I was actually developing Dark Matter as far back as 2007. That year comes to mind because, in 2007, we were producing Stargate: Atlantis’s fourth season and I remember walking the corridors of the ship we constructed for episode #405, Travelers, and saying to Paul: “We’ve got to find a way to keep these sets. They’d be perfect for Dark Matter!” In retrospect, it was probably a good thing we didn’t hold on to those sets. The storage costs over seven years would have no doubt eclipsed the price tag of our spanking new sets.
The nice thing about waiting seven years for your show to get green lit is that it gives you plenty of time to develop the hell out of it. Characters, their journeys, seasonal and series arcs – you’d be surprised how much you can flesh out over the course of 84+ months.
With a more than fully fleshed out show on our hands, the plan was to roll right into Dark Matter if and when Stargate ever ended. I’d been preparing myself for Stargate’s eventual end since Stargate: SG-1’s fifth season, back in early 2000, so I’d grown inured to the dread of cancellation. As a result, when the end did come, and Stargate: Universe was cancelled in 2011, I was taken by surprise. I wasn’t ready!
This business is funny sometimes. Given the fact that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had effectively established MGM’s t.v. division and made the studio TONS of money with Stargate, I imagined they be set. A studio deal. A couple of blind pilots. Offers to use their years of experience to help shepherd or run whatever other productions the studio had in the pipeline. No? A letter of reference? A hearty handshake? A “Thanks for multi millions?” scribbled on a post-it?
If they weren’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the guys that had earned them enough cash to purchase a tiny country (something modest with a lot of beachfront property), I figured my chances were…slimmer…
“I’m sorry. What department did you say you used to work in?”
“Uh, television. A t.v. show actually. We ran for seventeen seasons, produced over three hundred episodes and two movies? Stargate? STARGATE?!”
“Could you spell that?”
Even with a writing/producing background on one of the most successful franchises in television history, the chances of selling a pitch are slim. People love great ideas. They love great scripts. But, usually, not enough to buy them. Established properties on the other hand…well, that’s a different story. And that’s something I was well aware of from my days working development.
And so, rather than roll the dice on a pitch tour, I made a single call – to Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse Comics and presented him my idea for Dark Matter. He loved it and, in no time, we were in business with publisher Mike Richardson on a four-issue SF comic book series. That would eventually be collected into a trade paperback. Which would be used as a visual aid and sales document to help Prodigy Pictures President Jay Firestone sell the show.
So, much respect for Mike Richardson, Keith Goldberg, artist Garry Brown, colorist Ryan Hill, editor Patrick Thorpe and the rest of the gang at Dark Horse Comics (Kari Yadro, Aub Driver, Spencer Cushing et al.)
And much respect for Executive Producers Jay Firestone and Vanessa Piazza for getting the show to air.
And much respect for my terrific cast, crew, VFX, and post personnel helped me produce one hell of an awesome SF series. And a ship-based SF series no less!
I admire people who dress like they just don’t care – what other people think. Lady Gaga. Don Cherry. And, of course, Dark Matter‘sTabor Calchek. I knew the gang in wardrobe was going to have a lot of fun dressing him – maybe, I suspected, a little too much fun. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I made my way down to the costume department last month for a sneak peek at Tabor’s outfits. I was treated to a lot of comfy wear (see previous blog instalments) and then a bit of flash in the form of the type of shirt usually reserved for disco enthusiasts or East European gangsters. I loved it, but had only one small request. Instead of just having him in his underwear, lets give Tabor pants. Pleather pants!
And, voila! He’s ready for business. Or a night out on the town!
I was up at 4:30 this morning so that I could prepare my breakfast, see to the dogs, and then take the hour long drive to Hamilton for today’s 7:00 a.m. main unit call. It was still dark by the time I rolled into the crew park.
Hell, it was so early, it was late!
Shooting in the woods today. And I mean that in two senses of the word.
Also, occasional slashing and stabbing.
“A” 2nd Assistant Camera, Michael Purdon, color codes sticks for blocking.
