Beware of minor SPOILERS for Stargate: Continuum in the interview below!
Martin Wood has been involved with Stargate since the very first season of SG-1 and has directed nearly a quarter of the franchise. GateWorld has considered itself long overdue for an in-depth discussion with this influential producer. We spoke with him at the Stage 3 Media offices earlier this year.
In Part One of our video interview, GateWorld talks with Wood about the excitement he had filming the for the direct-to-DVD feature, Stargate Continuum, dodging submarines in the arctic, and bringing all his learned lessons to bear for Sanctuary.
GateWorld’s video interview with Martin runs 24 minutes, and is also available in audio format. The full interview is also transcribed below.
Check out Part Two of our interview here!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m here at Stage 3 Media with director Martin Wood —
Martin Wood: — and Amanda Tapping [points to photo behind him].
GW: And Amanda Tapping. The lovely Amanda Tapping. Currently over here working on your new project, Sanctuary. Everyone is buzzing about it.
MW: I hope so.
GW: Oh yeah, definitely. Where are you guys at now? SCI FI has just approved you for the series.
MW: SCI FI has approved us for a series. They’ve approved some of our scripts — some of them, not all of them. They’re being really good about moving the stories ahead. We’re trying to shove them ahead and they’re slowly moving them ahead so it fits with the model they want to put on their network, which is fine with us. It’s a whole different show than what you saw on the net. Anybody who’s watched it on the net will be stunned by what they see. There’s some vowels that we used in the initial one, but there’s not whole sentences that we used.
The characters are a lot more full. The storylines are a lot more rounded. What they saw on the net was an experiment for us. We experimented in how we could do this virtually, how fast we could do it, too, which is one of the things, believe it or not. We did it really fast.
GW: So Sanctuary, the online version, was basically a stress test to see if this could be done or not on a television budget or less?
MW: On much less than a television budget. It was testing a market that is going to be the marketplace soon. We were trying something to see how the market would accept it. The market was very accepting of it, by the way. There’s been over 3 million hits on the show — well more than that. Everybody’s idea is still that the net is free and it’s difficult to get past that right now. Everyone is experimenting with different ways to market things on the net. We did our experiment with it and learned an amazing amount from it. Now we’re going to do a TV show and go back to see how the net reacts.
Let me say it this way: When you do what we did, essentially that shot that James Cameron did on “Titanic,” you jump back and there’s a little tiny Titanic in the middle of the ocean, in a black ocean, and there’s a little flare. It goes up like that. That’s essentially what we did. We went on with no advertising. It was totally viral. We went to see how far we could go with that, and it was an experiment in doing that. Once we’ve had the exposure on television, let’s see what happens.
GW: OK, sweet. I’d like to come back to Sanctuary momentarily but I’d like to start off, let’s springboard into Stargate with this. How has Sanctuary influenced your work on Stargate this year? In all honesty?
MW: Other way.
GW: “How has Stargate influenced your work on Sanctuary?”
MW: I grew up on Stargate. I spent the last twelve years there and learned, if not everything, then most of the things I know in terms of the choices I make as a director, how I direct. Directing, I learned to do on Stargate. Even though I’ve done a lot of other series, they’ve been offshoots of what I’ve done from Stargate.
The majority of my time has been spent, every year, for eight months doing Stargate and Stargate Atlantis. Those two shows allowed me, because I was there so long, allowed me to do things I didn’t normally get to do on a series, as a visiting director, because you can’t push the limits the way that I did on Stargate.
We all grew up together on Stargate. The crew, the executives, the ones that are referred to as The Powers That Be, we all grew up together on that. Everybody cut their teeth on those two shows. Even though people came in with other experiences, that’s where everybody got to experiment and play. Everything I learned there I turned into being able to do Sanctuary.
A virtual show like this hasn’t been done before, so what we’re trying to do is take all the things we learned from all I did, that incorporated virtual sets, and put them into a show that is entirely that way.
