Part 4: Sparks & Shakes
At that point I’m guessing it was around 11:30 or 11:45 and they said we could take a short 15-minute break while they removed the panels around Hoshi’s station to place the cameras over there. Those cameras would be directly across from my station and shooting back at me in the next scene, which at this point is known only as “significant.”
So I step out of the back of the bridge through the situation room with Cecilia, who has been working the panels in the situation room to get a quick water and snack. The break food area is literally right behind the set. I’m standing back there and she is talking to Evan English (a convention regular), who is the stand-in for Gary Graham today. He has worked as an extra and said that he is often at the helm. Great guy. Later during lunch when we were talking I noticed he was very much like Crewman No. 6 in Galaxy Quest, as he revealed he was also an extra asking, “do you recognize me? I’ve been at the helm a bunch of times.” It made me laugh (internally). But I’d be doing the same thing! He was very nice.
Anyway, we are standing there talking and I’m telling him my story and Connor walks by and clearly over hears. So he immediately stops and comes back and says something like, “Oh, you’re guesting? That is great. I’m Connor. Nice to have you here.” He is just a really nice guy. So I told them my story and we talked for about five minutes or so.
After having a water, we went back onto the set through the situation room and I was about to get the best news ever. In this scene, Trip would give me a couple of commands. They were “reroute power to the phase cannons” and then later to “return fire.” (Yes, I would be firing the ship’s phasers!)
That is exciting enough, but as I’m sitting there practicing, David comes over and explains the scene. Oh my. We are going to have sparks flying and nitrogen bursting the through the wall, right behind my station. INCREDIBLE. The first sparks fly over Hoshi’s station, and then the second sparks are right in front of me, with the nitrogen blast behind me.
So as I mentioned before, we go through a rehearsal with the actors, and then the stand-ins come in and we sit there and they measure out the lighting, etc., while First Team actors can go back to their trailers. So the set-up for all this takes a good half-hour or so, and I see them setting everything up and testing the breach behind me. Throughout this I’m sitting at the tactical station and just taking it all in. So much fun.
This is a good time to talk about how great it was to watch the lighting people (and others) do their thing. Just amazing how nimble these burly, husky guys are moving on the set with their ladders swinging them around, whipping them open, quickly moving up them without steadying themselves at all with their hands, and changing a light direction or this and that. Two things that stood out from their activity were how easily they moved on the ladders (and these were all 40 to 50 year-old guys with big guts, moving way better than I could) and the fact that not once did I see anyone bang a ladder or a camera on a piece of the set, despite really moving fast with this stuff in tight places.
When the actors came back, David called for a safety meeting that they do before every single scene with an effect's burst. So they bring everyone in and they explain where the effects are, where the emergency exits are if there is any problem, and they bring out the “pink sticks” to show the range and direction of the sparks so you can get a feel for them. (The “pink sticks” were the target of a lot of joking around, but were literally big wooden pink sticks like four or five feet long that that the effects people held up from the placed sparks so you could see where the sparks would materialize.)
So David explains that he is going to call out the following commands “sparks (for Hoshi station), sparks (for my station)” and that we should shake on each spark blast, and that the second spark blast would be accompanied by the hydrogen leak behind me. At that point, we went through a couple of rehearsals. The scene started with Trip in the chair and he moves down by the helm and then he turns all the way back to me to say “reroute power to the phase cannons” after the second sparks blast.
While we are going through this, a discussion is had on the shakes. And I must say it was great to hear this discussion taking place, but I was certainly surprised, as I’m sure it has taken place a thousand times before between everyone involved on the set (except for me).
Basically it was Connor asking “should we all shake in the same direction?” (I mean, how is that even a question at this point?). The response was yes, we should do the first shake away from the Hoshi sparks, and the second shake away from the tactical sparks. This was all well and good, mind you, but that means everyone is shaking right and then left, except for me, because I would be going right on both since the tactical sparks are technical right in front of my station (I had a great view of both sparks blasts!).
I quick realized that I didn’t want to be shaking right when everyone else was shaking left, so for the tactical sparks I shook forward which was really right into the sparks. Time will tell how this will look on the screen, if it even makes the final episode.*
*Note: It did!
So as they rolled for the first take with the effects, here was the basic sequence:
David: “Camera rolling!”
Trip (looking back at me): “Reroute power to the phase cannons!”
It was so much fun. It was amazing. As I did in the previous scene, I made sure that my “rerouting power” motion was with my right hand and with my torso open to the camera. The first time those sparks came down, it was a thrill. Ok, it was a thrill every time. Just unbelievable that I was doing this. And the stream of dry air coming out of the wall was amazing to see. I saw them testing it prior to the cameras rolling, but during the scene, with the dark lighting and red lights flashing, it was incredible.
After the first take, they had to reset all the sparks, which really only took about 7 or 8 minutes. Pretty impressive turnaround. So we ran through the scene one more time, then David (did I mention how cool this freakin’ guy was?), comes over to me after the second take and says: “OK, I had a thought as we were watching the first two takes. After you reroute the phase cannons and after Connor signals to Hoshi to ‘put it through,’, we want you to get up, and walk through the hydrogen stream, and turn it off and then go back to your seat.”
