You did not arrive on the scene until the 6th season of Xena. Tell us all the episodes that you wrote and how you got involved with the series.
I was invited in to pitch for another Rob Tapert series called "Cleopatra 2525." My friend Chris Black was a producer on that show, so I had a pitch meeting with him, R.J. Stewart, and Rob Tapert. I pitched four or five ideas, and one stuck -- which ended up being an episode called "Out of Body." Right about the time I was finishing a polish on that script, they asked if I thought I could write a Xena. Of course I could, I'm a huge fan! I said, lying, because I had never actually seen the show. So they gave me tapes which I uploaded into my brain matrix-style. I said "I know Kung-Fu." They said "show me." And I wrote "The Haunting of Amphipolis." About the time I turned in my second draft, they asked me to come on to the regular staff, which consisted of R.J., and Emily Skopov. I was totally surprised because I didn't even know there was a staff position open. After I finished "Haunting," R.J. pulled me aside and told me I was going to be a script machine -- that is, they were going to throw way more episode assignments at me than normal for a staff writer. This was because writers at staff level do not have to be paid a script fee for each script, they just get a weekly salary. So they kept me busy writing drafts -- which I loved. After "Haunting," I wrote "The Ring," "Dangerous Prey," "Path of Vengeance," and "The Last of the Centaurs."
What other projects have you written for?
"The Outer Limits," "Sliders," "Andromeda," "Earth: Final Conflict," "The Pretender," and "The Dead Zone." Plus animated stuff like "World of Quest," "Pet Alien," and "I Got a Rocket!" That last exclamation point is part of the title, not from my own excitement.
Having come to the Xena series after so 5 seasons had been completed, how did you familiarize yourself with the characters and existing story lines?
The education continued throughout my tenure on the show -- it was a real challenge. I would always toss up things in the writer's room -- only to hear "We did that already in Season Three" or "We did that twice already, can't do it again." Because I was so busy meeting my script deadlines, I had very little time to garner the encyclopedic knowledge that most people reading this probably have.
When you write an episode for a television series, how much adjusting is made to the original story after you turn it over to the producer?
The process is different for every series -- but it's always an exhaustive journey of writing and re-writing and then having your stuff re-written. Sometimes the end result is exactly what you had up in your head, sometimes it is unrecognizable. I had a friend who would have people over when his episodes would air -- He would ring a little bell every time a character said something that he had actually written. I was re-written very little on Xena -- but there were always adjustments on the set, so dailies would be surprising sometimes.
Do you ever have contact with the actors during the production of an episode?
Unfortunately, no. Rob Tapert would oversee everything in New Zealand. He had a smooth-running machine down there, so very rarely did we get problems or suggestions from the set. Not to mention the time zone difference between Los Angeles and New Zealand was seemingly interplanetary.
If any rewrites are required, how is that procedure done?
If you're doing a freelance, it goes something like this: you pitch an idea and maybe it hits or maybe you have to come back in and try again. (or again and again, depending on the series) Then you'll probably have a story meeting with the producers which will hopefully result in the major beats of the story. Then you'll "go to outline," which means writing anything from 4 pages to 15 pages depending on the series and what level of minutia they ask for. They may give you notes and have you re-write that outline two or three times or they may just have you "go to script." Now you're writing a first draft, which they may have you re-write several times or you'll simply do a "polish," which is kind of the last step for the freelance writer. The Writer's guild has rules that a writer must get paid for doing the Outline, Script, and the Polish. Shows aren't supposed to ask writers to do "free rewrites," but in reality that additional/free work is part of the business. Keep in mind, the show can "cut you off" at any point if they don't like where it's going, and continue the process themselves or throw out the script entirely. At some point the script will be taken out of your hands and some producer that out-ranks you, maybe the showrunner, will re-write. Maybe they'll change a single word, maybe they're rewrite every single word, you just don't know. Then even during production, changes will continue to be made to reflect weather, budget/scheduling, broadcasts standards, temperamental actors, what have you.
Of all the Xena episodes that you have written, which ones are your favorites and why?