GW: Will you be directing fewer episodes on Stargate this year in order to have some more time over here?
MW: The hope is that I’ll be able to finish the season with Atlantis, and maybe even do another movie. The fact is that we have to wait and see how our schedules mesh. Atlantis has been great. They’ve actually come to me and said “Would you like to do some episodes,” and I’ve said “Of course I do. I can’t imagine a year of my life without a least a few of them.” It’s an incredibly important thing to me to keep Atlantis alive, and Stargate alive, in my life.
GW: What about Season Six? Are you just working on Season Five right now? Are you going to finish Season Five and come completely into Sanctuary?
MW: Because Sanctuary is a short pick-up, we should be able to be finished before Atlantis finishes their schedule. That’s what I’m hoping. Because I’m running Sanctuary, I can always schedule myself into some time to be able to go and do Atlantis stuff.
Like I said, when they started shooting, Andy Mikita was shooting the first episode of Atlantis this year, it’s the first time in twelve years I haven’t been there the very beginning of the year. It felt really weird. I went in and told the guys, “This feels really weird not being here when it starts.”
They have been amazing. Paul and Joe and Brad and Robert and everybody over there, the producers, have been incredible to me and Amanda about understanding where we’re at and what we’re trying to do. And they’ve been very supportive.
GW: Stargate Continuum is coming to DVD this July. We don’t want to blow anything. How early did you know you would be directing this project? How early on were you brought in?
MW: Before Atlantis was made Brad and Rob came up to me and started talking about the Stargate feature. I really wish that Brad would release the script that they put together for it, because I read the script that was going to be put together for the Stargate feature, and thought “This is incredible.”
But what it morphed into was it essentially morphed into “Lost City” and “Rising.” Those four shows were essentially the movie that they were pitching to me. I was going to do that if it came about. Then Atlantis came up and they asked me if I would do the opening two-parter, do “Rising.”
So that was the biggest project I’d done to that point. And then when it came time for the movies and Robert said he was going to do one, and Brad asked me if I would do the other one. I said “Great, what’s it about?” He sat down that day and essentially said, “Here’s what the movie is.” And spun the whole thing out.
Now, if you don’t want me to give you away a huge amount of spoilers, what I can do is I can do this [mouth opens wide] … and just sit here for five minutes and go “This is essentially what Brad said for an hour and a half in his office.” [Mouth opens wide] Now the problem going there is you cant’ get your eyes any bigger than that and my kept dropping down, down, down.
I actually said to him at one point, “You’re just pulling my leg, aren’t you? You can’t do all of that in one movie.” And he goes, “I’m doing it.” And then he started writing. he started showing me in acts what he was doing. It was so amazing to see all the big stuff that you really like doing, the big, cool stuff that you do, squished into a movie.
When I read scripts I start looking at them visually right away. I open a page and start thinking how I’m going to shoot the scene as I’m reading it. In this one if was one of those things where I was doing the same thing I was doing in Brad’s office, except alone in my office going “Holy cow, oh holy cow. I’ve got to direct this now!”
GW: You’ve got to make it your own.
MW: You know what? I’ve got to tell you something. I never did make it my own.
MW: Yeah. This is a very collaborative effort between Brad Wright and me. I’ve said it a couple of times — I said this the other day on the DVD commentary. I didn’t direct this thing on my own. This was a tag team directing thing.
He’s really good to work with. Anybody who wants to be a director, if you dream about it and trying to put it out into the universe, try putting it out there where you want a producer like Brad Wright sitting behind you. He’s so unobtrusive when it comes to things. He almost never says “Maybe you should try this,” or “You should do that.”
The best thing about having him there, what I would normally do, in a television show is I try to second-guess what he’s going to want, and with him there I’m not doing that. I interpret the script one way. All directors do. And there’s times when you get to a point where you go “I don’t think the way I’m going with this is the way he wants it to go,” or whoever is producing it wants it to go. So you end up covering it a little bit differently so you can give them the option of doing it in the edit suite.
