thanks to everyone who joined my reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).  Topics ranged from Dark Matter to Stargate to pugs.  In case, you missed it, here’s catch-up link:

Hi, I’m Joseph Mallozzi – creator of the Dark Matter series, writer-producer on the Stargate series, scifi fan and pug fan. AMA! from television

And special thanks to moderator Kishara for all the heavy lifting!

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Hey, check out this awesome article by ThreeIfBySpace’s Tom Gardiner in which he makes the case for Dark Matter being a worthy successor to Stargate:

Why Dark Matter Fills That Stargate-sized Hole In Our Hearts

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 6.45.22 PM

Looks like FOUR’s got something on his mind in today’s Dark Matter season 2 sneak peek screen shot.

DARK MATTER -- "Welcome To Your New Home" Episode 201 -- Pictured: Anthony Lemke as Three -- (Photo by: Jan Thijs/Prodigy Pictures/Syfy)
DARK MATTER — “Welcome To Your New Home” Episode 201 — Pictured: Anthony Lemke as Three — (Photo by: Jan Thijs/Prodigy Pictures/Syfy)

In addition to the three hours I spent doing that AMA today, I also found time to go to Best Buy to buy a new washing machine (The old one makes the alarming ka-klung ka-klung noise and has tried to make a break for it.  On several occasions, I’ve found it a good two feet closer to the door.) only to be told my local Best Buy doesn’t have any in store and that I would have to purchase one online.  So I did.  Exciting, hunh?

ALSO – I’m halfway through my rewrite of the new scifi pilot.  The plan is to finish it up before month’s end, then send it to my agent and have him set it up.   OR, if that fails, turn it into a comic book series.  OR, if that fails, publish it on this blog, then wait for one of you to win the powerball and finance the show’s first season!

Hey, Stargate fans!  I’ve got you covered too!  Check out these little art department goodies…

Supersoldier helmet

Super soldier helmet.

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Super soldier design by James Robbins.

Supersoldier drone

And profile.

April 11, 2015: Our Stargate Family Reunion continues on Dark Matter!

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Well, well, well.  Look who it is.  Director Martin Wood (Stargates SG-1 and Atlantis) hits the streets of Toronto – in his trademark shorts.  Yes, if there are two thing I remember about Martin Wood from our days on Stargate, it’s: 1) His penchant for wearing shorts year round, and 2) His onscreen cameo character, Major Wood, always lugged around a giant wrench.

Alas, no giant wrench on Dark Matter (but who knows?  We’ve yet to shoot his episode, #111) but the shorts are still in full effect!

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We had our final (?) notes session with Executive Producer Jay Firestone the other day.  Soon after, we made the necessary changes and released our season finale, episode #113.  As I may have mentioned, I want to approach each season as a instalment in a book series.  And so, #113 offers answers to many of the questions we set up over the course of our initial 13 episode journey and includes one HUGE reveal.  But I made a point of scripting it in a way that keeps the mystery reveal a secret…until our very last day of production.  A LOT of theories swirling around set right now…

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B 1st Assistant Camera Marcel Janisse enjoys lunch in the infirmary’s isolation chamber.

I’m thinking it’s high time for another mailbag.  If you’ve got questions about the show, post away.  I’ll answer later in the week.

I’m also thinking of doing one of those reddit AMA’s.  How do they work?

Finally, here’s another look at the Dark Matter teaser trailer:

Over 47k+ views and counting!  Share!  Share!  Share!

April 3, 2015: Yet another Stargate-Dark Matter connection! And let’s meet some more of the people who’ll be bringing you the show!

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Well, well, well.  If it isn’t another Dark Matter guest star with a Stargate connection.  Which of you diehard SG-1 fans recognizes Supreme High Council Per’sus of the tok’ra, who nearly lost his life at the hands of a za’tarc way back in the season four episode “Dive and Conquer”?  Small galaxy, no?

Back when Stargate concluded its awesome t.v. run back in 2010, I knew that, when all was said and done and all the sets had been struck, the final episode delivered, and I took that closing walk from the production offices to my car for the last time, I knew in my heart that there was one thing I would miss more than anything.

The money.

But coming in a close second was the people I worked with, some of whom I’d spent the better part of twelve years of my life along, making three fantastic t.v. shows.  I honestly thought I’d never be lucky enough to work with a group as talented, kind, and supportive as the cast and crew from Stargate.  But four years later, here I am, in Toronto (of all places!), working with an equally talented, kind and supportive and supportive cast and crew.  In many ways, they actually remind me of the old gang, and my experience working with them has been, at times, very reminiscent of the great days I spent on the Stargate franchise.  This, of course, is a testament to the hard work and careful management by Prodigy Picture’s (and Dark Matter Executive Producers) Jay Firestone and Vanessa Piazza who assembled a great team for this project, made up of Lost Girl veterans and other familiar faces.

Anyway, they’re great people – who are all too often unsung heroes of the production process.   So here are a few of the behind-the-scenes individuals who help make this show great…

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2nd Assistant Art Director (and budding amateur taxidermist) Kelly Diamond. You’re already familiar with some of her work (the videos for Cosmic Tonic and Intergalactic Pet Shipping! to name a couple), but you’ll see her awesome grapahic/playback skills on full display once the series starts to air.  That Android data stream in episode #103?  That’s her!

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If he isn’t juggling the front office action or overseeing supply runs, Production Assistant Kyle Dolphin can be found showing off his physical prowess during the weekly Friday Push-Up contest.  Remind me to show you pics of that time he was drafted to model the space suit.  It’s like he was born to perform an EVA!

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I’ve only had the pleasure to work with editor Teresa Hannigan on a single episode so far, but rumor has it I’ll be fortunate enough to re-team with her soon.

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On Set Carpenter Jesse Partin notable for, among many other things, riding the mechanical bull that time we shot the casino episode in Hamilton.  Also, he’s our resident doorman – in charge of ensuring a smooth open and close on those sliding ship doors.

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The title of “Craft Server” doesn’t do justice to the culinary wizard that is John Schieder.  Mornings, if you’re looking for a breakfast burrito or omelet, he’ll make you one to order.  Then, throughout the day, will ensure you’re well-fed, offering up a rotating assortment of impressive food items, from sausages and schnitzel to greek salads and the best damn clam chowder I’ve ever eaten.

And I’ll undoubtedly miss them all once the show ends.

Five years from now.

December 10, 2014: The shuttle!

We’re heavy into prep on episodes #101-102 and, with the commencement of principal photography about a month away, sets are coming together nicely.  Our ship, The Raza, has come a long way in the past couple of weeks.  The corridors have been textured with faux-grate flooring, pipes, vents, and grills, its walls painted in metallic hues, sliding doors installed; the quarters are coming to life, the sub-level cargo hold and walkways finished, and the bridge…the window are in, front AND top, and the consoles went in today.

Meanwhile, work is being completed on the shuttle (the Phantom Class Marauder) interior design.  We’ve gone back and forth on its various elements – width, depth, seating layout, windows, and location of the door – and are in the process of finalizing the look.  I wanted something similar to the puddle jumper in terms of layout with a little more of the depth of the SGU shuttle.  Ultimately, I think we’ll also incorporate an element of the SG-1 cargo ships with its sectioned cockpit and separate hold.

