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Stargate SG-1 Crew Interviews: Martin Wood

Martin Wood Q & A with Solutions, Part One
Martin Wood, Director, July 2003

As a director, Martin Wood's credits include Jeremiah, Just Deal, The Invisible Man, Earth: Final Conflict, Jake and the Kid, Silk Stalkings and Stargate SG-1. He wrote and directed the 1998 movie Teenage Space Vampires. In 2001, he directed the children's movie The Impossible Elephant, written by Robert C. Cooper, and was nominated for a Directors Guild of Canada Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Children's TV Movie or Mini-Series. He also directed the award winning documentaries, The Great Run of China and If Trees Could Talk as well as two episodes of the Canadian documentary series, The Life and Times.

We're extremely grateful to Martin for taking time out of his ridiculously busy schedule - he pointed out to us that the producers of Stargate SG-1 expected him to be about the place yelling things like "Action!" and "Cut!" - and also his well-earned hiatus! As Martin was honoured <cough> with a whopping ninety-seven questions from eager fans and doesn't want to (1) disappoint anyone (2) quit directing Stargate to become our OS Guru, he - and we - will be sharing Answers to those Questions in gentle instalments...

Without further ado, we launch into part one, with, according to our calculations, a mere eighty questions - and weeks of Martin's life - to go!

We're very honoured Martin has chosen to share with us his thoughts on directing and we're sure you'll agree that this is one of our most fascinating interviews yet. We hope that you, like us, are looking forward to reading more :)

Alison for Solutions
01 July 2003

1 Thanks for taking time to answer our questions: First, I'd like to know why you picked Michael up in your directors cut of 'abyss' . It was very hard to hear the commentary going on between the three of you. I enjoyed your Director's Cut; will we see more from you on other DVDs? What do you think about Director's Commentaries on DVDs?

I love doing the DVD commentary. It gives me the chance to make a connection with the viewers that is much more intimate and personal. I get to explain something about what you never get to see and, without taking any of the magic out of it, I get to show you the “tricks of the trade” (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain).

I picked up Michael to demonstrate how I wanted him to enter the scene- I wanted him to walk down the wall- being an ascended being he would be unaffected by gravity and could enter the cell any way he wanted to. Michael didn't understand how he was supposed to do it (oddly he felt his inability to defy gravity would ultimately be the reason for his noncompliance). I told him that someone would lift him up and all he had to do was walk, he said “no one can hold me up there long enough. I weigh close to 185lbs”. So I showed him.


2 Who of the main Stargate cast is easiest to direct? Who is most difficult?

Each of the cast members have their individual quirks and quarks and depending on how they are feeling any particular day they each are easy or difficult to direct. For the most part though none of them are really difficult (certainly not in the “Hollywood” way of being difficult). Often they will come in with a particular idea about how they want to play a line or a situation and we will have a discussion about it. The best idea wins. Because I've been working with the same cast for 7 years I can usually predict how a scene will be played out and I have good solid reasons for blocking it and directing it the way I do. The actors trust me to make them look good and tell a good story. Usually I do and there is no conflict…on other days though….

3 How did you come to be involved in television?

My Dad was in television- he produced and hosted his own show here in Canada so I quickly became a TV station brat. I shot my first frame of film hanging out of a helicopter with an old CP-16 film camera when I was 13 years old. Ohh the stories I could tell….

Hello Mr. Wood and thank you for taking the time to do this for us:)

4 About A Matter of Time- Right after Cold Lazarus, this is one of my favorite Jack O'Neill episodes. As the director on this one how did you go about approaching the concept of time slowing down and of creating the tension of the blackhole issue? Were there any particular camera angles or lighting that you went for to create the mood and tension? It was such a wonderfully done episode.

