Let’s kick things off with a brand new Weird Food Purchase of the Day video installment…
That wasn’t so bad. In retrospect, I also should’ve picked up that bottle of Aloe Vera juice.
Hey, I heard from my Tokyo travel buddy Stefan today. He dropped me an email in which he related his late-night visit to an Izakaya. Apparently, he had a wonderful meal, had way too much too drink, then caught a cab home – but the driver had no idea where he was going despite being given a map to a nearby hotel. After driving around for who-knows-how long, the driver simply gave up and asked Stefan to get out. And so, in a drunken stupor, in the pouring rain, with no idea where the hell he was, Stefan searched for home. It took him two hours. Along the way, I’m sure he must have grabbed many a stranger to ask for directions. What does it say about me that, despite the evening’s nightmarish epilogue, I was actually jealous that I wasn’t there with him?
Hey, can a non-resident own property in Japan – like, say, a modest apartment? maggiemayday, you’re the resident expert on Japanese culture, property law, and bodypainting. What say you? What I was thinking might be cool is that if 1000 of us chipped in $100 each, we could probably get a nice place that we could time share. Everyone would get approximately a third of a day during the year. Thoughts?
More progress on the script, albeit of the slow and painful variety. Hit the 15 page mark today which means that, this weekend, I will no doubt fall well short of the 50ish pages needed for a full script. Still, 25 pages five days off an exhausting trip to Asia would be pretty impressive.
Hey, remember when I used to do that thing where I’d take excerpts from your various comments and respond to them? Whatchamacallit? The yuutai, ne? Okay, let’s do that…
Maggiemayday writes: “That was the beauty of a couple hours “rest” at a Love Hotel, no one had illusions what you were doing.”
Answer: Damn. I missed out on the Love Hotels. Perhaps they’re someplace to consider for my next trip. How’s the concierge service?
Thornyrose writes: “You forgot the laundry service availabe, so that when you come back you also have the ol’ whitey tighties folded along with the appropriate suit for the evening dinner.”
Answer: And it was all delivered via the valet box (dumbwaiter) in the other room. I suspect that if I’d wanted to spend all two weeks in my hotel room without setting eyes on a living soul, I could’ve done it.
Thornyrose also writes: “So, when do we start talking Stargate again?”
Answer: Whenever you want. What’s on your mind?
Gina writes: “Were the doggies glad to see you or were they angry that you left them for so long?”
Answer: They seemed genuinely thrilled to have me back – but, then again, they’ve been brought as very polite dogs.
Fsmn36 writes: “You, as a regular guest, looking like a business man? Not at all noteworthy.”
Answer: I’m the nice, polite Westerner who always says hi to everyone and gets ice wine and macarons for the concierge staff. It’s just as bad as being the church guy.
ZeroPointBatteries writes: “Any idea when we will find out about season two for sure, and while we are on that note when is the break over for this season?”
Answer: Not sure when we’ll receive the official pick-up. Sometime before we start production on season two hopefully. The writers head back into the office in early January, spin, prep, then we all go our separate ways for two weeks in February when the Olympics shut down the city. After that, we’re back and it’s full steam ahead!
dasndanger writes: “Instead, this time Mr. Das decided to put a brand-spankin’ new blade in his utility knife…”
Answer: Hope he’s okay. This is why I always get Exec. Producers’ Asisstant Ashleigh to cut up my lunch for me.
g.o.d. writes: “Hi Joe. Is there any chance we might see those aliens from “Space” before march? A picture, or a promo”
Answer: I’m not sure. I would certainly hope so. And, given past promos, I imagine we will.
Garion55 writes: “So I saw the latest ratings of SGU. Not good bud. Almost half the audience from the high is gone.”
Answer: I’d hold off in presuming “half the audience form the high is gone”. In fact, prior to the mid-season finale, +7 time-shifted numbers have us holding almost our entire audience from the premiere – which is unheard of. In fact, SGU made the list of The Top Ten Time-Shifted Prime Time TV Shows in 2009, coming in at the #5 spot (tying Tru Blood) and picking up, on average, a whopping 46.9% uptick in viewership.
DP writes: “I’m volunteering to coordinate US protest caravans heading to Michigan to protest the Peter Watts beating. Email to: email@example.com
Answer: Scary stuff.
Wade writes: “I tripped upon your blog when reading some of those negative comments on some boards that concerened your rant.”
Answer: Welcome aboard, Wade. Just send us your blog reader membership dues and we’ll be on our way…
Allow me to start off today’s entry with some exciting news – before, of course, seguing right back into the tedious offerings that typify this blog. Executive Producer/Writer/Co-Creator Robert Cooper has agreed to come by an field your questions about his piece de resistance, his chef d’oeuvre, his hors d’oeuvre and Atlantis swansong: Vegas. Yep, gather up all your queries regarding alternate universe theory and nippleless wraith and start posting because, very soon, ALL WILL BE REVEALED!
Well, after eleven straight days of sleeping on my mother’s guest bed and waking up with a sore back every morning, I’m finally back home, sleeping in my own bed, and waking up with an entirely different sort of sore back. I’m not exactly sure what the problem is. Yes, on the one hand it could be the fact that with four dogs on the bed, I’m relegated to a tiny sliver at the edge of the mattress. On the other hand, it could be the fact that, as predicted by that adorable Hong Kong masseuse with the Vulcan nerve pinch finesse, my many years of latent stress have finally caught up with me. On the other (third) hand, the hypochondriac in me imagines the worst (“One second he’s complaining about back pain and the next, he’s keeling over into his kielbasa!”). Okay, granted, it’s been two months of gastronomic excess and general idleness, but all that is about to change. Starting today, I am on the program! I’m working out, eating right and, craziest of all, will attempt to go an entire two weeks without sugar. “Impossible!”you say? Well, believe it or not, I did it once before. For two whole weeks, I went without. And was an emotionless automaton for the better part of that time, devoid of both the exhilarating highs or devastating lows that mark my daily existence. I was serene. And very, very dull. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Today, besides working out and eating right, I watched some playoff football, shoveled snow/ice, worked on my SGU script, and had a conversation with Paul about the new look writing department. With regard to the latter – bittersweet developments abound. More on this in the coming days.
As per her request, today’s entry is dedicated to my sister Andria who derived made these past few weird food purchases possible.
Check out today’s Weird Food Purchase of the Day video after the mailbag. This one still gives me nightmares.
DebraDownSth writes: “Joe, is your sister paying you back for some terrible brotherly pranks?”
Answer: Actually, we used to prank each other all the time growing up. Just recently, my sister was gloating about the time she hurried home after school, hid her shoes, then hid herself in an upstairs closet. I arrived home, oblivious, strolled upstairs – at which point she jumped out of hiding and scared the living crap out of me!
Specter177 writes: “This alternate reality was not one that we had seen before, correct?”
Answer: That is correct.
Sylvia writes: “Just out of curiosity, who was laughing almost cackling in the background of your WFPOD? Guessing one voice was Andrias and perhaps Fondy? Others?”
Answer: Just Andria and her friends. I think that when we started setting up, Fondy simply rolled her eyes and headed upstairs.
DasNDanger writes: “Joe, you must be great fun at parties! “Hey, Mallozzi’s here! Grab the deep fried clams with chocolate mint cocktail sauce and a video camera, quick!”
Answer: Ewww. Mint.
Wraith Cake writes: “BTW did you know that you too were once female. Yes Joe, you were once female…a long, long time ago. All feotuses are female for the first nine weeks of life–hence male boobage.”
Answer: How the hell did you find out – Oh. Uh, yeah. Feotus.
Mary writes: “Do you intend to use the travelers in Atlantis movie or the new series?”
Answer: Nope, no plans to.
NZNeep writes: “Drunk Mallozzis! What fun! Does that not drinking thing apply over the holidays too?”
Answer: Not drinking? You misunderstand. My New Year’s resolution is to drink more!
NZNeep also writes: “Oh, I just thought of a question… are Stargate scripts in American english, or do you leave the u’s in place and skip the z’s? Or does each writer write what they are used to?”
Answer: Depends on the writer.
Thornyrose writes: “Did you help Lawren dig out his car, or did you simply send Max with him, with a small keg of brandy attached to Max’s collar?”
Answer: Lawren eventually dug his car out and ended up parking it on one of the clear streets – three blocks over.
2cats writes: “1) Was this McKay the same as Alt-Mckay in McKay & Mrs, Miller? There is some chatter in the ether about this.”
Answer: Not sure why there would be. There was never any indication that, out of the myriad alternate universes out there, we landed in that particular one especially since this version of Rodney was nothing like Rod.
Josie writes: “I think another poster wondered if you could persuade Rob Cooper to do a Vegas Q&A, I know he’s a busy man, especially with SGU prep in full swing, and its a long shot but there’s no harm in asking right Joe?”
Happy New Year! I hope everyone has slept off last night’s excesses. I, alas, have been thoroughly exhausted all day, the result, I suspect, of a number of things: a late night, that New Year’s Eve feast, a double-dessert crash, an uncomfy bed, and a trio of Weird Food Purchase of the Day video installments. I’m ready for bed. I was ready for bed a little after lunch. But, to ensure you get your daily blog fix, I have uploaded pics and the first of those Weird Food Purchase of the Day videos. Special thanks to my sister who gleefully rooted through her pantry and refrigerator to find three suitably disgusting food(like) products for me to sample. After the third (and, without a doubt, most stomach-churning entry to date), I felt as though I’d downed five successive shots of Inferno vodka (you know, the one with the actual peppers inside). Not even the prospect of Tombola (a sort of Italian bingo with significantly more shouting) was enough to bring me around. If I could have cut out before midnight, I would have. Unfortunately for me, Fondy was the one driving.
I was feeling a little better this morning and joined my sister and mom (and Felix) for a trip to lovely St. Leonard where we visited my Auntie Jeannette who was sent home from the hospital and, I‘m happy to say, back to her old self, updating us all on the tragic events of the week: innocents killed by drunk drivers, seemingly insignificant oversights that led to great misfortune, etc. Ah, just like old times.
To all those wondering, I’ve got Brad Wright’s Q&A prepped and ready to post. Soon. Very soon!
Rose – sorry to hear about your dog’s leg, but here’s hoping he makes a speedy recovery and quickly adapts to challenging but no less happy life.
Whovian – Happy Birthday! Next time you’re in town, remind me and we can all give you the birthday bumps.
Sometimes, when you’ve got multiple projects on the go, it’s easy to become distracted. You end up jumping from one to the next and, when all is said and done, not all that much gets accomplished. Rather than simply tackle whichever one happens to interest me whenever, I think I’m going to have to demonstrate a little more self-discipline and dedicate an entire day to one – and only one. Here’s what I have on tap:
The outline for the first part of the SGU mid-season two-parter: Well, despite the introduction, I did make headway by completing a first pass. It’s a pretty solid story, full of action, twists and turns. My only uncertainty stems from some of the locations and weapon systems given that the ship is still being designed as we speak. One more pass and I’ll be putting it out.
The outline for the SGA movie. Paul sent me the revised version this morning. He was working on it while I was in Japan and has come up with some great ideas. We’re two-thirds of the way through and now all we have to do is figure a way out of this fine mess. Lots of fun cameos and a major contribution from one recurring player in particular that is certain to have at least one fandom faction in a frenzy. Still in the process of working out that momentous shift in the status quo that will impact the lives of our characters. I’ll be shifting my focus to this (and only this) tomorrow.
The super, secret project. Which, with time, becomes less secretive but no less super. It’s a short story. I’ve found that writing blog entries is much, much easier.
My fourth and final (for now) pilot. No rush on this one but I simply want to get it done. Finally. After a long lay-off, I rewrote the opening and now consider the first half of the script very tight. The second half is a might looser in that it has yet to be written. I suppose the creative stagnation on this one stems from the fact that I have to be in a certain mood to write this type of script. The mood = seriously pissed off. I appreciate the efforts of a handful of you in this regard and request you continue to persevere in this noteworthy endeavor. Just the other day, I was imagining my obit would read something like: “The writer-producer, known for his work on Stargate, passed away after a long and courageous battle with fans….”
