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 Two of our video interview, GateWorld talks with Wood about some of his favorite scenes from Stargate: Continuum, memorable shows he directed over his decade-long run with the franchise, and his new personal frontiers with Sanctuary.
This second part of GateWorld’s interview with Martin runs approximately 19 minutes. The audio format of the interview runs the full 43 minutes of the complete interview. It is also transcribed below.
Check out Part One of our interview here!
GateWorld: Were there any shots that you weren’t thinking you were going to get that you were able to achieve?
Martin Wood: In the arctic or just for the whole movie?
GW: And the whole movie.
MW: When you make up a list, as a TV series director, I do a shot list. Some of you may have seen them in the “200” book. I am very irreverent in them because generally I’m the only one that looks at them, or the people I hand them to. Anybody that’s ever read my shot list know that they’re very irreverent. They’re 20 pages long. But it lists off every shot I wanted to do for the show.
If you know how many shots didn’t make it into some of your favorite shows, some of your favorite episodes, I save all those. I have all my old shot lists and old scripts. The scripts themselves actually have little diagrams on them, how I’m going to shoot a scene. For people who are real fans of the show, if you ever saw those things, you’d go “Wow, if you did this shot it would’ve been amazing!”
That’s what it’s all about in television. It’s compromising your shots. It’s compromising what you can do because of time. It starts to rain. Because of all that kind of stuff. There’s no slop-over. There’s no “Let’s take a couple of days to do it.”
With the movie, even though we were moving at an amazingly rapid pace, because Brad was there, I was able to get the shots I really wanted to. There was one shot — the shot we spent the longest waiting for other than the submarine shots in the north was one that is a duplication shot that we had to do, and it was just because one piece of equipment didn’t work. So we sat around for three hours. Three hours on a schedule that we were on is four shots.
Those are the kinds of compromises that you make. And there are shots that you have in your head that after the number of years that I’ve been directing Stargate I know what I can and can’t get. So it’s become much more precise science for me. But still, when you go into something you dream shots that you’re never going to get because you don’t have the time, the equipment isn’t working the way you want it to, or you have to just give it up because you’ve got a producer with a hammer standing on top of your head.
GW: Yeah. Keeping you realistic.
MW: Yeah. “You are now four and a half hours overtime. Do you know how much that costs?” “Yes I do.” “Well I’m sending the crane home.” (Groan) There goes that crane shot.
GW: Does that happen a lot?
MW: In television it happens more because you are on a very fixed budget and there’s not a lot of wiggle room. As I’ve said, with the experience that I’ve had on Stargate I know how fast the crew moves. I know how fast the actors can move. I know what we can get. Unless there’s something really unexpected that comes up I can pretty much get my shot list in a day.
GW: Wow. That’s impressive. Have you seen the completed film? Is it all done?
MW: Oh, have I. I sat in what’s called the lay-back, when they put the music on. Joel Goldsmith went crazy. I actually called him and left a message with his assistant saying, “Tell Joel I love him.” Joel calls me back and leaves a message for me, “I love you too, man.” [Laughter]
But he’s amazing. I couldn’t go down because I had to be in England for Sanctuary. Brad went down into Seattle and sat with the orchestra, sat with Joel, and went through the music. It was remarkable.
This is what happened: We went into the lay-back and we sat there, Brad was over on this side, he’d seen it already. He’d heard the music already. I hadn’t. So I’m sitting there looking at it in this beautiful high definition monitor. I had only seen low-res versions of the movie because we’re editing it on a lower res.
I’m sitting there and I’m watching it, and this is my expression. [Awe]. And I keep hitting Brad. I keep hitting him in the arm. “Augh, man!” And I get teary-eyed. “That’s amazing! That’s incredible!” This is the good thing about it coming out on DVD first, instead of TV. You can put it into a good system, you can turn it up loud, and you can hear it the way it’s supposed to be heard. And I love that.
Normally with a TV show you know that people are going to miss about a third of what there is aurally. You’re just not going to hear the sound that’s actually there.
GW: What did you think about the story compared to the other stuff that you’d done for Stargate?
MW: The story is kind of a cool romp. The easiest way for me to tell you this. The scenes that I usually like in a show are the ones that propel us into something, just grab you in the back, you’re standing there and just hit you in the back. Those are the scenes I usually like.
I’ve done 70 shows where I read the script first and almost every time there’s a scene there that surprises me. I read it, I go through, and it’s a scene I just read. It’s exposition. And then I get there on the day and the actors really surprise me because they just bring something to it that wasn’t there when I read it. That becomes my favorite scene, and they’re often short exposition scenes. They’re not the “Hit you in the back” things. Suddenly everyone’s magic just comes together in it.
GW: They brought it to life.
MW: Yeah. In Continuum there are two scenes which I knew were going to be good, but when I actually read them I flipped past them. “I know this explanation. I know how we’re going to get there.” You flip past them and you get to the other end of it and there’s another “hit in the back” scene.
