What you didn’t know about Xena
Bonus Interview - Season 2
Transcribed by Anonymous Xenite
T.J. Scott -Xena just I think came along at the right time and the right place, the right time and the right idea. They bottled lightning.
Doug Lefler - I think that people really wanted to see a strong female character.
T.J. Scott - I think everyone was ready for a woman super-hero. Certainly it spawned a plethora of them
Doug Lefler - She was a heroic figure for a lot of people. I would say for a lot of young girls, but I think she had a wider appeal than that.
T.J. Scott - I think guys wanted to see a woman who could take charge, too. It wasn’t interesting to see the woman in distress story anymore. It was much more interesting to turn it around and see the guy in distress and have the woman come and save him.
[Clip – "you’re pretty good against unarmed men…" from The Reckoning] 2:26
Charles Siebert - My impression in this business is that a lot of people have a lot of attitudes about a lot of things…Until those things become successful and then they change their attitude.
Angie Anderson - Xena definitely does not get the respect that it deserves. It was always taken as like, "oh it’s a syndicated show" it’s not real, it’s not network. It’s not important enough. It’s like, "oh it’s that little funny Greek mythology show"…or whatever, it’s that spin-off of Hercules.
Josh Becker - At first it was really just getting the Hercules crowd. Everybody kind of considered like you were getting old drive in movies on TV.
T.J. Scott - People think, oh it’s that Xena thing. But I think in years to come people will realize it’s such a unique concept. Such an incredible thing we were able to pull off these huge period pieces on a television budget.
Josh Becker - I think it wasn’t probably until the second season that people started to take Xena more seriously and realize that it had a bigger audience base than Hercules.
Charles Siebert - I know that in the early days of Hercules and Xena both people tended to have a bit of a gaudy(?) attitude about them. And then they found out that people were watching them and liking them. And then all of a sudden you saw a lot of knock offs of these shows. You saw a lot of shows that tried to be these shows and weren’t. They weren’t anywhere near as good.
Michael Levine - When insight TV land does a retrospective 20 years from now, on women in television they’ll do a section on Xena. Because she was strong, no nonsense, I can stand on my own woman.
Charles Siebert - So I don’t know, if people have a problem with these shows that’s their problem. I don’t care. I think they were good shows.
[Clip – throwing chakram and jumping from horse] 4:21
Doug Lefler - Rob Tapert, the executive producer, called me up one day and said he had an idea for a new 3 episode arc that was going to introduce this female warrior. And he had the perfect actress for it too. This very pretty, blonde, English actress named Vanessa Angel.
Josh Becker - Finally the actress that they cast in the part got sick and couldn’t show up and so they cast Lucy in the part.
Doug Lefler - We worked with Lucy a number of times before. She played at least 3 other parts earlier in the Hercules series and in the movies. She was just somebody we all really liked a lot.
T.J. Scott - I think the question that people ask me a lot when was shooting was what’s Lucy like, and how tall is she? For some reason everyone thinks she’s 6’3" and she’s hard as nails. Or they did when the show started. And they didn’t realize that she’s not really that big but there’s this soft wonderful woman inside there. And that all started to come out in season 2 and 3. We really began to see that part of Lucy.
[Clip – Hey boys. Wanna play?] 5:26
Michael Levine - Lucy had an idea, and she knew what she wanted the character to be. And I think we were there to make sure that she got there. And you know, by the time, however many episodes in she knew it by route(?). You know, she knew it.
[Clip – Give me the child…] 5:50
Michael Levine - It was fun having Lucy shoot fire out of her mouth. That was actually kind of fun. I couldn’t believe she was going to do it. I got down there and said " in this script is Lucy really going to shoot fire?" They said "oh yea. She’s done it before." I said, "cool, let’s do it." And it’s pretty exciting to see it on the set. She just goes right to it.
[Clip – ‘fire breathing’] 6:14
Doug Lefler - I was the least experienced of all the directors that worked on the show the first season. On all of the Hercules TV movies, too. But there was a lot of us that really didn’t know what we were doing…at least as far as television was concerned, a lot of people had came from features. That was good and bad. It was bad in the sense that we made mistakes that more experienced people wouldn’t have made.
T.J. Scott - We had a great time playing in the first season with a lot of different styles. And trying to evolve a kinetic style that would keep the audience enthralled with how quickly we were moving.
Doug Lefler - There were also a lot of things we didn’t know we couldn’t do until we attempted a lot of things that wiser people probably would have demurred from. A lot of what we did that was different, I think, at that time were bigger action scenes than most people would do.
[Clip – Action scene from Cradle of Hope] 7:12
Michael Levine – Rob Tapert gave us homework. He gave us a whole bunch of Hong Kong action films that we took home to watch. He told us about the style he wanted to do on the show
Josh Becker – Rob Tapert, who is our executive producer of the show, who was a big fan of the Hong Kong action movies, wanted that style of fighting. So, that was the approach. That was our approach from the beginning to do a Hong Kong version of ancient Greece.
