Whoosh! Issue 32 - May 1999

Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content © 1999 by author
Edition © 1999 by Whoosh!
3752 words

Author's Note: Rick Jacobson is no stranger to genre entertainment. He started directing films such as Full Contact (1992), Dragon Fire (1993), and some films in the hit Bloodfist series [Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero (1994); Bloodfist Viii: Trained To Kill (1996)]. He also directed films such as Star Quest (1995) and Reasons of the Heart (1996).

Those of us who watch Hercules and Xena know his work from several episodes in the series, and if you've seen La Femme Nikita, you've seen his work there too. Rick Jacobson is very popular with many of the actors he directs, and they like his "in the trenches" style.

Mr. Jacobson graciously took some time out in late February (1999) to chat about his Hercules and Xena work. Unfortunately at the time of the interview, the HERC episode he directed called LOVE ON THE ROCKS had not yet aired, so we didn't discuss it. Perhaps next time.

Filmography (01-06)
Filming in New Zealand (07-15)
Shooting Preferences (16-21)
A GOOD DAY (37-41)
Future Plans (59-64)

An Interview With Rick Jacobson

Director by day, basket weaving instructor by night

Rick Jacobson (right) in the trenches directing Angela 'Nautica' Dotchin in the HERC episode LOVE ON THE ROCKS.


[1] I see you have quite a bit of action/adventure work in your filmography.

[2] My first break in the film business was doing action-oriented and martial arts films. I got started with Roger Corman and spent about a year with him doing action-oriented films.

[3] I enjoy doing them, but at the same time I enjoy doing other genres. I did a romance film called Reasons of the Heart (1996) and that was one of best experiences I've had because I wasn't looking at the call sheet every morning to see the whole day being made up of fight scenes and car chases. Instead I shot five or six pages of two people talking. It was nice because I could get in there and work with the characters and that was very refreshing.

[4] That was a welcome change, but I also enjoy doing the action stuff. It's a lot of fun. It's certainly challenging because of the amount of work and planning that has to go into it. You're also on a limited time schedule, and that can be a grind sometimes. You just have to deal with it.

[5] Are all the films you've done American films?

[6] I just got done with my first Canadian project, which was directing a couple of episodes of La Femme Nikita (TV, 1997). That was the first time I've been up there. All of my other stuff has been American based, mostly shot here in Los Angeles.

Filming in New Zealand

When I said 'closeup' I didn't mean *that* close!

Rick Jacobson (centre) is appreciated by actors for his directing style.

[7] What are some of the differences you find working in and around Los Angeles and New Zealand or Canada?

[8] For the most part, it's all pretty much the same, in the sense that the filming process is the same for me. The biggest differences you will see are from production company to production company, and every show has their own way of going through pre-production, filming, and post-production.

[9] Pacific Renaissance is by far one of the best companies I've worked for in respect to the way they run the ship. It's an incredibly well-run machine there. It's nothing like I've ever seen here or in Canada. The amount of work the Pacific Renaissance people do is amazing. Rob Gillies and N'gila Dickson are two examples. They are very creative and work very hard, week in and week out. That applies to all the departments down there, really. Very impressive.

[10] I imagine the way the crew works down there helps take the strain off some of the technical aspects, since they know their jobs so well.

[11] Absolutely. In fact it's probably the best crew I've ever worked with, especially with respect to John Cavill (DP) and Cameron McLean (Camera Operator). They are two guys I've never had so much confidence in. Now that we've worked together on a few shows we can anticipate one another and know what we want.

[12] I'm really picky about frame composition, for example. When I'm down there I know Cameron is behind the camera, and I don't have to worry about it. I spend very little time behind the monitors because I know I don't have to worry about the image. Both those guys take so much of the pressure off me. I can concentrate on performances and make the day with what's on the schedule. It's a long way from some of the stuff I've done in the past.

[13] The other nice thing about Herc and Xena is that no one down there looks at the shows like television. With some work in the States you can get the attitude "Well, it's good enough for TV". But down there it's all thought of as a mini-feature. The attention to detail is so incredible. No one wants to settle for "It's good enough for TV". It's a great experience for me all around.

