For Martin Wood, helming the second part of Stargate Atlantis’ penultimate season four story was something of a new experience. The director has been a stalwart of the production team for more than a decade, and has directed numerous episodes. However, usually when a two-parter comes around, he’s called upon to direct both parts, rather than just the latter.
“I was actually pretty happy that I got to do the second part, because usually the first part of a two-parter is the boring set-up,â€ he jokes. “I really wanted to do the second episode, which is the exciting part. I read it and loved the fact that I got to deal with Michael. I love working with Connor [Trinneer].
In script form, ‘The Kindred pt 2′ was a deceptively small episode. It was planet-based, so there were no huge effects or CGI ship sequences, and there were plenty of character-driven dialogue scenes that meant Wood could have gone the ‘quieter’ route to deliver the action, had he so desired.
“But then you think about it and no, it can be way bigger than that,â€ the director explains. “So we took it out [on location] to Terminal City, and I had a crane that I was about to use in the Stargate SG-1 movie, ‘Continuum.’ I wanted to test it out and see what it could do. It was quite remarkable what I was able to do with this giant crane. That’s why you get some of those big sweeping feature shots that you wouldn’t normally have on an episodic television series.â€
One of the most important aspects of the episode has nothing to do with action, but with the team’s shock at the discovery of Doctor Carson Beckett. The return of actor Paul McGillion has been much anticipated by fans, and Wood was anxious to do justice to the poignancy of the event. One particularly memorable scene occurs between Beckett and his friend Doctor Rodney McKay. It’s a very moving few moments between the characters, accentuated by the simplicity of the scene’s direction.
“There is as much drama, if not more drama, in dialogue scenes as in an action scene,â€ says Wood. “It is just as exciting for me to go into a really brilliantly written dialogue scene where I know the actors are going to eat it up. You get some real emotion out of them and you get to actually see acting happen. That’s very exciting for me and I approach it that way.â€
Part of filming an important dialogue scene, Wood says, is knowing what not to do with the camera.
“In action scenes I have to think of how I’m going to do the things I need to do inside the time I have, what’s going to keep the action exciting, and what the audience needs to see. With a heavy dialogue scene, especially one that’s very dramatic, you don’t want to be seeing all that. I learned to do this on a cooking show,â€ he laughs. “When I first started directing live television I was doing cooking shows, and I kept cutting back to the people who were doing the cooking. I had someone come up to me and say, ‘You know why we’re watching cooking shows? To see what’s going on in the pan. We don’t need to see the people.’â€
For Wood, the principle is the same with significant dialogue scenes. “People out there watching aren’t there to see dynamic camera moves. They’re there to watch and hear what the actors have to say. If you’re making weird angles, if you’re shooting through stuff, it gets in the way of the dialogue. So you try to show the ‘pan’ as much as possible.â€
Wood applied this principle to his staging of the scene between McKay and Beckett, with brilliant results.
“I had set up something in the ‘Tao of Rodney’, and I decided to shoot this in a certain way because I wanted this to hearken back to that. It was the same room, and I started it in very much the same way. One of the reasons I did that was I wanted [viewers] to be familiar enough with the room that they weren’t going to look at it. They weren’t spending a lot of time dealing with what was going on. In this scene, the important thing is that we all know what McKay has to say. We have no idea how he’s going to do it, if he’s going to do it in a typical McKay fashion and tread all over it, or if he’s going to do it in a very clever way. And we certainly don’t know what Beckett’s response is going to be. We know it has to be huge, because we know what’s going on – and every time Beckett says something, we know the answer to it. I set it up so that the audience is only dealing with the faces. They’re only dealing with the people they need to see – these two are talking, and nothing else. Don’t jump around, no weird angles, don’t do a whole bunch of pushes. Don’t do things that force people to lose the scene for a second, which is always a bad move for a director anyway. In a case like this it has to be slow, it has to allow the time to act out their story.â€
The director paid just as much attention to the episode’s closing scene, in which the team have the odd task of bidding Beckett another – if temporary – farewell.
“The very end was something that we talked about a lot. I think it was a brilliantly written scene, because you’re saying goodbye to somebody while he’s standing in front of you and doesn’t leave. For me, as a director, it was a change of pace. In regular television, a person says goodbye and they walk away, or we walk away. In this case, it was just seeing him standing there, and we were standing there. I didn’t want anyone walking away. So the camera moves away instead. The very last shot is the camera pulling away from him, to give it the same feel you have when somebody walks away.â€