[Clip – "I just blocked off the flow of blood to your brain" from Callisto] 7:49
Doug Lefler – By the way Rob Tapert does have a cameo in the pilot episode for anybody who wants to look. In the final fight, where Xena and Draco are fighting on the villagers’ heads, the very last person whose head is getting stood on is Rob Tapert.
[Clip – walking on villagers’ heads from Sins of the Past] 8:14
Michael Levine – He gave us pretty free reign as to how we wanted to direct it. He had a second unit down there, so we knew how he wanted to action sequences to be. We were starting from scratch, and it was kind fun to be one of the first few directors and still everybody trying to sort of find their voice. Even when I got down there we were still trying to decide, "okay, how do we do this?"
T.J. Scott - We were boring heavily on Xena all the time from the Hong Kong film making. We’d see a fight and say, "Okay, let’s do our version of that." The big ladder fight in Xena, of course lots of wire work, but we’re also…if you watch the camera it’s zooming and twisting it’s on a double dutch dolly head, so that camera is twisting and turning. People for a while after that they were calling me the Dramamine director. But I was just trying to fuse the whole show in energy and kinetic nature.
[Clip – Ladder fight from Callisto] 9:09
Doug Lefler - We did a lot of wire gags and things that are so standard in film now. There are a lot of invention and things that had to go on because we had so few resources to work with.
Michael Levine – I had done several shows that had a lot of action scenes; in particular Martial Arts. Knowing that I had a second unit, I was curious as to how it was all going to work. Really what happened was you’d shoot a fight scene with Lucy and with Renee and any guest star when they had to be seen.
Josh Becker – Anytime we’d get to the point of wire work. We’d have Lucy or Renee or any of the actors; they’d go running towards a wall and get there and stop. Then it would be picked up by second unit, with stunt people on wires.
Michael Levine - Then second unit carefully went over what you shot, made sure that they matched the reverses with the stunt people or Xena’s stunt double or whoever was shooting at the time. Plus all the stuff that you don’t have time do. It takes a long time to put somebody on a wire and hang them up in the air, kick four people, spin them around, do it several times, make sure you get it right. Then of course, the wires have to be removed back in postproduction.
Charles Siebert - Another thing that made this show possible was the second unit. It was brilliantly set up.
Donald Duncan – We were in awe of what the second unit produced with the resources that they had. We might’ve had 5 lighting people, they probably had two or three. They would get more resources if they had particularly big days. And on some episodes, they ended up shooting more days than the main unit. The classic one is Callisto where they spent, I think, 9 days on the ladder fight sequence. That was probably a record on TV anywhere around the world. To have the second unit spend 9 days on a scene when the main unit only shooting 7 or 8 is pretty bold. But it made the show, it was a great looking show.
[Clip – action scene from Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts] 11:12
Charles Siebert – Now I had never worked action before never worked with a second unit. They took actually a lot of the action away from me. You had to create the initial framework for it and shoot the stars, shoot the actors, shoot their side. Then went into the reverses over Xena’s shoulder onto the villa or that sort of thing. Around to whatever they had attacking her, that was shot by the second unit. (undistinguishable) …I wasn’t going to shoot everything; I really resisted that.
[Clip – Hudson in Callisto]
T.J. Scott – Everyone has to remember Hercules and Xena were a sister/brother shows. Working out of the same office, a lot of the same people overlapping. There was a very formal style to Hercules with the crew; they all came from film. They were sort of the A film crew in New Zealand. And when Xena started out, they got the rock’n roll, rock video crew to do that.
Doug Lefler - One of the things that was scariest to me at the time was breaking in a new crew. I was concerned that the crew we had for Xena was not going to be as good as the crew for Hercules. Somehow I thought that the cream of the crop of New Zealand filmmaking was given to Hercules, and that whoever was left over was going to do Xena. And in that case I was completely wrong, we had a great crew. And if anything, they were faster and more efficient than they had been on Hercules.
[Clip – Callisto attempting to kill the oracle with Xena’s chakram] 12:31
Michael Levine – You know a good crew is a good crew. And to me (undistinguishable).
They might do things differently, they might approach things with a different point of view, but they were very proud of what they did.
Charles Siebert – They were like Mac Guyver, they can make something out of anything. So I had a scene with Tommy Atkins, Xena’s father, on a horse. He’s a wonderful actor, and very, very uncomfortable on horses. I said the chief grip Dennis, a wonderful guy, "can you rig me up something that we can put him on so we can move him across there?" He gave it two minutes thought, grabbed a couple of pipes, slapped something together and in almost no time at all, and put him on the back of an ATV all terrain vehicle. I shot him (undistinguishable) and moved him across the scenery, and it was absolutely convincing.
