Whoosh! Issue Eleven - August 1997


AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL LEVINE:
EPISODE REVIEW: SEASON TWO



The Quest (#37)



RUDNICK:
[104] Now we're to my absolute favorite --

LEVINE:
[105] -- THE QUEST (#37).

RUDNICK:
[106] I have to tell you, and I'm not just sitting here telling you this, I really mean it, it's absolutely brilliant, on many levels.

LEVINE:
[107] Thank you.

'Should we continue the scene?' 'Nah, I don't think Bret
could take it.'


Gabrielle and Ephiny, an epic scene in an epic episode.


RUDNICK:
[108] You have my favorite scene in the entire series to date.

LEVINE:
[109] The flag scene.

RUDNICK:
[110] It's referred to pejoratively by some viewers as the "midriff" scene, but in actuality, when I see it, I'm not even thinking about that [editor's note: Yeah sure, Bret]. It's a wonderfully cinematic effect, where Gabrielle and Ephiny are talking to each other, the camera follows them around, there's a panorama type thing, the flags are whipping in the wind, it's an absolutely *fabulous* scene, it's *wonderful*.

LEVINE:
[111] Thank you. That scene was always planned to be exactly the way it was. I waited for the sun to come out on that one, since it threatened to rain that day. I went to the location during prep and saw where we were going to shoot the Amazon village. I'm walking around, I look up, and I go "Whoa! I hope it's sunny!" I saw this beautiful field. I don't know if it was wheat or just tall grass, but it was doing exactly what it was doing the day we shot it, the wind rippling the tops of the grass. No coverage. No need for coverage. Though the scene was longer than what you saw. We cut into the middle of that scene. The editor's cut was eleven minutes long. Many things went.

RUDNICK:
[112] I just want to go on record as saying it's one of the great crimes of the 20th century to cut that episode.

LEVINE:
[113] (smiles) Well, the only thing you missed was that they were talking about her son, Ephiny's son. We actually shot a POV [Point of View] of her son, a baby centaur. Any director will tell you shooting centaurs is a pain in the **** on that show. It's really hard to do. I gave it to second unit. I said "I don't have to see the centaur in my shot, you shoot it over there." They shot the horse, they shot the kid, but we never composited them together because we cut all references to the baby centaur from the show. That was easy to cut because we could lose it without affecting the story too much. Funny how it's become a very favorite episode to many because in reality, it never existed. It was purely written in response to Lucy's accident.

Bare midrifts are the coming thing, Lord
Bowler!


The naked Amazon hot-tub scene was cut,
to the eternal regret of graphic editors everywhere.


RUDNICK:
[114] I heard from R.J. Stewart how they just quickly had to do it.

LEVINE:
[115] They threw a draft of the script together. I knew from the very beginning it was going to be long, but writers and producers are reluctant to cut because if it isn't long, what do we put in? I said "This is a somber episode. Xena's dead." Renee, God bless her, she did great. She carried this episode. At one point she said "Do we have any more crying scenes? I'm all cried out." I said "No, you're done with the crying scenes."

[116] When you shoot scenes like that you can't go too quickly. You have to take your time, play to the emotion, and that's what happened. We played the emotion. So it became long, and long, and several scenes were cut out.

[117] Here's one -- Autolycus was in the village and going to a particular hut that was guarded. What you didn't see was a scene where he points to a different hut and says "I'll try to get in *that* hut." He goes in and it's a steambath scene with naked Amazons. He comes in, wearing his drag outfit, and he goes "Well, what do we have here?" Xena takes over his body, jerks his neck and pulls him out. We cut to the outside where he's doing these body jerks and saying "I'm coming, I'm coming!" That was all cut.

[118] But QUEST was a response to Lucy's accident. It was strange shooting a XENA without much Lucy in it.

RUDNICK:
[119] Bruce Campbell was fabulous.

LEVINE:
[120] Yes. We also had a nice cameo by Michael [Hurst]. The first thing we shot with Lucy, was her talking to Autolycus in the barrel. Lucy was still very tender, but she was in great spirits, very happy to be back on the set. But you could tell her stamina clearly wasn't there. Then we did the kiss scene.

RUDNICK:
[121] Another infamous moment in subtext history.

Yeah I'm Xena. Well, I'm possessed by Xena. Pucker up,
babe.


And you thought we were going to show you the *other* kiss picture,
didn't you?


