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Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

Today, I completed a first draft of episode #12 in which the various arcs we develop over the course of the show’s first season converge in a story about identity, loyalty, and friendship, culminating in a shocking conclusion that sets the stage for an even more shocking finale.  It joins my first draft of episode #9, on a virtual shelf, until the intervening bunch of scripts get done.  Paul is halfway thought #5 while Rob and Trevor have started work on scripts for episodes #7 and #8 respectively.  Ideally, I’ll have a bunch of first drafts to review by the time I come back from Japan on September 21st.

Yes, I’m off to Japan next week for 10 glorious days of cultural enlightenment and eating my face off.  Before then, however, there’s plenty to do.  Tomorrow, a conversation with our VFX guys, Mark Savela and Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, to discuss the first four episodes.  Next week, Tuesday, another conference call with our Line Producer and Production Designer – also about episodes #1-4, and ship and space station designs.  And I’m hoping we’ll have our first three directors slotted before I leave.

When I get back from Japan, I’ll have roughly two weeks to do my passes on episodes #5-8 before I head to Toronto for our first official week of prep: more meetings in which we’ll discuss key crew members and casting.

At present, the plan is to head to Toronto for that week of meetings during which I’ll stock our new Toronto place with everything we’ll need: dog mats, dog beds, kitchen gadgets, pillows, toiletries, and a big-ass winter coat.  Then, I go back to Vancouver to pick up my dogs – and girlfriend – and make the final move.  Since we’ll no longer have access to a handy backyard, I’m going to also have to buy a doggy stroller to make life a lot easier for Jelly – and Akemi.  On top of all that, I’m going to have to find an animal clinic where Jelly can continue her accupuncture treatments:

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Is it helping her?  Well, tough to say.  Between the accupuncture, Metacam, painkillers, pulsed electro-magnetic dog bed, and joint pills, SOMETHING is working.

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It NEVER gets any easier.  Inevitably, the jubilation of convening with your fellow writers and hashing out a terrific story is extinguished by the prospect of having to actually write the damn script.  You sit down, type FADE IN and then…What?  Oh, you know what the scene is going to be (You just broke it the other week) and you can imagine the great version (Not the actual words, mind you, but the reactions of people who read it or watch the finished product.  Best Scene Ever!), but actually realizing it to its fullest potential…now that’s where things get sticky.

I once worked with a writer who would force out a first pass, no matter how half-assed, just to get something down before returning to it for countless rewrites, revisions that – in theory – would develop and improve on what he’d written. Sure. And I once worked with another writer who’d always tell me: “Shit don’t take a good buff.”  In other words, you can polish that half-assed pass all you want but, in the end, all you’ll end up with is a polished half-assed pass.  Which is why, when I sit down to write a script, those first few lines have to be tight.  I’ll work through a variety of false starts – a dozen, often more – before finding the right opening exchange, then develop the scene from that promising beginning.  I’ll pace (or drive or shower or eat or feign interest in the conversations going on around me) and run the scene in my head, over and over, building the beats, the dialogue, the set-ups, the pay-offs until, satisfied, I’ll finally sit down and actually, physically, start writing.  And, once I have it all down, I’ll re-read and reconsider and revise and rewrite and, once I’m satisfied, I’ll move on to the next scene and repeat the process.  Then, the next morning, I’ll start from the top: re-reading, reconsidering, revising and rewriting – all the while reflecting, with a certain wistfulness, on how nice it had been to sit in company and create something.

So, today I completed the Tease of episode #2 and I’m at the point where I’ve gone over it so many times I can almost recite it by heart.  I pushed ahead and wrote the first two scenes of Act I, hitting and surpassing my “5 pages a day” target.  It’s interesting how the characters seem to take on a life of their own on the page.  It’s early and, as much as I struggle to maintain quality equality, I already do have my favorites.  I think the key, as I progress through this first draft, is to find those unique instances of humor in each of the crew members because humor, I’ve always felt, goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, making them a little vulnerable and, thus, so much easier for the viewers at home to connect with them.  I think back to my time on Stargate and characters like Jack O’Neill, Vala Mal Doran, Rodney McKay, Eli Wallace – even Teal’c, Ronon Dex, General Hank Landry, Todd the Wraith, and Richard Woolsey.  All funny in their own distinct way.  It’s just a matter of finding, and drawing out, those distinct instances in each.

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What do you think?  What humorous instances endeared you to a particular Stargate character?

