Dark Matter season three premieres in the UK on Syfy on 12 June
With Syfy channel’s shift in recent years back towards more extraterrestrial programming, the network has produced a whole box of space opera delights for fans to revel in. Dark Matter is one of the shows leading the pack, and with its gritty brand of Firefly-esque action, drama and character interaction, it’s been a hit with audiences and critics alike.
Created originally as a comic book series by Stargate writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi, and Paul Mullie, the show was adapted for Syfy (aka, Space Channel in Canada) and premiered in 2015. It follows the lives of six people on a literal voyage of discovery after they wake up on board the spaceship Raza with no memories at all. Production recently began on its third series, so I went along to set with MyM BUZZ co-host Yael Tygiel to see where the show is going next and discover what it takes to make outer space on Earth. Article by Tanavi Patel.
S3 SPOILER ALERT
When we first arrive in the foyer of the Dark Matter production offices in an industrial estate outside Toronto, we wonder if we’re in the wrong place, because we’re greeted by pictures of the Lost Girl cast. It turns out the Dark Matter team inherited its offices from that show, and still use some props and items from Lost Girl.
We’re met by Alison Hepburn, one of Dark Matter’s new writers & script coordinator; Hilda Babazadeh who heads up the show’s social media; and unit publicist Renee Pye. Moving through the production offices it was fun to see the staff had taken the spaceship theme and run with it – with black/yellow striped tape around the futuristic coffee machine which also bears the sign “Do Not Press The Red Button”.
Apparently if you press it, you break it, and if no one gets coffee, everyone gets cranky – it’s disastrous! The coffee room gives us a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area, and allows some Dark Matter-related sightseeing.
We wind our way through the maze-like offices to the entrance of a huge warehouse which houses the main sets. The first department we come across is Set Decoration, which the team explains provides the dressing around the room, like stuff on tables; props are things the actors interact with like guns or comms.
We then enter the first set – the infirmary. When we peer into the medicine cabinet the attention to detail is immediately clear. It’s filled with fake pills which gives the set its authenticity.
While we’re admiring the set, showrunner Joseph Mallozzi pops in to explain the morning’s proceedings [Spoiler Alert]. “We’ve got two units going. This is a great scene – we’re doing a shoot-’em-up with Torri Higginson who plays Truffault. She’s got two guns and she’s taking out members of Ferrous Corp’s strike team.”
Mallozzi is wearing a very sharp suit and apparently it’s his trademark. Joe is clearly a multi-tasking giant – on top of finding time to dress in designer chic each day, pen scripts, produce the show and write a blog he also managed to adopt a dog over the weekend!
Though the clinical setting has sturdy-looking surroundings, most of the walls are removable to allow shooting from different angles. The back wall of the isolation booth is quickly being re-attached as we sit down with Jodelle Ferland, aka Five, for an interview.
We’re surprised to discover that the Dojo where Four trains and the mess are, in fact, the same set. The team explains how set decorators take out all the mess stuff, put in the swords and change what’s on the triptychs and it looks like a whole other room; they have the changeover down to an exact science. The other studio has a bunch of swing sets [temporary sets] like the prison and the alley way which they set up, shoot and then take down, which is pretty cool to walk in to and think, “Two new sets!”
The triptychs are the moving screens on the mess wall. It changes from episode to episode. Expect more novel triptych images in season three.
It’s amazing how the art department have turned wood into what looks like sturdy, aged metal. It’s also fun to find out the automated coffee maker in the mess works by the magic of… someone pouring coffee down a tube!
We also come across a weird art piece for season three involving a life-sized man – no spoilers, but it will remind you of a famous Star Wars moment.
Dressing To Impress
Next stop, Wardrobe Dept where we meet costume designer Noreen Landry. We get a chance to check out some of our favourite styles from season two, including the kimonos worn in the Court of Zyron (left). We also find one of Yael’s favourite pieces – Melissa’s black jacket that she wears when she’s Portia Lin (right).
