Hey! Look who it is! Why, it’s 20-year film and television veteran Andy Mikita, director of such episodes as Heroes I and II, Before I Sleep, Be All My Sins Remember’d and, more recently, Search and Rescue, The Daedalus Variations, The Shrine, First Contact, and The Lost Tribe. Andy, who is presently prepping the series finale, Enemy at the Gate, joins us today to answer your questions, dish some behind-the-scenes dirt, and plug his new signature sandalwood-scented men’s cologne. (Ha ha. Just kidding about the behind-the-scenes dirt.).
Before turning things over to Andy, I’d like to remind readers that they have one more day to post questions for the show’s physics consultant, Mika McKinnon. How did she land this gig? What’s her take on the science of Stargate? Which producer writes the most scientifically inept scripts? Ask her.
In the days to come, I’ll be shifting to Whispers mode. Expect more behind-the-scenes pics in the next few days, and a big, BIG episode breakdown once the episode has aired. I have a lot to say about this one so I may have to make it a two-parter.
Finally, scroll down to the bottom of this entry for The Weird Food Purchase of the Day video. Today’s installment = Frog Legs!
And, over to you, Andy…
Wolfenm writes: “What can you tell us about the cut Zelenka scene? I mean, what happened during it? (Please tell me it will be on the DVD!)”
I was sad to see the Zelenka scene cut. It was a funny moment between he & Rodney where Rodney was unusually friendly and complimentary to Zelenka. As the 2 of them walked out of the room, the camera panned onto Keller, who was recalling the “new and improved Rodney” to Jeannie. It was a stylistic transition from one scene to another and was quite effective. But obviously not effective enough to make the cut! I hope it makes it to the DVD as a deleted scene.
“Were there any other deleted scenes?”
There was another brief Zelenka scene that was also cut. All he ended up with was a walk-by as the team was enroute to the Jumper. Believe me, it wasn’t by design. We love David Nykl, but unfortunately we have a specific cut time to meet and some precious frames had to be sacrificed.
“There was a lot of physical contact between John and Rodney, a lot more than usual (which I *adored*), in particular the shoudler-grabbing in John’s room and in the cave (twice!) — were those scripted, or were they your idea, or the actors’ …? How much direction — or leeway — do you typically get from a script, and how much do you, in turn, leave up to the actors?”
Some of those moments are ‘stage directions’ that are scripted and others are discovered during the blocking/rehearsal process. I think in those cases Brad (who was on set most of the time) and I agreed the physicality was important for those scenes. Joe and David were in agreement as it seemed a very natural and instinctive thing to do. Generally speaking, the script provides stage directions for key story moments, and we try to execute those as faithfully as possible on set. Having said that, we are certainly afforded the freedom to make adjustments if things aren’t working out. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the director and the actors.
“Also, I just want to say how heartbreakingly beautiful the scenes in John’s room and, especially, on the pier were. I used to spend a lot of time at the North Avenue and Oak Street beaches and Navy Pier (all in Chicago) after sunset, and the pier scene in “The Shrine” made me so homesick it hurt — but it was soo worth it! The camera angles, the guy’s performances, the lighting — just brilliant. (Yes, I know, the city was fake, but you still had input, yes?)”
Absolutely. We work in a highly collaborative environment, so we collectively discuss all those elements in advance – where possible. I didn’t, however, have much to do with the CG city. That was Mark Savela and the amazing VFX team. Thanks for the kind words! It’s my favorite scene in the episode.
Chelle DeBoer writes: “For Andy: What’s your favourite episode and why?”
That’s a tough one. Of the one’s I’ve directed – Before I Sleep, because it was my first Atlantis. Plus Midway & BAMSR because they were so much fun to do and I thought they turned out quite well. Overall, I’d have to say Poisoning the Well, McKay & Mrs. Miller, Common Ground & Tabula Rasa were amongst my favourite all time Atlantis episodes.
Namiko writes: “My question for Andy Mikita: You’ve been a part of the production since Children of the Gods — amazing! What’s the one thing that has surprised you most about the franchise?”
It’s longevity, obviously. But also, the amount of people who have never seen or even heard of the show. How is that possible??
The SkyPig writes: “Questions for Andy: What will your role be (if any) in upcoming SG-1 or SGA movies? Will you be directing episodes of the new series? And, last, what Stargate episode has given you the most satisfaction to direct and why?”
It would be very presumptuous of me to assume anything at this point, but I am hoping to direct the SGA movie and episodes of Universe. Hopefully it’ll work out.
