Many thanks to Tanya for the transcript
Starlog Magazine #285
Directing Dangers- T.J. Scott masters myth, time & space on Xena, Cleopatra 2525 & Andromeda. By Joe Nazzaro
While it's almost impossible to categorize director T.J. Scott's varied work-his resume includes everything from action-adventure to real-life drama--genre shows such as Hercules: The Lengendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess and now Gene Rodenberry's Andromeda best illustrate the director's visual strength and technical strengths. And there are others who agree, "T.J. is just brilliant," enthuses Lucy Lawless, who has worked with Scott on several Xena episodes. "He gives a filmic quality to almost all of the episodes he does," notes the show's executive producer R.J. Stewart. "There's a very strong, interesting visual element to each of them." Scott's most recent genre effort, Andromeda, pairs him once again with Hercules star Kevin Sorbo. The ex-demigod now plays a very different character in the futuristic space opera. But that didn't keep the man behind the camera from traversing the eons. "Kevin had asked the producers," Scott explains, "to track me down and see if I was available to do an episode or two for them. It's always great when the star of the show asks for you as a director. I've worked many times over the last 15 years with producer Allan Eastman; he was familiar with my work."
DIRECTOR ASCENDANT Scott remains hush-hush about his recently completed Andromeda episode, but he does describe an informal precis of its conflicts. "It's original title was 'Pas Magellanic,' but they changed it to 'The Mathematics of Tears.' Dylan Hunt (Sorbo) discovers that there is another ship like the Andromeda. He goes to find it and discovers that the crew aboard are still alive after 300 years." The director is pleased to report that Sorbo hasn't changed a bit since their previous collaborations several years ago. "It was unheard of to find the star sitting around on the set, just watching what was going on, but that was Kevin on Hercules. And then on Xena, Lucy picked that up from Kevin. Now on Andromeda, everybody has picked up Kevin's light air. He jokes often, and is a great leader that way." Scott's long-standing relationship with the Hercules/Xena franchise began in 1995, when producer Liz Friedman was screening tapes of prospective directors and called him in for a meeting. Several weeks later, Scott was on a plane to New Zealand to shoot his first Hercules.
"I had just come off RoboCop: The Series, a massive TV show comprising 15-16-hour days of shooting all the time. "They were just throwing money at everything, so to walk out of that and into this completely different way of shooting was jarring. It took me an episode or two to adjust. Kevin and Michael Hurst were just the nicest actors to work with. I would say, 'Kevin, you're not in this scene,' and he would say, 'Yeah, I know. I'm just hanging out.' It was a great family to fall into." But Scott soon discovered that he would have to prove himself to the Kiwi crew, such as the day when production designer Rob Gilles gave him some fabric and a dozen or so pillars as an entire set. The term "baptism by fire" leaps into mind. "It's a funny thing, but they give the first-time directors the most limited resources they possibly can. They're big on team players, so they want you to know right away that you're a team player and that you're able to deal with anything."
"Highway to Hades" pleased the producers, though, so the director found himself with a new assignment. This time, Scott decided to push the envelope himself. In "The Enforcer", he turned action star Karen Sheperd into an inhuman, Terminator-like assassin sent to destroy Hercules. "I wanted her to be a robot-type character. Karen really bought into the idea because she wanted to create something that wasn't just a martial-arts character. She sees herself as an actress who also does martial arts, and the fact that she has done so many movies is a testament to the fact that she can act. She was great in it, even though it was very difficult for her. Karen had to wear dark contact lenses, so she could hardly see. She had to do all the martial arts as well as the acting with the lenses in. She was a super trooper."
The Enforcer turned out to be popular enough to warrant a return appearance for Sheperd the following season, this time as a rehabilitated character. And once again, Scott was there to direct. In "Not Fade Away," Hera sends a second Enforcer (Cynthia Rothrock), and the two assassins are soon locked in battle. "Sometimes we do what we call a 'hybrid unit,' where we take the main actors over to second unit and film on Saturday. I went over and shot those sequences not only with the second-unit crew, but with the actresses too, because there aren't many people who can duplicate the martial arts that they do. We used doubles for the flips and the gymnastics stuff, but 80 percent of it was them. If the actors are doing some of those moves themselves, they can really sell the fight."
