I started my writing career in animation, After several years of freelancing, I landed a full time job as the Manager of Animation Development at a local studio in Montreal. My 9 to 5 duties covered all aspects of the internal creative and, over the course of my time there, I developed such shows as Animal Crackers, Mona the Vampire, Paddington Bear, and Caillou. I also continued my freelance scriptwriting in my off-hours AND story-edited several (of the aforementioned) shows. I was happy and, at the time, thought “It can’t get any better than this.”
I eventually left the security of my 9 to 5 job for the feast or famine world of full time freelancing. I continued to write scripts and story-edit, shifting focus from that local studio to some of the bigger animation guns, eventually lending my services to the CBS Saturday morning line-up. I made my own hours, worked at my own pace and, more importantly, made better money. “Okay, now,”I thought, “it can’t get any better than this.”
I eventually transitioned from animation to live action, partnering with my long-time friend, Paul Mullie, and landing a staff position on a teen sitcom called Student Bodies. We shot in an abandoned school and wrote in our enormous office, a carpeted former classroom. One day, the show’s creators asked us if we needed anything. I jokingly suggested an air hockey table. Well, the following week, an air hockey table was written into an episode and, once said episode was shot, that air hockey table found a permanent home in our office. It was a pretty sweet gig and, at time time, I was pretty damn sure “It can’t get any better than this.”
And then, we ended up on Stargate and spent 12 incredible years writing and producing one of the most successful franchises in scifi television history. Paul and I worked our way up from co-producers to showrunners and had a hell of a lot of fun along the way. Even though the shows had their challenges, we enjoyed going to work every day and enjoyed the company of the people we worked with. Judging from everything we’d heard about the many other productions out there, we knew we were very lucky and I had no doubt then that my time on Stargate would be next to impossible to top. “It can’t get any better than this,”I assumed for presumably the last time.
Then, two years later, Dark Matter comes along. Three season in, it reminds me a lot of my time on Stargate – fun, fulfilling, and very rewarding with the added bonus that it happens to be MY show. Surely, it can’t get any better than this.
“Easy to root for” is a term Dark Matter Supervising Producer Ivon Bartok introduced me to years ago. It was in reference to actor Brian J. Smith (SGU‘s Lieutenant Matthew Scott) on the heels of his Tony Award nomination for his Broadway performance in The Glass Menagerie. “Easy to root for” in that Brian, in addition to being incredibly talented, was simply just a straight-up good-hearted, down-to-earth, sweet-natured guy. We were happy for his success because it seemed an appropriate karmic payoff for a guy who had been nothing but positive, pleasant, and downright gracious during our years working with him on Stargate: Universe.
Flash-forward four years and the term comes to mind again in relation to actress Melanie Liburd who, in addition to her role in the upcoming sixth season of Game of Thrones, joins the crew of The Raza in Dark Matter’s second season as the mysterious Nyx Harper. “She’s like the nicest person on the planet!”texted Zoie Palmer and I have a hard time arguing that statement of fact.
Today, Melanie, Akemi and I got together for a long-overdue meal. We did dim-sum, got in some shopping, chatting, and capped our afternoon with a visit to Toronto’s premiere chocolate shop, Soma, for a major chocolate infusion.
Melanie shows off her lobster dumpling…that’s actually shaped like a tiny lobster.
Akemi and Melanie prepare to descend on dessert. The calm before the snacking storm!
Can’t wait for you to finally meet her when Dark Matter season 2 premieres (July 1st on @Syfy, @Syfy_Spain, and @SpaceChannel; July 2nd on @SyfyAU, July 4th on @SyfyUK, and July 11th on @SyfyDE).
Speaking of the new season, I have a conference call next with Bipasha Ghosh and the rest of the Syfy International marketing teams to discuss plans for you, the fans. And, oh, what plans we have!
This week, we head into the home stretch in what promises to be a season full of shocks, surprises and BIG pivotal moments. What’s to come? Well, here’s a hint…
If you’re not following @DarkMatter_show on twitter, you’re missing out on oodles of amazing BTS pics like these…
Jodelle and Alex support each other during read-thru.
The sassiest android in space!
Lately, I’ve also been spending time on reddit’s Stargate sub-reddit where I’ve been reposting some of my most popular Stargate-related entries. So far:
I was cleaning out my inbox today when I happened across a bunch of old prep schedules and call sheets.
For those of you who are wondering, “prep” is, of course, short for “preparation” and “prepping” an episode involves (in my t.v. producing experience) a little over a week of meetings with director and departments heads in which an episode is detailed, drawn up and discussed. Here, for example, is the prep schedule for the Stargate: Universe episode “The Hunt” –
Even though it was prep week on “The Hunt”, early prep work began on later episodes. There’s a preliminary art department meeting for “Common Descent” and “Epilogue” (suggesting BIG plans for what would turn out to be our final two episodes) followed by a prosthetics life cast with actor Louis Ferreira (to help him achieve that “Old Young” look, as Akemi coined it).
