Beware of SPOILERS for Season Five of Stargate Atlantis in this interview!
It has been an exciting year for Stargate co-executive producer Martin Gero. Whether working in Vancouver on Season Five of Stargate Atlantis or promoting his recently released feature film, the entertainer has constantly been on the move, meeting nothing but success.
We recently sat down with Gero for an exclusive interview, where he talks about his favorite episodes from Season Four and the unexpected trials that came his way (from working on his new film to tackling unexpected surprises in the episode “Trio”). We discuss the new cast regulars introduced this year, the mid-season two-parter (among other episodes), and the expedition’s responsibility to its enemies.
GateWorld’s interview with Martin Gero runs 34 minutes long. You may listen at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or read the transcript below!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m here with Mr. Martin Gero once again in his office. You cleaned out your Muppets!
Martin Gero: I did! The Muppets are gone, yeah!
GW: No longer a Muppet fan?
MG: No, it was just time — and this is what the GateWorld people want to know — I just needed a little cleaner look. I spend more time in this room then I do in my house. I thought I’d spend a couple days. We repainted it and put some of my art up and then some of the shots of the show.
GW: Is it a little bit bigger than it was before?
MG: No! There’s less junk in it. It feels like a much, much bigger office. People feel like I got a promotion when really I just took stuff out. Also I had a TV and VCR in the corner there and I can’t remember the last time I used a TV and VCR. That was the end of that.
GW: Well, we’re just a few weeks in production on Season Five. Any early thoughts? Anything you’re particularly excited about? How are things going this year?
MG: It’s a great year. This is, again, a very focused year like it was back in Season Four. We’re not trying to do two TV series. We’re not even trying to do a TV series and two movies. Atlantis is really the only focus. That’s incredibly refreshing.
Some people were worried because there’s great cost savings in doing a couple things at once, but we’ve trimmed some of the fat of the production. We thought, “Oh, that’s going to be a problem,” but actually it’s allowed us to do bigger stories this year. The first few cuts that have come back, I’m very excited. I’m very excited.
GW: How is the season premiere looking?
MG: It’s excellent, if I do say so myself. It’s a lot of fun. I really like writing those big episodes that also have an enormous amount of heart and character in it. I’m pretty excited about a couple of surprises that hopefully we can keep surprises. I think it’s quite good.
GW: Is there anything you’re doing differently this year from Season Four? Any lessons learned?
MG: Well, for me personally, some people know last year was a very, very busy and difficult year for me. I was doing Stargate Monday to Friday afternoon and then would fly to Toronto Friday afternoon, work on the movie that I was directing Saturday and Sunday, and then come back and start working. So I was working seven days a week for about six and a half months there and traveling a lot.
I’m a “Super Elite” member on Air Canada. I know you guys are American but I flew over a hundred thousand miles last year. I can’t complain because I got to work on my TV series here, which I love to do with all my friends, and I think do the best season we’ve ever done, and I also go to make a movie — which was an enormous amount of fun. It took a physical and emotional toll on me that I was unprepared for.
So this year feels amazing. I’m just doing Atlantis. I’m only going to do about four episodes this year, just because there’s more of us to go around, which is great. I really feel like we have a lot more time to focus on our episodes. I wrote the season premiere. I had a couple months to do that. And now I’m working on the mid-season two-parter. I’ll have three and a half, four months to write those two.
I really feel our first drafts are a lot better this year — not because we’re better writers but because we have more time to really think about them. When you’re in a rush you tend to just be like, “What have we done before? I’ll add a little twist on that.” When you’re sitting down to attack a scene, it’s easy for us to go into gear and just do it out of inertia.
“This is how we do an episode.” “This is how we write a scene.” “This is how those characters talk.” [This year has] allowed pause to go back and go, “OK, well we’ve done it like that. How can we still keep it Stargate but maybe do [it differently]?”
It’s been a lot of fun for me. I’m trying to maintain that kind of feel. I think the shows just need to get increasingly more sophisticated in their storytelling and hopefully we’ve done that.
GW: In what ways are you hoping to advance established story arcs this year? What are you most excited about? Atlantis is an ongoing journey.
MG: For me it’s always about the characters. I know I’m kind of a broken record about that. All of the story arcs are just there to expand character for me. It’s important to tell great stories. I think a real combination of arc stories and one-offs.