LEVINE:
[122] (laughs) I kept thinking "How am I going to do this?" How can I shoot this where they lean in and you think they're kissing but they're not. I decided to do it with a head transition. It's actually one of the few scenes that was changed on me in the producer's cut. If I could, for reruns, I'd put it back the way I had it. Because I thought the way I cut it was better. Actually, it may have been cut because of length. That scene was cut down. There's more dialogue to that scene than was shown. I think I sent that to some people.

RUDNICK:
[123] Yes, I got that page.

LEVINE:
[124] It was hard to think about how to do that transition and make it look decent. So we had them lean in, pushing in, coming around on the other side, and end up with Autolycus and Gabrielle. There's also a thing that never got shot because it was taken out in the rewrite stage. It was in, it was out, it was in, it was out, this went on up until almost the last day. What it was, instead of Gabrielle taking the ambrosia and placing it in Xena's mouth with her hand, the original script had Gabrielle put the ambrosia on her lips and kiss Xena. Lucy and Renee were all for it. They said "Sure, no problem."

[125] I would have shot it that way, and I would have also shot it the way it was shown in case someone from the "tower" said "You know, we're really going too far here." Because sometimes you don't know when you've crossed the line until someone calls you up and says "Excuse me," or points it out. This last HERCULES, which I directed, is a comedy. It's as much a comedy as WARRIOR...PRINCESS (#15) was. I asked Rob Tapert "How far do you want me to go with the comedy?" His comment was, "When you think you've gone too far, you haven't."

[126] So back to THE QUEST (#37), Renee was great. I pretty much shot the show I wanted to shoot. I had to let Renee play those scenes of anguish. I didn't want it to get too maudlin. Danielle [Cormack] was wonderful as Ephiny. It all seemed to work. It was great to have Lucy back. That whole ambrosia hall thing -- it wasn't a nightmare. We had to break up the set into two different parts, an upper portion and a lower portion. We had Melinda [Clark] and Renee on wires, we had stunt people on wires, we had ambrosia coming down, and there was a lot of stuff going on. And all during that there's Autolycus, Bruce, cracking us up doing impressions.

RUDNICK:
[127] Did he actually hurt himself in the course of that episode?

LEVINE:
[128] No, no.

I wonder why Xena doesn't do this?


The line "Hey, I paid for an hour!" was an ad-lib made by Mr. Campbell during rehearsal that Mike Levine left in for shooting.


RUDNICK:
[129] I wondered because he was holding his arm in such a way that struck me as him truly being hurt.

LEVINE:
[130] It may not come across, but when Velasca hit him, the character, Autolycus, hurt his arm. No, Bruce wasn't really hurt.

RUDNICK:
[131] I heard it announced recently, perhaps at the Sacramento convention, that we may soon be able to buy videotapes of episodes from Renaissance.

LEVINE:
[132] Yes, but only what aired, not what was cut. I'd be surprised, because that would cost a lot of money. Right now, all you'd have to do is a transfer of the air copies. If you start adding scenes, you have to add music, effects, and it becomes a different ball game. Now, if that's a selling point, that's different. They'll analyze it to see if they'd get more buyers with added footage, like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS [CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF A THIRD KIND (Steven Spielberg, 1977)]. Maybe they'd do it. But I doubt it. I doubt you'll ever see that footage. Any time you do a show where you're long, things get lost.

RUDNICK:
[133] I'm sure, truth be told, you don't *always* want to see everything that's been shot. Sometimes things don't measure up.

LEVINE:
[134] Yes, but in this case, I don't think that's the reason. We were just long. Something had to go and you pick the stuff that least advances the story. Because it was funny and it was with Bruce, I wanted the steambath scene in, but we knew when we were shooting it that it wasn't going to get into the show. Everyone on the set knew it. We had time to shoot it, we did shoot it, but we knew it wasn't going to make the final cut. That's just the way it was.

Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees! People say we mess
around...


Ancient Amazons didn't have to worry too much about construction hazards.


RUDNICK:
[135] Any other QUEST memories?

LEVINE:
[136] Yes, we were outside shooting the Amazon dance scene for the Amazon Queen. I remember getting out there and the dancers weren't wearing any shoes. It was kind of cool and rainy and a little uncomfortable. I questioned the shoeless dancers but was told it would be OK, it should be authentic, and so forth. We had never seen the dance before so the choreographer has a rehearsal. The dance starts. It couldn't have been three seconds into the dance and I hear this scream. A dancer had stepped on a nail. It was half an inch into her foot. I said "That's it. Shoes." It makes sense such a thing would happen when you think about it. They were building all this stuff in and around that area. Authenticity is one thing but safety is another, so I had them wear shoes.