Okay, what I mean is, when the actors come to set, the director will “block” a scene with them, deciding who moves where and when. Once that has been decided, “marks” are placed on the floor (usually tape, color coded for each performer, but, in today’s case, sticks) so that everyone knows exactly where they should be standing and/or moving to in order to “hit their mark”.
It was, thankfully, our final location day for episode #109. I suppose it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been raining. On the other hand, it could’ve been just slightly better with the addition of snow. Ah, I suppose I can just get Lawren, our VFX Supervisor, to add some in post. How hard can it be?
Consulting Producer Ivon Bartok and actress Melissa O’Neil (TWO) try to stay warm. Hey! It’s winter again!
With the cast reveals right around the corner, it’s time to ramp up the big visual reveals as we count down towards our early summer premiere. So let’s kick things off with a mini blog feature I’m calling The Four Days of Tabor Calchek.
Introducing the crew’s handler, their de facto agent, the guy who gets them their freelance assignments. He’s smug; he’s smarmy; he’s swank and laid-back. Day #1: Let’s call this one “Home Office Casual”.
Hey, speaking of Dark Matter’s summer premiere, we’ve got an official airdate:
That’s Friday, June 12th at 10:00 p.m. Ah, this takes me back. Do you remember the glorious Friday SF triple header of days gone by: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG-1, and Battlestar Galactica running back to back to back? Well, rumour has it science fiction fans are in for a real treat this summer as SyFy brings back SciFi Fridays. I, for one, can’t wait.
But I’m going to have to because Atmosphere is still working on those visual effects.
Hey, continuing my ongoing series of “Who’s who on the Dark Matter crew?” – it is with great pleasure that, today, I introduce to you the awesome Jean Brophey, On Set Dresser extraordinaire. It’s her job to make sure things look good before the director yells “Action!”, and she takes her job pretty seriously, scrambling onto set to switch out cargo crates, flip bed covers, and whisk away weird background elements that she, the eagle-eyed expert, will catch before anyone else.
And when she’s not ensuring on set continuity on the rotating quarters sets (She has a visual overview of each crew member’s room hanging on the far wall for easy referral) or pointing out potential visual miscues, she’s moving stuff whether it be chairs, tables, weapons or…
…a pile of giant rocks.
Need that grand piano moved? Well contact Jean c/o Dark Matter!
Stargate: Atlantis premiered ten years ago today. I’m celebrating with a look back at my Top 10 favorite SGA memories.
In no particular order…
#10. RODNEY MAKES THE CUT. BUT JUST BARELY!
Production on the new Stargate spinoff was fast-approaching, but we were scrambling to cast one crucial role: the part of the intrepid, dedicated team doctor. Multiple auditions yielded no suitable candidates and the producers were at a loss until… Robert Cooper suggested a different tact. Instead of casting a new character, why not bring in an established one – namely, Dr. Rodney McKay who had already put in a couple of appearances on Stargate: SG-1? To say that this last minute switch “worked out quite nicely” would be an enormous understatement. Could you imagine Atlantis without him?
#9. ENTER GOLDEN BOY MARTIN GERO
Faced with the prospect of 40 episodes of television a season, we sought out new talent for the writers’ room. Enter young Martin Gero who proved himself with his first script, Childhood’s End – and then went on to become the most prolific writer on the show.
#8. ENTER CARL BINDER
Later in SGA’s first season, we added one more writer to the room, a veteran of Punky Brewster with a penchant for schnitzel and off-colour humor. He proved himself with his first script, Before I Sleep – and then went on to become the most prolific writer of ghost-themed episodes on the show.
#7. ENTER RONON
The show saw several cast changes over the course of its five year run, but perhaps none quite as significant as the introduction of the rough and ready Satedan, Ronon. A great onscreen presence, Jason Momoa was also a hell of a lot of fun to work with.
#6. INTRODUCING…TODD THE WRAITH
There’s nothing I enjoy more than an interesting, multi-layered villain and, while the show had them in bunches, none (in my humble opinion) matched the depth and color of Todd the Wraith, a soul-sucking alien with a devilish sense of humor.
#5. GOODBYE, CARSON
This one rivals the closing moments of SG-1’s Meridian as one of the most touching scenes of the franchise. Rodney says goodbye to his friend who fades away to close the episode and Carson’s story…for a little while anyway.
