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LEXX: Unauthorized

Back Stage at the Dark Zone



by



D. G. Valdron



FOSSIL COVE PRESS

Winnipeg, Manitoba





LEXX Unauthorized: Backstage at the Dark Zone

Copyright © 2017 by Denis George Arthur Valdron. The right of Denis George Arthur Valdron (D.G. Valdron) to be identified as the author of this work is asserted. All rights reserved.

Trademarks and Copyright for LEXX, and all associated stories, characters and images, property of Salter Street Films, and of Alliance Atlantis.

All uses of copyright or trademarked materials, including quotes, are for historical and review purposes, and for criticism and commentary, recognized by and permitted under fair use and fair comment, but remain as applicable under copyright to third parties.

Fossil Cove Publishing, 1301 - 90 Garry Street, Wpg, Man, Canada, R3C 4J4

Issued in electronic formats

ISBN: 978-0-9879061-4-4 (ebook)

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Text set in Garamond





Dedicated to

Lex Gigeroff

1962 - 2011





LEXX: Unauthorized

Back Stage at the Dark Zone

TABLE OF CONTENTS



Lexx: Definitions

Chapter One: In the Beginning... Let there be Dark Zone

Chapter Two: Apocryphal Lexx -The Dark Zone Demo

Chapter Three: The Strange Tale of Paul Donovan

Chapter Four: Season One - Light and Shadow

Chapter Five: Lost Lexx - The Dark Zone Computer Game

Chapter Six: The Look of Lexx, Part One

Chapter Seven: Apocryphal Lexx - The Rulez!

Chapter Eight: Lexx 1.01 - I Worship His Shadow, Lexx

Chapter Nine: The Look of Lexx, Part II, the Twisted Tail of Cluster Lizards

Chapter Ten: Lost Lexx - Love Grows, The Movie

Chapter Eleven: Lexx 1.02 - Supernova,

Chapter Twelve: The Look of Lexx, Part III, Building the Better Bug

Chapter Thirteen: Lexx 1.03 - Eating Pattern

Chapter Fourteen: Lost Lexx - Back to the Cluster

Chapter Fifteen: Lost Lexx - Sigl’s Shadow

Chapter Sixteen: Lexx 1.04 - Gigashadow

Chapter Seventeen: Apocryphal Lexx - Making of The Dark Zone stories, the first documentary

Chapter Eighteen: Lost Lexx - Donovan’s Brainchild

Chapter Nineteen: Apocryphal Lexx: The Contender Lexxtras

Chapter Twenty: Interregnum, Killing Time, Chasing Giger and Losing Eva



Sources

Other Books by D.G. Valdron





LEXX - DEFINITION



LEXX - definition: A dragonfly shaped, ten kilometer long, bio-mechanical, starship. Created as the ultimate weapon of the Divine Order in its war with heresy, the LEXX was designed to destroy entire worlds with a single blast. Unfortunately, the LEXX was stolen by heretics and is still at large....

LEXX - definition: A surrealist space opera about the adventures of the crew of the Lexx: Stanley Tweedle, former arch-traitor, former security guard fourth class, and now captain; Kai, last of the Brunnen G, an undead Divine Assassin; Zev, half love-slave, half cluster lizard, and 790, a decapitated robot head.

LEXX - definition: A television program produced by Salter Street Films, shot in Halifax, comprised of four series, running from 1997 to 2002, created by Paul Donovan, written by Donovan, Lex Gigeroff and Jeff Hirschield, and starring Brian Downey as Stanley Tweedle, Michael McManus as Kai, Eva Haberman and later Xenia Seeberg as Zev and Jeff Hirschfield as Kai.

Return to Table of Contents





CHAPTER ONE: IN THE BEGINNING....

LET THERE BE DARK ZONE!



People involved in film and television will say that the story of the making of a particular film or television show is often more interesting than the product that winds up on the screen.

That’s usually a depressing thought. Often what ends up on the screen isn’t that interesting. It’s heartbreaking to think that behind the scenes there are all these epic struggles and battles, all this work and creativity, and the final product ends up being ‘meh.’ I’d rather that the movie or the program be interesting and the backstage dull as dishwater.

But there are exceptions. LEXX was like Star Trek done by Bunuel or Jodorowsky, subversive, cynical, visually unforgettable and deeply surreal. It was a show where anything could happen, and did. There had never been anything like it.

