In the second half of GateWorld’s interview with Andy Mikita, we focus on the director’s episodes from the fifth season, including “The Daedalus Variations,” “The Shrine” and “Enemy at the Gate.” We talk about the challenges of shooting out-of-doors, the character of the Stargate team, and the ongoing quality of the franchise!
Part Two of GateWorld’s interview with Andy runs over 20 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe now to the iTunes podcast. The interview is also transcribed below!
Start with Part One here!
GateWorld: Atlantis had some big fifth season episodes. What scripts did you see and say to yourself — the ones you were assigned to — “Wow, that’s going to be a genuine challenge,” or “That’s just a good story that I’d love to put to film.”
Andy Mikita: Almost of all of them. I mean I loved “Search and Rescue.” That was one that struck me as a season opener for Season Five. Just that whole situation of the guys being trapped in that rubble field offered all sorts of wonderful challenges and interesting opportunities visually.
“[The] Daedalus Variations,” that was another one. That was a particularly challenging one. On the surface it seemed like it might be a little bit difficult because, “Oh boy, we’re in the Daedalus for the entire show,” but it turned out great. I was really happy with how that one worked out. And it was a fun one to shoot.
Again, it was one that I thought might be a little more difficult than it was but it turned out to be a good one to shoot. It was a lot of fun and very challenging, all sorts of opportunities visually.
“The Prodigal” was another one that I read and upon first reading thought, “Oh boy, this is going to be a handful but it’s going to be really fun.” With the demise of Michael, and “How are we going to get a jumper in the gate room?” And the big fight on the top of the tower. Some really logistical things that we had to deal with. We wanted to maintain the feel of the scope of Atlantis with that episode. We wanted to revisit that. It felt like at times we were getting away from the fact that we were in this massive city and it was another good opportunity to explore that a little bit.
Those were the highlights from the visual perspective. Of course “The Shrine” was just chalk full.
GW: What a great script.
AM: Oh my God. Everybody that read that one, we all knew we were in for something special with “The Shrine.” That was a great experience for me because Brad [Wright, writer/executive producer] spent so much time through the whole prep process. Every day he was on set, much the way he was with Continuum with Martin. He was right there. It was hand-in-hand the whole time. What a great experience. He’s such an extraordinary individual, that guy. So much fun to work with. He’s a very encouraging guy to be around, really a very inspirational fellow.
GW: Well you could have producers who are just jerks, and you have to live with it. There’s not exactly anything you can do about it. So to have someone like Brad who is so involved in the process but keeps it, like Rick [Dean Anderson] used to. He keeps it a very family atmosphere and wants everyone to have a good time. It’s got to help the end product.
AM: Absolutely. A hundred percent. We are so fortunate. The entire writing and executive staff, producer/staff were so supportive. You nailed it completely when you said that. It could be a much different situation. We’re all so lucky. Robert and Martin are both incredibly talented directors as well in their own right. They understand where we’re coming from. They’ve been there. They know what it takes. They know what we go through.
GW: It’s important to have those guys be — It’s cool they’ve been in your shoes as well. They know what’s realistic and what’s not.
AM: Yep. Absolutely. And Carl Binder as well. He’s been a show runner in the past. He’s incredibly collaborative and supportive. I love working with Carl. I love working with all the guys. It’s never a case of “Rats, I drew this card,” or “I drew that card.” It’s never like that at Stargate. That’s a great thing about it. It’s always a no-lose situation. You know you’re going to be in for a treat every time.
GW: You mentioned “The Daedalus Variations” and being confined to the starship set. Obviously you have greater control on a sound stage. Do you find you’re more rushed when you’re on location because of daylight and everything like that? What is the best situation for a director? Do you find the location shooting out in the [Greater Vancouver Regional District] more constricting or do you prefer working on the sound stages?
AM: For the most part I really enjoy going out. I think the reason I enjoy going out is because we do spend so much time on stage. I think if it was the other way around where we spent the majority of time on location I would probably enjoy going to the stage in a controlled environment more so. We usually get more done in the sound stage where we have all our fixed lighting in place and so on.
GW: Oh yeah, you could work until the late hours of the night and no one would know the difference.
AM: Yeah, for sure! And we know how everything works. We know each wall that comes out and we know the intricacies of all of it. But I do enjoy going out on location. I love when we go outside.
“Outcast” was a good opportunity for me to go outside a little bit. We had a variety of locations. And I like the Earth-based episodes, personally. Again, it brings it back home again. And I think that’s important to do every now and again. And I enjoy shooting out on location very, very much so.
It’s difficult if we’re in a house where we can’t get more windows, we can’t move walls, we have to be careful not to scratch the floor, and so on. But it’s just refreshing. It’s always refreshing to get a different perspective on things to be in a new environment. I do enjoy very much the location shooting. It’s just fun to get out.
GW: I go up to Vancouver a couple times a years to meet with you guys. I’m always appalled at the amount of rain. I’m like, “How can they possibly get anything done?!”
