Xena Magazine #23 - Writer Katherine Fugate

Author: Joe Nazzaro
Source: Titan`s Xena Magazine #23
Date: August 2001

TS. Eliot once said, "My beginning is my end."
That comment certainly describes When Fates Collide, one of the most thought-provoking episodes of Xena's sixth and final season. Written by series newcomer Katherine Fugate, the story explores Xena's identity by presenting an alternate history of the Warrior Princess after Alti and Caesar change the timeline.

"There are similar themes in everything I write," explains Fugate, "which are either seize the day, or fate and destiny; things like that are very important to me. Actually, this was an idea I had to write a movie about, but I didn't know how to do it. So I took that principle and put it into my Xena episode, because it enabled me to get the two themes out that I wanted to."

Before writing for Xena, Fugate had chiefly worked in the feature film industry. But she was such a fan of the Warrior Princess that she wanted to try writing an episode before the series came to an end. "I talked to my feature manager and said, 'I want to write for this TV show!"' she recalls. "Nobody knew anyone at Renaissance, so she ended up calling over to the TV department and saying, 'I have this feature writer who wants to write for Xena.' I basically broke every protocol in the feature world by wanting to write for the show.

"So the TV guy contacted [former producer] Patrick Moran and said, 'Look, I have this feature writer who's a big fan. Can you at least read her stuff and see what you think?"' Fugate continues. "Patrick gave my material to [Executive Producer] R.J. Stewart, who really responded to my writing, and I was brought in for a meeting.

"When they finally called and said, 'Okay, we have an episode,' I was in London on a feature assignment for a movie I was writing, so I couldn't do it. I was heartbroken! I thought it was all over, but about two months later I got another call saying, 'We have an assignment but no story. Can you come up with one?"'

Needless to say, the answer to that question was a very definite yes. "I was very familiar with the show," says Fugate, "and there were things that I wanted to see addressed in it, so I had no agenda other than what was important to me. I learned a lot over the next month and a half; I never knew words like 'subtext', but there were debates about who was with whom, and what this meant and what that meant. I didn't know there was such an ongoing mythology to the show, and how many different areas there were. I had never engaged in any discussion about the show. I had just watched it.

"I actually came in saying 'These are the things that I like about the show; these are my favourite episodes; and these are the themes I want to explore,"' Fugate reveals. "I got to write exactly what I wanted. The two themes in my episode came out clearly, and I feel very happy about that. And once I'd written the episode and sent it in, I then learned more and more about the things that people like and dislike, and what they do and don't want to see.

"In a way I was happy I didn't know any of that," Fugate adds, "because that way I was introduced to it all through the story discussions as the script progressed. I would chat with R.J. (who I can't say enough good things about!), and hear about things like the online world, which I didn't know much about."

One of the most intriguing aspects of Fugate premise for When Fates Collide was that most of the characters she wanted to use had very unconnected story arcs. "Many of those characters shouldn't have intertwined," she concedes. "Alti is in the Amazon world episodes, and Caesar is in the Roman episodes; so those two have never met. That's why, we discussed using other great characters, like Hudson Leick as Callisto. But we've already seen Callisto with Caesar, so it wouldn't have been as startling. I actually tried to pull people from different areas and put them together.

"Everybody in the episode is exactly who I wanted," Fugate admits, "including Alti and Caesar. I wanted to show Xena that everything happened for a reason. It's her past, and she has to accept the good and bad of it. We want to accept the good of our destiny but never the bad. I had to take her back to the point where the bad, evil Xena began, which, was the episode Destiny, with Caesar and Brutus. That's why everybody in it is exactly who I wanted. I think because my episode was even more of a stand-alone episode, partly because I was coming in as a freelance writer, I didn't have to connect it to anybody else's. So I didn't have anything to pay off.

"The only thing that happened very late in the day - when I was actually in New Zealand - was that we added Ted Raimi," Fugate reveals. "He'd arrived in New Zealand a week earlier for Soul Possession, so we took a minor character role and let Ted do it. We didn't expand his role in any way, we just put him in it. So that was kind of fun, because now we had Joxer in the episode too, although he's not the Joxer of Xena's world.

"Apparently, the crew were at the table read of the draft, and they were saying to the director, John Fawcett, 'Who should we cast for this character?'" Fugate explains of the decision to put Raimi in the episode. "They were going through headshots and things like that, and the director said, 'Well, is Ted here yet?' Ted had got there early, so they said, 'Well, if Ted is here, let's use him!' It wasn't like they were forcing anybody.

"So it ended up being a nice cameo, which" would have been a surprise for fans at the time, When I saw Ted on the set, I said, 'Look, no pasta strainer, no hat, and no old age make-up!' He didn't have to worry about any of those things."

