Writers Circle Confidential: Decisions and Denouements

And so our first season comes to an end. Team post-production has been mourning the lack of new episodes to cut together for days. But it’s time for one last look behind the curtain. If you haven’t seen our double-and-a-half length season finale yet, check it out, and I’ll wait for you in the next section.

Building a climax

Yes, fine, I heard it as soon as I said it, maybe we could just get our minds out of the gutter.

When we were breaking the season, one of the questions was what balance to strike between, as they’d say on Supernatural, “mythology episodes” and “filler episodes,” or in our terms, which episodes will contribute to longer character arcs (say, Love is Blind or Deconstructing Phil) and which will be simple one-offs (In the Depths or Night Moves). We decided that for season one, we’d stick to primarily one-offs. But I still wanted a finale that represented some sort of closure for what arcs we had. Which meant that the first thing that I had to do when writing it was establish what those arcs were: Becky’s rocky relationship with Ted, Jeff’s trainwreck relationship with Claire, Phil’s inability to act on an attraction (with the exception of Zoe). Which I felt was also a great opportunity to bring back Duane Jones as Brent.

This old charmer.
This old charmer.

It gave us a chance to see the impact Brent had on Phil, Jeff, and Becky before his death. Which also let me underline a key difference between Becky and the lads. Phil and Jeff both need guidance in their flashbacks: they need advice on what to do about Olivia (a character from the original play that may well turn up in future seasons) and Claire. Becky just needs acceptance. She knows who she is and what she wants, she just wants to say it out loud and not be judged, and that’s what Brent gives her. That’s what he always gave her. You can see the same thing in episode two.

Which is what spurs her to begin confronting her relationship with Ted, just as Brent’s advice spurs Phil and Jeff into action.

Now… I mostly write plays. Ending a play is a whole different thing. You need a complete, definitive ending. Well, to a point. In a lot of cases, the original Writers Circle included, I steered away from the big, rainbow-wipe, happily-ever-after ending, instead crafting a conclusion where the protagonist(s) doesn’t necessarily get everything he/she wants, but instead overcomes something and allows him/herself to attempt to be happy. Which is initially what I went for here, including one sequence where Zoe snaps and lays out everyone’s issues in full.

It was determined to be a little too much closure, because unlike a play, in a TV series you want to leave some threads open for next season. So I had to tone that down some. Zoe’s still the one calling people out on stuff (especially Becky, after all the private sniping she’s been doing in Keith’s episodes), but she’s not providing a series-ending monologue.

Sound wizardry

The facts are these. We are, all of us behind the camera, fairly new at all this. So, mistakes get made. One of them is particularly bizarre. Every shot in the season finale that reached take five, the fifth take has no sound. What’s bizarre about that, other than the consistency? This never came up before. No other episode had this weird problem. And the finale was not the last thing we shot. In fact, it was shot on ten different days scattered between August and a couple of weeks ago (did some pick-up shots of Becky). The scene with all four leads in the writers’ room was, of course, shot during August’s Super Fun Happy Good Times Week (literally the only time that could happen). The airport scene was shot over a month later, and in between there were other shooting days, including nearly all of Night Moves. So it’s honestly beyond me how this take five issue only affected scenes from this episode.

But there’s more.

Some key sound recordings also went missing from the airport scene. Most notably, the sound from every take we’d picked for the rough cut. Every. Single. Take. Using the camera audio, filled with nonsense from the surrounding airport, wasn’t an option. We tried that, and Ian actually threw his headphones away in disgust hearing the result. Ian tried putting together a new cut based around the takes we knew had sound, but… it was not as good. Missing all the touches that made the original work, including an ad lib from Ryan that turned out much funnier than what I’d written.

I hate it when that happens. There is one thing on this show I do well, and I do not need Ryan doing it better than me.

