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The enigmatic Kim

She’s like a shadow in the night – dark, mysterious, silent and stealthy.  One second she’s there, the next she’s gone.  Then, she’s sitting behind you, sipping her coffee!  I’ve never seen her come or go and yet, somehow, whenever I turn a corner, she’a there – appearing as if by magic.  Her name is Kim Morrison and her title is Executive Producer’s Assistant, that much I know – but little more.  She remains enticingly enigmatic, her past and predilections as elusive as a ninja panther in ballet slippers.

After almost two weeks, let’s review what I know about Kim: 1. She enjoys flavored coffees.  2. Her eyes are like two Infinity Mind Gems set in Silmarils.  3. She’s a writer!

Intriguing, no?

This begs further research.

Meanwhile, construction continues on our standing sets and I’m pleased to report that the bridge of our ship, The Raza, is taking shape.  Work has also started on the lower decks and the main section of our recurring space station set.  The latter will serve as a port of call for wary travellers, offering food, comfort, and occasional trouble.

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Plans, plans, plans!

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I plan to amass a library of EVERYTHING, from amazing Art Department designs to photos and video tours of the finished sets.   By the time we’re done, you’ll all have the know-how to design your own home spaceships!

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The bridge taking shape.

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Alison having a hard time deciding where she wants to put her Captain’s Assistant’s chair.

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The space station concourse – presently exposed to the vacuum of space.

They’re moving quickly.  And noisily!

A final batch of auditions to review.  Tomorrow, we make our second round selects!

Oh, and I’ve got to finish up my pass on episodes #1 and #2.  I’ll be sitting down with the Art Department to discuss our two-part opener next week.

Check out and share our twitter: https://twitter.com/Dark_MatterTV

And Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/darkmatterseries

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After a seemingly endless wait for the show to get green the light, we’re now charging full speed ahead toward our January production dates.  This week, construction began on our standing sets.  First up, our ship, The Raza, which will include the bridge, corridors, an infirmary, mess hall, training room, various corridors and airlocks.  The design work looks pretty awesome, and I fully intend to share the specs and pics with you in the coming days and weeks.  Also, our Set Designer Doug Slater has put together a terrific 3D walk-thru of our soon-to-bridge – which you’ll also get a chance to check out very soon.

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Craig, our Head Carpenter, oversees the action

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And so it begins!

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Our set is raised to allow for stashing of loot and offer hiding places for the director. 

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The layout for this stage

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It’s all happening in the Hello Kitty Pavilion

Meanwhile, our first round of auditions is finally complete and, all told, we’ll have seen A LOT of very talented people.  Still a few redirects to come in (“re-do’s” that incorporate suggested adjustments) and then, by Friday, we’ll finally have our short list.  Well, shortER list.  The sides (scenes) for the second round have been chosen and are ready to go.

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My wardrobe assistants

So last week, I helped myself to some carpets from the recently wrapped Lost Girl set (I had my heart set on a staff of righteousness or a twig of Zamora, but somebody – I suspect Nat Cooper – beat me to ‘em).  This week, I came to work to discover four shirts hanging in my office.  Apparently, Jay and Vanessa picked them out for me.  It was avery nice gesture and, when you think about it, unbelievably kind of them to take the time to go to wardrobe, peruse the selection, and pick out some shirts they thought would suit me.

Last night, had drinks with the Exec Producers of SyFy’s other new production, The Expanse.  Very nice group and their show sounds like it’s going to be awesome.

Lots of terrific SF to look forward to in 2015!

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“So what does Caitlin do?”I asked as part of my first day bid to know absolutely everything about absolutely everyone.

“She’s Head of Business Affairs,”I was told.

“No, really.”

“Really.”

Really?  Caitlin Brown was one of the very first people I’d met.  She’d come into my office and chatted about film, television, and books (she’s going to recommend some of her Scandinavian favorites).  I’d found her super pleasant, incredibly engaging, instantly likeable – and. thus, thoroughly atypical of most of the Business Affairs Execs I’d dealt with over the years.  I almost didn’t believe it at first but, upon closer scrutiny, the tell-tale signs were there: the closed office door, the authoritative phone voice, the occasional no nonsense attitude.  She meant business.  Business Affairs business!  And further internal research revealed that she, in fact, holds sway over two departments as Executive in Charge of Business Affairs AND Development.  A most unlikely combination.  But then, Caitlin is full of surprises.