Unlike many previous scripts by first-time Xena writers, When Fates Collide didn't need an awful lot of rewriting. "My impression is it went through the normal evolution," says Fugate. "They added things that they wanted that I hadn't put in already, the most obvious being the more thematic discussions. My conception pretty much stayed the same from the initial script up to the shooting draft, and it wasn't until the fourth act that there were two significant changes. "One was a change Rob Tapert wanted," Fugate reveals, "which I can't talk about because it's a big element of the show. The other one was just a thematic discussion dealing with free will and destiny, which was removed because it had already been discussed in a previous episode. I was a little bit sad that I had to take it out, but it wouldn't have been missed by anybody except for me! You still get the point of the episode; I just couldn't have the discussion I wanted."

One of the more unexpected perks involved with writing an episode of Xena was being invited to the New Zealand sets during filming. "Rob invited me over," Fugate recalls. "It was actually a real stunner when he said, 'We'd love to have you on set if you want to be there.' My experience in the feature world is, the smaller the budget and the more independent the film, the more the writer is respected and wanted around. But the bigger the budget and the more studio-orientated the feature, the less the writer is welcome on the set.

"Ultimately, I think it depends on the security level of the director," Fugate adds. "John Fawcett is a very secure, confident person, so he enjoys having the writer there. He doesn't feel that the writer is trying to usurp him. He was asking me this, that and the other, and I felt comfortable saying, 'Oh, we need to mention this, because it links to that: If the director is confident, you can have a good relationship with him."

Not only did the visit allow Fugate to do her own on-set rewrites, but it also afforded her the opportunity to get to know her cast, which was an added bonus. "I don't know what I would have done without Claire Stansfield, the first week especially," she says, "because I'd never been to New Zealand and she had. I literally got off the plane and got to the hotel and Claire was waiting outside. I was in my aeroplane pyjamas, and she grabbed my hand and said, 'Come on, we're going to the beach!', and put me in a car. We were whisked 40 minutes away to where they filmed 'The Piano', and that was the most magical day. I have never had a day like that since!

"I was in Auckland for 12 days, and then I was basically picked up and taken home. And that day with Claire was the highlight. The only other thing Claire and I had the chance to do on a weekend was to go on a helicopter ride above Auckland. Renee O'Connor had said, 'Go to Christchurch; go to Queenstown; go to the South Island!' I never got to do any of those things, because I was there and back so quickly. But Claire took me to dinner and we went shopping once when we had the chance. So she really made my experience so much nicer."

Like so many former guest actors and crew members, Fugate was made to feel very welcome by the Xena crew, and quickly felt like part of the family. "I immediately felt loved and embraced," she enthuses, "and I think it was for two reasons: firstly because I respected them and what they do, and secondly because I love the show, and it was apparent.

"I knew every episode; I spoke the language. So there was no doubt that I knew what they were doing. You can't ask for more than to be amongst peers like R.J. Stewart, or to meet someone who understands what you're doing. I've had a number of conversations with R.J. about writing and, as a writer, I think the one person whose comments really count the most is another writer or a fan. Studio executives, producers, agents... Everybody is looking at your material for some other reason. It's the person on the street that you can affect and whose lives you can make a difference to by sharing something you've learned; and it's the same with a fellow writer, because they recognise what you've done on the page where other people don't. I immediately got that respect from R.J. as well as from Rob Tapert, and that meant everything to me."

It's fairly obvious from Fugate's enthusiasm that writing When Fates Collide was an over-whelmingly positive experience for her. That experience continues online, thanks to her web site (at katherinefugate.com), where she's now able to interact with fans of the series and other writers. "I was recently contacted by a woman who runs a big Xena web site," she recalls, "who said, 'I'd love to update your web site for you and clean it up!' I was really flattered that anyone cared or even went to the trouble to look me up."

One of Fugate's biggest ambitions is to be able to use her experience to assist aspiring writers. "My goal would be to help young writers," she says, "because I've been there. Perhaps this would be by answering questions, because sometimes people feel embarrassed about asking and would like to have anonymity. They might say, 'I have a question about screen adaptations,' or, 'How do you write when you're blocked?' Things like that mean a lot to me, because I had that mentoring, and that's how I got where I am today. So I hope I can do that for somebody else."

Now that she's fulfilled her dream of writing an episode of Xena, Katherine Fugate has returned to the feature world once again. But she'd always be happy to work with the Warrior Princess again should the opportunity present itself. "Right now, I'm going into pre-production on a movie," she reveals. "And after that I'm writing a huge three-hour historical epic for Paramount Pictures, which is going to take up a big chunk of my time.

"But I keep saying to Rob and R.J. 'That's until you want me - I'm always yours!"'

Back to the Articles Index Page
Back to the Main Xenaville Page