The other night, Fondy and I went to Bistrot Bistro where we enjoyed, among many other things, some terrific mussels marinieres, a tasty filet mignon, and the duck confit mac and cheese which has finally found its way back onto the winter menu. Fondy’s review of this particular dish: “Insanely good!” and “The best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had!”. As usual, we over-ordered (two appies, three mains, and various sides) – which prompted a curious Chef Lauren to come out of the kitchen to investigate. “I should have known,”he said as he approached our table, all smiles. “With that kind of order, I knew it was either someone who had never eaten here before, or Joseph Mallozzi.” We finished with desserts. Mine, pictured above, was the monkey waffle (served with banana, chocolate, whipped cream, but no actual monkey). Fondy was amazed that, in spite of the variety of dishes we’d ordered, there was not a disappointment in the bunch. She’d enjoyed everything.
Hey, check out today’s installment of The Weird Food Purchase of the Day…
Hop into a taxi in Tokyo and you’re in for a wild ride because it’s pretty much a given that your driver will have no idea where he’s going. Chalk it up to the city’s antiquated address system, its winding side streets, or its crisscrossing thoroughfares – whatever the reason, cabbies seem to be veritable tourists in their own hometown. Thank God for nav systems. Last night, for instance, my driver had one eye on the road, the other on his dashboard map, zipping through the congested labyrinth, turning up a side street and then down an empty alleyway, stopping in front of what looked like somebody’s garage. Surely he was mistaken. This couldn’t be Hamadaya, one of the restaurants Michelin had recently awarded an astounding 3 stars? Could it?
Well, once I stepped inside, it was as if I’d been transported far from the city to a ryokan in the Kyoto countryside. The place looked like something out of an Edo period sword and sandals epic. I was escorted into the tea room and there met my internet pal and new food buddy Jessica, a Houston native who is in Japan teaching English to kindergarteners. Following some preliminary introductions (“I’m a television producer, I have four dogs and a wife, and my favorite cereal mascot is the Trix rabbit.”) we were invited upstairs to our private tatami room. Of course, as expected, we had to remove our shoes. And, of course, despite my best efforts to ensure I’d packed my best pairs, one of my socks developed a hole. Fortunately, it was on the bottom of my right foot and I don’t think anyone noticed.
Anyway, we settled into our private room and then proceeded on to our kaiseki feast. For those of you who don’t know, kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal with an emphasis on seasonal local ingredients, taste, texture, and appearance. We started with an amuse, a cornet fish seasoned with kelp, and daikon radish and carrot marinated in vinegar, then were presented with the appetizer, a colorful selection made up of shrimp, mushroom omelet, angler liver, pickled squid served with a sauce of salted and fermented bonito guts. All of the flavors were crisp and distinct, and while I can’t say I was a huge fan of the bonito guts, I did enjoy everything. Our next course was soup with steamed seas breem, deep fried tofu and greens. Again, simple, clean flavors. Very nice. The same can be said for the ensuing sashimi dish – super-fresh tuna, flat fish, and halfbeak served with wasabi. For our next dish, we were served grilled beef filet with Japanese pepper served atop some steamed rice with wasabi stem and greens. Another artful preparation. We followed with grilled harvest fish with white miso, asparagus and crown daisy, and dried sea cucumber dressed with vinegar and then some steamed tilefish and turnip with kudz sauce. Deep fried prawn with grated daikon sauce and then, to round out the meal, some rice, simmered sea eel, a wonderfully rich dark brown miso soup, and pickles. Finally, we closed things out with some melon, strawberry, and hot sweet red bean soup. All I can say is Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a better-looking meal.
By the time I got in, I was exhausted and went right to bed. Then, this morning, I got up, got in a work-out, then headed out to Minato-ku where I had lunch at Butagumi, a restaurant that specializes in tonkatsu – deep fried pork (by the way, kudos to my cab driver who ended up negotiating an impossibly narrow side street to get me there). The menu consists of some 20 different varieties of pork, each with its own little write-up. For instance, there’s the Nakijin-Agoo-buta from Okinawa that was at one time an endangered species, the Eishow-ton fromm Kanagawa in central Japan whose ancestry can be traced back to China and is 80% sweet fat, and, of course, the Bimei-ton which is described as light-tasting. But I was there for the heavy hitter, Spain’s famed Iberico pork. Like Kobe beef, the meat practically melted in my mouth. Of course, like Kobe beef, the meat was incredibly well-marbled.
Figuring I could use the exercise, I decided to skip the taxi and walk the neighborhood. The neighborhood, it turns out, was Roppongi and the walk eventually took me to the Roppongi Hills shopping complex where I went up to the 52nd floor and checked out the glass-walled observatory. Whereas most everyone else had their faces practically pressed up against the glass, I was barely skirting the central shops, staying as far away from the vertigo-inducing view as possible. Still, I did manage to snap a few pics before making my way over to the Mori Art Museum where I took in two exhibitions, one on gold, the other on contemporary Indian Art. The former was fine, more field trip material for students, while the latter offered works that ranged from the silly and suspect to the downright fascinating. My favorite was the room dedicated to the interactive video that would capture your shadow as your stepped inside. Then, shadowed objects would drop down from the sky and stick to you – broken mannequins, cylinders, toasters. The longer you stood in the room, the more objects would come done until your shadow was completely encapsulated within a shell of junk that would bob and shudder with your every step, occasionally detaching from you and attaching onto whatever fellow museum patron you happen to cross paths with.
Suitably edified, I headed out, strolled through a park, and eventually landed in the Tokyo Midtown Shopping Complex where I dropped by Toraya, a maker of traditional Japanese confectionary that goes as far back as the 1600’s. The wagashi are little works of art, fashioned out of red and white adzuki beans, kanten (a seaweed-derived gelatin), and wasambonto (a unique, powdery domestic sugar). I picked up a few, then happened across a shop selling Noka, the world’s most expensive chocolate. But is it the world’s best chocolate? I’ll tell you tomorrow once I’ve sampled the four pieces I picked up.
I had lunch at the food court, some cold soba noodles (I didn’t realize they’d be served cold when I ordered them), then made my way over to Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie where I ordered the chocolate parfait and a perrier. My waitress suggested that if I wanted to order a cake or pastry as well, I should feel free to select something from the nearby display. A cake or pastry in addition to my chocolate parfait? What a brilliant idea. I ended up ordering the matcha opera cake. And it’s a good thing I did because, while the chocolate parfait was fine (cookies, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and whipped cream), that match opera cake was outfreakingstanding! Layers of green tea genoise, green tea butter cream, and chocolate ganache deliver a sublime bittersweet rhapsody of flavors. This was soooooo good that I’m already planning a return visit.
On my way out, I stopped by a shop called the Pet Shop, sort of a pet store, vet, and doggy daycare in one, and met an adorable Frenchie named Gutsu (perhaps named after the lead character from Berserk?). As I snapped some pics of the little guy, I realized how much I miss my gang back home. They, in turn, are no doubt anxiously awaiting my return.
Well, another successful day which I intend to cap off with another decadent dinner. Tonight, it’s another Michelin 3-star selection: L’Osier.
And speaking of 3-star selections, check out today’s Weird Food Purchase of the Day: Japan Edition in which I sample some decidedly off-the-wall ice cream flavors…
Those in search of atypical fantasy need look no further than Glen Cook’s The Black Company. It’s as atypical as it gets. Dark, gritty, at times overwhelmingly bleak, it’s a far cry from classic works of the genre with their prancing elves, noble wizards, and stalwart heroes. No archetypal struggle of good vs. evil here. The characters that people Cook’s novel range from dark as night to dark as dusk. There are no good guys here, only bad, worse, and the dissolute crew whose mercenary exploits we follow. The latter are, if not exactly our heroes, then certainly the best of a very bad lot.
Their story is told from the point of view of one of their own, Croaker, the unit’s physician and historian whose job it is to chronicle the adventures of the legendary Black Company. The first person narrative has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it allows for a sense of familiarity that immediately immerses the reader in the story; on the other hand, it can be confusing at times as this familiarity also assumes an awareness of certain background elements, forcing the reader to play catch-up through-out. But while challenging at first, the task becomes less difficult as events progress and pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Cook’s narrative style is straightforward and concise (to be expected from a member of this sordid troop), devoid of endlessly detailed descriptions about the local fauna or the scents and sounds of the surrounding countryside.
We are introduced to The Black Company as the bottom is falling out on their latest commission to the corrupt Syndic of Beryl. They are vastly outnumbered by the northern army about to overrun their position. The outfit may be made up of some very unsavory personalities, yet they adhere to a code of conduct that forbids them to break a contract. They’ve been contracted to defend the syndic and the city, so things look very bad for The Black Company – until someone points out if not a loophole then certainly an opportunity to exploited in their agreement. They’re beholden to serve the Syndic so long as their employer is alive….
Fortunately for Croaker and co., the Syndic meets with an unforeseen accident. Their contract null and void, they beat a hasty retreat and are offered a rescue of sorts from a mysterious, masked individual who introduces himself as Soulcatcher. He offers them a new contract under the service of The Lady who is warring with The Rebel in the north. The Black Company is thankful for the new opportunity but, as events unfold, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the bad guys from the badder guys and Croaker begins to wonder whether they’re fighting on the right side of the conflict, especially when he makes the acquaintance of The Lady’s generals – The Taken, a grotesque collection of undead wizard kings given to battling each other.
The Black Company is dark, military fantasy that punctuates descriptions of the soldiers’ downtime with sudden, grisly accounts of battle. Given what I’ve heard of real life combat experiences, this is an accurate reflection of what soldiers endure – the long waits and then the sporadic bursts of violence. Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that, despite the infighting that occasionally plagues the outfit, the loyalty of the soldiers who make up The Black Company is first and foremost to one another. When asked to comment on this book series’ popularity among soldiers, author Glen Cook said the following in a 2005 interview with Strange Horizons: “The characters act like the guys actually behave. It doesn’t glorify war; it’s just people getting on with the job. The characters are real soldiers. They’re not soldiers as imagined by people who’ve never been in the service. That’s why service guys like it. They know every guy who’s in the books, and I knew every guy who’s in the books. Most of the early characters were based on guys I was in the service with. The behavior patterns are pretty much what you’d expect if you were an enlisted man in a small unit.” (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20050117/cook-int-a.shtml). It should come as no surprise that Cook served in the U.S. Navy.
Although confusing at times and at times a little too sparse in its description (I thought the story would have really benefited from some insight into the cultural, socio-political or economic backdrop of the land they were fighting over), The Black Company was an engrossing read. And, at a little over 200 pages, a quick one at that.
Well, those were my thoughts. Let’s hear your opinions on The Black Company. And, of course, start posting your questions for author Glen Cook.
To those of you wondering about the wrap party – yes, Amanda was there and I did take some photos of her, but a combination of the camera flash and where we were standing resulted in some iffy pics so, rather than post them, I prefer to direct you to this
(http://josephmallozzi.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/dsc01057.jpg) much better photo I took of her the other day. In fact, I took three times as many photos as posted but only selected the ones that, in my opinion, so my apologies to whoever didn’t make the cut. No photos of Rachel as I missed her at the party. According to Marty G., she arrived late and left early. I didn’t take any pictures of Joe or David, but I did exchange “best wishes” emails with David this morning. And for those of you asking what I wore to the party – scroll down to the bottom of this entry and check out today’s installment of the Weird Food Purchase of the Day: Shredded Squid.
Hey, look! It’s the mailbag!
Ivon writes: “I have been waiting all day for this… I was having a tough time trying to remember the night (last night). Well, except for your speech… it brought tears to my eyes.”
Answer: Hey, what happened? I went home for a power nap and came back like I said I would but you’d already left! So lame.
Lcshepp writes: “Side note…sometime when SGA is long done, I would really like to know what your true feelings are/were about the cancellation. I can’t believe you are going quietly into the night. I also know that the ‘team’ concept, franchise politics, and career moves dictate many comments.”
Answer: I think I was pretty clear about my feelings. While I wasn’t necessarily surprised, I was very disappointed.
Kellyk writes: “What if when it comes time to do the movies the cast already have other jobs?”
Answer: We’re going to try to time the shooting of the movie to make it as convenient as possible for the actors to participate.
Mark Nicholson writes: “yeah, you should have dropped of those shirts, then the model shop might not have been forgotten, like it always seems to be J”
Answer: Damn. Shirts and socks. Of course, a huge thanks to the model shop!
Belouchi writes: “1. We found out in season 1 that there were 60 Hive ships or more in the Pegasus galaxy, now with so much that has transpired ( Our team taking out a few, the wraith civil war, the asuran-wraith war) approximately how much do you think are still out there and will it be adressed in one the season 5 episodes?”
Answer: We will not cite a specific number but it is strongly inferred the wraith have been greatly weakened by the time season five unfolds.