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Another day, another story.  This episode, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, was envisioned as a tough one that would take a couple of days to break.  But, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, we ended up breaking it over the course of a single day.  And that leaves us with one final story remaining: episode 13, the big season finale.  As we were heading out to our cars this afternoon, one writer remarked that this one probably WOULD take us a couple of days due to its complex plot. Maybe.  But, then again, maybe not.  I have the tease, tag, all five act breaks, and the major moves in my head.  In fact, I’ve had them in my head for over a year now.  After writing the pilot, THIS was the episode my mind automatically went to whenever I imagined getting the green light on the series.  The big closer, the Holy Sh*t! season finale that will trigger the colossal fan forum meltdown after its eventual airing.  As my buddy would say: “It’s gonna be bananas!”

Alas, as you may have noticed, there was no official announcement at Comic Con. Apparently, they’re still crossing the last t’s, dotting the final i’s, and executing the finishing squiggly flourishes that accompany most official-looking signatures.  So…soon.  Soon.

In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead.  I’d like to see a revised pilot and first drafts of episodes #2, 3, and 4 by end of August, first drafts of episodes #5, 6, and 7 by end of September, and first drafts of #8, 9, and 10 by the time I touch down in Toronto in early November.  We’ve already generated a list of potential directors while, internally, we’ve started talking about casting.  We’ve got quite a few colorful roles to cast and finding the right people isn’t going to be easy – but we do have a few familiar faces we’d like to bring in for an audition.  Or two.  Ultimately, we’ll be looking for actors who are not only good, but good to work with.  And we know a few. :)

Damn, I’m going to miss going into the office to spin stories.  I’d like to say it’s been hard and rewarding work but, the truth is, it’s simply been a hell of a lot of fun.

We HAVE to do this again.  Next season!

Jelly is out like a Chicago White Sox designated hitter.

After an exhausting day of waiting for me to come home, Jelly is out like a Chicago White Sox designated hitter.

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Today, we finished breaking episode #10 of my new SF series.  It’s a little rougher than the preceding stories with a few TBD’s, but it’s great fun and ends with a jaw-dropping sequence that will no doubt have this blog buzzing when it eventually airs.

Can’t wait until next year?  Want a hint as to what to expect?  Well, okay.  Check out the above diagram, lovingly-rendered by one of our writers.  And – spoiler alert! – here are two more:

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Let the speculation begin!

I was informed yesterday that we have the conference room until the second week of August but, at this rate, I doubt we’ll even need it past this Wednesday.

Also, yesterday, we were treated to two surprises:

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Surprise #1: Former Stargate Special Features Producer Ivon Bartok who dropped by to experience our awesome spinning skills.  And eat our chocolate.

Surprise #2: A gift basket of fruit and chocolate from blog regular Gilder (Thanks, Gilder.  Very kind of you.).

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Tomorrow, we reconvene to discuss Episode #11.  Can’t wait to find out what other surprises you guys have in store for us.  Pizza?  Homemade cookies?  Matching macrame vests for the entire writing department?

We’ll see…!

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While we’re on the subject…

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SUPER DIMENSIONAL FORCE MACROSS

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ANDROMEDA ASCENDANT

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STARBUG

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SERENITY

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THE BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

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SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO

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VORLON CRUISER

Moya

MOYA

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STAR DESTROYER

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ASGARD SHIPS

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THE BEBOP

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ANCIENT AURORA CLASS BATTLESHIP

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THE ARCADIA

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THE USS SULACO

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THE MILLENNIUM FALCON

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THE DESTINY

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USS ENTERPRISE NCC-1701

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THE NOSTROMO

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KLINGON BIRD OF PREY

valdore-screen

ROMULAN WARBIRD

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Another day down, another story done.  That makes 8 out of our 13 first season episodes broken in less than three weeks.  I feared today’s episode would prove tricky, but I got in early this morning and hashed out a rough outline.  My writing partner, Paul (aka Captain Logic) had surprisingly few problems in the early going and we positively breezed through the first three acts.  “Wow,”he marveled.  “We’re moving quickly!”  “Sure,”I said, “but I’m sure that we’ll eventually come to that sticking point.”  And we eventually did, sometime after lunch and somewhere in the fourth act – but, thankfully, it wasn’t one of those “Let’s sleep on it” bumps.  We talked it through, came up with some great scenes, and completed our beat sheet in record time.  Sadly, not quite fast enough for us to roll right into episode 9, but still.

Today, we also received some early concept designs.  I love this part of my job: weighing in on space ships.  We had a choice of five sketched variations and then three color models.   They were all terrific, but Paul and I preferred #2.  I’m not a big fan of winged ships in general, but I do love armaments: gun turrets, plasma cannons, etc.  This ship should be bad-ass, retrofitted with all sorts of illegal weaponry, and Bart’s first pass is a huge step in that direction.  Very exciting.