Those costumes in particular are a lot of work for the team. But it’s not just the actors Landry styles. She reveals that one of the department’s quirks is putting up dog pictures on their wall. “We put up a dog for every episode. They’re just dogs that Anna, our assistant costume designer, finds on the Internet, but we all did Lost Girl together so we started it with cats on Lost Girl.”
It’s just coincidence that Joe Mallozzi likes to dress up his dogs in outfits too…!
“Lost Girl was a little more fun for us because it was girly; you had feathers and bling. Maybe we’ll get that for Dark Matter season six?” laughs Landry. The team also jokes about doing a musical episode because there is some serious singing talent in the cast (Melissa O’ Neil won Canadian Idol).
We also get a preview of some of Four’s new clothes for season three – expect lots more robes! – and another new look for the Android, as well as the GA outfit this season.
Landry’s job is a lot more than just choosing clothes and making them fit. She actually designs a lot of the outfits and showed us some of her concept drawings. “This is the first thing that Joe gets to see of what is going to be featured.” Trying on the clothes it’s easy to see how they help actors change persona.
Take the wardrobe dept tour yourself in this exclusive video…
Despite the demands of the job there is a fun atmosphere in the department, especially when co-executive producer Robbie David drops by to give us some tourist tips. Landry lets us peer into the continuity room where clothes are closely guarded to make sure nothing is out of order on screen, whether they be on extras or the main cast.
We walk onto set just as bells ring, announcing that the cameras are rolling, so we keep on going to the Art Department instead. The colourful walls are filled with concept drawings including some for EOS-7 escape pods which Mallozzi teases in his interview, and the “clock not clock”.
The department’s quiet calm is overtaken by two 3D printers working tirelessly to make some of the fantastic unique props that give Dark Matter its distinctive feel.
The first thing we see is the blink drive! Fans will be eager to find out how integral this is to season three. 2nd assistant art director Victor Mare shows us some of the printers’ finished products, from door bolts to engines to a mini Raza!
Victor designs then builds the objects on specialist computer software that allows him to look at every single layer of the item before printing it. “Not all the objects are solid; it would take a lot longer to print, but it would be solid inside, and heavier.”
One of the biggest objects they’re printing is a robotic arm. “It’s 25 pieces but they’re designed to fit together perfectly.” That’s a lot of printing!
Production designer Ian Brock spoils a few of the new locations as he takes us through some of the concept art for season three.“This is a space kitchen in a factory that we’re working on right now; this is an army camp sort of thing.”
The art department is also responsible for all the graphics you see on interactive screens in the show (such as the screens on the bridge of the Raza). Graphic designer Roxanne is responsible for the physical signage we see on the show, and she decorates her own office door with her work.
The team explain how attention to detail is key: you never want to see anything that’s contemporary Earth. So Roxanne and the art department come up with the tiniest of details they put all over the sets.
We then eagerly head on to set, where we find out how the nose of the Raza comes off to allow for more shooting angles. But how do they get that travelling-through-space look? There are a couple of ways. The star field that they fly across has reflective little pieces, so when it’s hit by light (coming from the bridge) it looks like stars. The other way is a green screen they go past for the FTL look because it has a pulsating beam.
After a quick stop in the engine core which houses the blink drive we enter the infamous vault!
The huge doors are striking. Ruby Rose’s evilbot may have long been removed from the massive room but the box remains and there are plenty of props and set decoration to maintain its mystery.
Apparently the vault doors couldn’t open in season one but they found a special person to rectify that. The doors are on pulleys and the on-set carpenter operates them on demand. He’s waiting on the walkie and when they call, “Doors!” he closes them and makes sure they don’t bounce shut. A lot of them have magnets, because there’s nothing worse than a bouncing space door!
As if to illustrate the point, filming starts with the assistant director shouting “Doors!” He follows this up with, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” It’s hard not to laugh at a grown man emulating kids playing cowboys, but he’s not just fooling about. For safety reasons, guns don’t actually fire and the sound of the firing is added in post production. So the AD’s “Bang!”-ing gives the actor something to react to.