Backstage, the origins and production of LEXX strangely reflected the anarchy that appears up on screen. For one thing, originally, Paul Donovan wasn’t even thinking of a space opera. Originally, his project was going to be a First World War epic.

I wanted to make a world war one film that would cost thirty five million dollars. Well, I didn’t have thirty five million dollars. So....” Donovan said in one of the Contender Video LEXXtras. It’s a bizarre starting point, but I’ve confirmed it with others from that time, among them, Bill Fleming.

Personally, I’ll take this with a grain of salt. Nobody ever has one idea at a time. Donovan probably kicked around a lot of ideas, doodled on napkins, wrote notes to himself, drafted treatments, made sketches. So, I don’t think we can rule out that there wasn’t a proto-LEXX somewhere in the back of his mind.

Indeed, there are hints he may have toyed with the ghosts of the idea as far back as high school. There’s a certain adolescent quality to the basic ideas. An all powerful, super-potent weapon, wielded by an insecure, nebbishy, little guy. An unstoppable kung fu assassin who has no sexual dimension, in fact, he’s neutered. A gorgeously beautiful and completely slutty love slave, who is also a virgin, and with a bit of reptile predator in her. There’s a mixture of rabid desire, confounded ignorance and squirming fear of sex that reminds me strongly of adolescence. You want it so badly, but you don’t know what to do with it and you’re terrified of failure.

But certainly he’d done a lot of science fiction films, or quirky pseudo-fantasy films, and his first effort with the genre, Defcon 4 had convinced him that there was a real market there. He’d gone on to do ghosts and pirates, a small town acquiring it’s own nuclear submarine, time traveling hijinks, and genetic experiments gone wrong.

But, the project that he was really interested in doing, back in the early 1990's, was a First World War film. Why World War One?

Well, that war is a lot bigger to Canadians than Americans,” Bill Fleming notes. “We sent hundreds of thousands of troops overseas, we were in it from the beginning to the end, in comparison to the Americans who entered relatively late and suffered comparatively slight losses. Paul wanted to do his film about the battle of Passchendaele. Essentially, the Germans had overrun just about all of Belgium, except for this tiny sliver of land. So it became a political point for the allies to hold that at all costs, to say that not all of Belgium had fallen. The result was a pointless and horrific battle in which a lot of Canadians were sacrificed.”

Naked statistics speak for themselves: In a relatively tiny country of, only eight million people, over 626,000 men went into the armed forces - almost one in every six men in the country. Losses were horrendous with over 65,000 killed and 150,000 wounded in under four years. 20,000 alone died at the Battle of the Somme, and another 15,000 died at the battle of Passchendaele. The total casualties were comparable to what the vastly larger United States, lost in ten full years in Vietnam. Vietnam had never sported battles as savage as Passchendaele.

It wasn’t truly a Canadian war in any sense of the word. But it was the first one where sacrifices and conflict reached into every part of Canada. It was one of the first great universal experiences of the Canadian nation. Even today, you can go into just about any Canadian town or city and find a cenotaph that was originally dedicated to the dead of that war. Historians claim the Great War, as its called, was one of the turning points of Canadian history, roughly equivalent to the Civil War in American history.

So it makes sense that Donovan would be interested in doing it. The only trouble is that the way he wanted to do it, it was going to cost about thirty five million dollars.

In the mid-90’s, a Hollywood film’s average budget was around forty million dollars, and easily several times that for a blockbuster. Out in the rest of the world, most films from Canada or Europe budget at around two to four million. Twelve million is still big money today to a Canadian or European production. Donovan had made a few contacts in Hollywood over the years, but no one was about to give him thirty five million.

So, he started casting about for ways to make it cheaper.

* * * * * * * *

In the Meantime...

It all started with Sergio Sanielivici,” Michael Heller says, “he had this idea to explore different computers, investigative software. And we actually got a supercomputer out of it. The only problem was we had to find something for it to do...”

Back in 1991 - 1992, there was the Supercomputer project. Essentially, it was a joint initiative by the Canadian and Nova Scotia governments to bring a supercomputer, a heavy duty, high-speed, turbo-charged computer out to Halifax. The project, set up under a company called Hypercomputer, was for eighteen months, and its mandate included outreach and education to the business and academic community about the possibilities in this new technology.

Of course, out in Halifax, there wasn’t a lot of cutting edge companies that really felt a need for that kind of high density computing power. You didn’t need a Cray supercomputer to count fish, you barely needed an old TRS-80 from Radio Shack.