Anyway, I contacted Stargate Production Designer James Robbins, who has been doing some fabulous design work for us on Dark Matter (Can’t wait to show you his work on The Marauder, the space station, and the various cruiser, destroyer, and shuttle class versions of the Ferrous Corp, Mikkei Combine, and Galactic Authority ships!), and asked him about the dimensions of those smaller Stargate ship designs.  He sent me the following which I thought were too cool not to share with you –

SGU Shuttle_Dimensions_R001

As James points out, the dimensions are from our VFX department and may not reflect what was actually built.  80 feet long for the SGU shuttle seems a bit much, but the 40 foot length of the Atlantis puddle jumper sounds about right.

ships small 01

Takes you back, no?

Many thanks to James for digging these up from the archive!

Prep continues with non-stop meetings.  Today, it was the concept meeting followed by visual effects, playback, and impromptu hair meeting, stunts, and special effects.  Tomorrow, it’s an Art Department review, props, paints, another hair meeting, and not one but TWO gun meetings!

October 5, 2014: A Toronto Cameo! Saturday mornings without cartoons?! Say it aint so!

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So my flight got into Toronto at about 7:00 p.m. local time and it was a half hour later when the driver dropped me off at my new residence.  I had just stepped out onto the sidewalk with my four pieces of luggage when some passing pedestrian stopped and pointed at me, eyes wide, mouth agape, like Donald Sutherland in that last scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  “Is that guy pointing at me?”I wondered and, since he obviously was, my next question was: “Who is that guy?”.  It was dark and he was wearing a baseball cap but there was something familiar about him.  And, as I stared back, the wheels turning, I realized: “Hey! That’s the star of Saving Hope!”  And then: “And Stargate: SG-1!”  And finally: “Michael Shanks!  I KNOW him!”

What a surprise!

As it turns out, he was on his way back to his place and happened to spot me. What are the chances? Despite an early call tomorrow morning, he helped me roll my luggage over to my new (temporary) digs, then walked back with me to meet up with my writing partner, Paul, for a brief catch-up session before he called it a night.

Chances are we’ll be crossing paths a lot in the coming months.

It was great to see Michael, great to see he’s doing well, and even greater to know we have a prospective dog sitter for our next Japan trip.  Maybe he can keep them busy by getting them guest spots on his show?

Hey, according to this article –

http://gizmodo.com/this-is-the-first-weekend-in-america-with-no-saturday-m-1642441646

This marked the first weekend in America with no network Saturday morning cartoons.  Several reasons are cited, from the FCC’s politically correct strong-arm tactics to the fact that, nowadays, cartoons are accessible 24/7 through a variety of alternate sources.

But the sad fact remains: this is the end of an era.

I remember waking up early every Saturday morning and racing downstairs with my sister to mainline a septuple feature of animated programming.

At the risk of dating myself, these were my favorite cartoons growing up…

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10. THE PINK PANTHER

I had a love-hate relationship with this show.  I enjoyed it enough, but really hated that smug panther.  I always thought he was an incredible jerk and tuned in every weekend in the hopes that he would finally get his comeuppance.  No such luck.  I much preferred The Ant & the Aardvark.

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9. ROCKET ROBIN HOOD

There was something quaintly endearing about this cheap-as-hell production whose use and re-use of static images made Ralph Bakshi’s Spiderman look like an elaborate Disney movie by comparison.

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8. THE JETSONS

Endless Saturday morning viewings prepared me for a career in science fiction.

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7. JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS

I mainly checked it out for Melody.

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6. THE ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW

To be perfectly honest, I came for the Sherman and Mr. Peabody but stayed for the squirrel and moose.

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5. FAT ALBERT AND THE COSBY KIDS

I always enjoyed the show up to the point where the gang would play a song at Bill’s behest.

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4. SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU?

Its comforting, paint-by-numbers plotting would pre-date shows like House by some forty years, yet prove even more durable.

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3. SPIDER-MAN

Okay, full disclosure.  If I was stranded on a deserted island and could have only one incarnation of Spiderman to watch, from his humble t.v. beginnings to his recent big screen forays, I’d pick this version who I always felt was closer to the original comic book representation of the nebbish Peter Parker/quippy Spiderman.

 

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2. THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW

A cartoon for grown-ups that kids could enjoy as well.   I own the entire Looney Tunes collection and I still find them equally hilarious today.  It’s sad that, nowadays, kids can only watch censored versions of these brilliant animated shorts.

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1. THE FLINTSTONES

Another clever animated series, written for an adult audience but enjoyed by children as well.  Nothing takes me back to my youth like that theme song or those trademark sound effects.

March 29, 2014: The Houseguests! T.V. Graphs! How’d the Stargates fare?

1Check out our houseguest, the love of my buddy Tio’s life, the lovely Petunia.  She’s here for a sleepover and has come armed with her own pink bed, pink blanket, and snacks.  According to Tio, she’s a snuggler, so tonight will be interesting.  Four dogs on the bed.  Just like old times!

But Petunia wasn’t the only houseguest we entertained.  Earlier today, our friends Jeff and Barb dropped by for pecan pie, ice cream, drinks and, of course, dogs…

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Lulu and Barb hit it off.
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Jeff and the Yamazaki 18 year old whisky also really hit it off.
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Family shot!

And, for no other reason than the fact that I’m already posting dog pictures, here’s a photo I snapped of Bubba last night sporting his samurai helmet…

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Samurai pug!

I received an email today from our old friend, Trevor in Toronto, who alerted me to GraphTV, a site that charts a show’s performance based on viewer response over time.

Stargate: SG-1…

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 6.52.31 PM

Stargate: Atlantis…

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 6.54.30 PMAs Trevor pointed out, a lot “of shows fluctuate quite a lot, either up or down, but the what is clear from the graphs is SG-1 and Atlantis are some of the most consistent series ever made.”

As for Stargate: Universe, the breakdown is also telling…

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 6.57.17 PMAnd, again, Trevor says it best: “and it’s painful to see the SGU graph, because clearly that show was awesome and gaining momentum…”

Check out how your favorite shows fared here: http://io9.com/these-graphs-show-precisely-when-your-favorite-tv-show-1554419978

Or do your own research here: http://graphtv.kevinformatics.com/

December 14, 2013: Planning the Fan Campaign! And next year’s Group Holiday!

Okay.  Pursuant to yesterday’s blog entry, some careful strategy is required.

I think that, rather than striking out now as everyone – especially those in a position to make the decisions – prepares for the holidays or, in some cases, is already off on holidays, the campaign should hold off in order to maximize its efforts.

Plan and coordinate now, then launch in the second or third week of the New Year when everyone is back at the office – and eager to start green lighting those new projects!

I leave you to pick a target date.

And, speaking of planning, what do you all have planned for the coming holidays? Visiting relatives?  Staying close to home?  Getting away from it all with a trip to an exotic locale?  Bora Bora?  Fiji?  Vegas?

