Dark Matter Set Visit

It’s a cold December morning, the holidays are on the horizon, a storm cloud of twinkling lights, gift giving and and family.  Clambering aboard the tarnished grey subway cars that burrow their way through the city, Sue and I prepared for a day in the far-flung future…

The TTC delivers us, like a yuletide gift, into the exciting realm of the world of Dark Matter.

We are greeted by Renee, the unit publicist, and Hilda, the social media coordinator, as we hover on the edges of the future. There are glimpses, through closing doors of futuristic worlds filled with laughter and hard work.

As we amble through Prodigy Pictures, we recall our previous visit when we toured the Lost Girl sets. Images around the studio commemorate that series, combined with production stills of the Raza crew.

After a brief settling period, dropping off any extraneous baggage, we are delivered into the future and walk the darkened decks of the Raza. Exploring the quiet, unlit sets, the lights from our phones guide us through the lengthy hallways, the massive bridge, we almost convince ourselves that Giger’s xenomorph could be prowling the ship, stalking us. It is alternately an exhilarating and unnerving experience.

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We love every minute of it, walking the decks, sitting on the bridge, and exploring Three’s (Anthony Lemke) room.

As we converse with the production staff during our sojourn, we learn that that they are all, to a person, passionate and hard-working in terms of the project they are all endeavouring to bring to the screen.

When we finish playing on the Raza, sitting in the dining area, the med bay, we brave the decidedly ‘cool’ winds and shuttle down to the other sets in use for the day. Our driver entertains us through the short trip by making jokes and sharing funny stories about working in cold weather.

We duck out of the car, and race for the studio door, finding ourselves in a much warmer environment, and in the midst of a massive studio. It is, in effect, a warehouse that has been converted into futuristic corridors. We catch glimpses of Two (Melissa O’Neil) and Three striding down them, caught up in conversation as things start to go badly for them.

All of the chaos is filmed and kept under control by the episode’s director, Bruce MacDonald. When cut is called, there is a flurry of action between shots, as the crew effect turnarounds, as the production prep, confer and chat.

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While that is going on, we pilfer the craft services table, before we climb aboard the Raza’s shuttle, the Marauder. It’s hard not to give into your imagination and just engage in some play, so we do. It’s just a joy to give into that inner child, that always thought about flying a spaceship and now finding yourself at the controls of one.

With the promise of other cool things, we’re invited to take a look at one of the new sets. Planned to feature in the first couple of episodes of the season, we step onto a glossy lab; the display screens rolling and filled with information, diagrams, and images, and hanging in the very centre of the room,  an incredibly threatening-looking needle.

We examine, we press buttons, we snap pics. The set is live around us, and it feels as if we’re in a whole new world, one filled with a threat that hangs over us like the sword of Damocles.

We’re called from the lab, and make our way to the Raza’s work room, where we set up and prepare for the arrival of the cast members who can steal a minute or two from their schedules to chat with us. As we wait, we wander the room, the set, and stumble across little pieces of adapted promo work, travel stickers, and alien languages everywhere.

Sue and I slip from the work room, when we learn shooting is continuing and slip into one of the prop workshops, and are afforded an opportunity to play with some space guns. They’re like real guns, but for space. We discover a couple of variations on the weapons, though they look exactly the same. Some are hero weapons; heavy, realistic, and made from converted pellet guns, and then there are the lighter ones, used when the cast has to run around with them – they are made from rubber molds and are considerably lighter.

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This was another situation where we can’t help ourselves. We simply wanted to play.

At this point we are called back to the Raza, and were afforded a very overdue chat with Alex Mallari Jr. who plays Four/Ryo. I say overdue, as we’d been trying to find time where we would be able to sit down together.

We were delighted to find that he as fun off camera as he is dangerous on it.

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR THAT INTERVIEW – COMING SOON!

From there, we catch up with Anthony Lemke, who, as always, is a joy to chat and play with.

Following that we settle into watch Bruce direct Alex through one of the amazing, white-walled corridors that Two and Three had some trouble in earlier.

There is a bevy of activity as soon as the camera cuts that is a dichotomy of the quiet, threat-filled fictional world that the lens caught moments ago. For a lot of people this is the hurry up and wait point of film-making. It’s at this point that cameras are put into position, blocking is figured out, makeup is called in, and lighting is set up. All of this takes time, and if you aren’t involved in any of those things directly, you sit and you wait.

Just as we debate hitting the craft services table again, the klaxon sounds, the camera rolls and Alex paces the corridor. And then again. And then again, And then again. And And again. And again. Again. Again.

These are things that people who don’t know the business; who don’t know how much work is involved, that take up time, but need to be captured because they aid to the reality of the story being captured. There is so much going on off-camera. Even when there is only one person on screen there are hundreds of people behind the scenes bringing this moment to life.

The humour that is prevalent on the set makes things move at a determined and productive pace, and finally the shot is captured as Bruce wants it, and cut is called.

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The remainder of the day is set aside for blocking scenes for the next day, so Sue and I slip back into the shuttle to bring us back to the main studio to play around a bit on the Raza, before settling into the kitchen for a quick bite.