Donald Duncan – I think it was TJ in a horse chasing sequence as part of Callisto. Were we had to have Lucy galloping on sand dunes with Callisto chasing her from behind. And you can do wide shots with doubles on the second unit and that was fine, but he really wanted to get tight shots like this with Lucy. And I’m not even sure how the idea came about, or who refined it, but what we essentially ended up doing was having Xena static on a hobbyhorse. Which was some boxes with a saddle that you could sit on, and put her on a little dolly that would track backwards and forward. And we did the same thing with Callisto, we put her further back on another "hobbyhorse." And then we put the camera way away from them, probably 300 meters, on a very long lens to condense it. And essentially as the camera moved backwards and forward, and the actors moved backwards and forward, relative to each other, you couldn’t tell that they weren’t actually galloping or moving. With a healthy shake of the camera, wiz panning on, and wiz panning off. And in the finish then, you were totally convinced they were galloping on a high speed chasing each other along the sand dunes. When in fact, they weren’t actually moving anywhere. We ended up doing that quite often for those types of pursuits and sequences.
Doug Lefler - I was terrified breaking in a new crew and how slow it could be because I knew we were going to do a higher level of action, more like Hong Kong Cinema. Which meant I had to shoot more and needed more coverage. Just needed more takes of everything.
[Clip – Xena in shift from sins of the Past] 14:56
Charles Siebert – there was the problem, just the fact that there was absolutely no overtime down there. Which is unusual if you’re coming from Hollywood. It was just a surprise a couple of times when just, on the dot at 7 o’clock it was over. And if it was going to go two minutes over, the crew had to take a vote on it. That was a big surprise.
Michael Levine - That’s it seven o’clock, you stop. It’s 7 to 7. And I needed more overtime. And so I went to my AD (assistant director?) and said, "we need about another hour to finish this scene." And my AD said, "alright, let me ask the crew and they vote on it." I said, "say what?!" He said, "oh yea, the crew votes on your overtime." So I’m watching this whole process as my AD goes to key members of each department and says, "the director would like overtime, they need to shoot this thing, you know, we had a problem, we need to call the king in, it’s partly our fault," and this and that and the other. So they gave me the hour overtime, but it took 15 minutes to get it, so I actually only got 45 minutes, and I did get the shot. But from then on I realized, this is not like here in the States, or up Canada in normal production. You’re not going to get any overtime. And from there you have to figure it out, you have to compromise.
[Clip – Xena and Draco from Sins of the Past] 16:02
T.J. Scott – When we started shooting it was the little sister. Hercules was shooting on 35mm cameras and had a far larger budget than Xena. Xena was shooting with little 16mm cameras that, really at the time, not a lot of shows were shooting anymore in 16. And I thought, "ungh, I don’t know, it felt like you’re almost stepping backwards to go and shoot the 16. And I got on set and realized, this is the perfect way to shoot this show. It’s so light and mobile, and we wanted to do neat things where we put the cameras onto wires and twisted them around. We wanted to put them on top of the cameraman and send him sailing down on wires. At times we would attach the camera to the stunt double, and so that the feet of like Callisto would go flying down and land on a ladder. All these things worked out great in 16mm.
Michael Levine – I don’t think the budget dictated 16 at the time. I think, and I may be mistaken, but I was under the impression that Rob Tapert wanted a grittier type look, as opposed to Hercules which was pristine 35mm film. And so they purposely went to a 16mm, which is fine. You know it’s a lighter camera, it’s a little easier to load, and it saves the backs of the crew when they are lugging it around.
Doug Lefler – The problem with shooting in 16mm was one of the reasons we were told not to use special effects. My understanding was that there really weren’t any reliable pin registered 16mm cameras; which meant you couldn’t do background plays, you couldn’t do composites. So, there were a few shots, I believe, in the pilot episode of Xena where we did composites, and they mainly dealt with the chakram that was flying around, bouncing off of things. And I believe that for those few shots where we really had to do composites, we shot those in 35mm. (undistinguishable)
Michael Levine – Xena actually went, in the middle of season 2, to 35mm. And that was done for high-resolution purposes.
Donald Duncan – In fact it might have been the first year and a half; half way through season 2, the decision was made to go to 35. Normally a DP would jump at the chance because you get the better resolution and the finer grain, and more choice of lenses. But we were almost like, "well is this going to make the show something else that it’s not?"
Michael Levine - So I don’t think the budget dictated 16, I think it was just actually a look and the style. There was a slight grittiness to the 16 . We were more handheld on Xena, than we would ever be on Hercules. So we kind of…it’s easier when the camera is that small, You’re able to kind of move it around a little quicker.
[Clip – Gabrielle being caged by the Cyclops in Sins of the Past] 18:48
Kevin O’Neill – Because of our historical respect for visual effects technology, we often approached certain signature effects in a way that would be representative of (undistinguishable) characters. Our Cyclops is a good example of that. We would sit down and design shots that involved what’s called a motor plank; forced perspective.
Doug Lefler – It was fun to reinvent all the techniques. Like I said, we did forced perspective and I think that may have been one of the first times it was done in New Zealand. Peter Jackson ended up using it a lot in Lord of the Rings. We would set up a forced perspective platform; forced perspective is a very old, very simple technique, with basically the thing that you want to have bigger, like say the giant, is closer to the camera. The thing you want to have smaller is further from the camera. And you cheat the eye lines. And you usually put the foreground up on a platform to make it look so that their feet are matching up, and it looks like their further back. And then if you have enough lights to hold you depth in the field, then it works pretty well.
