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Natalie Cooper, multitasking

Anyone will tell you that the toughest thing about starting a new productions isn’t the casting or the scriptwriting or ensuring that it all falls within the allotted budget.  No, the toughest thing about starting a new production is remembering everyone’s name.  It’s a problem that plagued me my many years on Stargate.  My writing partner and I, Paul, joined the show in its fourth season.  In the first two weeks we were there, we were introduced to roughly, oh, one hundred people – and then spent the greater part of the season sequestered in our respective offices, cranking out scripts.  By the time we came up for air and were finally able to visit set – about three years later – we couldn’t remember anyone’s name.  And, because so much time had passed, it would have been way too awkward to ask – so we improvised”  “Hey, you guy.  What’s up?”  or “How was your weekend, TooMuchLipstick?” or “Yo, Beardo, what did you do on your hiatus?”

Fortunately, I’m getting in on the ground floor with Dark Matter and have been introduced to the production personnel in small doses, partly because we’re still a week away from actual prep and much of the crew hasn’t started yet, but mostly because, I suspect, they’re afraid of overwhelming me and scaring me off.  Despite my general inability to remember names (Twelve years after moving into my neighborhood, I avoided running into the family next door for fear they would test me), I’ve been doing pretty good so far.  Sure, I don’t remember everyone’s names but I do remember the names of the more colorful characters.

Take Natalie Cooper for one.  She wears two hats [note the photo above], fulfilling the functions of both Development and Social Media Coordinator.  In addition her aforementioned duties, she is also the resident foodie and a font of invaluable restaurant and ice cream sandwich shop information.  In addition, she’s an avid comic book reader, although she has thus far resisted my attempts to engage her on the topic.  Apparently, the task of reading (and passing judgement on) the Dark Matter graphic novel fell to her a couple of years ago.  She was the gatekeeper, Prodigy Pictures‘ own Cerberus, charged with the task of ensuring only the awesomest of properties gain admission to its hallowed halls.  Abandon all hype, ye who enter here.  If it wasn’t for her giving the comic book the thumbs up, I’d probably now be volunteering for clinical trials of the new Arby’s menu items.

Anyway, in addition to development, social media, and food and comic punditry, she is also making a foray into the acting realm as evidenced by this tremendous audition that found its way into my inbox the other day.  Reading for the part of Seven (a character who doesn’t actually exist in the show, but this audition may change my mind): Natalie Cooper…

I’m afraid that if I don’t snap her up now, I may lose her to Downton Abbey.

Hey, remember yesterday when I was talking about how great Executive Producer’s Assistants are proactive (a term rarely used outside the suites of network executives)?  Well, Alison (aka The Driver, aka The Fixer, aka Audrey) informed me this morning that she had tracked down a stroller for my elderly pug Jelly.  And not only did she locate one at the nearest Pet Smart, but she reserved it, accompanied me to pick it up so that I wouldn’t meander off, then assembled it for me back at the office (for fear I might hurt myself).  And voila -

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Pretty terrific.  I informed Alison that she just bought herself another week!

Starting tomorrow(wish), what say we get into the casting process.  I’ll offer you all a peek at the breakdowns that went out for our seven-member crew and update you all on the casting process.

Sounds fun, no?

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Alison Hepburn - aka "The Driver", aka "The Fixer", aka "Audrey"

Alison Hepburn – aka “The Driver”, aka “The Fixer”, aka “Audrey”

Now when most people hear we have an Executive Producers’ Assistant on a production, they’ll invariably ask: “What the hell do you need an assistant for?”. Well, the obvious answer is: “Everything.”   Once we roll into prep, production, and post, Executive Producers like me are far too busy to deal with certain aspects of life others take for granted.   Things like grabbing lunch, sending out emails, and combing my hair become tasks that no longer find room on my suddenly busy schedule.  Here a good EPA can be counted upon to pick up the slack.  But there’s a difference between a good assistant and a great assistant.  A good assistant solves problems.  A great assistant anticipates and addresses issues BEFORE they can become problems.  A great assistant excels in other areas as well, demonstrating a unique skill set that might go unnoticed – until the situation demands it.  Alison, for instance, in addition to her various inter-office talents, is blessed with an uncanny sense of direction, terrific sunglasses, and has trained as a security professional.  For the duration of this production, she will be my bodyguard, accompanying me to and from set and to various high-profile functions. You may not notice her because she’ll blend into the shadows (she spent a summer in Kyoto interning as a ninja) but, should you attempt any sudden moves in my direction, she WILL TAKE YOU DOWN!

