Whoosh! Issue 58 - July 2001


Page 2


This doesn't hurt any less the fourth time around.
Okay, we get that crucifixions play an important role in Xena

[36] Who initially approached whom about your writing an episode?

[37] I had my managers, AMG, call Renaissance and introduce them to my work. Then I met with Patrick Moran, then the President of Production. Patrick and I hit it off immediately, and he is now one of my closest friends. I do believe I jumped up on the couch at one point and said, "I have to write for Xena!" Poor Patrick had to either hire me or call security. I'm glad he chose the former.

[38] Did you have a specific story in mind, or were you presented with a basic plotline, and you essentially fleshed it out into a script?

[39] When I came in to meet with RJ Stewart and Rob Tapert [both executive producers of Xena], I did have themes I wanted to explore. I have always liked the idea that every choice we make in this lifetime is the right one because it gets us to the next step in our life or to the next life itself. If we continually judge every "mistake" we think we've made, we don't see the path and how that choice brought us to the place we are now. It's all about mistakes and lessons in life. And it's the judgment of them that gets in our way. I wanted to explore that with an alternate reality and with Xena's own struggle with her choices in life. Her dip into her dark side and how that still haunts her soul. I wanted her to finally understand the beauty that path took her to and thus, the necessity of it. And that's where we started.

[40] That "choices" theme—were you at all influenced by either of the films Sliding Doors or Run Lola Run? Or Bach's book One, for that matter?

[41] I have only seen Sliding Doors—not Run Lola Run or read One. I personally have always been attracted to this theme. I've had many early deaths in my family and tragedies requiring me to realize how transient life is, so I see the choices we make as rather profound. And it has intrigued me that Xena had never really addressed her own choices as integral to her being and instead judges them as "bad."

[42] What about two previous episodes that vaguely explored this theme—REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), in which Xena saw where she would be if she had chosen not to defend her village, and ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72-73/413-414), in which we saw how she'd be empress of the known world, had Hercules never been born. (Actually, that was a Hercules episode, so perhaps you've not seen that one at all!)

[43] Haven't seen that Hercules episode. Rob did mention REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202) as a concern, but we realized the take wasn't at all the same, so we felt confident it would feel like a fresh exploration. I think Sliding Doors is a good comparison, actually, more so than REMEMBER NOTHING.

[44] I'm sure everyone is fascinated with what the writing process is like. Who did you work with, and how closely?

[45] I worked closely with RJ [Stewart], Rob [Tapert], and Michael McDonald. Everyone is very positive and upbeat and there's a genuine love for the show and for the people writing on it that made me feel at home. And, since I could quote other episodes, I think that made me a valuable commodity to them. They didn't have to bring me up to speed, introduce characters to me, awash me with tapes and past episodes, etc. I was with them all the way. The rewrite process was a thrill as each person brings his own brand of magic. RJ is very plot and story driven, understanding character arc and writer-speak. Rob is very protective of Xena and her journey, and he's very visually minded, letting you know when a scene might get too intellectual or talky, forgoing its roots. Rob also writes very entertaining emails and I found they brightened my day. There are specific stages the script goes through from beat sheet to script to rewrites to shooting drafts.

Other Experiences

Alti, pre-therapy
Time for the obligatory Alti picture!

[46] How did this compare with other writing experiences you've had?

[47] Each process has been different. The negative processes usually deal with producers just telling you what to do and not listening to your point of view or your (passionate) arguments about why a choice is important or valid. They look at you as a typist and tell you to type what they say. Those meetings can be demoralizing and tend to harm creativity. At RenPics, everyone there comes at you from a place of love first. They love Xena, they love that you love Xena. Thus, all the conversations come from how to make your Xena even better. I don't remember one time thinking, "I can't do this." I was always sparked.

The Process

Am I evil, or what? The blue wash is SO flattering!
Whoa! Another Alti picture. Maybe we should change our name to
the International Association of Alti Studies?

[48] So take us through the process, from start to finish. Was there a lot of collaboration?

