Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Toronto Diary Day Twenty-three

by Daniel Abraham

It’s been a little rowdy, folks, so I feel I owe y’all something a little more substantive than pictures, however amusing they may be.

Yesterday was the wrap party.  That doesn’t mean we’re actually wrapped.  The tradition is to put the party on the last weekend of the shoot rather than waiting for the whole thing to really be well and truly over so that as the actors finish their last scenes of the season, they can head off to their next gigs or their families or a little well-earned vacation.  And with our cast especially, there are a lot of places to which we’re scattering — the UK, New Zealand, New York, Los Angeles. This was the last moment when we were all — cast and crew — together as a family. We had this year’s party at a gallery space with food and drink and a running slide show from the year’s work.  We watched a blooper reel and a fun iPhone-shot music video by Joel the Assistant Director and scenes from the first episodes of season two.  We had speeches from the show runners and the president of Alcon’s television division.

And we shut the joint down.  At 2am, the turned the lights on and told us we had to go home. At that point, all the main cast was still there. That may not sound like a big deal, but it kind of is.

It is not uncommon, at the end of a shoot, for people to be kind of ready to take a break from each other. That isn’t true with The Expanse this year. Over the last couple years working together, things have become if anything more comfortable.

We had some guests who came as friends of the show too, including Ted Chiang who’s in town for the Toronto International Film Festival and the premiere of Arrival.

After that, we went to the Director of Photography’s condo for a smaller after-party, and I crawled home about 4am.

Today was the Canadian Film Centre fund raising barbecue — Bob Munroe, our head of VFX is on the board — and the world premiere of The Promise directed by Terry George (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and featuring our very own Shohreh Agdashloo.

So that was the last weekend.  We began this in April. We end on Wednesday.

Which isn’t true either.  We finish shooting the raw footage which goes to the editors and directors, the studio and the network, which we fit together with VFX and sound and music and color correction.  If the writing room is step one, this is the end of step two.  Step three — the last one before it comes to y’all — is already underway, but can now take the focus of our time and effort.

And the conversations about how to promote the show is starting to gear up too, at least for those of us who now have a few spare cycles that the shoot isn’t taking up.  NYCC is going to be a thing for us.  Ty and I will be there, and there will be an Expanse panel, though the details of that are still getting worked out.  Our friends at Syfy have had a crew on set interviewing the cast and preparing to roll out their own promotions.  There are conversations going on about some other ways in which The Expanse may well be expanding even more in the next few months.  And I’ll put the details about that out here as I can.  Short form: we’re going to want y’all’s help singing this from the mountaintops when season two drops, and there are going to be some surprising and wonderful voices in the chorus with you.

In the meantime, we’re working through the final galley proofs of Babylon’s Ashes (actually really-and-for-true coming out December 6th) and a couple other James SA Corey related prose things, planning out book 7…

…and Season Three.


Toronto Diary Day Twenty-Two ish

by Ty Franck

So there was no blog post yesterday because yesterday was the wrap party and people got up to some shenanigans.



Toronto Diary Day Twenty One

by Daniel Abraham

It’s not Amos’s fault he’s the biggest and the strongest. He doesn’t even exercise.

It's not Amos's fault he's the biggest and the strongest.  He doesn't even exercise.


Toronto Diary Day Twenty

by Ty Franck

Two heads are better than one.

So today James S.A. Corey needed to do two things. He needed to be on set with the production as we shot some very complex scenes for the last episode of season 2. He also needed to spend the day with our marketing people doing EPK, which means Electronic Press Kit.

James is a clever fellow, and he achieved this by sending one half of himself to set, and the other to the EPK world. So, I spent my day on set with the director, and Daniel spent his day being interviewed and fawned over.

I feel like I got the better end of this deal.

But, there is some nifty stuff the marketing people put together to tell you about the show, and Daniel will feature heavily in that. Also, there is a really cool final episode of season 2, and some of that cool stuff is because of me. So I guess we both did our bit for the show.

We’ve talked a lot about the technical stuff on the show, let’s talk about the camera side a bit.

So you watch a movie or TV show and they credit a director, and then they also credit a Director of Photography. What’s the difference?

The simple version is this: the director picks the shots, the director of photography makes them happen. And it’s of course not as simple as that in practice. The director also works closely with the actors and writers, and is responsible for seeing that the story in the script winds up on screen. But the director of photography is the painter in light.

The DP is the boss of both the lighting department and the camera crews. They light the sets. They pick the camera equipment. They work with the camera operators to deliver the shots that the director is asking for. And they’re the quality assurance piece of the puzzle. The DP watches every shot to make sure it’s well lit, it’s in focus, there isn’t a shadow from the boom mic or a bad piece of set or a grip’s foot in the frame.

