The script has been written. It has been carefully revised. And it has finally been distributed to the various departments. Now, all that’s left to do is shoot the episode, right?
Turns out your guest star is unavailable, the network wants changes, and the line producer claims the script won’t board. Welcome to Prep Week.
Before we can actually start shooting the script, we need to prep the episode. In other words, the director needs to prepare a shot list, deals with guest stars need to be closed, costumes need to be made and fitted, sets need to be constructed, locations need to be scouted, props need to be created, stunts need to be coordinated, special effects need to be prepared, playback and visual effects need to be discussed and envisioned. And we have a week in which to get it all done.
We start things off with The Concept Meeting. Remember that scene in The Avengers
movie where Sean Connery presides over a conference room full of individuals in bear suits? Well, the concept meeting is something like that except that nobody wears a bear suit and the part of Sean Connery is played by the Director, who actually presides over a gathering of department heads.
We sit at a long table and go through the script, page by page, scene by scene. Questions are asked, red flags are raised. The Executive Producer clarifies points of confusion and jots down notes for future script changes, while the Director gives everyone the head’s up on what he’d like to see, what he’s expecting of them, and how he is planning to shoot a given scene. Maybe he’s considering using a crane for the opening shot, or is thinking of changing the final scene from a coffee shop “sit-down” to a more dynamic “walk and talk” in the park. Everyone discusses the viability of the suggestions, what needs to be done, then all are given their marching orders and the Concept Meeting wraps. Hopefully in under two hours.
With the preliminaries out of the way, various meetings will follow over the course of the next few days:
Costumes: My favorite of all the prep week meetings. Who is wearing what, and when? In this particular case, we’re discussing the SG-1 mid-season two-parter, “The Fourth Horseman.” Christine Mooney, our SG-1
Costume Designer, has already gone through the script and anticipated what we’re going to need: “stinky off-world peasant garb,” haz mat, USAMRIID haz mat.
She shows us pictures of the various outfits and then we discuss specifics: What is our guest star wearing when he makes his first appearance? Do we want to see any of the new military digital camo? We’re going to need doubles (maybe even triples) of certain outfits since they’ll be damaged over the course of the shoot. Let’s put Landry in his dress uniform for a scene or two because, as much as Rick wasn’t crazy about his dress uniform, Beau is a fan of his.
At some point during prep, Christine will come by and show me pictures or sketches of what she’s working on. And when the guest stars come in for their fittings, she’ll call us down to wardrobe for a quickie fashion show. Overall, it a fun process — but nothing beats dressing the villains. (Check out “Ex Deux Machina” for a particularly styling baddie.)
Stunts and special effects: If you ever need something blown up, then Wray Douglas is your man. As our Special Effects Supervisor, he has been blowing things up on Stargate for years. Blowing things up real good. He has also, working in conjunction with SG-1 stunt coordinator Dan Shea, beaten / tossed around / run over / blown up / shot / set fire to / etc. many an actor. I envy him.
In “The Fourth Horseman,” we need to pull off a fairly tricky stunt in the council chamber on Dakara that, after some discussion, will require a marrying of visual and practical effects. No less tricky but decidedly more fun is a scene where Cameron Mitchell is knocked down by an invisible force, dragged across the ground, hoisted up in the air, choked to within an inch of his life, then unceremoniously dropped. Browder, being the masochist he is, will undoubtedly love getting down (and up, and down again) and dirty.
General Landry, meanwhile, will be going on a less physically-demanding but no less harrowing ride of his own. We discuss the choreography, what we’ll need, and how many stunt men will be required for a couple of other scenes.
Props: Dean Goodine is the SG-1 Property Master and, like Christine, he’s ahead of the game, coming to the meeting armed with potential props or, at the very least, some clever ideas for what he is planning. Many of the props are simple re-uses from previous episodes (a zat, a staff, medical monitors) while others are created specifically for the episode (breakable test tubes, a “special device” [which is actually designed and built by the art department), and a remote unit for that “special device.”
Visual effects and playback: Michelle Comens, our VFX Producer, comes to the meeting armed with a shot-by-shot breakdown of the various visual effects, everything from zat gun blasts to enormous space battle sequences. Invariably, we’re always over-budget to start the meeting and will spend the next hour or so trying to get the number down.
Krista McLean (my partner in anime appreciation), meanwhile, has the most unsung job of all — that of Playback Supervisor. Her department creates everything that you see on those monitors — from heart monitor feedback to live video feeds, M.A.L.P. telemetry to plain old static.
Casting: First and foremost, we try to cast locally. Sean Cossey, our ever-affable Casting Director, oversees the audition process — contacting the agents, bringing in the actors, getting the performances on tape and then forwarding the tape to the production offices.
Casting is always interesting as the performances invariably run the gamut from brilliant to bizarre, amusing to downright frightening. There was the actor who auditioned for the role of an alien — and proceeded to do the scene with a French accent. There was the beautiful but, well, not very accomplished actress who came in for a one-line part and proceeded to mangle that one line — on three successive attempts. And there was the actor who came in to audition for the part of the “elderly scientist,” read, then gave us the option of doing another read without his false teeth as it would make him look much older. We passed.
Our meetings with the Art Department are a little more casual, with Bridget McGuire, our Production Designer, dropping by the offices to show us the schematics for the ship she is going to get the Construction Department to build or the blueprint for the chamber she is going to get the Set Decorators, brothers Mark and Robert Davidson, to dress. Art Director James Robbins will swing by with his designs for everything from alien hand-held statuettes / potential bludgeoning weapons to Wraith ships.
In the event we’re not building a location, we’re going out to find one — and that’s when Doug Bron, our Locations Manager, steps up. He’ll find us that perfect apartment, creepy hospital, or alien cappuccino bar we so desperately need.
We’ll deal with a plethora of other issues, from extras to make-up, transport to budget concerns, taking mini-meetings, making last-minute changes until, finally, we run out of time and we’re on to the Production Meeting. It’s much like the Concept Meeting except that, at this point, all the bugs have presumably been worked out. We go through the script, page by page, scene by scene, and put the finishing touches on our grand plans. That done, the Production Meeting wraps. Hopefully in under an hour. And from there, we’re on to …