Convention report by
Well, I'm gonna type this duo up next since I found it the most interesting after Lucy and Renee. In actual sequence, Rob and Chris were on stage just before Lucy and Renee were.
I was really looking forward to this as we haven't had very many of the behind the scenes staff appear since the first post rift con in 1998. During that con, some of the fans not only blasted Liz Friedman and RJ Stewart when they were on stage because those fans were so pissed at some of the happenings of season three, but they even formed a pack and chased another staff member down the hallway and cornered him, screaming loudly at him for the writers’ "sins". (And some of you newbies thought the FIN fights were dramatic. . .) So it's very nice to see the staff venturing out onstage again (along with Rob who used to at least show his face sometimes).
I just really enjoy hearing the writing and producing staff talk on the DVDs. It's fascinating to hear all the details about making the creative decisions, what worked and what didn't, what made it into the show and what didn't, what a surprise it was to them when they saw what had happened to their scripts once Lucy and friends got a hold of them, etc. I consider Chris one of the best writers of the series and I've really enjoyed watching her reactions and hearing her discussions on the DVDs. To me she looks like a cross between the very sophisticated Carolyn Jones and the friendly, eager to please Shelley Duvall. On the DVDs, she's one of the few people who dresses a bit formally, in nice, (what we call in my office), "Big kid's clothes". She struck me as one of the few "grown-ups" (along with RJ) who worked on XWP. I mean the woman actually appears to comb her hair before the cameras start rolling, unlike SOME people we could mention.
Sadly, I was wandering around the halls and so missed the very beginning of their appearance. When I got back to my seat, they were already on stage. And Rob was saying, ". . . Lucy and Renee. If it happens, it happens. It wouldn't surprise me if it did or if it didn't."
Obviously he was talking about the movie. He said that the rights were
totally secured and that there was interest in it but that there was one more final "Let's go" to get before it went. He commented that it had to go soon or it wouldn't be done with Lucy and Renee. He talked about winding up with a Charlie's Angel's version sometime in the future. (Shudder.)
He said it would be best to start it within a few months. Better now than later. And that the decision would be made one way or the other soon. He mentioned that one person had to sign something and that he hadn't yet. Someone in the audience yelled out, "Give us his name!" LAUGH! Rob grinned and shook his head and said, "Just an executive."
I love to watch Rob smile. When he's really enjoying something, his whole face gets involved. He shows a lot of teeth, his eyes light up, the skin on the top of his cheeks crinkle and he's looks just totally engaged in and focused on what he's hearing or seeing.
One of them said, as they've indicated on the DVDs, "They just kept changing the script that we wrote." (I THINK referring to the director, actors and the production crew. Again as we see in the DVDs, I'm beginning to think that they just turned on the camera and just turned Lucy loose. And nobody was totally sure WHAT she would come up with.)
I think it was Rob who talked about how Xena was optioned rather suddenly. And so, "We were scrambling so much in the first season. Xena was Clint Eastwood."
Chris: "With tits."
Rob replied, "Oh, yeah" in a kind of "Oh, that's right" tone and laughed. "Gabrielle was the mouthpiece. One speaking on behalf of the other. Once we did Callsto-the show kind of knew what it was. People from her past popping up and bringing up moral issues. We wanted to get away from the warrior of the week to differentiate it from Hercules."
"Then Lucy got hurt and we went on from there."
Someone asked something, I think it was about Chris being the only female staff writer. Rob answered that Liz Friedman was integral to the show. That she had ad enormous influence and was instrumental in making the show work.
C: "I didn't feel that gender was an issue. If you can write, you can write male or female. I didn't feel alone in the room. I give lots of credit to Liz. Nothing bad ever came from the staff." She said that she missed Hilary Bader. (Hilary wrote "Been There, Done That", "The Quill Is Mightier", "Forget Me Not" and the teleplay for "Locked Up, Tied Down". She died before the show ended.) Chris wished that Hilary had done at least one more ep.
There was a question about Xena being an action adventure show (and I guess it was the same question that was asked of Lucy and Renee later, about the focus being on character more than on the action.) Rob replied that "All entertainment is meant to move the audience one way or the other. The goal is to bring a tear to the eye. You have to find the heartline of the story-what is the heart beat?"
