Year 5 Journal:
by Keith Damron, Story Editor
The circumstances surrounding "Dust" did indeed send our intrepid production company to holy ground Hollywood holy ground, that is. Or even more specifically, Star Trek holy ground. Well, it's really not holy, but the setting is certainly venerable and familiar. Our astute viewers, those vigilant spotters of distinguished landmarks and overly used Universal facades, will recognize our Sliders' world as being the same place where Captain Kirk courageously battled the Gorn in the original-series episode "Arena." Coincidentally, it's also that same pleasure planet where he went toe to toe with the impish Starfleet Cadet Finnegan (in "Shore Leave").
The place I'm speaking of is Vasquez Rocks, a geologic marvel in the nearby desert whose jutting rocks, upended eons ago by massive tectonic shifting, have been a Hollywood mainstay for decades. Featured in countless films and television shows, Vasquez was always at its best when it served as some distant alien world. It takes its place in the annals of B-moviedom (right next to Bronson Cave) as a great and cheap exotic locate that requires little or no dressing.
It worked for us, though the original premise for "Dust" actually had our heroes stranded in more of a sandy Sahara-type setting. Unfortunately, though we have deserts in Southern California, there are none that really have that exotic middle-eastern look. No matter, we adjusted. We still had all the dust we needed, both topside and in the lower bowels of The Chandler archeological dig site.
The sets for "Dust" were probably some of the most elaborate of the season. The scenic crews, under the designing supervision of Anthony Brockliss, had to turn The Chandler into a series of underground caves and tunnels. No mean feat. Our standing sets consisted of four main rooms and a corridor; that was it. It was really a tight space to work in. On several occasions this year we made use of a leftover set on the stage next door, but by and large the many interior locales on Sliders are just the same rooms used over and over. The hotel lobby and suite changed little. But the identities of the other rooms were in a constant state of flux.
For instance the set that was most notable as Quinn's basement also served as the bunker in "Strangers and Comrades." That was fairly obvious. But in the same episode, dressings called "dirt rugs" were hung from the walls to create the illusion of it being an underground part of the trench. It was also Arlo's hideout in "Please Press One" and will be featured in "The Seer" as ... well, you'll see for yourself.
The fourth room could best be summed up as being...everything else. It's been a mad scientist's laboratory, a hospital room, a ward room on a ship, a place for compiling "The Great Work," an automated waiting facility for "refusers," a Kromagg storage facility, a brain-remapping room, Rembrandt's shrine, and on and on. And that's not even counting the roles it fulfilled last year.
For "Dust" the crew interconnected all these rooms with a series of tunnels made out of two by fours and plywood. They then stapled up chicken wire to create the contours of the rock and dirt walls. Several layers of spray foam were applied over the chicken wire. The foam was then painted and highlighted to make it look like genuine rock. The illusion was complete and very believable. Although you needed to exercise caution so as not to chip the rock walls if you brushed past them. They were rather fragile.
None of this was permanent, of course. Most of it had to be gone in a week to make room for the next set and the next episode. Speed was of the essence, both in building the sets and in striking them. It was always a juggle to schedule production and construction around each other. With six days to prep an episode of Sliders and six days to shoot it, planning the show, as with any good production, was half the battle.
Another reason for the great look of the episode was that our director was Academy Award-winning cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos. He brought with him a cinematic style that you rarely see in television. He also brought to the set with him his ... friends. Specifically, Robert DeNiro. Actually Mr. DeNiro stopped in to pay Rey a visit. He was one soundstage over filming the Bullwinkle movie, and he took a moment to come over to meet our cast and crew. That was the nice thing about doing a show on the Universal lot: There was always something big going on. During my time there I managed to look in on Austin Powers, The Grinch and End of Days. Speaking of which....
Our own end of days was rapidly approaching. There were only two more episodes to go until the end of the season, with still no word on the status of our renewal. As noted some months ago, we started the year expecting it to be the last. But nothing official had been said either way up until now, so we lived in hope. I was starting to pound out ideas for what would be my final Sliders script and very likely our season finale. The big question was, "Should it be a cliffhanger?" Or would we end Sliders with a finale a slam-bang conclusion?
I had forwarded a pitch on how we might consider ending the show. It was to be a spectacular coda that, with the assistance of our arch-nemesis Doctor Geiger, would resolve the Kromaggs-on-Earth Prime problem (by using his patented recombinant science). We would address the issue of separating the composite Quinn once and for all (hinging on the availability of a certain actor and TPTB to okay it) and then we'd send Mallory and Diana home. I hadn't forgotten about Mrs. Mallory, Quinn's adoptive mother, either. Somehow, I managed to slip her and Colin in there. But the clock was ticking and still no word....