Belouchi also writes: “2. The season 4 episode harmony makay said that hes been looking for that place for months because it was where the ancients first developed drone technology. Well since the ancients didint go to the pegasus galaxy untill the whole plague thing that would mean that when they left earth, the outpost didint have any drones there and they didn’t develop drone technology until they got to Pegasus. Well if that is indeed true, then why would the ancients make thousands of drones when they got back?”
Answer: I actually answered this question way back after Harmony first aired. The reference was to, specifically, the testing of the mini drones. It wasn’t clear.
Belouchi writes: “3.What ever happened to the other three planets from Weir’s list in the episode Before I slept containing ZPMs?”
Answer: Checked out and came up empty.
Anais33 a ecrit: “S’il vous plait donner moi une adresse où je puisse vous écrire???!!”
Anna writes: “Way back when the network made you change the title of Red Shirt Diaries – was that because it’s similarity to Red Shoe Diaries?”
Answer: The network has never made us change a title. In the case of The Red Shirt Diaries, the story was spun in another direction, sans red shirts and/or diaries, so the script necessitated a title change. It became Prodigal.
Paul walked into my office and held up the lemon so that I could read the message marked on its plastic surface: “SGA!! not SGU!!”. And so it begins.
“It’s part of the fan campaign protesting the cancellation of the show,”I enlightened him.
“Yeah, I figured.” He set the lemon down on my desk. “But why are they sending ME lemons? Why would I cancel a series I was showrunning?”
I shrugged. Thankfully, no lemons for me. Instead, I received an awesome stuffed Venom compliments of Shawna (Thanks, Shawna). And more books!
Speaking of which – with August behind us, it’s again time for me to list my favorite reads of the month. I realized that doing a monthly Top 5 was a little ambitious now that I’m no longer on hiatus, so I’ve scaled back to a monthly Top 3:
The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and Other Stories, Jeffrey Ford
Much like The Empire of Ice Cream, the former book of the month club selection that introduced me to author Jeffrey Ford, The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and Other Stories offers up a collection of tales both far-ranging and delightfully inventive. Ford juggles fantasy, science fiction, horror, and variations thereof with skillful aplomb. In “Floating in Lindrethool“, a door-to-door salesman falls in love with one of the jar-bound brains he is selling. “Exo-Skeleton Town” focuses on an alien world obsessed with classic movies, a planet frequented by humans who sport exo-suits in the form of silver screen greats. “Creation” spins elements of Frankenstein and Creationism in a poignant exploration of a young boy’s relationship with his father. A highly imaginative, often humorous collection with a lot of heart.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
This book came highly recommended by the person who gave it to me two years ago and yet it has sat on my bookshelf since, partly because at 1000+ pages (despite the fact that it is broken up into three volumes) it’s an incredibly foreboding read, and partly because of the few people I know who have attempted to read it ultimately gave up on the book. Two volumes and I‘m honestly surprised. This a terrific novel that, while occasionally meandering in its plotting, delivers an endlessly entertaining tale of the awkward Mr. Norrell, England’s first practical magician in recent memory, and his upstart apprentice Jonathan Strange. It reads like a 19th century account complete with faux footnotes in its depiction of 1808 London, the Napoleonic Wars, and its engaging discussion of the history of magic. Endearing in its subtlety and balls-out hilarious.
Sideways in Crime, edited by Lou Anders
Editor Lou Anders assembles a little over a dozen contributions on the theme of alternative history and crime in this interesting mix of stories. As is the case with most anthologies, some of the selections resonate more than others. Stand-outs for me were Mary Rosenblum’s “Sacrifice”, Paul Di Filippo’s “Murder in Geektopia”, and John Counrtenay Grimwood’s “Chicago”. Although I preferred the more wide-open possibilities found in Ander’s Fast Forward anthologies (I was struck by how many of the stories in this collection touched on contemporized Aztec culture, Sherlock Holmes, and French-controlled Louisiana), Sideways in Crime proved an entertaining read in its own right.
With Whispers set to air this Friday night, I thought I’d say a few words about of one of the actors I’ve yet to mention with regard to the episode. Darren Dolinski plays the role of Mirellus, the mysterious local with a secret or two about a certain abandoned village. Darren won the role on the strength of a great audition, but what we didn’t know when we hired him was that this was to be his first time in front of the camera. Needless to say, his transition from stage to screen was flawless as he delivered a terrific performance.
Hey, great news! I’ve successfully shamed director Will Waring into agreeing to come by and do a guest blog for us! I’ll start gathering questions for Will on Saturday as I’m sure you’ll have plenty of Whispers-related-what-the-heck-were-you-thinking questions for him.
Today’s video: The Weird Food Purchase of the Day = Duc Tung! Duc Tung!
Hey! Look who it is! Why, it’s 20-year film and television veteran Andy Mikita, director of such episodes as Heroes I and II, Before I Sleep, Be All My Sins Remember’d and, more recently, Search and Rescue, The Daedalus Variations, The Shrine, First Contact, and The Lost Tribe. Andy, who is presently prepping the series finale, Enemy at the Gate, joins us today to answer your questions, dish some behind-the-scenes dirt, and plug his new signature sandalwood-scented men’s cologne. (Ha ha. Just kidding about the behind-the-scenes dirt.).
Before turning things over to Andy, I’d like to remind readers that they have one more day to post questions for the show’s physics consultant, Mika McKinnon. How did she land this gig? What’s her take on the science of Stargate? Which producer writes the most scientifically inept scripts? Ask her.
In the days to come, I’ll be shifting to Whispers mode. Expect more behind-the-scenes pics in the next few days, and a big, BIG episode breakdown once the episode has aired. I have a lot to say about this one so I may have to make it a two-parter.
Finally, scroll down to the bottom of this entry for The Weird Food Purchase of the Day video. Today’s installment = Frog Legs!
And, over to you, Andy…
Wolfenm writes: “What can you tell us about the cut Zelenka scene? I mean, what happened during it? (Please tell me it will be on the DVD!)”
I was sad to see the Zelenka scene cut. It was a funny moment between he & Rodney where Rodney was unusually friendly and complimentary to Zelenka. As the 2 of them walked out of the room, the camera panned onto Keller, who was recalling the “new and improved Rodney” to Jeannie. It was a stylistic transition from one scene to another and was quite effective. But obviously not effective enough to make the cut! I hope it makes it to the DVD as a deleted scene.
“Were there any other deleted scenes?”
There was another brief Zelenka scene that was also cut. All he ended up with was a walk-by as the team was enroute to the Jumper. Believe me, it wasn’t by design. We love David Nykl, but unfortunately we have a specific cut time to meet and some precious frames had to be sacrificed.
“There was a lot of physical contact between John and Rodney, a lot more than usual (which I *adored*), in particular the shoudler-grabbing in John’s room and in the cave (twice!) — were those scripted, or were they your idea, or the actors’ …? How much direction — or leeway — do you typically get from a script, and how much do you, in turn, leave up to the actors?”
Some of those moments are ‘stage directions’ that are scripted and others are discovered during the blocking/rehearsal process. I think in those cases Brad (who was on set most of the time) and I agreed the physicality was important for those scenes. Joe and David were in agreement as it seemed a very natural and instinctive thing to do. Generally speaking, the script provides stage directions for key story moments, and we try to execute those as faithfully as possible on set. Having said that, we are certainly afforded the freedom to make adjustments if things aren’t working out. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the director and the actors.
“Also, I just want to say how heartbreakingly beautiful the scenes in John’s room and, especially, on the pier were. I used to spend a lot of time at the North Avenue and Oak Street beaches and Navy Pier (all in Chicago) after sunset, and the pier scene in “The Shrine” made me so homesick it hurt — but it was soo worth it! The camera angles, the guy’s performances, the lighting — just brilliant. (Yes, I know, the city was fake, but you still had input, yes?)”
Absolutely. We work in a highly collaborative environment, so we collectively discuss all those elements in advance – where possible. I didn’t, however, have much to do with the CG city. That was Mark Savela and the amazing VFX team. Thanks for the kind words! It’s my favorite scene in the episode.
Chelle DeBoer writes: “For Andy: What’s your favourite episode and why?”
That’s a tough one. Of the one’s I’ve directed – Before I Sleep, because it was my first Atlantis. Plus Midway & BAMSR because they were so much fun to do and I thought they turned out quite well. Overall, I’d have to say Poisoning the Well, McKay & Mrs. Miller, Common Ground & Tabula Rasa were amongst my favourite all time Atlantis episodes.
Namiko writes: “My question for Andy Mikita: You’ve been a part of the production since Children of the Gods — amazing! What’s the one thing that has surprised you most about the franchise?”
It’s longevity, obviously. But also, the amount of people who have never seen or even heard of the show. How is that possible??
The SkyPig writes: “Questions for Andy: What will your role be (if any) in upcoming SG-1 or SGA movies? Will you be directing episodes of the new series? And, last, what Stargate episode has given you the most satisfaction to direct and why?”
It would be very presumptuous of me to assume anything at this point, but I am hoping to direct the SGA movie and episodes of Universe. Hopefully it’ll work out.
The most satisfying SG1 was Heroes because it really resonated with people and it evolved from being a small 2nd unit episode, to a pretty significant 2 parter with a lot of great performances. The script was amazing. 2010 was also a favorite.
Squeaikiep writes: “First, thanks very much for the multiple hours of wonderfully executed scripts. I very much enjoy your style of story telling. How do you keep the production on time and on point throughout the 5-7 day shoot? There’s a lot of cats to heard!! Thanks in advance.”
Thanks for the kind words! We have such a crackerjack crew that everything happens in a sort of shorthand. They are the ones who make it happen and deserve the credit for making the show look so good and to do it on time. For the director, it’s all about having a plan, and then being able to throw the plan away so you can go faster.
Portlandbound writes: “What episode did you like the best to direct from Atlantis or SG1? If you could pick any of the Executive Producers of Atlantis you found gave you the most trouble when directing? Was their a script you felt was hard to direct and what was it? Thanks for your time!”
For my favorite ep’s – see above.
And really, none of the Executive Producers give me much trouble because they all know I can beat them up.
The hardest scripts to direct were Vengeance (making one hall look like many, and trying to make the creature attacks scary) and Infection (6 days in the Hive set – a fate worse than death).
Thornyrose writes: “ First, favorite episode to direct/produce in the Stargate franchise. What one work would you like to have the chance to do over? Is there any one “dream” project, in film or tv that you would like to do in the future? And finally, what is the hardest aspect of directing and/or producing a show like SGA, or even a non-sci fi genre show? Thank you very much for your participation and time, and many thanks to Mr. M. for all the work put in to make that possible.”
Thanks so much! I appreciate it! See above for fave ep’s. If I had the chance, I’d redo parts of every episode I’ve ever done. I go crazy watching mistakes I’ve made.
Ultimate dream project? Sitting down & finishing a home video of my kids that I can send to my parents on the east coast. They’ve been bugging me for it for years.
And honestly, the hardest aspect of directing the show is to maintain the standards that have already been set. That, and working with Carl Binder.
Norriski writes: “Question/Statement for Andy M. What has been your most challenging episode for the Stargate franchise and why?”
See above. Oh, and I didn’t mention it before, but Foothold is particularly memorable for me because it was my first ever episode of Stargate SG1. And also, Adrift & Lifeline – which were Martin Wood episodes, but I shot 6 days for him while he was in the Arctic for Continuum. That was tough because he prepped them & I shot them.
“On those same lines what was the easiest episode and why?”
First Contact and Lost Tribe (mid season 2 parter) because Martin Gero shot a bunch of it for me.
“Have you ever ended the day wanting to pummel one of the cast members, or a guest actor (I’m guessing you won’t tell us who but I have to ask)”
Yes. Yes I have. And no I won’t, but nice try.
“Lastly THANK YOU for taking the time to do the commentaries on the DVD’s. I’m one that buys DVD more for the commentaries than anything else!”
That’s awesome! Thank YOU!
Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Thank you for all your wonderful direction over the years. I particularly liked Outcast last year.”
Thanks so much – I liked Outcast too. Earth based ep’s are fun.
“Questions: (i) Is there any specific difficulty that you continually encounter in the Sci Fi genre as against more mainstream direction that impeeds your vision for a shot?”
No, not really. The only restrictions we encounter are when there is a visual effect involved in the shot and the vfx guys ask us to lock the camera. But even that doesn’t happen much anymore. The size and scope of a set can dictate shot limitations. Some have no ceiling (which = no low angles). But if anything, I would argue that sci-fi offers more opportunites for creativity than any other genre.