[14] I know that Peter Bell, for example, when he works out a fight scene will use these little figures so you can actually see in 3-D what he has in mind.

[15] He's another person I watch working with my mouth open. I just can't believe what he comes up with sometimes. And he works on three shows too! He's another person who's a pleasure to work with. We'll have an early meeting and go through the script, and we talk about the scenes. He'll ask, "What do you want here?" or "How long do you want that to last?" I'm a big fan of using cables for stunts, and I'll say "Let's use a couple of rigs". He takes notes, takes it all in. He'll use what I bring to the table and blend that with what he has in mind. Then he'll sit there and play with these little action figures and show you what he plans to do. I'll say, "Wow, you can do that?" He'll say "Yeah, we can put a harness here," and so forth. He knows exactly what to do.

Shooting Preferences

[16] What are the areas you like to concentrate on most during the shooting process?

[17] Telling the story. Xena and Herc have a pretty distinctive style, and each one is a little different. The fans expect a certain something. You have to deal with the actors and make sure the performances are there. On top of everything else, which is something you can't escape, you have the whole "weight" of making your day. In some cases, especially when you're shooting outside in New Zealand, it can be a huge, huge challenge.

[18] The weather can be less than cooperative.

[19] The weather can change on you in a heartbeat. We had several days working on BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415) where we were looking up at the sky and walls of clouds would pass by. We'd lose hours in the day trying to get pockets of sunshine. That's always on your mind. You want to tell the story and get the coverage that you want and the performances you want, but at the end of the day, you need to have those dailies. Sometimes when we shoot down there during the winter, we'll have nine hours of useful daylight to shoot in, so you're not even getting a full day of shooting even in the best of circumstances.

[20] When I was on the set in SACRIFICE (67,68/321,322) we often had to wait for the cloud to pass. There was someone who was looking at the cloud cover and timing how fast it was moving and where the next sunny patch was. He'd shout, "Sixty seconds! Thirty seconds!" So the tension mounts as you wait for the call to action.

[21] Exactly. John Cavill jokes with me about what it must be like to shoot in Southern California where the weather is pretty consistent. I tell him in Los Angeles it sends crews into a tailspin when it's just a little overcast.


Realising the trench for the King might be a little too deep

Keeping a watchful eye on Cupcake and the King.

[22] I noticed in the Herc episode you directed, MY FAIR CUPCAKE (H77/418), that's about as far from action/adventure as you can get, but it was a delightful comedy.

[23] That one kind of suffered. It may have been the "worst" one I've done in that it was about fifteen minutes over in the director's cut. It was a really tight script, a wonderful script, and it needed all the footage to really pay off. I watch the show now, and I see fifteen minutes of footage cut from it.

[24] You know where all the holes are.

[25] Yeah. I think the Autolycus/Cupcake relationship suffered a little bit. I thought the actors did a great job in that episode, and they had some nice romantic scenes with each other. It got lost a little, I felt. It's unfortunate. Even while you shoot the script you time it, and I remember on that show that as we were shooting everything seemed to be working out alright, so we kept shooting. The last thing you want on TV is to be short. It's like a sin. It obviously has to be a little long, but 15 minutes long is just as bad. Unfortunately, that happens a lot on my shows.


Also the NZ cast for A CHORUS LINE

An introductory set of potential new characters.

[26] I see your first Xena credit is for THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN (49/303). Steve Sears explained to me once that this episode was meant to be a "trial balloon" of sorts for some extra characters that might help relieve the strain on the main characters from time to time.

[27] It was fun. It was my first show down there, so I had a huge learning curve. I had to learn how things worked down there. That was particularly tough, and we shot in winter. That was a six-day shoot, a little shorter than normal episodes at that time. I think four of the days were outside, and that was tough.


Sometimes you can just have too much fun roasting weenies

We missed out on the Callisto firebreathing scene.

[28] SACRIFICE II was next, and that was an extraordinary episode.