Director Andy Mikita was away and, with the director away, the meetings are pushed to other days. Note that, while a director begins prep on one episode, another director starts shooting another – in this case, Episode 215, “Seizure”. Also, 2nd unit shoots scenes for Episode 214, “Hope”. 2nd unit usually involves a scaled down crew shooting smaller scenes from a given episode. Also on this day – a casting session! I remember heading down to the lot and watching auditions in the casting trailer, trying to ignore the trucks that would rumble by at the most inopportune times.
Finally, prep begins early Monday morning with the concept meeting. With all of the department heads in attendance, we would go through the script, page by page, and break down each scene. We followed with an art department meeting in which we no doubt discussed the builds for this episode (as I recall, a cave set and a design for the creature)…
…then headed over to props to discuss what was required from them (besides our standard guns, there’s that makeshift spear one of the character wields late in the episode) –
And, oh yeah, that severed arm.
…followed by a sit-down with the costumes department (we would need to get our uniforms dirty and, in some instances, torn and bloodstained), and, finally, a field trip to scout out some suitably rough terrain in Lynn Canyon where we planned to shoot some of the exteriors.
Nice day for a field trip.
Prep week continued full force on Tuesday with some of our biggest meetings: stunts and SPFX (there was that stunt sequence off the top where our camp is attacked by the creature), a playback (not too many big onscreen elements in this one if I recall correctly), and visual effects (the creature was pure CG as was that space deer we see in the tease).
The following day was the extras meeting (always a number of background players in every episode), and then hair & make-up (cuts, bruises, and general disarray).
That’s an ouchy.
Preliminary budgets from the various departments were due to give us a sense of how the episode was costing out.
No meeting scheduled for the Friday, but that didn’t mean we weren’t busy having discussions, finalizing the details. A tech survey in the a.m. to Lynn Canyon during which we all sign off on the location and the director finalizes his visual game plan for the exterior sequences.
Hmmm. Seemed a lot warmer and dryer on the scout.
And then, finally, the production meeting which is a mirror image of the concept meeting except that, by this point, the director and all of the departments know exactly what they’re doing and are in the process of putting the finishing touches on their work. And, of course, final budgets are due and we find out where our budget stands on the year (which, of course, has a direct effect on ensuing episodes).
Speaking of prep, prep week kicks off on Dark Matter Episode 204 tomorrow with a 10:00 a.m. concept meeting headed by director John Stead. It’s gonna be fun!
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!
Cast your vote for our June Book of the Month Club pick! We’ve got a nice, wide-ranging selection this month:
COLDBROOK by Tim Lebbon
Coldbrook is a secret laboratory located deep in Appalachian Mountains. Its scientists had achieved the impossible: a gateway to a new world. Theirs was to be the greatest discovery in the history of mankind, but they had no idea what they were about to unleash.
With their breakthrough comes disease and now it is out and ravaging the human population. The only hope is a cure and the only cure is genetic resistance: an uninfected person amongst the billions dead.
In the chaos of destruction there is only one person that can save the human race. But will they find her in time?
THE DRAGON BUSINESS by Kevin J. Anderson
King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking a unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory… Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.
Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.
EVENING’S EMPIRES by Paul McAuley
In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future.
He’s going to get it back.
LAGOON by Nnedi Okrafor
When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.
SCHRODER by Amity Gaige (paperback release in the U.K.)
Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder-a first-generation East German immigrant-adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.
SCHRODER relates the story of Eric’s urgent escape years later to Lake Champlain, Vermont, with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amid a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life to understand-and maybe even explain-his behavior: the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.
Finish up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation! Our discussion begins tomorrow!
Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch…
Akemi is right back at it, into the franchise and enjoying the series. Although SGU still ranks as her favorite, she has a greater appreciation for Stargate: Atlantis and its much-improved visual effects. Also, I think she kind of missed McKay.
Of course, as always there was much praise for the job of VFX Supervisor Mark Savela and his team. Whenever we an establisher of Atlantis, especially at night, it’s always: “Wow!” or “Beautiful!” or “Two moons!”.
She didn’t get caught up in the whole Beckett vs. Keller debate because, by this point in the series, they’re both present and acting members of the expedition. She likes them both but offered the following comment on Keller: “Everybody would love to have such a beautiful doctor.” Maybe. “Too bad she doesn’t have a doctor’s outfit.” I guess.
Still not feeling the love for Sheppard 22 episodes in. She finds his loose cannon attitude annoying (“Why Sheppard is always so arrogant? He should listen to older people.”) and, I suspect, very unJapanese. After Beckett informs Sheppard that the shoot could kill him: “This is second chance for him to die so that handsome guy can become leader.” Alas, another missed opportunity.
On the other hand, when Ronon gets choked out by the tendrils and collapses, she was genuinely concerned: “Oh, I hope he’s alright?”
“What about Sheppard?”I asked. “He got skewered by a tendril. Do you hope he’s alright.”
Later, she bumped on his amazing healing abilities: “Why sometimes he recovering very magically quickly and sometimes very slow? Because he is typical superhero?”
Another favorite character of Akemi’s is none other than Radek Zelenka. She practically squealed with excitement when he came onscreen like he was an adorable puppy doing something unbelievably cute. She finds him very convincing: “I can’t believe he is actor. Looks like real authentic geek!” Ah, the magic of television.
Overall, a solid episode in her estimation but: “I liked yesterday’s episode more.”
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