For me, we’re looking forward to episode 100 this year. It’s a hundred hours that we’ve spent with at least three of these characters. That’s an incredibly satisfying thing. We don’t want to make it feel like an end, I don’t think. It’s a neat landmark to hit, definitely, in your characters’ life. We’re doing our best to make everything feel like it’s leading organically to that last episode.
GW: Usually the milestone episodes are somewhere in the middle of the season and you can do something special with them, but in this case it’s a finale. What do you guys want to do with that? Do you want to make it special and a finale? You’re probably already obviously thinking about it.
MG: Yeah. It’s going to be great. That’s all I’m going to say. It will be very special and it’s going to be very big.
I couldn’t be happier that it’s our season finale. I think that’s great. There is a roundness to it that I enjoy. Those first five seasons are 100 episodes. I think, probably never been done. No one does only 20 episodes a year. It’s a strange thing to do.
It’s great because those are the episodes that you can usually convince people to give you a little bit more money for, and it’s not even so much an arc for this season but we’re coming full circle. Let me put it to you that way.
GW: What’s it like writing for Woolsey this year?
MG: I love Woolsey! I’m a big Woolsey fan. I was very vocal in my wanting Carter to come over and I think she was an incredible addition to the show last year. To be very honest we were really, really sad to see her go. It was a hard thing for, I think, both her and us to get our heads around.
We definitely understand. It’s tough doing something for 11 years, and I think given the opportunity to do something else, I think we all understand that and wish her nothing but the best. She’ll be a presence in the show this year, too. Even in the episodes she’s not in, she is referred to.
So that was difficult. When that finally looked like there was not a situation that we could make it work where she’d be in a substantial amount of episodes, there was maybe three seconds of discussion about who to bring in. It was no doubt it was going to be Woolsey. Robert Picardo is not only an exceptional actor but an exceptional person as well.
We like to have fun here on the show. None of us really want this to be a rough time. We want to enjoy coming in to work and we try not to do business with jerks and prima donnas. He’s a guy that we knew is not only good but is really affable and easy to work with, and we’re very respectful of the work he does. He’s very respectful of the work we do. It was just a no-brainer for us.
Plus I think originally the idea was that Weir was going to be the bureaucrat and Sheppard was going to be the loose cannon military guy. Just the way the Weir character very quickly developed, she was much more understanding. She wasn’t a company man from the beginning. So of course she was going to go more with her gut than by the I.O.A. rulebook.
But Woolsey is not that. Woolsey is a bureaucrat true and true. And also, like McKay, bringing a character that was essentially an antagonist in the series, and then making him the lead — you have to create some sort of mechanism where he’s not an ***hole all the time. Because now we have to embrace him as one of the characters that we have around.
Paul [Mullie], I think, very cleverly in “The Seed,” wrote an episode that does not diffuse the tension that we wanted to bring over with Woolsey, but shows a softness to him. The thing is, by-the-book works on paper [and] is easy to judge when you’re sitting on Earth. But when you’re in the Pegasus Galaxy and people are turning to you, it’s all of a sudden life and death, sometimes the rule book just doesn’t make a lot of sense and you have to rely on yourself and the people around you.
I think we’ve so far been able to keep that dance of having him still be … he’s not an easy boss to work, for but I think the team is slowly growing to respect him. And hopefully our viewers will, too.
GW: Yeah, you don’t want the viewers to not like the guy.
MG: No, McKay was the character everyone loved to hate but when you bring him over to be one of the leads on your show you have to open him up in a way where people are like, “Oh, you know what, I know why he’s like that. He had a tough childhood. He means well, he’s just bad socially.” You have to do stuff like that with Woolsey.
GW: Where do you hope to bring this character by the end of the season? He’s always been very against the programs, the Stargate programs themselves, but at some point he’s probably going to have to root for them.
MG: I don’t know that that’s the case over the past year or so. I think even in the end of Season Three, and the stuff in Season Four, it’s not so much that he’s against the Stargate program … he feels that it’s an unfocused program, I think.
Even in “The Last Man” — which is, given, an alternate reality — he’s basically saying, “Listen, we came here to learn about ancient technology. We didn’t come here to be the police of the Pegasus Galaxy. Let’s focus up and get on task,” basically.
