July 3, 2004 - - Finnegan's Squad panel at Toronto Trek 18
FINNEGAN'S SQUAD PANEL
@ TORONTO TREK #18 - JULY 03, 2004
MODERATOR: MALCOLM XERXES (MX)
PANELIST: GARY DAVIDSON (GD)
22 ATTENDEES* * * * * part two * * * * *
ATTENDEE: What seemed to spark the whole creative idea for the series?
GD: Actually it was meeting Malcolm, believe it or not. We have a mutual friend and we went over, my wife and I went over and we had dinner there. And there had been a character in the back of my head that I'd been kind of toying at doing something with. Because I'm a huge fan of Tom Clancy and I always felt that there must be some way of doing a Tom Clancy style story and moving it into a science fiction, near future, venue and as I was talking to Malcolm it was occuring to me that he was "The Guy" and I had to go ahead and do this. (to Malcolm) Was it that night that I actually pitched you the idea?
MX: You pitched the idea that very night.
GD: Yeah, that's very bizarre, because I don't normally release anything until I've work out at least an outline of the story. But, you know, for me, there are a lot of things, because I'm looking at it not only from the creative end but I'm looking at it from the production end. And I know that one of the things that kills a Sci-Fi budget is alien make-up.
(Malcolm mimes alien make-up on his face)
GD: Yeah. And I'm one of those people who looks at the new starship, as I say on the very first page of this thing that we're going to hand out, I look at the new starship, I look at the bold, energetic, young people that they're going to put on it, and I see them head out into space and I want to know how they built the damn thing, I want to know how they picked those people, I want to know all of that stuff. And not a single show, and I've been looking everywhere on the Net, has ever bothered to say "How do we unite?", "How do we come up with this ship?" "Were there people with other designs who didn't succeed and what happened to them?" And it just started, ideas started to come out and we started bouncing them around and here we are almost two seasons worth of scripts.
Attendee: But then, it's not about ship builders. He's a soldier?
GD: Right. The premise of it, and this was the thing. How do you get a regular group of actors to be involved with all of this stuff, in a way that isn't pretentious. So we decided to make them a covert group, very, if you will, Tom Clancy-ish, but more on the operational end of it. And because each one of these things, who you pick, how you develop faster than light travel, all of that stuff. Because each one of them are sensitive things there's a very logical reason as to why a group of highly trained security people may be on hand when that happens. And as they get into this world, they get sucked into it even further. And the story, by the beginning of the second season shifts. It's very ensemble in the first season, I think it becomes far more focused in the second season because of what you learn in the first season. The first season is almost a primer to the society, and I say that emphasizing that if you go ten minutes without action happening, well, I hand it back because I get bored.
MX: (imitating old-time movie mogul) It's a great picture! What's the kid talking so much for?
gd: Yeah, yeah. And there are scenes where there is a lot of talking, and there are scenes where there is a lot of character development going on but I have to say again, like "24", there is that sense of urgency that everybody has when they're speaking. It's not just "Here we are", and "What are you going to do?" and "I had breakfast this morning." but there's like, ok, let's do that, but let's also do this. And there's always this increased tension that proceeds through the episodes and then things blow up and stuff which...
Attendee: And there was much rejoicing.
MX: And hopefully the ratings will reflect that.
GD: Anyone else?
Attendee: You talk about the music. Who's making it?
GD: Well, that's why we're not showing the finalized "Prologue" episode today because we're still in discussion with a lot of that. I want to say that there is going to be more emphasis on the music being mood and tone setting, rather than it being symphonic. Just because that's an expensive thing to go for, is the symphonic thing. And if I have a choice between putting the budget into the sets or putting the budget into music, film school taught me that you're not supposed to notice the music anyway. Having said that, Malcolm came up with a very wicked, as he is a professional drummer, came up with a very wicked drum beat that is completely taken over what we had originally paid for as the uh... what do you call that?
MX: I'd call it the signature theme.
MX: What? You mean the...
GD: Fanfare? Would fanfare do?
MX: Yeah. (Affecting Sammy Davis Jr.) It's a fair fare, man. Yeah.
GD: What we originally had was a rather simple military... almost piper's drum pace to it, and Malcolm just put that on frappe and came out with something that... well, that was like, (to Malcolm) You did it verbally for us and I think everybody in the room went (pointing eagerly) "Ok, that's what we want!"
