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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Hiatus?  What hiatus?!  Today, the Dark Matter writers’ room convened to start plotting the show’s (hopefully, if all goes according to plan) penultimate fourth season.  Joining me for the creative festivities were Carl Binder, Paul Mullie, Ivon Bartok, and Alison Hepburn.  Over the course of the late morning and mostly afternoon discussions, we covered season and character arcs, the stories, the opening two-parter, and some pretty awesome scifi “developments”.  The currently-airing third season is our biggest and boldest yet – and it’s going to be very hard to beat.  But we’ll try!

The show has premiered in Canada, the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Spain, and Portugal – and Latin America, France, the Middle East, Germany, and Brazil are soon to follow.  To celebrate, here are some of my favorite behind the scene pictures (and a video) from the first part of our two-part opener: Being Better Is So Much Harder…

The ladies run their lines and prepare for battle.

Torri Higginson as the ass-kicking Commander Delaney Truffault.

Zoie Palmer (Android) ready for her big jack-in-the-box scene.

Jeff Teravainen as the recently resurrected Lieutenant John Anders.  Anders Lives!!!

Laughter amidst all those tears – Melissa O’Neil (TWO) and Melanie Liburd (Nyx).

A trio of troublemakers: Melanie Liburd, Roger Cross, and Melissa O’Neil.

Anthony Lemke (THREE) in his sexy shirt.

Shooting the Anders/THREE reveal and drag-away…

Tomorrow, behind the scenes pics and vid from Episode 302: “It Doesn’t Have To Be Like This”.

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What does a producer do?

I get this question a lot and the truth is: it really depends.  A producer’s duties can range from almost everything to absolutely nothing.  The title can be a distinction that accurately reflects an individual’s contribution to a particular production, or it can be little more than a vanity credit offered to placate shiftless idiots.

Producer titles come in various shapes and sizes.  There are Producers and Associate Producers and Assistant Producers and Supervising Producers and Line Producers and Co-Executive Producers and Executive Producers.  And, perhaps some day, we’ll also see Accomplice Producers and Appendage Producers and Almighty Pansophical Omniscient Producers.

I can dedicate an entire blog entry to these various producers titles, but let’s keep it personal.  My name is Joseph Mallozzi.  I am an Executive Producer on Dark Matter as well as being the show’s creator and its Showrunner.  THIS is what I do –

Prior to the commencement of  prep, I will come up with a season-long story and individual character arcs in addition to as as many stories as possible for the upcoming season.  I will then convene and oversee a writers’ room in which we attempt to break 13 stories – each a teaser, five acts, a tag, and every scene and narrative beat.  On days when the room spins its wheels, unable to gain traction on a story, I will go home and work on it myself, returning the next morning with a fresh tack and, if I’m lucky/inspired, a complete beat sheet.  Along the way, I assign scripts  and, eventually, provide notes and direction when the writers deliver their outlines.  I also provide notes on all scripts.

I write 5 of 13 scripts every season.  My writing partner, Paul, writes 5 as well.  I will do passes on every script, and these will range from tweaks to uncredited complete rewrites.  As we go through prep, I will make adjustments to these scripts, incorporating notes from Executive Producer Jay Firestone, input from the cast, losing or amalgamating scenes to ensure we are able shoot the episode in our allotted time, adding scenes if the episode is timing short, making adjustments to scenes to address actor availability issues.

In short, I start writing once one season ends and stop writing – well, technically never, but for the purposes of a single season – long after we’re finishing shooting, occasionally scripting extra or alternate dialogue for ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) as needed.

The goal is to have as many scripts ready as possible by the time we go to camera on our first episode.  I like to aim for 9 of 13.  This gives our various departments time to prepare and also offsets the possibilities of nasty surprises or mad scrambles down the line.  This seems like common sense and yet…

So much time and money is wasted on productions that fly by the seat of their pants, with writers scrambling to write scenes to be shot the next morning or productions prepping off outlines.  Sadly, these aren’t the exceptions but the norm in this business.  Having even 5 episodes before shooting begins is a luxury most productions don’t have.  Why not?  Various reasons but I’d say the two biggest are: a) Ineptitude (hiring people who don’t know what they’re doing who hire people who don’t know what they’re doing), b) Not Giving a Shit (people assuming this is the norm and who cares anyway?).

Why is our production different?  Because Jay Firestone, the President of Prodigy Pictures, the company that produces Dark Matter, will actually risk the money to pay for a writers’ room and scripts before that elusive official pick-up, thereby ensuring that if the show does get the greenlight , we’re in a position to run an efficient production and make the most of our talent and resources.  The result is a happy work environment and a better-looking show because our money is spent on sets and visual effects instead of being frittered away on last minute scrambles.