Given the choice, if you could spent the holidays anywhere in the world EXCEPT home (or the home of a loved one), where would it be?

My Top 5 NOT Home For the Holidays Destinations:

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5. Christmas in Hawaii

Well, why the hell not?  Sure, there’s nothing like a white Christmas, but after one too many festive deep-freezes in my home town of Montreal, I think I’d appreciate a little change of venue.  Maybe less snow and more sand.  Less spruce and pine and more palm.  Less roasted chestnuts, more poi.  And, oh yeah, the beach.

14. Christmas in Hong Kong

The view from Kowloon of the colorfully lit buildings lining the Central Hong Kong across Victoria Harbor is absolutely stunning.  Not quite the rest and relaxation offered by a Hawaiian getaway, but certainly a hell of a lot warmer than an east coast winter, and maybe even more cosmopolitan.  If you’re looking to shop away the holidays, this is the place!

13. Christmas Tokyo

Well, of course.  Tokyo out Christmases most North American cities with its stunning seasonal displays and spirit.  Granted, the Japanese don’t quite celebrate the holiday like some of us do, eschewing family in favor of romantic dinners for two, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the festive mood.

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2. Christmas in Savannah

I chose Savannah, Georgia because I’ve been researching the city of late, but I’d happily do Charleston, S.C. as well or any other down home American city that offers a southern take on the holiday complete with pecan pie and bourbon-spiked eggnog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1. Christmas in Las Vegas

Well, surprise surprised?  Not really.  Unlike any of the other places listed, Vegas is only a few hours away, offering fun, sun, and restaurant lineup to rival New York and L.A.

So, let’s all start planning for next year!  Where are we all going?

December 13, 2013: Stargate: Extinction! The comic book?!

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StellaByStargate writes: “I’m curious as to who (person or organization) “owns”–for lack of a better word–the scripts for the SGA and SG-1 movies? So many of us would love to see those novelized and made part of the Stargate canon…is there any way we could launch a campaign to make that happen? Who would we have to annoy/pester/wheedle/cajole/blackmail? If any group is up to the task, I’m guessing it’s the Stargate fandom.”

Answer: GREAT question!

The rights to both Stargate movie scripts (Stargate: Extinction and Stargate: Revolution) rest with the studio, MGM.  It is up to them if and when Stargate fans will see these stories, in some form or other.  Unfortunately, for reasons I’ve gone over here (September 12, 2013: Whither Stargate?) it’s highly unlikely the Atlantis movie will be produced.  However, there are other options…

To be honest, I have neither the time nor the patience to sit down and novelize the Atlantis script (Stargate: Extinction).  Besides, I think the writers of the Legacy series have done a fine job continuing the adventures in book form.

Having said that, I certainly would make the time to script a four-issue comic book based on Stargate: Extinction if I was approached to do so.  I had a great experience working on a previous comic book project, Dark Matter, and believe the comic book format would be a great way to get the story out there.  It would be especially convenient for fans who want to check out the story but may not be inclined to invest the time required to read a full novel.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that this is actually a fantastic idea.  For several reasons.  Not only is it the best, most visual, fan-accessible means of experiencing Stargate: Extinction, it also works to MGM’s benefit by revitalizing the fan base in advance of whatever they have planned next for the franchise.

Fan campaigns, while well-intentioned, will never have as meaningful an impact because, at the end of the day, decisions are based on the bottom line.  Are the potential viewers still out there and is there money to be made?  Well, what better way to find out than by testing the waters with a comic book based on a story Stargate fans have been clamoring for?  Yes, it may be easy to ignore a deluge of fan mail in support of a show, but much more difficult to dismiss solid sales figures.

If the studio gave the go-ahead to a Stargate: Extinction comic book, there would be no downside for anyone, only plenty of upside for both MGM and the fans.

Worst case scenario: Stargate: Extinction is released as a comic book but doesn’t sell as well as hoped (highly unlikely).  At the very least, the fans finally get to experience the story that brings Atlantis back to the Pegasus Galaxy.

Better case scenario: Stargate: Extinction is released as a comic book and does well. So well, in fact, that further stories are commissioned.  What would be next?  Well, there are all those episode ideas we were kicking around for Stargate: Atlantis’s sixth season (September 30, 2008: An AU Season 6!).  There is also the SG-1 movie, Stargate: Revolution, and the further adventures of SG-1.  And, of course, there’s also the possibility of continuing the Stargate: Universe storyline.

Best case scenario: Stargate: Extinction is released as a comic book and surpasses sales expectations, making MGM stand up and take notice that the television franchise, and Atlantis in particular, still has a huge and devoted fan base. And then maybe, just maybe, we succeed where earlier fan campaigns have failed: taking a giant step in convincing MGM to continue the story onscreen.

But, first things first.  We have to make the Stargate: Extinction comic book happen.

So, let the studio know.  Contact MGM and tell them you want to see a Stargate: Extinction comic book, a comic book based on the unproduced Stargate: Atlantis script.

Get the word out!  And tell your fellow fans to get the word out!

Make enough noise, get their attention, and we’ll have our Stargate: Extinction comic.  And potentially much more because for the first time in a long while, YOU THE FANS will be able to influence the future of Stargate.

Coming your way?
Coming your way?

September 12, 2013: Whither Stargate?

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With the recent news that Roland Emmerich would like to make a second, big screen, Stargate movie, questions surrounding the future of the franchise have again started popping up throughout fandom.

It’s been three years since Stargate: Universe was cancelled and fans want to know: What’s next?  Whither Stargate?

Well in my humble and somewhat informed opinion: Beats me.

But let’s look at the possibilities…

THE BIG SCREEN REBOOT (TWO WAYS TO DO IT)

Look at the re-imagined Star Trek.  Both movies did HUGE business.  And, like Star Trek, Stargate is an established scifi franchise that would undoubtedly wow with a big screen treatment and visual effects budget.  The potential box-office returns could be tremendous!

Or not.  If the summer of 2013 has taught us anything, it’s that Big Budget Star-driven features don’t guarantee success.  The Lone Ranger ($215 million dollar production budget), White House Down ($150 million dollar production budget), Turbo ($135 million dollar production budget), RIPD ($130 million dollar production budget), After Earth ($130 million dollar production budget), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones ($60 million dollar production budget).  What do the aforementioned have in common?  Yep, you guessed it: Big hopes, Big budgets, and, all of them, Big box office disappointments.  Also, keep in mind that the listed amounts in parentheses are the approximate production budgets which don’t take into account the equally sizeable costs of marketing these movies.  Ouch.

So, it’s clear that “throwing money at it” won’t guarantee a movie’s success. Neither will casting hitherto bankable actors like Johnny Depp and Will Smith.  BUT Stargate is an established property with a pre-existing fan base, so it’s got that going for it. Right?  Well, okay, so did The Mortal Instruments movie but, for argument’s sake, let’s just stick to Stargate for now.  Big budgets aside, the Stargate franchise is much like Star Trek in that it has that built-in SF fan base eager for more.  So it stands to reason that it should follow the Star Trek model and find success as a big screen reboot!