In this case, because we were under such an amazing constraint of time — 19 days. It was less than we shot “Rising” — there was no time to slow down. There was no time for extra shots. There’s no time for anything that wasn’t going to actually make it into the movie. Brad was there. There was one time we did a single shot all the way around. I designed the shot to work as a single shot. Half the time I do that I go “OK, I have to give him an option if it doesn’t work.” In this case we did it in a single shot and Brad goes, “No, don’t touch it! Go. Move on.”
So it was great to have him there. From the very beginning, when I was designing shots, I would sit with him. We sat down and this is going to seem like weird heresy to some directors, Brad and I sat in the edit suite and did the director’s cut. So we did a cut together. And that doesn’t normally happen. For me I’m so comfortable with the way he cuts, and he’s comfortable enough with me for the way I can put something together, the two of us together with Brad Rines sat down and over the course of the week were able to do a director’s cut of the movie.
GW: Is that what’s going to be on the DVD?
MW: You’ll see some of the scenes that were cut down, and they were cut down for a very simple reason to try to keep it to a certain time. When we finished it Brad looked at me and said, “Essentially, that’s our movie.” Which is interesting, because you finish up a TV show as a director’s cut and you hand it over and go “Man, that’s not what’s going to end up on TV.” It’s eleven minutes longer than it’s supposed to be. It’s seven minutes longer than it’s supposed to be. In this case it’s “That’s essentially our movie.” And that’s essentially what made it to the screen, or what will make it to the screen by July..
GW: The entire thing was done in nineteen days?
MW: Nineteen days.
GW: Is that including the Arctic shoot?
MW: No, the Arctic, we were up there for seven, we shot for five.
GW: One before, one after?
MW: Yeah, it was traveling time. It was essentially getting up there. We landed in the arctic, we off-loaded the plane. Peter Woeste and I looked at the sun and went “Let’s start shooting.” It was essentially that. It was minus 56 that day. We shot in minus 56 degrees.
Amanda Tapping and Ben Browder put their costumes on, walked out there and started walking. I’ve got two big stars standing out there in the middle of the arctic ocean and I’ve got a little crew of seven people around me. In a couple of days Richard Dean Anderson was going to be there with John Smith and his wife. They were going to be up there. “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
GW: “We’re doing a movie!”
MW: That’s exactly it!
GW: Tell us for the thousandth time — I know you’re probably sick of telling it — tell us about that entire experience.
MW: It was the time of our lives.
GW: Freezing time of your lives!
MW: You know what? I didn’t mind. I like cold! I don’t mind at all! I wear shorts year round in Canada. I have my whole life. The experience was one where we were prepped for it — I was prepped for it longer than anybody else was, because I was talking to Barry Campbell who put this thing together.
Barry Campbell came up to John Smith and I when we were sitting at a Gatecon convention in Vancouver. He came up and said “Can you sign this for me please,” and then put a picture down in front of John Smith and said “You guys want to come to the North Pole?” And I went “Yes,” and Andy says “Sure,” and John goes, “Of course!” And he says “OK, let’s talk.” He put his picture down of him at the North Pole with a submarine behind him.
We went two years later.
We’d been talking a lot along the way. I understood there was polar bears. I understood there was cold. I had to direct a movie when I was up there. Those things were logistics, those were things we had to get past, but not things I had to concern myself with too terribly much.
There was always a person facing this way, and always a person facing that way, with rifles, in case polar bears came. And there was always a helicopter to chase them away, because they don’t want to shoot the polar bears. They want to scare them off.
Now, there were a couple people up there that kept spinning around in circles looking for polar bears themselves, but I couldn’t be one of those people. And you know, there’s things like while you’re talking to each year you’re in a balaclava up to here, you have goggles on, your nose is exposed, and there’s times when you have to pull that stuff off and start talking to each other, but you’re always looking to each other to see if there’s frostbite. There were a couple times I’d look at Peter Woeste and I’d go “Peter, cover that up.” Somebody would look at me and say “Pull your goggles down a little bit. You’re getting a little white in here.”