The most satisfying SG1 was Heroes because it really resonated with people and it evolved from being a small 2nd unit episode, to a pretty significant 2 parter with a lot of great performances. The script was amazing. 2010 was also a favorite.
Squeaikiep writes: “First, thanks very much for the multiple hours of wonderfully executed scripts. I very much enjoy your style of story telling. How do you keep the production on time and on point throughout the 5-7 day shoot? There’s a lot of cats to heard!! Thanks in advance.”
Thanks for the kind words! We have such a crackerjack crew that everything happens in a sort of shorthand. They are the ones who make it happen and deserve the credit for making the show look so good and to do it on time. For the director, it’s all about having a plan, and then being able to throw the plan away so you can go faster.
Portlandbound writes: “What episode did you like the best to direct from Atlantis or SG1? If you could pick any of the Executive Producers of Atlantis you found gave you the most trouble when directing? Was their a script you felt was hard to direct and what was it? Thanks for your time!”
For my favorite ep’s – see above.
And really, none of the Executive Producers give me much trouble because they all know I can beat them up.
The hardest scripts to direct were Vengeance (making one hall look like many, and trying to make the creature attacks scary) and Infection (6 days in the Hive set – a fate worse than death).
Thornyrose writes: “ First, favorite episode to direct/produce in the Stargate franchise. What one work would you like to have the chance to do over? Is there any one “dream” project, in film or tv that you would like to do in the future? And finally, what is the hardest aspect of directing and/or producing a show like SGA, or even a non-sci fi genre show? Thank you very much for your participation and time, and many thanks to Mr. M. for all the work put in to make that possible.”
Thanks so much! I appreciate it! See above for fave ep’s. If I had the chance, I’d redo parts of every episode I’ve ever done. I go crazy watching mistakes I’ve made.
Ultimate dream project? Sitting down & finishing a home video of my kids that I can send to my parents on the east coast. They’ve been bugging me for it for years.
And honestly, the hardest aspect of directing the show is to maintain the standards that have already been set. That, and working with Carl Binder.
Norriski writes: “Question/Statement for Andy M. What has been your most challenging episode for the Stargate franchise and why?”
See above. Oh, and I didn’t mention it before, but Foothold is particularly memorable for me because it was my first ever episode of Stargate SG1. And also, Adrift & Lifeline – which were Martin Wood episodes, but I shot 6 days for him while he was in the Arctic for Continuum. That was tough because he prepped them & I shot them.
“On those same lines what was the easiest episode and why?”
First Contact and Lost Tribe (mid season 2 parter) because Martin Gero shot a bunch of it for me.
“Have you ever ended the day wanting to pummel one of the cast members, or a guest actor (I’m guessing you won’t tell us who but I have to ask)”
Yes. Yes I have. And no I won’t, but nice try.
“Lastly THANK YOU for taking the time to do the commentaries on the DVD’s. I’m one that buys DVD more for the commentaries than anything else!”
That’s awesome! Thank YOU!
Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Thank you for all your wonderful direction over the years. I particularly liked Outcast last year.”
Thanks so much – I liked Outcast too. Earth based ep’s are fun.
“Questions: (i) Is there any specific difficulty that you continually encounter in the Sci Fi genre as against more mainstream direction that impeeds your vision for a shot?”
No, not really. The only restrictions we encounter are when there is a visual effect involved in the shot and the vfx guys ask us to lock the camera. But even that doesn’t happen much anymore. The size and scope of a set can dictate shot limitations. Some have no ceiling (which = no low angles). But if anything, I would argue that sci-fi offers more opportunites for creativity than any other genre.
(ii) In the directorial rotation, is there/have there been, any particular episodes that you’ve passed on/or not directed where you wish you could have been involved?
Yeah, that happens all the time. This season for instance Will got all the scripts with exterior locations. Those are the most sought after because we don’t do it very often anymore.
(iii) In reading a script do you have an entire vision at outset? and (if the occasion has arisen) would you suggest a linking scene including dialogue if you felt it was necessary?
Good question. Sometimes it comes very clearly and other times not. I used to vividly play the movie in my mind as I was reading a script only to find out the sets I will end up using don’t look anything like what was in my head, so now I try to find out which sets I’ll be using before reading. That way I can envision the action in the proper context.
And yeah, sure, I’ll suggest something to the guys if a transition feels bumpy. Then they’ll tell me to get lost.
