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Stargate SG-1 Crew Interviews: Martin Wood

Martin Wood Q & A with Solutions, Part Two
Martin Wood, Director, July 2003

18 Do directors find it restrictive, if you are hired mid series as a director, to follow style and conventions developed by the pilot director / producer of a now established format?

Not every series follows the Stargate, X-Files formula of trying out new Directors for the first season or two and then settling in with the ones you like for the long haul. The advantages to doing it this way are obvious if you use an ensemble cast and a complicated story arc- the Directors get familiar with the various acting styles, cast quirks, and aren’t always asking “Why does this happen” , or “What happens if you run through the puddle of an incoming wormhole…?”

Often the way it’s done is to hire different Directors throughout the season and manhandle them into the groove. I’ve parachuted into lots of shows in the course of their run and the first thing I’ll do is ask for copies of the pilot and 7 or 8 of the “favourite” episodes. That way you at least have an understanding of the dynamics of the cast (often the breadth and depth of their talent as well) and you sort of know the story of how we got to where we are during your episode- it tends to often give you a look at what TPTB (oh yes every show has them) “like”- Directing style, camera movement, edit pace etc. Is it restrictive? Yes but exciting if you embrace the fact that you’re the hired gun for the week and it will all be over in fourteen days come hell or high water.

19 (a) How do you feel about advert breaks affecting the style and flow of episodic television?

They are a necessary evil in the world in which we choose to exercise our art. I have a certain zen about commercial breaks- often I will use them to slightly re-block a scene, change the show’s pace or just “restart”. When Stargate started out on Showtime we had to concentrate on shooting scenes that would split at the act breaks for syndication. When we went to Sci-fi there was a brief interlude of “Hey let’s use these commercial breaks to toss around the story a bit (use them for time transitions or pace stoppers)- then we remembered the DVD’s ….
(b) Will product placement make its way into TV drama as much as it has infiltrated feature films?
It is soooo already there. Every “actual”product someone drinks, eats, blows their nose in is a cleared product. Take a look at what Felger is offering Carter to drink when she comes over to his apartment in “Avenger 2.0”- it’s a Mountain Dew (and there are cans of it all over his living room) or look at the type of beer SG-1 is drinking when they are at O’Neill’s house in “Lost City”- it’s Guiness and each time one of those labels appears on the screen it’s product placement- I don’t think it’s as blatant and as exploited as it is in features but it’s there. How many of you can find the box of “Jaffa Cakes” in Teal’c’s room in “Changeling” (they are there…they are buried and unrecognizable but they are there and we had to get them cleared).

20 What's your favourite TV show other than Stargate, past or present? What type of show (other than Stargate) would you like to direct? A movie?

That’s a tough question for me- Favourite TV show depends on how much time I actually have to watch TV- Right now I record “24” every week but never get to watch it (the same with “West Wing”), I wish I owned every Simpsons, I used to love “Black Adder” and saw just about every “Next Generation”, never missed any of Serling’s “Twilight Zone”, or “Monty Python” or “World at War”. Very eclectic tastes- lots of the time I will watch a favourite Director or “show style” for homework.

What type would I like to direct other than Stargate… how about Atlantis?

Actually I really like shows that are two people shows- shows like “Abyss” or “Solitudes”, shows where you aren’t spending your days shooting to get the day done- ones where you are shooting actors acting their hearts out and scripts that have to be clever because there aren’t any explosions to distract you.

As far as movies go- I have one poised and ready for me to stop doing Stargate long enough get it done. It’s huuuggge and very exciting but…Stargate never seems to end.

21 If you had the opportunity to specify running time for a weekly serial, what would be your preferred duration?

70 minutes- I spent some time thinking about this one. 44 minutes and 19 seconds (Standard Stargate issue) is too short to actually arc an A and B story, offer up any kind of character development, and to resolve a crisis. 90 minutes means you are putting in too much exposition and have started to bore the audience. I like a show that picks you up, thrashes you about a bit and then puts you back down at the end with a kind of tired satisfied feeling- not exhausted and not too hungry for more.

