Executive Producer Jay Firestone sits on my garish orange office couch in this undated photograph (Okay, it was this morning).
As we head into prep on the first season of Dark Matter, I thought it might be nice to introduce you to some of the people who work behind the scenes to bring you (what will no doubt become) your new favorite new scifi series. Now people have often asked me: “Joe, what does a producer do?”. My answer: “It depends.” Nothing and everything, and a whole lot in between. At the worst of times, a “producer” is someone who receives a vanity credit by virtue of being at the right at place at the right time (ie. He lent someone a pen that allowed them to sign the contract that closed the deal). At the best of times, it’s someone who plays a crucial role in bringing the production to life, either by assembling the elusive pieces of the financial puzzle or coordinating the technical aspects of a production or helping to shape the creative. In Jay’s case, it’s all three. The only reason we’re moving forward on Dark Matter is because he was able to hustle his ass off and close the deals that got us the money we needed to make the show. We’re moving smoothly into prep because of the infrastructure he’s already put in place (talented personnel and valuable resources), the result of the many years of television he’s produced here in Toronto – most recently the series Lost Girl whose stages we’ll be moving into in the coming weeks. And, finally, Jay is involved in the creative, from scripts through prep to editing. Now, normally, this would be a cause for concern for me. While I’m not precious with my ideas and am open to ideas that will make a script better, experience has taught me that, a lot of the time, notes can actually make a script worse.
Actual notes/suggestions/requests we received on Stargate:
“Can we do a final shot where he wiggles his ears so that we know he’s an alien?” (On the character of Martin Lloyd in Stargate: SG-1‘s Point of No Return).
“Don’t know if he’s right for the show.” (On making the character of Dr. Rodney McKay a member of the Atlantis expedition, Stargate: Atlantis).
“I’d love for them to have a mascot. Maybe a golden retriever!” (On Stargate: Atlantis‘s second season).
I’m a “worst case” scenario type of guy, so when someone tells me they have notes on my script, my response is akin to cresting the top of a roller coaster and starting the plummeting descent. In a nutshell: “Nononono! Aaaaaaah, SHIIIIIIIIIIIT!”. Sure, it might be considered an overreaction. Much of the time, the notes aren’t THAT bad. But they can be. I always go in, prepared for the worst, and spend much of these sessions thinking “I can’t address these notes. I’m dooooomed!” This in contrast to my writing partner, Paul, who is super positive and accommodating during notes sessions (“You want to make his love interest a platypus. Sure, we can do that.”) only to discover, when he sits down to incorporate the changes, that he’s dooooooomed!
Anyway, we started working with Jay about a year and a half ago when he hired us to develop one of his ideas for television. We wrote a pilot script and, when we sat down with him for that first note session, I was, of course, expecting the worst. And ended up shocked. For a number of reasons. First of all, his approach was collaborative rather than confrontational. Secondly, he was perfectly reasonable, happy to discuss his notes and, on occasion, willing to reconsider. Thirdly, and most importantly, his notes were actually good. Smart and well thought-out. Paul and I may have disagreed with some, but there was never a moment when I wondered: “What was this guy smoking?!”. And, believe it or not, that happens a lot more than you’d think.
Anyway, Jay dropped by my office today to offer his thoughts on the first six scripts. He had a couple of suggestions regarding the character voices (We agreed that we would make adjustments once we had our cast and the first 12 scripts) and a couple of bumps (that, after some thought, I realized could be addressed easily enough). All good.
Speaking of casting, I just got off the phone with Paul who is finally making his way through all the Toronto auditions. About two hours in, he’s sounding a little punch drunk. I’ll check in with him in an hour.
Meanwhile, our casting director, Lisa Parasyn, has her work cut out for her this week as she heads west to take in some more auditions. Her Vancouver schedule has her starting at 9:00 a.m. and, with five minutes allotted to each audition, and an hour off for lunch, she’ll be done a little after 4:00 p.m. Her second Vancouver session is, thankfully, only half as long. And then she’s off to L.A. to do it all over again.
Anyway, I’m hoping we’ll have our decisions for round #2 by early next week. This weekend, I’ll choose another set of sides (scenes they’ll use in their auditions) for each of the seven characters. And, hopefully by the week after, we’ll be down to our round #3 finalists. It’s sort of like American Idol, but with less singing and more Androids.
After another D.O.P. interview, I moved on to the most important part of my day – picking out some dog carpets for the new place:
It’s like carpet heaven!
With Lost Girl wrapped, their inventory awaits a discerning purveyor of fine carpets – such as myself. With the help of Exec Producer’s Assistant Alison Hepburn (who, in addition to picking out carpets, making sure I don’t get lost, and chewing my food like a mother bird for me because I’m now a busy Show Runner and don’t have time to do it myself), I picked up a wonderful selection that will ensure the hardwood floors remain scratch-free, and Jelly upright and mobile.
It was an awesome day. Until Jay informed me that, because of snafu in my writer’s contract, I would actually be getting paid in carpets.
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