(ii) In the directorial rotation, is there/have there been, any particular episodes that you’ve passed on/or not directed where you wish you could have been involved?
Yeah, that happens all the time. This season for instance Will got all the scripts with exterior locations. Those are the most sought after because we don’t do it very often anymore.
(iii) In reading a script do you have an entire vision at outset? and (if the occasion has arisen) would you suggest a linking scene including dialogue if you felt it was necessary?
Good question. Sometimes it comes very clearly and other times not. I used to vividly play the movie in my mind as I was reading a script only to find out the sets I will end up using don’t look anything like what was in my head, so now I try to find out which sets I’ll be using before reading. That way I can envision the action in the proper context.
And yeah, sure, I’ll suggest something to the guys if a transition feels bumpy. Then they’ll tell me to get lost.
(iv) Also, do you say “SWEET!” or “GREAT!” a la Mr Wood, after a great take? If not, are there any Andy Mikita-isms after shooting a difficult scene?
Nope, I just say cut. Call me old-fashioned.
“Also, may I just add, that I really enjoy your commentaries…I always get the sense that you are seeing the episode for the first time, and your recall for events at that time is great, even though it’s months later….”
Thanks! Many times I am watching the episode finished for the first time during the commentary. Typically I hand in the Director’s Cut & that’s it. Then I wait till it’s done (FX, music, etc)
Kerry: “Hi Andy. Have you ever had problems with a guest star who seemed great when you hired him but then turned out to be a real pain or crazy? Without naming names (unless you want to or you can just hint) want happened and how did you handle it?”
Hi Kerry. That’s a good question. Yes, I’ve had issues for sure. Some actors have been very over-enthusiastic about their character and consequently go way over the top in performance. That’s when you have to jump in & tell them to dial it back. Remind them of the context. Others just try to create something they’re not and it becomes forced. Sometimes it’s fixable and sometimes it’s not. And occasionally you get a full-blown nut bar. I handle those individuals by doing nothing & blaming whoever hired them.
Perragrin wites: “Q: If you were to step through the Stargate and join the Atlantis Expedition, which one, personal item would you choose to take with you? And no cheating.. Personal Slave, carrying everything you own, does *not* cut it “
Astrumporta writes: “For Andy Mikita: I loved The Shrine and really enjoyed your interview about making it, at stargate.mgm.com. There you predicted mixed reviews for the episode due to the lack of action, but in fact, it seems it might be one of the most universally loved episodes of Atlantis ever! Are you surprised to see a character piece be so well received? Gratified?
Hey thanks – I’m happy you liked it! I honestly felt there would be more of a divided camp, but am obviously elated with the universally positive response. I remember when the script first came out and everybody was, “wow – this is incredible.” Including myself. I was blown away. It’s an episode everyone is very proud of. But I didn’t think it was for everyone…
“How did you approach directing the scenes that started in Sheppard’s quarters and moved to the pier, in terms of discussing with Joe Flanigan and David Hewlett how the scenes would evolve? They were played so beautifully. Was Joe wearing his own clothes, for real?”
First of all, I must mention that Brad Wright played the primary role in the execution of The Shrine. Beyond writing the script, he was heavily involved in every aspect of it’s making and spent the majority of the shooting schedule on set with me. It was awesome. We were able to talk about every shot and every take. It was a luxury that Joe & Paul & Martin & Carl can’t afford because they’re always writing or in prep or post. Brad was able to stay with it from beginning to end.
Most of the early discussions were primarily with David, since the story revolved around him. The Shep Quarter’s & Pier scenes were approached differently from a mechanical point of view. The former being approached like any other scene, with numerous rehearsals and adjustments. The Pier was predetermined because of it taking place in a virtual environment. We knew the shots in advance. David and Joe were amazing and it was a blast to shoot. They have a very natural friendship chemistry.
No they weren’t Joe’s clothes. I don’t think…
“Also in The Shrine, how do you make it appear the camera is so far away from the subjects, both on the pier and on top of the submerged Stargate? How do you keep the movement realistic as the camera appears to pull back so far?”
On the Pier set, we used a crane to pull back and away from the actors. At the submerged Stargate, we shot a locked off wide angle and the VFX guys created that amazing pull back & reveal of the setting. The shot becomes the central live action element.
“Looking back at your time on Atlantis, what are some of your favorite memories, and some of your most traumatic or difficult?”
I really enjoyed working with David Ogden Stiers. He would provide a continuous onslaught of hilarious jokes and stories. A prince of a man and a total pro. Also, shooting Before I Sleep was special ‘cause it was my first Atlantis.
I think the day Joe lost his dad was the hardest. I felt terrible and he insisted in carrying on. Every time I watch Search & Rescue and see him trapped under the rubble it reminds me of that day. That’s what we were shooting when he got the news.
“Have there been times you just couldn’t make a scene work and had to go to a “Plan B”?”
Yep, that’s happened lots of times. Sometimes B doesn’t work either and you move to C. Plans are switched during blocking rehearsals, or once you’ve arrived at the set to see all the trucks parked in the middle of your set (not that that happens!). Usually once you’ve rehearsed, lit, and started shooting a scene – there’s no turning back. I remember once shooting take 1 of a master and then turning to DP/Director Brenton Spencer in a panic, and saying, “This isn’t working – I have to start over.” He was so cool about it. He simply said, “No problem, lets fix it!” We did, and less than 5 minutes later we were back at it. It was something else. Situations like that can kill your day, but Brenton didn’t let that happen.
“How much do you “direct” guest stars versus the regulars, in terms of influencing their performances?”
Lots. But it’s more guidance and context. Guest stars have the disadvantage of not speaking the franchise language. It’s too much to expect a guest to understand everything that’s happened over the course of a shows history, so jumping in can be a little overwhelming. Our regular cast are great and supportive too. We all try to make a guest as comfortable as possible.
“Would you like to work on Stargate Universe?”
“Thanks for the great work, Andy!”
Hey, thank you & thanks for all the great questions!
Syble writes: “First off I want to say that I loved Search and Rescue. The look of that episode was spectacular. It looked and felt like a high budget big screen movie.”
Awesome! Thank you! It was crazy fun.
“1) During the filming of S&R, was the dust from the collapsed building scenes falling on the actors, or was that a camera trick?”
Some of it was, yes. Most of it we tried to place in front and behind them, but it needed to fall on them too. It was pretty uncomfortable for the actors. Joe was literally wedged in his spot (we designed the pieces to shift so he could get in & out, but…) and Jason had to negotiate lots of nooks and crannies & was hunched over awkwardly. May I please take this moment to express kudos to our amazing Art, Construction, Paint and Set Decoration departments who all did an incredible job building that set. It looked amazing and was by far my favorite of all time.
“2) Who’s idea was it to have Shepard’s shirt still on in the infirmary scenes. As Keller lifted it and then let it fall back down, all I could think about was what kind of doctor kept cleaning and then redepositing the dirt on a wound?”
Let’s not go there, ok? And btw, I agree completely.
“3) What has been your favorite episode so far??”
Please see above.
Jean writes: “ When you get a script, do you end up making any changes to the way that scenes are set up or to the transitions from one scene to another? Is this something that is worked out first with all the writers/producers before you get to the shooting stage, or do some things (that don’t work well) only become apparent once you are shooting (or both)?”
Hi Jean. Again, excellent questions. The answer is both. If we are able to identify a modification in advance, we discuss it in prep and work it out before shooting. Sometimes situations present themselves in context on the set and have to be addressed at that time. Transitions are best thought out in advance but often are created in editing. The rule is, to have a plan and then divert from it as necessary. Obvious things like if the actors walk out of a scene from left to right, they should enter the next shot the same way. It can be visually more jarring if they suddenly appeared from the opposite direction. But, having said that, all rules are meant to be broken and that jarring transition may be the desired effect!
“Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!”
My pleasure! Thank you.
Airelle writes: “Mr Mikita ?- Do you have plans after SGA? I think your work is great.
Thanks Airelle, I hope to continue working on Stargate Universe.
“Can you pick the episodes you want to direct?”
No. We direct the scripts that fall into our rotation on the season schedule.
“Do you have the ancient gene?”
Flygirl writes: “A lot of prep and planning goes into an episode. Is there an episode that stands out where you thought you had all of your “bases covered” and then everything just went sideways?”
To be honest, not really. The machine here runs pretty smoothly, so train wrecks are rare. That’s not to say we don’t have hiccups because we certainly do. It’s usually a collection of lots of little things adding up. Here’s one, a couple of days ago we were shooting a fight scene between Ronan and Wraith drones. When I called for Jason’s stunt dbl, he hobbled in with a cast on his leg and couldn’t walk by himself – he had 2 human crutches helping him. I could only laugh.
Chevron7 writes: “Questions for Andy: How do you decide how you are going to shoot a scene – what’s the process you go through?”
Usually I’ll read the script once or twice without considering how I’m going to shoot it. However, I like to know what the sets and locations are going to be so I can imagine the scenes in the correct environment when I start re-reading the script for planning purposes. Early on I try to find a visual theme to use throughout in order to give it some distinction, however subtle it may be. That could manifest itself in many different ways, from how it’s going to be shot (lots of hand held, or low angles, etc) Then I start imagining the scenes from different perspectives to decide what the main point of view should be. Then I make a blocking plan and a shooting plan – both of which often get used only as a starting point. It’s important to be flexible.
“What is tougher to direct: A complicated action scene, a highly emotional scene or a scene with the Asgard?”
Oddly enough, it’s the static scenes with lots of people that are the toughest to make interesting. Action scenes are tricky too, but they are always time consuming. Emotional scenes can be the easiest from a shooting standpoint because you want to keep the setups straightforward and you don’t want to do a lot of them. Let the actors do their thing. Asguard scenes are simpler too because there’s only so much of the puppet that can be photographed, so you work within those physical limitations.
“If you could trade jobs for a day with anyone on the production, who would it be?”
Brad Wright on pay day.
“What are your hopes for Stargate? Do you know if you have a role yet in the future?”
Like everyone, I hope it continues to evolve and live a long & prosperous life.
I don’t know if I will be part of the next chapter, but I am hopeful that I will be.
Evolution Anyone writes: “You all have no shame…again Atlantis is going to copy, scene for scene, an SG-1 episode? I let out a gasp when I saw the “alien autopsy” pics from First Contact/Lost Tribe.”
Answer: Oh, I hear ya. Another alien autopsy! It’s like we do one of those every second episode. And, wait, it gets worse! If you can believe it, there’s also a scene where the team exchanges weaponsfire with some aliens (shades of SG-1!) and even a scene in which two characters talk as they walk around (freakin’ ripped off from Louis Le Prince’s 1888 Roundhay Garden Scene). Gasp!
Kath writes: “Its a shame that this has turned into a sniping match now and because some fans dared to voice their opinions that a lot of focus seemed to be going to a new addition of the cast then automatically we are deemed haters.”
Answer: You know, it never ceases to amaze me how certain fans can be so free and vocal with their own criticisms and yet so incredibly thin-skinned when someone criticizes their infantile behavior. Rather than simply “daring to voice their opinion”, some fans, who clearly lack the capacity to express their thoughts in any sort of intelligent manner, choose to be insulting or launch personal attacks. Of course, on the rare occasions when they are called on it, they seek to defend themselves under the guise that they are protecting their right to free speech. I’m afraid I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. If you don’t like a character or the writing then, sure, feel free to post your opinion. But if you’re so childish and devoid of any intellect that the only way you can get your point across is by being disparaging people, then expect to be on the receiving end of a firm smackdown. FYI, this all started two days ago because some fan, clearly upset by the fact that Jewel had received a Gemini-nomination, intimated that the only possible way she could have received said nomination was by facing no competition from her fellow cast members. This fan wondered whether Jewel was the only one submitted for nomination. I sarcastically responded that, in fact, she was. And when the rest of the anti-Keller crew started their foot stomping, I responded in an equally sarcastic manner. For the record, other cast members were submitted for consideration but only Jewel ended up with a nomination. If you’ve got a problem with that and suspect the Gemini selection committee of “being in love with Jewel” or playing favorites, then I suggest you take it up with them.
Laura writes: “Do you still have standing sets in 2 Vancouver locations (can’t remember what the 2nd one was called) or is everything at Bridge Studios now?”
Answer: As of this year, all of our standing sets are on The Bridge Studios lot.
Trish writes: “Do you think Annabelle misses Sebastian? Have you ever experienced a pet acting out after another pet passed away?”