#4. WOOLSEY IN CHARGE
I loved Richard Woolsey’s evolution from pencil-pushing bureaucrat to principled suit, so when Amanda Tapping’s departure opened up the position of Expedition Commander, the first name that came to mind was: Bob Picardo. I called him up, made him the offer and we closed the deal that afternoon. One of my favorite characters to write for.
#3. BEHIND THE SCENES FUN
It’s hard to pick one moment among the countless great ones I enjoyed as a member of the Atlantis writing team. Amid all the story sessions, script notes, cut screenings and mixes, there was much hilarity. More often than not, it involved Carl being “tricked” into eating something awful (https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2007/06/08/june-7-2007/).
#2. MY FIRST SAN DIEGO COMIC CON
Meeting 5000 Stargate fans – simultaneously.
#1. ALL GOOD THINGS….
Although it wasn’t planned as a series finale, the show’s last episode served nicely as a nice send-off, wrapping up existing storylines yet leaving the door open for further adventures. The final group shot on the balcony overlooking San Francisco Bay was an emotional one for all. We’d had five great years – but, dammit, we could have had so many more!
Last night, I met up with my foodie friend – Nicole, Lan, and Missy – for a little culinary tour of Chinatown. Nicole, our guide on this trek, had us hopping from one place to the next, covering four different places in which we sampled about a dozen different dishes…
Fellow foodies: Nicole, Lan, and Missy.
We met at The Pie Shoppe, a tiny place that offers a variety of pies both sweet and savory. On this night, only half an hour away from closing, they were out of savory options so we settled for (and by settled, I mean devoured) two of the sweet pies: apple-rhubarb and chocolate pecan. I can’t fairly judge a fruit pie without ice cream so I won’t weigh in on the apple-rhubarb, but that chocolate-pecan pie was outstanding on its own. I was tempted to try the salted honey pie but Nicole had to remind me to pace myself. This, after all, was a marathon.
A plethora of pies
From there, we headed one block over to a place called Oyster Express that offered about a dozen varieties of oysters on the shell in addition to a number of other menu items. But, come on! The place is called Oyster Express! So we ordered two dozen assorted raw oysters. They were all excellent. Akemi, who had to beg off because she was feeling under the weather, would have loved it.
On the half shell at Oyster Express
One block over and two blocks down, we hit Besties, a restaurant specializing in sausages.
With by besties at Besties
We ordered a number of items and shared. Among them:
The sausage slider
Asparagus with hollandaise. Oh, and an egg!
For me, the highlight of this stop was the venison and blueberry sausage (that, for some reason, I failed to snap). They were out of the intriguing sounding Butter Chicken sausage, so I’ll definitely have to make a return visit.
From there, it was one block over, three blocks up (through the downtown east side’s more colourful area), and around the corner to the Dunleavy Snack Bar. At this point, Lan was tapped out and declared himself stuffed. BUT that didn’t stop him from having some of the bimbimbap – and later, finishing it off when the waiter asked/threatened to take the plate away…
Pork belly and Korean chicken steamed buns. I was hoping the chicken would be spicier, like they serve at that Korean restaurant in Shinjuku where the chicken is so spicy they serve it with a side order of surgical gloves so that you don’t burn your fingers while eating.
We didn’t order dessert, but only because we’d already had some at the start of our tour.
Thanks to Nicole for organizing and Lan and Missy batting clean-up on those fries and rice.
Continuing our discussion of our April Book of the Month Club selection – Annihilation:
vanderworld.com writes: “I wouldn’t normally comment, but…the next two novels are about 100,000 words each, which complicates things, and are *completely separate novels* in their own right, that interlock with Annihilation…they do not pick up the story right after the events in Annihilation. Annihilation is itself a self-contained short novel. Among other considerations FSG weighed in their approach to publishing the trilogy that weren’t at all cynical.”
Answer: Well, you’re in a better position to know so I stand corrected. Still, this first book is surprisingly short and the speedy release of subsequent volumes atypical of any series I’ve ever read. It will be interesting to see how this experiment fares.
skua writes: “The Arkady and Boris Strugatsky´s Roadside Picnic (Tarkovski´s Stalker) sensation at the first stages let me in.”