I often sit in the DP’s tent, watching the same monitors he watches, and I’m continually astonished at the details he picks up that I totally miss. He’s watching two monitors at the same time, on the radio with two camera operators and two focus pullers, and also talking to the Gaffer (lead lighting electrician) who’s standing next to him. It’s like watching a great symphony conductor work.

Our director of photography is a guy named Jeremy Benning, and he is a superstar. He’s been the look of the show since the first day of the first season, and he’s a huge part of the reason the show is so beautiful to look at. We were lucky to get him.

In other news, our show runner Naren Shankar is promising to give us some still images to start sharing on the blog. So keep an eye out for some cool new stuff to show up here over the next week or so.


Toronto Diary Day Nineteen

by Daniel Abraham

Well that was a very long day indeed.  Started on one stage, then moved to a different one over lunch, which always causes a certain amount of disorganization and flutter which falls — as everything seems to — on the shoulders of out assistant directors. One of the interesting things I’ve discovered this year is how much the cast and crew become the institutional memory of a show. The directors are critical for putting the episodes together and managing the creative vision of the show, but the assistant directors, the director of photography, the folks in construction and wardrobe and makeup and sound — and the actors above all — carry a weight of habit and understanding that I have to believe leaves directors in weird position of being both the boss and the new kind on the block.

Watching our first AD herd all us kittens and deliver the support and organization that the director needs to function is kind of amazing.  Today alone, we moved through two sets, wire/teeter/crane work for three people and one large prop, maybe half a dozen scripted scenes (which means something like thirty setups), rehearsal for a sequence we’re filming later, five or six promotional videos and mini-interviews, and lunch.  And dinner.  Keeping something this huge and this fast on track happens because the assistant directors are ruthless, supportive, professional, and deeply educated about what the show is and what needs to happen to keep the process rolling. Everything from safety to time management to continuity rests to one degree or another on their shoulders.  What they remind me of most from my ancient days working in community theater in high school is the stage manager. I can’t imagine what we’d do without them.

That’s not true.  I can.  But I was born with an unhealthy fondness for travesty.

Tomorrow morning, we’re headed in for another round, and it promises to be just as rowdy as today, with a couple extra things on the side that will pull one or both of us away for a few hours. It should be amazing.

Also and unrelated, I heard a bunch of amazingly juicy gossip about another production that I would be sued into oblivion if I shared.  So that was fun.

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Toronto Diary Day Eighteen

by Ty Franck

Wow, lots to talk about today.

So, first day of shooting after the long weekend, and we didn’t give ourselves an easy schedule for the day. Our episode 13 director had to deal with a ton of action, squibs, blood packs, stunt work, and furniture tossing today. And, because Daniel and I wrote the episode, all of it was peppered with dialog and back and forths between the characters.

We did not create an easy day for either the director or the actors.

But everyone came through, shiny and chrome. Lots of amazing work with Frankie Adams, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Nick Tarabay today. We also had some great guest star work, and some stellar dodging and exploding done by our crack stunt team. I feel like I can safely say the final episode of season 2 of The Expanse will thoroughly wreck everyone’s shit, and leave you panting for season 3.

Sadly, this is one of those situations where going into the details of what we worked on would be spoilers. But I will talk about the three kinds of bullet hits we do. That’s fun, right?

First, we have squibs. This is the old standard. A small explosive charge placed on a wall or actor that blows up when a radio signal hits it, and is generally used to simulate a bullet strike. On an actor, the squib is often placed behind a blood pack, so that when it goes off you get that icky red spray. On a wall, it will blow a hole and throw debris. Plus side, a squib is a little explosion, so it creates a very realistic impact site. Minus side, it’s a little explosion and is kind of dangerous. So we don’t place squibs where they might throw debris at an actor’s face.

Next, we have what the special effects people call Zirc rounds. These are paintball sized plastic balls filled with zirconium, that explode with a bright flash of sparks when they’re fired into a solid surface. They’re generally fired from a modified paintball gun. These are useful when you need to show bullet impacts, but don’t want to blow holes in your set. They look cool, make a nice flash of light, and they make a nifty bang. Downside is that they are a hard plastic paintball filled with sparky stuff, so you don’t want them fired toward human eyeballs or squishy bits.

Lastly, we have the much maligned visual effect hit. This is where the VFX department creates a CGI ‘squib’ and the accompanying blood spatter or debris. Used in moderation, in situations where the actor would be endangered by practical squibs, these work fine. Typically, you dress in the wound or wall damage practically, then the VFX department ‘paints over’ this damage until the shot happens, then they reveal it. So the visual effect only hides actual practical damage for a moment. It cuts down on CGI, and the impact sites look very realistic because they actually ARE real. VFX can also add in a squib like flash of light and puff of smoke. CGI isn’t always the best choice, but when you’re working in proximity to actors, it’s often the safest one.