Answer: Hi, Trish. Sorry to hear about Sebastian. It does sound like Annabelle is reacting to the loss. Like some have already suggested, paying some extra attention to Annabelle will certainly help. Socializing her with other dogs might be another idea if you can afford it. An occasional visit to a doggy daycare may help (which, I see, is something you’re already exploring).
A Honshuu writes: “And BLACK COMPANY… is that just one story or the whole Chronicles? The book I got from the library is MASSIVE!”
Answer: I got the same massive tome. But, for the purposes of this month’s book club, we’ll only be reading the first book in the series.
Chevron7 writes: “Ever considered writing some short stories yourself, perhaps with a horror theme?”
Answer: If I can get my act together, a short story will certainly be in the works.
Dyginc writes: “Thirdly, my cat Gus has been on the treatment given to us by the cardiologist…”
Answer: All the best to Gus. Hope he’s on his way to a full and speedy recovery.
Astrumporta writes: “High-larious. What’s really funny is people still believe your first statement that you could only afford to put one actor into the nomination process. Obviously you were kidding. Weren’t you?”
Answer: Yes, I was kidding.
Asturmporta also writes: “In fact, I seem to remember Stargate was boycotting the Geminis due to BC anti-scifi snobbery or politics or whatnot, no?”
Answer: I’m saving that rant for a future blog entry.
Monica writes: “Question…the village or “outdoor” set, is that also at the Bridge Studios? Will you and Carl give a tour of that as well?”
Well, the last few weeks have been bittersweet. Bitter because Atlantis has been cancelled, I face an uncertain future, and, in a matter of days, my wife will be setting off an a two-week Asian excursion without me. Sweet because the corn soup is back on the menu at Fuel. I’ve been so caught up with Stargate news, the book of the month club, and various guest bloggers that I’ve been remiss in updating you on some of my recent culinary exploits, a number of which involved return visits to Fuel for that glorious corn soup (five visits in all so far). Most recently, I was there with my friend Rosemary who is in town overseeing production of a new CBS series called Harper’s Island. Shades of Agatha Christine’s Ten Little Indians! A group of friends and family members gather on a remote island to celebrate a wedding, but the festivities take a macabre turn when people start getting offed. The show sounds intriguing, sort of a cross between a prime time soap and a slasher flick. It’s scheduled as a mid-season replacement.
Anyway, it was Rosemary’s first time at Fuel and she was mightily impressed. We enjoyed that velvety smooth, delightfully rich corn soup (served with crème fraiche, house smoked BC salmon, garlic crisp, and a submarined scoop of corn sorbet), home made cotecchino sausage (a Northern Italian dish my father used to make using pork meat and skin) that Rosemary raved about, and, of course, the crispy duck. On a visit with Fondy, I also enjoyed a wonderfully simple yet incredibly tasty pasta dish with tomato and basil (compliments of sous chef Alvin who just returned from a year in Italy), and an off-OFF-menu special: crispy pig brain and fried green tomato served atop a mustard remoulade and topped with frissee. The latter made today’s installment of the Weird Food Purchase of the Day. Check it out at the bottom of this entry.
Shai writes: “So, what about those *sniff* season 6 scripts you suggested you might divulge?”
Answer: Soon. Soon.
JoJoB writes: “Did you try the ox tail or was it just Carl?”
Answer: That was my lunch Carl sampled from. I love ox tail!
A Honshuu writes: “So… the LA Times said “In fact, the midseason two-part finale (airing at the end of September), features a very smart (very big) surprise.”
Could this surprise be linking in to the Universe?”
Answer: No it could not.
Sachi writes: ““2. Did TPTB ever seriously consider having someone take over military command of Atlantis and having Sheppard just be the leader of the no 1. team (whatever it’s called)?”
Answers: 2. Never.
Isn’t that what Colonel Carter did in season 4?”
Answer: Woops. I misread the question. I assumed I was being asked whether there had ever been thought to making Sheppard the commander of the expedition. To clarify – Colonel Carter was most certainly the military commander during her tenure on Atlantis. She may have deferred to Sheppard on account of his Pegasus expertise but, if things came right down to it, she had the final word.
flygirl writes: “Will you have an active role in the 3rd SG-1 movie and/or the first SGA movie?? “
Answer: Paul and I will be writing and producing the first Atlantis movie. We will probably be asked to read and provide notes on the SG-1 film script as was the case with both Ark of Truth and Continuum.
The Skypig writes: “I love oxtail, especially when it’s extra fatty.”
Answer: You mean “well-marbled”.
Sean writes: “Well here I sit watching all my Tivo’d episodes of Atlantis while awaiting the entry of Gustav.”
Answer: Hey, Sean. Hope you, your wife, and everyone else affected by Gustav is doing alright.
Blaine Nielsen writes: “ since it sounds like you might be getting a new computer, i was wondering what you were thinking of getting??? Does the show pay for any of it or is it out of your pocket???”
Answer: Alas, I pay for my own hardware. I’ll get a PC of some sort. My writing partner recently purchased a Mac and it took an entire afternoon to set up the software that would allow his new computer to sync with the software we used in the office. Also, why not touch pad or right click? Is it just for the sake of being different?
MysteryMadchen writes: “My bad luck just keeps multiplying.”
Answer: Here’s hoping your luck has picked up since you last checked in.
Anais33 a ecrit: “1)Pensez vous que dans le film sur sga, il sera possible de voir des personne disparu dans la série comme Weir ou Ford?
2)Pour quand est prévu votre voyage en Chine?”
Responses: 1) Probablement pas. 2) En hiver.
Translation: It’s unlikely we’ll see Weir or Ford in the Atlantis movie. 2) I’m heading to China this winter.
Mini2z writes: “Will we see more of Larrin?”
Answer: No, we won’t be seeing Larrin this season.
Shiratdeborah writes: “As viewers we´ve only been presented with Woolsey in his role as the IOA´s unpleasant watchdog (wonder how he´d react to being on the receiving end of a watchdog now??? THAT might be interesting to witness).”
Answer: It would indeed. As a matter of fact, his probationary command should be up for review soon – say, Remnants-ish.
Luke Murray writes: “Hey Joe; been reading your blog for ages and I have a few questions about Stargate Universe.”
Answer: Sorry, Luke. I’m the wrong guy to ask about SGU.
Ponytail writes: “As one of the lawyers hired by Suspect #2, I have heard their side of the story and decided to represent all 4 of the accused.”
Answer: Not so fast, Lawly. The lab is in the process of running a dental match of the damage done with the respective bites of your four clients.
Mary writes: “Whats with the fricking Furlings?!!!”
“Shoo!”I yelled, waving my arms over my head. “Shoo! SHOO!” They backed up, wide-eyed and fearful, and then, slowly, advanced once again. “Tssss!”I hissed, stamping my foot for added effect. “TSSSS! SHOOO!” The pack held its ground and stared back at me uncertainly then, cautiously, two of them crept forward, sniffing the air for any signs of danger, and unfurled a banner. It read: “SAM&JACK CONFIRMATION”. Giving up, I approached the gate and snapped a picture.
“Hi, Joe,”one of the fans greeted me. “I’m Nell. I came all the way from Washington.”
“Well,”I told her, “if you came all the way from Washington AND made that banner, then the least Brad could do is put that confirmation in the next movie.” I promised to talk to him about it that very afternoon.
I snapped some more shots, met my fellow culinary-naut Carolina, and gave them the lowdown on what all the commotion was about on my side of the fence. Marty G. was directing the last few scenes of Brain Storm in a reefer truck (which is capable of being refrigerated to below freezing). Room temp today. Tomorrow, Jewel gets chilly.
Last night, we threw caution to the wind and tried somewhere new for dinner: a quaint little Italian eatery on West Broadway called Favorito Restaruant. As we strolled up to the place, Fondy couldn’t help but notice it was practically empty. “Is that a bad sign?”she asked me. In retrospect -Yes, yes it is. A very bad sign! Our chorizo sausage starter was redolent with the flavor tomatoes, bell peppers, and freezer burn. My beef tortellini was overcooked and somewhat bland. Not terrible but just the type of pasta I’d treat my proud Italian mother to if I wanted to make her really, REALLY angry. We skipped dessert, not wishing to press our luck. Alas, the die had already been cast. Fondy was sick later that night. I’m not saying the food was to blame. Sure, it may have been the suspect chorizo. Or the cafeteria-style lasagna. Or it could have been an alien entity that laid its eggs in her stomach overnight. Who knows? Just in case though, I think we’ll put skip a return visit.
Hey, I’m enjoying your comments on The Orphan’s Tale: In the Night Garden. Keep ‘em coming. And get your questions in for author Catherynne M. Valente before noon tomorrow!
An exhausting day today. Details to follow. In the meantime, enjoy today’s Weird Food Purchase of the Day: Pork Blood Tofu. No, for real!
Hope you’ve all finished up this month’s fantasy book of the month club pick, The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, because I’ll be weighing in with my thoughts tomorrow. I’ll also be collecting questions for author Catherynne M. Valente who will be dropping by later in the week. This one was a very unique and interesting read. I look forward to checking out your comments.
Speaking of dropping by later in the week… You first knew her as replicator technician, then as human technician, and now as fab-haired recurring gate tech Amelia Banks on Stargate Atlantis. Next weekend-ish, actress Sharon Taylor will be dropping by to field your questions about her growing role on the series. What’s in store for Amelia in season 5? The answers may surprise. I’ll be taking questions for Sharon starting on Wednesday.
Well, the early numbers for Ghost in the Machine come in tomorrow afternoon and I predict our hitherto consistently upticking numbers take a bit of a hit as we went up against the Olympics last Friday night. Alas, not even the combined forces of Earth’s battle cruisers and the city of the Ancients are a match for the triple jump and women’s sabre. Hey, did you catch Tajikistan win the bronze in judo? No, neither did I.
Big news on the home front. Bubba took his first off-leash walk today. And, I’m proud to report, that not once did he go berserk and get all up in that passing Chihuahua’s grill. I’m sure that to those of you who don’t own a dog, this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Hmmm. How to put it in terms you could understand? Well, I guess it’s sort of like a baby saying its first words or taking its first steps. Only more meaningful.
Fondy came back from a pet expo today, arms laden with dog treats. “Here you go,”she said, holding up a bag of desiccated chicken hearts. “Your next weird food purchase. I dare you.” Well. Them’s fightin’ words. On the other hand, them’s also some nasty smellin’ treats so I think I’ll hold off on the desiccated chicken hearts and go with something only slightly (and I do mean ever so slightly) less disgusting today: wheat grass. Check out the video at the bottom of this blog entry.
Hey, 1st Assistant Production Coordinator Tanja Balic was kind enough to send me copies of the photos she took during my dogs’ last visit to the studio. If the pooches look crazed, that’s only because they are.
The other day, Marty G. and I took Carl out for dinner in celebration of his birthday, our friendship, and the outside chance that if the show is canceled Carl may be in a position to give us jobs next year. We went to Fuel of course and ordered the Chef’s Five-Course Tasting Menu, carefully outlining the birthday boy’s likes (the crispy-fried duck) and dislikes (foie gras and excess marbling) for our server. Minutes later, our affable host Tom swung by the table and gave us a peek at the cheat sheet the kitchen uses to remind them of their customer profiles. Ours, for instance, broke down as follows:
Guest #2 = No foie or too much fat. Loves the duck. (Obviously Carl)
Guest #3 = Has a Gatecon-like appetite. (Not sure).
We had a wonderful meal highlighted by Fuel’s signature fried duck dish that had Carl in utter alimentary ecstasy from the first bite of his portion to the last bite of Martin’s. We also enjoyed Chef Belcham’s version of English pea soup, heirloom tomatoes with Carnaroli Risotto, three types of gnocchi (including my favorite served with green beans and bacon), a foie-gras stuffed squab for Martin and I, and three different desserts which included something called a peanut butter and jelly (pictured above). Forget getting me on as a guest judge – I’m lobbying to land Chef Belcham a gig as one of the challengers on Iron Chef America. And the secret ingredient is…pork belly! Imagine them trying to make a dessert out of that!
Hmmmm. For reasons known only to them, VISA has sent me a new card to replace my old card that won’t expire for another year. And because the new card has a new number, I’ve to update my information with the various businesses that do an automatic monthly withdrawal from my account. Well, all except Rogers, my cell phone provider which, ironically, doesn’t supply a customer service number on any of their (But presumably, they’ll figure it out eventually.) And then there’s by cable provider. The nice lady who fielded my call today made the changes to my account and then offered me the “late night movie package” for only 25 cents. The price sounded right and yet… “Don’t you like movies?”she asked me. She had a point. I do like movies. Well, most movies.
