Director Stephanie Morgenstern Talks Killjoys “It Takes a Pillage” [Exclusive]
When I was on set for Killjoys in March, I had the chance to meet director Stephanie Morgenstern, who was prepping to shoot her episode, “It Takes a Pillage,” which just aired this past Friday on Space Channel and Syfy. She was kind enough to take questions over e-mail and talk about jumping into an establishedâ€”and sci-fiâ€”show and capturing all the character nuances. She also gave US fans now watching the third season ofÂ X Company, which she created, a tease of what to expect.
Morgenstern‘s Killjoys episode marked the first time directing since X Company wrapped, and she happily dove in.Â “Iâ€™d been hearing about Killjoys way in advance through Adam Barken, so I was already intrigued. Before jumping in, I made sure there were no episodes Iâ€™d missed, and explored the deep wisdom of the fan-generated intel on the show,” she says.
“Whatever further questions I hadâ€”about the style conventions or the mythology or character secrets to be revealed in the futureâ€”I asked Michelle [Lovretta], Adam, and the other writers when I got a chance. Just to be sure Iâ€™d have answers up my sleeve if actors had any tough questions on set.”
“Killjoys and X Company are both produced by Temple Street, so those folks were the first to know I was stepping in this new direction. That made it a little easier to ask about doing some shadowing on Killjoys (which I got to do with Grant Harvey!), and later to pitch myself as a potential director.”
Season 4 was filmed in blocks of two episodes as a time. That and the crew overlap between X Company and Killjoys proved helpful to Morgenstern. She was delighted that this episode was assigned to her, and says the switch from period drama to sci-fi wasn’t as jarring as you’d think.
“I was thrilled to be paired up for a shared block with Mike Marshall, the Killjoys DOP [Director of Photography]. His shooting schedule for 407 overlapped with mine, so sometimes halfway through the day weâ€™d switch spots in the directing chair. It was a perfect arrangement, helping us both transition into new responsibilities with the full support of the crew,” she explains.
“Killjoys was also the perfect segue [from] directing on X Company because I felt I was among family. On top of Adam Barken and Julie Puckrin, I knew Mike and a handful of the crew from working with them in Budapest on X Companyâ€¦so I didnâ€™t have to face the awkward prospect of parachuting into a roomful of strangers and having to earn their trust from scratch. I realize a lot of emerging directors donâ€™t have this advantage, so I feel seriously lucky it came together this way.”
“I think joining an established show is easier than one thatâ€™s just getting started. The show knows itself and its audience, and itâ€™s already a smoothly-run operation. Plus there were entire seasons out there as reference for the toneâ€”which is a pretty specific blend of saucy humor and butt-kickinâ€™ action and real feels.”
“The sci-fi aspect wasnâ€™t daunting in itself, it just meant getting familiar with the universe and its rulesâ€¦ thatâ€™s just research like youâ€™d do on any show. And Iâ€™d done gunfights and green screen before, I just needed a little more guidance from the visual effects team to make sure I was on top of the space flight and holo-Zeph and lasers of it all. I like to storyboard, so that helped us map out all the elements we needed and visualize in advance. But the main difference between this and X Company is that rehearsing WW II gunfights, actors go ‘Bam! Bam!’ and in sci-fi, they go ‘Pyoo! Pyoo!’
“I didnâ€™t choose this episode myself but I totally would have, if it had been up to me. I love the challenge of bottle episodes, the way contained spaces let you really get to know your characters. I was happy to be entrusted with those meaty, heartfelt scenes between Dâ€™av and John about their family history, and the great generational stuff between them their Dad and Jaq. I also loved that really touching denouement with Dutch and Zeph, the simple friendship and humanity of it, after all the madness of the gravity-as-centrifuge story.”
“I wasnâ€™t too worried about feeling claustrophobicâ€”in fact for a lot of the story claustrophobia actually works for us! The Hullen are beating down the door, the killer silica storm traps them inside, and our guys have to think fast and barricade themselves in (or as Luke [Macfarlane] said in one blooper, ‘hunker in the bunker’).”
“Pressure cooker scenarios like that often bring out the best in screenwriters and actors. My background is in theater, same with a lot of actorsâ€¦ so making the most of limited space, trusting the words and the performance, this is where we feel at home.”
Asked to pick a favorite moment or scene, Morgenstern enjoyed the initial family reunion. “[It’s] hard to choose. I think it would be the â€˜homecomingâ€™ scene, when Marris welcomes Dâ€™av and Jaq to the bunker, because there are so many layers in it, so many secrets still unspoken,” she says.
“Marris is all nostalgic, re-living his own personal hero myth about the family, Dâ€™av has his own urgent agenda, and after all the high-stakes drama surrounding Jaq in his short life so far, we finally see him get a chance to be a kid, exploring his dadâ€™s old toys, going ‘Pyoo pyoo!’ with the plastic â€˜spaceâ€™ gunâ€¦Thatâ€™s like a whole family legacy in microcosm.”
Morgenstern was co-creator, writer, and director on the World War II Canadian drama, X Company, which is running its third and final season in the US on Ovation, Monday nights at 10 pm/9c. Similar to Killjoys, Morgenstern planned her series’ conclusion. She gave us a tease about the rest of the season holds, and talked about being able to control her narrative to its conclusion.
“Season 3 brings the team closer to the heart of Nazi power, as the action moves from Paris to Poland and from there to Berlin. After the tragedy at Dieppe, Franz Faber (Torben Liebrecht) works alongside the team to deliver what we hope will be a crippling blow to the Nazi war machineâ€”but no one knows who can really be trusted, including Sinclair,” she says.
“We throw in some great new players: Sabine (Livia Matthes)â€™s chilling, high-powered father (Morten Suurballe), and Fraulein Heidi Adler (Madeleine Knight), who becomes Auroraâ€™s charming but scary frenemy. Our final season theme was â€˜Sometimes to fight the enemy you must become the enemyâ€™â€¦which takes Aurora (Evelyne Brochu), Alfred (Jack Laskey), Harry (Connor Price), and Neil (Warren Brown) to some very troubling places.”
“It was really satisfying to be able to wrap up the series on our own terms, with just the balance we wanted between narrative closure and forward momentum: the struggleâ€™s still far from over, and itâ€™s time for new recruits to join in and carry the flag further. (We had no idea at the time how soon modern-day Nazis would be in the headlinesâ€¦).”
“Directing the final block felt like a perfect ending to whatâ€™s been a long journey: the series actually grew out of Mark [Ellis]â€™s and my short film, Remembrance, that I directed back in 2001. It was a very emotional experience for me to bring the story to a close so personally, to finally say goodbye to these characters whoâ€™d been a very real part of our life for even longer than our own daughter.”
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