Thanks this was one of my all time favourites too. (Along with Small Victories, Line of Duty, Solitudes, Beast of Burden, Changeling, Full Circle, Abyss and Avenger 2.0- oh yeah you guys haven't seen that one yet…). Lighting always plays a crucial role for setting mood and tone in any visual medium. Fortunately for me I generally have Jim Mennard my Director of Photography hanging over my shoulder seeing what I'm doing with a particular story and he will try to match the picture with what I'm trying to do. The best part of Matter of Time was in trying to figure out how to make it look like Rick and company were actually being dragged into the gate (we accomplished it by actually turning a gateroom set on its side and having the actors suspended from the studio ceiling. When I was trying to explain the effect to them I had the Special effects guys haul me up on a harness and let me drop down to the floor again ). Both Matter of Time and Abyss were fun for me because antigravity always pushes the limits of what you can do without getting too expensive. For me doing something ‘in camera' or practically (meaning no computer enhanced visual effects) is always the most exciting challenge- some of my most favourite shots are the ones that you would look past because they pass by without fanfare (ie: Carter holding her dog tags up to the gate when the black hole first starts to effect us- totally practical- it's a piece of fish line tied to the end of the tags).

5 About Deadman Switch- This episode seem to have a lot of exterior shots. Are they harder to set up and control than interior shots? And which do you prefer?

Exterior shots are great if the weather cooperates- they will always look better, have more depth and multi-textured contrast, Lighting by God is always going to be way cooler than anything we mortals can come up with. There have been lots of times when we will all stand and watch a sun set and just stare at it- it doesn't happen very often in a studio full of lights. Deadman's Switch was particularly neat because we were in a really cool part of the Seymour Demonstration forest here in Vancouver and the weather was all on our side.

6 About Divide and Conquer- This seems to be a very controversial episode in SG-1 history. How do you feel about it and did you have any sense of the controversy it would be creating while you were directing it?

Oh yes. I knew as soon as Brad and Robert started to tell me the story of Upgrades and Divide and Conquer that it was going to be a potboiler. I added a few things to heat up the force-field scene like the fact that Jack and Sam were nose to nose- neither Rick or Amanda felt comfortable being that close together and saying lines (they love each other- don't get me wrong- it's just weird to be talking to someone with your noses almost touching) I had to keep reminding them “there is a force field between you, it isn't weird.”

7 About Red Sky- This is my second favorite episode of Season 5 and again it was one filled with tension and drama. Was filming with all that red lighting a problem for you? How did you adjust to it to catch the emotion of the actors...or does something like this add to how the acting comes across?

Again Jim Mennard came to the rescue in this episode. Jim and his Gaffer Rick Dean spent a lot of time trying to get just the right colour to film mix to set up the different stages of “redness”. On the DVD director's commentary I think that Jim spends a good deal of time talking about finding the levels that would appear to be red on television without making some older tv sets explode with over active red tones (red is always a problem when broadcast- even the red spinning lights in the base that go on with incoming wormholes have to be a specific “tv safe” red colour). As far as the light working on the actors- it really isn't so much a factor. We were spending 11 or 12 hours a day under the red light in the studio- after about 10 minutes your eyes become accustomed to it and you don't really see it any more (of course if you wander outside and then come back in it startles you and you really start to see RED…maybe that's what RDA did just before he came hurtling down the steps to land the punch…).

8 About Abyss- Ok I gotta ask…did you guys really throw a shoe at Michael Shanks? His flinch was so realistic! How did you go about approaching the concept of filming something that was the effect of a very confined space. Did you have any original concepts about this that just didn't work when you tried them?

During the rehearsals I had Rick throw a shoe and Michael would just catch it and throw it back (although if you know anything about Richard Dean Anderson you know that every time we rehearsed he threw the shoe harder and harder trying to surprise Michael). When we did the visual effects shot in a single of Michael RDA was behind the camera so far that Michael couldn't see when he was motioning to throw it and would forget to flinch. It was frustrating everyone (it was a late Friday night after a particularly tough week), so when it came to that spot in the scene where Jack throws the shoe I stood beside the camera and said “Michael I'm going to fake throw my shoe at you to cue your flinch” Without Michael knowing it I tied one of the laces of my shoe to my finger, when it came time to cue the flinch I launched the shoe and it looked as if it were actually going to hit him but it came up short of getting into the shot- MS thought he was going to get hit- hence the flinch.