Fortunately today, I didn’t need her to kick anyone’s ass for me.  Instead, I required her driving skills, uncanny sense of direction, and knowledge of the local retailers in order to secure a new power cord for my laptop.  We took a ride to Staples where the weary saleswoman walked us over to the appropriate section and offered up a wholly inappropriate device.  Of course, I didn’t know it was inappropriate.  But you know who did?  That’s right.  Alison!  Despite the saleswoman’s insistence that it WAS the correct power cord, Alison would not be deterred, quietly insisting the saleswoman was mistaken.  And, sure enough, she was!  IF I’d bought the recommend power cord, my laptop would have died and I would have had to make a return visit.  But, fortunately, Alison was with me.  She anticipated and addressed the issue before it became a problem.  Amazing.

In addition, she’s also a budding you writer.  I intend to take her under my wing and mentor her to the point where, eventually, she will be able to step in and assume all of my writing duties on the show, leaving me even more time for my intensive weekly fantasy football research.

Upon our return to the office, Alison coordinated lunch as well (seeing as I’d complicated matters by insisting we order barbecue), then assumed navigation duties as I drove us to Barque (http://barque.ca/main-menu/) to pick up our order.

Eating lunch together like a proper family.

Eating lunch together like a proper family.

Lunch was my treat today as a thank you to the office gang (and to make them all hugely indebted to me) – but it almost wasn’t as the machine wouldn’t accept my credit card.  Usually, in situations like these, an assistant is relied upon to create a diversion while a producer makes good his escape with the take-out order – but, on this occasion, I had enough cash to cover it it so that proved unnecessary.

We all sat down together in the conference room and enjoyed some great brisket, ribs, wings, chicken.  And spinach salads because we belied they were good for us.

I spent the entire afternoon searching my laptop for my rewrite of the pilot.  The ENTIRE afternoon!  And I still couldn’t find it.  In retrospect, I could have saved time by just rewriting the script again.

More auditions headed our way tonight!

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Production on Dark Matter will be uniquely challenging for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that my long-time writing and producing partner, Paul, won’t be making the move to Toronto to show run the series with me.  Instead, he’ll come down for a week of meetings in November, return for prep and shooting of the opening two-parter, then come back to prep and produce episodes #5, #10 and #11.  Otherwise, I’ll be flying solo – insofar as that’s possible considering I have an entire crew of talented individuals to backstop me. It’ll certainly be a different working model for me as I’ll no longer have Paul to split duties with.  In the past, when I was in prep, he was on set – and vice versa.  Now, if I’m on prep making sure the Android hits the “stealth parameters” line in episode 2, who’ll be signing off on the belt buckle being designed for episode 3?  And if I’m editing episode 8, who’ll be tracking sweat beads in episode 7?

At first, I thought I would need to hire someone – someone experienced, smart, and pleasant to work with who I could depend on to be on top of things.  And then, as things moved further along on putting the pieces of this show together, I realized that “someone” was already on the production.

Vanessa enjoys a power lunch.

Vanessa enjoys a power lunch.

Vanessa Piazza worked on two previous Prodigy Pictures productions (Lost Girl and XIII) as a producer involved in all aspects of prep, production, and post.  Hell, she was also heavily involved in PRE-prep for Dark Matter, hustling to help close the deals that finally made our show a reality.  In the few short months I’ve worked with her, she has been nothing short of awesome – and I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to help oversee set, work on cuts, and, of course, sign off on that belt buckle being designed for episode 3.

First day of Vancouver auditions will be uploaded tomorrow.  Looking forward to seeing some familiar faces.

I’m calling it a night as my power cord has died and I’m dwindling past 32% battery life.  Added to tomorrow’s to-do list between 1) Identify a new set of sides for the second round of auditions and, 2) Have barbecue for lunch, is 3) Get new power cord.

Hey, here’s something interesting.  #10 on the list of Unsolved Mysteries: 15 TV Cliffhangers: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/gallery/unsolved-mysteries-15-tv-cliffhangers/editorial-10259823/

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Executive Producer Jay Firestone sits on my garish orange office couch in this undated photograph (Okay, it was this morning).

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!

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.

Jackpot!

Jackpot!