The men involved in Hypercomputer, Michael Heller, Ken Trappenberg and Sergio Sanielivici brainstormed, looking for potential users. One of these was the Bedford Oceanographic Institute in its project of mapping the ocean bottoms. After that, pickings got really thin.

One day, it struck them that one possible application was the film industry. At that time Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI, was starting to be seen as the big cure all for every cinematic problem from bad lighting to bad acting to unsightly zits on actresses nose. Blue screen or green screen technology had been around for decades, but computer generated images and matching and meshing of CGI images with real persons and objects promised to change the world.

The field was still relatively new, Terminator 2 had only come out in 1991 and Jurassic Park wouldn’t show up until 1993, but between those times, CGI technology had exploded with a number of Canadian companies, like Soft-Image or Core Digital developing expertise.

Michael Heller happened to know a film guy named Michael Donovan. Michael passed, but thought it might have been something his brother Paul could be interested in…

So in a way, this is where it all really begins, with a couple of computer nerds sitting in an office, brainstorming about who they could interest in their supercomputer, in order for them to justify having it in the first place.

Later, when LEXX was being written, one of the guidelines that Gigeroff and Hirschfield got was to not worry about limitations of CGI but just to write anything they could imagine. There’s a kind of unfettered freedom there that’s both exhilarating and scary. It’s definitely working without a net. But at the same time, it opened the door for an explosion of creativity.

* * * * * * * * *

Lights and Magic…

Paul Donovan got very interested in CGI. According to Michael Heller, he didn’t know much about it, but he was very interested in learning.

With the assistance of Michael Heller and Thomas Trappenberg, the three of them started looking into possibilities. They brought in an artist for a consultation, a young woman originally from Prince Edward Island who’d done a stint with Industrial Light and Magic in Las Angeles. She brought them back down to earth.

Essentially, she showed us the limits of what could and couldn’t be done, and the requirements for the appropriate software,” Michael Heller said, “it was a learning experience, I think. It helped us to tone down the scope. We were pointed toward Soft-Image.”

The bottom line was that CGI couldn’t yet do the sorts of effects that Paul Donovan wanted for his WWI movie, at least, not for any kind of reasonable price. Still, if the WWI project was out of the question, perhaps they could do something within the framework of what CGI could do. The possibilities seemed to fascinate Donovan, it was like finding a brand new toy.

At some point, looking into CGI, Donovan shifted towards science fiction. Possibly the project morphed. Or possibly Stanley Tweedle was already floating around in the back of his mind and had been there for quite some time.

There’s an advantage in doing CGI science fiction over a CGI period piece. The thing is, if you do it badly, they’ll know in the period piece. People know what history is supposed to look like. They know what the past is all about. There’s a different of standard of reality required.

On the other hand, no one has a clue as to what the future is supposed to look like, or what other planets or other beings will be like. An alien space ship? You can stick anything up there on the screen from melted plasticine models to Christmas tree lights, and the audience will buy it, or at least will be more tolerant. There’s a lot more latitude to cheat, as generations of low budget film makers have found.

Quixotically, science fiction as a genre often allows more epic scale. Period pieces, every other genre, tends to lock into its conventions. A western, for instance, is supposed to look and feel a certain way. We think cowboys and horses, a few Indians, rolling countryside and a hardscrabble rural existence of wanderers and small violent towns. Even space opera, which is sometimes a western in outer space, can get as big or small or as warped as you want it to be. Science fiction, being an essentially formless genre, allows film makers to cannibalize other genres or wander down odd roads.

So, all in all, it doesn’t seem remarkable that one project morphed into another, or perhaps a better term would be that Donovan was trying to develop a film and the development switched from one project to another.

The first sign of LEXX, or what’s going to become LEXX comes in January of 1992, apparently when Donovan first has the idea, according to David Cullen, one of the first people to deal with him on the matter.

Back in August, 1992, I was trying to break in, and someone referred me to Paul Donovan, they’d heard he was working on an SF thing. So I gave my name to Wanda Chisolm, and a month later, Paul Donovan wanted to meet,” Cullen told me.

Possibly around this time, Paul Donovan met with Jeff Hirschfield and told him he was working on an idea for a sci fi series. The original idea was for a pilot movie which would then spin off into a series, although Hirschfield’s reference is vague and hard to pin down. Michael McManus has also mentioned in published interviews that Paul was talking about the project for a while, again, the reference is vague and hard to pin down. Bill Fleming, on the other hand, recalls he first started hearing about the project from Paul back in 1992.

