When the nominations for the 2004 Leo Awards were announced this year, there was a new name in the category for Best Direction: Amanda Tapping. Having also earned her third nomination for Best Lead Performance by a Female, (she previously won for her work in Ascension), the nod for this first-time director confirmed that Amanda's talents are not limited to her work in front of the camera. In fact, her foray into the world of directing is only one of several new directions for Amanda Tapping and her counterpart, Major Samantha Carter.
When Amanda was first offered the opportunity to direct an episode, she jumped at the chance, but her episode assignment was not decided until relatively late in the season as circumstances continually reshuffled the shooting schedule. "I was originally going to shoot earlier in the season," she explains. "And then I was going to shoot right after the summer hiatus, which I thought would be perfect. I think Michael's script [Resurrection] was going to show up earlier, but it wasn't ready, and then Chimera, was supposed to be later, but Anna Louise Plowman, who plays Osiris, wasn't available, so we bumped it up. It's a whole bunch of different things that happen that you have no control over, and that's how everything gets shuffled, based on mitigating circumstances, as it were."
When at last the schedule was set, it was to be Resurrection, Michael Shanks's first script, that would be Amanda's directorial debut. "It slowly got pushed back and pushed back until it was the very last episode that we shot, which has its own inherent challenges, because normally you'll have some back time afterwards to do your second units and your inserts, and I had to shoot it all in that time. So Andy Mikita helped me out doing some second unit stuff. You know, you just sort of trust everyone and say, 'This is what I would like to see - please make it so!' It was challenging. I was shooting the two-parter, and still shooting other episodes. We did a lot of tripling up on episodes last year. And I had only three days to prep. And I was in the episode. So I sort of got thrown every monster that could be thrown at me, and went, 'Okay, I can do this!'"
To tackle these challenges, her training came while on the job. "I've directed theater, but never directed film. So this was seven years of sitting behind the monitors and watching how people did it, and mentoring under Martin Wood. I shadowed him on Jeremiah. It was a great experience, just to watch him go through prep, shoot, and post, and how he deals with all of that. He was a huge help. All of the directors were. Peter DeLuise was a font of information and gave me some great advice. But nobody gave me any suggestions on my shots, until they had seen what I had planned to do. And even then, for the most part, it was shot the way I'd planned it, with just some sort of added bonus features in there, which was great. And having Jim Menard DP [Director of Photography] it, because we're friends, and he knows the way I work, and we worked really well together, I'd just say 'Can I do this? Because this is how I'd like to do it.' I used the steadicam a lot, and the crane, and it was because I felt the show needed movement because there was just so much happening, and so much talky-talky."
One especially impressive moment is the opening scene, a long unbroken shot lasting a full two minutes and involving a steadicam, a crane, interiors, exteriors, and all manner of vehicles, props, and extras. Amanda smiles proudly, "It's actually two scenes, and I wanted to do it as one big shot. My initial thought was to bring the crane down outside the building and cut across, which was a huge maneuver, and then haul it back into the building, which we ended up doing. But the added dimension, which is where I thank my camera department, was putting our steadicam operator, Nathaniel Massey, up on the crane. So as the crane comes down, he steps off, walks towards our actors - it's all timing, and extras, and cars, and front crosses - but he walks to SG-1, and walks backwards with them as they have a conversation, steps back onto the crane, seamlessly, and then the crane rises up and goes into the building, and then rises right up. So it was a huge shot. I had no intention of cutting into it. I had to approve it with Michael Greenburg first, and then we spent a LOT of time doing it. But I was really proud of it.
"I planned every single shot in the show within an inch of its life, because I had to, because there was so little prep time. I actually had, from the art department, drawings of each set. And I would just set up my cameras and go, okay, this is my first shot, it will be a big wide over here, and the steadicam will move here… For every single scene, I had a book this thick of art department drawings where I would just flip and go, scene two, okay, well this is where I have the camera, here and here… I had it all drawn out, where my characters were going to be. Thankfully the cast was amenable to being told where to stand. But it worked out really well. There were a couple of funky shots that Jim Menard devised using reflections. I wanted to do a reflection shot of Michael into the TV when he was watching the video, and then Jim did this crazy little thing on his glasses that was really fun.