Anyway. We weren’t happy with the new take, but we couldn’t use the camera audio, and given that Ryan was out of the country for another month, ADR was out of the question. As was waiting a month to release the finale, given that it was already two weeks late. Three if you count the blooper reel. Which I don’t, as we planned on using that as a buffer. As such, it looked like we were going to have to use the new, lesser cut, as much as it killed us to do so.

And then our sound designer, Pat “DJ Murr-mur” Murray, did a thing.

He spent gods only know how long pouring through the sound takes we did have, cutting them apart and then patching them back together, often one word at a time, to match the original cut. He rebuilt the missing sound takes out of scraps and made the new franken-cut sync up with the footage.

We don’t often like to say nice things about Pat in public, as he is a monster in the form of a man, but that… that’s pretty impressive right there.

Fun at the Airport

We had expected to have to get creative about finding a way to put the team in an airport. Like, sneak ourselves an establishing shot by filming the airport without permission (you know, like a crime), then film the actual scene at the Greyhound station. But it turns out the Calgary International Airport is actually super cool about filming there if you ask them nicely. Hell, they didn’t even charge us, just picked a relatively out-of-the-way spot for us to shoot in, and… well, there was one catch… told us we could shoot there at 6:00 AM. Which, in theory, was going to be a low-traffic time. In theory. there was still a decent amount of people checking in to fly between six and eight, and a (possibly) homeless woman nesting in the back corner, who had questions about launching a web series of her own. Questions I was more than happy to let Ian field. I’m the best friend anyone has ever had.

Within a couple of weeks of shooting this, I flew to Prince George for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Looking around the nigh-deserted airport, I couldn’t help but think “Forget 6 AM, we should have shot this at 7:30 on a Thursday night.”

Now, the arrangement with the airport meant that we were locked into our shooting date. So it didn’t matter if my birthday party was that night and 22 hours of consciousness didn’t really appeal (I don’t nap). It also didn’t matter if one of our cast happened to have a severe case of either food poisoning or the flu. Try to guess which one.

You can’t, can you? No, you can’t. You know why?

Because Stephanie Morris is a goddamn champ, that’s why.

If the cameras weren’t rolling, Steph was down. Like, collapsed. Pale, weak, and if she wasn’t sprinting for the washroom she was lying half-dead in a nearby chair. But one we got set up, and Steph was in place, something a little magical happened. Sick Steph vanished, and ready-to-party Becky emerged. As long as the cameras were rolling, she was in peak form. Soon as Keith said “Cut,” she collapsed.

But damn, that was some dedication right there. Well, okay, I did have some suspicions… I may have suggested that her supposed illness was an elaborate ruse to bail on my birthday party. But either she was fine, and pretending to be that sick, or really was sick and pretending to be healthy on camera, and either way, that was some talent.

Random Observations

We didn’t do the most thorough job of transforming my main floor into Becky’s apartment. Aside from some mess (which I think actually helps sell the transition into flashback), we didn’t clear any of my posters from the hallway. As such, there are no less than four Doctor Who related prints or posters visible in Becky’s hall. So I guess Becky likes Doctor Who. Because why wouldn’t she? It’s great.

On that note… everyone’s final words as they leave for the check-in desk are a reference to one of my favourite episodes, the 50th Anniversary special, Day of the Doctor. The episode teams up David Tennant’s 10th Doctor with Matt Smith’s 11th, as well as a previously unknown incarnation known as the War Doctor, who served an interesting purpose. He spoke for Hartnell, Pertwee, McCoy, all of the Doctors from the original run. The War Doctor reacted to 10 and 11 the way any of them would have. That is, with confused annoyance at things the new series introduced, such as wielding sonic screwdrivers like weapons or saying things like “Timey-wimey.” So in the climax, as the three of them fly their Tardises into battle, 10 and 11 shout their catchphrases, and the War Doctor responds appropriately:

10: “Allons-y!”
War: “Oh, for God’s sake!”

So I went ahead and gave that exchange to Phil, Zoe, and Jeff. Because I’ve gotta be me.