Ulysses (#43)


On the set of the NZ version of Moby Dick


Director of Photography Donnie Duncan and Director Michael Levine on the boat/set
of ULYSSES (#43).



RUDNICK:
[137] This takes us to the last show we've seen broadcast and that's ULYSSES (#43). That's another episode where we see more myth than usual blending in.

LEVINE:
[138] I got the script for ULYSSES (#43) seven months in advance. When you get booked for XENA they try to do it very far in advance. They might target certain episodes for certain directors, depending on who's doing what. I was finishing ALTARED STATES (#19) and R.J. said "Here, read this." I said "This is great!" (being able to get the script so far ahead of time). I said "Are we going to build a boat?" He said "Yep." This was three months before we were to shoot. Then Lucy got hurt and ULYSSES was taken away from me. THE QUEST (#37) came in instead. It didn't look like I was going to shoot ULYSSES. Some other things happened, but ultimately it worked out.

[139] The boat was affectionately called "Rob's Folly". We never really said if it was Rob Tapert or Rob Gillies. They worked on it for many months. ULYSSES (#43) was the guinea pig. We went out the first day of shooting on the boat. There were a lot of things that could go wrong but most things didn't. But there were difficulties. When you shoot on a boat and look out to the side you see Auckland city in the background. It takes two hours to get to an area where you can start shooting without seeing the city. You can't have sailboats drifting into shot either. There was a bit of coordination involved and waiting for boat traffic to leave. I credit my 1st A.D., Paul Grinder, in holding it all together out there on the high seas. We had another boat to bring us supplies and lunch and shuttle people back and forth. The first two days we actually rode out with the boat to where we had to be.

[140] I designed things so I could shoot on the way out and on the way in, but there's only so much of that. The entire fight scene, with Xena and Ulysses, looking up at them at the stern, was shot going out. You couldn't tell the boat was moving. Any shots where we looked out to the sides we waited until the boat was anchored.

Sailing, sailing


On the High Seas of New Zeal... er, Ancient Greece.


RUDNICK:
[141] Did anyone really get seasick?

LEVINE:
[142] To my knowledge, no. The boat was very stable. It was a barge. The sails did work, but really didn't propel the boat. We had a motor and were always running it when we went someplace. At one point the motor broke. Once a rope got caught around the anchor. We didn't go anywhere for awhile. But it was three days of an interesting shoot. The grips built this railing that attached to the side of the boat. You could put a platform on it and then a dolly so you can do moving shots. It was really cool! I said "I can dolly?" [referring to being able to move the camera]. They said "Yeah, you can dolly." We had steadicams, like we always do. It was an interesting challenge. The cabin scenes weren't on the boat, that was on a stage. My son, Jason, was in that episode. He's the guy where, at the end of the fight, Gabrielle has thrown her last guy overboard, she whirls around, and a guy comes up with a club. He doesn't do anything, though, he just jumps overboard.

RUDNICK:
[143] I remember hearing a voice say "Jump, boy."

But what I really want to do is direct


Jason Levine makes his on-screen debut.


LEVINE:
[144] That's my son. He was the cabin boy. He brought the pirates grog at the beginning of the scene. He had a good time.

[145] ULYSSES was, probably, more than any other episode an outside show. I was outside five days, maybe even six. It was more epic. Again, we were long and lost a scene. You remember when Ulysses' buddy was surprised to see him and then had to go off and do something? You never saw the guy again. The missing scene explained where he went and what he did. There were actually two scenes, one was shot and the other was removed from the production schedule. The shot cut from the show was after Xena and Ulysses they leave to check out the old entryway by the moat. Ulysses talks to his friend about how he feels about Xena and that this may not be such a warm homecoming for him and his wife. Xena wants Ulysses' friend to get a message to Penelope (Ulysses' wife). She has a plan! Originally in the script but never shot was the scene where his friend delivers this message to Penelope without revealing that Ulysses has returned to Ithaca.

[146] It was a hard episode to do because of the boat. Great fight on the boat, probably one of the best fight sequences. When they first did the fight, Peter Bell rehearsed the stunts with everyone. In other fight scenes we separate Renee and Lucy but I actually put everyone together as much as possible. There's one fight where I put everyone behind each other, so in the master you see them all at once. I actually thought some of the people got hurt, but they didn't. I should know better, I know they're well padded, but they fooled me. (both laugh)



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