I like "Dangerous Prey" because it's a real "stand alone," that is, there was little connective tissue to other episodes, it was rather self-enclosed. It was basically a rip-off of "The Most Dangerous Game," by Richard Connell, (You can see the similarity in the title alone) which is sometimes required reading in high school. I wrote that story in 48 hours and the script in about four days. I was really under the gun but for some
Writer, Joel Metzger came onto the Xena scene at the beginning of Season 6 and wrote several of its action-packed episodes. Here is the following interview that he gave to this website. I'm sure you will all appreciate his insight and enthusiasm about working on a television show with the popularity that Xena Warrior Princess has generated.
reason it was the easiest episode to write. I really loved what the design crew did with the episode. I had come up with the idea that the villain, Prince Morloch, had this triangular throwing star that would be a sort of male equivalent to Xena's chakram. The design team down in NZ came up with a triangular "coat of arms" based on my description and had all kinds of things made with the same motif -- clothes, tents, flags, etc. I actually have the prop throwing star they made for the episode and it always amazes me when I hold it in my hands and think that I came up with an idea, wrote it into a script, and then magical New Zealand elves injection-molded a plastic throwing star that looks more or less like what I had in mind when I wrote the script.
How were the minor characters you used in the Xena episodes you wrote created?
I guess you mean "guest star" parts like villains and such. If it's just an Inn Keeper with one line, obviously we didn't do a lot of work coming up with a back story. A lot of characters came from mythology, so we'd have a pretty good framework before Xenafying the classical God/Goddess/Creature. And there was a lot of cross-pollination and tweaking of course -- like when we combined the Beowulf legend and Wagner's Ring Cycle. Making the monster Grendel a transformed Valkyrie. That's poetic license in the extreme. With villains, the most important thing giving them clear motivation. If the audience can understand why a villain is twisting his mustache, they will fear/revile/boo/hiss the villain even more. So for example Belach in "Last of the Centaurs" is killing all the Centaurs because his daughter ran off with one, not just because he blindly hates Centaurs.
In The Ring Trilogy, consisting of the episodes The Rheingold, The Ring and Return of the Valkyrie, each episode was written by a different writer. You wrote the middle episode, The Ring. How did you collaborate with the other 2 writers to make the trilogy mesh together as one continuing story?
The collaboration was really liberating. If I needed to set something up, for example if I needed to establish one of the powers of the Ring, I could ask R.J. to do the set-up in his episode. I actually starting writing the middle episode before R.J. wrote the first episode, so I could work backwards and have R.J. plant little seeds in the beginning that would pay off in mine. It was fun having such a sprawling canvas to tell a story.
With Xena dying at the end of the series, there has been mixed feelings from the fans about this occurrence. As a writer, how did you feel about the way the series ended?
I loved it. How many shows decapitate the series lead? It was a bold move and totally unexpected. The one thing Rob Tapert always tried to do was surprise the audience -- I think he achieved it with the Xena finale.
If you were the writer, writing the Xena finale, how would you have written it?
I don't think I could have done better than Rob and R.J.
Tell us why you chose writing as a profession and your educational background.
I have a B.A. in Telecommunications from Ball State University, David Letterman's Alma mater. I came out to Hollywood right after graduation determined to write movies. I ended up working in TV and though I still write feature specs, all my credits are from series television. As far as why I chose writing -- it's a terrible cliché to say "You don't chose writing, it chooses you," but it's very much true for any of the creative arts. It's not a choice you make using anything like common sense -- you have to have to be driven by an unholy passion in order to survive the slings and arrows that come with trying to milk a career out of the Arts.
What are your thoughts on Xena fans and how they have embraced the series?
I'm thrilled to have worked on a series with such an ardent fanbase. It's the only series I've ever written that gets instant recognition from everyone I meet. There's nothing more awkward than to rattle off your credits and have people try to place a bunch of one-off dismal low-budget series. So I'm really grateful to Xena, grateful to all the fans that keep it alive and keep coming back to the conventions every year. I'm glad to have been part of the fun and I hope to create something in the future that will give the fans as much pleasure.