CREATIVE CAMP During that time, the director also began working on Xena, a relationship that would continue over several seasons. His first assignment was the Trojan War-inspired "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts." This time, Gilles presented the director with a miniature wooden horse as a gag. "He built an entire castle for me, which was just incredible. When I first read the script, I thought, 'OK, we've got a castle and a Trojan horse; they're going to give me a couple of pillars again!'
When I got there and saw this entire castle, I was blown away, and asked for a crane to shoot a variety of big shots to show this castle. "Both Lucy and Renee (O'Connor) were incredible. They had both been on Hercules and had adopted Kevin's attitude of, 'Hey, we're part of a team.' " Part of Scott's further work for Xena involved arch-villainess Callisto. The director still remembers Hudson Leick coming in to audition and leaving an instant impression on everyone in the room. "Rob Tapert and R.J. were both there, and I've got to tell you, when Hudson wants to make guys squirm, she can.
It was a really a well-written character, and Hudson immediately glommed onto how to make Callisto work. She's not very big physically, and she does not have a martial arts background, but she has a face that can really sell that odd dimension, like she can look inside of you. Being a smart actress, she really used what she had, and that penetrating look she has was her best weapon." "Callisto" also introduced Joxer (Ted Raimi), the bumbling wannabe sidekick.
"What I said was, 'This character is trying to be like his big brother, so he has gone into the garage and taken out all the old hockey and baseball equipment and put it on. He can't find a chest plate, so he wears a garbage can lid. He can't find a hat, so he takes his mother's plant pot and puts that on.' That's what we did. And it still looks like it was put together with stuff found in the garage!"
If Xena fans thought that Scott had pushed the envelope with his early efforts, they hadn't yet seen his soundstage-based hospital episode "Is There a Doctor in the House?" Though tame by contemporary medical TV standards, it was still too much for the studio, which initially pulled it from the schedule. "This is what I had been thinking: ER had been on the air for maybe half a season, so we were all very well aware of it, and I had watched episodes with people bleeding. I didn't think we were doing anything gratuitous; we were just using the same amount of blood as an ER. "The episode aired with about 20 seconds cut, but they were just snips here and there. Lucy wanted the episode aired as it was, and at one point, Rob was going to put out a director's cut on video so that everyone could see that the 20 seconds added a great deal."
For "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," Scott started out directing a camp Halloween comedy, but after a day's shooting, he realized that style just wasn't working. "On the second day, I sat down with Rob and (production manager) Eric Grundemann and told them I hated what we had done so far and wanted to get rid of it all. I wanted to shoot it in a completely different way: 'We're going to change it from campy horror to rock video horror!'
"I always have my ghetto blaster on the set when we're shooting so I can play music that's very thematic. I think out the type of music I want to have playing, which helps the crew understand the episode's emotion. When we were doing the dance scene, I was blasting rock music, and everyone was swaying to it, and then (composer) Joe LoDuca was able to mimic the music later on." With "The Return of Callisto," the director delved even more deeply into the dark relationship between Xena and her deadly nemesis. "There's one scene where Callisto is talking to Xena from prison, and that was one of the best lessons I've ever learned about blocking a show," Scott says.
"I had always imagined that the two of them were facing each other, but during rehearsal, Lucy sat down in the chair facing away from the cell, I think to talk to someone who was off set. Suddenly, the whole thing made more sense, because she wasn't looking at Callisto; she had her back to her. It's one of those scenes that fell into place. We shot it quickly, and the actors understood it and nailed it." After that show, Scott took a break from Xena to co-write and direct the action drama Legacy, which was shot in Manila. He also returned to New Zealand to helm the Young Hercules pilot, which kicked off the short-lived series.
"That was interesting, because we got the go-ahead to fit it into the hiatus of Hercules and Xena, but we didn't have a script. When they finally green-lit it, it was a rush to get that pilot done, but we had the whole Herc and Xena team backing us up." The director returned to Xena for the epic two-parter "Adventures in the Sin Trade," one of the most wildly hallucinogenic stories in the show's history. "I had a lot of time to prep that, so I tried to plot out the look and feel of it so the audience could feel what Xena was going through.