[Clip – Cyclops swinging club at Xena from Sins of the Past] 20:14
Charles Siebert – We did a new camera effect in The Reckoning, which took about 2 ½ hours to set up. I just sound like a director who is going to complain about how much time things took, but in this case, again in the early days, they were learning this. So I remember this one shot in The Reckoning where we went from one set to another. Were we dissolved the actors from one set into another; in camera. It took 2 ½ hours. I couldn’t…I felt we were never going to get this shot and I had about 20 shots that were coming behind it. So that took time, and again of course, they learned how to do that faster.
Doug Lefler – There is a shot in Sins of the Past when Xena’s first disarming. I think the character’s name was Hector, he was Draco’s lieutenant at the time. And she takes her sword she whips it around his and the camera zips up into a tree. And it zipped up and I think it was looking at a reflector or something at the end of the shot. And second unit they took that and did a matching pan whipping up into a tree where the sword was going twwwangggg. And in editing, they cut those two pieces together in a blurred frame, and it looks like it’s one shot. Those are things that you can do, they are in camera techniques, they are very effective. We did a lot of that.
Donald Duncan – I think one of the things I loved about the challenges of shooting Xena was that through Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, the whole history of the Evil Dead, they brought a lot of in camera techniques to the front, which we never really used, or considered. It was amazing to do simple little cheesy things like wiz pans could really enhance battle sequences and fight sequences
[Clip – Men shooting arrows at Draco in Sins of the Past] 22:17
Doug Lefler – We also did Shipton near shots , which is a technique that is at least 100 years old. A German cinematographer named Shipton, I believe, devised it originally where you set up in a mirror at a 45˚ angle and you have a full sized set off in one direction and you have a miniature set off in the other. And you scrape the silver off the back of the mirror so that part of the mirror becomes a window that is looking through at the full sized set, and it’s reflecting the image of the miniature set. It was nearly a form of a composite, so we did things like near shots; we did glass paintings. We did a number of those. Were we’d actually set up a large plate of glass in front of the camera and we would paint a village or a castle or something on the glass itself and shoot it. And some of those things worked better than others, but it was fun. It was a lot of experimentation.
T.J. Scott – Sometimes with the effects in some of the episodes we decided that we could go low tech. You could be cheesy - if that was right for the episode. And some episodes would have fallen apart if we had cheesy effects so we put more money into them. And it was an incredible balance that Eric Grundeman was able to do realizing what episodes needed money for effects, and which ones you could pull them back and go a little bit cheesy. We often used visual effects to extend the sets. One of my mottos is "the audience has more imagination than we have set, so don’t show them the whole set." Just shoot it tight.
[Clip – Perdicas running to the gates in Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts] 23:53
Charles Siebert – You know Auckland is just about the narrowest part of the country. In fact there is a part of Auckland where you can walk across the county in about 3 hours. It’s about 5 miles wide, the neck of the north island. At which you’ve got on either side you’ve got the ocean, you’ve got the Pacific on one side, and what is it, the Tasman Sea or whatever it is on the other side. And they are at war with each other, the weather system is always at battle. So on any given day; I shot – in one day you could shoot in sun, you could shoot in rain, you could shoot in sun with rain, you could shoot in clouds, without clouds. Again, it just made you nuts. So you learn very quickly to get your wide shots as quickly as you could and get into coverage.
Donald Duncan – You have a big challenge with the whether in Auckland around the equinox, the change of seasons. The wind blows constantly, and it blows clouds because Auckland is on an isthmus between two major oceans and we attract a lot of clouds. Directors from North America really couldn’t believe it when they came down to do their first episode and the weather would be going; cloud (snap)- sun –cloud, probably at 10 or 15 second intervals. I think I’ve slowly lost the sight in my left eye from hours and hours and hours of looking through the glass at clouds go in front of the sun.
Kevin O’Neill – We do large mat painting, and there would be a huge cloud that would roll over during the take that involved the left side of the frame. Then all of a sudden you get ready to set up the center part of the frame and there would be no cloud. Rain was another thing, too. A lot of times if you really, really watch those episodes and this is a testimony to Donny Duncan and all the DP’s that were on the show they were really smart about trying to photograph when we’re in the rain.
Charles Siebert – If you look carefully in Death in Chains, there’s a scene between Gabrielle and the young man she’s interested in; not sure, I forget his name. But in the coverage – for Gabrielle’s single it’s nice and bright and shinny, but when you cut to him it’s raining behind him. And we had to cut it once or twice; I think we got away with it because it was very tight. But there is that kind of thing all the time, sure it used to drive you crazy. And there were times when we’d have to sit around and wait for 2 - 3 hours for the weather to pass.