Without giving anything away, we’re privileged to watch a fight scene on the Raza. Writer/producer Ivon Bartok is also watching. He explains that the second unit (filming team) is using this set to film stunts and fight scenes while the main unit is simultaneously filming other scenes on the nearby set, with Ron Murphy directing the episode. The season premiere episode is written by Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. It’s always nice to have a producer on set to kind of make sense of it all, because there’s always a million questions to answer, especially from cast. It’s usually a lot of logic stuff, and certain cast members ask more questions, so it’s good to be around. Plus directors have a million things to do!
We then enter FIVE’s room, which is full of gadgets, and we waste no time in trying out the bed. With foam pillows and a silver bedspread it’s surprisingly comfy for space quarters. The room actually has multiple doorways: one to a bathroom, one to a sealed room. If you’ve noticed that the bedrooms are different colours (FOUR’s quarters are a bit more blue and SIX’s more yellow) it’s because they try to design the bedrooms around the characters and their personalities.
As we step onto the bridge it’s easy to see and feel why it’s the show’s most formidable set. Buttons and screens light up and display fake telemetry and, of course, the pilots’ chairs swivel – a must on a spaceship. The chairs also go up and down. When the actors are in them they have blocks to jam the mechanism so it’s the right height for each actor. Otherwise, if Jodelle sits in the same chair as Roger you can barely see her!
The huge bay window looks out onto the warehouse floor and it’s become a favourite place for extras to hang out when they have downtime. It’s also a favourite among the production team as everyone likes to play on this set and press the buttons for the first time!
Given the amount of attacks and damage the Raza has taken, is season three finally the time to remodel? Apparently not, as they explain the way they look at the Raza is like an old beat-up truck that keeps going and every time you get in it, it just somehow looks the same. Most of the exciting new stuff is on-planet or on the space station.
Whilst rehearsals continue, Hilda explains her social media role for the show. “I watch each episode three or four times; first to just know what’s going on, then to create GIFs and then to double-check it and then to know exactly when to Tweet/post as it airs. My Friday nights are completely taken up by Dark Matter, but it’s a lot of fun.”
They certainly seem to be engaging their fan base, aptly named the Raza Crew.
So what is the coolest job on set? Shooting zirks (special blanks), that’s what. They are shot out of a modified paintball gun, and contain zirconium so the impact creates a spark.
For this scene a special FX crew member is perched in a corridor out of shot, firing the zirks at an actor on command with precision, with stunning effect. They can also add some “zirk sparks” in post production. It’s a great example of the unusual jobs you only find on TV/film sets. And it’s an unusual workplace as we happen upon a gun that fans would recognise as Bubba.
The Man In Charge
We head back to the production offices to meet Joe Mallozzi and realise his office is like the man himself – colourful – with various intriguing items adorning his bookcase and walls, both nerdy and otherwise. After discussing some of the awesome action and wardrobe we’d just witnessed Joe was more than happy to tease us about, we sat down to discuss season three.
It’s day 11 of shooting and Mallozzi is hard at work on episode nine’s script. On top of that he writes a daily blog, which includes sneak peeks from set – a must-read for Dark Matter fans who relish spoilers.
The second half of our set tour starts with an exclusive look inside Dark Matter’s gun cabinet, unusually named “Moby” and the props store, including a “gun overflow area” -–check it out!
Meandering back through the unused sets, in-between her scenes, it was great to chat more to Jodelle Ferland – a fellow nerd – and things immediately get geeky, as she has attended multiple conventions over the summer. “I’ve been travelling a lot but I love them. I go to conventions for fun so it’s really nice to go for work.”
She also talks about con shopping, new hair colours and getting sick during filming before rushing back to undoubtedly crawl through more of the Raza’s vents!
Later in the afternoon we move into a huge dark warehouse and have the opportunity to watch a scene involving guns, green screens, two tall men – and lots of rubber!