C: "Stories are superficial without the heart and emotion. If you follow the heart, it leads you into the conflict. People tuned in not to see great action, but to see the growth of the characters."
Chris talked about having worked as a writer on "Murder She Wrote". And how different writing Xena was from writing that show since Xena lived a life of action. She said it was a big transition. "On 'Murder She Wrote', the character never lost her cool, she was always very gracious. Xena was not. She always spoke her mind. Once I got that, it was very refreshing."
Then she said, "There are pieces of yourself in characters. But I had to do some excavating. I was raised in the South. We're very polite."
Someone asked Rob why Sam hadn't directed any of Xena. Rob told him that Sam had never directed any episode of TV. And doesn't want to. "He's used to 120 days to shoot" he said with a grin. The guy seemed skeptical, like Rob was wrong and just didn't know that Sam had been directing TV shows, apparently behind Rob's back.
One of the fans said simply, "Thanks. For everything."
There was a question about Season Three. Which, as I mentioned above, had created quite a strong reaction among some fans.
Chris commented that "People can become too comfortable with a show. It's a no-brainer that if you're dealing with your lead character-give her conflict."
R: "RJ said that we should do a Halloween episode-a Rosemary's Baby one. We wanted a demon baby." I believe he said that at first they were going to have Gabrielle have a demon baby and her sister would know that it was a demon but Gabrielle wouldn't. But I guess XWP has to have lots of Xena, so Xena became the one who figured it out.
Someone asked Rob, "At the end of 'You Are There', the reporter asks Xena if she and Gabrielle are lovers. And there's a technical glitch. What was Xena's answer?" Rob put the mike up to his mouth and imitated a crackling static sound. I believe he talked a little bit about keeping all options open. (Either here or at some other point in their appearance.) Then he put on a teasing face and said, "Ask Lucy and Renee if they were lovers."
Someone asked Rob about Fishsticks, essentially, a "What were you thinking!?" question. Chris said, "I second that." Rob said, "There are just some episodes that don't work out." He had envisioned it as a kind of live action Simpsons episode. He said, "It didn't work-it was never meant to be a Xena episode."
Someone asked if there were any episodes that the directors had screwed
up. Rob looked down at Steve Sears, who was the official photographer for the con this year and was standing below the stage taking pictures, and asked him, "Which stories did the director screw up?" I didn't hear Steve's answer, if he gave any. Heh.
Chris laughed and suggested, "Paradise Found" which of course, she wrote and Rob directed.
Rob said that there had been some casting mistakes. I believe he referred to Ulysses and maybe to Rafe also.
Rob talked about "Haunting of Amphipolis" as having the wrong director.
"He was a relationship guy, not a horror-meister. He missed the mark. We did toss Renee back into that stinky pond to fix that though."
He talked about Evil Xena. "It was a way of. . . we went there too much perhaps? It allowed us to get more storytelling. To have Gabrielle's reaction to finding out those stories. How do you do the evil past and have it work?"
Chris added, "It's a visually interesting way to tell a back story. Her quest for redemption was made more real."
Something came up about FIN. Chris immediately put her hands up, palms out and said in a "Don't blame me" kind of tone, "I wasn't there". And then she added while looking at Rob and grinning, "I gotta go now. . . "
Someone asked Rob if there was any place too dark where he wouldn't go.
He said A. "That's intentional". Or B. "That's unintentional". Or C. "That's entertainment." Or D. "That's legitimate" or E. Something totally different. Can't make out that word in my notes though it seems to be possibly any of the above-we'll just have to wait for the DVD.
Chris: "I flinched at a few of the evil Xena doings. It made her really bad. But it showed, 'How much does she have to pay for?' It kept the show strong."
R: "Those are choices that the director makes. I wish we had pulled back. When we went there, I was happy with the story." He mentioned the Ring Trilogy. Then he said that perhaps they had gone to dark Xena's stories too often. People in the audience yelled out, "No!" He looked a little surprised and very interested in hearing that. Which made more people yell out their appreciation for the Evil Xena eps and their feeling that the show focusing on her past was a good thing.