Then in September, 1992, Paul Donovan hired Cullen to do story boards for a two minute demo called “The Dark Voyage” Cullen remembers, “Basically, it was about this security guard named Stanley having an argument with a guy on a screen.”

And here it is, like a shark’s fin breaking the surface of the water. There’s not much there, but its there. It’s clearly a version of the scene that shows up as the Dark Zone demo of 1994, or in I Worship His Shadow in 1996. Here’s our Stanley Tweedle, all the way back in 1992, back when Donovan is rushing from one feature to the next, from Tomcat to Buried on Sunday, Life With Billy to Paint Cans. Then the shark fin disappears beneath the waves.

Donovan and Cullen stayed in touch. Cullen did some sample boards for another TV movie. He wouldn’t hear from Donovan about the project again for a couple of years. The next player to encounter the nascent Dark Zone was Wolfram Tichy.

I caught it right at the beginning,” Tichy, the co-producer for the first three seasons notes. “I met Paul Donovan in the course of a round trip sponsored by Telefilm. It started in Halifax, where I visited Paul at his officer. He was working on the Dark Zone project. I liked the idea of the computer imagery. I hadn’t seen that before, that attracted me. The CGI hadn’t been done yet, but he had the sketches, and boards and plans. It was very interesting. This was on June 15, 1993. Later that year Paul and I met again in Toronto and Munich and established a good working contact.”

Around March of 1994, David Cullen is called back in to do character sketches for “The Dark Voyage” now retitled “The Dark Zone.” Stanley Tweedle is there, of course. But so is Kai, his Brunnen G hairstyle already established and patterned after a photograph of a beefy male model with a bouffant.

I did a sketch of Zev kicking the head of a 790 Robot,” Cullen said. “She was supposed to be a redhead. Paul’s model, his original choice for Zev, was Neve Campbell.”

The redhead angle is interesting, suggesting that the second season Xev was closer to Donovan’s original vision. Also interesting is the fact that 790 is also in the picture, and their peculiar relationship is suggested.

The real kicker though, is the Neve Campbell association. This isn’t quite as bizarre as it sounds. Neve Campbell had worked for Paul Donovan in his previous film, Paint Cans, and Donovan had already established a history of working with people again and again. Both McManus and Downey were Donovan alumni, and had been picked for the project almost from the start, so it hardly seems out of the question. On the other hand, Campbell during this period was starring in Party of Five and was on the verge of breaking into the big time with the Scream franchise, so she seems to have been fairly busy.

Donovan himself has said that when he writes characters, he likes to have a particular actress or actor in mind. So it’s quite likely that Paul Donovan, when he was giving a look and a voice to Zev, was originally thinking of Campbell, whether or not the role had ever been discussed. In an early treatment of the episode Luvliner, characters are modeled after Steve Buscemi, Steven Segal, and references are made to Natasha Hentridge or Fabio. So the Neve Campbell connection may amount to very little after all.

Was she an original Zev?” Nigel Bennet asks. “I’m not surprised. Her career just took off. I remember in Paint Cans, there was a fantasy scene Chas (Lawther) was having where she was supposed to take her top off and she was very much against that. I think she saw there was a career there to be had. She just got too big, and LEXX could have never afforded her. I think at that time, she’d decided to go to the States, and that was her choice.”

Ultimately, the reason Eva Haberman became Zev, and then Xenia Seeberg took over the role, was because of German funding. They had to reserve a major cast position for a German actor or actress. Still, it makes you think. If the financing structure had turned out differently....

Also appearing in those initial sketches was a Cluster Lizard. But not the one we saw in I Worship His Shadow. This original creature was much closer to a cross between an alligator and a pit bull, a nasty reptilian creature. The juxtaposition of the Cluster Lizard sketch with Zev kicking a robot head suggests that Zev’s origins had been sketched out as early as 1993 or 1994.

Not sketched, but established by that time, was the idea of the LEXX, a living dreadnought shaped like a dragonfly, although it wouldn’t actually acquire that name until much later. The ship had other working names, among them, the Corona, according to Lex Gigeroff.

March, 1994, is also the approximate time when Paul Donovan called in Brian Downey and Les Krizsan and a skeleton crew went down to Pier 19 to shoot The Dark Zone demo.

I remember that it was snowing out when we did it,” Brian Downey said. “It was a really small crew.”