"The glass cage was unexpected. Initially it was going to be Plexiglas, a plastic, not a real glass, which wouldn't create so many reflections. But they built it with glass, and they had to put that steel support rod halfway across. We had to build it with glass because of the fire, because the Plexi would melt, so we had to use real glass. And because of that we had the metal going across the center of the cage, which I totally didn't expect. I saw that the day before we started shooting, when I went to my set and went, 'What's… that?!'" she gasps. "So it created a lot of challenges, but it also created a huge opportunity. I would go and look at the set that day, and go, okay I'm going to have reflection problems and I've got this big metal bar that I've got to shoot around, and, okay… So I'd go home and re-jig all the shots for those scenes. There was some cool stuff, because they had wire mesh along the sides. I wanted to do a kind of confessional scene with her inside the cage and Daniel outside, and I think it really reads like that. It was fun!
"Even the interrogation room where Keffler is, I was told no, you can't shoot in here, it's too small. And when I had first scouted that location - they'd scouted the location and I'd gone on the first survey - I said it has to be this room. It's perfect, it's a cage, it's perfect. And I planned a shot through the window where he gets slammed up against the mesh, and all that. And they ended up working with it. They put a dance floor in, and we were able to work in that space. But that was another thing, planning where I was going to put the cage, and where I want the artifact room to be. The artifact room had really low ceilings, but it had this cool creepy kind of feel to it. So there were a lot of challenges."
Ordinarily an episode has a week of prep time during which the director scouts locations, plans shots, and meets with department heads. However, the schedule demanded that Resurrection be prepped while Amanda was appearing in the huge season finale, Lost City, as well as completing scenes for other episodes, and preparing for her own performance in the episode she would direct. The luxury of a week to prepare simply didn't exist. "I had three days off," she explains, "in which I went on location surveys and prepped, and then weekends is when I did my shot list. I did a lot of it on my own. And I doubled up on a lot of meetings when I had the time. The concept meeting was interesting because I came in with a lot of ideas like the tubes with the fetuses. I wanted to do a shot where they were lit up from below and do a shot through that, which is actually, I think, a great shot and it looks really funky. And so that was saying, 'Okay, this is what I want to do, and I want the drawer to open, and I want the liquid to slosh, and I want it to come through, and really creepy,' and people were like, 'Okay, we need to build canisters and…'" she imitates the mutterings of department heads feverishly adjusting their plans. "So I had to be very prepared. And I felt even more so like I had to be prepared because I had something to prove. You know, I fought seven years to get the gig."
And her efforts didn't go unnoticed. Reminded of the Leo nominations, she smiles proudly, "Yeah, that was freaky! That was totally surprising. The Leos are a good thing because they're community. It's the B.C. film community, and we're often shunned by the larger Canadian community because we're west coast and we're perceived as an American show even though hundreds of Canadians work on it. So that was really nice. I would really love to see Andy Mikita win for best director, for Heroes," she adds modestly. "That's what would make me happy. I'd love to see him win it. I think he really deserves it." [Shortly afterward the Leo Award winners were announced, and although neither Amanda Tapping nor Andy Mikita was recognized for directing this year, Amanda did receive the award in the category of Best Lead Performance by a Female in a Dramatic Series for her performance in Grace.]
Would she do it again, even with the added pressure of directing herself? "In a heartbeat!" she exclaims without hesitation. "In fact, I'm begging, because there's one spot open on the director's schedule for this year. It says 'TBA' - 'To Be Announced'. I keep going up to Rob and saying, 'T-B-A! The-Brilliant-Amanda! Pick me! Pick me!' And I guess they're concerned about scheduling, obviously. But every couple of days I go up and say, 'Hey…!'"