AM: Oh, I know. I know. Yeah, we have to tread carefully there, too. The guys are pretty on top of what the patterns are here, so we don’t typically design exterior shows in February. They’ll wait and write them for fairer weather in July, and August and September when we know that there’s going to be nicer weather and longer hours of daylight.
Typically they’ll slot those episodes when we have a little bit more opportunity for fine weather. But it’s always a bit of a crap shoot. Whenever we’ve got exterior shows you get the knot in your stomach. It’s “Oh, God, I hope it’s not going to be raining while we shoot this.” It drags everything to a halt. You go at fifty percent of your speed.
GW: Surely you have to have a backup plan. I would imagine you would probably want to shoot the exterior stuff first so just in case you have a bad weather day you can go in and shoot some of the other stuff.
AM: Typically we always try to approach things that way, but sometimes it’s not that simple. It could be James [Robbins] saying “You guys cannot be in the stage until this day. You have to go outside and do the exterior work first because I’m still going to be building. The paint will not be dry yet. The hand is forced in that regard.
But you’re quite right. Any time we can we always have a backup weather contingency plan when we can and we get a long term forecast or whatever we can do to get a jump on things. Typically in those cases we just have to go with it.
GW: I think it’s really cool, you mention the Earth-based shows. It’s always funny when I meet someone who says, “I’ve never seen [Stargate],” and I say “Well go watch it. SCI FI Channel, this time and date.” And they come back to me and say “I didn’t know it was set in the here and now!” They’re always so blown away because everyone thinks sci-fi is all set in the future. “No, this is a really modern-day show. It’s very applicable to the here and now.”
AM: Absolutely. That’s one of the things that was always one of the big draws for me. I was a big fan of the original “Stargate” movie. Just the whole concept of SG-1 was just so cool. The fact that it was present day, was part of the US Air Force, had the Egyptian mythologies and how everything was tied in with future, present, past, was just so intriguing. That was one of the big draws for me initially and I love that about SG-1.
And obviously it carried through to Atlantis.
GW: Right. It’s set in another galaxy but they use our vernacular. They come home and they still have to face issues like divorce. So it’s all there.
AM: Yeah, exactly. And I’m sure the new show, Universe, will continue to walk in that path. It’ll be exciting for sure.
GW: Now so often you directed shots from your colleague’s episodes when they were unavailable, and they directed shots of yours. Is that unusual for other shows that you’ve worked on?
AM: Yeah, it is. Because of the fact that we had a fairly small roster of directors that were all there long-term — myself, Martin, Peter [DeLuise], Will [Waring] — we were able to develop a shorthand with each other. If I was going to be shooting in Stage 4 and Will was going to be in the special effects stage and we each had scenes that we needed from each other’s episodes we would often just either tag team or call each other and say “Hey, listen can you pick this up for me because you’re going to be there?” And vice versa.
It works out really well. We’re all very close to our own work and it’s always hard to give up your own scenes to other people. But at the same time, again, it’s a family operation and we’re always there to help each other out and do what it takes. But I’d never seen that before I’d come to Stargate. I’d never been witness to that sort of scene-sharing.
GW: Every director has his own approach, his own sensibilities. Now when you’re shooting someone else’s work do you have to ask yourself, “Now how would Will direct this,” or “How would Martin Wood direct this?” You don’t want to go in there and say, “Well, I’m directing this now. Let’s make this shot as unusual from the rest of the episode as we can so they’ll know that I did this.”
AM: No, we’re all pretty attuned to each other’s shooting styles. We try to be as true as possible to those individual styles as we can be. Often we’ll just give each other notes as well.
A classic would be when Martin was up north shooting in the Arctic for Continuum. He was doing “Adrift” and “Lifeline.” So Martin said, “Hey, can you cover for me while I’m going to be in the Arctic?” He was going to be directing that and the movie. I wasn’t up until, I think, number three or number four.
GW: Oh, wow. “Yeah, Andy you do that one and I’ll take the credit for it.”
AM: Yeah, exactly! Yeah, precisely. It was funny because it was, literally, Martin handed over his notes. So here it is. It was a tricky episode anyway. Trying to decipher Martin’s notes was an additional challenge. So it became the big question of “Oh, man, do I try to stay true to his original shooting plan or do I take it from here?”
It was a little bit of both. And Martin was completely cool with that. Again, we’ve been in that situation before. It’s a guideline. “Here’s what I was going to do but if it doesn’t work then don’t do it. Do whatever you think is best.” We all entrust each other implicitly. We have to be able to do that.
GW: Well it’s crazy! This is not like Boston Legal. You have visual effects shots and all this stuff has to come into play with post production. It’s got to be a nightmare! “I’m really thankful that I know Martin Wood and I know how he works because I might not be able to do this!”
AM: For somebody from the outside to come in and be put into that situation would be impossible. We prep things pretty carefully. If I don’t have the answer than the director of photography, if it’s Jim Menard, Peter Woeste or Michael Blundell, they’ll be able to say “No, this is what he was talking about doing. This is what we discussed in prep.”