You know this is something I think about from things Rob has said-where he got his info on "What fans think about the show". I figure there were two main sources-one of course was focus groups which the studios were running and which were deliberately comprised of people who were unaware of the show, or at least were not self-identified fans of the show. A lot of the comments in Deja Vu came from those focus groups-about the show being too serialized making it too hard to follow, the confusion caused by the mix of slapstick one week followed by a week of high drama, etc.
Unfortunately, the other source of fan input was the official net forum (AKA, "Nut Forum") of USA studios. Which was of course moderated by them which means someone had the job of reading all those posts. And probably reporting on them. And there were so many negative fans on that list. So Rob will sometimes make a blanket statement like, "Fans hated Season Five" or, "Fans hated Motherhood". And yet that's not true of all fans and at this point in the fandom, I'm not even sure it's true for most fans. If it ever was true for most fans. At any rate, it's nice to be able to let him know "face to face" that there was a vast diversity of opinion among fans as to what they liked and that many of the fans liked a lot more of the show than he may be presuming we did. And of course there was another source of fan input—from Steve Sears, that major fan slut who would talk to any fan about anything. And usually listen to them also. ;->
A fan came up to the mike and said, "At the risk of getting booed, I'd like to tell you that Friend in Need was my favorite episode." Many people in the audience burst into cheers and applause.
You know, that's one thing I've really noticed over the last few years and particularly this year. That the fans are VERY polite and respectful of each other. I KNOW there were some FIN haters in the audience-I know there were even a few sitting very near me. But nobody did boo the guy or his opinions or yelled out any furious anti-FIN comments. There's now a real public tolerance for opinions that was sometimes lacking when the show was actually filming. There's been a real sea-change in fandom that I find both intriguing and refreshing.
I was watching the guy who asked the question so I missed Rob's reaction. After the cheers and applause died down, Rob commented that the "Garden of Gethsemane scene" in Seeds Of Faith is one of his all time favorite scenes in the series. He said, "That's a terrible thing to say, since none of the leads were in it." That line got a good laugh.
A question was asked that the series was an action adventure show so where did the musicals come from?
Chris immediately shot back, "From Rob."
Rob said with a little shrug, "Even though I'm a married straight man, I love musicals."
I believe it was Chris who said that they did Bitter Suite because music was the best way to heal that wound. That using music allowed emotions to be resolved and displayed easily. And I believe one of them said that Bitter Suite was like a movie. (In terms of the complications and difficulty they had with making a musical ep.)
Then they were asked why Lyre, Lyre used existing songs rather than them making up the lyrics again. Rob said that words are not always understandable in new songs. I think that Chris then asked Steve Sears, "Why did we use pre-existing music in Lyre Lyre?" Steve replied, "I was gone." Chris swatted a hand in the air in dismissal and said, "What do you know? You were gone!" (She cracks me up.)
Someone asked why they hadn't brought back Mel and Janice for another ep. I think they said they had never considered that. And then I have written down, "You're a swell dame." Don't know who said it or to whom it referred.
Rob said, "Ares is sometimes seen as a stalker by some of the audience." There were a few whoops let out in the audience.
Chris started to talk about Xena being attracted to him and there was some swift mumbling and grumbling in some sections of the audience. Chris stopped talking, looked over at the grumblers and said, "C'mon! Like nobody here has ever been involved with someone who was bad for them?"
They talked about the problems with trying to find a match for Xena because everybody they put with her, "She just blew them off the screen." So they paired her with Ares who was one person who could definitely hold his own with her.
Someone asked Chris what kind of freedom Rob gave to the writers. Chris said "Everybody in the room had a voice. From the assistants on up. I was a free-lancer. I came into the room for the first time and there's eight people there. And everybody had a say. I was trying to figure out the pecking order and I couldn't."
Rob said, "You have to let people make their own mistakes. Don't take that privilege away from them. Don't punish people for bad ideas."
Then someone asked something that I didn't catch and Rob said, "People
call back". (Meaning that people want to be involved in his company's projects.)
Chris said, "Rob should take credit for that."