[29] I did that right after MY FAIR CUPCAKE (H77/418). It was a lot of fun for me to do the season finale. It was a little odd not directing part one. I found that a little strange, but I did keep up with what they were shooting and went to some meetings. It all worked out in the long run, I think. It's hard to notice any large jump.

[30] That episode ran another fifteen-plus minutes over in the first director's cut. That was the hardest episode for me to cut. Usually the producers like to have the director's cut come in a minute or so over. Just so they can tweak things around a little. I got it down to five minutes over, and I just couldn't cut any more. There was a point I looked at Rob (Field, Xena Editor) and said "I'm done. I can't possibly think of what to cut any more".

[31] Rob Tapert is really good about "snaking out" seconds here and there to maintain the story but keep things on time. He had to do that. It's a shame, too, because the writers spend so much time writing the scripts, we can lose some great moments in performances, and I tell you, it can be pretty painful to have to lose some of that. When you take out fifteen minutes you take out a day or more of shooting, and that ends up being all for nothing. You find yourself wishing you had that day back to work on that final scene that just wasn't coming out right or something else. But that was another case where, as we were shooting, things seemed to be on time just fine.

[32] Even in the best of cases, if all your little pieces end up just being a little bit over, in the end, it can add up to being a long way over.

[33] Exactly. With SACRIFICE (68/322) especially, it's too bad they don't release Director's Cuts. I think the fans would get a kick out of some of the stuff that's cut. There are some really juicy scenes that end up on the cutting room floor, and that's unfortunate. In SACRIFICE 2, for example, there's a great campfire scene between Xena and Callisto that got cut.

[34] We actually got to see that at the Santa Monica convention. Rob Field brought some "lost scenes" with him and that was one of them. It brought the house down.

[35] And that was a minute and a half. You have thirteen and a half minutes more of stuff you never got to see. As much as it gets shaved down, you might think you're able to maintain the story, but things always get lost. Fans watching the final version will say, "Well what about this?" or "Where did so-and-so go?" or "What happened here?" We often have footage to answer those questions, but you don't get to see it. The editors have to make the tough choices to start with, and the producers have to make the final decision on what stays and what gets cut.

[36] Another really cool thing that was cut from SACRIFICE II (68/322) was a scene where the two Hopes are in the village, and there's a big fight scene. Callisto is really getting into the destruction. We had a scene were she actually breathed fire, she arched her back like a dragon and just breathed fire.


So what if I'm wearing a Roman uniform?  It's not like they're
going to crucify me for it!

A GOOD DAY was trimmed down a good deal.

[37] I can only wonder how much A GOOD DAY (73/405) was over.

[38] That might have been the longest one yet.

[39] I can imagine. When Steve Sears writes a script, he packs a lot of story into it.

[40] There was a lot of great stuff with all the characters in there that got lost. There was this whole development of the plan that got cut short. There was another great scene between Lucy and Renee where they're overlooking the two encampments. Right now that scene plays at 20 or 30 seconds, and originally it was at least a minute longer. There was another dramatic scene where Xena says to Gabrielle, "Take charge." Gabrielle is reluctant. It was a wonderful piece of acting, but now it's stripped down to the absolute bare bones.

[41] It's so hard to cut those things because everyone worked so hard. The end battle sequence, the first time I went through it, lasted for almost fifteen minutes alone. I had this epic Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995) kind of thing going. We shaved that down a lot.


My method for removing stubborn stains?  Dye everything black!

Gabrielle and Thalassa bonded a little quicker than originally intended.

[42] Next we have LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407). I enjoyed this episode.

[43] The weather really crushed me on that show. At one point we were a day and a half behind. There was this horizontal rain sometimes. You'd never know it to see the show. It's kind of gloomy and the puddles you see on the ground were actually there. We didn't put them in. It's funny because in pre-production we had planned to have all these puddles to give it that dank, dark, gloomy feel. Nature did all the work for us in that respect. We made it up in the long run.