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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Okay.  I may not love where I’m presently living and I may hate the weather and the Toronto traffic but, boy, am I looking forward to production on Dark Matter‘s first season.  Yes, of course I’m thrilled that I’m about to start prep on my very own show, but experience has taught me that, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the people you work with.  And I’ve got a very good feeling about the people I’ll be working with in the months ahead.  They’re relaxed, friendly, supportive, upbeat, and incredibly talented.  It’s a great vibe and highly reminiscent of the positive tone I experienced on Stargate.  Can’t wait to introduce you to the gang in the coming weeks.

This morning, I settled into my new office, had my green smoothie, and talked t.v. and books with Alison and Caitlin (who promised to recommend me some Scandinavian reads) before getting on the phone with our Casting Director, Lisa Parasyn, who has done a phenomenal job of bringing in an incredible array of acting talent for these auditions.  To be honest, with seven varied roles to cast, I was a little nervous going in but about a week into the process, I’m positively excited by some of the talent.  We have 2-3 solid candidates for each part – and still have more people to see!  With Vancouver and L.A. sessions upcoming, Lisa and I reviewed exactly what we need from each of these characters.  One of the key aspects I emphasized was humor.  I’ve always felt that a sense of humor goes a long way toward humanizing a character and facilitating a viewer connection.  I’m not necessarily talking about laugh-out-loud funny but even a subtle humor is great.  When I think back to Stargate, characters like McKay and O’Neill are the obvious examples, but I’d argue that Daniel, Teal’c, Woolsey, Ronon (and many more) were also funny in their own way.  And the viewers loved them for it.  Well, that’s what I’m looking for in these auditions.  Humor – in addition to depth, range, and an utterly brilliant performance.  And, so far, a surprising number have delivered.

This afternoon, I walked the stages that will soon hold our sets…

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This is where we’ll be building the ship’s infirmary and isolation chamber.

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Future home of The Raza’s bridge.

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Potential home of our shuttle, the Phantom Class Marauder.

I know it doesn’t look like much now but just you wait.

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That’s it.  We’re out of time.  Ready or not, we are on a plane and Toronto-bound tomorrow morning.  I’m super anxious about flying with the dogs – but have done my best to prepare them for the four and half hour in-cabin flight.  I spent an hour on the phone with Air Canada, making the arrangements.  Jelly, Bubba, and Lulu will be flying in-cabin with us.  Each dog must be accompanied by a passenger but, sadly, must remain under the seats at all time.  I did my research and learned that the middle seats in economy actually have the most under-seat room so I booked three in a row – and also booked the aisle seats so that Akemi, Jeff, and I wouldn’t be too cramped.  I know, I know.  It’s an added expense – that required a whole separate call and next day confirmation – but this is a (hopefully) rare occasion. Lulu’s recent stomach issues had me concerned enough to take her to the vet today but I’m pleased to report that her case of (what Carl Binder used to refer to as) “the skitters” has abated and she is back to her old self.  And, as an added bonus, actually shaved off half a pound!

We fly out at 9:00 a.m., but we’ll be meeting at the airport at 7:30 so that we can check in together.  The dogs will be skipping breakfast, just to be on the safe side, and I’ll be administering Rescue Remedy and maybe a little bit of gravel before they head into their sherpa bags.  I may even wake up extra early to take them for some early, EARLY morning walks and ensure they’re nice and tired for the duration of the trip.

I’m hoping for a lot of this:

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And, once we’re in Toronto, it’ll be smoooooooth sailing!

Mailbag:

Bailey writes: “Will the series follow closely with the comic? If I have read the Dark Matter will I be spoiled for the series?”

Answer: The first two episodes will cover the events of the Dark Matter graphic novel (comprised of all four issues of the comic book) although some changes will be made.  Yes, there are spoilers in the graphic novel but the revelations contained therein are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the twists, turns, and surprises to be doled out over the course of the show’s first season.

glisterghost writes: “Casting must be an exciting experience for any writer – do you have any say in the process?”

Answer: Yes, as show runner I will have a say in everything from who is cast to the color of the onscreen display on the bridge.  I’m mad with power.

gforce writes: “Poor Lulu! Hopefully, that will clear up really soon. Who will she be riding with anyway? Jeff? :)”

Answer: Yep.  Jeff has the honor.  She’s feeling much better now.  Hopefully, she won’t be too gassy.