Again thanks for doing this.

This is *fantastic* news! He has directed some awesome episodes and has been with the show since the beginning.

9 Of the episodes you've directed, has there been one which was harder than any of the others, whether it was getting the overall 'feel' that you wanted or because technically it was a very complex episode?

Technically “The Gamekeeper”, “Matter of Time”, “Revelations” and “Abyss” have been the most challenging. Gamekeeper because we were only able to drop the mausoleum that killed Daniel's parents one time- so every one of the flashbacks had to happen simultaneously from very narrow angles using 1 Michael Shanks and 2 Daniel doubles. Matter of Time and Abyss were challenging just because it's really hard to fake redirected gravity. No matter how hard you wish for it not to – no matter what camera angle you use, no matter which set you turn on its head- our gravity pulls everything to the ground- hair, clothing, aging faces…. So you really have to get creative in making the actual ground the direction that you are wanting to “redirect”. Revelations was tough because it was the first time we'd used a motion capture character- James Tichenor the vis fx producer and I spent most of our prep time just mapping out how we were going to tap dance our way through the day with the actors acting with a character that wasn't really there.

9a When you read through a script for the first time, do you immediately visualize the whole story as how you want to see it or do talks with storyboard artists help you decide?

Both actually. I can't help put pictures to the scripts as I'm reading them for the first time- often I will doodle little diagrams in the script margins or make visual notes to myself to remind myself of my first impressions. I am often startled when I look back at episodes from years ago and compare my old scripts to the final product- believe it or not most of the pictures you see are very much the ones that I saw when I first read the script sitting in my living room.

9b Do you look at it as a whole story, or do you concentrate on individual scenes?

The whole story is the only way to do it. To make a scene that you've concentrated a lot of energy/time/style/effort etc. at the expense of the rest of the story is like spending all your time on the sauce and forgetting the rest of the meal or putting on a really great pair of shoes and forgetting to wear anything else.

10 a Do you know from that first reading what you want from each character?

I generally have a good impression about what their “voice” (the actor's character at a specific moment) is going to do, but “on the day” everyone brings their homework to the table and adds their own stuff to the mix.

10b Do your initial impressions or goals for the episode change from that first impression as filming goes on?

Always- generally for the better. I always have a plan but depending on what gets brought to the table that plan will change. Usually it's best idea wins…usually.

11 What is the biggest change, if any, you have made to a script during filming?
Thank you for taking the time to participate in a Q&A!

You wouldn't believe what you could have seen soooo many times. How a little nuance that someone plays with in a rehearsal or during a table reading gets turned into a huge deal – changes in plotlines, changes in characterization, changes in dialogue that will shift entire upcoming episodes. It's really quite an organic thing this Stargate show of ours. Sgt Siler is a good example of this- I needed Dan Shea the Stunt Coodinator to be close to Rick in a stunt scene. In order to get him close enough I had to dress him up as a base technician, and because Dan has a bit of a sibilant “s” when he talks he decided he should be Sgt. Siler from Syracuse. Now he's a big time TV star…. Another huge change that we made to a script was during the filming of “Spirits”. Originally O'Neill was going to lead the team to the planet, he was going to get “shot at” not “shot” in the briefing room. But RDA needed the time off (something about having a baby or some equally ridiculous thing) and suddenly Carter is leading the team (which is why, if you listen closely to Carter's dialogue you will notice there are a few O'Neillisms thrown in that the writer's tried to shoehorn into Carter's mouth). Crystal Skull is another famous episode- Michael Shanks had an appendix burst in the middle of shooting, a double played almost all of the scenes in the cave with the other characters.