From the vis-effect standpoint, from whoever’s standpoint, there’s going to be lots of input from other people to help you get back on track if you lose sight of things for a moment or two. By and large we’re able to keep that ship running in the proper direction. It’s actually been quite remarkable that there hasn’t been any disastrous train wrecks in that regard especially when we’re shooting multiple episodes at the same time.
GW: Exactly! Well it’s the benefit of that internal support structure. You guys work together. You don’t work against one another.
AM: Yeah, exactly. Having the executive offices right on site, having editorial right on site, everybody is right there. If we’ve got a question it’s a phone call away or a hundred steps away and we get it dealt with. It’s never a catastrophic situation or anything even close to that. The way we’ve been running it’s been pretty effective.
But I know with our approach to Universe we’re really going to make a concerted effort to do each episode justice by starting and finishing an episode as opposed to trying to piecemeal things together by shooting multiple episodes at once. It was just getting a little bit out of hand the last couple of years where we were just doing whatever we could.
I mean a lot of it we were answering to budget. We had the financial limitations that we were dealing with so we had to do whatever it took in order to keep the show going and keep the numbers in check.
GW: Well Universe is going to be very linear and very operatic. From just a shooting standpoint alone that’s got to be hell on the actors to go from one story to the next story to the next story. Because one is going to a certain extent going to come after the other. I think it’s very important that you guys approach it from that point.
AM: Yeah, and that’s one of the main reasons why we want to do that. That’s where we could run into a disastrous situation. Again, we’re going to avoid it this time around. We’re swearing up and down, come hell or high water, we’re going to start and we’re going to finish what we’ve started. So that’s going to be nice refreshing thing for everybody as well. It was getting very confusing. Especially for the cast, but for everybody, for all of us, it was just getting out of hand.
GW: You directed the finale for the show. What can you tell us about how you directed that differently or how you approached that from while it was in production?
AM: First of all I was thrilled to be given the opportunity. It was pretty cool to be given the assignment of the final episode. I was very honored. When I read the script I didn’t know what to expect, quite frankly. I didn’t know if it was going to be the tongue-in-cheek like the SG-1 milestone episodes were. I didn’t think it was going to be but I wasn’t quite sure.
I was pleasantly surprised, I have to say, that it was a good, classic team episode that had a lot of large components to it. We had Amanda Tapping back on the show which was fantastic. Colin Cunningham was back. Great having those guys, obviously.
It was a big-scale show which was really cool. That was what I was hoping that it would be. Mind you, at the same time Rob was shooting another huge-scale show with “Vegas” and there was some overlapping going on. There was a little bit of sharing of the resources, as it were, on everybody’s part.
Again that was part and parcel of the whole year where we were shooting multiple shows. That continued right through to the end. Not that attention was diverted from it but that was something that we had to be conscious of. We were still dealing with two very, very big episodes to finish the year and we had to pay attention to each of them equally. But it was a fantastic experience.
It was a wonderful, bittersweet episode for me to be a part of, obviously. We were saying our goodbyes in the middle of it all when David was wrapped for the season and when Rachel and Jason — everyone was wrapped out at a different time. We were having these big goodbyes throughout the course of shooting.
Of course we all knew the show was cancelled. There was that feeling of not throwing in the towel, I won’t say that, because we’d already come to terms that it’s all over now anyway.
GW: You’re not done but the daily routine of Atlantis is done.
AM: Yeah, that’s right. Everybody was starting to come down at that point during the middle of shooting. That was kind of sad. During shooting I was wishing that none of us knew we were cancelled. The whole time we were going.
We were so aware of the fact that the show was cancelled that I personally believe that it affected the outcome of the show from a performance standpoint, from an execution standpoint. I think it could’ve been a few notches beyond what it was had we kept that a secret. But it doesn’t work that way. We can’t.
GW: It’s very practical. This is the real world we’re dealing with here. Even though you guys are shooting a fantasy it still comes a knocking that the almighty dollar must be worshipped. But at the same time hopefully we can get some pretty damn good entertainment out of it as well.
So we’ve got Universe on the way. We’ve got the third SG-1 movie written by Brad and the first Atlantis movie being written by Joe and Paul. Do you think Stargate’s best years are in front of it or behind it?
AM: Oh, boy. I’m really hoping that the best years are in front of us. We’ve come a hell of a long way. We’ve achieved some extraordinary things during the course of our history. We’re all incredibly proud of our achievements. I’m really hoping that the best is yet to come. I really am.
GW: Well we look at shows like Star Trek who ran continuously for 17 or so years. The franchise as a concept was around for well over 30. Some things just pitter out, and we have to hope that this will not be the case for Stargate.
AM: I don’t think it’s going to. Not at all. I don’t think it’s going to pitter out. Whether or not it’s going to be our best years we’ll see, but it’s definitely not going to go anywhere any time soon. We’re still alive and well. We’re not going away any time soon. That’s for sure.