(iv) Also, do you say “SWEET!” or “GREAT!” a la Mr Wood, after a great take? If not, are there any Andy Mikita-isms after shooting a difficult scene?
Nope, I just say cut. Call me old-fashioned.
“Also, may I just add, that I really enjoy your commentaries…I always get the sense that you are seeing the episode for the first time, and your recall for events at that time is great, even though it’s months later….”
Thanks! Many times I am watching the episode finished for the first time during the commentary. Typically I hand in the Director’s Cut & that’s it. Then I wait till it’s done (FX, music, etc)
Kerry: “Hi Andy. Have you ever had problems with a guest star who seemed great when you hired him but then turned out to be a real pain or crazy? Without naming names (unless you want to or you can just hint) want happened and how did you handle it?”
Hi Kerry. That’s a good question. Yes, I’ve had issues for sure. Some actors have been very over-enthusiastic about their character and consequently go way over the top in performance. That’s when you have to jump in & tell them to dial it back. Remind them of the context. Others just try to create something they’re not and it becomes forced. Sometimes it’s fixable and sometimes it’s not. And occasionally you get a full-blown nut bar. I handle those individuals by doing nothing & blaming whoever hired them.
Perragrin wites: “Q: If you were to step through the Stargate and join the Atlantis Expedition, which one, personal item would you choose to take with you? And no cheating.. Personal Slave, carrying everything you own, does *not* cut it “
Astrumporta writes: “For Andy Mikita: I loved The Shrine and really enjoyed your interview about making it, at stargate.mgm.com. There you predicted mixed reviews for the episode due to the lack of action, but in fact, it seems it might be one of the most universally loved episodes of Atlantis ever! Are you surprised to see a character piece be so well received? Gratified?
Hey thanks – I’m happy you liked it! I honestly felt there would be more of a divided camp, but am obviously elated with the universally positive response. I remember when the script first came out and everybody was, “wow – this is incredible.” Including myself. I was blown away. It’s an episode everyone is very proud of. But I didn’t think it was for everyone…
“How did you approach directing the scenes that started in Sheppard’s quarters and moved to the pier, in terms of discussing with Joe Flanigan and David Hewlett how the scenes would evolve? They were played so beautifully. Was Joe wearing his own clothes, for real?”
First of all, I must mention that Brad Wright played the primary role in the execution of The Shrine. Beyond writing the script, he was heavily involved in every aspect of it’s making and spent the majority of the shooting schedule on set with me. It was awesome. We were able to talk about every shot and every take. It was a luxury that Joe & Paul & Martin & Carl can’t afford because they’re always writing or in prep or post. Brad was able to stay with it from beginning to end.
Most of the early discussions were primarily with David, since the story revolved around him. The Shep Quarter’s & Pier scenes were approached differently from a mechanical point of view. The former being approached like any other scene, with numerous rehearsals and adjustments. The Pier was predetermined because of it taking place in a virtual environment. We knew the shots in advance. David and Joe were amazing and it was a blast to shoot. They have a very natural friendship chemistry.
No they weren’t Joe’s clothes. I don’t think…
“Also in The Shrine, how do you make it appear the camera is so far away from the subjects, both on the pier and on top of the submerged Stargate? How do you keep the movement realistic as the camera appears to pull back so far?”
On the Pier set, we used a crane to pull back and away from the actors. At the submerged Stargate, we shot a locked off wide angle and the VFX guys created that amazing pull back & reveal of the setting. The shot becomes the central live action element.
“Looking back at your time on Atlantis, what are some of your favorite memories, and some of your most traumatic or difficult?”
I really enjoyed working with David Ogden Stiers. He would provide a continuous onslaught of hilarious jokes and stories. A prince of a man and a total pro. Also, shooting Before I Sleep was special ‘cause it was my first Atlantis.
I think the day Joe lost his dad was the hardest. I felt terrible and he insisted in carrying on. Every time I watch Search & Rescue and see him trapped under the rubble it reminds me of that day. That’s what we were shooting when he got the news.
“Have there been times you just couldn’t make a scene work and had to go to a “Plan B”?”
Yep, that’s happened lots of times. Sometimes B doesn’t work either and you move to C. Plans are switched during blocking rehearsals, or once you’ve arrived at the set to see all the trucks parked in the middle of your set (not that that happens!). Usually once you’ve rehearsed, lit, and started shooting a scene – there’s no turning back. I remember once shooting take 1 of a master and then turning to DP/Director Brenton Spencer in a panic, and saying, “This isn’t working – I have to start over.” He was so cool about it. He simply said, “No problem, lets fix it!” We did, and less than 5 minutes later we were back at it. It was something else. Situations like that can kill your day, but Brenton didn’t let that happen.