At the beginning of every season, I will oversee early prep as the production gears up, go over our budget, and generally make certain we have all our ducks in a row before we actually start shooting.  I’ll interview directors, put together a list with Jay and our Line Producer Norman Denver, go over potential recurring guest stars with our casting director Lisa Parasyn, cast any recurring guest stars with Jay, answer any questions the various department heads may have, and interview replacements for anyone we lost during the hiatus.

Once we get into prep on the individual episodes, I will sit in on every meeting, starting with the concept meeting and  ending with the production meeting, but including every meeting in between (Art Department, Hair & Makeup, Wardrobe, Background Casting, Playback, Stunts, Special Effects, Visual Effects, and Props).  I don’t micromanage my team.  They are all incredibly talented, creative people and my job is to give them direction, not orders.  I trust them to deliver the goods and they do, time and time again.

In addition, I will tweak and sign off on casting breakdowns, cast our episodic guest stars, sit in on the cast read-thru, have a tone meeting with the director, and answer any questions anyone may have about the script.

Since we work on a staggered schedule that sees us prepping an episode while another is being shot, I entrust on-set supervision to Co-Executive Producer Ivon Bartok who is there from crew call to wrap, a 12 hour day that usually starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m.  Occasionally, we start earlier.  All too often, we finish later.  I’ll usually come in early and set-sit until my first prep meeting, relinquishing my supervisory duties to Ivon who will deal with any issues or concerns that may crop up during the shoot.  If any do, I’m only a text away.

My days tend to consist of early mornings, prep meetings, writing, rewrites, countless approvals, and sporadic set visits.  As the season progresses, my duties may also include dealing with any network requests.

Once an episode has been completed, I will do my edit.  While many producers will go in and spend the day in the editing suite, I don’t have the time.  Instead, I will download the cut and watch it when I get home at night, once straight through, then a second time for notes.  I provide the editor with copious notes, anywhere from 25 to 100 and, once they’ve been addressed and a new cut is output (usually the following night) I will repeat the process, sending significantly fewer notes on my second pass.  The next day afternoon, I will go into editing and spend maybe 2-3 hours with my editor, completing my Producer’s Cut.

As post-production continues, other pieces of the puzzle are assembled: mixes (music and sound effects), color timing.  With VFX Supervisor Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, Paul, and Jay, I will approve the visual effects through its various stages, from concept to finished product.

Of course, while all this is going on, I continue to prep, write, rewrite, edit, and approve.  From start to finish, almost six months.

And when the last episode has been shot and the final episode locked, I will switch gears and start thinking about next year, coming up with  a season-long story and individual character arcs as well as as many stories as possible for the upcoming season.

Oh, and in addition to all this, I try to get word out about Dark Matter, doing interviews, updating a daily blog with photos, videos, concept drawings, and insights.  Our fans get to choose episode titles, quiz our cast and crew, and are given access and insights unlike those offered on any other show.

My plan is to rest after Dark Matter‘s fifth and final season, then start all over again with a new series.

That’s what THIS Executive Producer does.

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The other day, I was asked to describe my writing process.  My first instinct was to say I didn’t have one but, upon further consideration, I realized that I do follow certain patterns when writing a script.

Step #1: PROCRASTINATE

I’ll do anything to avoid starting a script – surfing the net, doing my taxes, writing this blog – sometimes going weeks steadfastly distracting myself until, finally, fed up with my no-can-do attitude, I’ll capitulate and begin!

Step #2: LAY THE GROUNDWORK

I’ll open up a new file page, put my name, the date, and the title on the cover page, then set up the headers and, finally, write TEASE at the top of the first page. This always gives me a great sense of accomplishment and, satisfied with work well done, I’ll take the rest of the day off.

Step #3: OPENING WITH A GLACIAL PACE

The first scene of the episode is crucial and, for that reason, I will agonize over it for days, constructing the entire scene in my head before writing it down.  After several rewrites, I’ll set it aside and come back to it the next day, throw out what I’ve written, and take another stab at it.  Eventually, I’ll have a scene that I don’t love but honestly don’t hate as much as previous versions and, besides, I’ve got to get moving.  And so, the following day, I’ll rewrite the scene, then forge ahead and, usually, complete the tease.  This offers another great sense of accomplishment as I convince myself that 1/7th of the script is complete (tease down, next five acts and the tag to go!  That’s technically 1/7th – if you don’t take page count into consideration).