22 How long does it take to prepare an episode, and what sort of things are involved?

A regular one hour episode takes @ 14 days to prep and shoot- 7 days prep, 7days shoot- during prep I get the script, read it, and start to break it down into the actual shots that you get to see. During Shooting I tear out my hair and throw most of the cool shots on the floor in order to finish my days on time.

That’s the short answer.

The long answer is- (what follows is a general sampling of the schedule for prep)-

Two days before prep- the script in its production form arrives (because I produce and creative consult I usually get to see some of the earlier drafts). Whilst directing whatever episode I’m on I try to sneak peeks at the new script. Regardless of what I’ve read during the day I go home at night and read the script cover to cover- I make brief notes about what I like, love, need to change, can’t stand, and problems with continuity or mythology. If the muse is burning the midnight oil I will often make notes to myself regarding the pictures that pop into my head while I read.

One day before prep- Michael Greenburg and I will go over his notes- I add mine to his or go in and sit down with the writers. By this time I will have had time with the Production Designer and the Art Department to go over the sets that are being built- on the day before prep starts I usually try to sit down again with them and see to what stage construction has progressed.

Day 1 of Prep- meetings ALL DAY LONG- we start with a concept meeting where the department heads all meet with the producers and me to try to get everyone on the same page in terms of the show concept- I generally talk all the way through this one- relaying my notes and generally making a nuisance of myself as only Directors can. After that meeting we will have either a locations scout or a set of departmental meetings- Costumes, props, stunts and spfx, Vis fx, etc. This day is interminable. No time to block the scenes out.

Day 2 of Prep- another location scout to see one of the sites we will be shooting and probably a casting session that will last about 3 hours. As I sit down to block some scenes out I have someone at my door EVERY 2.5 minutes. Everyone needs answers to individual questions (how many Jaffa are there going to be in this scene? How many of them are carrying Zats and how many of them are firing staff weapons). End of day 2- No time to block the scenes out.

Day 3 of Prep- Extras casting meeting (for the background performers), a visual FX meeting to sit down and pare down the VFX budget- I have never done a show where the VFX budget was “just fine, thank you very much”. Usually it takes a couple of hours. I get down to the studios to walk around with the Director of Photography Jim Mennard and my 1st Assistant Director Alex Pappas- this meeting usually scares the hell out of them both- I start to talk about what I want to do when we start shooting- Jim always says (at least once a day), “Easy there Star, how much time do you think we have?” And Alex walks around holding his head. Sadly -No time to block the scenes out.

Day 4 of Prep- All the meetings we haven’t had yet- unfortunately leaving, yet again- No time to block the scenes out.

Day 5 of Prep- Storyboarding with James Tichenor (I have no idea what I am going to do when he is gone…Michel is fun and very talented but James has been there since the beginning with me…). Storyboarding with me is…uh…eventfilled. I tend to caper around the room and act out the scene (see the documentary season opener that Sci-Fi produced for season 7- you’ll get the picture). Storyboarding takes at least one full day often two- soooooo No time to block the scenes out.

Day 6 of Prep- We take all the department heads out to the locations and walk all the sets to see what I am going to shoot in each one – where they can put equipment, where they can put trucks, where they can find a shady place to lay down-etc. When we get back to the studio we go directly into a final Production meeting where the great questions of the universe are asked and hopefully answered. This will take us to the end of the day and once again- No time to block the scenes out.

Day 7 of Prep- scene shot blocking- furiously

Actually for every show I have done I have put out a shot list (always on the first day of shooting)- every scene is broken down into individual shots and sequences- THEY ARE GENERALLY VERY IRREVERENT and will probably never make it out into the general public. Here is an example from the final two part episode- LOST CITY

  1. STEDICAM- Start wide on O’Neill’s Living Room and push forward as he comes down the hall, find Carter in the doorway- YIKES! LOOK AT WHAT SHE’S WEARING! THAT CAN’T BE REGULATION!!! AAND JUST LOOK AT …uh… Carter comes in and we draw her back down into the Living room, hold over Carter to O’Neill for his re-entrance, pan over and find Daniel coming in, and Teal’C right behind him- hold two shot as they OGLE Carter
  2. STEDICAM- tighter single of Carter for the “Love” bit
  3. STEDICAM- Reverse over Carter to O’Neill, transfer off of him when Carter gets her beer, pull back for a two shot when Daniel and Teal’C come in
Scene 34- OMITTED (it was too good for this story)