Well, not so fast…

First of all, as proud as I am of everything we accomplished with the Stargate franchise, I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t have quite the reach or support of Star Trek.  And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Sure, we produced three series, two direct-to-dvd features, and some 300+ episodes over 15 years but, while impressive a feat, it pales in comparison to Star Trek’s five series, twelve theatrical features, and some 700+ episodes over 46 years.  As a result, Star Trek’s influence reaches far beyond its fandom – which is important given that, despite its established fan base, Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled after four seasons.  This is not to minimize the impact of fans but simply to suggest expectations should be tempered.  A robust and passionate fandom doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Having said that, however, it’s in instances such as these, where a franchise’s reach may not be as wide-ranging as a Star Trek, that fandom is even more important in a studio’s campaign to “get the word out”.

It’s for this reason that you want to make sure you get fandom “on your side”.  And this is where reboots can get a little tricky.  On the one hand, re-imagining a property offers first-timers the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.  They’re on equal footing with longtime fans in that they don’t need to come in to a movie knowing what has come before.  It’s fresh and new to them as, ideally, it would be to longtime fans.  A new beginning of sorts.  Problems arise when you start distancing those longtime fans, the support crew that could prove an indispensable part of any pre-release online campaign, who may not take kindly to the franchise they’ve come to know and love being messed with.  And, by messed with, I mean…

Ignoring what has come before.

Yes, a fresh start is a great idea when it comes to reaching out to a potential new audience, and while some fans would undoubtedly be pleased with a complete relaunch, many others would no doubt take umbrage with a complete dismissal of established canon.  In some ways, it’s the equivalent to the Bobby Ewing in the shower scene in Dallas.  Remember?  Actor Patrick Duffy decided to leave the series and his character was killed off at the end of the show’s eighth season.   But then Duffy had a change of heart and decided he wanted to come back. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a scifi show and cloning, time travel, and ascension were not viable options.  So, to address the issue and bring back Bobby Ewing, Duffy’s character makes an inexplicable appearance in the final episode of of the show’s ninth season. His wife hears the water running, walks into the bathroom, and is shocked to see him there, showering.  When season 10 got underway, it was revealed that Bobby never died and that the show’s ninth season was just a dream. An insanely detailed dream that ran 31 episodes!  Which leads me to wonder how that ninth season performs in syndication and alternate media purchases (i.e. downloads). Anyway, my point is that a creative clean slate could hurt rather than hinder a reboot’s prospects as it slams shuts: a) the book on beloved characters and b) the door on the faces of longtime fans.

On the other hand, instead of a complete reboot, the studio could opt for a reboot that makes use of established characters – which is what Star Trek did.  We are presented with  a new version of long-established characters – Kirk, Spock, McCoy – but the potential to piss off longtime fans is minimized because the story takes place in an alternate universe.  So, quite literally, fans can have the best of both worlds. The new adventures don’t undo what has come before.  Fans will, of course, have a preference, but both versions can happily co-exist without trumping one another.

Of course, one could argue that the reason this type of reboot worked for Star Trek is that, while these classic characters have long been engrained in the SF consciousness, it’s been almost twenty years since we’ve seen them onscreen in a new adventure.  In the case of Stargate, well, it’s been about two years since we last saw Jack O’Neill grace the small screen.  Is it perhaps too soon to expect fans will embrace someone other than Richard Dean Anderson in the role?

A SMALL SCREEN EVENT (TESTING THE WATERS)

Another possibility is to produce a one-shot Stargate television event that could potentially act as a backdoor pilot for a new Stargate series.  If the ratings are great, the studio can move forward with an all new t.v. series while, if the ratings disappoint, they can cut their losses with this single production.  At first blush, this seems like a great idea.  Creatively, it would allow the franchise to head in a bold, new direction while still paying its respects to what has come before, leaving the door open for established characters to make an occasional appearance and help bridge the gap between old fans and new.  Upon closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that a “one and done” deal wouldn’t make much financial sense.  In order to do it properly, especially if it was going to serve as a potential backdoor pilot, $$$ would need to be spent, and broadcast license fees and alternate revenue streams may not be enough to make the venture worthwhile. Like any show, it would be a gamble, but the fact that science fiction requires more of a financial investments makes this even more risky.  At some point, the studio needs to ask itself what would be the better scenario: strike now or wait?  There’s an argument to be made for both.  The fact that the last Stargate episode aired only two years ago suggests the fans are still out there and, if a movie or series is produced sooner than later, one could count on their support – in addition to the potential support of new viewers.  Strike while the iron is hot!  Then again, the ratings for SGU’s final season could suggest viewer fatigue and maybe waiting is advisable.

A CLASSIC STARGATE MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES

As much as I would love to see a television mini-series or movie based on either of the three past Stargates (SG-1, Atlantis, or Universe), this one is the longest of long shots mainly because the sets no longer exist and rebuilding them for a one-time adventure doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense.  At the very least, if one were going the backdoor pilot route, there is the very real prospect of recouping those upfront expenses in an ongoing series.  Back in the day, the two Stargate direct-to-video features, Ark of Truth and Continuum did VERY well.  But that was before the bottom fell out of the dvd market.  Sadly, a “classic Stargate” miniseries or movie isn’t the slam dunk it used to be.

A NEW STARGATE SERIES

Well, yes wouldn’t that be great?  A new set of characters and host of new adventures with the potential for guest spots from the likes of Rodney McKay, Daniel Jackson, and maybe even Eli Wallace.  A new Stargate-based television might be the best way to go.  After all, while the original movie was successful, it was the television franchise that proved an incredibly lucrative earner for MGM. But some of the same questions arise.  When should the studio look to put another series in development?  Sooner or later?  Has enough time passed?

LOOKING AHEAD

So, having said all that, what DOES the future hold for Stargate?  Again, I haven’t a clue and I’ve long since accepted the sheer folly of applying logic to Hollywood decision-making.  But, for what it’s worth…

My gut instinct tells me the studio would LOVE to follow the Star Trek model: take an established property, re-imagine it for the big screen, and makes hundreds of millions of dollars.  Of course, it could be argued that that is a very best case scenario.  If the studio does consider going down this route, careful consideration will present two indisputable facts: a) Stargate is not Star Trek, and b) alienating long-time fans in favor of a new audience could prove  disastrous.

As much as I would love to see that Atlantis movie or SG-1 movie or even a mini-series that incorporates elements from all three Stargate shows, this is the unlikeliest of scenarios for the simple reason that the risks far outweigh any potential rewards.

No, given the history of the franchise, it would seem a new television series would be the best way to go – a fresh take on Stargate that would bring in new viewers while rewarding the long-suffering fans.

However, I’m not the one making the call.

In the end, I think there’s only certainty: On the question of Stargate’s glorious return, it’s not a matter of IF but WHEN.

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April 2, 2013: From guest stars to recurring favorites! My Top 10! And 1 for good luck!

