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

Toronto Diary Day Six

08.26.16
by Ty Franck

The sixth day, which unlike the Biblical one, does not precede a day of rest.

But it did have an awesome VFX review. This means we spent an hour or so sitting with the VFX folks, led by our second year VFX supervisor Bob Munroe. This is the same Bob Munroe who made it look like Robert Redford was in the middle of the ocean in All is Lost when instead he was sitting on a few feet of prop sail boat in the middle of a middling sized swimming pool. So let me show you the magic of our VFX.

Click the following images to dramatically embiggen.

This, is the parking lot behind our studio:

Behold, the dirt parking lot!

Behold, the dirt parking lot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We shot someone standing in that parking lot.  Bob’s department turned that shot into this:

That is Bobbie Drbobbieaper in her armor in the middle of a Martian valley.

Now, keep in mind, this is a raw image straight from the vendor. No color grading has been applied. This is the WORST that image will ever look, and I’m sorry, but even so that is Bobbie Draper standing on fucking MARS.

So, yeah, we also saw an epic space battle, possibly around someplace named after an Egyptian god that is possible of wisdom. Not going to show any shots of that. Sorry. Gonna have to tune in January to have your shit fully wrecked by that stuff.

Oh, yeah, and we made a few more tweaks to the last couple episodes of the season script wise, hung out on set for a minute with Steven Strait and Dominique Tipper and Wes Chatham and another dude we might not  be allowed to talk about but his character is named after one of Jupiter’s moons.

We also walked the wrecked corridors of Ganymede, peeked into a secret lab where all sorts of malfeasance was being perpetrated, and strode the creaky decks of the Crying Sleepwalker.

Back in the boring mundane world we did a few marketing and merchandising meetings, and talked about all the awesome things we will be doing and announcing at New York Comic Con so if you’re an east coaster, you’ll definitely want to make it out to that. Daniel and I will liberally hand out high fives.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try and get you guys a short interview with Bob Munroe to talk VFX and maybe a peek at his department. We’ll see what we can wrangle up.

But, seriously, Bobbie Draper on fucking Mars.

*Drops mic*

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Toronto Diary Day Five

08.25.16
by Daniel Abraham

Today: meetings with the props folks, and the people that design all the playbacks on the screens inside the show. A couple conversations about some marketing stuff that I don’t get to talk about, and the final polish on the last script of season two before it flies off to the network…

…and then dinner where among other things, we talked about the next rounds of tweaks on the script.

Me, Ty, Naren Shankar, Wes Chatham, and the remains of a very pleasant dinner.

Me, Ty, Naren Shankar, Wes Chatham, and the remains of a very pleasant dinner.

One of the things that’s been most interesting for me in this whole process — and there is a great deal of this that’s been fascinating — is coming to understand how much a script never stops being rewritten. Naren said that once the last script is off to the network, he feels like the real writing season is finally done, *and* there will be notes from the network that we’ll be working on soon, and changes that we make once the actors all see it and we start getting feedback from them, and then adjustments on the day of filming.  But then we’ll have all the footage shot… and it still won’t be over.

Lines will be lost in the editing room or added in ADR.  The editors will take all the work we’ve done and reform it into the best filmed version of it that we can make.  All of the “well it sounded good in my head” moments will get reconsidered, reworked, recut, and fit together.

And then the VFX and color correction will come in and it’ll be like we’re seeing it again fresh for the first time.  And then the sound mix will come through and things that I didn’t know weren’t already tight will tighten up.

But tonight, the heavy lifting of the writing season is over.

Soon, the work begins…

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Toronto Diary Day Four

08.24.16
by Ty Franck

And the answer to, “What the hell is a concept meeting?”

So, here we are on our fourth day in Toronto. After an exhausting night of sitting in Executive Producer Naren Shankar’s hotel room and rewriting scripts while drinking red wine, we began the next day at a very civilized 9am. It’s a big day. We finally met our episode 13 director, Thor Freudenthal. Now the real work began. Set tours and concept meetings and tone meetings and production meetings.

Set tours are pretty self explanatory. The art director, the production manager, the 1st AD, and our new director took a walk around the studio lot to look at all the sets we’d be using for this episode. As the episode writers, Daniel and I tagged along to answer story questions where applicable. This is more important than you think, because often this is the director’s first chance to begin imagining what shots he might use to capture the scenes. Everyone has seen drawings, but it’s not until you see the actual space that some of the best camera angles and shooting strategies come to mind.