While considering the different looks, I hopped online to do a little research and came across this interesting rundown of The Top 75 Spaceships in Movies and TV. A pretty solid list – but Stargate: Universe’s Destiny is conspicuously absent. Given the fact that this list was published back in July of 2009, however, I’m willing to cut the gang at Den of Geek some slack:

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/286589/top_75_spaceships_in_movies_and_tv.html#indexmain

SFX came up with their own list, this of The top 51 Sci-Fi Spaceships where Stargate is well-represented:

http://www.sfx.co.uk/2012/12/02/top-51-sci-fi-spaceships/

And if you’re wondering how they all compare, check out this chart by Dirk Loechel comparing vessels from various SF worlds.  Damn impressive!

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http://dirkloechel.deviantart.com/art/Size-Comparison-Science-Fiction-Spaceships-398790051

So many terrific designs.  Which are YOUR favorites?

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The thing I miss most about my days on Stargate is the writers’ room: the camaraderie, the laughs, the heated discussions and, every so often, the occasional creative accomplishments.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was hard, sometimes frustrating work but, when all was said and done, they were productive sessions that generated some great television.  And fun times.  We were lucky.  A successful writers’ room has as much to do with talent as it does personality.  Being good at what you do is important, but so is getting along with others.  And, in the case of Stargate, we were fortunate in that respect.  We didn’t always agree, but we got along and, in the end, I like to think it showed in the shows we produced – while I was there, some 340 hours of television.

BUT while the writers’ room can offer exhilarating highs, it can also mete out crushing lows.  In the case of the former, take last week’s creative output for example.  We ended up breaking an episode a day, a blistering pace that is not only impressive but almost unheard of in most rooms.  On the flip side, you need look no further than today’s disappointing gathering that wasn’t just unproductive but actually counter-productive in that the basic story we agreed had merit last night suddenly evaporated over the course of the morning, leaving us with NO story heading into the weekend.

Yep, it can be damn frustrating, but it DOES happen.  And the reasons why it happens are the following:

1. The story is deemed too similar to something that has come before.

This is a tough one because, if you look harder enough, anything can be deemed similar to something that has come before – especially when you’re talking about science fiction.  The Purge was an episode of the original Star Trek series, but that didn’t keep it from making $64 million.  Elysium was another movie with similarities to an old Star Trek episode.  It made $93 million.  Hell, South Park even did in an episode called “Simpsons Already Did It!” in which we are reminded that, just like science fiction, the world animation is fraught with the dangers of unintended imitation.

Closer to home, one of our very first episodes of Stargate: SG-1, “Window of Opportunity”, was unabashedly inspired by the movie Groundhog Day, but that didn’t stop us from producing what turned out to be one of the franchise’s most beloved episodes.  And, in the end, the admitted similarities to Groundhog Day, while enormously entertaining, were less important than how OUR characters responded to them.

So, yes, stories involving time loops and bleak alternate realities and emotional robots have been done before.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t be done again – so long as you can make them unique to the world and characters you have created.

2. Logic issues.

Even in the far-out world of science “fiction”, you must operate within established parameters.  A theoretical FTL drive wouldn’t work that way.  You can’t perform an EVA without a space suit.  Difficult to argue against these.

3. Suspect character motivations.

This one’s a little tricky because it often comes down to a matter of opinion.  “I don’t believe this character would do that.” can be neatly countered with: “Well, I do.”  Sure, there are instances where certain actions would be completely out of character – but in these instances, you’re presumably dealing with an idea from a writer who doesn’t know the show.  For the most part, character motivations come down to proper set up.  Would mercenary Character X risk his life for the robot?  At first blush, probably not.  But what if the robot just saved his life – AND holds the key to solving the shipboard mystery that could pay off handsomely?  Then, maybe he just might.

4. Bias

Yes, it happens.  Sometimes, someone just doesn’t like the story or is grouchy and in a combative mood – in which case they’ll attempt to argue #1-3.

Two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with were Brad Wright and Robert Cooper who had two very different approaches in the room.  Brad always excelled at pinpointing the heart of the story and finding a way to make it work.  To him, the bells and whistles were less important than the emotional crux of the narrative (ie. how it affected our characters on a personal level).  Once he could identify that, he would work tirelessly to build a great episode.  Robert, on the other hand, was a straight shooter who never shied away from telling you what he felt wasn’t working – BUT, invariably, ALWAYS offered alternative solutions.  No one could spin ideas like Rob.

All this to say I miss those guys and could have really used their expertise today.

No story brainstorming for me this weekend.  I’m taking a break to revise the pilot and put together overviews of our first six episodes covering synopses and production requirements (sets, locations, significant props, and visual effects) for each.  It’s all preliminary but it’s designed to ensure we’re all on the same page moving forward.  And, hopefully, steers them in the proper creative direction as we head into prep.  After all, we’ve got a spaceship to build!

 

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