I don’t think he was ever against the Stargate program. I just felt he thought it was not being handled right. But now he’s in a position where they basically were like “Alright, put your money where your mouth is.” It’s tough. There’s a great episode called “Inquisition” which is coming up later in the year where he has to basically defend the program. And I think he does it very well.
GW: What are your thoughts on Jewel as a full-time cast member?
MG: Look man, I’m a big Jewel Staite fan. I was one of the people that suggested her in the first place to come in and be the doctor. It was something that we realized very quickly that we needed to do in “First Strike.” Obviously [“Adrift”] and “Lifeline” were going to be lost in space so it would feel weird to introduce a doctor in those. It was a type of thing where I was like, “Listen, we’ve got to do this quick and here’s who I think it should be.”
We’d been trying to find a place for Jewel ever since “Instinct.” The only reason we really used her in “Instinct” was because we knew we could use her again. The cast fell in love with her. She lives here in Vancouver so she actually developed a friendship with a lot of people on the show, outside of the show. Sadly, she’s probably closest to Paul McGillion [“Carson Beckett”]. That’s uncomfortable.
She’s fantastic. I know she definitely has her detractors still, because of the whole Carson thing. If that had never existed I think she would be a universally admired character. She really allows a perspective that I really find fun. She’s incredibly competent and wide-eyed at the same time, and is also not the coolest kid in the world, and is really thriving working with the A-Team, so to speak. I think that character was a very fertile character for stories.
The trick with the show is that you have to bring these characters in to give your older characters something new to react and interact with. If we just did five seasons of Sheppard and McKay banter all the time it would start to feel old. But if you can work in these newer characters to the show, I really think it brings the show another life. I really love what Jewel’s done and we look forward to moving forward with that character.
GW: From your stories last year, which are you most proud of? Which do you think were the most successful? Which do you think didn’t work out as well as you wanted?
MG: I think “Be All My Sins Remember’d” was probably one of the best shows Atlantis has done. It’s funny because a lot of people were like, “You should do shows like that all the time!” And you’re like, “Well, aside form the fact it’s probably the single most expensive visual effects episode we’ve ever done,” I think what people react to is what Joe and Paul did last year — they sat down and went, “OK, this is going to be a 20-part story, and “Be All My Sins Remembered” is all pay-off.
It’s ten episodes of set-up, essentially, for “Be All My Sins Remember’d.” It’s scene after scene of fulfilling payoff, because you’re like, “Oh my God, they’re talking about the baby!” “Oh my god, Larrin’s back.” “Oh my God, we’re going to kill the Replicators.” “Todd’s back!” It literally is all lead-up to that episode.
It was so fun to write. Andy [Mikita, director] did such a great job. And cast did their best. And Mark Savela deserves an Emmy for his work on that show. Aside from the space battles, you go to the guy and say, “Listen, I want a giant silver blob to eat up a city” and he’s like, “I have no idea to do that.” “Well, that’s what we pay you the big bucks for, Mark!”
He really did a phenomenal job. So “Be All My Sins” is definitely, I think, my favorite. I have a soft spot for “Miller’s Crossing.” I like all those guys. My friend Brendan Gall plays Kate [Hewlett]’s husband. Having Katie come up and play for a little bit. Those are all people I just really like a lot.
That’s just an excuse for me to hang out with my friends those episodes. I think it was a really great story. And then for me, “Trio,” one of the things to look forward to on the Season Four boxed set — Ivon Bartok did a great piece. “Trio” was the most logistically complicated episode both Martin Wood and I had ever been involved in, and it’s just this little episode that takes place in a room. People don’t understand how phenomenally complex that episode was to pull off.
It was supposed to be this episode that saved us all this money and turned into A) one of the most expensive episodes we did last year, and B) one of the most complex. I won’t go into the whole thing. This piece will do it much better justice than I will.
So that was just fulfilling from a “No one thought we could do it and we pulled it off” [standpoint].
GW: I have a couple of Replicator questions while you’re talking about “Be All My Sins Remember’d.”
GW: The first is when the Replicators in the Pegasus Galaxy were first introduced, Brad [Wright, executive producer] has described them as what he wanted all along for Atlantis — maybe as the primary antagonists. Why were they killed off so quickly? It’s a little over a year and now they are, with one exception, gone.