  1. VFX- LOCKOFF- Anubis starts at camera and walks away from the shot with his two “super” buddies, in the BG we see the nighttime MATTE Painting, hold for the end of the shot
  2. VFX- Reverse of Anubis coming up the stairs with the troop transport in the BG
  3. Tight side view of Anubis turning all red and getting REALLY REALLY pissed at the...
  4. Reverse- MW of the Jaffa horde- watch as they “get it” from the Super Soldiers
  5. B-CAMERA- tight of the Jaffa commander feeling kind of queasy

23 If you weren't a director, what would you be doing with your life?


24 If you could pick any job to do on Stargate, (other than directing) what would it be and why?

I’d be the camera operator, I was tempted to say editing but I don’t have the patience for the directors.

25 You've directed some incredibly powerful and dramatic episodes over the years, as well as some lighthearted ones. Do you have a preference for which you prefer to do? Does the "ambience" of an episode bleed into the filming, or is everyone generally relaxed, no matter what's being filmed?

Both are very cool and it really depends on what day you are talking to me- If I’ve just finished a tough dramatic action episode then I’m more likely to choose a lighthearted one, and vice versa. The good thing about Stargate and the Stargate crew is that they are all very sensitive to what kind of show we are shooting and they change to suit. We laugh all the time – we just choose our moments more carefully in the dramatic shows.

26 Have you ever been frustrated by changes an editor has made to your "director's cut"?

All the time but that’s the process- Robert Cooper and Brad Wright are both much better in the edit suite than I am. Joe and Paul are too. And remember the cut that I turn in is almost always several minutes long- their job is to trim it down to a specific time- I leave in all the cool shots and all the meaningful glances, in the world of television this will slow the pace down and make the show really long. Usually the Producer’s cut is trimming to time and tightening up. The editors are really really good and will generally fight the good fight for me if they know I feel strongly. If I watch the producer’s cut and disagree with something then I will go to them and plead my case- more often than not if I feel very strongly about something they will change it back – unless it’s stupid.

27 What do you want to do when (if?) Stargate SG-1 finishes?

Rest for a very long time. Play with my little girl more, walk her to school, spend some time at home not blocking scenes, and move on to the next epic series. Oh yeah and do a couple of Stargate movies.

28 What's the most important lesson you've learned as a director?

Patience and how difficult the making of an hour of GOOD television really is.

29 Do you find it hard to relax and watch films and TV shows, or do you find yourself critically assessing camera angles, plot points and the impact of scenes?

Ask my girls, they’ll tell you that they have had to learn to decipher the noises I make while I’m watching a show or a movie. If the movie is so-so I am usually taken out of it by bad acting, bad directing, or bad camera work. If it’s really good then I find that I have to watch it again with the sound down to concentrate on the production. Really good directing, really good acting, exceptional camera work, sound editing, all those things generally never get past me and it’s the first thing that I will talk about when I get out of a movie- I don’t usually separate a good movie from good production it’s all part of the same experience for me.

30 Thank you, Mr. Wood, for all the lovely episodes you have been a part of directing over the years. My question -- What episodes will you be directing this coming season and how does it feel to have the core cast back together again?

31 I would just like to know what are some of your favourite moments or developments of season 7 so far? (feel free to spoil us!)
Thank you to the forum staff and Solutions for bringing such wonderful opportunities to the fans. I've missed so much coming so late to this party. :-)

It’s good to have them all back together- I missed Michael’s acting, and I missed Michael. Things were really good this year. It wasn’t my favourite year for the episodes that I did- I don’t think that I did my best work this year. Although having said that I really really enjoyed several of them. Fallen/Homecoming were a lot of fun, Revisions was a good change and fun to do, Avenger 2.0 was a scream, Fallout…well- not my favourite, and the two Lost City episodes- I really enjoyed.

(c) 2003, Stargate SG-1 Solutions. All rights reserved. You are welcome to link to this page. You may not reproduce this interview in full or in part.
(c) 2003, Leah Rosenthal Cartoons. All rights reserved. Not to be used on other people's websites.

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