We went to the Halifax Shipyard,” Krizsan remembers,“rented for a day, rented a camera for a day and a few rolls of film, and basically everyone worked for nothing. He said, ‘Look, if it takes off, everyone gets a job out of it.’ And that’s what happened. We had a day in this empty shipyard, and it was just what Paul wanted. Paul went around to Germany and Los Angeles, he had his sales pitch down to a science. About a year later, we’re going to do a LEXX miniseries.”

Now, that’s when the filming is done, the CGI comes later. According to Michael Heller, that was done by Nick Gray, an instructor at Sheridan College and one of his students, using Softimage software, arranged by his Hypercomputer company.

The next development is completely off the wall. Heller and Trappenberg had decided it might be fun to develop a computer game. The thought Paul Donovan’s idea was cool, a deal was concluded on a handshake...

In April, I was called back to do story boards for a Dark Zone video game by Michael Heller and Thomas Trappenberg. They actually came pretty close to getting it off the ground,” David Cullen said. “But it didn’t actually happen.”

What’s going on here? It’s not quite as bizarre as it seems. Remember that Paul Donovan was investigating Computer Generated Imagery. What better place to display Computer Generated Imagery than on a computer screen?

The Dark Zone demo was completed, the video game didn’t fly. “I didn’t see the completed demo until he showed it to me, when he was premiering Paint Cans in Toronto. That was September, 1994. When I got a copy of the tape in December of that year, I could use it right away to secure the German financing,” Wolfram Tichy said.

David Cullen got called in every once in a while to do more production illustrations. Back then, Cullen lived right around the corner from Donovan, so it was just a matter of popping over to his house to talk and draw. This casual, almost informal, approach would become a hallmark of the series early production.

Donovan, meanwhile, was shopping his Dark Zone demo, carrying it around to meetings in his briefcase, pitching to investors, taking it to industry conventions where deals were made, and shows go bought and sold.

Towards the later months of 1994, once Paint Cans was done, Lex Gigeroff joined the project as a writer. Shortly afterwards, Jeff Hirschfield came on board to complete the trio of writers. Hirschfield had completed a LEXX film script in October of 1994. Around January of 1995, Alex Busby was brought in as head artist, and Cullen worked under him. Dave Albiston and Emmanuel Jannasch hovered around the edges of the project, bouncing ideas off Paul Donovan occasionally.

I ran into David Cullen, who had done some small strips for the Dark Zone demo,” Alex Busby says of his own introduction to the project. “I thought it had a fantastic tone, it was a great beginning. Paul was in process of doing the Dark Zone demo, around March/April, 1994. He wanted to have a portfolio of visual drawings that he could sell to investors in Germany and England and so on. Flying bugs, a spaceship, a robot. It was all very general. He wanted to be totally different from any science fiction show. He liked bugs, it was whimsical attraction basically, bugs were cool. It was really carte blanche to do whatever. He settled on a dragonfly early.”

Through 1995, the group hung out together. Alex Busby and Dave Cullen lived across the street from each other, and frequently worked out of Busby’s house. Or they’d go and work at the home of Paul Donovan, who lived close by. The writers were a little more flexible, they didn’t need pencils or drafting table or good lights. Sometimes, according to Gigeroff, the he and Hirschfield and Donovan would head over to a bar restaurant called The Granite, to drink a substance called ‘Old Peculiar’ while making notes. Or they’d go down to the beach to kick ideas around.

One trip to the beach, Paul Donovan announces that he’s come up with a great new name for the spaceship. They’d been kicking around names like Corona for the ship, named after the flare of light around the sun.

What’s the Latin word for law?” he asks, looking at the waves coming in and smiling his off center grin, and drinking his beer.

Oh oh,” whispered Lex. He knew what the Latin word for law was.

This may have made sense to Paul, but personally, I’m not seeing the connection between judicial process and a planet destroying bug ship. Or maybe there is. After all, the evil empire was called the Divine Order, it was all about order and law. So it makes sense for such an empire to call its greatest weapon ‘law.’ On the other hand, a lot of people have noted the resemblance of the LEXX to male genitalia. Perhaps Donovan was really seeing the LEXX as a giant judge’s gavel. Who knows? As it turns out: ‘Lexx. ‘ They added a letter just to be different. I’m not sure why, try pronouncing the second ‘x’ and tell me how. The show is still being called The Dark Zone at this point.