Television, like life, is just full of surprises.  Shows you expect to be huge hits tank while apparent duds become breakout hits.  Seemingly average episodes on the page magically come together onscreen while guest characters envisioned for a single episode appearance will pop, surpassing all expectations to develop into fan – if not writer – favorites.  Chalk it up to a number of things – the writing, the direction, the onscreen chemistry – but, in the end, you have to give credit to the actors who brought these characters to life and made them so much more.  Here are my Top 10 “guest stars to recurring favorites”.  Plus one for good luck!

1WALTER HARRIMAN

Played by Gary Jones.

First Appearance: Children of the Gods (Stargate: SG-1, Episode #101) as Chevron Guy.

First, he was simply Chevron Guy.  Eventually, he got a first name: Norman.  And, finally, he got another first name – and a last name: Walter Harriman.  In time, Walter became as iconic a part of SG-1 as the gate itself.

1OSIRIS

Played by Anna-Louise Plowman

First appearance: The Curse (Stargate: SG-1, Episode #413)

There’s something doubly, deliciously evil about a stylish villainess – triply so if she has an English accent.  Just too damn good to kill off in her first appearance, she returned for several more outings before her alter-ego, Sarah Gardner, got the happy ending she deserved.

1HARRY MAYBOURNE

Played by Tom McBeath.

First appearance: Enigma (Stargate: SG-1, Episode #116)

Everyone loves a good rogue, and Harry Maybourne was good as you could get.  Sneaky, self-serving, and an incredible pain-in-the-ass, he developed into a perfect foil for Jack O’Neill.  A rival worthy of respect and admiration.

1HERMIOD

Voiced by Trevor Devall

First appearance: The Siege III (Stargate: Atlantis, Episode #201)

The Asgard always had a dry sense of humor, perhaps none more than this acerbic fellow who, I suspect, would have been equally at home on Frasier.

1MICHAEL

Played by Connor Trinneer (and Brent Stait for one episode)

First appearance: Michael (Stargate: Atlantis, Episode #218)

What made Michael stand out was his complexity and depth.  A product of Atlantis’s own creation, he was an outcast at odds with his own identity.  Can you blame him for being angry?

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ACASTUS KOLYA

Played by Robert Davi

First Appearance: The Storm (Stargate: Atlantis, Episode #110)

Sure, aliens are plenty scary, but none proved quite as fearsome as Acastus Kolya.  It’s a testament to the character that he made an appearance even after his presumed death two years earlier.

1RADEK ZELENKA

Played by David Nykl

First appearance: Thirty Eight Minutes (Stargate: Atlantis, Episode #104)

The unassuming Czech scientist first introduced in Thirty Eight Minutes eventually developed into a beloved member of the expedition – and his verbal sparring with Rodney became a regular episode highlight.

1TODD

Played by Chris Heyerdahl

First appearance: Common Ground (Stargate: Atlantis, Episode #307

Dangerous and inscrutable, yet possessed of an almost palpable nobility.  He would develop into Sheppard’s most formidable adversary.

1BAAL

Played by Cliff Simon

First appearance: Summit (Stargate: SG-1, Episode #515)

As far as villains go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more stylish or possessed of a better sense of humor.

1VALA MAL DORAN

Played by Claudia Black

First appearance: Prometheus Unbound (Stargate: SG-1, Episode #812)

A mercenary with a heart of gold (she would certainly trade in for cash if she could) – and serious trust issues – went from hijacking Daniel Jackson to earning herself a spot on SG-1.  Damn, she was fun to write for.

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RICHARD WOOLSEY

Played by Robert Picardo

First appearance: Heroes II (Stargate: SG-1, Episode #718)

From irritating pencil pusher to lovable Commander in six short years. His road to redemption was a joy to behold.  And script.

March 20, 2013: 2007 Silver Wraith-mobile for sale! Only used for picnicking and chasing down human prey! SGC Blueprints!

I had a feeling that trying to sell my car would prove a giant pain in the ass.  As it turns out, the experience has surpassed expectations. Initially, I thought I’d save myself the hassle by contacting my local Audi dealer and trading my Q7 in as part of a new vehicle purchase – but the salesman I spoke to actually convinced me that I’d be better off selling the car privately and then putting that money toward that new car.

And so, following his advice, I did my homework, snapped some photos, posted an ad on craigslist that included details like the low mileage and the fact that I would also throw in both summer and winter tires.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  At first, I assumed that craigslist had failed to publish my ad, so I went to the Cars & Trucks section and found it.  Yep, there it was – along with the other 500+ automobile ads from other private sellers but mostly dealers who positively swamp the section with their listings.

In hindsight, I should’ve found a way to work my Q7 into an episode of Stargate and then auction it off.  Hey, remember the all-terrain wraith-mobile from Tracker?  Or the five passenger space shuttle with the moon roof that the Asgard use in First Contact?  Or the SUV Sheppard and the gang drive off in at the end of Enemy at the Gate (a scene, now that I think of it that, that may have been cut for time)?  Yes? No?

The other day, someone asked me if I had blueprints of the SGC.  I looked through my old Art Department handouts and these are what I came up with.  From Stargate: Atlantis episode #412, Miller’s Crossing:

xxx
SGC Facility

Shallow Money Pit Hallway?  It was used for the crucial Icarus Base evacuation/corridor cave-in/explosion sequence in the Stargate: Universe opener.   Back in the day, we used to see a lot of that Long Tall Hallway – for instance, the scene in Window of Opportunity where Teal’c keeps getting hit by the door.

x
The Gate Room

There’s a note for the Art Department: “Gate address “Pegasus to Atlantis” (attached)”.  In fact, pretty much every episode the gate was used included a gate address breakdown as part of the Art Department package.  If you’re interested – and if you are, then I’m assuming you must be a pretty hardcore fan – I’d be happy to scan and upload a few.

There are also notes for a greenscreen VFX and rear-screen puddle projection.  Simply put, every time someone interacted with the puddle, it was a VFX shot.  In the early years of the show, you rarely saw the puddle unless someone was actually going through it simply because it was too expensive to show.  More often than not, you would play the “puddle effect”, that tell-tale shimmer of lights playing off someone’s face as they looked at the off-screen puddle.  Eventually, we started to make use of a puddle projection that allowed us to glimpse more of the puddle – less at the beginning because the visual wasn’t all that convincing, but more in the franchise’s later years as the visual improved.

x
Control Room

There’s a note for Construction to include the “iris plug” in the event director Andy Mikita wanted to feature the gate in any of his planned shots.  When not active, the SGC gate had an iris in place which was fairly convincing onscreen but much less so up close.

x
Lab and Hallway to Lab

Sort of like childproofing a room except, instead of a toddler, you’re preparing for a soul-sucking alien guest.  I always liked the observation room/lab set-up but it’s a room we rarely had occasion to use.