Okay, rarely do I actually enjoy a movie, but that’s not a reason to deprive Fondy of the opportunity to view Will Ferrell’s bi-monthly efforts. So I got the package for a mere 25 cents a month (“…forthefirstmonth,”the lady quickly rattled off after I’d signed on. “Afterthatitssixteendollarsamonth. You’llbechargedunlessyoucallusandcancelthispackagewithinthenextthirtydays. Thankyougoodbye!”). About an hour later, I turn on the t.v and flip over to the new free channel only to discover that “late night movie package” = porn. Actually, porn preview. Not the actual movies but snippets from the movies. Now, as a writer, I tend to be hypercritical of a film’s script and story, so you can imagine how vexing it is to be presented with these bewildering contextless scenes. How did those candystripers get stranded on that deserted island? Why were those shirtless construction workers at that young woman’s birthday party? And aren’t there health and safety regulations in place that prohibit that sort of behavior in restaurant kitchens? Well, on the bright side, from a fan standpoint, these productions seem to be very accommodating to various shipper factions. Whether you ship milkmaid with gladiator, garage mechanic with amnesiac socialite, or pizza delivery guy with twins, you needn’t resort to fan fiction to get your fix.
Scroll down to the bottom of this entry for the Weird Food Purchase of the Day. Today, it’s smoked cod liver!
Catching up on the mailbag:
Patricia Lee writes: “I thought you said Brad Wright was writing Epi 100 and then you said Marty G was writing it… what gives Joe! Were you trying to keep it a secret so we would not pump you with questions???”
Answer: I don’t believe I ever said that Brad or Martin were writing #100.
Jessica writes: “ On that note did you go to a university/college and if so what course(s) did you do?”
Answer: I did. I have an undergraduate degree in History and Political Sciences, and a Masters Degree in English Literature.
PG15 writes: “1. MGM is releasing some schematics of Atlantis tech on their website, here. Are these things canon?
2. Is The Red Shirt Diaries as DOA as Hexed?”
Answers: 1. All seems in order. 2. Yes. We already have scripts for all 20 slots.
Norriski writes: “I finally watched Sunday for the first time since it’s originally airing […] but Martin G said that up until a couple days before filming there was an alternate ending, can you give us light of that that might have been…”
Answer: I don’t recall reading an alternate ending. This one’s a question for Martin.
Norriski also writes: “…but should there be a season 6 is there even the slimest possibility that we can get Carson back full time?”
Answer: Hey, right now we’re just trying to get the show back full time.
Neko writes: “Have you been practicing your mandarin?”
Answer: Wa boo shi Chung wen shaw.
Tenaya writes: “I was thinking about what you said about the crowd responding so enthusiastically to Jewel at Comic Con.”
Answer: Again, you miss my point. My Comic Con example was a response to someone who said that the forum they frequented was decidedly anti-Keller. I suppose it really depends where you hang out. I, for instance, hang out in the writers’ room a lot where we are all unabashedly pro-Keller.
Les Ferris writes: “ will the information Weir gave the team regarding new advanced civilisations lead to some fun new adventures?”
Answer: That’s a question for another season. Hopefully.
Joe Julians writes: “I was just wondering how you feel about the crticism the season had. Popuar UK magazines like SFX and Deathray made some very critical comments about season 4 and the direction the show took, particularly the “misuse” of Carter. Do opinions like this effect you, especially from popular magazines and do you ever take things like this onboard?”
Answer: Hey, if we took all the criticism to heart, we’d never get around to producing a show. Death Ray? Never heard of it? Is it a fanzine?
Amy Lynn writes: “With shooting in Vegas, does that still mean the season still wraps the 23rd of next month?”
Answer: No. The production schedule is ever-shifting. We could finish sooner, later, or even on time.
Maddog1995 writes: “Should I just go out and get that laptop and read your blog while eating my breakfast?”
Answer: That’s how I do it – first thing in the morning, approving comments over a cup of green tea. And good luck on your job hunt. Hope you bag a good one.
Marielabbott writes: “I understand now the comment on your blog awhile back that if you ask a different producer, you will likely get a different answer to the question of whether or not Weir was alive or dead. You tried to leave some of that ambiguity in the episode. Do you think Weir is alive or dead?”
Answer: To be honest, a year ago I held that the real Elizabeth Weir was still alive. Paul felt that the replicators would have had no reason to keep her around and insisted that Oberoth would have ordered her killed after Lifeline. I disagreed. Why kill her when you can keep her in stasis and possibly make use of her at a later date? Since the production of Ghost in the Machine however, I’ve come around to accept the logic of Paul’s argument.
Charlie’s Angel writes: “Why do we keep betraying the replicators who are sympathetic and/or acting “human”, and then wonder why they come back looking for retribution?”
Answer: At the end of the day, they simply couldn’t risk it. They chose caution over blind benevolence.
Angelus writes: “Just checked out the new episode and I noticed a graphics mistake in the Atlantis intro.”
Answer: Unfortunately, it’s too late to fix this now but, on the bright side, it’s not too late to pick a scapegoat and hold him accountable for this oversight. Thanks for pointing this out.
Carolina writes: “I’ve finally arrived in Vancouver! can’t wait for the next 10 days… I do plan on going to Fuel this week, but I would like to hear from you your recommendations, I will send you an email if you don’t mind.
I’m staying downtown and tomorrow I’m planning on being around Grandville island and 4th street during lunch time, where do you suggest we should stop for lunch?”
Answer: Welcome to Vancouver. Granville and 4th I assume? Hmmm. If you walk up the six blocks and hang a left on West Broadway, you’ll find Fortune Garden (fantastic peking duck and seafood), Vera’s Burger Shack, and The Memphis Barbecue House. All pretty good lunch bets.
Apologies for the tardy post but I spent all day in the darkened catacombs of post-production amidst the trolls, troglodytes, morlocks, and editors. The light from my laptop screen! AIIIEEEEE! IT BURNS!!!
I was cutting Remnants which clocked in at an astounding +9.20! Trimming out the first four and a half minutes was no problem; losing the next four and a bit of a chore. The last twenty seconds was freaking impossible and, after going over the episode twice, I threw in the towel and decided to it pick things up Monday morning. It’s a great episode (Carl says it’s his favorite among the three I wrote this season) with not one, not two, but three parallel storylines. The David’s are great together, Bob shows off his great comic timing, and our nefarious special guest star puts our helpless hero through some real physical and psychological torment. Even though Remnants is a perfectly appropriate title for the episode, Revelations would have worked as well. But it was already taken.
Speaking of titles – we finally got one for our 100th episode: Enemy at the Gate. Looks like it will shoot in the #19 slot, meaning we’ll wrap in Vancouver and finish shooting season five in Las Vegas. It’s 60+ pages of intergalactic fun and Marty G. is looking to add to the page count by pitching out a certain scene that has divided the writers’ room. That’s Martin and Carl for, Paul and I against, and Alan firmly straddling the fence. Hey, I love the idea. I’m just not crazy about the timing. If the scene boards, we may compromise by shooting it anyway and deciding later whether or not it makes the final cut.
Ratings are the hot on-set topic, particularly the big 30% bump the show has been receiving from the Live+7 numbers. It’s nice to see the ratings upticking so early in the season. That’s either a good argument for a sixth season pick-up or cause for a congratulatory farewell. I guess we’ll find out in the coming months.
A reminder to finish up our Fantasy Book of the Month Club Selection, In the Night Garden: The Orphan’s Tale, because discussion begins on Monday.
And finally, another HUGE thanks to author Lois McMaster Bujold for taking the time to visit with us and taking part in a veritable novella-length Q&A session.
Today’s pics: Around the production office.
Today’s video: The Weird Food Purchase of the Day = Sour Prune.
First order of business: Hey, Jason Momoa wants to know your favorite Ronon line. Let’s hear ’em.
Second order of business: Today, I turn the blog over to Stargate Director of Photography Jim Menard who has been with the show for – well, as long as I can remember. Now I’m sure many of you reading this are wondering: “Joe, what the heck does a director of photography do?”. Hey, if knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t have invited Jim here to explain it to us. And now that he has, things are a lot clearer for me as I now understand why, every time I visit set, he’s always standing around those damn lights. Anyway, enjoy the Q&A and, once you’re done, check out the Weird Food Purchase of the Day video at the bottom of this entry. Today, by popular request: chicken feet.
Hello everyone, thank you all for your continuing interest in the show and for sending along the questions. When Joe asked if I would be interested in participating in the blog I was delighted and only asked him one favor, “Could they only ask questions with a yes or no answer as I am not a writer and cannot type very fast?” He said, “No.”
So, here goes, a short intro which may answer a few of the questions. Being an avid skier in my teens, I was inspired by Warren Miller and planned, with a couple of friends, to produce a feature ski film after graduation. In 1975 we released ’Skiing In The Mind’s Eye’, followed in 1979 by another called ‘Different Slopes’. These led to contracts to produce some ski area promotion films and commercials. Slowly, the film industry began to grow in Vancouver and I was drawn to second unit photography which mainly dealt with action sequences. Basically, I was being paid to have fun. I worked on ‘MacGyver’ where I first met Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Greenburg who, along with Brad Wright and Jonathon Glassner, helped bring ‘Stargate SG1’ to the small screen. On year two of SG1, I came aboard, alternating duties with Peter Woeste. In general, having two DOP’s gives us some prep time with the director to plan out an episode. It allows the opportunity to test and try out new ideas, and we shoot our own second units which shortens up our schedules and saves money by not tying up a whole main unit to shoot stunts or explosions.
Now, on to some questions.
Bailey writes: “To Jim, what exactly does a Director of Photography do on Atlantis? What decisions are you responsible for making? Which one have you been proudest of and do you regret any choices you have made?”
The DOP is in charge of the camera, grip, and lighting departments. In league with the art director, director, writer, and producer, concepts are created and a plan is formed so that everyone is on the same page. Sometimes very specific looks are scripted and concept drawings are made. I love to take one of James Robbins’ drawings and try to recreate the look on a finished set. It is not always possible as he is creating his lighting on a computer and it is impossible to match in reality. Brad Wright and Robert Cooper gave me a pretty free reign for the look on SG1. If I am going to do something really outside of the box, I will shoot some tests and get a pre-approval on the concept such as was the case with ‘Tabula Rasa’, making irreversible commitments to the HD recording with the use of filters and control settings.
On set I am lucky to have great camera operators, Greg Fox and Ryan Purcell, who can concentrate on the shot we have blocked out and rehearsed. This gives me time to work with the gaffer (head of the lighting department) and key grip who is in charge of lighting control and camera movement.
One of the best things I have achieved for the show is probably the practical puddle. It improves every year as we get better and better LCD projectors. It started on SG1 when Thor came through the puddle ended up in a length discussions with the puddle behind him. I had the VFX department generate a puddle loop to project, and by keeping the light levels low to create a shallow depth of focus we did every close-up practically (without visual effects) except for the actual pass-through. Over the years, we could project on to bigger and bigger screens and, by making a screen that fits in the gate, we now do a lot of full gate shots. It is best if you do not feature it too closely and save the real CG for when we are right in front of the event horizon. VFX puddles cost between five to seven thousand per shot so you can imagine how much money is freed up for other things. My only regret is not getting a cut of the savings!!
Melissa writes: “Now Question for Jim Menard, because he’s seriously one of my heroes, as I’m a ltheatrical lighting designer who loves his work:
What is your preperation process? Do you experiment, draw things out, test during whatever time you get or do you just wing it? If you plan everything, what method do you find easiest?”
In prep we start with a concept meeting which is on the first day that the other rotation is starting to shoot an episode. This gives us only seven days advance before we start shooting. With a rep from each department, we go through the script and talk about how to make it all work. On bigger shows, we will get a heads-up from the art department well in advance in order to start thinking about problems. I get copies of all the art work and floor plans and use these to draw lighting plots on. Recently I have found it better to walk around with the rigging gaffer and draw the plot on the set so that we can see where the lights can physically go. I do have computer plot makers that will tell me the throw of all the different fixtures and actually give us gear requirements as you place lights on the drawing, but it is time consuming and I prefer to be in the space to judge what we need. I love to test because it means I am trying something new. I will try to be the first to use anything new and get a heads-up from Panavision if new gear shows up. The more I can prep an episode the easier it is during shooting, and it gives the director more time to work with. Some sets will play as several different places so we will sometimes put in multiple lighting set-ups in advance. Then we wing it.
