MM: It came up a bit in the Atlantis panel and then you were interrupted but you were talking about exploring Sheppard’s backstory.
Joe: it’s one of things we’ve been well aware of, that we’ve explored all the other characters but Sheppard, who is essentially the team leader but has had very little back story. Joe [Flanigan, who plays Sheppard] came in and pitched a story, one of the stories he pitched out this year, that has the team traveling back to earth to deal w/ a situation. It was a springboard, a kernel of an idea. And then we started spinning it last week. And we were thinking… this would be an opportunity to get into Sheppard’s background, something we’ve been talking about for quite awhile.
One of the things we know from “Letters from Pegasus” - he has no connection back on earth and no one he felt strongly enough to send a message to [back to earth]. We also know he’s divorced. What’s gong on there? Does he have family, is he estranged from family? The story line we’re working on with him has him going back for a funeral. And we’re thinking maybe someone will go with him - maybe Ronin or McKay will go back with him. He’ll reconnect w/ his family. We’ll be dealing with the big sci fi angle that will drive the story because all of our stories, obviously, have that angle. But it will also give us an opportunity to explore Sheppard’s character. What’s going on w/ his family? Why are they estranged? We’ve come up w/ an atypical story for the character which is going to be a lot of fun.
We’re still very early on. We’re still kicking around some ideas. Hopefully, we’ll start spinning it on Monday. This week we hope we will have broken the last three stories - this one, and the season finale which Paul pitched out. And we have a blank spot. It really depends on the budget, too.
MM: In the past you were sharing resources w/ SG-1. The Stargate SG-1set is still there, right? Is the stress now off a little?
Joe: It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation. There were definite positives w/ the two projects. If SG1 was building a cave set, it was something that wouldn’t have to come out of our budget, that we could use in our episodes down the line. The SGC [Stargate Command] sets are still up so we’re still using them. What happens after season four, I don’t know. Hopefully, there will be more [Stargate SG-1] movies. I personally think there probably will be more movies so the SGC sets will probably stay up.
In terms of pressure, it’s really more the pressure of not having to produce 40 episodes of television. It’s amazing when we first came on the show, and producing 20 episodes, it was very tiring, everyone was very tired. And then the spin-off got picked up and we thought “40 episodes! How the hell are we going to do this!!??” But we adjusted and we did it. And now that we’re doing 20, [laughing] I said to Paul, we’re so spoiled! I can’t believe – as showrunners it’s still very tiring producing 20 episodes but it’s nowhere near as tiring as producing 40 episodes. It’s almost like a holiday!”
MM: what time do you get up in the morning?
Joe: In all honesty, the show is such a well oiled machine that we don’t have to be on set [that early]…I’ll wake up at six and do my workout..and get in about nine. Or, if it’s one of my episodes, I’ll get in earlier.
MM: Are you directing?
Joe: oh god no! I leave the directing to the professionals. Martin, Will and Andy do such an incredible job. [laughing] I make a deal with them: they don’t write and I don’t direct.
MM: Will Atlantis go back to the old system where it airs in Jan. and then in the summer?
Joe: From what I heard, it will premiere in late September. From what I understand, there’s not going to be a traditional lay off - maybe a couple of weeks off – but then we’re back in January. SCI FI will have the world premiere of the series so fans in the U.S. will not be downloading because it’s premiered in Canada and the U.K. beforehand. SCI FI channel will have world premier in September and they will continue to air original episodes for the first time ever through January.
MM: So, Atlantis will essentially follow the traditional network schedule?
Joe: Yes, it’s going to be veeerry interesting. Because we’re going to be up against the big shows.
MM: What was the most difficult, toughest episode to film this year?
Joe: Rachel’s [Rachel Luttrell who plays Teyla] pregnancy threw us a bit for a loop. The physicality - we had to stunt her more and write around it. Jason [Momoa who plays Ronon] became a father last week, so that was a big deal. He had to leave. We had to switch off the schedule, had to suddenly shoot a day without Ronon and switch it. The actors were great about it. They all woke up and even though they weren’t prepared but they all came in and did it. Things like that..
MM: when you started on SG1 – it was season four, right? – did you ever expect to end up where you are?
Joe: Never, never! Every year we thought it would the last season [for SG-1]. Every season, we always assumed it would the last season…until season ten and we felt very good that we would get an eleventh season pick-up. And then we didn’t.
MM: You started out as a writer. Your first script was "Scorched Earth,"…
Joe: Yes - Brad and Robert really gave us the opportunities to grow as producers. The door was open as long as we proved ourselves, they were always willing to give us opportunities. We’ve done a good job but if it hadn’t been for their support we wouldn’t be here.
(see below for part three)