It's always difficult to do that, because you don't know if the audience will say, 'OK, enough of that camera movement stuff!" "The interesting thing is, Rob, R.J., Lucy and I all knew going into it that this could almost be a three-parter, because there were enough parts of the story missing to make it a good two-parter. We got about two-thirds through shooting, and Lucy and I called R.J. and said, 'Let's make this a three-parter!' We tried to make it work, we had all the story beats figured out, but in the end, it did not work out. We pulled it back to two, and I miss the story pieces that aren't in there."
SPACE HELMSMAN "Sin Trade" turned out to be Scott's last Xena to date, but it wasn't long before he was lending his talents to the first season of Cleopatra 2525, directing two of the first 13 episodes ("Run Cleo Run," "Last Stand"). "The girls had been together for about three weeks when I first worked with them, and by that point, everybody had a pretty good idea of what their characters were and what the were going to do in the story.
They get along really well on set. They have different looks, personalities and interests, so they don't compete in many ways where three women, if they were all going for the exact same thing, would. They're all well-defined in their characters. It's a good thing they get along, because they're together 14 hours a day!" After several months of SF and fantasy, Scott was ready for a change of pace. Returning to North America, he co-wrote, produced and directed the HBO road thriller Blacktop, which stars Kristin Davis, Meat Loaf and Cleo star Victoria Pratt, Scott's new wife. "It's about a young comedian who's playing out in a tiny Pacific Northwest town called Blacktop.
His girl friend comes to meet him, and they're going to travel back to the big city and this is the 'We're going to commit to each other or we're not' moment and he blows it. There's a truck driver watching them, and when the boy friend blows it, she hops on the truck with Meat Loaf (the trucker), who pictures himself as a teacher of the road. He's going to teach this young couple about commitment, and starts to leave clues for the boy friend to follow, and it becomes this cat-and-mouse game." Before starting work on Blacktop, Scott was already booked to work on the second season of Cleopatra ("Brain Drain" and "The Pod Whisperer").
What he didn't know was that he would also be directing the first of the hour-long episodes, "The Soldier Who Fell From Grace." "It was more or less the same formula, but there were longer dramatic scenes, so we didn't have to get to the action as quickly. An hour format is what everybody is used to doing, so it was easier. "The half-hour was what was difficult for everybody to come to grips with, because it's an unusual action format, in this day and age at least. Rob's idea was that it was a whiz-bang show, like Batman, where you watched it unfold very quickly and then it was over. It was like a light snack of visuals--that was his idea for Cleopatra when it started. That's why he really liked watching those shows when he was a kid.
When it went to an hour, he obviously realized it had to have more depth to sustain an hour." "Whiz bang" would also describe Scott's work on Andromeda, a fast-paced episode that turned out to be great fun to shoot. "It's one of the lightest sets that I've been on in terms of actors laughing and joking--the hardest thing for a director on that show is starting to shoot, because everybody is having such a good time. "Obviously these actors are into their characters," Scott says. "They know what they're doing, they're enjoying the show and everyone really has a good handle on where they are. I came into episode 12, which is in that giddy period halfway through the first season, where everything is going smoothly and they don't have to work too hard on character direction at this point."
That episode of Andromeda may well turn out to be Scott's last genre work for some time. He and writing partner Kevin Lund have just sold a script to Mirimax called Airtight, which is on the fast track to production. "I'll be on as writer and co-producer," he explains. "It's the true story of the rescue of men in a downed submarine, which is very apropos right now, but we actually wrote it a year ago. It takes place in 1939, as the U.S. is on the verge of World War II. They're testing their newest submarine, and on the final test, one of the valves doesn't close, and by the time they close it, the ship fills with water, half the guys are dead and it has sunk 240 feet to the ocean bottom.
They staged the biggest naval rescue in history, using a pod that could get men out of a downed submarine--the first and only time it has ever worked, and it was headline news in 1939." Looking back at the moment of SF/fantasy credits he has managed to accumulate over the last several years, T.J. Scott seems a bit surprised by the attention, but it's work of which he remains proud. "I have a rule of thumb to never do more than three episodes of one series," he notes, "although I've broken that rule on Xena because I love it so much. As a director, you want to do one really good episode, and if you've done one in the first three, you leave; if you haven't, it's time to go!"
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