You can’t be out in that kind of temperature. We were out for ten hours and nobody complained. Not one person up there complained. There were huge smiles on everybody’s face, only you couldn’t tell. You could just see a little balaclava move like this. It was amazing. And honestly, I cannot imagine another television star that would stand out there like those guys did. And for ten hours. And they weren’t dressed like that. They were dressed crappy.
We did everything we could. Christina McQuarrie took everything she could and packed it underneath those suits, but they still had to have Edmondson South Pole foul weather on.
GW: Well when are you going to be able to do something like that again? That is almost …
MW: I hope next year! I really hope so! I keep pushing Brad. “You know, we could actually go up there. We could shoot in the camp. It’d be great. Doesn’t have to be the North Pole. Maybe the south pole this time. It doesn’t matter. I want to go up.” Amanda, Ben. “Let’s go! Come on!” Not one of us wanted to leave. And as warm as it got, the warmest it got was minus 19. We were chucking our clothes off, walking around in sweaters, “Hey, it’s minus 19 today!”
GW: Well if you can experience minus 60.
MW: They said the coldest it got was, in the wind chill, minus 80. That was the day we couldn’t shoot.
GW: Oh, so weather halted production?
MW: It did on one day. We woke up one morning and I looked outside and thought “This is not going to be good.” We’re in little 8 by 8 by 20 foot plywood hooches, they’re called. Little plywood 8 by 8 by 20. And there was me, Ben Browder, Richard Dean Anderson, the captain of the base, and another guy called George, who was a government worker who was not allowed to tell us what he did. We spent the entire time in the hooch trying to find out what George did.
You can’t have Richard Dean Anderson and Ben Browder — we laughed all night long. Inside it’s plus 75, and outside, as soon as you open the door, it drops the temperature down to minus 50. I looked outside the little window we have, the polar bear window, and thought “We’re not going out in this.” We have a helicopter and we have snowmobiles. We can take either one of them to get where we need to be, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because you’re on an ocean that’s frozen. It’s all the same. “Hmm, should we shoot over here or should we shoot over there? Uh, let’s see, uh, Peter?”
Well it depends on which direction you’re facing because that’s the way the sun is. “Let’s shoot this way.” “OK, we’ll just turn them that way.” It’s all the same. I was constantly scouting for places that was slightly out of the wind so that we could work longer, because if the wind’s up you can’t work as long.
What was funny to me is this one day I look outside and I see the helicopter is completely battened down. I thought, “OK.” So I go out and Evil Kenny, the props master who was my assistant up there, assistant director up there, we jump in a snowmobile. We get about 40 feet. “Man, this is cold today.” Our hood’s down to here, so we huddle together and we take off in a snowmobile, we go flying around, come back and look at the temperature. “Minus 59. OK that’s pretty cold. I think we’d better wait until it warms up to about minus 50, and we’ll try it then.”
That’s what we were talking about when we were up there.
GW: Did you know the day you were scheduled to get out of there?
MW: Yeah, we actually extended it. We got out two days later.
GW: So you were able to do that?
GW: OK. was going to say, did you ever have any fear? “What if we don’t get all the shots that we want? What if it’s just so insanely cold?”
MW: Yeah. We almost didn’t. Oddly enough, the reason we were up there was to see a submarine come up. The U.S.S. Alexandria, number 688, the Los Angeles class nuclear submarine broke through the ice for us. Three times. It’s not that easy. It’s “Day One, shooting this way.” “Where is it? Where is it?” “It’s way down there!” “Well we’re over here.” Didn’t get it.
Second day. “Alright, get the cameras out, get the cameras out — [submarine rips through the ice].” “It’s not an exact science, is it?” “No. They have a commodore on there. An Admiral. They have to get him off the boat.” “OK, well, it’s up!” And then the last day … they kept telling us this.
