Whoosh! Issue 18 - March 1998

Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1998 held by author
3043 words

Author's Note: Xena is a show that requires a lot of work from a lot of people. We see only a fraction of them on the screen, and we do not often get to know much about those hard-working people in the trenches whose names all too often get scrunched into a tiny corner every week or dropped altogether. One of those heroes of production is Maggie Hickerson, script coordinator for Xena: Warrior Princess. As is so often the case, titles reveal relatively little about the person, so on December 19, 1997, over lunch at a Thai restaurant on Ventura Boulevard, I was lucky enough to chat with Ms. Hickerson for a bit and get to know a little about who she is and what she does.

Getting On Board (01-04)
A Typical Day (05-12)
The Mystery Of Twickenham Solved And Other Mysteries (13-17)
A Fan Of The Show, Airing Order, And Other Nits (18-32)
Hiatus (33-34)
Auditions And Casting Stories (35-48)

An Interview With Maggie Hickerson

Xena, Scheema! I'm just here to party!

Maggie Hickerson, Script Coordinator.

Getting On Board

[1] What was your first Xena experience? How did you come to the show?

[2] The World of Xena? I answered an ad in the "Hollywood Reporter" looking for a writer's assistant. I had been a writer's assistant on several comedies, no dramas, but the advertisement did not say what it was for specifically. I think in the ad it might have said it was a spin-off of an established show. So I answered the ad, met R.J. [Stewart] and basically he offered me the script coordinator's job and hired someone else as the writer's assistant. So I've been here since Day One, even before the first show.

[3] So you were able to help get everything organized.

[4] Setting up the office and so forth, yes. I think the first script was already in the works when I came on. It was so long ago I can't remember. [both laugh]

A Typical Day

[5] Is there anything like a typical day at the office for you? Or is it all very much dependent on what is happening at any given moment with production and so forth.

[6] Exactly. A typical day with a script involves proofreading the script for typos, format, and continuity; and then, I get it to New Zealand and to the producers and to everybody else who is spread all over the country, sometimes -- especially in the case of an episode like our musical, THE BITTER SUITE (58/312).

[7] THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) was difficult because we relied on a lot of fax machines, and they tend to make the words a bit difficult to read. Sometimes we could not read what Joe LoDuca was telling us.

[8] With the final script, we can use a modem to New Zealand, but when we have to fax, as in the case of first and second drafts from outside writers, they will give us the script and we'll have to fax that to New Zealand. Luckily, we don't see the finished product. Sometimes it's not as clear as it could be. [laughs]

[9] Usually if there's a script involved, it will take anywhere from half a day to a full day to get it to New Zealand. If it's a shooting draft, then it can take a full day because the writer's assistant will have to convert the disk from another program, set it up in Xena format, then print it out for me so I can proof it and she can make changes. If it's not an outside writer but one of our staff writers, then they will read it again to make sure everything's OK, make any last minute changes, and then, by the end of the day, it's down to faxing or modeming or messengering. It's hectic because while all that is going on, all the regular work gets left because of the priority on the script, and the next day we have to catch up.

[10] I imagine, while all that is going on, there are additional changes that come in to other scripts?

[11] Yes, so sometimes our regular work gets left for a day. Usually it takes three days after the shooting draft is done before we have to do the first changes to it. For the most part, they're not major changes, but once in awhile they are and we have to issue the whole script again. Usually the philosophy is if more than fifty percent of the pages change, then we re-issue the script. But that's only happened a few times, such as when Lucy [Lawless] had her accident. Even though it was only a change to the ending of one episode [INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207)], changing the names of characters elsewhere can get tricky.

[12] This is where script coordination comes in because I have to make sure all the names are straight. Sometimes when you do a "search and replace", it doesn't always pick up every instance or change everything properly. That's where proofreading comes in. And it's so much fun reading the scripts. The only problem comes when I've read a script on a Monday, and it's a second or third draft, then by Friday it goes to a shooting draft and there haven't been that many changes. So you tend to remember what you've read the time before and maybe a scene was cut out because it wasn't a crucial part of the story, and you think it's in there, but it isn't. That gets a bit difficult. If a couple of weeks come between drafts, that's not so bad because you've had time to forget what you've read.

The Mystery Of Twickenham Solved And Other Mysteries

Land of Hope?