Journeying through the production offices, we have a chance to see more of the technical craft that helps bring the world of Dark Matter to life, The use of a 3D printer in the Art Department helps to create props and ships (and I was sorely tempted to walk out with a copy of the Raza to hang from my ceiling or sit atop my desk).

We are given a crash course on how the machine works, and how it is put to use to meet the needs of the series. This is coupled with a wander around the Art Department where images that will be seen throughout the coming season are posted on the walls created in a variety of styles, and all the images full of promise for an exciting season.

As we wander, we bump into Anthiny Lemke again. We swap personal stories, chat and catch up in general as well as talking about his recent trip with Handicap International.

Continuing our exploration of the multitude of departments that help bring the series to life, we decide to stick our heads in the Costume Department. We’re greeted by the soundtrack for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and we know we’re in good hands.

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Speaking of hands it proves difficult to keep one’s hands to oneself. The costumes are stunning! The level of and attention to detail is exemplary, and you can only imagine what it would be like to have a personal costume department like this to design and create a world you had only imagined.

With lead time from anywhere from two weeks to three days (!) the Costume Department turns out stunning pieces, many of which have become iconic within the realm of the series, and amongst fans. We learn a fun little fact about the world, in that there doesn’t seem to be a lot, if any, buttons used on clothes throughout the series – watch for it!

The familiar spacesuits used by the crew were made in a week! This alone speaks to the brilliance, dedication, and sheer creativity of this department, and they are but a fraction of the work that goes into bringing the show to life.

We wander the decks of the Raza one last time, trap ourselves in a pod, and then find ourselves waking up in the 21st century, the day coming to a close, but with a promise of more soon to come…

That ‘more’ happened three months later, as on a mild March day, Sue and I head back to the future, to wander futuristic hallways, and see some old friends.

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Greeted by Renee and Hilda, we have a catch-up, both professional and personal, in the studio’s kitchen, laughing and chatting over morning beverages.

As if knowing we’re here, Anthony Lemke strolls into the production offices, and shares laughs, hugs and greetings. In a wonderful geeky moment, we all trade stories about the shows (besides Dark Matter) that we are binge watching, and a discussion of which spaceship is the best.

In our early morning wanderings, the offices already a bustle of activity, we meet the head of the studio, Jay Firestone. Talking with him, we share our stories about our love of Lost Girl as well as Dark Matter, and we learn that he has expanded his business to include a publishing house, Joe Books, dealing mainly in comics and graphic novels. He has a licence with Disney, and has worked to release a number of books, including one featuring one of my favourite Disney cartoon characters, Darkwing Duck.

Not only does he work on those titles, compiling and distributing them, he also has his own new series he’s released; Rebel – an intense mature-themed comic, this one is worth looking for if you’re a fan of Firestone’s work or strong female characters as Skylar Moore is a worthy addition to the genre.

With better weather on hand, we slip across the street to a family entertainment centre that the studio has temporarily taken over. We get glimpses of a smoky, red lit set, where it seems our favourite Android (Zoie Palmer) is facing a little bit of trouble.

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We duck into video village, where the director, producers, script supervisor and others watch a bank of monitors. The screens display multiple angles of coverage of the scene as rehearsals and blocking are carried out.

The course of the action is carefully plotted out, and script notes are sent out to the performers to gently tweak scene and performance.

Images spill and splay wildly across the monitors as cameras find their subjects; everyone readies for a take. Spoiler filled images fill the screen as a character is put through their paces, and goes back to one when cut is called.

The action beats are given a quick reprieve as a food delivery is made to video village, and tasty chicken parm sandwiches are devoured.

When the action resumes, terrible events happen on-screen over and over again, lines are delivered differently, and performances are tweaked again. The director finally gets the pickup she wants, and calls an end to the shot.

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A private blocking for the next scene is called, and the summoned cast head to the set, letting us bump into Melissa O’Neil, Zoie Palmer, Roger Cross and Brendan Murray. All of them afford us a quick, cheerful hello and a wave as they troop on to the set and prepare.

While they are hard at work, we slip into one of the craft service trucks enjoying snacks and beverages, and learning what the most requested item on set is – espresso.

Incredibly, the hard working folk in the truck create everything on site, from breakfasts to snacks. Lunch is something different, and is usually a big community get together in the studio itself in their cafeteria. While we dig into a filling meal, we swap stories with our table-mates getting a feel for the manner of dedicated people who see this not only as their job, but in a number of cases, their calling.

After we finish eating our lunch, we wander back to the family centre, where shooting has gotten underway. While we wait for a chance to chat with Melissa, we chat with Effects about pyrotechnics; the way they work as a department, the prep involved in creating on set effects, and the joy of the job.

When cut is called, Melissa comes over to chat with us for a couple of minutes and we catch up about everything that is going on…

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR THAT INTERVIEW – COMING SOON!

We bump into Lemke again, who is spending the day with the winner of a Handicap International auction – a guest who is having an incredible day on set, and preparing our goodbyes, we make sure we grab a quick snap with some of the cast before we get ready to call it a day, and wait impatiently for the return of Dark Matter on June 9.

See what the Raza and her crew get up to this season, starting tonight!!

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