The Gate Beyond
Paul Simpson pays a visit to the set of Stargate SG-1 to find out what's in store for our intrepid heroes, now the show has an eighth year to look forward to...
Richard Dean Anderson is relaxing in a garden chair. He's sitting outside the ordinary house on Vancouver's North Shore that has doubled as Colonel Jack O'Neill's home for the past seven years, watching the crew make final preparations for a scene to be shot later that day. The break in filming has given him some time to reflect on the current state of Stargate, now coming to the end of its seventh year.
"Creatively, there are some loose ends to be tied up," he reckons. "Given a running start for year eight, I think they'll be able to do that in anticipation of whatever is to come for the franchise."
Yes, Stargate is now officially a franchise. Although when SFX visits the set in late August, the final deal hasn't been made with the Sci-Fi Channel, everyone seems pretty sure of two things - there will be an eighth and final year of SG-1, and 2004 will see the launch of Stargate Atlantis in some form or other.
The seventh year has been very different both on and off screen. Michael Shanks has returned as Dr Daniel Jackson and Corin Nemec's character Jonas Quinn has returned to his home planet of Kelowna. Executive producer Brad Wright has taken a year away, concentrating his energies on looking to the future. Richard Dean Anderson has only been available for a foreshortened period of filming on each episode. And yet, some of the best episodes in some time have been aired, with more special events - including the death of one of the main characters in a special two-part story, and the climactic two-parter that starts to set up the world of Stargate Atlantis - set to air both sides of the Atlantic early in 2004.
"We were really up against it," producer and writer Joseph Mallozzi admits freely. "But the fact that we had a number of production considerations to take into account actually made coming up with the stories a lot easier. We were shooting a lot of second unit episodes back to back, which meant that different people might not be available to us. Daniel and Teal'c might not be available for this episode, so we had to have a Carter episode - so we came up with 'Space Race' and 'Avenger 2.0'. On the flip side, that meant Carter was off shooting those episodes, so we had to write her out of 'Enemy Mine' or 'Orpheus'. Rick's unavailability sometimes made it difficult to write the scripts. We would write a first draft, and then be told that unfortunately we'd have to lose a day of Rick, so we'd have to go back and find a way to take him out. That was a challenge."
Knowing where the stories were going for the season, and sowing the seeds of the Lost City plotline through the year, did make the writers' lives easier to a certain degree. They've also taken the opportunity of taking these characters who are so familiar to the audience and making a few changes.
"The character development pretty much went as planned," Paul Mullie adds. "We knew we were going to do a Carter relationship story a long time ago."
Yes, you heard that right.
"I finally get my boyfriend!" Amanda Tapping laughs, taking a few minutes away from preparing for her directorial debut which begins shooting the week after our visit. "David DeLuise plays him - we'd had all the DeLuises on the show except him. It's a dual storyline between Carter and her new boyfriend, and Daniel and Osiris/Sarah. When we watched it, we went, 'Wow, this is so not a Stargate episode!' It's a departure for us - it's sort of a dramatic episode, and I think it's a good one. It's not something we'd do all the time, but it's got enough of the elements of Stargate in it, and it delves deeper into Daniel and Sam's personal lives. After this length of time, we're allowed that! It's also got a cool dynamic between Carter, Daniel and Teal'c, and it was nice that Michael, Christopher and I got to play that dynamic again. There were a couple of scenes in there where we were just laughing our heads off."
Director Martin Wood points out that there is a certain ease in shooting scenes with the four main castmembers. "If you'd talked to me yesterday, I'd have been wound up like a top, but I think we went over the hump last night," he says, as we shelter from the rain in the tiny part of a trailer that's been allotted to the director. "Yesterday we had the Chief of the US Air Force here - General John Jumper. Plus the actors William Devane, James McDaniel, Ronnie Cox all in the same room. I had an 'undoable' day. I had to pull four or five rabbits out of the hat to get the day finished. But that was yesterday - today SG-1 are sitting in O'Neill's house, having a party and drinking beer. That's easy!"
Michael Shanks enjoys the scenes which can sometimes look like "gratuitous character development". I noticed when I was writing the episode 'Resurrection' that the first thing that goes by the wayside is character development."