Also visible in Becky’s apartment: a box reading “Pastoral Paranoia.” Pastoral Paranoia is a play by American playwright Jeff Carter that my company, Scorpio Theatre, put up in the fall of 2013. Both Duane and I were in it. The box was something that our Jimmy-Dave/Douche/one-time 1st AD/man of 13 titles Matt Pickering built as a silent auction item for the play’s opening night gala, which I ended up buying. He’d brewed some beers that came with the box. I wanted those beers.

From her conversation with Ted, we also see that Becky’s a fan of Shortpacked!, the (now ended) comic from David Willis, in that she also bought one of the limited edition posters Willis sold as a vacation fundraiser. It’s not impossible that Becky would enjoy Shortpacked!, but I suspect she’d be more of a fan of Willis’ current strip, Dumbing of Age, in which Willis took all of the characters from his four previous comics and rebooted them as freshmen (mostly) at the University of Indiana. DoA, as it’s known, focuses more on the ladies, and thoughtfully tackles a large number of race, LGBT, and feminist issues for a comedy strip written by a straight white dude in the flyover states. Maybe Becky liked Dumbing of Age enough that she bought a Shortpacked! poster to support the artist. Or maybe she has a secret love of Transformers: the Movie (the 80s cartoon, I doubt Becky’s a Michael Bay fan), which the poster homages.

The omelette Jeff’s eating in his flashback was disgusting. I mean, I find all omelettes disgusting, something about the texture of eggs makes me gag, but this one was especially bad. Most film food is. When you watch Cracked: After Hours, nobody is eating fresh, warm, food. It doesn’t even come from the diner where they shoot. Ask Daniel O’Brien, he’ll tell you. So it was with Brent’s “ham and cheese omelette with hot sauce.” It’s actually just eggs in omelette shape that Ian cooked up before we started shooting, covered in whatever Ben (whose home we were shooting in) had that resembled hot sauce. So Aaron is eating a cold, spongy, nada-omelette covered in thousand island dressing. Which Keith finished in the name of solidarity.

Dinner at Ted’s Mom’s house was actually shot ridiculously early, and at the home of Cynthia/our lead costumer, the almost supernaturally delightful Tawni Barton. Which meant asking her neighbour to please stop practising the saxophone for a few hours. At one point, Ian needed to adjust the lights, and Tawni was busy elsewhere in the building, so left to our own devices, our Production Manager Daisy Pond and I alphabetized her movie collection. Because we’re those sorts of people.

I like a good gag credit. By way of a for instance, every single episode of Robot Chicken has gag credits for both Mila Kunis and Sarah Michelle Gellar. I decided to do something similar, and add a gag credit to our YouTube credits.

Like so.
Like so.

So for those who don’t read the full descriptions on YouTube, I present… the Many Titles of Matt Pickering​.

The Vicious Circle: “Little known fact, also dope on the mic”
Funeral for a Friend: “Records in VHS”
Brent’s Non-Replacement: “Wants to build a snowman*”
“*It doesn’t HAVE to be a snowman”
Origin Stories: “Must become someone else… must become someTHING else”
Deconstructing Phil: “Georgia peach”
In the Depths: “Otherkin Consultant”
Love is Blind: “Grinding your Tinder”
Night Moves: “Workin’ on mysteries without any clues”
Favour For a Friend: “Yaris Wrangler”
Stonebluff Road: “Auteur of atrocities”
Jeff’s Head: “Needs an adult”
Who You Gonna Call: “Ready to believe you”
Decisions and Denouements: “Shot JR”

That’s… that’s about all I can think of to tell you about this episode. Which brings us to the end of the season. I’m quite sad to have no new episodes to review, to post, to write about… but it’ll be a while. In the meantime, I’ve watched 21 episodes of the Flash in two days, so… that helped.

Here’s to season two. Hurry along, now.

I have a band of wonderful weirdos to reunite, after all.
I have a band of wonderful weirdos to reunite, after all.