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GATE Crashing - Part 2

Series director theorizes on what makes the show so popular

By John J. O'Neill     July 20, 2001


Richard Dean Anderson plays STARGATE: SG-1's Col. Jack O'Neill
© 1999 Showtime Networks Inc.

did youg The STARGATE phenomena has witnessed a tremendous amount of success in all of its incarnations (both feature film and television). Going on its fifth season, the Showtime series shows no signs of slowing down. CINESCAPE managed to catch up with series director Martin Wood to get a behind the scenes look at SG-1's ongoing production.


Remarkably enough, the romantic tension between the characters of Jack O'Neill and Samantha Carter grew out of on-set ad-libbing. Director Martin Wood comically remembers the exact moment as if it were yesterday. "It all started with 'Solitudes,'" says Woods. "The two of them were on the glacier, and Sam goes, 'Sir ...' [Richard Dean Anderson] goes, 'It's my sidearm. I swear it's my sidearm,' because she was lying on top of him. And from that point on, each time we got a chance we'd do something like that. It was in 'Out of Mind,' which was at the end of Season Two. Jack comes in to get Sam; she's lying naked on a table. He comes down and says, 'Sam, Sam, we've got to get out of here.' She wakes up and sits up and he's behind her, trying not to look at her and Carter's oblivious to it. There's very definitely one of those moments of tension. There was never a beat in the script for that, but it was very vividly there. Then, of course, it comes to fruition during 'Divide and Conquer' last season when he actually says, 'I feel more than I should for her.' And in a window of opportunity he kisses her, the 'Groundhog Day' episode, where there's no chance that it'll ever stick. He quits the air force and kisses her. Then she got married to him in one of the other scripts in the future in another dimension. This has been going on and it all started with this one line."

Major Samantha Carter, flanked by Gen. Hammond (left) and Col. Jack O'Neill, receives a military promotion


Moving on to the series' rather infamous collection of powerful weapons, Woods comments on Anderson's almost instant connection to them funny, seeing how his previous onscreen portrayal, Macguyer, hated guns.


"Richard likes to shoot the big guns," comments Wood with a smile. "When we were experimenting with the Spas-12 (a powerful double-barreled pump action shotgun) and he shot it for the first time, he's screaming at the top of his lungs, 'I LOVE IT!' It's every guy's dream to fire a gun like that. So, he likes getting to play with the big guns."


Wood, whose specialty is big action and big special effects, also relishes the opportunity to utilize the show's sophisticated and fully developed cache of heavy artillery. In the episode he is currently directing for Season Five, "People will never have seen so many bullets shot in one short period of time than you will see in this episode," he says with a hint of glee.


Ultimately, however, the overall success of a series boils down to its staff. The key players behind the production bear a tremendous responsibility for maintaining the high level of quality that has characterized the series from the start. "It's a very clean production," says Wood. "A lot of that is Michael Greenburg. He is quality control for the show, and nobody on the set knows production like Michael does. He has spent 25 years doing this. A lot of times when you've done something, Michael will go, 'You call that a shot?' That's all he says and your whole world falls apart. And you pick up the pieces and put it back together like you meant to do it."

In STARGATE: SG-1, Christopher Judge plays the former Serpent Guard Teal'c


Wood also notes that, as with the actors, having Greenburg overseeing production allows the director to take the kinds of risks that help enrich the series. "Michael is good at letting you do anything you want to do," says Wood. "That's why we have rotating directors, because Peter [Deluise] and I get away with murder on this show. As episodic directors, we get away with murder. We do our own thing a lot of the time knowing that that quality control is right behind you. And that shows up on the screen. When fans watch, they watch with a very critical eye."


When Wood recently ventured (for the second time) into the world of feature film for the forthcoming THE IMPOSSIBLE ELEPHANT he gained a whole new appreciation for Greenburg's insight.


"Doing the movie, I called back to Michael and said, 'I wish you were here because I need that little voice beside me,'" says Wood.


But in the end, the mandate for quality originates with the writers.


"The writing on the show is some of the best I've ever read," Wood enthuses. "They are continually bringing new ideas in. It's not just regurgitating old sci-fi conventions and making them into new stories. What's interesting is when you bring in outside writers. They tend to bring conventions in that are changed by our writers. They'll say, no, this is too cliché, too conventional. So, it's clean in that way too."

The Earth-based "stargate" at the top secret SGC facility


Further serving as quality control is STARGATE SG-1's legion of fans, who analyze, scrutinize and tear apart every detail from the mythology of the Goa'uld to the arc of the characters on literally hundreds of websites and newsletters.


"When you read the fans' comments about the show, they take you by surprise," says Wood. "They are much more critical of story than you would think they would be because it's a good TV show. 'Wow, look what they're doing here, look at the great effects' ... 'So what?' a lot of the fans say. Does it make sense? Does it arc properly with what I expect will happen? And when you throw in something new, like the Jack and Sam love thing, or Martouf dying, man! The hue and cry! Here's the other thing: in STARGATE nobody ever really stays dead for long. But it is really interesting seeing the reactions to the stories where people will say, 'How could you do this? [Many times the answer is as simple as,] 'Because it's a great story and because that character will have run as far as it can go.' A lot of time when characters die, it's because it's time for them to."

Ever wonder how those "gate jumpers" get to and from a location? Those use a nifty device known as a dialer


The production's commitment to quality and a continually fresh take on its premise has paid off beyond the wildest expectations of everyone involved. A new DVD gift set is being released by MGM Home Video that contains all 21 episodes of the first season, in chronological order, along with a behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with Anderson, Amanda Tapping and Don Davis. Also, late last fall, MGM announced that a STARGATE feature film sequel was on the fast track, targeted for a 2002 release. While MGM did not say whether the sequel would focus on the series or another aspect of the STARGATE universe, according to Wood, "They are definitely talking and nothing is confirmed." This kind of success for a television spin-off series is seemingly without precedent, with the possible exception of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

SG-1 team member Daniel (played by Michael Shanks) uses the dialer to plot a course back home


Also, production is underway on Season Five of the Sg-1's adventure. While Wood will only say that fans will "see a dramatic change in our friends and enemies," rumors of what to expect include return appearances of such characters as Marty from Season Four's "Point of No Return;" Cassandra, the young girl rescued in Season One's "Singularity;" the Goa'uld Osiris, who appeared in "The Curse;" and Colin Cunningham, who played the popular role of SGC/Pentagon Liaison Major Paul Davis. STARGATE SG-1 writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie are working on a script that involves the Russians (who were discovered to possess a Stargate seen in "Watergate." There will be episodes looking into Carter's life outside of the Air Force and her ability to sense the Goa'uld; an episode dealing with Babylonian Mythology; more on the ancient alliance between the Asgard/Furlings/Nox/Ancients; and the threat of exposure from a surprising source will occur in an early episode. The writer Ron Wilkerson from STAR TREK: VOYAGER is working on his scriptwriting debut for SG-1 with a Season 5 episode entitled "Red Sky."


And if that's not enough, Greenburg himself will be providing a script for the series' fifth season. "When Michael writes episodes, it's fascinating," says Wood. "There is a different feeling on the set when Michael's written a script because it's a departure from anybody else's episode. He wrote 'Crystal Skull' and that was a different episode than anything else. We did a virtual set for that. In 'Ascension,' the one coming up, script three, there's a huge virtual set as well where the whole world around us is virtually created."

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