Ideas were floating free. Zev’s bondage gear shows up around the summer of 1995, based on old pulp magazine covers. Story ideas are bouncing off, and some of them would cause ripples through the whole concept.

It wasn’t until later on,” Lex Gigeroff said, “that Paul had the idea for making Kai dead. Originally he was going to be more like Thodin.”

That in itself seems intriguing. Was the original concept that Kai would be a beefy preening egotist, a hero wandering around the galaxy, pompously writing his own autobiography as he went, with Stanley his cowardly and sensible sidekick and Zev caught between them. That would have been a very different series.

Hirschfield’s early version of the Love Grows script gives us still a different version of Kai, alive, or more alive than he turned out to be in the final version, but gifted with superhuman powers, an inscrutable agenda, and a conflicted ascetic sensibility. Something more along the lines of Kane from the TV series Kung Fu.

Then, somewhere along the way, Donovan has this idea, “Let’s make Kai dead.”

Well, how does he die?” Gigeroff asks. “His Shadow kills him. All right, how does he come back? How about if His Divine Shadow reanimates him?”

It makes for nice symmetry.

Production sketches from David Cullen and Alex Busby also rippled through, the script writing process according to Lex Gigeroff. The writers would suggest something, the artists would do drawings, this would inspire new ideas, which lead to new drawings, and more new story ideas or plot points.

According to Mark Laing, Paul Donovan had this idea that the back story of the series would lie in the Insect Wars. Laing wasn’t sure what that consisted of and suspects that Paul Donovan might simply have liked the sound of it. But, the Lexx was a giant dragonfly ship, and insect motifs were popular in some Japanese anime and manga, particularly Nausicca and Outlander.

I didn’t really see Nausicca or Outlander until after,” Alex Busby said. “Paul just liked bugs. We had a lot of bugs, moths, bees, beetles and with CGI, we thought that insects texture would match better. So it seemed like a good fit.”

The artists incorporated insect motifs into their production drawings. The writers picked up these ideas and spun them, incorporating them further and further into the story ideas.

The dragonfly, mine was insect-like,” Busby commented. “That was pretty much what Paul wanted, I was doing a number of exoskeleton ships too, that was the theme. Ingolf took my drawing and started to add on his things to it. More and more texture and detail. What happened was that Bill and the German designers sort of took over. They started doing large set pieces, with techno appendages much like a prosthetic. That was for the Moth.”

The organic/insect motif was well established. But Donovan had always been interested in a dirty, brutal functional look. This seemed to cross over into the prosthetic appendages.

We had two mission statements,” Cullen told me. “One was that we were to use as much CGI as possible. That was the technical mission statement. The creative mission statement was that they wanted something that didn’t look like Star Trek. They wanted to get away completely from the benevolent mediocrity of Star Trek.”

One thing that was constantly in mind was Star Trek. In fact, the creative mission statement was to do something that didn’t look anything like Star Trek. This was a wholesale rebellion against the whole Roddenberry vision and concept, that human beings were perfectible, the future was benign. They’d watched the next generation and they despised it, the whole sipping Earl Grey tea, corporate boardrooms in space, nobody ever gets dirty vibe. Nobody ever gets laid without it being very meaningful. Everybody has a PhD in being bland and its whole endless sanctimonious manifest destiny.

The Life of Brian was a big touchstone for us,” Lex Gigeroff noted. “We wanted to be fucked up and arbitrary, just like life. Monty Python was an influence, things like that.”

Their show was going to be gritty and nasty, vile and violent, anarchic and rough, driven by base motives and petty desires.

And then Paul Donovan would say “Hey, it’s really a nice day. Let’s all go to the beach for a swim.”

Which didn’t necessarily make Stephen Turnbull happy. The line producer is the business guy on the creative team, trying to do up budgets, figuring out how to stretch the dollars to include the creative things that the writers and art people wanted to do. More frequently, as time went on, Stephen would show up in Alex or Paul’s kitchen, with his infant son in one of those baby harnesses, going “Uh guys, could we get a move on?”

But by and large, these were the salad days for LEXX. Just Paul Donovan and a handful of pals he enjoyed hanging out with spinning ideas, bouncing off each other, and plotting away to revolutionize science fiction and upset all the apple carts.

There’s something charming about the idea of the series being generated hanging out in each others living rooms, or over a six pack at the beach with the Atlantic waves rolling in and seagulls crying overhead.

