The current crop of directors we're using include Richard Compton, Bruce
Seth Green, Jim Johnston and Janet Greek. All are terrific directors, on
solid shows ranging from "Hill Street" to "Northern Exposure." The one area
where we're not generally drawing from people who've worked in SF is the area
of the director. We want the show to have a very real look to it, as if you
were making a dramatic series in the year of the story. Our head of post
production has a screen-saver on his computer that flashes "This Isn't Science
Fiction, This Is REAL" after a few minutes. Not because he doesn't like
SF...he's a stone fan, as is Janet Greek...but because that's the feel we're
trying to get across in the series: this is *real*...real people, real
problems, a realistic style to the look and feel of the show and the
And the show is picking up a *very* nice visual style...non-direct
lighting, shadows, not murky, but crisp. It's beautifully lit and
photographed; you could frame just about any shot and it'd look great.
(For those of you who like the in-stuff, by the way...look for a cameo of
sorts. We needed photos to run in background on a monitor of two EA
officials. We "volunteered" Doug Netter and our costume designer, Ann Bruice.
You'll see them in "Infection.")
The dizzying thing about being exec producer on a show like Babylon 5 is
that you have to wear so many hats *simultaneously*. The shows get grouped
together in ways that directors or writers don't have to worry about. In
other words: you're editing show A, at the same time that you're shooting show
B, and prepping show C, while at the same time doing the final script polishes
and casting for show D. So you end up having to juggle them all in your head
constantly, going from meetings on show B, then D, then A, then C, then B.
This was something we didn't have to do on the pilot, since in that case
we did just the one show, and edited it afterward. Now it all goes on
Here's a basic breakdown on a fairly average day at B5 for me:
Arrive around 10 a.m. (usually after staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. writing
or editing scripts). On this past Friday, it went like this after arrival:
Visual EFX meeting on "Born to the Purple." Quick script notes to clarify a
scene now being shot on "Midnight." Prop concept meeting (general). Screen
dailies from Thursday's shoot. Review CGI sketches by Ron for Minbari heavy
cruiser for "Sky." (Very, very cool, btw.) Director's meeting. Meeting with
PTEN marketing division people, who stop by the stage. Review new prosthetics
for background aliens. Get in a few minutes working on "Parliament of Dreams"
script. Supplementary casting session on "Believers." Then I and producer
John Copeland dive out to the editing bay to work on the final edit of
"Infection." I get home around 10 p.m., after checking in with the stage
throughout the evening to make sure we wrap on time. Make some B5 related
calls from 10-10:30, download a script from one of our writers, review the
script for notes between then and midnight, write some more on "Parliament"
until 2 a.m., and finally crash.
Every day is like that. After a while, you get this look in your
eyes...you just sorta zone out, mentally going to another meeting. It's
amazingly grinding...and yet amazingly invigorating. There are moments when
it's an amazing high...and moments when you just want to cut and run because
you can't bear watching one more cut of the same scene for the ten zillionth
Half the fun of doing a series is being on the stage...to see it being
done right in front of you...but even though my office door is maybe 20 feet
from the stage, I find that I only make that journey 3-4 times in a day, for
maybe 5-10 minutes at a time. Such is life.
The editing, by the way, is a fascinating process. Television is the
process of making choices: you choose how to write the scene, you choose who
you want to play the scene, the actor chooses how he wants to play the
character, the director chooses how to stage the scene, the cinematographer
chooses how to light and frame the scene, and then you and the editor choose
how to structure that scene using the finished film.
What you have in your hands (not literally, since we're all computerized
now, and hardly anyone uses film anymore in editing) is the film for a scene.
You've got the master shot, showing everyone. You may have 1, 2 or 3 takes of
that shot. Then you get the medium, close, and two-shots, as well as
reverses. You get 2-3 of those, times the number of characters in the scene
(i.e., 2 close-ups of Sinclair in the scene, 2 or 3 close-ups of Garibaldi,
plus the over-the-shoulder shots of both, on and on). Though the staging is
the same, the pacing of lines varies, the delivery varies, inflection, stance,
attitude...there are subtle differences that become terribly important when
you start cutting film.
Maybe the first close-up has the intensity you want in the first half, but
falls off in the second part, so now you use part two of take two, which
*does* finish with the required intensity. But in that take, the actor
visible in the same scene isn't quite where he's standing in the master shot,
and you have to go back to the master for the next shot because that's where
you need to see X entering the room....
It's a complex, complicated, exhausting process that requires you to hold
the various scenes and shots all in your head at the same time, particularly
if you want to do any last-minute restructuring, or "borrow" a shot from
another scene to fill out this scene because there was a problem on the angle
in what you've got.
But I'd be a liar if I didn't say it's an awful lot of fun. You can make
a scene play 50 different ways, depending on how you edit it. And we've got
some *great* editors working with us.
Anyway...just a quick report from the field....it's back to work now.