The Right Direction – Part Two

“When I read the script for the first time, I got quite excited about the notion of having an Earth-based episode,” Mikita explains of ‘Miller’s Crossing’. “It’s refreshing to be on Earth. It just offers you some opportunities aesthetically. And of course, [there was] the added fun of having Kate Hewlett. ‘McKay and Mrs Miller’ was one of my favorite episodes ever of Atlantis. I just absolutely loved that episode. So to have an opportunity to continue that story was just so exciting to me. ”

‘Miller’s Crossing’ reunited the brother and sister partnership of Rodney McKay and Jeannie Miller, though in a slightly different way. Instead of taking Jeannie back to Pegasus, the episode brought McKay to Earth – swiftly followed by Sheppard and Ronon, desperate to find the pair before the worst can happen.

“She approached everything with a great sense of humor,” the director recalls of working with actress Kate Hewlett. “That’s one of my most vivid memories of shooting ‘Miller’s Crossing’ ¬– how often Kate would be just laughing! She was just laughing all the time on set. Even if we were rehearsing or rolling, she would just burst out laughing. It was very infectious. And when you get the two [Hewletts] together, it’s crazy. You just want to stand back and watch them go because they have such a great on-screen chemistry. It was a lot of fun. It was certainly one of the most fun episodes of the year, just from that perspective.”

Fans have only just had the pleasure of viewing Mikita’s next episode of the season. ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’ launched the second half of season four with a massive adventure. Mikita’s challenge was to create the live-action portions of the narrative, which would later be blended with the extraordinary effects created by Mark Savela’s team of CG artists.

The episode gave the whole cast a real work out, in a story that encompassed action, suspense and emotion in equal measure. For Mikita, being able to film such a large script on a television timetable has a lot to do with how well the entire production continues to work together. This season, Amanda Tapping crossed over permanently from Stargate SG-1, bringing Colonel Samantha Carter into a new role and a new environment. The meaning of that new role is particularly evident in a scene from ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’, as McKay plunges into a description of the science behind his latest plan to defeat the Replicators. Had the scene taken place in an episode of Stargate SG-1, the character delivering the information would have been Carter. However, in her new role, the Colonel is the one listening. It’s an interesting role reversal, and an illustration of the changes in the character since joining the show.

“She’s such a pro, she knows what it takes and is very amicable in every way,” says Mikita, of Tapping’s working methods. “I know that was a little bit of an oddity for her, to all of a sudden be in that role where she couldn’t dive in to the science. I think, to be honest, it was a bit refreshing for her to take a step back from that. But there’s that great scene with Sheppard and McKay, where she can almost no longer control her emotions and she gets into it. She can’t really control her enthusiasm over McKay’s project, and they kind of squeeze Sheppard out of the conversation a little bit. So that I thought was a particularly fun scene, where her knowledge of the science really came through, which was great.”

Realizing even a simple scene such as this utilizes the experience of both the cast and the director to create a scenario that seems natural. A script sometimes gives stage directions, but it’s down the director to stage each scene – where each character will stand, if they move at all during the scene and if so, when. All of these elements can greatly influence the tone and energy of a sequence. In describing how this particular scene from ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’ came together, Mikita offers an insight into the collaborative process of filming every episode of Stargate: Atlantis.

“There’s those little instinct things,” the director explains. “Like, if we start a scene where somebody is seated – in this case, because it’s McKay making the presentation and Sheppard and Carter are the ones being presented to, it’s natural for them to be seated and listening. And we just worked out in rehearsal the natural spot in the scene where it made sense for [Carter] to get up and approach McKay to add that extra bit of energy. And also, keeping Sheppard in the background a little bit, where he’s looking between the two of them – those things we discovered during rehearsal. It’s not like there’s too much discussion ahead of time. All of those things we discover on the set. In a scene like that it’s obvious and everybody’s pretty much on the same page straight away. That’s the great thing about the casts of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis – everybody is pretty much on the same page 99% of the time.

“There’s been discussion over the years about why we don’t have different writers and directors coming through the show,” Mikita continues, “and this is another one of those reasons. Even though I’m sure that there’s a number of people who are perfectly capable and are experienced and talented enough to do the show, it’s just tough to come into a long-running show and learn the characters and the language and the short hand that we’ve all developed over the years. When we know each other as well as we do – we can cut to the chase a lot quicker.”

One particular challenge of ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’ came in the form of the Wraith character – though not in the way one might expect from the fearsome creatures! Chris Heyerdahl had returned earlier in season four as Atlantis’ most unlikely ally, but was unfortunately unavailable to film when this episode was going before the camera. Instead, the producer’s hired another actor – Brendan Penny – to temporarily take his place. Since the Wraith was a recurring character, he needed to look and sound as close to Heyerdahl as possible, and so some extra screen magic was required.

“Everything that you see on camera that appears to be Chris Heyerdahl’s Wraith character is in fact played by Brendan Penny and then re-voiced after the fact by Chris,” Mikita reveals. “We ‘effect’ the voice anyway, but there’s a particular cadence with Chris that I think the audience would have picked up on. People would have noticed the difference. It was an interesting and difficult thing for Brendan to deal with, but I thought he did a phenomenal job. It was tough. We were putting him in these huge platform shoes that were tough for him to move around in, because of course Chris is a very, very tall guy, and Brendan is average height. So we were sticking shoulder pads underneath his costume and putting him in big heavy shoes to give him that physical appearance that comes naturally for Chris.”

Another guest actor that particularly impressed the director had a small, but vitally important role. “The replicator that Zelenka and McKay had created was played brilliantly by Michelle Morgan,” he recalls. “All those scenes were a load of fun, and she did such a wonderful job. I thought she was incredibly convincing. I loved the reveal scene where she’s just sitting on the table and gives a little ‘Hi there!’ Even after the fact, we were [thinking] that perhaps we should have saved her for other opportunities where she didn’t have to disappear out of the franchise.”

Of the finished episode, the director concludes, “To see the final mix that had the effects sequences put in there – I thought Mark and his gang just did an absolutely spectacular job. Also, Joel Goldsmith’s score was also phenomenal. It was an incredibly well-produced episode [by] Martin Gero. I know he spent quite a bit of time in the sound spotting sessions for the visual effects sequences, which really brought those sequences to life. It’s one thing to have spectacular effects, but if they don’t blend properly with what’s going on story-wise, they can be very superficial. But I think they were very effective.”

Interview Courtesy of The Official Stargate Web Site