Attendee: Can we hear it then?
MX: (to GD) Well, can they?
GD: I don't... (shrugs) Well, you're going to be the holder of that copyright buddy, so that's all yours!
MX: Um, ok, well. Ok. I suppose I... I'm going to impose a melody, if that's alright?
GD: Go ahead.
MX: Right. It's an ostinato thing. Think of this as being snare drums and tri-toms playing together. Right. So it would be... (begins tapping hands rythymically on table while supporting beat). And so on, like that.
MX: Right. But right away it says "Martial", you know. (see's a hand from someone up front and acknowledges) Sorry, yeah?
Attendee: Evil suggestion... (both MX and GD smile, enjoying the direction this question is heading) Make him a filker.
MX: Make it a what?
Attendee: Your star is a musician...
Attendee: Make him a filker. "No matter how boring it is; from the way from point a to point b, music is not going to die in the next twenty years."
MX: A filter?
MX: (Nods realizing what was suggested) Oh, a filker. I'm sorry.
Attendee: Show up tonight, join the dors-eye irregulars. Spend an hour. Be evil.
GD: (to MX about the Attendee) He is scaring me.
MX: That's a very strong fraternity. There are people who have been doing filk a lot longer than I, and a lot better. But...
Attendee: It's an amusing twist for your character.
MX: Oh you mean "FINNEGAN" should be a filker.
MX: I thought you meant me, personally.
Attendee: You've got a musician, the guy is...
GD: Oh, that is so a stretch for that character though...
Attendee: If it is, it is. If it isn't. I don't know...
GD: I've got to tell you, in all honest, Trudie said to me the other day that Finn reminds her of Spock.
MX: really? I love this woman.
Attendee: Spock plays music.
GD: (Nodding) Yes! He does.
Attendee: Does that mean he's no fun?
MX: Spock's a fun guy, what are you talking about?
GD: Oh, very dry fun. But think of, um... although not malevolent I would suggest more the "Mirror Spock".
MX: (Grinning wildly) The guy with the cool uniform.
GD: Yeah. Yeah. The kind of guy that if you come on the ship and he doesn't like you, he's likely to stick you in the same room with the most annoying person on board, just because he can. That's who Finn is to me.
(MX chuckles heartily)
Attendee: So who's the rest of this Squad then?
MX: Oh dear.
GD: Well, his number one assistant, right-hand person, is a woman named Angela Bale. And she's our massive Canadian content person because she's a survivor of the Rosedale slums of Toronto. I have issues with Rosedale. Um, and we're taking her more in the direction of somebody who... when i was reading about the U.S. Marine Corps. - which provided a fair amount of background research for this series - they have a high number, probably the highest of all the military in the states, of women recruits. and what they began noticing is that a fair number of them come from abused homes, so they actually have an entire process of determining this during boot-camp and then getting them counselling. And their finding that the re-enlistment rate for these people is incredibly high and they are very effective, very efficient military people. And you're seeing, unfortunately in Iraq, you're seeing more and more of them moving into what is practically front line work. And that kind of intrigued me from an aestetic point of view, so we began writing it that way. And i wouldn't be against it being Dina Meyers, or somebody who fit into that kind of "Starship Troopers" kind of role...
MX: (Interjecting) Bat-girl! Bat-girl!! Bat-girl!!!
(GD pauses looking at the back of the room in stunned silence; someone in full Klingon make-up and costume has opened the door, stood in it a moment to get their bearings, and then left. all without a word being said either way)
GD: You know, it's when you see a "Klingon" and you're just unable to remember any of your "Klingon". I really wanted to say something to him before he left, other than "Ka-plah" which is completely inappropriate at this point. "Nook-neek", that's it. Oh, well. Anyway, it's just the idea of having this person and putting her in the position where her and Finn get to develop this comraderie, and absolutely being married to the idea that it never be a marriage or relationship or anything like that.
Attendee: (Thankfully) Oh please.
GD: I don't want that... I don't want that. No, I absolutely hate that. There's far more interest to me in the traditional, Captain Kirk, babe-on-every planet, or guy-on-every planet for her case.
MX: Doesn't have to be a guy.
