Canadian writer and producer Joe Mallozzi, is most well known for “Stargate SG-1”. His new hit TV series “Dark Matter” premiered last week on SyFy. Read our interview below, and don’t miss episode 2 this Friday, June 19th at 10/9c.
SyFy Channel’s Dark Matter, a new show, is based on your comic book of the same name. What was your inspiration for the comic?
“The inspiration was the fact that I wanted to get my show on the air, to be honest. I’ve always been a big fan of comic books and I got my start in development, and I learned early on in development that I would bring shows to the executives in charge and more often than not the original ideas, no matter how good they were, they never received the response that, say, an established property did. And by established property I mean anything from a book to something with a preexisting concept. A proven commodity. And so rather than actually go out with Dark Matter, a show that I had been developing for years while I was on Stargate, rather than going out with a pilot script we decided well why don’t we approach a comic book company? We approached Dark Horse and talked to them about launching it as a four-issue limited series. And we did, and then we used the trade paperback to basically sell the show. And Jay Firestone, the president of Prodigy Pictures and our executive produce on the show, he just said that with the comic in hand, with our trade paperback in hand he just went out, pitched the show and the executive knew exactly what to expect. It apparently was an incredibly useful marketing tool. And I believe it. It’s just very visual.”
It’s great that you were able to do that! So you’re the creator, the writer, the executive producer…It’s kind of safe to say that this is your baby here. Is there any part of the show that you don’t have a hand in?
“Let’s see. No catering for me.”
So you don’t sit at the craft table then.
“No I don’t. Well, I do check out the craft table more often than not. (laughter) I’m the show runner. I created the show, developed with my writing partner Paul Mullie, and I came to Toronto and I was show running and I show runner alongside executive producer Vanessa Piazza and Jay Firestone. We oversee, correct, sign off everything from costumes to casting. We’re on set, we’re in post, cutting episodes, including visual effects shots, music….That’s where we’re at right now, we’re just doing the mix for episode 1_06, so soundscape and music, and once we’re done with that we’ll have seven episodes to go. Almost at the halfway mark to post.”
So how long did those great, detailed sets take to build?
“We started around October, so I’d say about six weeks to build our standing sets. I think our standing sets are awesome. Our production designer Ian Brock did such an amazing job. It was important for me to have a great looking ship because in the ship they show the kind of detail that’s what you’re going to need for much of the series. I mean obviously we go to the dock, to the space station, and to the planets, but we need that ship to look good also because in any ship-based shows I think viewers tune in and kind of look at our crew as an extended family of sorts and the ship as almost a home away from home in the sense that the ship almost becomes a character over the course of the show, kind of developing a kind of familiarity with it. I mean you can’t imagine Star Trek without the Enterprise, for instance.”
Speaking of the ship, for the internal shots, how much of it is solid built, physical ship, and how much of it is CGI, something you added in in post?
“Oh no, it’s all there. Everything, the corridors—the thing we use pure visual effects obviously for the exterior space shots, the ships in space, the space station, the establishers, occasionally for a bit of digital effects like Three finds this big gun and you’ll see him use it in episode 2. Actually you see him use it in episode one to blast the door without the visual effect, but all the sets are standing sets. The corridors look fantastic. Director TJ Scott did an amazing job giving it an eerie almost Nostromo look in the pilot, especially those opening scenes.”
Dish a little bit on behind the cameras. How well do the cast and crew get along?
“I would say they get along immensely well. It’s always kind of tough, especially shows like this where you’ve got an ensemble cast. A lot of the cast are very young and not necessarily inexperienced but certainly inexperienced in the television realm like Melissa O’Neil. This is her first TV gig. Alex Mallari, he’s very young. It’s just great how they support each other and different on-screen chemistry between the characters that really carries through behind the scenes and vice versa.”
Ok, I have another question here for you. Now when you were in the beginning stages of production, going back to that, did you already have any actors in mind for the major roles?
