The Right Direction – Part One

The director’s first aired episode of the season was ‘Missing’, which finds Doctor Keller (newcomer Jewel Staite) and Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) forced to save themselves from a fierce warrior tribe called the Bola Kai. Mikita recalls that the most challenging aspect of getting this episode from the script to the screen had to do with the fact that 95% of the shoot took place on location.

“It was really up to Jewel and Rachel to carry it, it was such a heavy episode for the two of them,” he recalls. “I didn’t have to work hard at it at all, to be honest with you, it was more just the logistics of being outside that posed most of the difficulty for me. Jewel and Rachel were just terrific – they came very, very well prepared. Rachel had just recently let the cat out of the bag that she was pregnant, and there we were just about to embark on a very physical episode for her – for both of them, but primarily for Rachel, because she had a lot of fighting to do. So we had to be careful about how she handled her fighting. She was early on in the pregnancy and she had a stunt double, so it wasn’t like we had to throw her around a lot. Rachel did the lion’s share of the actual fighting, but if she got thrown around or hit or knocked to the ground, then obviously we would use a stunt double.”

Being no stranger herself to the principle of screen fights and stunts after her experience with Firefly, Mikita reports that Staite didn’t hesitate to throw herself into the action of ‘Missing’.

“Jewel, she did pretty much everything herself. All the action that took place out on the rope bridge, almost all of it was her, with the exception of the big wide shots of her hanging by one hand. That was all stunt double, but she did all the walking across, no problem at all. Even a lot of the hanging stuff, you can tell very clearly that it’s her. The fall itself, and the catch-and-hold, that was her double. But everything else was Jewel. She was game for anything – all I would have to do was ask her if she was up for it, and if she said yes we would do it. We had a lot of fun, I think it was the most fun I’d had all year. It was hard on them – I think they were more than happy to move back into the studio at the end,” Mikita laughs.

Another particularly memorable aspect of ‘Missing’ was guest star Danny Trejo, who came in to play the Bola Kai’s terrifying leader. Viewers may know Trejo better for his appearance in films such as Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Con-Air and Grindhouse – which has since lead to a spin off movie featuring Trejo as his Grindhouse character ‘Machete’. Suffice it to say, at first glance Stargate: Atlantis doesn’t seem to be Trejo’s typical style.

“I had worked on the show Blood Ties during the [Stargate: Atlantis] off-season, and that’s where I had actually met Danny,” Mikita explains of how the casting came about. “He was coming in to do an episode of Blood Ties, not for me but for one or two episodes after I was finished. I thought, ‘Wow – he would be dynamite for this episode.’ So I took a drive out to the location where Blood Ties was shooting and introduced myself to Danny and asked if he would be interested in doing it. He knew of the Stargate franchise very, very well and said that he would love to do it, so that was that. We put it together and it was great to have him come out. The big debate with Danny was whether to put him in make-up or not, because he’s got such an incredible face. We chose to do it just to keep the continuity with the rest of the Bola Kai warriors, but even in hindsight I think it would have been neat to maybe have him be the only one out of make-up. But nonetheless, he looked pretty cool!”

The director’s next episode of the year was ‘The Seer,’ which involved a multitude of different story threads. Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo) arrived from Earth to observe Colonel Carter (Amanda Tapping). Teyla approached The Seer (Martin Jarvis) to find out more about her people. And to top it all off, a Wraith arrived to do a deal with Sheppard. Despite the diverse elements in the script, Mikita wasn’t at all concerned about the coherence of the episode.

“Quite the contrary,” he reveals. “There were so many things going on that all indirectly tied together. I love episodes that have strong multiple storylines. Anytime some of them can weave together it’s great, and even if there are some that are slightly removed, that’s okay. It didn’t pose any concern for me whatsoever. The only real concern was actually that they were not going to distract from each other and offer a good flow.”

Above and beyond telling the story as it appeared in the script, the director found that ‘The Seer’ afforded him a chance to experiment with some different effects in-camera. Most effects that appear on the screen are added in after shooting, in post-production. However, High Definition cameras offer various effects that can be utilized as a scene is shot, giving a director a lot of control over what a finished frame will look like.

“I really enjoyed that one,” he says. “We did some location shooting and I was happy with how all that turned out. We did some in-camera special effects, just for colors – the look in the forest and when we were doing the flashbacks, for example. Any of the effects that you see in terms of the speed of the camera and when folks were coming in and out of the visions that Martin’s character was portraying, all those little transition effects were done in-camera. Those are always a lot of fun to play around with on set. So that particular episode offered a lot of variety, which is always a fun thing to look for in an episode, as a director. It’s the opportunity to do lots of different things – it had a nice bit of action and exterior work as well.”

One of Mikita’s favorite scenes in ‘The Seer’ is a shot that viewers may not even have taken much notice of at the time. It came very early in the episode, and featured Woolsey’s arrival through the Atlantis gate.

“There was one particular shot that I really enjoyed,” Mikita elaborates, “which was at the beginning of act one, when Woolsey’s character comes through the Stargate. He’s talking to Carter on the way up the stairs. We did that as just one big, long steady cam shot, which was fun. We had the steady cam on a crane, and we had the steady cam operator step on to the crane as the guys were walking up the stairs. The crane arm would go up and we took a section of railing off on the balcony and had grips standing by to escort the camera operator off the crane. He stepped off on to the upper level as Carter and Woolsey walked towards them and then walked back into Carter’s office and then back into the control room again. So it was fun to choreograph a fairly long-running shot, which we don’t tend to do too often on the show. We tend to do things more editorially than just letting the camera run for long periods of time.”

In part two, Mikita discusses the filming of ‘Miller’s Crossing’ and the massive second half of the mid-season two-parter, ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’!

Interview Courtesy of The Official Stargate Web Site