“How much do you “direct” guest stars versus the regulars, in terms of influencing their performances?”
Lots. But it’s more guidance and context. Guest stars have the disadvantage of not speaking the franchise language. It’s too much to expect a guest to understand everything that’s happened over the course of a shows history, so jumping in can be a little overwhelming. Our regular cast are great and supportive too. We all try to make a guest as comfortable as possible.
“Would you like to work on Stargate Universe?”
“Thanks for the great work, Andy!”
Hey, thank you & thanks for all the great questions!
Syble writes: “First off I want to say that I loved Search and Rescue. The look of that episode was spectacular. It looked and felt like a high budget big screen movie.”
Awesome! Thank you! It was crazy fun.
“1) During the filming of S&R, was the dust from the collapsed building scenes falling on the actors, or was that a camera trick?”
Some of it was, yes. Most of it we tried to place in front and behind them, but it needed to fall on them too. It was pretty uncomfortable for the actors. Joe was literally wedged in his spot (we designed the pieces to shift so he could get in & out, but…) and Jason had to negotiate lots of nooks and crannies & was hunched over awkwardly. May I please take this moment to express kudos to our amazing Art, Construction, Paint and Set Decoration departments who all did an incredible job building that set. It looked amazing and was by far my favorite of all time.
“2) Who’s idea was it to have Shepard’s shirt still on in the infirmary scenes. As Keller lifted it and then let it fall back down, all I could think about was what kind of doctor kept cleaning and then redepositing the dirt on a wound?”
Let’s not go there, ok? And btw, I agree completely.
“3) What has been your favorite episode so far??”
Please see above.
Jean writes: “ When you get a script, do you end up making any changes to the way that scenes are set up or to the transitions from one scene to another? Is this something that is worked out first with all the writers/producers before you get to the shooting stage, or do some things (that don’t work well) only become apparent once you are shooting (or both)?”
Hi Jean. Again, excellent questions. The answer is both. If we are able to identify a modification in advance, we discuss it in prep and work it out before shooting. Sometimes situations present themselves in context on the set and have to be addressed at that time. Transitions are best thought out in advance but often are created in editing. The rule is, to have a plan and then divert from it as necessary. Obvious things like if the actors walk out of a scene from left to right, they should enter the next shot the same way. It can be visually more jarring if they suddenly appeared from the opposite direction. But, having said that, all rules are meant to be broken and that jarring transition may be the desired effect!
“Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!”
My pleasure! Thank you.
Airelle writes: “Mr Mikita ?- Do you have plans after SGA? I think your work is great.
Thanks Airelle, I hope to continue working on Stargate Universe.
“Can you pick the episodes you want to direct?”
No. We direct the scripts that fall into our rotation on the season schedule.
“Do you have the ancient gene?”
Flygirl writes: “A lot of prep and planning goes into an episode. Is there an episode that stands out where you thought you had all of your “bases covered” and then everything just went sideways?”
To be honest, not really. The machine here runs pretty smoothly, so train wrecks are rare. That’s not to say we don’t have hiccups because we certainly do. It’s usually a collection of lots of little things adding up. Here’s one, a couple of days ago we were shooting a fight scene between Ronan and Wraith drones. When I called for Jason’s stunt dbl, he hobbled in with a cast on his leg and couldn’t walk by himself – he had 2 human crutches helping him. I could only laugh.
Chevron7 writes: “Questions for Andy: How do you decide how you are going to shoot a scene – what’s the process you go through?”
Usually I’ll read the script once or twice without considering how I’m going to shoot it. However, I like to know what the sets and locations are going to be so I can imagine the scenes in the correct environment when I start re-reading the script for planning purposes. Early on I try to find a visual theme to use throughout in order to give it some distinction, however subtle it may be. That could manifest itself in many different ways, from how it’s going to be shot (lots of hand held, or low angles, etc) Then I start imagining the scenes from different perspectives to decide what the main point of view should be. Then I make a blocking plan and a shooting plan – both of which often get used only as a starting point. It’s important to be flexible.
“What is tougher to direct: A complicated action scene, a highly emotional scene or a scene with the Asgard?”