Scenic Twickenham is home to Twickenham RFC (Rugby Football Club) as well as famous Twickenham Studios.

[13] Do you have any moments that stand out as particularly harrowing or a significant triumph or tragedy?

[14] One thing that springs to mind was when Steve Sears gave me ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS (13/113). I saw that one of the characters, the one with the stutter, was named Twickenham, and I screamed with laughter because that's my home town.

[15] That stems from when Steve [Sears] first came on board, and we were all talking about ourselves and getting introduced and I said I was from a town called Twickenham. He said, "I like that name, it has a nice ring to it. I'm going to use it in a script one day." That was a nice surprise. It's great when I'm reading a script and it makes me laugh out loud. Unfortunately, even though sometimes I think something will get the best laughs it, often gets cut out somewhere along the line. [both laugh] But for the most part, if they hear you laughing, they'll keep it in.

[16] So you're a good test audience too.

[17] Yes, exactly. Another time when the script had the characters going to England, and they were near Stonehenge, Steve Sears had them camped "on the hills around Stonehenge". I kept telling him that Stonehenge is on Salisbury Plain and it's just that, a plain with no hills. He said that at the end it didn't have to be Stonehenge just look like Stonehenge. [both laugh]

A Fan Of The Show, Airing Order, And Other Nits

[18] Obviously you consider yourself a fan of the show in addition to working on it.

[19] Oh, yes.

[20] What do you think of how things have been going? How do you react to the progression of the characters and such so far?

[21] [thinks] I don't know. I suppose I'm in an unusual position from reading the scripts. I don't watch any of the dailies if I can help it. I just view it on TV as anyone else does. If the writer has written a particularly visual episode, sometimes I'm disappointed because the way it's shot isn't quite how I imagined it. Other times, it's spot on exactly how I pictured it and I enjoy that. But when I watch it on TV, I'm not really watching the interaction of the characters. I don't read anything into it. I'm watching it more for the visuals, the sets, and how it all looks -- and the gorgeous New Zealand (male) actors!

[22] Certainly a lot of the scenery is very striking and we often get that "big screen" feel to a lot of external shots, especially like those we saw in THE DEBT (52/306).

[23] I think it was a wonderful idea to shoot in New Zealand to have all that diverse scenery. I lived in Greece for a couple of years and the scenery is beautiful in some places, but it's unique to Greece. Because New Zealand doesn't look like Greece and does look like a more mythical place, you can jump around in time and place and it all makes sense. You can suspend belief that much more.

[24] Another reason the show is so successful is that it appeals to such a wide audience. One can look at any number of things about the show and like it or focus on an area of interest. Even as to the types of stories, there are those who like the comedies but not the drama and vice versa.

[25] Exactly. As long as people like the show it doesn't matter what they're tuning in for. [laughs] Of course, the one thing that bothers me is that sometimes they're aired out of order. In particular, I remember when Gabrielle became one of the Amazons [HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110)], she was given a new outfit. But in the previous episode [DEATH IN CHAINS (09/109)], which of course was not filmed before [HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110)], she was wearing the Amazon outfit! But then one would hope she'd have more than one change of clothing. [both laugh]

[26] We don't see her carrying a lot of luggage. [both laugh]

Two AA batteries not included

One of many items Gabrielle keeps on hand -- somewhere!

[27] That was one thing that bothered me about the episode where she went to England and she produced the toy from the SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209) [GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305)]. I remember asking how could she produce this toy without showing her with a bag or something to carry it in. So they went back to the prior episode where Xena and Gabrielle were getting on the boat to go to England, and wrote in she had to have a bag with her, but it was never shot. So she did suddenly come up with this toy. [laughs]

[28] I loved the China episodes [THE DEBT I & II (52/306, 53/307)]. I thought they were great. Some of the unique scenery does get seen a lot and then you notice the same black beaches and cliffs, but the China episodes were so different. It was really a spectacular episode for scenery.

[29] I've heard a number of people comment that THE DEBT (52/306) was Emmy material, on a variety of levels. It was a masterpiece. I understand that syndicated shows don't get seriously considered like network shows do, which is a pity.

[30] For Emmy awards, the production people have to submit their work. If the feeling is that there isn't a chance to win, then work isn't submitted.

[31] And the show is very well received abroad. It tends to get very high ratings in overseas markets.