There are so many great stories about being in the arctic. You’re on four feet of ice and below you is twelve thousand feet of water. And you forget it’s an ocean until it starts to move. Of course it’s moving constantly. We moved 78 kilometers. My GPS, I marked it when we landed, and you could actually see the little circle that we made around the top of the world.
But they’re trying to position a 375 foot, seven thousand ton submarine underneath ice, and all they have is a little periscope camera looking up at a circle, and an X, and an arrow that we’ve marked in it. They’re trying to find it — they’re in a valley, which essentially looks like a valley to them because there’s huge ice sails that come down like this.
So they’re looking up from 150 feet at what looks like this X on top, and now they have to match their speed to the ice, which is moving. Submarines don’t hover. They move forward, they sink, they go up, they go down, they sometimes go backwards. They don’t hover.
So you get into this trench, into this trough, and you have to start coming up. You don’t have much control at 30 feet a minute. It’s not like you have a huge amount of control forward. And what you don’t want to be doing is, as you crack through the ice, be moving forward. You’ll tear your boat to smithereens. they actually have to be coming up at the same speed that it’s moving and come crashing through.
The day that they came up, nobody had ever hit the X before. I had a camera set up. There’s the mark, put a piece of tape on it. Somebody comes, bang, they land on that mark. OK? I’m looking between two actors, between Richard Dean Anderson and Ben Browder. The camera’s set right there. We’re looking between them. I have Peter Woeste, handheld camera, ready to move. He’s six five, so he’s got two steps and he’s way over here. He’s ready to see it coming up. We’re all ready.
Exactly at the time it was supposed to come up, they said “We’re coming up.” They use the code word for “We’re coming up.” “Alright, everybody tense up!” There’s a whole bunch of us out on the ice and we’re standing like this. And he goes, “We’re aborting! We’re not going to hit it.” And they go back down.
“OK, alright, so let’s line it up again.” This is a 375-foot machine traveling underneath ice sails. It has to go turn around, come back and find it again, then match the speed again. “How long does that usually take?” “It’d be a minimum of 45 minutes.”
OK, this is a film crew who’s been up for 3 and a half hours already standing on the ice, and now we have to wait at least 45 minutes. But there’s no place to wait. You can’t just sit down. So we all talked about how nice it was to be in the arctic, and then we did it again. And it comes up. There’s the code word for it coming up — I can’t tell you the code word because it’s top secret. So anyway, we hear it and they start coming up and we’re all ready again. And they say to us, “You know, you have to feel with your feet. If it feels like the submarine’s coming up underneath you, run.”
“Oh yeah!” They can’t tell we’re up here! They don’t know where we are. They only have this little X they’re looking at. Literally if they drift 20 feet to one side they’re coming up underneath all of us, crashing through the ice.
So we’re all waiting. You’re poised to run. There was one direction we could run, which was that way. We’re all going, “OK, we’re ready for it.” And they aborted again. So we did the same thing again. So five and a half hours we’ve been out on the ice. And finally they come around and they start coming up and, “Crash!” Right in the middle of the X!
The behind the scenes that you see will not show you the internal reaction I had inside this hood. I’m actually supposed to be acting at that point because we were all our own extras. I have Evil Kenny standing there at one point pointing for me, and this thing comes up. My reaction is “Don’t yell,” because everything’s acting still. I want to hear this thing come up. I was so happy.
I grab my face and I realize the hole is all ice now. I go “Smash!” And all this ice comes off of my face. “Wow, we’ve been out here for a long time.” But we got it. We got the shot that we needed, exactly the way we wanted it. It was very cool.
GW: Man. What an experience. Jeez. So the only unexpected problems you had was you had to stay a couple of days longer?
MW: That was the best part.
GW: I was going to say, “That’s just so terrible.”
MW: That was the best part!
Check out Part Two of our interview here!