Answer: Yes, it certainly was reminiscent of Stalker as well with its foray into an uncharted alien landscape where the rules of physics – and logic – no longer apply. Great movie. Perhaps time for a re-watch.
JeffW writes: ” I found the pacing in Annihilation to be slow and ultimately unsatisfying.”
Answer: I didn’t mind the pacing. I was so caught up in the story that the slow build really worked for me. It was like one of those horror movies of old where the meat of the narrative is in the suspense rather than the visceral payoff.
Duptiang writes: “Was the protagonist her whole self or a replacement like what was often explored in the SG series a DNA replacement, replicator conversion?”
Answer: Interesting question. She seemed to retain a certain part of herself as evidenced by the introspective passages in her journal. And yet, there’s the hint that she is losing a part of herself as well. When her husband mysteriously returns from his expedition, she points out that it’s as if a part of him is missing. He’s not quite the same person…
Duptiang writes: “How did the files get into the Light house, and why was she succumbing to the brightness?”
Answer: My guesses would be – 1) the lighthouse keeper (human or otherwise) and 2) any human being will succumb to Area X following extended exposure to the environment. Of course, these are just guesses. Are the answers to come?
whoviantrish writes: “The protagonist is smart, decent, down-to-earth, flawed and brave. She’s easy to like.”
Answer: I found the narrative approach very interesting. It allowed us to get to know our protagonist but, on the other hand, never allowed us to know or in any way connect with the other characters.
sparrow_hawk writes: ” The prose is lovely and evocative and conveys the sense of weird other-worldliness quite well.”
Answer: Agreed. He’s a terrific writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed his previous books.
sparrow_hawk writes: “Why are teams still being sent in? What is done to them before they go in? What is happening to The Biologist and has it happened to others before her? Why the heck is everyone so depersonalized and isolated? ”
Answer: In my mind, these first two questions are the ones that really need to be answered. Don’t get me wrong. I too would like an answer (or, failing that, some solid hints) regarding the fate of the biologist and how Area X is influencing its visitors, but I’m willing to cut its enigmatic, alien-centered answers some slack. In the case of the expeditions, I’m in a less forgiving mood since there are real people behind these seemingly illogical decision. As someone else already pointed out, if so many teams have already gone missing, why are expeditions still being sent into Area X? What, if anything, is being gained?
Jenny Horn writes: “The premise reminded me some of Michael Grant’s series and King’s Under the Dome as well as LOST, but had none of the payoff. ”
Answer: I’ll have to reserve judgement on payoffs until I’ve completed the trilogy, but you present some very interesting examples. I didn’t make it through the entire Lost run but my friends who did were VERY disappointed with the finale. As for Under the Dome – I read it and, while I thought the premise was great and the narrative fairly engaging, I found the ending hugely disappointing. Sometimes, payoffs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
astrumprota writes: “I guess the antagonist is whoever sends in the missions with nothing but lies. If they want to be successful understanding Area X or stopping its encroachment, why not give them all the information possible, and dispense with having one person, who becomes insane, use hypnotic suggestion on the others? I don’t see an end to the failures.”
Answer: And that fairly encapsulates my biggest bump with the book. Given all of the previous failed missions, why not better prepare future teams? Why not arm them with better resources? This is hinted at early on (ie. the limits to what they can bring, the fact that much of their equipment is outdated, etc.) but these are questions that need to be answered in time.
cat4444 writes: “Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t find that I was invested in what happened to the characters due to the detached manner in which the story was told.”
Answer: Yes, I had a problem with that too – and the fact that no one had a name It was always “the psychologist”, “the anthropologist”, “the surveyor”. I eventually accepted the conceit – until, at one point, a character is referred to as “the anthropologist” in dialogue. Surely when speaking to each other, I thought, they would use their first names. But then, upon further consideration, I realized that this entire narrative is an extended journal entry written by our protagonist, so she is essentially offering a tweaked account of her experience. It’s a reminder that our narrator is human and, perhaps, not to be trusted.
cat4444 writes: “The psychologist obviously knew more about what was happening than the other members of the expedition and was surreptitiously in control through the hypnotic triggers implanted in the other members’ minds. But how much did she really know?”