It's a tough job, penning an episode of a television show. "You have to be at a certain point by the end of Act One, and the next point by the end of Act Two," he explains. "Because it's all about solving a problem or fighting an enemy, the last thing in the world you can have is two characters just talking. The scene we're doing today is just about these characters bonding. Jack's in trouble, but basically it's about their friendship and how close they are - then General Hammond comes in and explains certain things. But basically it's just about seeing them in their own environment, outside of carrying guns and walking through the forest on whatever planet. If it doesn't move our action plot forward, it gets cut for timing reasons. At the end of the day, if the episode overruns, a scene like this is likely to go by the wayside; but in a way, it's the last thing in the world you want to do, because these are the moments where you remind the audience why we should care about these characters later on."
One episode that started as a time and money-saver has turned into a massive event. Although it was always intended to air towards the end of the season, work began on "Heroes" soon after the SG-1 crew returned for the seventh year at the start of February. In this episode, Stargate Command is ordered to co-operate with a documentary film unit, who find that their attempts to interview the SG-1 team are hampered by their involvement in a situation on an alien world. The episode was shot by the second unit, using actors who weren't shooting on main unit at any particular time.
"Once the footage was shot, it came in between 20 and 25 minutes too long, which was a record, I think," Paul Mullie explains.
Various options were considered, including a 90-minute special, until executive producer Robert C Cooper decided to add another layer into the story and expand it into a full two-parter. "In the original script," Mullie continues, "we never see what happens on the planet. We know that something horrible has happened there, but we never got to go. The story was told purely from the point of view of the film crew. We see people going to the Gate Room, but the crew don't get to go in it. So Robert told the story of what happened on the planet. The four days of main unit that we did were on what became the second part of the episode, so the second part wound up being more expensive than the first. But the episode was still money-saving, because it was only four days of main unit to get a two-parter. They threw a lot of money to build up the story, and some of the sequences where O'Neill gets shot is like something out of Apocalypse Now!"
The extra material for "Heroes" also saw the creation of Robert Picardo's character, Richard Woolsey, who made a rapid return to the series when another creative production problem arose. "Brad and Rob called us into their office, and told us that they'd just had the big visual effects meeting for the 'Lost City' two-parter, and they were way over budget," Mallozzi explains. "We had to write a clip show. So we decided that rather than do a story that serviced the clips, we'd write a story and take whatever clips we needed to service that story. We wrote 'Inauguration', and because we had the great cast for the final two-parter, we arranged for them to have a three-episode deal, and had William Devane, James McDaniel and Ronnie Cox in our clip show! Robert Picardo's character had appeared in 'Heroes' trying to find out if there had been some mismanagement, and at the time he had said that this was part of an ongoing investigation - so we used that whole idea as the basis for the episode."
So what avenues can Stargate SG-1 explore in its final year? "The only thing we know for sure is that season eight will happen," Joe Mallozzi says.
"We don't really know yet where we're going with a lot of the 'Lost City' stuff," Paul Mullie adds. "Ultimately, 'Lost City' was to get us to another galaxy where we can start new adventures in the spin-off. That might be dealt with next year, but I think season eight will essentially be more SG-1 adventures with a new villain. We have to come up with a new villain because we've wrapped up a lot of the plotlines this year."
"There are some relationship aspects that haven't been examined fully or completely, or resolved in any way, shape or form," Richard Dean Anderson says. "I guess the titillating aspect of the ongoing tap-dance that O'Neill and Carter have been playing with really does need to be addressed."
Although Michael Shanks says he normally prefers to leave questions about future plotlines to the writers, he does point out that, "this year, what didn't happen was any delving into what exactly Daniel went through when he ascended. What were his experiences? We never chose for him, all of a sudden, to have a revelation at just the right time in an episode where it didn't have a place. That was good, because I think that can become very tedious. What I would love to see is a major storyline devoted to him having some sort of epiphany - a dream, or a revelation that takes him back to that place, where he can recount what took place. We could just do an episode that flashed back to that moment when he stepped through the Gate in 'Meridian', and follow him through his ascension. Possibly early next year is a good time to introduce just a taste of it. As an actor and a fan of the show, I am curious. We're hearing all about this Ancient crap - let's see something!"
Given that the production schedule looks as if it'll be the same for the eighth year as the seventh, the cast and crew can look forward to another tiring time. "It's been very difficult on everybody," Amanda Tapping says bluntly. "Sometimes you're running from one unit to another, from one episode to another. You get schizophrenic - who am I fighting today? Nine months of that is very tiring. But this crew has pulled out all the stops. The production values are the same. Every department has been affected, but I think this season looks fantastic!"
SFX, issue 114
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