ChelleToo writes: “What inspired the shades of blue for Atlantis and the stained glass around the city?”
The production designer on the pilot was Bridget McGuire. She came up with that plan.
Linda Gagne writes: “For Jim: I have noticed the change in background lighting on the show. From season 1, 2 and 3 being bright to season 4 and 5 being a bit darker, did you make that choice and why? I like it, it is more real life looking, don’t know if that is the reason you did it or not.”
I really like to shoot with very little light so that any practical lights will actually illuminate things. The glow of a cigarette, an LED light on a prop, computer monitors etc. Years ago I saw ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and had the revelation that you could make rubber monsters look scary by keeping the lighting edgy and dark. I cringe when they write a wraith coming into a set where you can’t justify keeping them dark and spooky. Todd Masters of Masters FX and his people make the Wraith incredibly detailed and they do stand up to very close inspection but they’re cooler sketchy. On my first episode of Atlantis, Michael Blundell came to set and said “You’re really setting the dark bar high.” I like to hear that as the opposite is being too bright. He has done some beautiful, edgy work and I mostly follow his lead on the established sets like the Wraith hive. Lighting can create the mood, feel and look of the show. There is a psychological application through the type, color, and positioning of the different fixtures. Ideally, I like to subtly manipulate the viewer so they don’t even know what I’m up to. Watch ‘Absolute Power’ from your SG1 collection and see if you can pick some things out.
Patricia Lee writes: “Questions for Jim Menard:
I’ve enjoyed watching all the DVD extras and commentaries you’ve been on for 10 years of SG1 and 4 plus years of SGA and I have to say that your profession is so complicated and detailed. I have a new appreciation for the filming process based on what I’ve learn from you so far that makes my viewing experience that much more enjoyable…so thanks for all you do!
How long have you been involved in film and what drew you to the profession?
I was a Bell and Howell certified projectionist in elementary school and on the stage crew in high school. I made my first ski film in high school when they combined English and social studies and called it the integrated program. You had to turn in a contract on what you would do with totally unsupervised free time for a whole term. I contracted to make a ski film and they bought it.
Since the science of lighting a set has evolved over the years; what in your opinion has be the greatest technological breakthrough in the last 10 years?
LED lighting is coming on strong in professional fixtures. ‘The Queen’ is the first episode where I have used it in a fairly big way. Because the fixtures contain red, green and blue lights you can color mix to get any color you want without gel. This allows us to change the color of a set from the dimmer board.
With the constant change in industry and the refining of techniques, what kind of technical understanding do you require to continue growing as a DOP? Do you have to have a Mechanical Engineering degree?
I keep up on what all of the new gear can do without trying getting too detailed. The size of an image sensor and how it will affect imaging is important to me but how they achieve compression and storage codecs is not.
4- As an established DOP, do you still attend training and seminars to keep abreast of changes happening in the industry?Always.
5- Since you are such a seasoned DOP, do you teach others either in a college type setting; do you take on apprentices or both?Our union has a trainee program but it is only for second assistants. I like to share knowledge as long as I get to use it first.
6- When you switch from film to HD Video, what was the most challenging part and why?Shooting day exterior was the most different thing as the dynamic range of the cameras is less than film. A bright sky that will burn a good negative and be brought back on a scanner with film will be totally gone and burned out on HD. Now that full size 35 mm sensors are coming it will only be a matter of time before they use two of them through a prism to double the dynamic range. That will give it a bigger latitude than film or let you shoot 3D.
Michelle writes: “Jim, I really enjoy it when you’re on the audio commentaries. It’s clear you really love the show, your colleagues, and your work! Two questions: 1) What are the pros and cons of HD filming in terms of lighting? 2) How much of your lighting work is aimed at making the actors look their best, and does that ever conflict with how you or the director want the sets to be lit?”
Part of this is answered above and the ease of burning out the image can also be used to your advantage on interiors. We have a tether to the cameras from an engineering station where we can control all of the functions on the camera. It is a bit tedious running all the cable and keeping everything set and matched but the tapes and hard drives can hold a lot of material so the directors can keep rolling and give the actors more time to play with different performances. I like to make the actors look as good as I can if they sit and talk for a long period of time. During action sequences or while they are moving on a big dolly shot you can get more dramatic as they quickly move from light to light. In order for a director to do 360 degree steadicam shots you usually have to use top light and that tends to be unflattering. With our model shop I have recently developed a wireless dimmer that I can use to operate a camera-mounted LED light which makes it a lot easier to do these shots. We used to put a little fluorescent light on there but if the light got too close to a wall or the actor it would be too bright.
Smiley_face06 writes: “Question for Jim Mernard: What made you want to be a Director of Photography?”
Anonymous J writes: “Question for Mr Menard: After listening to various commentaries, I still can’t figure out who’s responsible for the look of a show (angles, light & shadow, colors, lenses etc) – the Director, the Director of Photography or the Lighting Director. And then sometimes the commentaries talk up the camera operator, too. Is there a rule as to who does what, or is that pretty fluid, depending on the individuals involved?”
Will Waring was my camera operator for several years and he is so good at it he was bringing a lot to the party. He asked to direct an episode during contract negotiations figuring they would just give him more money but they gave him one and he killed off Daniel Jackson on his first time out. The episode came out great so they gave him more and now he does it full time.
We try to collaborate and, while the operators are setting shots, we will light and try to work around each other. Our gaffer, Bruno Bittner, is also a DOP and we work together on the lighting. Some shows, he may be called a lighting director.
Flygirl writes: “1-When you are shooting a fight scene, where the action is rapid paced and the actors are very close to each other, as in Broken Ties, do you use one camera on a dolly, a hand-held camera or multiple cameras to catch the action at various angles?
No rules. Hand-held can get you in close and intimate and allow you to move fast, but sometimes sitting back on a really long lens will compress the action and make the hits look closer.
Jason writes: “Jim, First of all thanks for taking time out to answer questions for us fans. My questions to you are: What his harder to do, lighting indoor sets like the Village Set that is suppose to simulate outdoors for night or day? If it wasn’t a problem of time or scheduling, would you like to shoot more outdoor night shoots or is the technical problems involved with shooting outdoors at night more of a pain? Since changing over to HD, what do you find the biggest difference you have to make in order to film in HD and what is the biggest challenge of HD?”
It is harder to make a huge indoor space appear as day than it is as night. The second and largest version of the village had close to two million watts of light available and was on the top five list of my gaffers biggest setups in the city. It is nice to have total control over the light and it has been a lot of fun on that set. I also like the scope of working outside at night and you are right about the time and money. It is not technically difficult but you do require large lighting cranes. HD is not as portable as film as we are attached to an engineering station where we control the look and keep an eye on focus. You can shoot without remote monitoring but you would probably have to redo more stuff. Focus can shift on the cameras as the temperature changes due to a prism block that supplies the light to the three chips. This changes the distance to the sensors enough to put the focus marks on the lens out. We have to adjust the back focus on the lens as this happens during the day. Full-size sensors are coming but are currently too expensive for our situation. This is changing quickly and the RED camera is giving filmmakers that capability. The RED sensor has a fairly low ASA as compared to what I am using, but you can use faster lenses to compensate.
AV Eddy writes: “How’d you get your start in commercial television? Where do you get your inspiration for new or interesting angles/lighting/etc.?”
I like to come up with my own and that is where knowing what the gear can do will let you offer up choices to the director. I will also visit the rental houses and snoop through the inventory to see what’s new. Stage lighting is quite different from movie lighting but has made it’s way into our world. Every set we now do is controlled by lighting boards and dimmers.
Trekkiegirlt writes: “Jim, who is the easiest star to film? Who is the most difficult? Please give examples. Thanks for your contribution to SGA!”
Rachel can stand in any light and look amazing. I rarely require filters with her unless it is for a mood. The Atlantis cast is generally easy to photograph but sometimes Jason’s hair will keep me from getting as dramatic as I like because it blocks the light if you get too far around to the side.
Tim the Technician writes: “Is it difficult to work in enclosed spaces, i.e. the Atlantis conference room, the puddle jumpers, the bridge of the Daedalus/Apollo? Keep up the fantastic work!”
The other advantage to working with low light is that in a small space the practicals built into the set will light the actors and let the director do 360 degree shots. I try to get in on the design stage to have the lights built right in. We have used fibre optics and now a lot of LEDs. The glow from a monitor will be enough to light someone sitting right in front of it and if the monitor is not on camera the playback people will run white to it to glow the actors.
Nika writes: “I was wondering if you could explain how you create the pulsing blue lighting effect for the gateroom when you do the night/lights off scenes. It’s a fantastic rippled water look and I was wondering what the secret was!”
We use a plastic mirror sheet of mylar that is in a four foot square frame and hit it with a daylight balanced fixture which appears blue when you are shooting balanced for tungsten light. By wiggling the frame you get the ripple look. I always look for lights that will give me the same effect and there are now a few although most are not bright enough for big spaces.
Andron writes: “How much has the production changed since you began working on Stargate SG1’s season 2?Do you have now more input/free reign in your lighting choices?”
All of the writer/producers on both shows give us pretty free reign on the sets and if they want a specific look it will be scripted and discussed in prep. Film was a bit more of a dark science as you could play with the look through lighting color temperatures, process, filters, and film stocks and not see it until dailies came. HD is “what you see is what you get“. We also do a digital correction pass in timing where you have another chance at changing the look.
Johnny E writes: “1. Being a DP, what do you find is the hardest part of your job, the prep work for a shot, or shooting the shot itself.
The hardest part is managing time and knowing where to just get what you need or where to indulge a little. 2. Any interest in directing an episode? I thought you had, but as I breifly checked all 14 of my SG dvd cases, i don’t recall seeing your name. If you did, could you let me know so I can rewatch it.I have not directed here although I used to shoot and direct second units. I may give it a shot in the future. 3. Lastly, love when you do the dvd commentaries! Thanks for the great work!”Shirt’ n’ Tie writes: “Question for Mr Menard: Has there ever been a look or image that seemed really good intially (for Atlantis) that you wish you could “take back” and re-do but were stuck with?”
We get to watch and control the image on set with a $30,000.00 monitor and, until color timing at the lab, never get to see it at that quality again. Once it leaves our hands it is very easy for someone at a broadcast studio to change the look to something we didn’t intend, usually too bright.
GrapesofWraith writes: “Question for Jim Menard:
I’d just like to say that I really enjoy listening to your commentaries on the DVD’s, and I have alot more appreciation for lighting in the episodes!
1) What types of lighting styles are different from SG1 and Atlantis? For that matter, how do you decide how a scene should be lit? And 2) are you involved in other projects besides Stargate, (either currently, or during the hiatus, etc)?”
I will always try to achieve as dramatic a look as possible especially when the scene or dialogue call for it. You cannot always do this if there are multiple cameras shooting at once or the time will not permit the setups required. It is much more time consuming to photograph a dark look, and you have to have the director agree to the camera angles required to do it.
We work for eight months a year, 12 hours minimum per day so I like to take the hiatus off. However, I have a tough time turning down work. I did SG1 season 10, ‘A Dog’s Breakfast’, (David Hewlett’s feature film), Atlantis season 4, and the pilot for ‘Sanctuary’ all in a row. That was a bit much.
Jenny Robin writes: “For Jim Menard:
Thank you for your DVD episode commentaries. You have a soothing voice and a calm and patient manner in explaining things that makes me enjoy the experience.
A couple of questions:
With a limited number of sets, especially as regards ships, how do you approach giving each one it’s own distinct look and personality?
We have to mix it up with layered lighting setups, lens choices, and camera angles. The ships are tough to make different but you can argue that they are all of a certain class and why would they look different? ‘Midway’ and ‘Daedalus Variations’ show the diversity of the set.
Also, how have you had to modify your work processes and execution with the advent of HD?
Lastly, don’t worry…I won’t ask you to write a haiku…unless you think you’re up to the challenge.”
Thornyrose writes: “For Mr. Menard. Thank you for participating here. It’s been great hearing from different people behind the scenes on what it takes to put together a show like SGA, and what the experience is like. My questions. First, what changes in techonlogy have made your job easier?
HD has made the job both easier and harder as discussed in other questions.
Which have made it harder? Do you foresee some new technology emerging in the near future that will change how you do your job?Electronic capture will evolve as memory capabilities grow. We currently record to hard drives with a tape backup and will move to pure RAM very soon. With increased recording latitudes I think you will see more raw data capture with more finishing in post. Is there a scene, show, or movie, that you wish you could redo after seeing it aired?I am usually happy when it leaves my hands but it can get to air a lot different.