Yes, she’s a delightfully grounded, perfectly sociable Executive in Charge of Business Affairs.

Who also DJ’s under the name DJ Mizz Brown.

Plays competitive basketball in two leagues.

And, by all accounts, is a bit of a music aficionado with one hell of an impressive collection of Jazz records.

These head-spinning revelations were almost too incredible to process when they were delivered this morning – but Caitlin kindly brought me back down to Earth by delivering yet another surprise -

Writer's contract, producer's contract, kidney relinquishment contract - wait.  What?

Writer’s contract, producer’s contract, kidney relinquishment contract – wait. What?

In the form of a stack of contracts that required my signature.  Can’t get more Business Affairs than that!

I spent much of the day working my way through all of the L.A. auditions.   A LOT of familiar faces.  Also got in touch with some old online friends about promoting the show as we gear up prep.  Discussed some tweaks to the first four scripts.  Oh, and Nat Cooper stopped by the office to discuss Harry Potter and helpfully put together a To Do list on my whiteboard.  I’ve got my work cut out for me in the next few days:

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Which reminds me – the Dark Matter Facebook page is up: https://www.facebook.com/darkmatterseries.  Spread the word!

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Getting those llamas through customs

Remember the character of Radar O’Reilly in M*A*S*H*?  Not the later naive Iowa farm boy he turned into, but the astute and wily operator we’re initially introduced to – the clever contriver who could always manage to get his hands on the most elusive of items: chocolates, meds, a jeep.  If you needed something, Radar was the guy to call on.  Well, I’ve got a feeling that Elliot Sokolsky is our Radar O’Reilly. Sure, his official title is Development and Business Affairs Coordinator, but I suspect that’s just a cover designation.  “When you want to know the secret way home, come see me,”he told me on my first day in the office, dangling that speedy backstreet shortcut like a black market ham.  Whenever I walk by his office, he’s either on the phone or deeply engrossed in some unseen online task (ie. ensuring that shipment of llamas gets through customs).  And, curiously, no matter where he’s looking, or how far outside his office I may be loitering, he always seems to sense my presence, like a clairvoyant detecting the energy of dawdling spirits.  I suspect I may have cause to call on his unique skill set at several points during my stay here.  Especially come episode 9 when I’ll need to get my hands on those rare albino meerkats.

It's the little things.

It’s the little things.

Our two-day L.A. auditions kicked off today while, back here on the home front, construction commenced on our ship, The Raza.  Super secret behind the scenes sneak peeks to come!

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The six-person crew of a derelict spaceship awakens from stasis in the farthest reaches of space. Their memories wiped clean, they have no recollection of who they are or how they go on board. The only clue to their identities is a cargo bay full of weaponry and a destination: a remote mining colony that is about to become a war zone. With no idea whose side they are on, they face a deadly decision. Will these amnesiacs turn their backs on history, or will their pasts catch up with them?

My twelve years on Stargate served to confirm something I already knew, and a fact that most fans have known for quite some time: A clever hook may lead viewers to check out a new show, but it’s the characters that will keep them coming back.  I know, I know.  It seems pretty obvious, but to most buyers, it’s all about the sizzle.  “Hey, there’s never been a show about a unicorn detective!  Let’s do that!”  Or – “Hey, there are a dozen hits shows about a lawyers.  Let’s do that!” Sure, they’ll SAY they’re interested in the characters and will emphasize their desire to see them shine in a pilot but – Come on!  It’s the pilot! Characters develop over time through their respective journeys and their interrelations with others.  How much can you really tell from a single script?

Yes, it’s all about the characters.  And those onscreen personalities we come to grow and love are a magical mix of words on a  page and performances onscreen. Your terrific script is doomed without a solid actor while, conversely, horrendous writing can sink even the most talented of thespians.

All this to say: casting is crucial.  And it can be very tricky.  Most of the time, it’s not a simple matter of being able to distinguish a good performance from a bad one, but being able to identify the right actor for the right role.

Which is the challenge that has presented itself on Dark Matter – x 7.

We’ve cast a fairly wide net in our search to find the perfect actors for each our seven very varied crew members, using the graphic novel as more of a guide than a template.  The whirlwind process started a couple of weeks ago when the materials (breakdowns, sides, the first two episodes) went out to casting agents.  Since then, we’ve watched A LOT of auditions.  And we’ll no doubt see a lot more before we’re done.  Once the L.A. auditions come in mid next week, we’ll make our selects and narrow the field down considerably.  Our prospective candidates will read two more scenes and, based on those auditions, we’ll narrow the field down to a handful and have them read together to test their chemistry.  Based on the results, we’ll pick our favorites and then it’ll be smooooooth sailing!