One of them is a scene in a hangar with Michael, Amanda, Ben and Beau. You’ll see it when you get to it. You’ll know which one it is. It was one of those scenes where I’m whipping through the pages, and I’m thinking “When’s the next explosion going to happen?” I’m reading it and thinking “This is going to be good, so I’m going to cover it like this.”
As I watched the scene rehearsed I looked at Brad and said, “I need another camera.” He goes “Why?” I said, “I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to miss what’s going on. I’ll order up another camera right now.” We brought another camera in that day and I shot more film on that scene than I did for half the movie. Because I really wanted to cover it in a certain way. I wanted to cover it so that, in the edit suite, we would be able to put together the scene I had seen rehearsed.
It was magic. All four of our characters sat there. Even now, you guys can attest to this. You see these goose bumps. It’ because I’m thinking about that, the way that the scene came off. It’s an integral scene to what’s going on in the movie. And it’s not a page-passed kind of scene.
The brilliance of what Brad Wright can do when he has a little bit of time to write these things. Not that he’s not brilliant all the time. But when there’s the time, months to be able to write something like this, he puts so much into that scene and he’s there watching you. That’s a really dense scene.
Then there’s a montage that happens just before that. It was Brad Wright’s idea to do what he does, which is a sort of floating motion. So we’ve got all three characters on the screen at the same time, all of them talking at the same time. They’re all giving a primer on what the SGC is all about to anybody that doesn’t know that. But they’re all talking at the same time.
If you listen to each individual one you’ll want to go back and play them again and again and again, because you want to hear what each of them is saying.
Brad Rines, when he put it together in the edit suite. He walked in, and what you see there is virtually what Brad and I saw he had done in his editor’s copy. That’s another really powerful scene.
For me, the smaller exposition scenes sometimes have that “hit in the back” after I’ve seen it done. It’s kind of cool.
GW: You say a script isn’t good unless there’s an explosion every ten seconds or so, especially in the bigger opening episodes and ending episodes, but it really is the character moments between the characters.
MW: It is. It’s action-adventure. And an action adventure is action and an adventure. But you know what? Truthfully, having done a million shots where things are blowing up, they’re cool. And they’re what you look forward to in your day. But honestly, I’ve done some Atlantises in the last little while where it’s just people stuck talking, and they’re so much fun to do because it’s a part of drama you get to play out, and harder to shoot. There’s not a lot of angles, so you have to really think about how to do it.
GW: You’ve been doing this show for so long now, which of your episodes do you feel most withstand the test of time? Which are you most proud of?
MW: You know, I get asked this a lot when people look at the volume of work. It’s a very hard question for me to answer. I’d rather say “In this category, [these] are the ones I like.” “In this category, these are the ones I like.” “In this category, these are the ones I like.”
Because truthfully, the evolution that’s happened with me in my directing skill. “Skill” in quotation marks. The evolution that’s happened to me as a director has really made a difference in how I like the shows. Because I look at some of the old shows and I go, “Hoo, hey … I can’t believe I did that.”
But, you know what? One of my favorite shows is still “Solitudes.” “Solitudes,” “Small Victories,” these are shows that I can watch over and over again and look past the directing and think, “Those are my favorite shows.” Things like “Grace Under Pressure” was another one of my favorites. It was just David and Amanda.
The ones I have to take my brain and pull it out and do this with. When I’m actually thinking not just how to make it through the day and how to tell the story the best, but what can I add to this story to make it move forward in a way that becomes a more “roundful” story. But I mean, there’s the “Lost City”s. I love doing those kinds of things. “Rising” was a favorite of mine. “The Storm,” “The Eye.” Those are Atlantises.
You go back into the Stargates where you start thinking about. “The Siege.” Sorry, that’s Atlantis. “The Siege, I, II and III,” I really liked. You start thinking about “Into the Fire” where they were supposed to be this big. “Into the Fire” was not supposed to be a huge show. It suddenly became this massive thing.
There’s a lot of them I really, really like. It’s hard unless we are saying, “What’s your favorite Richard Dean Anderson show?” What’s your favorite Teal’c episode?” I loved “Avatar.” I had such a good time with “Avatar.” I can tell you when you talk about it in those categories which are my favorites, but it’s hard to say overall favorite for anything.
GW: What do you think are going to be some of your favorite Sanctuary episodes? They’re all you, right?
MW: Sanctuary is a different animal because the germ for it started down here, and we built it up together, Amanda and Damian and I, and Sam Egan is a part of that too. There’s four of us that will sit in here and start battling it out about what the world is going to be, and the coolest part about creating something is that you’re actually talking about what the world is, what the rules are.
I sat in here one day and said “No magic. We don’t have any magic.” And everybody fought that and came around to the point where you have to have rules like that. You start looking at some of the things I know Brad and Robert and Paul and Joe would love to not be part of the mythology of Stargate and you learn. “No, don’t ever shoot anybody three times with a zat’ni’katel. That’s got to go out.”