There is a reference to “2 hero workstations”.  The term “hero” refers to something that will be featured onscreen/used by one of our characters.  As a result, it should be the more convincing of the various versions in a given scene.  The hero zat gun, for instance, actually had some operating parts (short, sadly, of actual stunning/killing/disintegrating/lock-picking capability) as did one of the hero staff weapon.

x
Work Area/Boardroom

Don’t remember the scene but I assume this was a different boardroom than the one located above the control room.  It was there, at the long table, that Hammond would discuss off-world missions with SG-1. What struck me most about the boardroom back in the day was how chipped and weathered that table was – and what pains the director must have gone through to shoot it in a way that concealed all those blemishes you couldn’t help but notice every time you visited the set.

x
Mess Hall

Home of the infamous blue jello and WoW Fruit Loops.

x
Sheppard’s Quarters

Where’s the t.v.?

x
Holding Room

For the “other” guests.  If I remember correctly, this was Vala’s room.

I know, I know.  I’ve really got to get around to scanning and digitizing the rest of these files.  In the meantime, interested in checking out anything else?  Destiny?  Atlantis?  Those various gate addresses? Wraith facilities or Sheppard’s family home?  Let me know.

March 14, 2013: Veronica Mars fans are finally getting their movie! So when are Stargate fans getting THEIR movie?

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This was the question many Stargate fans were asking themselves yesterday after news broke of the astounding success of the Veronica Mars kickstarter campaign.

For those of you who haven’t heard, series creator Rob Thomas approached Warner Bros. about making a Veronica Mars movie. According to Thomas: “Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board.”  Well, the fans stepped up and demonstrated their interest, pledging $1 million dollars (in a record 4 hours and 24 minutes) to the project’s kickstarter campaign [http://money.cnn.com/2013/03/13/technology/veronica-mars-kickstarter/index.html].  And, last time I checked, over 47000 backers had pledged close to 3 million dollars, about a million dollars over their goal – and this is only day #2 of their month-long drive! [http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/559914737/the-veronica-mars-movie-project].

It’s awesome news for Veronica Mars fans that has also energized fandom in general.  Already, loyal viewers are asking about their own favorite shows [‘Veronica Mars’ Movie Funded…Could a ‘Chuck’ Movie be Next?! (Poll)].  Could a similar strategy work for us?  Well, I suppose it depends.

Over at Forbes.com, Paul Tassi asks: “How did a show that’s been off the air for eight years raise two million dollars in barely half a day?”, and then proceeds to break down exactly how they pulled it off [http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2013/03/14/how-exactly-did-veronica-mars-fund-a-movie-in-ten-hours/].  It offers great insight – and food for thought.

So how successful could a Stargate movie campaign prove if it attempted to follow the successful five-step strategy he outlines?  Well, according to Paul, “There are a number of factors at work here, and they’re worth exploring in order to understand if this kind of thing can or will happen again…”

1. The fanbase must be religiously devoted

Check.  There’s no doubt the Stargate fanbase is still strong and more than willing to support the franchise as evidenced by their continued involvement on fansites like Save Stargate Universe | Facebook, GateWorld | Your Complete Guide to Stargate!, and Stargate Solutions.

2. Get everyone on board ahead of time

Okay, proper planning is key but, in this case, it requires MUCH consideration.  In the case of Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell approached the studio and cast first, and THEN started their campaign. Which is, of course, what would be required here.  So, how interested would MGM be in a Stargate movie?  That’s the biggest question.  And the answer all comes down to economics.  Would it be worth their while (aka – not only financially feasible but lucrative)?  Will the potential rewards outweigh the risks?  Five years ago, the answer would have been  a resounding “Yes!” given the fact that Ark of Truth and Continuum surpassed expectations.  But, of course, that was before the bottom fell out of the DVD market.  Could alternate viewing platforms make up the shortfall?  Streaming?  Broadcasters?  Maybe the big screen treatment?

Which brings us to another question – “What does MGM have planned for Stargate? – because, let’s face it, as one of their most successful franchises, it’s not going to lie fallow for long.  Do they already have something in the works?

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say, it’s a best case scenario for fans of SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe.  The studio proves amenable to the idea.  Next up is ensuring we have a cast in place.  So, which cast? SG-1?  Atlantis?  Universe?  Or would it be a selective amalgamation of all three (which was Brad Wright’s original idea for an SGU movie)?

3. Offer rewards people want

Now this one is much easier to deliver on.  I, for one, would be more than happy to send you a signed script, arrange a set visit, or deck you out in prosthetics before blasting you out an airlock if it would ensure your support.

4. Leverage social media

Are you kidding?  Stargate fans are the kings (and queens) of social media.  We’ll get word to them and they’ll get word to EVERYONE.

And finally 5. Understand that not everyone will be able to do this

Why not?  Well, some former cast members may well be too busy to participate (Robert Carlyle now stars on Once Upon A Time while Jason Momoa has been burning up Hollywood post-SGA) while others may have simply moved on.  Still, provided we manage to cross this particular bridge as well, there’s the question of money.  To put it bluntly, we would need A LOT more money to produce a Stargate movie.  A LOT more to pay for the construction of new sets (alas, the Destiny, Atlantis, and Stargate Command are no more and would have to be rebuilt from scratch) and visual effects (I haven’t read the script, but it’s unlikely the Veronica Mars movie will feature much in the way of space battles), not to mention other related costs like cast, crew, and the onset aerobics instructor for my pug, Bubba.

So, conservatively, three out of five aint bad – unless you’re looking to make a Stargate movie in which case it aint good either.  Even if you could convince MGM to get onboard – and that’s a mighty big IF – there’s still the matter of the amount of money that would be required to produce a scifi movie.  How much?  Well, ballpark, I’d say significantly more than the 3 million dollars the Veronica Mars campaign has raised to date, but somewhat less than the $39 million dollars the Forbes article claims Serenity cost.

Certainly not impossible but, damn, them’s long odds!

February 1, 2013: Stargate Prop Builder Mark Nicholson Answers Your Questions!

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The hard work and contributions of so many individual went into making one of the greatest SF franchises in television history.  Over the course of this blog’s run, I’ve invited various members of the extended Stargate family to talk about their experiences on the show(s).  We’ve spotlighted writers, producers, directors, actors, stunt coordinators, VFX and FX supervisors, and many more.

Today, we turn the spotlight to Mark Nicholson, a longtime prop builder for (and, it turns out, fan of) Stargate.  Mark has kindly taken the time to field your question – AND offer up some visual aids!

Take it away, Mark…

Patricia Stewart-Bertrand writes: “As for a question for Mark Nicholson – my question: I’d like to know if you needed any special education or training to get into your current field. Did you want to work in the entertainment industry so looked for a job you could do and enjoy within it, or did you have an affinity to creating props and the rest naturally followed?”

MN: Special education or training? Sort of. I don’t believe there’s any places here that specifically teach people how to make movie props as a course. Most of the people I worked with did have a lot of special training, or a lot of experience in something before bringing it to this industry. I worked with people who went to school for Pottery, Engineering, Photography, Graphic Design, Sign making.  It’s kind of a weird industry.

While I never specifically set out to work in Film, I did always want to work in entertainment, starting with computer animation when I was young (I blame Reboot), and later video games (which I did for a while before Film, and still want to get back into). I most certainly didn’t have an affinity for creating props, and my first year really felt like an apprenticeship, spending a lot of time helping more experienced builders with parts of their builds and learning a lot of ropes.

gforce writes: “Question for Mark: How much input/freedom did you have in designing the items for the franchise? Were you able to have a lot of creative leeway or were things pretty much drawn up for you already?”