[32] In England, when Xena first started, it was on satellite, which not too many people have. Now it's being shown on Channel Five, which again not too many people have. Only new televisions can receive Channel Five, or you have to pay to have your old television adapted. My parents, luckily, have a new television, so they can receive Channel Five and they got to see my name go up at the end, which was quite an event for them.


[33] Do you find you have any spare time to breathe during hiatus or does that mean you just get caught up with lots of other work?

[34] Christmas time we don't really have a hiatus. New Zealand does, but we don't. They get off two weeks solid, but we work on scripts at that time. During the summer, we do get a hiatus, which is actually half-way through the season. We get five or six weeks in the summer, which is nice. The writers are still working, but we get a nice break. We've just now started working on stories for the fourth season, but we've not yet finished with the third season. There are many things going at once.

Auditions And Casting Stories

[35] Even in the middle of the third season, people still seem pretty charged up about the show. There is still a lot of room for new stories and directions.

[36] I wonder sometimes how many stories there are that we can do, but there are a lot of myths. I do like it when we tell stories where characters from the myths come across. Even though I lived in Greece and when I was in school, learned about some of the myths, I never really knew who was related to whom. So every story based on one of the myths, I thoroughly enjoy. Even with time line changes I like the Helen of Troy episode [BEWARE OF GREEKS BEARING GIFTS 12/112] and the Caesar episodes [DESTINY 36/212, THE DELIVERER 50/304].

[37] We don't get to see the people audition for roles because they don't usually do that at our offices. The only time they had a casting session in our offices was for the women to play Helen of Troy. The writer's assistant and myself were pretty biased toward the woman who actually got the role [Galyn Goerg]. He had worked with her before, so when she came in, she was the one who talked to us. All the others were focused on the lines they had to say, but she [Galyn Goerg] was more relaxed and said, "Oh, I haven't seen you since we worked on M.A.N.T.I.S." She was friendly and they were obviously all attractive women, so if you went just by looks, they were all suitable. But she was more relaxed and confident and ended up getting the role.

[38] Another interesting thing about our office is the way it's set up. All the other offices up and down this street are production offices. There's "Dr. Dolittle" (Eddie Murphy's group), Dr. Quinn, Highlander is at the end, and in the middle is Fred Dryer's production company.

[39] A couple of seasons ago, he had a show shooting in Mexico called Land's End (Buena Vista Television, 1995). The Xerox machines that we use are in the middle of the buildings and I needed to run a script. The closest machine was broken so I had to use the one near Fred Dryer's office.

[40] There was an actor outside who a friend of mine was particularly a fan of. I asked him if he had any pictures with him that I could have for my friend and he said, "No, but I'll bring you one by tomorrow." I said, "I'm down on the end; I work on Xena." He said, "Oh, I love that show! I'd love to go to New Zealand. Do you think you could get me on?" I said, "Well, I don't really have anything to do with that, but if you come in with your pictures tomorrow, I'll introduce you to the producers." And of course that was Tim Thomerson, who ended up playing Meleager [THE PRODIGAL (18/118), THE EXECUTION (41/217)].

[41] That's wonderful!

In high school voted 'Most Likely to turn into Chuck

Tim Thomerson, right place, right time.

[42] So sometimes just being in the parking lot minding your own business can work out. My friend has been a fan of his for years and years, so when I saw him in the parking lot, I couldn't let him go away without saying something. And it turned out he's a recurring character. So he got more than enough payment for a picture. [laughs]

[43] I had an opportunity to chat with him at WarriorCon for a bit. He was very nice to talk to and took a real interest in the fans. And the fans returned the favor by saying how much they liked his character and hoped to see more of Meleager. [Author's note: this sentiment was reiterated at the Burbank convention, where several fans, even sometimes during Q&A sessions, mentioned how much more they'd like to see Meleager, Salmoneus, and others.]

[44] He's a really nice guy. He came in right at the time we were doing a script for that character.

[45] Well, I don't want to keep you from work too long. Thanks very much for taking the time to chat.

[46] Thank you.

[47] I'm sure you're going to be very busy and we're all eager to see what's coming next in the season.

[48] Battle on, Bret! [smile]


Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Token Guy Who Lifts the Heavy Stuff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: GIANT KILLER (27/203)

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