But of course, it couldn’t last. Either the money was going to show up and the series would go ahead, or it wasn’t and it was over.

As simple as that.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Show Me the Money

You never think anything is going to go anywhere. This is a business built on failure and opportunities that never come through. So when you get a shot at something.. Wow! I said, ‘Oh, this is a great gig.’ I expected it to do absolutely nothing, just because so much stuff just dead ends. So much stuff goes nowhere. So, you think, why should this be any different. That it went anywhere at all was quite amazing, it always is,” Jeff Hirschfield confesses.

The simple truth is that ninety-nine per cent of films and television shows die in their cribs. Only a tiny percentage ever get past the idea stage. A tinier percentage come anywhere close to production, to the point where actors are being chosen, production designers commissioned, demo reels or sales packages produced. A negligible handful make it as pilots. And once in a blue moon, on a scale of likelihood that makes investing in lottery tickets a sound business decision, something actually happens.

Hollywood is a graveyard where ideas are sent to die.

So, as Jeff says, the fact that anything ever happens is flatly amazing.

We have this idea that film or television decisions are very simple. The studio head likes a script, he gives it the green light, and there it goes. Change the players a bit. Steven Spielberg likes a script... The head of NBC or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation likes a script.... And it all somehow just happens, someone writes cheques, all sorts of people get hired and work like busy little beavers and the movie gets made.

The idea is that somewhere, there’s a guy in an office in a tower who looks down on the world and occasionally says ‘yes’ and makes it happen, and that making films is all about finding that guy and getting him to say his word. That was probably true once upon a time, and in some situations it’s still true. No one is going to say no to Steven Spielberg. But even at the highest levels its simply not as true as it used to be.

For independent producers, which can be anything from two guys mortgaging their house, to a relatively small regional player like Salter Street, to fairly heavyweight players in Hollywood, financing a film or television show is almost like building a house of cards. It’s all about risk management. Basically, any movie or TV series is going to run in the millions to the tens of millions of dollars. Most producers don’t have that kind of money, so they have to go to the people that do. The people or parties looking to invest in a film don’t want to lose that money, so they look for ways to minimize the risk.

It’s a laborious process. These elaborate deals get structured. The concept is sold with whatever can be put together, a script, a demo reel, a sales package, production sketches.

Names are attached. Sometimes these are big names, people believed to have box office draw, guarantees that the film will do some kind of business. There aren’t many of those. More often, they’re solid names, people with track records of success or production, therefore, you’ll be looking at the guy who worked on Cheers, or a director with a track record of modest but successful films. Essentially, there’s a sort of superstition that a person who’s been associated with something that actually worked gives a project credibility. The idea is that at least this person knows what they’re doing.

Or they want a proven product with a track record, or at the very least, some name recognition. People have heard of the Addams Family or the Beverly Hillbillies, why not make movies about them. This applies even to television series. Andromeda was partially sold on Kevin Sorbo’s (Hercules) and Gene Roddenberry’s (Star Trek) names. Stargate SG1 was partially sold on the strength of the movie, and on Richard Dean Anderson (McGuyver).

Even so, no one wants to bear the sole risk, you could lose your shirt and lose your reputation. It’s better to have partial investments in a number of projects, that way, if some lose money, and some make money, you can still come out ahead. On the other hand, if all your eggs are in one basket, your risk goes way up, you stand or fall on that single project, and film or television is a risky business at the best of times. Often, because films or television are so expensive, a single proponent can’t raise all the money in any event. Partners become a necessity.

Outside of the United States, film financing becomes especially tricky, because the pools of money available to finance a project are much smaller. Thus, various Governments around the world sponsor co-production treaties, allowing film or television producers from their respective countries to pool their resources.

Generally, financial participation is a contingent deal. It makes no sense to finance 25% of a movie if the other 75% doesn’t appear. The film might still go ahead but with a diminished budget, and a diminished chance of success, which means an increased chance of losing your investment entirely. No one signed up to lose their investment. So often the money is conditional. If a bankable star leaves, if the combination of talents or deals changes, if deadlines elapse, the moneys walk. Money might be pledged on condition that other parties or other partners put in money first. And those partners or parties may not pledge unless the first parties put up their money.

The whole thing becomes this elaborate house of cards, painstakingly built from the ground up. A network of promises and options, pledges, deals, interlocking arrangements. Remove one element, the whole structure changes shape. Remove a key element, the whole thing collapses, or reforms itself into something else, a different deal, even a different project.


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