MG: Yeah. Well, I think it was a great story is why, to be honest. The tough thing about these shows is it’s hard to get a victory. A real big victory. And we felt like we had this great 12-episode idea, where we think we’re trying to neutralize them, it backfires horribly. We turn the attack code on, it starts devastating human populations, and at the end of the day we ally together with basically everyone in the galaxy and take them down.
It just felt really fulfilling. The though thing about a show like this is if you have a main bad guy — Battlestar can’t destroy the Cylons. That’s got to be the last episode. And for us that’s who the Wraith are, I think. We can’t deal that finishing blow to the Wraith and not feel like, “Well, the story’s over.” But those are phenomenally satisfying stories to be able to tell.
So for us, again, just arcing the year out we knew the latter half was going to focus predominantly on Michael and the front half of the year was going to deal with the Replicators.
Also, you don’t want to get into situations where, for the Wraith, you have to escalate. You have to win some, they have to win some, and you have to come up with reasons why you’re winning, they have to come up with reasons why they’re easier to beat, and the Wraith, we had legitimate things. They were being decimated by the Replicators. They’re in a civil war because of their food supply, and so they’re easier to deal with. Because otherwise they’re overwhelmingly impossible to deal with.
The Replicators, we felt that was true for them. The Replicators are amazing bad guys because they are invincible to a certain extent and need to be wiped out all at once. We didn’t know how many more stories we could do where it was us rubbing up against them and us getting out by the skin of our teeth. Then it diminishes the series and it diminishes them as bad guys.
For us, we thought, “Well, if we’re going to do this, let’s really do it.” Let’s come up with an 11- or 12-episode idea where they back us into a corner and we have no choice but to do this incredibly risky mission. With the help of Todd and with the help of Larrin. So that’s why. It was just a great story.
GW: My second question about the Replicators has to do with that. The question is, and I take this back to “Unnatural Selection” and the introduction of the human form Replicators, I look at it in terms of the O’Neill philosophy: They’re machines. We need to neutralize the threat. The Carter philosophy: well, they’re sentient people, living beings.
And it seems at least from “First Strike” forward, Earth has taken the O’Neill philosophy — that they are not people. They’re machines. Do you think that the Replicators were, or are, in any way sentient, and if so, does that mean that we’ve committed an act of genocide?
MG: I think they are sentient, but the problem is that they were committing acts of genocide themselves. Their strategy was not just killing the Wraith, which we have no problem killing, by the way. That was my original idea for the “Hot Zone” virus, but it seemed too dark at the time. It was a last-minute ploy for the Ancients. They would wipe out human populations so the Wraith wouldn’t feed.
Robert [Cooper, executive producer] was “The Ancients would never do that,” and I had to agree. It just didn’t seem like something the Ancients would do. So “who the hell did this?” And so that was always in the back of our heads. Once [the Replicators] headed out in their battle against the Wraith it made sense to me that they would start taking out human populations because they don’t care about humans. They care about defeating the Wraith, and the best way to defeat the Wraith is to essentially take away their food supply.
That can’t be allowed to happen. They are sentient but they have no morality, and if it’s [an] “us versus them” type of scenario, I think anyone in their right mind would choose them.
That being said, the whole final scene of “Be All My Sins Remember’d” is “Listen, they’re kind of still alive, but in a much more manageable form because there’s one ship left.” That’s got a very interesting story coming up in Season Five that Carl has written. Carl can tell you about that one.
GW: We’ve heard a little bit about somebody named Michael Shanks coming to Atlantis this year. Can you give us any context for that visit and does that episode have a title yet?
MG: It does! It’s called “First Contact.” It is going to be the first part. The second part is … well, that title is still up in the air. That title is fairly telling. I’m not gong to say anything about that title.
Basically the premise is that Shanks, or Daniel, shows up in Atlantis to do some research. He’s been excited about coming to Atlantis for five years now. Things have finally calmed down on the S.G.C. side to give him some free time. So he’s coming to Atlantis to do some research on Janus. And that’s all I’m going to say.
GW: Oh, Janus! Yeah, the time travel guy.
MG: [But] it’s not a time travel story.
GW: To do some historical research on him?
MG: Yep. He wants to know more about him. And McKay finds it very frustrating because McKay feels like he’s followed up any leads that are promising. McKay is kind of angry.
GW: He thinks it’s kind of a done deal?
MG: Yeah, he thinks it’s someone coming over to check his work, basically, and is not the happiest that Daniel is coming to Atlantis. Also, McKay is very territorial and he likes being the head Ancient guy.