What is your all time favorite scene/shot/accomplishment during your career?The underwater submarine in ‘Watergate’ was shot completely practical although VFX added a little deep background to the final product. It was a challenge because the bubble front of the sub showed everything we tried to do. That one sticks out in my mind but I have had many good moments.
Exactly how many people do you have operating under you in your department, and how much do you personally supervise them vs. simply passing on what you want and letting them decide how to accomplish the task? Sorry for so many questions, but as a person with no artistic talents its always fascinating watching those who do have such skills at work.”There are seven people in the camera department and about the same in each of the grip and lighting departments depending on the size of the day’s work. We are pretty polished after this long together so I really just have to tell the keys what I would like and it all comes together.
Muddypiddypop writes: “Mr. Menard, Is your interest in photography mainly film or do you also take still photography.”
I have both film and digital SLR cameras and love to capture unusual light. I did a little fashion photography very early in my career.
CazzBlade writes: “Questions for Jim Menard:
1) What filters do you use (if any)? Do you have a favourite filter or do you design the style for the show and use the filters that will achieve it?
The first HD cameras we used on SG1 from Sony were very sharp focus and I used a lot of filtration on close-ups. I almost always used a º BDFX (black diffusion FX) to take a little of the video edge off the image. The Panasonic cameras that we have now have a much softer image and we actually add a little detail. The BDFX filter is a combination of little lenses on the glass which maintain focus while smoothing the image and a light speckle of black mist which glows the light slightly. The computer in the Panasonic cameras tries to eliminate the effect of the little lenses so I now use a BPM (black pro mist) for some close-ups. For more stylized shots I will test various filters with different lighting because you will usually get the best effects from filtering the lighting highlights. The cameras also have built-in color correction filters for daylight or tungsten balance, as well as neutral density filters for bright light situations. We can also control the contrast and color in the whites or blacks individually electronically.
2) When shooting scenes that are supposed to be pitched black, how do you balance the lighting so that the viewer can see whats going on but still give the impression that it is dark for the characters?
This is a great question and one you will have to ask during every dark setup. We have to decide on what level of ‘Movie Dark’, we are willing to go to in order to tell the story. I love to have it absolutely black and bring in a few flashlights which will play off of shiny surfaces and the smoke we add. This generally works great on wide shots but the director will always want to go in tight. I find that one backlight looks nice giving a sillouette and then we can sneak in a small handheld light as the camera moves in. If a set is too dark you can lose a lot of production value and detail.
3) Do you light the scene by eye or by monitor?
I don’t want to get totally reliant on a monitor for lighting so I use a Pentax digital spotmeter with an I.R.E. scale which is exactly calibrated to the scope we use to monitor the signal. This also matches the equipment at the post house. On set you will inevitably look into a light and this will close the iris in your eye, making it tough to judge contrast, so I trust my meter 100%. When I get back to the monitoring station I check to see if I miss anything. My digital technician remains in the dark tent and can better judge the levels when we are exterior.
4) Do you have to be more careful with HD when it comes to highlights, I’ve read that they tend to get blown out, or do you treat it the same way as you would film?
5) Do you set your lighting designs from the director’s shot list or do you leave it until blocking the scene on set? Or a mixture of both? Does it depend on which director you are working with?
The look of an episode is planned in advance and I do as much set prelighting as possible. Each shot is then lit according to the blocking.
Raindrop writes: “Do some types of lighting and framing flatter only cetain actors? I mean, do you ever choose a specific setup for a scene because the actor in it has, for example, an angular face vs. a round face?”
Absolutely, every face has a different complexion and shape. A soft light close to the actor will wrap nicely and smooth the skin. A kicker from low and æ back will pick up a cheek or accentuate the jawline. You get to know each face and know what you can get away with.
Sari writes: “What do you find the most satisfying about your job? When you get to a scene, what do you immediately start looking at? Can you tell us about any really difficult lighting situations that you’ve ended up being really happy with the way they turned out?”
My favorite thing is going to a theatre, having a big bag of popcorn and watching a feature film that I helped create.
During the blocking of a scene I have to decide how to place key lights that will cover all the positions and not be ‘flat’. One of the harder things to do is light a group of actors standing in a small cluster. We do an episode in 7 days or less so you have to make quick decisions and stick to them.
I had some fun on the upcoming episode ‘The Shrine’. I can’t discuss it yet but after it airs we can talk.
Lisa writes: “Questions for Mr. Menard:
It is hard to pick just one. The duplication and shots of ‘Doppelganger’, the style of ‘Tabula Rasa’, and the scope of ‘The Last Man’ all stand out. Easiest one to work one?‘Miller’s Crossing’ because I am back on earth and get to do normal stuff. Worst one to work one?‘Trio’ was a little tricky as we were in a set that tipped 45 degrees and we had a telescopic Techno crane that could put the camera anywhere and leave no place to hide lights. There was very little room above the set and all departments needed to use the one hole available.
Linda Gagne writes: “What do you feel was your most challenging episode to date and why?”
‘The Shrine’ had me doing more tests than I have in a while and everything worked out great in the end. Brad Wright writes big and it is great to be able to play big.
Sean writes: “Hi Jim do you have a set template for lighting indoor and outdoor shots and do you use this template all of the time and then just tweak it with additional lighting to capture what your trying to accomplish?
I have noticed the strong head lighting on interior scenes but do you follow up with softer lighting on the sides for skin tones and then use gels ect. for effects on equipement.”
I wouldn’t say I have a set template but over the years you learn the best ratios and you use those to your advantage. The eyes do a lot of acting so it is important to get a little glint in at least one of them. Backlights give separation from the set and can carry a shot through a dark area on a walk and talk until you find a spot to put in another key. Color is another way to separate the layers of a shot.
Thanks Jim, You are very cool and I don’t just mean the cool lighting effects!”
In a little over a month from now, we’ll be wrapping our sets for yet another season, preparing for next year, and scattering to the four winds for some much-needed R&R. Before that happens, of course, we have some episodes that need finishing. I am anxiously awaiting a director’s cut of Remnants, Marty G. is directing his last day on Brain Storm (at the airport shooting the Learjet sequences), Infection has started shooting (infirmary scenes in Stage 6 to start the day, then a move over to the hive ship set in the FX stage), Carl is casting Identity, and Paul has reached the fourth act of the still untitled Episode #20.
Cordelia’s Honor Discussion:
Thornyrose writes: “My favorite part of Shards was Cordelia’s struggle back home to simply go about her life.”
Answer: I loved the fact that the government wanted to use her to further their ends, publicly recognizing her as a great hero, only to view her with suspicion and distrust when she refuses to play ball. I found it interesting that, in the minds of the Betan authorities, the more tolerant attitude Corelia had adopted toward the Barrayans, and Vorkosigan in particular, could only be ascribed to enemy brainwashing. Clearly, the foreboding legends surrounding Barrayar, and again Vorkosigan in particular, convinced them Cordelia had been compromised because nobody in their right mind would sympathize with the likes of them. This seemed to indicate that Betan antipathy toward the Barrayaran people pre-dated the war. Do ensuing books in the series touch on the development of the hostilities that touched off the seemingly inevitable conflict?
Thornyrose also writes: “I think in Barrayar Cordelia’s true strengths came out. In a hostile, alien envirement, where all the normal rules of conduct seem turned around, she successfully manages to adapt.”
Answer: Interesting point because someone else I spoke to felt that the Cordelia of Barrayar was a different character from the Cordelia of Shards of Honor. While I would agree that she had changed, I saw it as a more of an evolution of her characters as (as you pointed out) she adapts to marriage, motherhood, and cultural differences. Did anyone else bump on the change?
Thornyrose also writes: “She may not be as strong physically as a Barrayarn man, but she proved conclusively she could be as ruthless.”
Answer: Holy Smokes, yes. I was surprised when she gave Bothari the decisive order at book’s end and yet I totally understood her reasoning after the fact. She had a child to protect after all.
Thornyrose also writes: “ My only regret in having re-read these is that I’m now going to have to find the time to go through the rest of the Vorkosigan novels.”
Answer: That’s the great thing about this book club. It’s not only introduced me to terrific writers like Bujold, Baker, and Ford, but ensured that I’ll be busy for months to come as I work my way through their other books.
Thornyrose also writes: “ I noticed Mr. M. says Aral reminds him of a young Robert Davi. Myself, I picture more of a Gregory Peck.”
Answer: Given Aral’s history, I imagined someone physically imposing. And given Cordelia’s ability to see beyond mere surface impressions, I imagined her falling in love with Aral for who he was rather than what he looked like.
Sel writes: “And, yes, I love that while Aral is the man of honour, and Cordelia is careful and respectful of his honour, in return, he also recognises her honour and her worth and is careful and respectful of that.”
Answer: And that’s exactly what I responded to – the fact that their relationship was one between equals built on mutual respect.
Fsmn36 writes: “Obviously I haven’t read all possible, but in general, I love the genre because it does focus typically on the people, character realtionships, and sociopolitical aspects–simply mixing in sci-fi aspects. I find such stories seem more realistic and flow better.”
Answer: When I studied literature back in the day, I always felt that a historical and sociopolitical approach to the text added immeasurably to my understanding of the work. By placing it in a proper context, you come to recognize the human element that went into its creation. In a similar way, the focus on the sociopolitical aspects of Barrayar really grounded the story for me.
Fsmn36 also writes: “There was a brilliant juxtaposition of swords and daggers and plasma beams.”
Answer: Love swords in space!
Antisocialbutterflie writes: “Betans were progressive socially and technologically. When you see it through Cordelia’s eyes it seems almost idyllic. However when we are confronted with the reality of her world she found that it was in fact deluded and manipulative. The converse is Barrayan culture was seen as savage, stuffy, and antiquated, but in reality was more honest and the people were more connected to one another. It is little wonder that Cordelia eventually made a home there.”
Answer: Now that you mention it, that was very interesting. The two sides in the conflict seem fairly black and white at the beginning of Shards of Honor and then, as Cordelia’s story progresses, things become decidedly greyer all around.
Antisocialbutterflie writes: “It may be a commentary on my inner psyche; Bothari was my favorite character. His struggle with himself was both sad and touching. In the end it is apparent that he is never going to be a whole person, but he finds a place anyway.”
Answer: Hmmm. Seems that we’re not the only one with inner psyche issues. Bothari seems to be the consensus favorite.
Iamza writes: “The other great thing about LMB’s books is the humour displayed.”
Anwer: Wholeheartedly agree. That’s the common variable in anything I enjoy, be it a book, movie, or television series.
AV Eddy writes: “ The characters were interesting and realistic, except maybe for the exceptionally crazy Bothari and exceptionally sadistic Vorrutyer.”
Answer: I found Bothari a very interesting character – damaged yet principled. But now that you mention it, yes, the villains were a little too straightforward, both Vourrutyer and Vordarian.
Okay, you have one more day to get your questions in for Lois McMaster Bujold. Start posting!
Well, I’m off to Fuel tonight. The corn soup is back!
Tune in tomorrow when special guest blogger and Stargate Director of Photography Jim Menard drops in and answers your questions.
Today’s pics: Brain Storm!
Today’s videos: A follow-up yawn study and Today’s Weird Food Purchase of the Day (Spicy Peanut Butter!) in which I am joined by my eager young assistant.
Sel writes: “And while I’m at it – for those who like the ‘Space Opera’ genre – I rather enjoyed Elizabeth Moon’s “Serrano Legacy””
Answer: Haven’t read her Serrano Legacy but Moon’s The Speed of Dark ranks as one of my favorite novels.
Whovian writes: “Allie’s horror selections FINALLY came! I was getting nervous since one book is like 700 pages.”
Answer: 700 pages?! What the heck is she reading?!
ChelledeBoer writes: “By the way, what breed is Lulu??”
Answer: Lulu is a French bulldog.
Itjustme writes: “If Atlantis were to run through without the long hiatus that it normal takes, does this mean that the season 5 DVD set might come out sooner as well?”
Terry writes: “I rarely feel like Bujold stops a story cold to have to ‘explain’ her world to the reader.”
Answer: Exactly. The information and revelations are conveyed as part of the ongoing action rather than presented as “edifying interruptions” in the narrative.
DasNdanger writes: “do you have a preferred brand of chocolate, or do you just go with whatever entices you at the moment?”
Answer: Amedei chuao is my favorite although I’ve recently discovered the joys of Pralus Papouasie and Coppeneur Ocumare.