Someone asked if Rob and Chris had ever had a fight over work. Chris said that he once threw a script of hers across the room." Rob looked at her and she said, "It sickened you and you threw it across the room." Then Chris explained to us that she didn't like killing animals. Which actually caused a groundswell of amusement in the folks around me. We were all, "They kill people every week, but they don't like to 'kill animals'!" We had a few good snorts over that one.
Rob said, "Chris gave ME the most trouble for letting Lucy run around in those teeth." (In Paradise Found, of course. A truly foul moment in a truly fine ep.)
They talked about "Yes Virginia, There Is A Hercules" which is the Hercules ep where a handful of the regulars play the writing staff-Bruce Campbell was Rob, Hudson was Liz Friedman, Michael Hurst was one of the Herc writers, etc. It was a total slam on the producers and the writing staff, a totally hilarious parody of them.
Rob said, "I kept pushing them to do that. (To make fun of the production staff.) They loved it. (I'm not sure who he meant-the staff or the actors.) Either Rob said of himself or he may have been talking about the cast, someone kept saying, "I can't believe we're doing this!" Rob added, "It could have failed as miserably as Fishsticks. And it was done just to cover Kevin Sorbo, who was missing due to health problems."
(Those guys are REAL good at that, filling in for "broken" stars.)
They talked about Lucy's pregnancy, about the discussion the writers and producers had over what to do about it.
C: "As a writer, it actively presented a challenge. Not the least of which was explaining it. Again, it led to new stories and greater depth of character."
R: "There was no way to cover it." He shrugged a bit and said as if just considering it at that moment, "We could have killed her and had Gabrielle running around trying to find her for that season."
They talked about the problems of having a baby along on Xena's ride. And that Bob and Alex came up with the 25 year gap. Which freed them to do stories 25 years in the future, with the grown up Eve. Rob mentioned that in Path of Vengeance, watching Eve walk off, to go live her life away from Xena, that was very sad to him.
Chris said, "I had my vote." (On the twenty five year gap.) She also talked about "taking care" of the baby dilemma.) "Is the kid going to get it? I would have been the first to say, 'YEAH!' I wound up killing everybody's child along the way. I killed Hope. I killed Solon. I killed them all."
A fan asked "Why did you always have Xena falling for a man?"
Rob answered, "Because she could?" Then he talked a little bit about Rafe and Ulysses, how these were casting problems. But that he thought that Cleopatra was an excellent episode, that the actor who played Marc Antony was good and believable.
One of them (I believe Chris) said it was good story telling. "How does
Gabrielle react? How's it impact their relationship? It allowed us to get into different stories on the characters."
Chris said that having Xena fall for men opened up half of the world
again. "It's not really about one gender or the other. C'mon. It's all the same."
They said that Xena spoke to a lot of people, not just a narrow segment. Chris said, "The show is about being human."
Rob was asked about the ending of XWP. If he thought the ending was the ending. He said, "When it ended, there was a bunch of talk about four telemovies being made. No, it wasn't the end of Xena. We set up a 'want to see' situation for going into a movie. He added, "It was the terrible price for Xena being redeemed."
Someone followed up with, "If you knew that was the last time Xena would be on screen, would you still have had her die?" And Rob answered, "Yeah." Thought a little bit. Then said, "Probably." (Pause) "I don't know. Yeah."
He said, "Xena came from the Hong Kong action movies. This was my formal tribute to them. I squirmed forever and a day. RJ kept my nose to the grindstone. 'No, Rob, no.' Seemed like the right thing, to redeem her for a show about redemption."
They talked about the way the characters lived on in the series. As Annie and Matty in Deja vu and as Xena and Gabrielle as the clones. They thanked us for still being around. Rob said, "The people who are here now truly love the show, truly love the community it has created."
Many of them say things like that now, about being so grateful to us for still being around and still supporting, enjoying and respecting their creation. (Even if we all do have problems with some of it.) And as Renee did last year in sharing the love of the show that the staff had put into the green stone with the audience, they all seem very appreciative that we're still interested in keeping the show alive in our imagination and in our lives.
And that was it. They received a huge standing ovation at the end. As they did when they first came out also, as a friend told me.
Traveling again--more to come. Though you know, I'm not so sure these matter very much since the DVD is coming out probably WAY before I'll finish these reports. Shrug.