In addition to her directing debut, Amanda has seen some important developments for her character in season seven and eight as well. In the episode Grace, an injured Carter confronts her doubts and her fears about the direction of her life. Alone on a ship, her subconscious mind questions the choices she has made in her career and in her personal life, through manifestations of her father and her teammates, and an enigmatic young girl named Grace. "I see her as potential," she says of young Grace, "the potential future for Carter and what she may or may not have given up because of her career. And it sort of feeds into all the questions she was asking herself throughout that episode, the talk with her father, a very important discussion there. Grace is certainly emblematic of a lot of things. I mean, she is Carter's inner child, the child that she doesn't play with. She doesn't let her playful side out very often. She's very serious. But I see more that she is potential, a representation of what Carter's capable of, or potentially capable of, for her career."
The episode became a turning point for Carter, a moment in which she began to consider the alternatives her potential future might hold. Amanda has enjoyed the opportunity to expand her character's horizons, including the introduction of a romantic relationship with Pete Shanahan. "It's an interesting dynamic because it sort of opens up a whole new level to Carter that we haven't seen yet this focused. It's all part of this progression from Grace, where Carter's forced to confront her demons, and forced to confront her life, and the choices that she's made, and what has she given up being so focused on her career. And now that she's so comfortable and so settled in the work that she does, is it possible for her to start to branch out now and try to find a life outside of the SGC? There are a couple of jokey references in the script that the fans will appreciate, in reference to the fact that most of her boyfriends are dead. But this was in response to the Black Widow Curse, and so the writers sort of decided to deal with it, because it was getting a little silly."
Not only does Pete survive the curse, he'll be returning in season eight, but the future of the relationship has not been mapped out. Amanda is aware that the relationship has raised some passionate responses from fans, both pro and con, but she stresses that her priority is that the character be allowed to grow, and to explore her potential, without defining herself by a relationship with a man. "What I find interesting is when people say that the character's completely lost her integrity because she's dating somebody who's not O'Neill. I think, if anything, that strengthens her integrity because it shows that she needs to push back from this completely unattainable relationship and focus on herself, and focus on what is going to make her tick, and make her happy. And that's something she's never done. She's never put herself first. And now she's sort of saying, I met this guy, and he's nice." Addressing the doubt voiced by some fans about Pete's decision to pursue Carter to the stakeout, she adds, "He's a cop. And that's what cops do, they investigate, the way we do. You know, you hear about an actor, you look them up on the internet. It's a form of investigation, right? I think that people need to cut Pete a little slack. But I understand, because there's this great chemistry between O'Neill and Carter, and I don't think that that's gone away. She's not qualifying herself by whether or not she's with a guy, but she does meet a guy who makes her happy, and she is exploring that side of her life. She's not going to pine away for her commanding officer whom she has way too much respect for to let any feelings get in the way, as he does her. And yes, they've admitted that there are feelings for each other, but they can't act upon them. They've both come to that decision. And so for her, she has to move on, to a degree."
As Amanda welcomes the direction her character has taken since her introduction seven years ago, she adds her gratitude to the writers who have always been open to her input and suggestions. "I think last season, definitely, they wrote Amanda's Carter. They definitely wrote for the character and wrote her well. But also this year I've sort of gone to them and said, 'She wouldn't do this! You can't make her do this!' And Rob's great. I've called him numerous times and said, 'Rob! I can't do that!'" she laughs. "I'm just concerned about her integrity. Chimera opened the door, as did Grace, for a different side of Carter which I really love, but I don't want her to become that girl who's pining for a boy, or who qualifies herself based on a relationship with a man, whether or not she has one, even though she admits, especially in this episode, that society sort of puts that in question all the time. But I don't want her to become that. I'm really concerned that she stays focused and strong."