MN: Input varied. You can find a lot of production concepts here on this blog in fact, and many times, what we delivered was exactly that. Sometimes when things were rushed we’d get a ‘paper napkin drawing’, which is like it sounds, and while the important aspects are laid out, you do end up getting the freedom to interpret it.

Disruptor
Disruptor

We also had things like working from established themes. By season 10 of sg-1 and season 3 of Atlantis, looks like ‘Ori’ and ‘Wraith’ were already established, and while we would sometimes have a lot of freedom with the specific prop, it would still have to be known instantly as ‘Wraithy’, so sometimes we couldn’t deviate too much. SGU was my favorite show to work on because we got to spend a lot of pre-production making up a lot of stuff with a lot of new tools and technology, and allowed us to establish a lot of neat building systems.

JeffW writes: “Did you also make the electronics (lights) for the props, and if so, was it mostly LEDs, incandescent, or electro-luminescent? (Sorry in advance if that was too technical).”

MN:We had a full time electrical engineer who did nothing but build electronics. As for what kinds of lights, I think at one point we used everything, but mostly LED, and second probably goes to small fluorescent tubes (often handled by the lighting department for larger, stationary things, like ships consoles, or the 1/3 section of Atlantis gate for ‘The Shrine’). My favorite was side-lighting laser engraved acrylic.

Ori ship chair
Ori ship chair

Ponytail writes: “Hey Joe could you post a few pictures of Mark Nicholson’s handiwork so I know who I am talking to and have a better idea of questions to ask him. Did he help make that minature Destiny?”

MN: I had a very small hand in the miniature Destiny (though, that hand is the one in the pictures holding it while I make flying noises wink

Destiny
Destiny

Choopy 49 writes: “Question for Mark – What equipment/technology/weaponry did you hope the crew of the Destiny would eventually discover on the ship had the show continued?”

MN: I should start this by saying I LOVED WATCHING SGU. I was a big fan of it, and as a fan was crushed when it was cancelled (let alone the fact that it was also my favorite employment ever). What would I have liked to see? or BUILD!? Either way, a Jeep or ATV would have been cool (the whole on foot all the time thing bothered me about the franchise as a whole). More adapted 3rd party tech (not human, or ancient, but from other sources that they could only reach once), especially weapons. Making weapons was fun.

Actually…

Joe, why didn’t they have jeeps and atv’s?

(I would love a detailed answer to this, apart from the obvious $$)

JM: Yes, part of it was $$$, but in my mind given that the teams would be heading out to make first contact or exploring a new planet’s eco-system OR, later in the series, heading into potentially dangerous situations that would require stealth, being on foot would make more sense.  Then, after that initial foray, IF transportation was needed, they could always go back and pick up a vehicle.  It just so happened that in most cases (well, all the ones we saw), there was either no time or necessity for vehicles, mainly because the civilizations they encountered were always located close to the gate – which made sense.  

DP writes: “Questions for Mark Nicholson…It’s hard not to hit duplicate questions this late in the game. What tools, materials, techniques, and resources are available now that you wish were available earlier in your work on Stargate?”

MN: Honestly, I can’t think of anything for this. We had a pretty high tech group, with several CNC machines, a 3D printer, a 3D scanner, and a laser engraver/cutter. I am not aware of any specific manufacturing technology that has been made available since that would have been handy.

“Is there anything that was available then that’s not available now?”

MN: I recall hearing that the quality of some Latex today isn’t as good as it was in the 60’s, due to tree farming practices, but I haven’t found any facts to back this up.

“How thoroughly were the needed props described?

MN: The function and role of most props could be described to us rather quickly, maybe 10 minutes to understand what it is they wanted (along with the concept art). But that’s also coming from my own perspective at the bottom of the chain. Prop meetings where it would be discussed what they wanted to have, and what was possible/affordable/deliverable were not things I attended, an were very long.

“Who did you go to for clarifications when you weren’t sure what was being requested?”

MN: Being off-site, it was a very rare day we would ever see a Production Designer directly. Often, we would see the Prop Master, but 95% of the time, I’d just go to our Lead Prop Builder.

“What’s an inexpensive thing to build with the help of a seven year old? If he can get plenty of big muscle movement during the build, during the use of it, or while destroying it, all the better.”

MN: I have no idea! …after some time thinking on it, I might suggest doing what my dad did, cut swords out of wood with a jigsaw (we did guns too, but that isn’t as well received today as it was then). Or candy glass.

“What examples of serendipity happened in your prop-building?”

MN: Ok. So you know that Jaffa Staff Weapon? The one that opens to fire? They only ever had one that actually opened. And it was only the front half of the staff weapon anyway. After Sg-1 ended, MGM expressed an interest in having a full, working staff weapon. So the working half weapon was pulled out, the back half was put on, it got a fresh paint job, and a custom box for shipping. It was finished, and out the door an hour later, never to be seen by any outside of MGM head office. So there was only ever a working staff weapon we could see and use for an hour. I just happened to get my brother from out of town a tour of the shop in THAT HOUR grin

“Did you think Lord of the Rings included too many visual details?”

MN: NO. Not ever. They did awesome work, and I would never wish them to do less, ever. And related to that, once you make a bunch of this stuff in movies, and really see what things look like, and how fake it really is, you pick it up when watching it in the theatre, or at home on TV. It then looks fake to you, ALWAYS. So getting to see something that manages to not look totally fake all the time then becomes one of the few movies you can watch and actually forget that it’s all fake. Captain America was another good example. The story was ok, and the acting was…eh. But the props and sets, those were always AMAZING.

Pontytail writes: “First some questions for Mark Nicholson then I have to watch The Shrine then I’ll be back for comments on that…much later.

1. Okay, Mark Nicholson, just answer the question. Did you make the mini Destiny as seen here on Joe’s blog on Aug. 28, 2010?”

MN: I did not make it, but I did make the stand and case for it, and did get to play with it, and make whooshing space noises flying it around the room.

“That model was the coolest thing ever! If you made it:
a. how long did it take?”

MN: I think my co-worker Jay spent a week turning the VFX model into something printable, and another two days to print the 5 parts (4 quarters and a shuttle), paint and assembly was a couple hours.

Destiny progress
Destiny progress

“b. what was it used for?”

MN: Ask Joe! It was asked for so directors could plan shots and explore what it actually looks like in depth, in 3D.

(seriously Joe, feel free to chime in here and talk about it’s fate)

JM: Alas, I am unaware of its fate (or the fate of most of those props with the exception of a handful of those Scourge bugs and the pain stick sitting in my garage) but, yes, you’re correct – the model was used to plan shots and sequences.

“c. was it your proudest moment?”

MN: No, but it was one of the coolest things we made. We also did some test prints of a Wraith Dart and an F-302.

F302
F302
Wraith dart
Wraith dart

“2. What was the funnest item you made, and why?”