[44] It was a pretty fun episode. Rob really had a fun time with it. It was an idea he had, originally from a Steve McQueen film. Again, there were a bunch of little things that got cut. There was a nice scene where Gabrielle goes searching for Xena, and she goes into the cellblock where the women are, and she has a run-in with Ersina. Then she meets up with Clysemene, the red-head that Xena took under her wing.

[45] Actually, Clysemene's character really suffered a lot, getting cut. Now she's almost an extra with only a line or two, but in my cut she's an integral character that Xena takes under her wing and protects her from Ersina.

[46] We cut some things about how the prison is run and how it's impossible to escape. There's a nice little scene with Gabrielle and Xena where they fill each other in after Gabrielle finds her, that got lost.

[47] There were several scenes between Gab and Thalassa that were cut. These scenes show Gab earning Thalassa's respect and eventually her trust. I think this is another moment which was kind of lost in the show. Thalassa just suddenly becomes Gab's friend too fast in the episode now.

[48] For the most part you see everything accounted for, but a much stripped-down version. The beats are lost in a lot of dialogue. You miss additional camera angles and cut-aways. These few seconds here and there add up to the minutes that have to be cut. The lingering moments are gone, but that's the stuff I really like because that's where the characters come to life. You learn so much about the characters without anything being said.


I'll get you, my pretty!  And your little blonde, too!

Claire Stansfield praised Rick Jacobson for his directing talent in BETWEEN THE LINES.

[49] The last show I have for you was BETWEEN THE LINES. The episode was extraordinary.

[50] I'm pretty happy with that. That was probably the hardest episode for me to do because there was so much going on. One of our biggest concerns in pre-production was that we wanted to make sure it was clear to the audience what was happening. We have the time travel thing, people in different bodies, and so forth. Xena and Gabrielle see each other for who they are, but no one else does. That was something that was a bit of a challenge.

[51] I think that was conveyed very effectively.

[52] It worked in the long run, but it sure was trouble getting there. Every night I went home more exhausted than usual, mentally and physically.

[53] Claire Stansfield spoke very highly of you and your directing style. She said you really helped get the best performance out of her.

[54] That was very little of my doing. Claire is like a top, you just wind her up and let her go. [both laugh] She comes up with these wonderful little moments and nuances. I got a real kick out of her. I would stand there and laugh at her because she was so evil. She said "Hey, you're laughing at me!" I said "If I'm laughing, it's good." She's so expressive and in real life she's such a nice person. To see her change into that evil character, then take on that voice, I get a real kick out it.

[55] I've been fortunate to see her just as she normally is, and she's such a sweet person and so shy. She kind of scrunches down and tries not to be six foot one, and she's so polite and nice.

[56] Exactly. That was part of the thrill for me, seeing her just become pure evil. I'll sit behind the monitors during rehearsal to see if all the angles are right and to see if I want to change anything. But once I know how it will look and I know Cameron's behind the camera so I have no worries there, I can focus on the actors on their performances and be right there with the actors. I find it odd that more people don't do that.

[57] Are there any special moments for you from that show that stand out?

[58] I just like all the performances I saw. I don't think Renee and Lucy get the credit they deserve. They are incredible talents. I hope they do a lot more after this show and go on to make feature films. They absolutely make my job easier. I don't have to make many notes with them. They're so in tune with their charaters and the situations, it's really a pleasure working with the two of them, it allows me to focus my attention on other areas or actors that might need a little more help. Both women give 110% to the production day in and day out... They're just incredible.

Future Plans

[59] Do you have any plans to come down for more episodes?

[60] For me it's always a show-by-show basis. You never know.

[61] Anything coming up for you otherwise that we can look forward to?

[62] I'm actually looking forward to taking a little time off. This past year for me was pretty wall to wall. I've got some writing I want to do. I have a feature I'd like to develop and another one I'm working on. Features are my true love. TV is relatively new to me. I've been working on TV projects for two years. [Author's Note: The break will be interrupted at least in part -- Rick Jacobson is headed to New Zealand in mid-April to direct two Xena episodes.]

[63] Well thanks for taking time to share some of your experience with us.

[64] You're very welcome. Thanks for asking.


Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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