Beaming technology, which changes the way that your whole mythology has to move. As soon as you inject something like that in now you have to write around it.
GW: The chips, they always have to deactivate the chips, you have to pull your chip out so they can’t find you and beam you out.
MW: There’s so many weird things that you learn in a series like that that you watch happening around you and you’re going, “Oh, this isn’t a good idea.” Later on somebody comes and says “That just wasn’t a good idea.” Or there’s the other part. I shouldn’t say it like that. Because there’s a million good ideas that come out from that.
What we’re doing in here right now is trying to far cast. “If we do it like this, what happens there?” You make characters from scratch. There’s a character that is going to live with you for the next five years, or ten years … (smiles) … You’re sitting there hoping the powers that you imbue in that character right now are going to be the powers that keep that person alive and not make you write yourself into a corner sometimes.
It’s fascinating. I love it. I love doing it. There’s a whole bunch of other junk that happens right now. We don’t have a studio. We are our own studio. Don’t’ ever do that. Really. I’m telling people that now. It is so much grief trying to make this thing happen that has nothing to do with creating a television show. It just has to do with the business of TV. For somebody that tends to like a paint brush and an easel, it’s not fun. But it’s necessary, and I’m glad I’m doing it. I’m not glad right now. I will be glad.
GW: The fun will outweigh it.
MW: That’s right.
GW: Once the foundation is in we can get to work. How have you grown as a producer coming over here? More responsibility. Smaller team.
MW: You know what’s interesting is there’s such a machine over at Stargate where you just depend on John Smith to be able to do things. You just depend on John Lenic to do things. You just depend on the executive producers to do things that you don’t have to do. There’s this whole idea of the fact that you are shielded from the buffeting so that you are allowed to direct, so that you are allowed to act.
And here Amanda and I, who have gone through twelve years together of that shielded part of it, are now exposed to the hideous underbelly of this thing and going, “What the hell is going on?” You look at John Smith and John Lenic and Robert Cooper and Brad Wright and Paul and Joe and you sit there and go, “That’s what they’ve had to deal with.”
Truthfully what’s interesting to me is the network has been really good to us. I’m waiting for the day when they turn around and get really angry at us for something we’ve done, and thinking, “There’ s no buffer now. I have to take it in the face and stand up in the wind.”
That’s how I’ve grown. I know now a lot more about what I didn’t know for the past twelve years about how I was shielded. And will do it to anybody I can, will shield them, because nobody should have to deal with all the junk. It stifles you creatively. You don’t have the energy you had creatively. What’s going to happen is we’re building the team that will allow us to do that. Once it gets into production.
GW: What are you most excited about this project?
MW: Two things, one is that it is a brand new thing that’s happening. The virtual aspect of Sanctuary is probably the most exciting thing to me. You are completely unfettered. We have a group called Anthem, who did the vis effects for Tin Man. The head of Anthem, Lee Wilson, has been over here probably ten times now. We’re talking about the scripts. I’ll say “I’d like to do this,” and “I want to move like this.” And he goes “OK. And then we can do this …” My scope is like this. There’s the end of the wall, this is how I’m going to move the camera. He grabs this hand and [pulls]. And ropes it down there, and you have a ceiling that’s this high, and you’re going, “Oh, yeah!”
GW: That’s right! It’s virtual!
MW: I described a shot the other day where there was a city map behind somebody and I said “OK, we’re going to start here.” Lee was just out of my eye line. “We’re going to start here and we’re going to push into his face. He’s going to look into the city map. It’s a Google Maps kind of thing. It’s that kind of satellite look.
Then he turns away and walks away. And the camera goes forward and it drops in. You see it’s heading toward city hall, and then it drops down to the sidewalk of city hall. And now our character walks by and walks into City Hall. And that’s what you can do when you’re virtual. And you can’t do it in a world that’s just sci fi, because you’ve just defied a lot of rules that you can’t do. But in a virtual set you can do that. So that for me is what’s interesting.
GW: Wasn’t there something else, too?
MW: Right. With what we’re doing right now, having as much input as I do is a really important thing to me. Stargate, like I said, they were so good to me as a supervising producer, as a creative consultant, all those kinds of things. I always had input. Now it’s expected right now. I have to give input now. If I didn’t give the input then the show wouldn’t be what it is.
In Stargate the input I had I was hoping would move it up just a little bit, or give me a chance to do something as a director. Here the input is changing the course of where you’re going, and that’s something that I had the opportunity to do at Stargate but honestly didn’t have the time, and truthfully it wasn’t my position to do that. I wasn’t navigating those kind[s] of waters. But here, it’s making wholesale changes the direction the show is going. That’s an interesting thing to me right now. I’m looking forward to it.
Check out Part One of our interview here!