A blow by blow
breakdown of the production process from concept to finished episode
Season 9 spoilers are concealed so even spoilerphobes can
the words of Hannibal Smith: “I love it when a plan comes together”. If
prep week is the equivalent to the A-Team getting in gear, staking out
their target, and knocking out B.A. Baracus so that they can jet him to
some exotic locale like, say, another part of Los Angeles - then
production week is the fruition of all that hard work when the pieces
fall into place and we are finally able to shoot that top-notch episode
(or, barring that, the one where the team builds a cabbage launcher in a
barn. Come on, A-Team fans. You know what I’m talking about).
Production on both series is staggered so that when one episode is
prepping, another is shooting. No sooner does one go to camera than
another one pops up, ready to be broken down and dissected by the
various department heads - while another script waits in the wings,
undergoing a final rewrite - while another couple are being read and
criticized - while other first drafts are being scripted - while other
outlines are being written - while other ideas are being formulated.
Well, you get the idea. It never really ends. Even when production does
end, it doesn’t really end because when the show wraps and everyone else
goes home, we’re still in editing or watching mixes or approving visual
effects or (hopefully) working on stories for next season. And there’s
nothing a writer likes more than when people ask him what he did during
hiatus. “Absolutely nothing - then I swung by the Script Store on my way
in today and picked up episodes 13 and 14 of season 9.”
My point is, there really is no rest for the weary. But the closest
we do come to rest are those lunch breaks in the writers’ room, eating
chicken schnitzel and dark chocolate peanut butter tuxedo bars, watching
dailies. Finally, after all that work, the words come alive onscreen. Or
don’t. But usually do. Dailies, for those who don’t know, are the
assembled scenes from the previous day’s shooting. All of the brilliant
takes, flubbed lines, on-set gags, and action action action that
typifies your average day on the set of Stargate. ||SPOILERS: DRAG MOUSE OVER TO HIGHLIGHT AND READ: [[Whether
its Michael Shanks delivering a soliloquy on the Ancients that would
make a Shakespearian actor’s head explode, or David Hewletthanging
upside down from a tree until he is nauseous,
] END SPOILERS||
the script has finally come alive. One shot and
out-of-sequence scene at a time.
Of course, it never
plays out quite how you imagined it in your head. Sometimes better.
Sometimes not so better. I personally love most of the improvs
||SPOILERS: DRAG MOUSE OVER TO HIGHLIGHT AND READ: [[(ie.
Babylon: “Loved the pie crust adlib”)
but am not a big fan of some of the impromptu line changes
||SPOILERS: DRAG MOUSE OVER TO HIGHLIGHT AND READ: [[(ie.
Babylon: “What happened to my Spongebob line?!”).]]
The performances from our main cast are uniformly solid. Not a
weak link in the bunch. The guest stars can range from excellent to
“what have we done?!” - but, fortunately, you’ll be amazed by what can
be accomplished with a little creative editing (but more on that in our
Every lunch, from the day we start production until the day it ends,
we sit in that room and watch the episodes come alive, piece by piece.
Our regular directors are fantastic - Martin, Peter, Andy, and Wil -
incredibly talented individuals who put together some amazing visual
sequences, get the most out of each performer, every location, and still
manage to make their days. Occasionally, we will use other directors.
Like guest stars, the guest directors range from fantastic to “what were
they thinking” (again, editing can be a magical cure-all for even the
most seemingly-hopeless scenes - and, again, more on that in the next
Occasionally, we’ll head down to set - not so much to check up on how
things are progressing as to take a break from sitting behind a laptop
all day. After 8 seasons, the show practically runs itself. We have the
utmost of confidence in our directors who are seasoned enough to make
the necessary executive decisions on set - or, when necessary, call up
for a script change, some clarification on a character’s
dialogue/motivation, or to tip us off on what’s on the lunch truck. As
much as I enjoy going down to set, 90% of the time there’s really not
much to see.
Whenever I bring guests to the studio, I offer them the choice of
visiting when we’re shooting or visiting when we’re not shooting. The
latter allows them free reign over the sets. But they invariably choose
the former. So I’ll walk them over and we may catch the final couple of
seconds of the scene that’s about to wrap, then stand around endlessly
while they set-up the next shot. Maybe one of the actors will stroll by
on their way back to their trailer and stop to say hi. Amanda is always
great in this respect, introducing herself and taking a few seconds to
find out a little about the guest. Chris, ever laid back and good
humoured, will chat endlessly about poker or sports until its time for
him to get back to work. Michael is ever-focused, running lines,
preparing for the next scene.
Truth be told, being on set is far from the exciting experience many
expect it to be. And, at times, it can be downright unpleasant when
we’re shooting on location and have to deal with the elements. This is
Vancouver, after all, and, if you hadn’t heard, it can get a might rainy
at times. Beautiful in the Summer. Very wet most other times. But the
crew perseveres, shooting under tarps when possible or simply resigning
themselves to the inclement conditions - delivering their lines, cold,
damp, and miserable. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Ah, show
We shoot an episode in seven days (sometimes less) before moving onto
the next one, which is already prepped and ready to shoot. And while the
producers sit in the writers’ room watching a new set of dailies,
applauding/bemoaning the changes that are being made to the script on
the day, patting themselves on the back/cursing themselves for their
casting decisions, enjoying/regretting that last tuxedo bar - the
director is in editing, working on his Director’s Cut.
But more on that in our upcoming instalment.
Joseph Mallozzi is a Writer
and Executive Producer for Stargate SG-1
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