MN: Anything we did for 200. Weapons, and webbing, and incredibly acurately detailed uniform details including campaign badges for O’Neill, Carter, and Hammond, all at 1/3 scale.

Scale weapons
Scale weapons

“3. Do you ever hang out on set just to see your art in use?”

MN: Every chance we got, which were unfotunately few.

“4. Do you get to keep anything you make?”

MN: Technically, no. On rare occasions, we would make samples that would not get used, and it was okay if those went missing. One of these was a spare of Tyre’s sword, made of ABS plastic, to see if the material was viable for stunt work. It was too wobbly, and thus discarded and sat in a room for a few years. It now hangs on the wall of a friend of mine who introduced me to Stargate, and is a huge fan.

“5. What have you made that got the most attention from the cast or crew?”

MN: Ironically, the same thing got the most attention both positively and negatively. The Asguard Suits in ‘The Lost Tribe’ and ‘First Contact’ got the most positive, and the same suits got the most negative attention in ‘Water’, when actors had trouble breathing in the new helmets.

“6. What was the craziest thing you ever were asked to make?”

MN: So tough to answer. Many things were crazy, and more importantly, I can’t even remember half the stuff we made, so I’ll just list what I can think of that was rather out there:

Wraith Ultrasound Device

Universe Gate

Universe gate
Universe gate

1/3 of an Atlantis gate (for the water scene at the beginning of ‘The Shrine’, no movable version of the Atlantis gate was ever built before this, it was all camera trickery and cg).

The Ark of Truth (or as those frustrated with it by the end called it, THE ARK OF LIES!)

A ‘Space Dishes Rack’ for The Destiny

A ‘Wraith to USB’ adapter

And I know I’m forgetting so many ridiculous things we did.

“7. How do you feel about seeing your work pictured on Joe’s blog?”

MN: Happy Memories, every time.

“8. Where are you working now?”

MN: Kodak, which is boring compared to making props, but reliable. (see Joe’s post last week about the state of the film industry in Vancouver)

for the love of Beckett writes: “Mark Nicholson — How cool was it being a Prop Master for Stargate? And now your creations are collectibles! A different kind of question would be about the overall style or look of each show, and getting the props to match the set and scene. What were your points of inspiration? It looks sort of like there’s an Art Deco feel to Atlantean objects, but still sci-fi. I liked the tall, copper standing piece of art in Woolsey’s office that Joe liked. Also, I’m not normally big on weapons, but Ronan’s/Jason Momoa’s big ol’ gun that charged up with sound effects was my favorite. Did you get to design that?”

MN: I was a prop builder, not the prop master, and it was VERY COOL. Most of the design feel came from the production designer, and coming in later in SG-1, and Atlantis, many themes were already established. We got a lot more leeway with SGU, and it was so liberating and fun to get to design things from scratch. I’m quite sure the tall copper thing in the office was done by the Set Decorators, who tend to handle things in the background that never get touched. Ronon’s gun was cool, and I didn’t get to design it. I did get to repair it a few times (and repair the rubber stunt ones even more. Rumor has it Jason didn’t like carrying the real ones, which were much heavier).

Mike from Canada writes: “I have questions for Mark Nicholson, if he doesn’t mind. I’ll repeat the questions I had on the shotguns with drum magazines if that’s OK.  How did you make them, what did you use, fiberglass? Actual metal parts?
Did you base them on actual firearms?
How long does it take you to make them?
Did you make each one a one off, or did you make molds?
Do you weight them so they feel more realistic?”

MN: Those shotguns are AA-12’s, and were cast from real ones. Real ones were used on set. I recall hearing not many exist tho, and they’re hard to find. We aim to make things as light as possible.

“New questions:
Do you make all your props pretty much the same way?
How did you get started building props?
Are you working on any other shows these days?”

MN: Yes, most were made with a lot of pre-established techniques.

How did I get in? Like most of the people I worked with, we never intended to be there, it just sorta happens through opportunity. My initial contact was through the model shop asking my old school for any grads who could help with 3D scanning tech they were testing.

I am not currently working in the Film industry.

Mike from Canada also writes: “Hey Joe. I thought of another question (or two or three or four) for Mark Nicholson.  Was there any projects that Mark was particularly proud of?”

MN: The Replicator Chip Merek uses in ‘Ark of Truth’

The backs of the chairs in SGU (I got to do whatever I wanted with them)

The Universe gate

Destiny’s bridge consoles

Bridge console
Bridge console

“Was there any that he particularly detested, that were a mess, or screwed up terribly?”

MN: The Ark of Lies (formerly the Ark of Truth) was built in 7 days.

“If there was any show he would really like to work on, what would it be?”

MN: Tron Legacy. We were asked to help, and had to decline, as we were in pre-production for SGU, and currently building the Universe Gate. (Second place goes to A-team, which I DID get to work on :D)

“Does he work on any software based graphic tools or such for his work? Maya, Vue, cad program, photoshop, etc.”

MN: YES. All of it, lots! Solidworks and Rhino were comonplace, as well as a lot of Corel Draw. And at some point we tested out anything that would help. I prefer 3ds MAX and Zbrush for 3d modelling too.

“How did Mark wind up doing this kind of work?”

MN: Like everyone else, through strange circumstance and lots of luck.

“Did you work on the sets/stages as well as props?”

MN: Not as such. But we did often work on detailed components that would get integrated into sets, like consoles and special panels.

“What is your current favourite TV show?”

MN: Top Gear.

“Have you read anything lately you would recommend? Fiction or nonfiction.”

MN: I just finished the last book in ‘The Wheel of Time’ series. Also, Zoe’s Tale (from scalzi’s ‘Old Man’s War’ series, which has gotten plenty of attention here), and my favorite book, The Count of Monte Cristo.

“Can we see pictures of your workroom?”

MN: Keith almost gave me a heart attack when I came back to see this guy, sitting there, all sad with his coffee (and again the next morning when I walked in, having forgotten about him).

Suit
Suit

“Sorry if I repeated any of the questions, or if I’m too late, or if I’m getting carried away. Curious monkeys want to know!”

MN: No, it’s good. We love monkeys!

Space monkey
Space monkey

BMc writes: “Mark Nicholson – are you AKA confracto? I’ve enjoyed your comments here!
What was the most used/re-used/re-adapted piece of equipment you made? And, were you involved with those great suits worn by the Pegasus Asgard, which I believe later re-appeared as Ancient EVA suits on the Destiny?”

MN: Yes, confracto is my online handle. It was the result of ‘Hey Mark! What’s the weirdest word you can think of!?’. We were bored and checking out what domain names were free and taken years ago. Confracto.com will take you to some of my work.

Most re-used peice? Probably all the knobs and buttons for Destiny.

Wall panels
Wall panels

Yes, I was involved with those suits. It was actually one of the best building experiences, since it took 100% from everyone for weeks to do, and really bonded the team. I have never felt more accomplished than seeing those go out the door. My wife tells me I have to mention that I missed our anniversary one year for these suits, due to working 14 hours that day. But they look so cool!

Thanks to Mark!

And today’s entry is dedicated to birthday gals mamasue9 and Ganymede!