Answer: Again, I really hope we get the answers to these types of questions, those related to the Southern Reach organization and the reasoning behind some of their seemingly illogical decisions.
cat4444 writes: “The biologist’s observations suggest that they’re being changed. Some become the mossy pillars, but the diary suggests that others are changed into the very wildlife that Area X is rife with and that they may retain some semblance of who and what they were before they were changed.”
Answer: Yep. And remember her encounter with the dolphin possessed of an uncomfortably familiar gaze?
cat4444 writes: “Is this the 12th expedition to enter from a particular point, the others having entered from somewhere else?”
Answer: Another interesting point is the suggestion that they must pass through some sort of alien portal to cross the boundary from their reality to Area X.
cat4444 writes: “Who or what is the Crawler and what is the purpose of the words on the “Tower” wall? ”
Answer: Are those messages a disordered attempt at communication by the Crawler who perhaps makes use of the jumbled memories of those Area X it has absorbed in order to reach out to new visitors?
Line Noise writes: “Clearly Area X affects the mental and physical state of those who enter it. It modifies a person’s perceptions inducing hallucinations and wild emotions. As a result we can’t even trust the biologist’s record of events.”
Answer: Yes, alluded to this earlier, the fact that we could well be dealing with an untrustworthy narrator, one infected by alien consciousness.
2cats writes: “The writer’s style was lovely in places, highly descriptive and inventive, which I do like. I believe this was my first Vandermeer novel and I would read others in the future, when in a mind-bending mood ”
Quick! Get cast your votes for June’s Book of the Month Club selection! It’s a tight race and the polls close this weekend:
And continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…
Well, this one did NOT go over well. In fact, it probably ranks as Akemi’s least favorite Stargate episode to date – partly because she found it so gosh darn confusing (“So complicated this episode!”), but mainly due to the “everything but the kitchen sink” plot (“A little too much thing going on for me.”). The word “cliche” also came up quite a few times.
When the countdown clock counts up to 100% in the nick of time: “So cliche.”
On their way back to the jumper, they encounter one more hidden alien to complicate matters: “So cliche.”
When the Daedalus is being attacked by enemy ships and all hope seems lost: “Atlantis will save them.” And then, when Atlantis does save them: “So cliche.”
For some reason, she really fixated on the team discovering their own dead bodies. She HATED that shot. When I asked her why, she explained that unlike the sequence in SGU’s Twin Destinies in which Rush encounters an alternate version of himself, she felt there was no point to their discovery here – outside of the VFX department showing off. I pointed out that the reason this discovery raises the stakes since alternate versions of themselves were in this exact same predicament and failed. She grudgingly accepted this explanation and then, seemingly unconvinced: “So not showing off the computer graphic skills?”
This episode’s single highlight: “I like him [Ronon]. Hansamu.”
A potential highlight, quickly quashed, came when the ship finds itself beside the red giant. “Now they can recharge!” Uh, sorry. Wrong Stargate series.
And she continues to be impressed by David Hewlett’s ability to deliver seemingly endless dialogue: “Don’t you think handsome guy’s sentences are very short and McKay’s are very long? Not fair. I can’t believe he can remember every single sentence.”
All in all however, Akemi found this episode tiresome despite (because of?) the seemingly endless obstacles the team encounters: “Like after drinking scotch or smoking pot, I have huge ideas and put them all into one script. I’m a crazy genius and this is chance to write every crazy idea I’ve ever had in this episode! I need something to make sense to make everything like this happen. I know – a ship! Alien attack! Now very close to sun! Super hot!” You get the idea.
Next up: Ghost in the Machine. Nothing like a Carl Binder joint to get us all back on track!
- Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell
- The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
- So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
- Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
- Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
- Get Carter by Ted Lewis
- This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
- Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
- Half A King by Joe Abercrombie
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
- We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
- The Troop by Nick Cutter
- The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner
- The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong
- We Are All Complete Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Worst Recent Watches
Only God Forgives