Michael Levine – The rain was a big pain. It’s probably one of the biggest drawbacks to shooting down there. Because we would we would be shooting in the stages, but it’s not real stages, they were just warehouses. But they’d be warehouses with tin roofs on top. So you’d be shooting in the middle of a scene and it would just start pouring. And you’d here ‘ping, ping ping’ all the way through, and these things had to be dubbed over. You know, they had to ADR the scene and re-do the voice.
Doug Lefler - …that’s not so bad but mud is hard to deal with when you’re trying to shoot action. When we had set up the forced perspective platforms for the blind Cyclops sequence we had a problem because the platforms kept sinking into the mud, and so that would change our eye lines. Little things like that that you don’t anticipate. Also there was a lot of cold and flu going around, and I got laryngitis during the first episode was an unexpected complication.
[Clip – "some guys never give up" from Mortal Beloved ] 27:15
T.J. Scott – The production design team was remarkably skilled at using a lot of the natural material in New Zealand. There were so familiar with their tree, their rivers, their topography they were able to take the materials out of nature and incorporate and use them in the show. But then they were also incredibly high tech, and able to take foams, and make things out of foam, and make it look like it was a period and that it belonged in this incredible landscape of New Zealand.
Charles Siebert - …and the attention to detail, the absolute demand for really high quality work was the hallmark of these shows.
Michael Levine - These guys were incredible. The great thing about Xena; I would read a script and they would say "okay, we need to build this (Cradle of Hope) – we need to build this Pandora’s box with a hand on it." I’d go, "okay, fine." Well they had to build everything; everything was built from scratch. And you just kind of wonder what these things are going to look like when they get out of the shot.
T.J. Scott – Rob Gillies, the production designer on Xena and on Hercules, was – is one of the most phenomenal brains I have ever met in my life. He’s the most pleasant, gentle, man. Somewhere in there, he has compartmentalized so much. He was doing two huge period shows. At any one time he was working on 6 different episodes, three Xenas, three Hercules at the same time. And he kept every one of them straight, every set straight. And he always treated everyone like they were the only person in the world when he was speaking to him.
Robert Gillies – The challenges in designing for the Xena show were numerous; mainly the speed that you had to work at. I’d get a script probably 3 weeks out from a show. So I would have about a week to get my act together with what I could do in that week. Then a couple of days to draw it – so draw it up- sort of scribbles and crazy sketches. Then flick it over to all of my people who were going to have to turn around and take it from a drawing to manufactured objects.
T.J. Scott – The very first time I worked with him was actually on Hercules. And Rob said, "here’s 8 pillars made out of foam that you have, and here’s a few curtains made out of silk. Now this is your castle. Take it and you can make a hallway, you can make a hallway square room, you can make anything you want. The crew will turn and move it around for you." I was like, "I have no idea what I’m doing here, I’ve got to go." Somehow he took these things and he designed them, it was unbelievable.
[Clip – Explosion in Mortal Beloved] 30:11
T.J. Scott – then when we did Greeks Bearing Gifts, he built this whole castle for me. And I was like, "wow, we’ve gone from a couple of pillars in one episode to an entire castle in another one." The guy is just a phenomenal brain.
Robert Gillies – So the castle, we just built the front of it. And we couldn’t really afford to build big castles, so I had a piece of land that we could shoot on a lot. And that fortunately was a very cultured landscape. So there was a gully there which was all covered in scrub, and had a low bush, which we cleared. And it gave us a bit of a helm. And so we put our sort of whatever castle we could at the top of a hill. We knew that when we were down in the gully, we would have it that much more dramatic, than if we would have stuck it in on the flat. So we tried to use bits of landscape that were giving us something for nothing.
Doug Lefler – He had become the production designer on Hercules the first season and he was great. He was really a pleasure to work with. Very logical, very efficient and I thought he did just a great job. As so many people were doing at that time, he was one of the departments that doubled up. They had a full load on Hercules, but somehow they managed to do Xena at the same time. Rob Gillies did that along with costume designer Nila Dickson, who also went on to do Lord of the Rings.
Kevin O’Neill – …is to Nila Dickson and Rob Gillies’ credit that they were able to develop processes on Xena that were obviously rolled right over into the production process of Lord of the Rings, with the arts costume design and art direction.
T.J. Scott – Xena really was the testing ground for Lord of the Rings. Right down to the wardrobe designer Nila Dickson, who was unbelievable on Xena. They saw that on Xena and on Hercules, and took her. She was able to take a lot of what she had learned and moved over to Lord of the Rings. I mean really, if you look at those shows back to back, you see so many influences of Xena in Lord of the Rings.
[Clip – Xena sees her beaten up father in Ties that Bind] 32:35
T.J. Scott -It’s interesting; the producers realized very early on that they were going to delve into mythology. And the realized that Xena couldn’t have traveled through all the mythological times they wanted to delve into. So, it became known early on that we’re going to be cheating time, we’re going to be cheating mythology, and that was fine. We accepted that, we said this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to let the audience know too that we know we’re cheating time. We know we’re cheating mythology, so sort of in a way wink at it, and try and tell the story so that we can perhaps educate people, but not say that this is exactly mythology, we’re not following it to the T.