Dallas Marshall writes: ” is Dark Matter going to be aired in the United States, or just Canada? “

Answer: SyFy is our U.S. broadcaster: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/syfy-stargate-producers-take-graphic-740985.  Just like old times!

dasndanger writes: “Dude…DUDE…the toughest character to cast will most certainly be Ryo Tetsuda”

Answer: I thought so too – until I started reviewing the auditions.  Some terrific candidates.

JimFromJersey writes: “Since this is going to be “our” show, let me know when would be a good time for a set visit. Preferably after it’s built, of course.”

Answer: Damn.  I was going to put you to work on the bridge.

livingforcreativity writes: “You seemed to have many, many shows in development at one time. I’m thrilled Dark Matter is happening. It seems like getting a show to air is a miracle under any circumstances. But, are any of the other shows still a possibility? If one of them “happens” what do you do? (Add people to the team, while you still executive produce?)”

Answer: I should be so lucky.  Right now, Paul and I are wholly focused on Dark Matter‘s first season –  and will be through June of 2015.  One of our other prospective shows, A.K.A., is still in play out there, while another script I co-wrote with our friend Tara Yelland was recently optioned.  I’ve always said that, in this business, you either have to have near infinite patience, or a near infinite amount of projects out there.  You just never know.  Even when you think you do – you don’t.  A while ago, I thought Dark Matter was dead and would have bet money we’d be producing A.K.A. in Vancouver – but, clearly, things worked out differently.

Joan001 writes: ” I know that there are people I’d like to see being cast again. “

Answer: So would I and I’ve recommended certain individuals I’ve worked with in the past for certain roles.  But, in the end, it all comes down to the auditions.  We’ve seen a lot of very talented people so far, and will be seeing a lot more in the coming week, and, in the end, it all comes down to who is right for the role.

Jarvis writes: ” Are you guys casting only in Canada or in L.A. too? “

Answer: The L.A. sessions start next week.

JeffW writes: “So it premiers next fall? In September?”

Answer: They haven’t announced an official premiere date yet.  Could be as early as June or late as September I imagine.  What works best for you?

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Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 3.55.16 PM

So now that it’s official, I can finally talk about my new show, Dark Matter, and my plans for the series and this blog in the lead-up to season premiere (sometime in 2015).  As most of you know, while I was working on Stargate this blog offered fans a peak at the inner workings of the production, with posts of everything from concept art to behind the scene videos and, of course, Q&A’s with the many talented individuals who helped produce it.  Well, I’d like to offer fans and prospective viewers the same opportunity with Dark Matter - with the added bonus that we’ll all be on this journey together.  From prep through production to finished episode,  this blog will offer you spoiler-free insights into the evolution of the production, something usually reserved for after-the-fact special features.  I want you all invested in the series from the very beginning and involved in its progression and completion so that, ultimately, hopefully, you’ll consider it YOUR show as much as I consider it mine.

Saturday, I leave rainy Vancouver for the frosty environs of Toronto where I’ll spend the next seven months – at least.  Next week, I’ll be talking to Jay Firestone (http://www.jayfirestone.com) and his team, lead by Vanessa Piazza (https://twitter.com/Vanessa_Piazza_), about coordinating these behind-the-scenes entries.  In the meantime…

Delivered scripts for episodes #7 and #8.  The script for episode #9 will come out next week.  As I mentioned in a previous entry, my writing partner, Paul, and I are approaching this first year as a maxi-series, each episode a chapter in our season-long story.  By the time we go to camera in January, we should have all 13 scripts done.

As for now, we’ve got six crew members and an android to cast and are deep into it.  We’ve cast a fairly wide net, opening the roles to all ethnicities and, in a couple of cases, both genders.  In the end, I think two of our linchpin female crew members, defacto leader TWO and the mysterious kid FIVE are going to be the toughest to cast.  Having that, however, we’ve got A LOT of very interesting candidates.

Well, seven if you include the Android.

Well, seven if you include the Android.

Thanks for all the birthday well-wishes.  I celebrated today by getting my haircut and doing a pass on the aforementioned scripts.  We went out for sushi dinner and, tonight, I cap off my birthday festivities by taking in another 30 auditions.

One final full day in Vancouver and then we’re Toronto-bound.  And, just when I was beginning to feel a little more comfortable about flying with the dogs, Lulu, my french bulldog has come down with diarrhea.  Let’s hope it clears up before we board our Saturday morning flight.  :(

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