For a character who has become identified by techno-babble, the dialogue in an episode like Chimera was a significant departure. "I was really uncomfortable with it at first," she admits. "Chimera was interesting because it didn't feel like a Stargate episode, and I was very out of my element, wearing high heeled shoes and skirts. But part of the reason Chimera worked so well was because of David DeLuise and the chemistry there, and then there was just sort of this naturalness to it." The same episode also highlighted her natural chemistry with Richard Dean Anderson. As Carter hums the Stargate theme in the elevator, O'Neill remarks upon the relationship she has found to be 'hum-worthy'. Although Richard didn't know it, the Stargate theme was not her first choice for that scene. "I was trying to learn the MacGyver theme, but I couldn't learn it," she laughs. "That was a fun scene. That felt like an old movie scene from the 40s, that kind of chemistry between them. And the timing was great. That's part of the value of seven years together on a show, and that's kind of the chemistry that we all have. So we just played off of each other and had fun with it, and it didn't take a long time to shoot at all. It was really well written, and it was fun to play."
She felt that the following episode, Death Knell, also highlighted both that natural chemistry and the strength of her character when the script called for an exhausted Carter to be comforted by O'Neill. "You know, when I read that scene I thought, no, come on, every time Carter gets beaten up, she lays her head on O'Neill's shoulder, a la Metamorphosis. And then I thought about it, and I thought, wait a second, she's been literally to hell and back in this episode, alone on a planet, running from this thing that she can't possibly defeat, having no weapons on her, and basically surviving. In come two of her best friends, save the day, and whether she develops a relationship with another man or not, she will always have strong feelings for O'Neill."
Looking toward season eight, Amanda is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for Carter as she accepts a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and takes on a leadership role. "I want to see her lead the team and pull it off well, without getting bitchy, like she did in Paradise Lost, or over her head. I want to see that after seven years, here's a highly competent, highly skilled woman in control. I hope that it's part of the full realization of this character, that she still has sensitivity, and that she's still Carter, not Command Carter." With the first few episodes of season eight completed, does she feel that this is the direction her character has taken? "Yes," she answers with certainty. "She certainly questions herself as a leader and commander, and that's right for the first few times, she's very nervous. But also the three of them work so well together that it's not that she's commanding SG-1, it's generally that she's commanding other teams that come through with SG-1. But in Icon she does some really great strategic stuff. And yes, they're not writing it bitchy, and they're not writing it too soft. I said just write her like you're writing a guy. Write like you write any commanding officer. And that's what they did, which is great!"
As for the future, what else might fans have to look forward to? 'TBA'!
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN...
Many questions were submitted by fans hoping to hear an answer from the cast, crew, and production team behind Stargate SG-1, and several questions were selected for this interview. Here is how Amanda Tapping responded to the fans...
What is your Favorite Color? Mine is pink.
Elizabeth Reed, Age 9
Orange. Orange and red. I think Richard stole orange from me. Orange has been my favorite color forever. Interesting story with Richard and I, at the very beginning of the very first day of the very first show, seven years ago… Oy! They laid down marks for the first scene where we were going to be standing, and they gave me yellow and him orange. And we were both eyeballing each other's marks. I guess through MacGyver he'd always been yellow, and every show I've ever been on I've always been orange. So I didn't want to say, 'Can I have the orange mark?' And we were both [sounds of muttering under her breath]… And finally Rick said, 'This is really stupid, Amanda, but could I have the yellow mark?' And I was like, 'Woo hoo! Yeah!' So orange has been my thing for quite some time.
Did you ever have an unusual pet? Right now I have a hedgehog. I used to have two, but one died. The one that died was named Ruthie; the one I have now is named Nellie. I miss her.
Elizabeth Reed, Age 9
A hedgehog! Aww… cute! Ruthie the hedgehog! Have I ever had any unusual pets? No, we had a gerbil, a fish, which jumped out of the tank, a cat, and now I have a dog. I've always wanted a dog. But I've never had anything unusual.
Due to the fact that your character is always in military mode, do you find it hard to stop saying "Sir" to Rick and Don, once the cameras stop rolling? Or is that NOT a problem at all?