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ONE

AKA Hero, AKA Jace Corso.  HANDSOME, BOYISH, GOOD-LOOKING.  CHARMING BUT A BIT OF A GOOF, HE IS THE CREW’S MORAL CENTER, A GUY WHO ALWAYS TRIES TO DO THE RIGHT THING, despite the odds being stacked against him and no matter how unpopular the course of action.  HE IS A SPACE COWBOY, THE CLOSEST THING TO A HERO ONBOARD THE SHIP.  Sure, he screws up – but he means well.  He’s the fish-out-water with whom our viewers will hopefully identify.

Stargate equivalent -

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Surprisingly (or maybe not) proving to be one of the most challenging roles to cast. But two candidates are at the top of my list…

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TWO

AKA Boss Lady, AKA Portia Lin.  THE GROUP’S DE FACTO LEADER, SHE IS A MASTER FIGHTER and an unbelievably quick learner when it comes to any type of weaponry. DETERMINED, TOUGH, AND MORE THAN A LITTLE HEADSTRONG, SHE IS NOT THE TYPE YOU WANT TO MESS WITH- OR DISAPPOINT. She can be cool and inscrutable and yet, at the same time, demonstrates a curious sympathy for her fellow crew members.

Stargate equivalent -

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This was the one I was most worried about going in as she has to strike that fine balance between forceful and likeable- but we actually have some terrific candidates.

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THREE

AKA Sunshine, AKA Marcus Boone.  A TRUE BADASS, he is the flipside to One’s principled coin – which is why the two are often at odds, developing a (grudging) like-hate relationship over the course of their journey. HE IS A MERCENARY THROUGH AND THROUGH, ALWAYS LOOKING OUT FOR HIMSELF.  But he must come to accept the fact that, if he’s going to survive, he’s going to have to learn to get along.

Stargate equivalent -

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A few very interesting casting possibilities here.  I think of all the roles this one would probably be the most fun.

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FOUR

AKA Ryo Tetsuda. CALCULATED, INTROSPECTIVE, EVER-STOIC AND A MASTER OF THE BLADE.   His composed exterior belies a ruthlessness that can manifest itself in extreme circumstances.

Stargate equivalent -

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This one has been tough.  Poised and menacing is very hard to pull off.  But there are a few candidates I am very excited about.

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FIVE

AKA Kid.  THE SHIP’S PIXIE-ISH MASCOT WITH MYSTERIOUS ABILITIES – SHE’S THE KID WITH ALL THE SECRETS. And a propensity for getting into trouble. EASILY BORED, QUICK TO MOUTH OFF, she is nevertheless one of the more empathetic members of our colorful crew.

Stargate equivalent -

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Another one I thought would prove a challenge to cast but, so far, things are looking very good in that regard.  The issue is age.  In the show, this character may be a little older as we’ll need to cast someone 18+ to play younger.  Or cast someone younger and work around their school schedule.  Or follow my suggestion (that didn’t go over too well) and cast a high school dropout.

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SIX

AKA Tiny, AKA Griffin Jones. ON THE SURFACE, HE’S A LOW-KEY BRUISER, AN IMPOSING FIGURE among a group of intimidating individuals. HE’S A MAN OF FEW WORDS, A TOUGH AS HELL GOON WITH LITTLE PATIENCE FOR BULLSHIT. Cross him at your own risk. Beneath the rough and tumble exterior, however, is a heart of gold- 14k, the softest! A SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE GUY, HIS QUIET CONFIDENCE BELIES A FIERCE INTELLIGENCE AND PHILOSOPHICAL NATURE.

Stargate equivalent -

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There are two candidates who positively nailed it.  This is going to be a very difficult decision.

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THE ANDROID

Aka Android. CONCISE, IMPASSIVE, YET SURPRISINGLY POSSESSED OF A SUBTLY WRY SENSE OF HUMOUR, he is an indispensable member of the crew since he can exercise control over all the ship’s systems.  Imagine him as less a robot and more a surly butler.

Stargate equivalent -

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This one’s been very tough.  He’s possessed of a subtle humor that many are having a hard time capturing in their reads.

So, let’s put you in charge.  Who would you cast in each of the roles?

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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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