Oddly enough, it’s the static scenes with lots of people that are the toughest to make interesting. Action scenes are tricky too, but they are always time consuming. Emotional scenes can be the easiest from a shooting standpoint because you want to keep the setups straightforward and you don’t want to do a lot of them. Let the actors do their thing. Asguard scenes are simpler too because there’s only so much of the puppet that can be photographed, so you work within those physical limitations.
“If you could trade jobs for a day with anyone on the production, who would it be?”
Brad Wright on pay day.
“What are your hopes for Stargate? Do you know if you have a role yet in the future?”
Like everyone, I hope it continues to evolve and live a long & prosperous life.
I don’t know if I will be part of the next chapter, but I am hopeful that I will be.
Evolution Anyone writes: “You all have no shame…again Atlantis is going to copy, scene for scene, an SG-1 episode? I let out a gasp when I saw the “alien autopsy” pics from First Contact/Lost Tribe.”
Answer: Oh, I hear ya. Another alien autopsy! It’s like we do one of those every second episode. And, wait, it gets worse! If you can believe it, there’s also a scene where the team exchanges weaponsfire with some aliens (shades of SG-1!) and even a scene in which two characters talk as they walk around (freakin’ ripped off from Louis Le Prince’s 1888 Roundhay Garden Scene). Gasp!
Kath writes: “Its a shame that this has turned into a sniping match now and because some fans dared to voice their opinions that a lot of focus seemed to be going to a new addition of the cast then automatically we are deemed haters.”
Answer: You know, it never ceases to amaze me how certain fans can be so free and vocal with their own criticisms and yet so incredibly thin-skinned when someone criticizes their infantile behavior. Rather than simply “daring to voice their opinion”, some fans, who clearly lack the capacity to express their thoughts in any sort of intelligent manner, choose to be insulting or launch personal attacks. Of course, on the rare occasions when they are called on it, they seek to defend themselves under the guise that they are protecting their right to free speech. I’m afraid I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. If you don’t like a character or the writing then, sure, feel free to post your opinion. But if you’re so childish and devoid of any intellect that the only way you can get your point across is by being disparaging people, then expect to be on the receiving end of a firm smackdown. FYI, this all started two days ago because some fan, clearly upset by the fact that Jewel had received a Gemini-nomination, intimated that the only possible way she could have received said nomination was by facing no competition from her fellow cast members. This fan wondered whether Jewel was the only one submitted for nomination. I sarcastically responded that, in fact, she was. And when the rest of the anti-Keller crew started their foot stomping, I responded in an equally sarcastic manner. For the record, other cast members were submitted for consideration but only Jewel ended up with a nomination. If you’ve got a problem with that and suspect the Gemini selection committee of “being in love with Jewel” or playing favorites, then I suggest you take it up with them.
Laura writes: “Do you still have standing sets in 2 Vancouver locations (can’t remember what the 2nd one was called) or is everything at Bridge Studios now?”
Answer: As of this year, all of our standing sets are on The Bridge Studios lot.
Trish writes: “Do you think Annabelle misses Sebastian? Have you ever experienced a pet acting out after another pet passed away?”
Answer: Hi, Trish. Sorry to hear about Sebastian. It does sound like Annabelle is reacting to the loss. Like some have already suggested, paying some extra attention to Annabelle will certainly help. Socializing her with other dogs might be another idea if you can afford it. An occasional visit to a doggy daycare may help (which, I see, is something you’re already exploring).
A Honshuu writes: “And BLACK COMPANY… is that just one story or the whole Chronicles? The book I got from the library is MASSIVE!”
Answer: I got the same massive tome. But, for the purposes of this month’s book club, we’ll only be reading the first book in the series.
Chevron7 writes: “Ever considered writing some short stories yourself, perhaps with a horror theme?”
Answer: If I can get my act together, a short story will certainly be in the works.
Dyginc writes: “Thirdly, my cat Gus has been on the treatment given to us by the cardiologist…”
Answer: All the best to Gus. Hope he’s on his way to a full and speedy recovery.
Astrumporta writes: “High-larious. What’s really funny is people still believe your first statement that you could only afford to put one actor into the nomination process. Obviously you were kidding. Weren’t you?”
Answer: Yes, I was kidding.
Asturmporta also writes: “In fact, I seem to remember Stargate was boycotting the Geminis due to BC anti-scifi snobbery or politics or whatnot, no?”
Answer: I’m saving that rant for a future blog entry.
Monica writes: “Question…the village or “outdoor” set, is that also at the Bridge Studios? Will you and Carl give a tour of that as well?”
Answer: It is and we will.