GD: And then you can engage the bonanza solution, where just before they get married a wagon-wheel pops off and kills them.
Attendee: It would be very nice actually not to have the whole "Yes they have to get together" because they're obviously [hot] and he's a guy and she's a woman, and she's a second stringer. Not enough, I think, is done with friendship.
Attendee: And it would be great if she was...
GD: (interupting) We do a twist on that in about the third episode, where if you're really not paying attention you might think they got together but they didn't.
Attendee: Thanks for spoiling it.
GD: Yeah.... [to MX] How much of a spoiler was that?
MX: It was enough of a spoiler that if that I was sitting there I'd have gone "ok, I've got to forget that".
GD: This is my first convention, I have to say...
MX: But by Star Trek terms it was not a spoiler at all.
Attendee: From my point of a view, it's a teaser.
MX: Next week on Enterprise, and they show you the whole teaser.
GD: (Flipping through booklet) Yeah, I lied as far as the number, so there.
(At this point GD and MX look for someone else to have a question. Numerous hands go up. One attendee who has spoken already is heard uttering "pretty please" so be picked again but GD searches the crowd for someone who hasn't had a chance to speak yet. GD selects someone.)
GD: Um, actually, this is a new person here. I haven't heard anything from her yet.
MX: Hello Suze.
GD: Oh, nevermind. (Points elsewhere as though to move on to someone else, then laughs) No, go ahead.
Suze: Just to be sure what you were saying before. In the pilot episode, in the Prologue episode. Are they sort of already formed and you come in as they're in the middle of doing what they do, or do they form in this episode?
GD: No. I want to stress that the Prologue is not the Pilot. The only continuing character from the Prologue is Mister Xerxes. And that is because we wanted to make sure that whomever we began a production agreement with wouldn't say 'no' to him.
Suze: Oh, I see.
GD: See. Because he's known in the industry but there are a lot of people that are going to say 'Oh, but it should be so and so'. Well, basically, what we did is we created a specific story that is going to work as an audition piece for Malcolm and for the show. And we're using that to help get people lined up, to help get them interested to help move forward with it. What entertains me the most about it is when we do shoot the Pilot and it is broadcast, we'll be able to start of with "... previously on Finnegan's Squad" which no one has ever seen in a first episode before so i am tickled by that idea.
GD: If it doesn't get broadcast, it will go as supplementary material to the Pilot when it's released on DVD or whatever. And it is very relevant to it. Now, to answer the second part of your question: 'Nothing happens very quickly on this show'.
GD: By that I mean, you see part of the group get together, you see it increase a little bit as time goes on, you see it develop. There isn't this: Oh we know what the whole series is about at the end of the Pilot. We have an inclining. There are, i think... (to MX) David counted 82 questions just from the Pilot.
gd: That aren't answered.
GD: Yeah. Yeah.
Attendee: So how many people are going to be on the squad?
GD: That number will fluxuate on a regular basis. The squad is mostly made up, there's a core of four people and then two supporting, who are regulars and you can count on them. I won't tell you who they are, but because it is a military squad and I'm trying to staying consistent with military practices in it, there are a grand total of 30 people that will be moving in and out of the scenes... dying.
MX: I apologize. I'm being paged, I have to briefly leave you. (Rises to leave quickly) I'll be right back. I apologize.
GD: Ok. This is the thing I was talking about with Malcolm being late, and he wasn't late. (Pointing to an Attendee) Yes?
Attendee: What I gather from the discussion is that it's based on real time. That at the same, all this background motion that's going on, it's not all one person here, and one person here. While two people are talking there's something else that's going on, which does happen in real life as well as the future. And also too, it sounds like each episode is complete, not to say, weird, but it's sort of like a soap-opera. And when you're talking about the people, you have your core group and then you have your two support. But because of the fact what has happened to the planet that they are gradually coming in contact with other people, they join whatever and then they do their part...