Next up is the concept meeting. This is what a concept meeting looks like:

IMG_2083That gang of folks over there are some of the people whose job it is to take whatever crazy bullshit Daniel and I put into our script, and turn it into actual pictures. I say some, because apparently the shot we took cut off our amazing costume designers, and everyone’s favorite VFX coordinator, Cailin Munroe, is blocked by the dude next to her. The VFX supervisor, Bob Munroe, is also not visible here, but he’s no one’s favorite, so that’s ok. (Hi Bob!)

 

At this extremely long meeting, the 1st AD, Joel Hay, walks the entire group through the nearly fifty page script stopping at every beat to discuss the technical requirements. Script says, “In zero G, the wrench floats up from the floor.” Joel pauses and looks around the room. Jim in props says, “Is that any old wrench? Is it high tech? Does it need lights or gack?” (Gack is the generic term for extra stuff added to shit to make it look cooler.) Tim in Special Effects says, “Are we flying the wrench? Can I do a cable fly or will it need to rotate on it’s way up?” Bob in Visual Effects says, “We can do this. It’s a simple gag. As long as no one is touching the wrench or walking around it, we can just CGI that in pretty cheap if it needs to do more than just float up.”

And on and on and on. For every beat. On every page. And we discuss squibs and blood packs and costumes and sets and camera rigs and lighting and every damn thing the show needs to make a 42 minute movie. Told you. It’s a long meeting.

At several points, the director or the show runner ask us, the writers, questions about the intent of scenes or to clarify something that isn’t as precise as it needed to be. And you better come correct. This room is full of about 300 years of combined movie making experience. You start talking out your ass, you’re gonna get called on it. For newbie writers, it can get a little intimidating. Thankfully, now on our second season of this, Daniel and I acquit ourselves well.

Then, after the long ordeal of the set tour and then the even longer concept meeting, all we need to do is hang out in our office plowing through a final script polish with the show runner. Easy peasy.

The writer, hard at work

What it looks like when writers are hard at work.

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Toronto Diary Day Three

08.23.16
by Daniel Abraham

Woke at 7am local time (5 am back at home) from a complex dream involving a dysfunctional writer’s workshop run by an abusive psychic with a penchant for musical theater. Went to work.

Without love, it ain't much

Without love, it ain’t much

Saw Rob Lieberman directing Sean Doyle (Errenwright) and Shoreh Agdashloo (Chrisjen Avasarala) and the crew I remember and love.  Then a preliminary meeting preparing for our director’s arrival tomorrow and a sound meeting to discuss how to approach the earlier episodes.  Then several hours of conversation about continuity and character arcs, then pretty great chicken tikka masala, and then hours of work tweaking the script we wrote, incorporating changes from Mark Fergus and Naren Shankar, and checking versions and documentation to make sure the version we’re making has all the newest scenes and none of the old ones WHICH IS STILL GOING ON RIGHT NOW.

16 hours so far.  Not done.  First full day of actual work.  We call it the glamorous life.

(Published with 7 minutes left in Day 3, & steaming on into tomorrow…)

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Toronto Diary Day Two

08.21.16
by Ty Franck

Roll out of bed 11ish, wander to French joint to get brunch (Brunch is where drinking champagne at noon doesn’t feel like you have a problem) then wander back to hotel.

Getting to transition back into the production schedule gently is not a bad thing. Looking over some script pages to give notes. It makes us feel like we’re doing work without actually feeling like we’re working.

I can tell it’s hitting the end of the production cycle though, because I ran into Naren Shankar, our show runner, in the hotel lobby and he had that thousand yard stare he gets when we work him too hard.

Tomorrow at 8am the real fun starts. Lots of ep 213 production meetings, and a visit to our VFX department to look at all the new goodies Bob Munroe and his people have put together.

Our director shows up Tuesday to start his prep. Then the heavy lifting begins.

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Toronto Diary: Day One

08.21.16
by Daniel Abraham

Despite the best efforts of the Gods of Travel and through the kind graces of Amy Cuthbertson, we have arrived in Toronto for filming.  Ty suggests that we document our time here on this, the blog we sometimes seem to forget we have.  It is our intention to share our field notes here like the explorers of old, only with indoor plumbing and someone to drive us to and from work and a little less overt colonialism.