Charles Siebert – I think we learned very quickly in the field, no responsibility in the myths. We took such liberties. In this one show, Death in Chains, when Hades comes in. Xena draws her sword and he says, "Hey relax. I’m a fan." Well once you’re into that world, you can do just about anything.
[Clip – Xena and Hades] 33:55
Michael Levine – Let’s face it, Xena was not exactly historically accurate. You can’t have someone be in the Trojan War and then see Caesar, it just isn’t going to work. But you suspend that disbelief, you know, watching the show. But I’ve found the Biblical references I tried to stay true to their legends. Later on in Altered States, the whole thing about sacrificing your son is a total Biblical reference. So I approached that episode in a much grander scheme. I had wide distance; I had very wide shots of very small people. I’m trying to get that epic
[Clip – Father sacrificing Son in Altered States] 34:45
T.J. Scott -You know, I think my favorite scene in Greeks Bearing Gifts was really the Trojan Horse coming in through the door. To me that’s were I felt there was a little bit of need to try and stick with mythology. And have a full sized Trojan horse, and have it stay there over night, and have the team drop out. I grew up with mythology, and to create that and go, "Wow, this is so cool." It was a real high point. It felt like epic tv making.
[Clip – Greeks jumping out of the Trojan horse] 35:25
T.J. Scott – Oh, my favorite scene in Doctor in the House is inventing CPR and Xena waking up Gabrielle and saving her. Having that moment that you realize that this rag-tag little girl that Xena had picked up along the way, who was a bard, who was a bit of an annoyance, she was falling in love with. And the tears of, "I’m about to lose someone that I love."
[Clip – Xena resuscitating Gabrielle in Is There a Doctor in the House] 36:11
[Clip – Leg amputation scene from Is There a Doctor in the House] 36:44
T.J. Scott – Doctor in the House was really interesting in terms of gore and guts and what we could do. We were doing a story that dealt with tracheotomies, with cauterizing amputated legs, there was a lot of blood that went in there. It was difficult to know, in our time period, what we could put on the air. I did a cut of that show that the censors would not pass. And Rob Tapert, and Lucy Lawless, and Eric Grundemen fought the network, fought the censors, fought everyone and we held that show for three months. It didn’t air when it was supposed to and Rob Tapert said, "I love this so much the way it is so much right now, that I don’t want to trim it." And there were sequences in there were the censors said, "you are showing on camera a leg being cut off." Rob said, "no we’re not. It’s all in the cutting, it’s in your mind. You’re hearing it." And they had to go back frame by frame and see that we had created a sequence where in their mind they thought a leg was being chopped off on camera, but it wasn’t. In the end I think 60 seconds of my original cut got taken out and had passed. That’s how it aired. Rob always said that he would have loved to have,at some point, to do a DVD full sequence, the way we did it originally without the 60 seconds cut out.
[Clip – Leg amputation scene again from Is There a Doctor in the House] 38:23
Doug Lefler – The pilot episode was Sins of the Past. As fond as I was at directing action, I really wasn’t enjoying doing the drama in the show. Actually one of my favorite scenes in that episode was a scene between Gabrielle and her sister; Renee O’Connor and Willa O’Neil when Gabrielle is saying good-bye to her sister; that was my favorite scene. It was interesting when Rob Tapert had seen the dailies for that the next day he said "now I know we’re doing a different show than Hercules. In Hercules the only time we had two women talking together, one of them was chained to a wall."
[Clip – Gabrielle saying good-by to Lila in Sins of the Past] 39:15
Doug Lefler – I also liked doing the scene between Xena and her mother in the tavern. I think those were some of the scenes that helped define the show as much as much as the action did. Because as silly as this world was that we were creating, we wanted it to have a sincerity, we wanted the characters in the story to believe completely in what was going on.
[Clip – Xena’s mom taking Xena’s sword away in her tavern in Sins of the Past] 40:07
Michael Levine – One of my favorite scenes is when Renee is playing drunk ‘cause she played it so well. Renee’s funny because if she had to be in a certain mode, if she had to be other than just Gabrielle, she would gear up for it by kind of lapsing into that even when the camera wasn’t rolling. So I remember I was walking around the set, they were lighting the set and said "hey Renee, how are you doing." "I’m fine." And she was playing the role. I said, " Okay, got you. I’m there." You know, and she was totally getting into it. There was a fun scene because it’s the first time where Lucy is playing the straight man, and Renee gets to play the comic; and she played it great. And she was game for anything I wanted to do. We did this scene where she was crying ‘cause she can’t find the boy; she’d forgotten where the boy was. She goes out of frame, and I said, "instead of popping up behind her, crawl in front. The audience won’t care how you got there, pop up in front of her." And Lucy’s doing this look like, "how did you get here?" It was a tremendous amount of fun to shoot.