GD: Yeah. That's exactly it. Each episode has a confined story. So if you just sit down and watch that one episode, you're going to see a beginning, a middle and an end. If you tune in every week, there are going to be some threads that don't end for a couple episodes, some that don't end until the end of the season and some that continue even beyond that. And that was one of the things I was saying where we tried to what we could for every actor who comes in to play a character on it. Because each character has their threads, and they might only 'stitch' up in episode three, in episode five and in episode six but they are there. One of the things that I got a fair amount of resistence to, because this is not generally done in television, is there are episodes... there's a whole episode where Malcolm's character, who is the title character, doesn't even appear in it. And there are a few episodes where nobody else but one of the supporting characters is in it. It's not one of those things where we're going to force an "A" and "B" story. And you start the beginning of the commercial break with "Oh, so how are we doing? We're doing fine. Ok." and then you cut to the actual story. I don't believe in that. I don't think it serves the series well by doing that. Also we're usually trying to fit a 90 minute film into a 60 minute script, so.
Attendee: It's actually one of those things were people who you see sort of re-cycled so you see them here and there throughout the season.
GD: Yes. I'm a person who... and I know a lot of people don't watch the show and aren't in the show... but I'm a person who, from a writer's perspective, is very heavily influenced by 'The West Wing'. And you'll see in 'The West Wing' the Joint Chief, who is in charge of all the military and is the President's advisor to the military. He'll show up in maybe three episodes a season, but there is kind of a story arc to what he does as he comes in. And I like that kind of thing, because to me it adds that extra layer of reality to it. And it does benefit us from a production point of view because it's going to give us, uh... well, I won't get into the technical details of it but it does give us quite a bit of flexibility with the scheduling. If you put too much effort and emphasis on two characters in your series (or one set) then you're locked into something where if you start falling behind, you just fall behind. Whereas if you have a show where if a supporting character is taking up most of it, then you can actually send them off and have them film that while you're filming other stuff.
Attendee: So when the audience is viewing, they wouldn't feel that there is a presence of others. They're there, if they're there but if not there then they will appear as needed.
GD: Yeah. Definitely. Appear as needed is the biggest rule. If they're not needed they're not showing up, but if they are needed then they are going to come back. And if you see these people going off on a mission, and you know there are 24 people that are apart of it, or whatever the number is, well, it's going to seem kind of silly if none of the other 24 people never say anything. It's not really that beneficial for the actors either. Yeah... see, i'm into the point here where i don't want to spoil anything. How much can I say? I will occassionally forget that you guys haven't seen any of it, or read any of it yet and want to tell you everything.
Attendee: I think you're trying to get us to place where we go to everybody and tell them "you have to see this show!"
(MX returns and as he's sitting back down GD shifts and tosses out the following comment...)
GD: Yeah. Well, usually I sit Malcolm on the other side of me and when he starts gritting his teeth I know I'm saying too much. (Searches for something to hydrate himself with) They didn't give us any... (Spots clean glasses beyond MX's reach) Oh, can you pass me one of those glasses there, paper glasses. (See's MX's book) Oh, you've brought 'Adrian Mole' with you.
MX: Close personal friend of mine.
GD: You wish.
MX: No. Not really.
Attendee: Is there any plan to get this sold in the U.S.
GD: Man, I'm telling you... anyone familiar with the series "Made in Canada"?
(Various attendees confirm familiarity with this great Canadian sit-com aired in the U.S. as "The Industry")
GD: I do have that element of 'Alan Roy' with me, where if we're not making for the States then I don't want to make it.
Attendee: Well it makes sense. It is like the largest market, isn't it?
GD: Definitely. Now, whether or not we hide the Canadian in it until they're hooked and then start corrupting them as we....
Attendee: You could do the Stargate thing and slip in sly references to curling and stuff, or God forbid add a Canadian member to Finnegan's Squad.
GD: Well, this is it. Angela Bale.
Attendee: She's Canuck?
GD: Toronto. Rosedale slums of Toronto.
Attendee: No, no, I mean the character! Not where the actor's from...
GD: No. I mean the character, this...
Other Attendee: Rosedale's not a slum. Yet.
GD: Not yet. I like you!
Attendee: Be still my beating heart.
GD: The second character in this is Canadian.
Attendee: But, you said she's a U.S. Marine.
Other Attendee: No, they're talking about how it basically relates to the U.S. Marines.
GD: Yeah. I'd say if you were to go out and buy 'Tom Clancy's Guided Tour to the Marine Corps' you would get a very good feeling for the environment that these guys are going to be working in, but it isn't American. It's a multi-national force, it's actually globalization to it's highest degree. (Motions to the other attendee whose hand is up) You sir, you've been very patient, so please...