But I think it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever written. Both Mark [Savela] and Andy [Mikita] and I feel a great pressure to outdo “This Mortal Coil” and “Be All My Sins.” We are on our way.
GW: What are some of the other stories you’d like to tell this year that are spooling in the back of your mind? Any “Sunday”‘s that we can help push forward?
MG: Oh, man, I wish! Well listen, people helped push forward for “Sunday” and were very upset that we did it. I feel like I co-opted the fan base. They were like “Wha, wha-wha-wha, what did you do? We helped you do this!”
GW: “You said it was going to be a ‘day off!'”
MG: Yeah, exactly! [Laughter] That’s right. “You jerk!” It’s been an interesting year because I’ll write the season premiere and the mid-season two-parters, which are big episodes, and I’m going to do one more which I’m also going to direct, but I have no idea what it’s going to be yet.
I’m so focused on getting this two-parter really, really great. So I’m not sure. I think, ideally, it will be a smaller, quieter episode and [will] save some money.
GW: Has it been slotted into the schedule yet? Do you know what number it is?
MG: Yeah, I think it’s going to be number 15. [Update: Now episode 16, “Brain Storm.” -Ed.] It depends. It keeps moving around because I have responsibilities. The film is coming out June 13 in Canada in a fairly wide release before it comes out in the states later in the summer or fall. Unfortunately I have to miss a little bit of work to go.
GW: That’s in the midst of a little controversy, I’ve been reading.
MG: Yes, very much so. Very much so. Pretty insane.
GW: Martin Gero bringing down the Canadian film industry.
MG: Single-handedly bringing down the Canadian film industry. It’s a long story. It’s all over the net. You can Google it. Basically my film is called “Young People F***ing” and was given government money. Like any other film in Canada, American or not, it has been given tax credit money. It’s an industry-wide incentive.
Certain groups that claim to have the interests of the Canadian family in their mandate have taken issue and so have our leading government which is a conservative government. There was a bill introduced that would basically put a stop to films like mine being allowed tax credits. It’s a very bad thing.
GW: Nothing to do with the content, though?
MG: Well, I’m sure it had to do with the content. I think that the title is very honest and frank.
GW: That’s what you wanted!
MG: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I don’t feel [it] misrepresents the film either. It’s not like it’s a showy title just to get people into the theater. The movie is a frank discussion about sex. And, for the most part, a lot of people that have protest the film haven’t seen it, and if they had they would find out that it’s actually a very, dare I say “sweet,” romantic comedy whose main focus is that our generation, I think, all to often has made a real attempt to separate sex and love, and how completely impossible that is.
The film is, I think, very funny. It’s done very well. It’s been pretty well reviewed. The audiences seem to love it. They test these films to see how wide they should release them and we’re getting pretty much as wide a release as you can in Canada. It’ll be interesting. It comes out June 13. It’s taken on a weirdly important significance outside of itself, suddenly — showing the Canadian government that these films are definitely worth financing.
It is a controversial title. At the end of the day, though, it’s ended up being the best thing for the film. The film is in the newspaper every other day. It’s been a terrifyingly strange thing to be in the middle of. I’ve just made a movie. I work in the entertainment industry. To suddenly have my views on government policy carry people interested in that at all is a very terrifying thing.
We have a show called The National, which is our national news and the grandfather of news in Canada. I was sitting there being interviewed. I caught a shot of myself on screen. As a Canadian you’ve seen that shot four thousand times — “What am I doing here? No one cares about what I think about government policy! This is no place for me.”
Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with Stargate.
GW: What do you think the chances are for Atlantis getting a year six? What preparations are being made to that end?
MG: We’d like one! Everyone would really like one. It really has to do with a couple of things: One, how our ratings do. As of now our ratings just went up in the back half of the season, which is really promising.
And we’re premiering in the summer again which is very good for us. It’ll be the shortest time between the end of a season and the beginning of a season in three years, which is tough for us because we have to shoot everything in order this year. The visual effects are under tight time restraints.
Anyway, I think it’s very promising — here, only four or five episodes into Season Five. But it’s also going to have a lot to do with [Stargate] Universe and how far Universe is. If Universe gets picked up and goes very quickly, then people may feel like one Stargate show is enough. Maybe they want two. Who knows.