But wait - doesn't that mousy-haired woman with glasses sitting near the front seem ever so slightly familiar?
You bet; and when the camera focuses on another familiarlooking couple sitting in seats directly behind her, everything becomes crystal clear. Annie (Lucy Lawless), Mattie (Renee O'Connor) and Harry (Ted Raimi) - our modern-day heroes from season four's Deja Vu All Over Again - are back, still housing the souls of Joxer, Gabrielle and Xena respectively.
Soul Possession is not entirely a comic episode, however; it seems that back in ancient Greece, Xena was forced into a pact with Ares, and now he's back (in the form of a leather-clad biker) to claim his prize... namely Xena.
The convention room is the location for a conference hosted by the Centre for Historical Accuracy of Key Research in Ancient Mythology (note the less-than-subtle acronym), which conveniently happens to be studying the historical 'facts' surrounding Xena's life. For the group and wide background shots, the room is populated by extras made up as fans, fact-finders and journalists eager to capture the latest ground-breaking news of further discoveries into Xena's past. (Some of the crew members I've come to know tell me that, as a reporter, I would have "blendedin quite naturally" in this particular scene. The only problem is continuity - I've arrived on the set at l0am, but the cast and crew have been filming these scenes since 1am this morning).
Seeing so many extras in this early 21st Century setting is actually a little disconcerting when one has spent the last two years becoming used to stepping onto all sorts of fascinating sets and meeting everyone from guards to ghouls to giant tree-monsters. On set for these scenes of Soul Possession, at first glance there's almost no telling the extras from the crew. Even the convention security guards (nicknamed Jon and Ponch after characters in the 1980 cop series CHIPS) look perfectly natural, as if they could have been called out of the police station for a few hours just to do this scene.
Momentarily, the leads are hard to pick, too. Renee O'Connor walks past, dressed in standard contemporary clothing for her character Mattie as opposed to her usual attire of the more well-known warrior bard. The last time this reporter saw O'Connor in 'civvies' was during the actress' second stint at directing, on the set of Path of Vengeance.[NOTE: actually it was Dangerous Prey]
Speaking of sets, there's more than one difference between this and most other Xena episodes. For interior scenes filmed in studios, the main studio lights usually come up between shooting, both because a great deal of those scenes have been set in places like caves, dark forests or shadowed tunnels and chambers, and so that the crew can see more clearly what they're doing when they need to make alterations and position equipment.
In the case of this Xena conference, however, the conference room is almost exactly how it would be in reality: very well lit with very powerful lighting. This means that when filming ceases, the lighting is occasionally reversed, and instead of the set going light, it goes dark. Well, sometimes it does. In any case, the people working on it know what goes where, so that's the main thing.
We know it gets hot on set under those lights, and this time the people behind the scenes are feeling it too. It's a particularly hot day outside the studio, and in close quarters inside it's just as warm. Several members of the cast and crew are fanning themselves with makeshift paper fans, and the big heavy studio door is opened between filming to get a little more fresh air into the room.
Luckily, a man soon arrives with a big bag of ice which he pours straight into the water cooler before moving off to get some more. The heat means make-up must be checked more often than usual, so the scurrying of crew in and out of the set is made even busier by make-up artists rushing in to touch up their work.
Speaking of rushing, there's a shot in this scene where the two Xena fans mentioned at the beginning scramble into the seats behind Annie and quiz her on how it feels to know she was Joxer the "bumbling idiot." Annie shoots back that Joxer wasn't really like that, that it was only the actor's take on him, and with an in-joke reference which any fan would understand, tells them the actor in question only got the part because he was the producer's brother...
At this point, co-incidentally, Ted Raimi is going over his lines at the back of the studio. The extras are then brought back to continue the scene, and of course it's vital to remember where they were positioned the first time so they can ensure they go back there again on cue. The wide shot is then set up for Harry and Mattie to enter clearly through the double doors at the back and walk up to the row of seats behind Annie. After the shot has been completed, first assistant director George Lyle mentions a reminder of something that has to be done later, also to maintain continuity. "They're supposed to be listening to a conference," he points out. "We'll need to have some voiceovers." Like most background noise, this will probably be added in post-production.
Just then, Kevin Smith wanders into the studio in black trousers and wearing a tight black shirt, which reminds director Josh Becker of a cutaway shot to be inserted immediately following this scene. "I need a fast pan with the motorcycle," he says. The motorcycle in question is Ares' mode of transport in this modern time, something most fans probably wouldn't find difficult to imagine...
Studying this slightly unusual set and its studio surroundings a little more carefully, more and more detail is revealed. There does actually appear to be one subtle way - apart from the appearance of walkie-talkies, power packs and leads - to tell the crew apart from the extras. Many of the crew are wearing different variations of red and pink, given that this particular day of filming just happens to be Valentine's Day - one can't help but wonder if they could have found a way to explain a character getting a Valentine's Card in ancient Greece...
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