Step #4: CREATIVE DRIVE

The beginning of a script is always tough as I’ll re-read and rewrite those early scenes endlessly in the hopes that racing through them will give me the momentum to carry me through the rest of the act.  Instead, I usually stumble and crash half a page into new territory.  Fortunately, the cure for my writer’s block is only an elevator ride away.  Once I’m behind the wheel of my car, far away from the distractions of the internet and the chocolate in my fridge, I can finally focus. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing while driving.  I’m not sure why it is but the 20 minute drive to work is golden time, allowing me to run and refine dialogue so that, by the time I get into the office, I’m ready to write!

Step #5: PUSH!  PUUUUSH!

That’s it!  Don’t let up!  Lock your door, ignore the distractions, and keep at it! You’re almost there.  Yes!  Yes!  You’ve done it!  Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of a Tease and First Act!  It may not be much to look at now but, like any mom and dad, you’ll grow to love it.  Or get used to it.

Step #6: RINSE! REPEAT!

Completing the first act is a HUUUGE accomplishment.   Believe it or not, the hardest part is over.  Now it’s simply a matter of repeating the techniques and superstitious  rituals that got you here.  Re-read, rewrite, go for a drive, lie awake into the wee hours playing scenes in your head, drink some sake, seek out positive reviews, comments or messages to remind you of your salad days and motivate yourself to achieve the perception of unparalleled visionary heights, you sad, creatively-spent has-been.

Step #7: RIDE THE WAVE!

At some point in the writing of the script, amidst the seemingly endless hours agonizing over turns of phrase or Rubik-like plots, you’ll get into a groove and the words will start to flow, smoother and faster.  And suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and you can do no wrong.  You’re in the zone and it’s glorious!  Great characters moments, tight dialogue runs, clever developments – it’s as if some future you has traveled back in time to give you all the answers. Sadly, this inspired burst is fleeting, usually lasting 5 to 15 pages before dissipating and leaving you the shattered mess you once were.  But the key is to recognize the wave and ride it as long as you can.  Just last month, I rode my best wave ever on Dark Matter Episode 304, blazing through a record 32 pages in a white heat.

Step #8: FEAR THE DEADLINE!

By this point, I’m hopefully at least halfway through the script.  I can often rely on a late closing burst as all the story’s narrative points converge in those final pages of the fourth act, giving me the momentum to  drive through another modest chunk.  If that doesn’t work, then the prospect of a looming deadline will be enough to spur me forward.

Step #9: CAP IT WITH SOMETHING SPECIAL!

Beginning a script is tough, but ending one can be just as hard UNLESS you’ve got the Holy Shit conclusion already in your head.  And you should!  Start strong, but end even stronger.  Yes, it’s important for the viewers who will no doubt be blown away by your inspired moment, but it’s equally crucial to your creative mental well-being capping the episode with an ending YOU know will blow them away.  The shocking reveal at the end of the show’s very first episode, the reveal of Jace Corso in Episode 3, TWO being blown out the airlock, the Android going down in Episode 12, the captured crew being escorted off the ship by the G.A. with SIX revealed as the mole in the season one finale, the bloodbath in the palace in Episode 212 – all deliciously devious moments I envisioned for ages and saved for script’s end, like a decadent bite of dessert you look forward to at the end of a long and exhausting dinner party.

Step #10: IGNORE IT LIKE AN EX THAT SPURNED YOU!

Once the script is complete, I’ll set it aside and move on to other things.  Resist the urge to give it any attention.  Don’t you remember the difficult times?  The frustration?  The thankless hours and days spent trying to make it work?!!  Play hard to get.  Ideally, I give it a few days before I pick it up and give it another read and another pass.  After that, it’s someone else’s problem…

Until they give you notes.  Then it’s your problem again.

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Ah, there are no better motivations than anger or a deadline and, in the case of this new pilot, I can draw on both.  A little over halfway done and it’s coming along swimmingly.  Hoping to have it done soon so that I can get some feedback, do a rewrite, and then go out with it in the next couple of months.  As much as I enjoyed my time in Toronto, being back home these couple of days made me realize how truly awesome it would be to set up a show here.

So, in yesterday’s blog entry, I uploaded some pics from the Stargate archives. I’ve been going through a lot of these old files and am amazed by the brilliant work of James Robbins who, prior to taking over as Production Designer on Stargate: Atlantis, spent many years in the art department conceiving, creating, and designing some of the franchise’s most memorable visuals.  Like for instance…

wraith pod01

The wraith pod from the Atlantis pilot.  Or…

wraith mothership

The wraith mothership.  Or…

warrior headpiece

The headpieces for the wraith warriors.

