The Official Xena Magazine
Issue #2, December 1999
Behind The Scenes
Xena: Warrior Princess
It's a chilly winter's day on the set of Xena: Warrior Princess. Between takes, the Special Effects team have set up to test a literally explosive effect. After a quick check that everyone still has their ear plugs, somebody flicks a switch. A computer controlled explosion sends smoke, flame and lots of sand flying high into the air.
"Whoa!" exlaims Ted (Joxer) Raimi, currently in the middle of an interview. "Nice piece of pyrotechnics".
The episode is Back in the Bottle, the last part of the Xena Chin story that started with the double episode The Debt and its sequel Purity.
The Debt dealt with Xena's history and introduced the teachings of her mentor Lao Ma. In Purity, Xena (Lucy Lawless), Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) and Joxer return to the eastern land of Chin to recover Lao Ma's book of power. There they meet Lao Ma's daughters Pau Ssu and K'Ao Hsin (one good, one evil; both played by the same actress, Marie Matiko). They also face the warlord Kun (Andy Choi), and discover how to make gunpowder!
In a particularly messy looking scene from Purity, Raimi spends much of his time on the ground, covered in ash and soot. The plot involves Joxer as the victim of an exploding bomb, and in the aftermath, Raimi is filmed lying face down amidst mud, debris and smoke from tin cans sitting just out of shot of the camera.
"That's hilarious," notes director Mark Beesley, adding that kids should definitely not try this at home. "In actual fact, Joxer should be dead."
As Raimi positions himself under his huge sombrero for another take, Lawless -- standing nearby as Xena -- quips, "What's this Mexican doing in Chin?"
Setting up to film an ancient village attacked by exploding fireballs is no easy task. Craters have been dug into the main street of the set currently being used as the main village. It's an infinitely flexible area, as are all the mock locations on site.
"Last time I was here," says Beesley, "this was Greece. Now it's Chin."
In fact, it's Chin on fire. A few minutes before the first take, crew members set various props and parts of the set alight, as wranglers lead the characters' horses through the devastation in order to get them used to the fire.
The first time the scene is filmed, the crew discover they have done too good a job; the actors are masked by smoke for the entire first half of the shot.
In Back in the Bottle, the adventure in Chin continues, as do the impressive special effects. For instance, one of the larger scale showdowns involves Lawless, Raimi, Matiko and several other actors, caught in what Raimi refers to as a "primitive minefield... Joxer is stuck in it with a bunch of other hostages," he explains. "Then of course, Xena comes and saves them... as she does."
In the Xena universe, the characters are battling the evil warlord Qin (George Kee Cheung) and his "black powder", using power Xena has accessed from within her own body
In reality, the actors are standing in the middle of a giant sandpit next to an oversized wind machine with several safely computer- controlled "grenades" literally exploding behind them.
Just to the left of the actors is a green screen, on to which more effects will be digitally added later. It's a different process to some of the others used in previous episodes, such as Xena's season five debut Fallen Angel. (That entire episode was filmed in front of a blue screen and every effect and background was digitally created.)
For Back in the Bottle however, combination effects are used. Cameraman Cameron McLean explains in basic terms what will hap pen with the minefield scene in post-produc tion. "They'll create a bunch of explosions which they'll put into the foreground, when we've done the real time background explo sions. Intermixed with this, they'll do fore ground and background elements, and some sort of CGI 'bubble' -- which will look like some sort of protective field. So the [actors] will look as though they're enveloped in explosions."
The effects in Back in the Bottle and the rest of the Chin trilogy are very impressive, as is the fact that in this episode, the usually ineffectual Joxer actually gets to be a hero. "He's instrumental in saving the little girl Tei [Helen Phungi] from death," explains Raimi, pleased with his character's part in proceedings, "He's kind of a hero in this episode -- something that he doesn't get to be very often, though of course he tries!
"He succeeds this time, and it's nice for him."
It's nice for the audience to see that too -- everyone deserves to be a hero sometimes.
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