“As is always the case when you create something, when you’re going in for auditions, you bring in actors who you’d like to see, who you’ve worked with in the past. In terms of the characters of One, Two, and Three—Marc, Melissa, Anthony—and Alex (Four), I’d never seen before so they were all fun surprises. Zoie I was familiar with from Lost Girl, came highly recommended by Jay and Vanessa. She turned out to be a delight. Jodelle I worked with about eight years ago when she was about twelve on Stargate: Atlantis and she was one I always wanted to work with again because she was super, super strong. She knew all her lines. She knew all our lines, whenever they would kind of mess up a line. I just remember her professionalism. She’s been acting since she was two so she’s actually the most seasoned member of our cast and I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with her again. Roger, I’ve known his wife for ages from way back, a guy I’ve always wanted to work with but it’s never synced up for us until now. Initially we weren’t sure. As I mentioned, there are actors I want to work with, actors I want to see, but at the end of the day it comes down to the audition. So basically I can get the actors in the door that I’d like to see for the audition but at that point they have to read for the role and a lot of the time it just had to do with choices, and in Roger’s case his audition was incredible and we thought for sure, “He’s our guy. He’s our Six.” And then it turned out because of scheduling conflicts with The Strain he maybe would not be able to do the show. We were actually prepared to move on and ultimately we found a way to make it work. He’s a guy I’ve always wanted to work with and I finally got the opportunity on this show.”
Which of Raza’s crew members is your favorite? Do you have a favorite from the comic versus the TV series? Which crew member character-wise is your favorite?
“I have to say I like them all. It’s a terrible—well, not terrible, but not a very interesting answer, but they all bring different things to the table and I love to write for all of them. They’re all so funny in very different ways which is something that you just get to shape them as like in the pilot. The first episode is so difficult because in 43 minutes you’re establishing the premise of the world. In this case in terms of sci-fi you’re having to offer so many more details and in our case the actual premise of the various mysteries and seven characters, all very different characters, and like I said it’s an ensemble show so you want to give each of the characters the opportunity to shine in this 43 minute introductory episode, and, as the characters are suffering from amnesia, have no reference points to draw from and they’re going to be not necessarily empty ciphers but in a sense almost blank slates and there are hints, suggestions of what’s brewing beneath the surface so it’s very challenging. Add some of the mysterious progressions and they do take on a life of their own. I gotta do the writing and see what the characters brought to their respective roles. At the end of the day, I have to say I enjoy writing for all of them. They’re certainly different characteristics that appeal to me from different characters.”
So one more question for you. There are all these comparisons being drawn between Dark Matter and a certain thirteen-episode space opera that we’ll leave nameless for now. How do feel about these comparisons, and do you think Dark Matter will stand out more as the storyline continues to develop?
“Sci-fi is a narrow genre then ship-based sci-fi gets even more narrow. I’ve seen the reviews and people have said, obviously, Firefly is a ship-based show with a sense of humor, there’s a kind of cowboy or the space Western that’ll be on Starz or anime like Cowboy Bebop, but I mean I get it and they say oh, this is reminiscent of Stargate and they say there’s a lot of Star Trek, Doctor Who, or Red Dwarf, and I don’t really know besides having a ship in the show what kinds of parallels between Doctor Who and Red Dwarf. We’re very aware of what has come before, and one of the things that we’ll run into in the show is essentially upend expectations. We introduce these characters in the pilot and their memories’ wiped of course and we don’t—we’re not going to flesh out all seven characters in just one episode. They’re archetypes. And as the show progresses you begin to upend expectations. One of the things we wanted to set off with the show was a very serialized character-driven series with plenty of twists and turns. It’s really all about the characters. At the beginning the characters are hard to gauge. There’s a lot of interest here in the character of Two, played by Melissa O’Neil, the character of Five, played by Jodelle, the android. As the show progresses yes, the characters will develop their own and the show will mark itself as very different because it’s highly serialized. It’s got a sense of humor and a sense of pride so in that respect you can totally draw parallels to Stargate or Firefly, but it has almost a cable mentality in that there are revelations in every episode, twists and turns, and hopefully as the series progresses more and more audiences will be on the edge of their seats. It would be interesting to see the boards for audiences’ reactions and the viewers’ reactions to the show and to the revelations on the show.”
And the good thing about the show is the audience is learning the same time the characters are.
“Yes, that’s actually a lot of fun. Most people really enjoy the show, but there are going to be people who bring up what has come before, but in time that will not be an issue. Or, oh, the characters are archetypes, and that was by design but again we’ll pull through that. Even those who criticized the show said that when that last WTF moment came they are like “Oh, ok, I still want to watch episode 2,” which is great. The point is to create a show that is a cable sensibility where you’re watching it and you go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe almost five minutes left, what are they going to do, what’s going to happen here,” and we end it in another WTF moment that what hopefully lights up the message board with how people are dying to watch next week. I’ve invested a lot of time.”