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FIRST ANNUAL SPECIAL EFFECTS FILM FESTIVAL
PHOENIX, ARIZONA
OCTOBER 30, 1999

Special to WHOOSH!

By Marilyn Cristiano
1988 Words
Copyright 1999 held by author
This edition copyright 1999 held by WHOOSH


[01] R.J. Stewart admired by so many XENA fans was the man of the evening for a program titled "Producing in the 21st Century: Television Magic with R.J. Stewart" at Arizona's First Annual Special Effects Film Festival on Saturday evening, October 30, 1999, from 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM.

[02] Father R.J., as some fans affectionately call him, was absolutely delightful, unpretentious, and enthusiastic about upcoming CLEOPATRA 2525.

[03] I am going to present a brief report on the agenda of the program, focus on information that R. J. Stewart presented, and provide you with a biography of R. J. that was included in the evening's program as a postscript to my report.

[04] R.J. Stewart shared the podium with Arizona special effects artists, directors, and producers who all have impressive film credits. The panelists, from left to right in the picture below, were Johnny Dust, Terry Donnelly, Robert Diepenbrock, R.J. Stewart, and Ron Newcomer who served as Master of Ceremonies. The program began with a short video of famous movie mo ments and then each panelist was interviewed for approximately thirty minutes a piece by Ron Newcomer. At the end of the program, audience members asked questions of the guests. Finally, the guests stayed and answered individual's questions and signed autographs.


The Panelists

[05] R.J. Stewart was interviewed first and shared interesting information about his background, how to break into the biz, and special effects on XENA and CLEOPATRA 2525. At the end of the program, I had an opportunity to meet R. J. and to ask him a burning question on many fans' minds.

[06] Ron Newcomer began by noting that R.J. was a graduate of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. R. J. corrected him and said that he attended A.S.U. for seven years, but he never graduated and joked that the reason why he left was that his parents ran out of money.

[07] R.J. started in the business as a delivery boy in Los Angeles. One day he made a delivery to the studio that produced REMINGTON STEELE and gave a script to a producer. The producer liked the script and hired him on. R. J. noted that there is an element of luck in breaking into the business, but that one needed to develop a body of work and be prepared to get that work read. Getting an agent to present your work is the key. Renaissance Pictures cannot legally read scripts that are sent to them by writers.


R.J. being interviewed by Ron Newcomer

[08] R. J. was first approached to work on HERCULES, and he turned the offer down because he was going to work on another project. When that did not work out, he went to work on XENA. He is glad that he did not work on HERCULES because he believes he understood the character of Xena better than he understood Hercules, and therefore, does not think he would have been as effective on HERCULES.

[09] R. J. went on to set up the opening sequences of FALLEN ANGEL (91/501). The audience viewed the opening sequence, the credits for the show, and then the next sequence where Xena is rescued by Michael. R.J. discussed the fact that Renaissance Pictures, through the years, has developed so many different techniques for putting harnesses on actors and actresses to fly them around for fights and other stunts, that, in essence, they had been preparing for years to do the FALLEN ANGEL (91/501) episode.


R.J. Stewart

[10] R.J. was on the set for the shoot where Xena confronts Michael regarding her intent to rescue Gabrielle. The angels' wings were extremely heavy, and the actors and actresses needed two people to hold up the wings behind them and to move them when necessary. The people holding up the wings were taken out of the shot later. Charles Mesure, who played Michael, was the only actor who could hold up the wings on his own. After the shot, the actors were exhausted, even though there were people holding up the wings. All of shots of the angels' wings were live action, while the shots of the demons' wings were computer generated. R. J. observed that the closeup shots were live action shots, and the medium shots were pretty obviously computer generated shots.

[11] R.J. noted that the Poseidon effect in the opening credits was such a popular effect that they built an episode, ULYSSES (43/219), around it. R.J. made the point that Renaissance Pictures could never afford to produce XENA in the United States given it's production values, but that New Zealand's favorable exchange rate of fifty-one cents on the dollar and less expensive labor costs makes XENA affordable to produce.

[12] R. J. went on to talk about the much anticipated CLEOPATRA 2525 that will be premiering in January. He and Robert Tapert wanted to do a sci-fi adventure and developed the idea over a few scotches at Rob's house. R. J. went on to discuss the special effects in CLEOPATRA 2525 and noted that CLEOPATRA 2525 will be a heavy special effects show. Two percent of the budget on XENA and seven percent of the budget on CLEOPATRA 2525 goes to special effects. CLEOPATRA 2525 is a sci-fi thriller based in the year 2525. The title character, played by Jennifer Sky who plays Amarice on XENA, was cryogenically frozen in the year 2001, and she wakes up in the year 2525. Civilization has been forced underground by forces called the Baileys. The lead characters are not sure if the Baileys are aliens or machines, and the leads are intent on battling these creatures in order to reclaim the surface of the earth.

