An Interview with Stargate's Executive Producer, Michael Greenburg

Michael Greenburg "We don't rule anything out until it's out," Michael Greenburg laughs when asked about his predictions for the future of Stargate SG-1. "We'll keep showing up as long as someone wants the show to continue. We're getting better ratings now than we've ever gotten, and it's tops on SciFi and FOX syndication, so it's not faltering at all. It's holding and growing.

"And we're getting more and more recognition now than ever before as per the awards," he continues. Stargate recently won several Leo Awards after being nominated in 14 categories, and garnered a Saturn Award for Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series. Does all this add up to life after season eight? "We could continue," he suggests thoughtfully, but adds, "My experience, because I did MacGyver for seven years, is that it becomes more of a financial decision in the end than anything else. I mean, one variable is, is Rick [Richard Dean Anderson] going to want to do it again? We've lightened up his schedule to the point where it's very conducive to his personal life, and if he wants to do it again, I'm sure we can lighten it up again, or even more so, for another year. And then the question is if he doesn't want to do it, will the studio and networks want an SG-1 show without Rick? Those are probably the big questions that will be answered over the summer, to see if we're coming back or not."

Meanwhile, Michael is excited about what viewers can look forward to when Stargate SG-1 returns for its eighth season on July 9th. "The stories and the shows this year are better than ever, and we just keep getting better and better at the writing of them, and the shooting of them, and the executing of all the post production elements that go in, as far as the visual effects, the computer generated worlds, and animated characters. We just keep getting better and better at it, so it's all moving in the right direction. I don't think [the decision to continue] will be a qualitative decision. I think the quality of the show is growing in leaps and bounds. So I think it becomes more quantitative, as far as ratings and the financial numbers."

In addition to the writing, and shooting, and post production, the team has also become extraordinarily adept at scheduling. This year, more than ever, the shooting schedule for the series has become particularly complex, something that a lesser team would have found inordinately daunting. "John Smith and John Lenic are hands-on with the schedule," he explains. "A lot of it is driven by Rick's availability, and sometimes locations availability. So John Smith and John Lenic start the ball rolling, and then we execute it.

"The difference between this year and every other year is the book [his script binder] has three scripts in it. It usually has one. Every year that I've ever worked in this business, either in film or in television, it's always had one script in it, the one that we're actually shooting. Now I have three in there, because we bounce around now between three different shows. But at this point in our filmmaking life, we're so good at what we do, it's such a well oiled machine, that we're able to pull it off. Three or four years ago, would we be able to? It would be touchy. But at this point, with our directors being as good as they are and as savvy as they are, and all of our departments being so on top of their game and the show, both in the overall sense and then in the specific sense related to each scene in each episode, that we're able to pull it off. It's really not that hard.

"It's all about being able to switch gears. Yesterday we were shooting Icon, today we're shooting Affinity. You just have to have your scripts broken down, and then click onto that particular episode, the tone of that episode, what we're trying to accomplish visually in that episode vs. other episodes, as far as texture and overall tone. If there's any challenge, that's the challenge. It's probably harder on the actors that have a certain arc in one episode and then a different arc in the next, and we're asking them to bounce back and forth. Last year all we did was overlap shows, and maybe shoot two at the same time with two different units. But now we're actually breaking shows up and shooting three days of one, one day of another, two days of another, three days of another. We're more in a ping pong game now. But we're able to pull it off."

In addition to his duties as executive producer for Stargate SG-1, Michael has also produced the pilot episode of Stargate Atlantis, and has pitched a story for SG-1's eighth season. Although he won't be a part of Stargate Atlantis, he has high hopes for the new spin-off series. "I produced the two-hour pilot [Rising] that Martin Wood directed. That was a lot of fun. It's a good, fresh, new cast, and hopefully they'll gel and the chemistries will all be there, and they can carry the ball for ten years," he grins, hoping that Atlantis will follow the tradition of longevity of its predecessor.

As for the story that he and Peter DeLuise had pitched, so far there are no plans to include it in season eight. The story, entitled You Ain't Jack, called for a pairing of Colonel Maybourne and Young Jack from Fragile Balance, played by Michael Welch. However, the complication of several factors, including Michael Welch's continuing role in the CBS series Joan of Arcadia, put those plans on hold. "Yeah, those bums. I haven't seen that on the schedule," Michael jokes, then hastens to add, "That would have been fun. But Robert Cooper and Joe and Paul and Damian, they have to look at the entire season, and in this eighth year they've got a lot of storylines that they have to continue. Who knows, it may sneak in there. Peter DeLuise and I wrote it. We think it's a pretty cool story."

The series is also making some pretty cool technological advancements as the episodes for season eight are being filmed in High Definition. Michael says proudly, "We've just been finishing the two hour premiere, New Order, and it's great. It's really great. We're shooting on HD now. So I'm looking forward to continuing our quest to perfect the compositing and the creating of shots and sequences that combine live action footage with the computer generated animation that's output so it all gets composited into the scene shot sequence in a real and believable way. Because we're in HD, we have this digital intermediate version of our show that we can take into the lab. There's 256 shades of red, 256 shades of blue, 256 shades of green, and we can perfect and create any tone we want in a show.

"All of the directors, the cinematographers, myself, Robert Cooper, Brad Wright, we're all involved in it. We've spent a lot of time at the lab looking at the new equipment that's available. And we'll be using it because we're in that digital domain now that affords us the ability to take shows to a higher level of quality execution. The whole goal is always to make your show believable and real looking. Combining what's generated on animators' computer screens with what we shoot, live action, has always been the toughest challenge and the toughest composite shot to pull off. So I'm looking forward to using those tools that now are in our quiver, and to continue to push the quality of the show higher and higher and higher. We're doing some really cool things this year."

Ritter, Kate. "Better and Better." April 29, 2004.

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