So that’s squibs.

Anyway, after the long shooting day, Daniel and I went out to dinner with a few Expanse people, and generally cool guy and friend of the show Adam Savage. I got to ask Adam my number one Mythbusters question, to which he gave a lengthy and fascinating answer. We also talked about the travails of making a long running TV show, and what the coolest robots are.

I’ve had a few chances to chat with Adam in the past, mostly at comic cons. But this was my first chance to just chill with him over and meal and chat. He’s a genuinely nice guy with a lot of great stories. It’s incredibly flattering that he’s such a fan of the show. Makes me feel like we’re doing something right.

I finished off the evening by drinking wine with Naren Shankar and plotting the third season of the show, and laying out the pilot he wants to collaborate with us on.

And then it was now, and I don’t know what happens next.


Toronto Diary Day Seventeen

by Daniel Abraham

Labor day.  A day of rest and contemplation of the fruits that the labor movement has brought to our lands: 5 day weeks, 8 hour workdays, child labor laws, health and safety standards. Speaking as a member of the WGA and a card-carrying union man, I stand with labor today as every day.  Only today, not at the office.

Because I’m in my hotel room, reviewing copy edits.  Because they’re due tomorrow.

I did take a couple hours off to go upstairs and meet with the director and some of the actors who are filming tomorrow so we could do a little rehearsal and be ready to hit the ground — which is to say the set — running in the morning.  I understand that not every show has a cast that chooses to meet on the weekends and prep for the show, but all the rehearsals I’ve attended have been civilized, interesting conversations.  Often with wine or coffee, and always with brilliant company.

The week coming up?  It will be awesome.  And it will kick my ass.


Toronto Diary Day Sixteen

by Ty Franck

There is literally nothing to post about today, since it was a Sunday on a long holiday weekend. Daniel worked on some copy edits. I played board games with some friends. That’s pretty much it.

But I’m curious how many people are reading these things. So let’s do a contest. Tweet “Script me baby” @jamessacorey on twitter and be entered into a drawing to get a signed copy of the scrip to episode 13 of this season. It’s an episode Daniel and I wrote. I’ll see how many cast I can get to sign it too.

Won’t be able to send it until after the episode actually airs, but I promise I’ll hang onto it until then and you’ll definitely get it.

So, let’s see who enters to win it.


Toronto Diary Day Fifteen

by Daniel Abraham

Technically, today began with finishing up the shoot and limping home shortly after midnight, but judging by the common idiom of sleep cycles, we haven’t been into the office today. We did have a quite lovely dinner with Frankie Adams and her gentleman, though.

Fan Expo Canada is going on walking distance from my hotel room right now.  I walked by folks in the clothing of my people — cosplayers, congoers, and folks with geeky t-shirts — on my way to the grocery store earlier on.  There’s going to be an Expanse panel there, if it wasn’t already done today. A bunch of the actors are going (or have gone).  But me? Locked in the tower with copy edits.  If I can get through another 50 pages before bed, I’m going to reward myself with a walk to a bookstore tomorrow.  If I don’t…

It’s a little weird being both an on-set supervising producer for a television show and a science fiction novelist. It’s even weirder being about half of both, with Ty carrying the slack when I falter.  All in all, I’d say he and I both have about a job and a half worth of work right now.  Given that the show runner appears to have about three jobs worth, I feel like we’re doing pretty well. But the part where we sit on laurels and avoid effort hasn’t kicked in yet.

So without much news to add since yesterday, I’ll make do with:

— I heard something unconfirmed and unofficial about the streaming deal on the show which makes me hopeful.
The Verge thinks we’re quite bingeable.
— I’ve seen cover art for Book 7, and it’s great
— A good copy editor is worth their weight in gold
— Naps are good (but you probably already knew that).



Toronto Diary Day Fourteen

by Ty Franck

An on set day.

Spent the day on one set, watching basically one scene over and over again. This is the secret about making a TV show that most people don’t know. Most days? It’s boring as shit.

First, shoot the master. This is the big wide shot that gives the geography of the scene. All the characters in one shot, all the movement, all in one shot.

Then we start shooting the two shots. These are the camera angles with two of the characters in them at the same time. Then we turn the cameras around, and shoot everything from the other side. Then we shoot coverage, which is each character in close up.

And in every single version of this, it’s the exact same location, and the characters are speaking the exact same lines.

I did this for twelve hours today, on a single set, with a single scene.

Plus side: The scene had Bobbie and Avasarala.

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