[13] R.J. showed the audience a clip from CLEOPATRA 2525 and told them that they were the first group of individuals to see the show outside of the people at Renaissance Pictures. The clip was the first thing that was shot and edited together and was still in a very rough form. From the short clip, I conclude that this show is absolutely going to rock! Looks like many of the elements that fans love about XENA will be a part of CLEOPATRA 2525: strong, independent, fit, and beautiful kick ass women characters who team up to fight for the greater good. Jennifer Sky has a new look (short blond bob hairstyle), and Vicky Pratt, who played Cyane, Queen of the Amazons in the SIN TRADE episodes (69/401 & 70/402) on XENA and who plays Sarge in CLEOPATRA 2525, sports her hair up in a ponytail and appeared in an Amazon-style costume.


Vicky Pratt as Sarge and Jennifer Sky as Cleopatra from a clip from CLEOPATRA 2525

[14] Gina Torres (Nebula on HERCULES and Cleopatra on XENA) seemed to be playing the part of the smart and controlled leader, whereas Vicky Pratt's Sarge is the emotional shoot first, ask questions later type. I was excited before about seeing CLEOPATRA 2525, but after seeing this clip, all I can say is "bring it on!"

[15] At the end of the program, I was able to introduce myself to R.J. and ask him a couple of questions. He graciously signed three scripts for me (A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), CALLISTO (22/122), and THE WAY (84/416).


R.J. and Marilyn

[16] When signing THE WAY (84/416) script, R.J. asked me if I was happy that THE WAY was back on the air and wasn't it a shame what had happened with its censorship. He said that we have no idea what they all went through and how scary it was that one group could have that much power. I said that it was indeed a terrible thing, and that the internet fans really came forward creating websites, sending letters, and signing petitions. He said that yes, that was great, and their efforts really helped a lot.

[17] I asked R.J. a burning question on the minds of some subtext loving fans:

"Do you think that we will ever see an on-screen kiss between Xena and Gabrielle?," and then I said, "you know, a lot of fans would like to see that."

[18] R. J. smiled and with a twinkle in his eye said: "Yeah, maybe." I smiled and with delight responded "really?," and he said, "sure, absolutely." Looks like there is still hope. R.J.'s response made me a happy girl!

[19] During the evening's program, Ron Newcomer asked R. J. what he most liked about his job. R. J. said that he loved telling stories. His many fans sure enjoy the telling!

[20] The evening was terrific, and I most enjoyed meeting father R.J.

[21] POSTSCRIPT: Following is the biography of R.J. Stewart (Executive Producer) that appeared in the evening's program:

[22] R. J. Stewart is executive producer of the enormously popular Xena: Warrior Princess. His creative collaboration with fellow executive producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi dates back to 1995 when he signed on as co-executive producer and head writer to launch the hit series. Since then, his contributions have helped make Xena the highest rated first run syndicated drama on television.

[23] A native of Canarsie in New York City, Stewart grew up around the world. His father was a World War II veteran who went back into the Air Force and lived in a succession of military bases in Virginia, Washington State and a host of foreign nations. As a young teenager in the early 1960s, Stewart spent three years in Greece, absorbing the history and mythology that would later inspire Xena: Warrior Princess.

[24] His friendships with Native Americans in Arizona, where his parents retired, further honed an ongoing fascination with cultures beyond the American mainstream. It also spurred him to cultivate a gift for writing, beginning with a play about Native Americans that won him acclaim while he was still a student at Arizona State University.

[25] After college, Stewart aimed for a career as an actor, but ultimately drifted into writing. In 1982, he submitted a script entitled Good Company to producer Glen Gordon Caron, who hired him on the spot for the NBC series Remin gton Steele. Stewart's outstanding writing helped launch the show, which became a surprise favorite of audiences and critics who loved the clever byplay between series stars Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist.

[26] Over the next dozen years, Stewart wrote for both features and television. Among his additional credits are the NBC series Man of the People (1991), starring James Garner, the Fox series The Great Defender (1995), and the theatrical motion picture Major League II.

[27] His latest collaboration with Tapert is Cleopatra 2525, a futuristic adventure which premieres January, 2000.




Biography

Marilyn Cristiano Marilyn Cristiano
Marilyn lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and teaches speech communication at a community college. She is a fan of Xena: Warrior Princess because she is inspired by the portrayal of two intelligent, strong, and independent women of great courage who love and are devoted to one another. These women are not perfect; they make their share of mistakes, but they are driven by a passion for serving the greater good. Marilyn also loves the action, comedy, and drama of the stories that are told.

Favorite episodes: ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) and BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415)
Favorite line: Xena: "Even in death, Gabrielle. I will never leave you." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
First episode seen: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110)
Least favorite episode: KING CON (61/315)



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