[49] Okay. I walk into the room with themes I want to explore. Then we all chat and they send me away. I write a two page beat sheet, very briefly outlining the big picture. That gets signed off on, then I go to outline, which is more involved and write out all the scenes without dialogue. That gets discussed and altered accordingly. Then on to script, etc. Then I wrote three drafts of that. As far as the collaboration, I am far more a character-driven writer than an action writer, so I relied on Rob to insert a fight scene, which he did in the teaser and to stay true to the genre he and RJ have created. RJ is very good at character work, too, noting where a scene could be extended, when I was going for short and sweet, thinking of time.

[50] Both Rob and RJ work very well together and have complimentary strengths, which make the show well-rounded. There was one moment when I said, "So basically more fighting, more dancing, more bathing and could I make it funnier?" which caused Rob to twinkle. That joke comes from a basic note studios give writers, which makes writers batty (battier). But actually, my Xena is a straight drama, so don't get your hopes up for funny. But basically, producers want a feeling they miss and it's the writer's job to create that for them, not necessary rewrite a specific line. It's not that detailed.

Michael McDonald

They call me...Mysterioso
Alas, poor Michael McDonald, I knew him well.

[51] You mentioned Michael McDonald—this is the first year he's been a full producer, I think? Could you tell us a little about him?

[52] Michael is a great dresser and very handsome. That was my first impression of him. He could be an actor. In the meetings, Michael knows everything about every episode coming up and in the past. I had a line about "fate" and "free will" in the script which Michael knew was too similar to a line in YOU ARE THERE (125/613), which was only then being shot. He's got that kind of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? memory. I think he will go far in whatever he wants to do. He has that energy.


...Just think about how my earrings are pinching my ears...
Joxer was written late into the script
after Ted Raimi became available to appear in some
of the last episodes of Xena

[53] Tell us the bit with adding Joxer's character. Was this difficult?

[54] Joxer was not in my episode when it was conceived or written by me. I believe Ted Raimi was not available as a character/actor choice from the beginning. I didn't discover he was in the episode until I arrived in New Zealand and saw the new script with the Joxer changes. RJ handled that insertion by tweaking the dialogue of an existing character to fit the voice of Joxer, whom he knows so well.

Filming the Episode

I'm going to sleep with Alti in the next 42 minutes--nyah!
When fates collide, it can get messy

[55] So then - you actually went down to New Zealand for the filming of your episode? Is this customary for episode writers?

[56] I understand most of the writers don't visit the set due to the distance problem. Most of us are LA based. I wanted to go to NZ because I was flattered by Rob's invitation, I love the show and there's nothing like seeing your work materialized in scene shops, costume departments, etc. I also had selfish reasons. I have been on many sets before, but I haven't actually studied each person's job. There's a push lately for the writer-director tag, so I wanted to watch the director more and decide if that's an avenue I wanted to explore. John Fawcett was incredible. He never tired of answering questions and he's truly remarkable to watch work. But after watching him work, I realized directing isn't for me. The director is a completely different beast. I'm a writer. So, I think I'll concentrate on that.

Culture Shock

...and not a chop to eat
Sheep, sheep...EVERYWHERE!

[57] So there you were - an American girl in New Zealand for the first time. Any culture shock?

[58] The first thing I balked at was all the driving on the wrong side of the road business. Truly, it feels like a Disneyland ride with all these cars coming at you. Then I drove Claire Stansfield around and we shut off the radio, didn't chat, and just drove. Claire would yell, "Wide right - Short left - too close! I'm sitting over here!" that sort of thing. A latte is a "flat white." I'm a vegetarian - not many of us there. Then the money. I kept mine. The money is so pretty. I love money from other countries. Overall, though, I returned sad. I wish I could say I fell in love with NZ, but I can't. I didn't leave Auckland and I spent all day on the set. So, I'm going back to leave the city and see some of the beautiful country so I can return in love.

[59] But there was one great, magical moment. I had just landed, completely out of mind from a crying baby next to me on the flight, and I was wearing my pajamas and zombie-like, walked up to Claire Stansfield and handed her a note with my room number for dinner later. I turned to go back to bed, when Claire grabbed me and said, "You're going to the beach!" and forced me into a car with director John Fawcett's wife, Laura. They took me to Kare Kare, where The Piano was filmed. It was so beautiful, shells on the beach, high mountain cliffs, crashing waves. I think it's where Xena stands on the rock and faces Poseidon. It was the only time I left Auckland and it became the most wonderful memory of New Zealand.

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