It had taken several years to get to the point where Stargate SG-1 could be taken to the next level – a feature-length movie. Now, with the concept green-lit by the studio and the network, Robert Cooper could go ahead with ‘The Ark of Truth.’
Over the years since he started as a writer on Stargate SG-1, Cooper had penned many two-part episodes of an equivalent length to that planned for ‘The Ark of Truth.’ But this SG-1 adventure is styled as if for the big screen, and so writing the script for the movie was a slightly different process. In particular, Cooper spent a lot of time making sure that ‘The Ark of Truth’ will feel like an altogether bigger experience for the viewer.
“I think I consciously tried to take more time with events,â€ says Cooper, of writing the script. “In the show, where you might not have the money to address something with more screen time, I could make it more grand. I could make more of it in the long form.â€
Besides giving more time to sequences that may have been a fraction of the length in a television episode, the writer also decided early on that music would be a very important tool in taking Stargate SG-1 up – pardon the pun – a scale.
“I said to the composer, Joel Goldsmith, that I was purposely designing the script and shooting it in such a way that there were going to be a lot of opportunities for him to write big sweeping musical pieces that were going to carry sections of the movie. That doesn’t really happen on the show very much. There’s a pace to the series that’s just different. In order to give this a little more scope, a little more of a movie feeling, I wanted to tell some of the story more visually and with big, grand musical accompaniment. Because I think, quite frankly, that’s something that just gives the show a much more epic feel than we can really generate with the time and money we have as far as the production and visual effects and shooting time. You add this big, giant score to it and it sounds tremendous.â€
This was also a script that Cooper knew he would be directing himself.
“Sometimes I think maybe that’s detrimental,â€ he says with a laugh. “What happens is that I tend to write in a more shorthanded way, because I know what I’m thinking. I then have to go and explain myself to people because maybe it’s not as clearly laid out on the page, because I know what I’m going to do!â€
On the other hand, directing a script he’s written himself means parts of the process are quicker: “I will write sequences with an idea in mind of how I want to direct them,â€ he points out, “so when the time comes to do the directing work, it’s already down on the page. A lot of directors, when they get a script, have to break it down and figure out how they want to shoot it. I’ve imagined it visually in my head as I’ve written it, so I don’t have to go through that process again.â€
But, as he settled into producing what he’d written, Cooper realized that getting all his ducks in a line to accomplish everything he wanted as well as meeting the release schedule was going to be a huge challenge.
With the series coming to an end, the cast were already moving on in their careers. ‘Pilot season’ – when all the US networks cast their crop of new shows for the year – was looming in Los Angeles, and understandably most of the actors wanted to be a part of it. If any of them were cast, they would then be committed to filming on their new series’. Without the principle cast, ‘Ark of Truth’ obviously couldn’t happen, so the first issue was locking down dates when everyone was available for filming – which was easier said than done.
“Everybody wanted to be involved, but working the schedule out was just crazy,â€ says Cooper. “Once we had the main cast set for dates we needed to stick to those. The reason we could proceed with the movie is because we knew we had our five plus Beau Bridges set for certain periods and we really couldn’t go outside that time. So within the schedule, to find days that we could shoot with people that needed to be in the same scene together was at times insane.â€
It wasn’t just the principle cast that were essential. To tie up the story in the way he intended, Cooper had to balance the shooting schedule to include a lot of other important names.
“There was literally one day in the schedule that I had to shoot with both Julian Sands and Morena Baccarin,â€ he reveals. “And if we didn’t get the scenes in which they were in shots together [filmed], that was it. Morena had to go off and do another project. It was almost funny. Literally, if something had gone wrong that day, the movie might have fallen apart.â€
That sounds extreme, but it shows how important each individual cast member is to the whole. After all, if Baccarin really hadn’t been available, and the option to wait until she was free was impossible, what could the producer have done?
“What do you do if Morena Baccarin isn’t available but you want to have Adria in the movie?â€ Cooper shrugs. “You can either recast the role or you can say, ‘Well, one day is better than nothing and I’ll shoot what I can with her on that one day.’ You have to make a decision at some point as to what you’re going to take out of the situation. For, me, having her in the movie was essential. And so we did what we had to in order to make that work, but it ended up being probably the longest day Stargate’s ever shot. We came very, very close to a second meal penalty on the crew, which means we were almost nine hours past the point that we were supposed to be. It was about four in the morning and I remember looking at (director of photography) Peter Woeste and saying, ‘Are you okay? Are you going to be all right?’ He kind of looked at me, waited a minute and said, ‘Yeah. Yeah, I think so.’ It’s times like that when being on a crew is a very bonding experience because you’re all so crazy tired.â€
Don’t miss our next installment, in which Robert C. Cooper discusses more about the filming of ‘The Ark of Truth’!