[Clip – Xena asking a drugged Gabrielle about the nut bread in Altered States] 41:40
Charles Siebert – The Reckoning’s the one where she’s chained, isn’t it? We went into shoot that, and the morning we went into shoot the first scene in the cell. They had a kind of a stock or something that was going to be put over her arms, and put over her neck and her arms were going to be in it and she was going to be chained to a wall or something like that. I looked at it and thought, "no, that’s ugly, that’s not attractive." This was very early in the series, and I said, "No, let’s hang her from the rafters and spread her out like that." And so, we set it up like that, that took a little time to re-rig all the chains and that sort of thing. We did that without Lucy there, and Lucy walked in she said, "Wow, that looks like sexual fetishism." And jumped right in. You know, like, "Chain me up boys, let’s go." My favorite scene - I liked that scene where we chained her up for that reason, we had a lot of fun with that. I also – I happen to like in that show – I love the dialog between Ares and Xena. It’s very uncharacteristic of most of the Xena stuff. There is a lot of dialog and it’s just the two of them in a room talking. We were under a pressure; Kevin Smith was doing a play at the time, and he had to get out at a certain time of the day. I only had him for a certain time to shoot. So I was restricted as to how we shot it; there were certain things I just didn’t have time for, so we kept it pretty simple. What I liked about it was it became an interesting scene between the two of them, just dialog. It had a feeling like (undistinguishable) Beauty and the Beast to me. There were lots and lots of dialog. More dialog than just about anything else I shot in those things. But the two of them were so terrific and looked so good that it worked out very well. That’s probably my favorite scene in the show.
[Clip – Xena calling for Ares in The Reckoning] 43:49
Charles Siebert - I want to talk about Kevin Smith, because Kevin Smith, God rest his soul, who was a fabulous actor who had a tremendous career ahead of him. And tragically died a year or two ago in Beijing. I know all directors felt this way about Kevin, when you would opened up a script and you would see that Ares was going to be in it, you got more excited. It was wonderful to work with Lucy, and wonderful to work with Renee; and the cherry on a sundae was if Kevin was going to be in it, too. He was so creative, and so enthusiastic, and had such a sense of humility about him. He was terrifically handsome, an enormously buff guy, was a sweet as could be, there was no egocentricity about him at all, and hilariously funny. He was a wonderfully funny guy, had a great sense of humor. It was always such a treat to get to work with Kevin and he would do anything. He would do anything you wanted him to do, and he’d come up with some wonderful way to do it. I hung him up over fire once, and shot him. And he just did it, said, "alright, let’s go. Here we go." He would do anything, and was just a fabulous actor. It’s a very, very, very sad thing that he’s gone.
[Clip – Xena and Ares in The Reckoning] 45:12
Robert Gillies – Working with Doug Lefler, for me, was very interesting to me because, as a designer who really had only worked in New Zealand, I had only worked with a limited pool of directors. And Doug popped up to direct a show, and he was very precise, and he’s also a very skillful storyboard artist. And he had this immaculate way of storyboarding a sequence; especially an action sequence. So for me it was a real learning curve, to be with someone like him, see him storyboard the action sequence, and then be part of breaking it down, and figuring out how were going to do it. So in many ways, he was a contributor to the sort of planning processes that we repeated on all of our shows.
[Clip – Draco throwing knife into his own man’s chest to save Xena] 46:33
Doug Lefler – There was a lot of energy of the people who were really having fun and really wanted to make this work that went into that series. And there was a lot of improvisation of technique and procedure. I should also mention the producers, the line producers down in New Zealand Eric Grundeman and Chloe Smith really great; I don’t know how they actually got as much stuff for us to work with as they did, or figure out was to give us as many days to shoot as we had. It was just really a great team of people, and I haven’t quite experienced anything as collaborative since then.
Donald Duncan – TJ Scott was absolutely wild man-wild, just out of this world. He kind of arrived half way through the first season and really wanted to put his stamp on the show; and he certainly did. A lot of what was to do with technique; he had come from a background as a stuntman, a second unit director and stunt coordinator. He is also real big on having, what we call a dirty foreground. Which is where you’re tracking through bits and pieces of broken trees or railings or people going backwards and forwards – or anything that you can stack in the foreground so we can get wipes through revealing your actors in the background. He just loved all that kind of stuff. So his episodes were very camera oriented, he understood a huge amount about a camera, and then he really basically set the benchmark for visual style from that point on. A lot of what we learned on his shows we’d then take to other shows and convince other directors to do similar thing.
[Clip – X & G fighting their way into Troy in Greeks Bearing Gifts] 48:26
T.J. Scott – …television shows that you’ve done, you can always think of things you want to go back and do. I can’t think of anything I really wanted to change in any of the Xena episodes that I did in season one. It was all a learning experience, it was all going quickly and maybe even the things I think we could have covered better, I like now. I like that they were raw. I think the rawness worked in season one and that it gave us somewhere to go. The fact that everything wasn’t perfect it was a little bit edgy
Robert Gillies – It was always a pleasure always to work with Josh because he would basically drive us nuts; but in a nice way. He was full of enthusiasm for the job and had a passion for shooting; shooting film and just shooting stunts and crazy action.