Getting back to filming we meet Anthony Lemke, who plays THREE. He tells us Ron Murphy has directed three episodes of Dark Matter this year, which he’s happy about. “Ron’s a good guy.” It seems, though, that shooting multiple episodes in single blocks was new for them.
“They’re slowly morphing us into block shooting – it’s not common in English Canada but super common in Quebec. You’ll be doing eight scenes from six different episodes all in a kitchen facing one way, then you turn around and do it all again facing the other way!”
As a crew member shouts “reset the mulch” Anthony goes back to work, which involves putting a harness on.
The scene has been shot a dozen times as the director wants shots from different angles so continuity – resetting the scene exactly the same each time – is important. It’s great to see concept images from the art department’s board translated into a real set. We’re certainly excited to see them materialise on screen in the premiere.
It’s then time to head into the Raza’s shuttle Marauder to interview Anthony Lemke.
Lemke also reveals that FIVE’s age was determined by an ad-lib line he threw in citing her as 16 – which they keep referring back to.
Soon after it’s time to head back to the production offices but we manage to grab a little time with Jeff Teravainen, who plays Anders, along the way.
Teravainen has been hard at work with early call times but has still been enjoying the process. He’s also busy on other projects. He is becoming somewhat of a Syfy regular, having also appeared on Twelve Monkeys and The Expanse. Anders’ reappearance at the end of season two came as a surprise to him too. The Save Anders fan campaign, however, made his day. “At the time I didn’t ask but people kept commenting on it and Joe would hint [about writing me in] and then, of course, the call came and I was jumping around the room – I love playing Anders! I absolutely love playing him and the role is expanding now too.”
So will we see more of the SIX/Anders relationship explored? “I can only say I’ve heard rumours. I heard an interview with Joe where he mentioned stuff about that but I’m not privy to it. Working with Roger is awesome. In fact, everybody I’ve worked with on the show is amazing. Sometimes you do a scene with a non-attentive actor; these guys are on you all the time. I always say I’m like a cousin on the show and they are like the core family but they look after me like a really good cousin. Even today Anthony (Lemke) was asking, ‘Did you get what you need?’ and that kind of stuff, because I’m a little nervous – they’re not my family but my extended family. We all have lots in common so it’s a fun place to come to work.”
Teravainen is amazed by Mallozzi’s work ethic. “I don’t know when he sleeps. He is writing constantly. He has all his family stuff too and then he’s writing his blog. I tried that once (a blog). I couldn’t do it! Writers are a different breed of people; I am amazed how they come up with one good story but to do it weekly, and he’s doing it weekly plus all that’s involved in showrunning!”
It turns out Teravainen is also a sci-fi fan. “I love it. That’s one of the cool things about working in it. I’m not watching the shows because I have to for reference; I’m actually really enjoying them.”
His favourite scenes from season two feature Zoie Palmer. “There’s one where she peeks around the corner which just stuck with me; I can’t remember the episode. And when she takes out all those guys in episode 2.02. But there’s so many!”
We see Anders in GA uniform at the end of season two but the question we will see answered in season three is: which side is Anders on? “One of the things I’m so excited about this season is my backstory will come out and you’ll understand more about Anders’ motivations. I love the fact that he’s opening up and being a lot more multidimensional.”
Of course there’s one burning question we had to ask: Is Thranders (THREE and Anders) a thing? “Yeah that’s a good question,” Jeff laughs “I don’t know.”
As night falls we leave the set and head back to the city, but it feels more like heading back to Earth. Cars and neon signs replace the spaceship and green screens that make the Dark Matter reality. Season three promises more of what fans love: explosive relationships, FTL travel and an expanding universe to be explored in the Raza. But don’t worry, Bubba will still protect them.
Dark Matter returns with a two-hour premiere on the 9 June on Syfy in the USA and Space channel in Canada. It will air on Syfy in the UK starting 12 June. Dark Matter seasons one and two are available to buy on DVD.