Well, this was just THRILLING!!!!! I mean, it just kept getting better and better. I have no idea if this shot will end up in the show, but it was so great. We did it once and it was basically the most fun thing I’ve ever done.
So I practiced it a couple of times, with my first direction being to walk all the way through it, turn to the upper panel, push a couple of buttons and then reach in and slowly pull down the lever. Then the guys in the back would turn down the stream and I would go back to my chair. So I did it a couple of times and then Connor added, “You know what you need to do is, after you pull the lever, tap a couple of more buttons to give it that extra beat to shut off and then move back to your seat.”
Great advice! It was perfect. We ran through the scene one last time: I shook to my right, then I shook to my left, the sparks overhead burst, Trip gave me my command, I did it with a nod, he drifted back to the chair and said “put it through” to Hoshi and I got up and shut off the hydrogen stream. Very, very, very cool.
So after that last take, we had a long break because now they were going to move the camera to my side of the set to shoot back the other way. This took probably a good 30 or 45 minutes and I was really losing all track of time. (Later on I realized that the clapboard for each take had a running clock on it, but I didn’t notice that until well into the evening.)
At this point it was probably about 1:30 p.m. when they started up again shooting from directly behind my station. Basically they didn’t take out the walls, but moved a couple of cameras, including the crane into position. So they started rehearsing and doing some stuff and I’m back in my position behind the director’s chairs watching the footage. At this point I can kind of see that my station is slightly in the shot and I am thinking I should be on the set in position.
So they run through it a couple of times and I should have just asked David, but I see Jeanne and we make eye contact and I say, “Jeanne, should I be at my station in this shot, it looks like they are catching the tactical station in the corner?” And her first reaction is of course to say “no,” but she looks at the screen and then thinks about it and Roxann picks up on it and says “definitely, yes, he needs to be there so we can come in over his shoulder.”
Wooo hoooo! So I quickly moved back to the tactical station. It was much more cramped now, with like three guys behind me and two cameras. And I have to sit just right to be in the place they need me. So, we are basically running through the same scene again, with both sparks, but no hydrogen leak, or it would hit right where the camera was. As they are setting the sparks, I noticed they have moved them basically right above me, to make sure it is in the camera shot. After setting the sparks, the effect guy takes out the pink stick and shows the direction of the sparks, and it is indeed pretty close to me. As we get ready to roll on the first take from this angle, Connor kind of looks at me and looks at the sparks above and looks at the effects guys, "Are we sure he is going to be OK right there?” And they pretty much say, “yes.” And I’m of course, saying “No problem. No problem. Let’s do it.” And Connor just kind of nods his head and says, “Oookay. Good luck, man.” It was a funny moment delivered in “a better you than me” tone.
So we roll tape and run it through live one time and it seems to be pretty good, but then Roxann comes over while they are setting up the next sparks blast and wants to get a real good feel for exactly where the blast is, because it is key to that opening shot. So she decides to put the camera directly on me at the start of the shot and then pans to the right off of me as the explosion goes.
As they are setting this up, the effects guys are moving the sparks a little bit right in front of me and as he is working on it, one of the small medal light cylinders falls from the bridge ceiling and almost hits the helmsman extra, Scott Hill, right in the head. It clangs literally right between his two hands on the bridge console and clangs away loudly. The lighting guys were not upset but clearly they don’t like when that happens and Scott was sure startled. Connor was the one who noticed it falling first and was (as he really was all day on set) kind of in control and gave a “Hey, whoa, look out there!” And then a couple of “Are you OKs?” The light guys didn’t put it back up as it wasn’t being used, but just a couple of minutes later, as the sparks were being moved, one of the ratchets on their metal jury-rig used to position the effects blast (which is basically two or three metal rods, all connected by vice grips, so they are easy to maneuver) came loose and dropped straight down, but the #2 effects guy (Rich Ratliff) was standing behind the guy on the ladder and with pretty unbelievable reflexes reached out and snared it before it hit the ground. This all happened directly in front of the tactical station. Only a couple of us noticed the catch, including Conner, and me but it was impressive.
After that commotion, we run through the shot one more time, this time with the camera starting on me and panning out. I really doubt they will use this shot, but who knows.*
The anticipation of what will make it in the show is going to be great for the next two months. There are certainly a bunch of shots that I figure to get prominent airtime in, but there is no way to predict what will make it into the final episode. As much as we shot, the entire scenes described above couldn’t be more than two total minutes, so the shots of me will be short and sweet.
*Note: It did! And the previews! And the Blu-Ray extras. It’s a pretty great shot and I’m right in the middle of it.
At the conclusion of that scene, it was 4 p.m. and lunchtime. (That’s right! Lunchtime at 4 p.m. These people worked hard!) David told me that lunch would be served on Stage 19 across the small alleyway that held the hair & make-up trailer. So I walked outside with Evan and Cecilia and worked my way over to Stage 19.