[Clip – X & Petricles running through the hall of silence in Fistful of Dinars] 49:35
Josh Becker – When I watch any of my movies or when I watch anything I directed it puts me back to making it. Those moments have been captured on film; that reality for that moment during the time the camera was on until the camera turned off – that was my life at that moment. So I get to - all the movies and the tv get to pull me back to when I made them.
Donald Duncan – Charlie was one of my favorite directors, he was an absolute gentleman. He was an actor’s director because he did come from a background of being an actor. It was kind of like a new career, he wasn’t a young man but what really amazed me about Charlie was he was so incredibly open wanting to learn; especially the camera, the technical side of things.
[Clip – Xena and Ares from The Reckoning] 50:27
Charles Siebert – My orientation is acting; I’m an actor. I’ve been an actor all my career, come to directing really very late, I’ve only been directing… When I went down to do Xena – when I went down to do the first season of Xena I think I had been directing for about a year. At my age, that’s very late. So my orientation has always been acting, my strength as a director has always been in working with the actors. So a lot of my style, a lot of my shooting style really was very much determined by the actors. Taken from what was going on between the actors. What was necessary with the scene, working with the actors finding out what the actors were comfortable with, finding out what would work, and then determining how we would shoot it from that. That’s all my orientation.
Donald Duncan – Mike Levine came down fairly early in the first series and one thing I remember about Michael was that he loved to get a lot of set-ups everyday, a lot of material, and he kind of set that up as a challenge. I think he came in one day and saying he’d done a show in the states, Pacific Blue or something, and they’d done 58 set-ups in a day. We were used to doing 25 maybe on a really good day; with 2 cameras maybe 30 or so. (undistinguishable) One day he came around with a shot list that had about 50 shots on it, and none of us had ever remotely covered anything like that. And it was a little bit of – everybody was compromising quality in order to get the coverage that he needed. But we all kind of ran with it. I think at the end of the day, he checked off everything on his shot list and everyone was happy. I’m pretty sure he definitely set the record for most number of set-ups in a day, and I’ve never approached anything like it before or since.
[Clip – Baby throwing scene from Cradle of Hope] 52:11
Michael Levine – As an episodic director, you’re a guest. I mean, you’re the guy coming in this week to direct an episode. But when you direct a lot of the episodes of the show, you become part of the family. And I was fortunate enough in my first two seasons of Xena - I was down there enough were they felt like I was part of the family. And that’s everybody around. Everyone was happy to be doing and making something that they know was very good. And that people were watching and people were enjoying. I think that’s what good television is all about.
T.J. Scott – It’s interesting, I don’t go back and watch episodes that I’ve directed very often, but with the invent of Tivo they now seem to pop up all the time on my screen. But I was at a fan convention not long ago, and there was a montage of sequences from Xena, and saw a bunch of the stuff that I shot in there. And it was like Wow, it’s like another lifetime ago because it’s a period piece and we’re so saturated in the periods that we were playing out, and then looking at it up there draws incredible emotion. Because it’s not like a normal drama where you say, "oh that clothing looks outdated,oh look at those hairstyles from way back then that doesn’t work." This was so far back in period that I think it still feels fresh I think.
Angie Anderson – I still attribute the charm of Xena to being something new, something that hadn’t been done. Whether it was the time period, or the fact that it was two women out fighting injustice, however you want to look at it, it was something new.
Charles Siebert – I think these shows had a good heart. I think that they had a good intention. That they really did tell people something that was important and valuable, and I like that a lot. In addition to the fact that you’ve got a lot of interesting action, and lot of very sexy babes, and good looking guys. So it’s all done in a package that’s very palatable.
Kevin O’Neill – You can’t answer the question of why Xena is popular, without really trying to understand why Lucy is so much an attractive person, as a person. That’s really where it all comes from. I could point at the effects, and I could point at the action, and I could point at any number of issues right down to New Zealand as a country. I think all of that plays a part in it. But it’s the personality that showed up on the screen and people’s response to it. I know I certainly had that same response before she was Xena or anything else. She was just a very interesting person.
Robert Gillies – I think from series one of Xena, I will be most proud of the way everybody that I was involved with in the art department, just because it was the area that I was intensely involved with, how everybody just got their act together, and got so good at what they did, that we finished it in far better shape than we started. And we all had fun.
Charles Siebert – Whenever I see these shows I have enormous feelings of love. I have feelings for all the people who were involved in it; for the actors, for the actresses – for Lucy and Renee, for Kevin Smith, and for all the people behind the camera. I have powerful feelings of affection and high regard, respect and gratitude that I was involved in it.
Return to the AUSXIP XenaMedia Archive
AUSXIP - Australian Xena Information Page
AUSXIP Renee O'Connor Files | AUSXIP Lucy Lawless Files