NOT a problem at all! Richard is Rick, Dickie, Tricky Ricky… and Loretta, don't ask me why. And Don is always Donny. Donny, Donny, Donny. So, no, surprisingly. There's NO authority about those men when the camera's aren't rolling! No, I'm just kidding! …Kinda.
Hi Amanda, it's Jenny again, from the North Shore Winter Club! How are you doing? My question is: Are you still able to do the trick shot you did in Upgrades? How often do you play pool? It's one of my favourite things to do. I want to be able to do that trick shot sooo much!
Jenny a.k.a. MajorSam xxoo
Aw, Jenny! I met her when we were shooting Desperate Measures. I haven't played pool in a very, very long time. And the last time I did was at a friend's house and I tried to set up the trick shot but I couldn't remember where all the balls went! You know where I go to play pool? Christopher Judges's house. I've never actually played with Chris. It's always been at parties and I've played with other people.
From: bob maitino
What's up with that bike that Carter is occasionally working on? It really throws me for a loop, seeing her tweaking it.
Yeah, I have a classic 1940 Indian motorcycle. Initially in this episode they had me tending my garden. What does Carter do in her off time? Tend her garden?? And I went, this woman doesn't have time for flowers! She's never home! They'd die! So I said, what if she had, like, a really cool motorcycle, like an old Harley, an old Hog? And then they found this 1940 Indian, beautiful, classic, mint condition bike. But it was weird, because I just assumed you'd see Carter in her garage tweaking her motorcycle. But I guess we didn't have access to the garage, so we ended up doing it in her lab. Which was weird! I don't know how she got the bike down there, or whether she'd be allowed to, but that's neither here nor there at this point! The thing with Carter is she's an adrenaline junkie, and so she has an Indian, and she has a Harley, and she has a classic Volvo. And she also has a new Volvo, which happens to be Amanda's Volvo which they're now using in the show! But occasionally they'll put gas in my tank. It's all good! So yes, she's a Volvo and Indian girl, I guess, and Harley. Motorcycles and Volvos, that's the girl! What's with it? I don't know. She's an adrenaline junkie. On weekends she goes out and rides her bike.
I love the way you look in Stargate and look up to you in that sense. I even had my shoulder length hair cut to how you had it in Season 6. How much input do you have into how Carter appears on screen, (off-duty clothes, hair, make-up, etc.)?
Wendy (Jacksgirl) x
Oh, sweet! My hair is so tricky because it has to be military. It has to stay above my collar. So we're kind of governed by that. At one point at the beginning of season four, I tried to grow out my hair. Chris and I call it our bad hair moments, because he had that little caterpillar on his chin, and I had… I don't know what I had. I had big hair! And then I quickly realized that it so wasn't working, so I decided to chop it all off. You have some say, but also it's governed by conditions, what the weather's like, what your hair does on a certain day. I mean, to a degree you can set the style, and I hope that the producers like it, but if they don't, then you change it. So I went through really short hair for quite a while, because I was growing out of… a bad haircut! Makeup, I wish I had had more say in the first couple of seasons with my makeup. Now Jan [Newman] and I just have such a routine. But initially I don't think I realized that I could have the power to veto things. So I didn't fight for hair and makeup. Not that I was unhappy with it, but now it's just that it's so routine.
In December 2001, you participated in the USO tour, "Operation Starflight," where you were gifted with the combat bracelet you wore throughout seasons six and seven. Will you be wearing that bracelet again during season eight? Have you had any communication with the group that gave it to you?
Some. Not that unit in particular, but some of the people over there, definitely, yes. My combat bracelet that I got when I went to the Middle East on the USO tour I wore… I never took it off. So I had it in the shower, and the bath, and they said eventually it would break. And it lasted about two years. It finally just started to shred. But I was very sad. I felt like a part of me had fallen off. It was really weird!
Ritter, Kate. "Major Changes." July 23, 2003.