They make romantic comedies, dramas, action movies and television in British Columbia, but there’s no denying science fiction has been very, very good for the thousands of workers in the province’s bustling production sector.
Consider actress-turned-TV-director Amanda Tapping, whose 10 seasons starring as astrophysicist Samantha Carter in the series Stargate SG-1 – based on the 1994 film – vaulted the graduate of the University of Windsor drama school from relative obscurity to prominence. Ms. Tapping went on to produce and star in the sci-fi series Sanctuary and is now focused on directing TV.
Her recent gigs include the made-in-Toronto series Dark Matter. She also has a pending assignment in Budapest directing two episodes of CBC’s X Company about Canadian agents taking on the Nazis during the Second World War.
In an interview, Ms. Tapping says science fiction has been good for her B.C. colleagues. Current films in production include Star Trek Beyond, while television work includes The X-Files revival, The Flash and the recently wrapped Fear the Walking Dead. Ms. Tapping says the genre has been good for her, too.
What is it about the B.C. production sector’s affinity for science fiction?
We’re so darn good at it. There’s a massive amount of knowledge and technical expertise up here. It started with The X-Files. Stargate certainly helped a lot. There’s all these shows that have big sci-fi pedigree. And people have cut their teeth on these shows. And now we have fantastic postproduction houses who know how to do it. The crews know how to do it. Certainly even the actors – so many have found themselves in front of a green screen and understand what that means.
Is it good for the industry?
Absolutely. It’s a great genre. Having lived for 15 years in this genre, the fandom is rampant and fantastically supportive. It’s often much maligned: ‘Oh, you’re in sci-fi.’ But if you get into sci-fi and understand the heartbeat of sci-fi and what makes fans tick, it’s a fantastic place to be.
What role did science fiction play in your own career?
It has shaped it. It’s funny, because it was never something I anticipated.
When I left theatre school, it was never something that I thought that I would be doing. In fact, I vowed I would never do television. I was only going to do theatre and really fantastically heavy art films.
But I found myself in sci-fi with Stargate. It’s just sort of something where, once you get a name, it perpetuates.
What does a TV director do?
You have to make sure the producers are happy. You’re conscious of budget because you know you have a certain number of hours in a day and don’t want to be the director who goes over budget. Although there is an established look on a show, it’s kind of making it your own. It’s working with the actors in a big way. It’s making the crew feel comfortable because they cycle through so many directors on a series. You think about Stargate, which did 22 episodes a season for the first five years. That’s a lot of directors. For me, I feel like a lot of my job is to make people feel safe – that I know what I’m doing; that I’ve got their backs; that I am aware of those moments in the script that are really important to the writers; that I am aware of those moments in the script that are important to the actors. You sort of have to do everyone’s homework and make sure you can answer their questions.
How long do you get to direct a 60-minute episode of Arctic Air or Dark Matter?
It’s seven days of prep, usually. And then seven days of shooting. And then three or four days of post production. You do your directors cut. You hand that in.
What B.C. film-sector survival skills have you learned by transitioning from acting to producing to directing?
Directing was always something I was interested in. Stargate was like a PhD in filmmaking – 10 years of sitting behind the monitors watching. The survival skill I learned was, basically, be a sponge. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can and try to utilize that. I took Stargate as a great opportunity to sit and watch how television was made. I knew as a woman, an actress past a certain age there would be limited roles so I decided early on I was going to not be limited by that.
What will you do to help take X Company into its next season?
I think I do the seventh and eighth episode. They’re doing 10 this season as opposed to eight they did last year. I know part of my reputation as a director, so I’ve been told, is how well I work with actors. Part of my interview by Skype, with the showrunners, was talking about getting those moments out of actors.
What I love most about X Company and the people who run it is the questions they asked me in the interview. They asked me what I loved most about being a director and working with a crew. It wasn’t like, ‘Tell us about your work’ or, ‘Tell us about your style.’
When you work on a television series, you’re a slave to many masters and one of the masters is the style of the show.
Are you expecting a major adjustment? You have obviously directed in B.C. You have directed in Toronto. This is a different continent …
This is Budapest. This is going to be interesting. I have no idea what the crew is like. I think I am the only woman directing the show. I don’t believe they had any women last year. And I don’t believe they have any women in this year. That’s always an interesting thing for the first couple of days. To sort of see how that works.
In what sense?
It could be a great crew. Some could be from Canada, but is there a different mindset about female directors? I don’t know. Sometimes there is when you walk onto a show. Instead of people assuming you know what you’re doing, you sometimes have to prove that you know what you’re doing, especially in a technical aspect. As much as I love working with the actors, I am also a very technical director. I know my lenses and I know my camera angles. And sometimes I think it’s important I prove I know that to the crew early on.
Is that kind gender bias surprising in 2015?
Sadly, it’s not surprising. I was part of a study that was done by a Canadian now living in Australia who went around the world and asked what was going on and clearly it has been a huge topic in Hollywood, especially in the last couple of years. But especially in light of after Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar and nothing. No other females nominated. No other females winning.
As a filmmaker yourself, what can you do about that?
I mentor young women. Inasmuch as we can say it’s the industry or men running the industry, we have to help each other. We have to be there for each other. The sooner that happens and there’s a strength in numbers and a strength in morale and a strength in support, that will make a difference. I really do.
Do you have any interest or involvement in the reported Stargate feature film reboot?
Interest? Yes. Involvement? No. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich have taken the property back. I don’t think they disliked the television series so much. But it wasn’t their vision. The rights had gone to MGM. Brad Wright and Jon Glassner got a hold of it and ran with it, successfully. I mean: 17 seasons of television. But I think Emmerich and Devlin are probably happy to have it back. Certainly no one has been calling any of the Stargate actors, saying, ‘Hey. I’ve got a part for you.’ It would be nice, but no.