Tomorrow, I may brave the half-block to the local bodega, and maybe the pancake joint.

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More Bobbie Stuff

07.13.16
by Ty Franck

Entertainment Weekly released an interview with Naren Shankar on the casting of Bobbie Draper, and along with it a few early photos of the Martian Marine in her natural habitat. Go check it out.

 

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Meet Bobbie Draper

04.14.16
by Ty Franck

So, yeah, casting.

We’ve talked about how this works before.  Casting is one of the hardest, most important things we do.  Getting the right actors into the right roles is critical and complicated and hard.

When casting you will watch dozens or sometimes hundreds of actors read for a single part. And all of them (OK, not all, but really the vast majority) will have something to recommend them: the right look, the right ethnicity, the right height, the best acting chops, the best availability, the most affordable rate, the best chemistry with the other actors, and on and on.

You have to be flexible with it.  Ready to let go of your preconceived image of the character and see what happens with the skills and toolboxes and talents that come up.  If you’re lucky, you find great new versions of the characters to bring to life.  But no actor, however awesome, matches exactly what you had in your head walking in.  That’s just too much to expect.

So let’s talk about casting our favorite Martian Marine, Gunnery Sergeant Roberta W Draper, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, Force Recon.

Bobbie Draper has athleticism and a sense of peak fitness and physical training. She’s a Spec Ops warrior at the top of her game. Confident.

Bobbie’s also Polynesian. (She’s described as Samoan in the books, but there are many people’s from the islands in that part of the world that would have had the right look.)

She’s tall. Gunny Draper should never have to look up at anyone. She dominates any room.

That’s a hell of a lot to ask for.  And then we asked for more.

We put her through hell in our second book.  Whoever takes the role needed to be able to cover a lot of ground emotionally.  Strength, sorrow, vulnerability, fierceness. You have to be a seriously talented actor to do all that in addition to everything else we’re already looking for.

So what did we compromise on?

Turns out, nothing.

Meet Frankie Adams.

Continue reading ›

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The Spider’s War Release Date

03.08.16
by Daniel Abraham

The Dagger and the Coin series is complete.

The Dagger and the Coin

US: Amazon, B&N, Indiebound

UK: Amazon UK, Waterstones, Book Depository

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A few closing thoughts on Season 1 of The Expanse

02.03.16
by Daniel Abraham

Well, the first season finale aired last night, and now we have that illusion of a lull while the output of our labor coasts for a while and we knock our brains out doing the next season and the next novel and the next novella.

But still, it seemed like a good time for a few closing thoughts.

It’s an honor and a pleasure to work on the show.  The team on this was astounding, and the education was intense.  Alcon’s support and confidence through all this was invaluable.  Visual media and the storytelling that goes on there is fascinating and complex.  The management of a human mechanism with this many moving parts and one single purpose was like watching a brain from the inside.  The actors who’ve brought our characters (and a few extra besides) onto the screen were amazing and wonderful.  Even if this were the end of the project, I’d have nothing to complain about.

But it’s not the end of the project.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the fans and viewers who came to play, watched the show and talked about it with their friends and on social media.  That conversation is part of our zeitgeist, and we wouldn’t have managed what we’ve done so far without you.

And in that spirit, the critics and reviewers, too.  Even the ones who didn’t like it.  Having The Expanse also be part of conversations about translations between media, diversity, futurism, basic science, shifting paradigms of television distribution, and the history of filmed SF may be the most gratifying thing about this.

In the gap between the first season and the second, I hope the show finds even more of its audience.  For one thing, I think it rewatches/binges really well. I know I’m watching the whole damned thing this weekend.

And still, that said…

In the rollout of the show, I’ve been very active on social media.  Now that we’ve put on our play and taken our bows, I’m going to have to step back from the world a little and focus on some stuff that needs focusing on.  Someone will still have eyes on the accounts, and if something’s critical it’ll filter back to me.  Any big news, I’ll hop on and let y’all in on it.

Play safe.

 

[ED: A previous version credited Alcon with putting the team together, but Jason Brown of the Sean Daniel Company rightly pointed out that the core team — Mark, Hawk, and the books themselves — were facilitated by others even before Alcon signed on to back us all.  So a special thanks and acknowledgment to Jason Brown, the incomparable Sean Daniel, and Ben Cook]

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