Just incredible stuff.  You can check out more of James Robbins’ over at his website:

The Art of James Robbins

Speaking of art, on one of our last days in Toronto, Akemi and I had dinner with actress Ellen Wong (Dark Matter’s Misaki Han) and her husband Adam.  It was Ellen’s birthday and, to commemorate the  special day, we gifted her this awesome framed painting by a budding local artist:

IMG_7781

Speaking of the new commander of the royal guard of Ishida, check her out…in uniform:

FullSizeRender

And, of course, you remember her ride…

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So, today I resume one of my favorite spotlight features of this blog: The Screenshot of the Day!  Each screenshot will be selected at random and uploaded without context.  Assume what you will!

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 4.33.48 PM (1)

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While we’re no closer to settling on a name for Dark Matter fandom, we’ve got some pretty terrific candidates for the individual character fan groups.

Roll call!

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#FANDROIDS = Fans of The Raza’s whimsically endearing Android.

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#SIXPACK/#6PACK = Fans of The Raza’s principled shuttle pilot.

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#FIVEHIVE/#5HIVE = Fans of The Raza’s quirky tech monkey.

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#FOURCLAN/#4CLAN = Fans of The Raza’s  detached but deadly royal.

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#THREESCOMPANY/#3sCOMPANY = Fans of The Raza’s resident rogue.

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#TWOCREW/#2CREW = Fans of The Raza’s kick-ass commander.

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#ONESIES/#1SIES = Fans of The Raza’s principled warrior.

Artist Jon Hrubesch, whose artwork was just featured in Episode 108’s Transfer Transit sequence –

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– left a comment on yesterday’s entry.  I followed up and had him send me links to the gorgeous works on display –

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Mighty spectacular, no?  You can check out more of Jon’s art here:

http://jonhrubesch.deviantart.com/gallery/

And, while we’re on the subject of eye candy, check out the work of our VFX team on Episode 108’s Vega5:

Finally, here a few more Dark Matter Episode 108 reviews for your perusal:

http://www.mikesfilmtalk.com/2015/08/01/dark-matter-episode-eight-recap-and-review/

“Each episode moves the story forward while simultaneously shedding more light on each character and generating still more questions. This formula ensures attention levels do not wane and keeps the viewer guessing. Dark Matter is part of SyFy Friday and is great television that should not be missed.”

http://noobist.com/uncategorized/dark-matter-episode-8-review-recap/

” And what’s more, how will this revelation affect the group dynamic going forward since they’re trying the whole no-secrets-and-lies thing? This should be good.”

http://www.idiotbox.co.uk/dark-matter-review-episode-8-33965/

“First up let me just say that I love everything about the cloning transporter system, it’s such a brilliant idea and one that is so wonderfully SciFi, just the concept of it is awesome enough so it’s brilliant to see it used to such an effect here. Also great was the strong focus on Six who for me is easily the most easy to connect with of the bunch which is largely down to him having the clearest and most compelling back story, at least so far.”

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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!

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Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #1

Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #1

Well, I’m exhausted.  Although I only wrote seven pages today, I also ended up rewriting another twenty.  By the time the dust settled on my laptop this evening, I’d hit the 50 page mark.  All I have to do now is finish off this conversation, completing Act V, then write the tag which will include not one, not two, but THREE surprises.  So when the series finally airs, make sure to wait for those final credits – otherwise, you’ll miss something VERY important.  And then you’ll definitely feel like odd person out at the water cooler Monday morning.

Anyway, I hope to get my writing producing partner, Paul, a first draft by Friday so that I can take a break…from episode #2 by starting the script for 3 episode #4.

We’ve also started talking about potential first season directors – and who will helm our big two-part opener.  Quite a few incredibly talented candidates – some of whom you are no doubt familiar with…

Speaking of chocolate…What?  We weren’t talking about chocolate?  Well, NOW that we’re on the subject: http://www.answers.com/article/1184282/7-scientifically-supported-reasons-to-eat-chocolate-every-day?param4=fb-ca-de-health&param1=null&param2=null&param5=5&param6=6

Uh oh: http://www.businessinsider.com/gluten-sensitivity-and-study-replication-2014-5  Apparently only 1% of Americans suffer from celiac allergy.  And I apparently know ALL of them.

And I needn’t remind you that like red meat animals fats coconut oil eggs coffee gluten (?), sugar is bad for you: http://dailyburn.com/life/health/sugar-bad-for-you-health-effects/?fb_action_ids=10204200568245260&fb_action_types=og.comments&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

My favorite part of this article: “…people who consumed more than a quarter of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die than those who restricted their intake to less than 10 percent of total calories, regardless of age, sex, level of activity and body-mass index.”

To which I reply: “Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests that people who were born face a whopping 100% mortality rate (!) irrespective of age, sex, level of activity and body-mass index.”

Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #2

Gratuitous French Bulldog Pic #2

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