Wow, another great Q&A! Thanks guys.

12. Martin, when you know a scene is not working, what goes through your mind about ways to make it work. How do you motivate the actors to produce the results either you want or you know they are capable of?

There are lots of ways to make scenes work- usually tiny changes in the dialogue or in tweaking the way that I've blocked the scene out for the actors. We've all been together long enough that there are very few times when we actually come up against a brick wall and when we do then hopefully I have enough of a plan and the actors trust me enough that we get through it. That's what “directing” is- lots of preparation and tons of trust on both sides. And then there are the other days…and on those days I pull out the monster voice and the “fist of death” –both great motivators.

Thank you for giving the Stargate fans at Our Stargate some of your time.

13 What was it like directing Chris Judge in Changeling since he had written the script? Was he nervous? Did you have to make any changes, and if so, how did he react to any changes?

Chris and I had a really good time with Changeling. I took great sport in saying “who writes this sh*#?” whenever a line wasn't working. There were several times when Chris would catch himself saying the same thing. The double dream sequence was a lot of fun to work with but it got confusing- lots of times he said “I'm not sure where I am right now” and I'd have to remind him to stop “Teal'Cing” it and start “Chris'ing” it up a bit. Tony would run into the same problem and I'd poke him and say “Hey Bratac get out of this dream”. The things I changed in the script and in production were mostly transitional things. Very little of the original Chris/Brad Wright story got changed in production except to make it cooler….


14 Have technological advances made a positive contribution or created additional logistical challenges in terms of the production process?

Tech advances in Visual effects have made my job far more wonderfilled than it ever was before- take for example Hymdal the Asgard- three years ago we would never have been able to make a full motion capture character on a television show. On the other hand the finished product has never been so far out of my reach before –once I've finished my Director's cut of the shows then they disappear into a hole in the wall and come out scrubbed and polished with all the VFX done. As far as advances in the film medium, cameras etc: it tends to be all good- the panavision Millenniums that we shoot the show on are soooooo much nicer than the stone knives and bear skins that we used to use to make our 44 minutes of Television.

15 Has anyone ever suggested a cinematic release for certain episodes?

Small Victories was the first show after the pilot to generate the “cinematic release” buzz (the good people at Rainmaker effects even packaged Nemesis and Small Victories together in an HDTV rendering and showed it up on their big screen for the cast and crew but unfortunately we don't shoot in what is called a “film finish” mode and lots would have to change in the way we shoot, the vis fx would have to all be “up-rezed” so you wouldn't see all the horrible cheats that we are doing. There is talk about releasing this year's final two part episode as either a feature or an MOW but that remains to be seen( I start shooting it at the beginning of August and finish at the beginning of Sept- I just finished my initial notes on the writer's draft- it's a pretty wild ride…).

16 Do you storyboard sequences with specific shots in mind or cover scenes with multiple cameras and reach viewpoint decisions in the edit phase?

Generally I try to storyboard complicated Vis FX sequences so that I can let everyone in on what's happening in my brain and to give the VFX artists, the cinematographer, and the actors a chance to visualize what is actually supposed to be on the screen when I shoot some desperately empty green screen set. As far as multiple cameras go- I generally shoot most of my day using two cameras (on boring briefing room scenes I will try to squeeze three cameras in (see “Fallout”- I only had 5 days to shoot it and there are a few feisty scenes in the briefing room between the “Langarins” and the folks from the SGC). On most action sequences I will use multiple cameras at multiple angles in order to maximize my coverage and substantially up the cool factor.

17 Do actors make good directors?

No…with the exception of Peter DeLuise, Amanda Tapping (you'll see….), and two others I can't think of right now- oh yeah one of them is Ron Howard.

End of part one
On to part two

(c) 2003, Stargate SG-1 Solutions. All rights reserved. You are welcome to link to this page. You may not reproduce this interview in full or in part.

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