The Official Xena Magazine #3

The Making of Punch Lines

by Kate Barker


Flashback episodes (or clip shows, as they're called in the world of television) are always a lot of fun. While the characters reminisce about old adventures, the audience gets to look hack on past episodes and favourite scenes. Not only that -- since many of the scenes have already been filmed for previous episodes, clip shows also allow the production crew a welcome opportunity for a shortened filming schedule.

Clip shows often contain a comic premise to tie all the flashbacks together and Punch Lines is no exception. With morose magic user Lachrymose (New Zealand comedian Jon Gadshy) shrinking Gabrielle (along with Xena's horse Argo) down to a foot high, then refusing to reverse the effects until he is made to laugh, the stage is well and truly set for comedy.

The laughs are often subtle, but may just as well be blatantly obvious. One of the only two "new" interior sets for Punch Lines is a shopping emporium, complete with aisles, checkouts and bargain bins. "It's a sort of medieval supermarket," explains Director of Photography Allen Guilford, 'there's a little trolley over there made of wood, with wobbly wheels..."

According to Guilford, about half the screen time of Punch Lines is made up from clips from previous episodes, which means cutting the usual shooting time for a Xena episode from eight days to five. Even so, the work required to set up the scenes is no less exhaustive. By the estimate of Production Designer Rob Gillies, the supermarket set took eight people over a week to put together.

This may seem like an easy task, until you consider that for this particular episode, one whole section of the set was built twice -- the second time on a much larger scale. In a corner of the studio housing the supermarket set, stands one small section of one of its aisles, enlarged several times, grocery-laden shelves and all.

"That's for the foot-high Gabrielle," explains Guilford. "We'll get a camera up on a tower about 15 feet up, and shoot down on the real Gabrielle on a big set." The team has a 'real' shrunken Argo too; a miniature horse who is a dead ringer for the full sized original.

Even Rob Gillies is impressed with the supermarket, and he designed it. "I was surprised at the extent of the detail. I had a real handle on what I thought it was going to be... I walked in and it was better!"

The emporium has a certain Pacific cultural quality that is not exactly ancient Greek. Gillies describes the subtle South Seas flavour as instinc tive, citing the feel of New Zealand and the Pacific in the designs as something that comes through in all the design work, one way or another.

These quirks and 'anachronisms' that add humour to the feel of Xena -- the supermarket a prime example -- are the result of the art department team of set builders, painters, props makers, set dressers and art directors who all add their individual inputs to the overall theme. All that effort for such little filming time; the main camera unit only has one day with the supermarket set with 24 shots to complete.

A lot goes on in this supermarket. Lachrymose shrinks Gabrielle right there in the middle of a shopping aisle. 'While the scenes involving the post-shrunk Gabrielle are shot "live" on the enlarged set, other special effect footage such as the actual shrinking is carried out with blue screen and computer elements, later in post-production.

The other interior set filmed for this episode is the tavern, location of the climactic pie-throwing scene. Though the sequence is hilarious on screen, Guilford had a feeling before the fact that the Second Unit team would not appreciate having to film it. "There's lumps of pie, made of egg white and potato flakes, which go off after about a day... and the Second Uniti won't get there for about a week. By the time they get there, it's going to smell something fierce."

But it's all part of the job and Guilford acknowledges that Punch Lines is definitely an innovative piece. "An incredible brain has come up with this."

Even Executive Producer Rob Tapert has something to say about Punch Lines: "Pie fights and stuff," he muses, "it's a silly episode. A funny show"

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