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Article Title: The Poltergeist Files
Writer: Thomasina Gibson
Magazine: SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT Volume 5 Number 9
Publish Date: April 1999
Pages: 62-67
Copyright: © 1999 Sovereign Media. All Rights Reserved.
Ordering Info: $3.99 - http://www.scifi.com/


Trust someone – the ghosthunters of POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY
haunt the Sci-Fi Channel.

Those of us with a nervous disposition should get ready to hide behind the cushions or the couch. POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY, one of the spookiest shows on television, is due to creep onto screens across the length and breadth of the globe when it begins a regular Friday visitation to the Sci-Fi Channel this March 19 at 7:00 and 11:00 PM EST. A combination of horror, sci-fi, and almost Dickensian morality tales, POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY follows the adventures of a mysterious group of individuals who strive against all the odds to fight the dark powers that manifest themselves in this world and the next. Headed by Derek Rayne (Derek de Lint) and backed by Dr. Rachel Corrigan (Helen Shaver), Alexandra Moreau (Robbi Chong), and Nick Boyle (Martin Cummins), members of the San Francisco "House" act as guardians and sometimes conduits to those of us, mortal or otherwise, unlucky enough to brush against the Dark Side.

Based on an idea from the classic horror film, Poltergeist: the Legacy brings to light the activities of a very "secret society" whose mandate is to protect the pure in heart from the supernaturally evil forces that surround us. While it may sound quirky, creator Richard B. Lewis is in no doubt as to why the series appeals. "It's a fantasy," he insists. "All these characters, doing stuff we are not supposed to know about – helping people cross to the 'other' side -- fighting evil spirits -- something which has appealed to fans since the start of the genre." He also believes that "everyone has skeletons in their cupboards," including himself. "We all have things that if we could do again we'd do differently and The Legacy is a group of people who have come together to help those who haven't had that chance, who've been taken from this world unjustly, to find some sort of closure."

The show's original concept tapped into the idea that a ghost is someone who has unfinished business. In its 4th season, Poltergeist: The Legacy will be tapping into that idea in a completely different way. Writer and executive producer Grant Rosenberg is more than enthusiastic about the latest developments. "One of the things we put into motion last season was that we tried to move the show away from episodes being story-driven and worked toward making them more character-driven. We really went a long way toward humanizing our main players and making the stories more personal to them." He feels that by making the characters more accessible to an audience, "by giving them more recognizable qualities, the waiters have succeeded in stretching and pushing the characters in terms of where they can go with them."

If the first few episodes are anything to go by, they are pushing things a fair way. Several intriguing story arcs are guaranteed to capture the hearts of new viewers as well as tease the minds of the show loyal following. In the premiere two-part episode entitled "The Traitor," for instance, the usually close-knit team turns on Derek and accuses him of killing an innocent man. Unaware that their suspicions are being controlled by a malevolent spirit trying destroy their leader, the ensuing confrontation throws into focus a series of questions and fears about what each of them is doing on a daily basis. It's an incredibly explosive scenario and concentrates on issues that will take more than one episode to resolve. "Whilst our principal objective on Poltergeist: The Legacy is to entertain, if we can come up with some ideas which get a message across, then it's all to the good -- but it has to be done subtly. We can't just bang people over the head with it."

A second story line involving Dr. Rachel Corrigan's daughter Kat (Alexandra Purvis) draws an analogy not only to puberty butalso to drugs and the very real dangers young adults have to contend with in our society. With each episode she slides slightly deeper into the culture of witchcraft, which is presented to her as magical. She is innocent of its darker aspects. Rachel realizes that her only child is slowly slipping away from her.

Actress/director Helen Shaver enjoys playing the troubled mother and often skeptical physician. "The characters are multifaceted," she explains. "They are not all believers with 'the gift' and sometimes find it very hard to accept the weird and wonderful occurrences. Rachel is faced with the task of trying to wrestle with the difficulties of being a doctor, of living in this far-from-normal household, of holding on to her own personality as well as providing the support she must give to her daughter at such a difficulttime in her life." While the actual circumstances may be different. Shaver feels that many of us can empathize with her because "all our lives are complicated to a certain extent by circumstances beyond our control."

"House leader" Derek Rayne, a k a Dutch-born actor Derek de Lint, contends with problems of a different kind, but is more than pleased at the prospect. "For the first time in four years I'm being given a love interest. It's about time," he smiles. "It was getting pretty boring, but I now have an incredibly intelligent, extremely attractive investigative journalist in my life." Laughing delightedly, he quips, "She had to be very interesting and out of the ordinary because I live in a house with all these beautiful, extraordinary women, so they had to come up with someone pretty special -- not just an airhead."

De Lint is also thrilled that this season marks his directorial debut. "I'm a little behind the others," he admits. "Both Martin and Helen have directed episodes previously, but now it's my turn." Unwilling to give too much away, he reveals that the episode contains just the "female characters -- with one returning as an angel." Short of being bribed by the Editor, his lips are sealed so you'll just have to watch to find out which one. What he can reveal is that an ongoing villain in the shape of Simon MacCorkindale arrives to stalk his steps.

The job of actually depicting "celestial beings" to which these talented actors must relate falls to the team of award-winning visual effects coordinators led by visual effects supervisor Jim Finn. Having honed his skills in Southeast Asia, he returned to Vancouver and became involved with the making of Poltergeist: The Legacy from the start. "I came into the show as an editor and compositor on the first two seasons before deciding to change hats and become a director rather than a mechanic." Working as co-supervisor on season 3, he eventually assumed sole responsibility for creating the spine-tingling effects for season four. He clearly relishes the challenge. "The whole concept of the supernatural and the spiritual conflicts which the Legacy have are very metaphysical and therefore hard to portray. We started building a consistent look for the show by creating a path for ourselves so that we're not constantly wondering. How do we make this different every time?" He feels that "we've come up with a formula, an organic mandate to make that element work so that we can [now] focus more on making the effects innovative and totally believable."

Finn cites his most challenging episode to date as the comedic "Irish Jug," directed by castmember Martin Cummins. The episode took Derek out of the Legacy precept and made him into a kind of comic archaic person. "We had to manufacture his transference from a criminal character from the past to his own body in the present, then get 'the genie back in the bottle' without it looking like a scene from Aladdin." Using a combination of physical effects like high-pressure air, then incorporating interactive light techniques with live action, they built up the visuals to give a smooth, seamless representation. "I like to ensure that when an entity appears on the screen, it looks as though it was shot there, rather than just pasted over the top."

Season 4 sees Finn's team raising the standard yet again. In the opening episodes, the evil spirit coming to discredit Derek Rayne have to execute transitions from several actors as many as four times, but Finn is quietly confident. "I think it's going to work." While he hates to use the word "morph," it best describes the technique that creates the effect. "We thought about this a long time until we were satisfied that we'd achieved the impact without it looking too much likea music video." Given the number of prestigious Gemini Award nominations the feam has garnered over the past three years, it's hard to equate the caliber of their work with a three-minute short.

Grant Rosenberg has nothing but praise for their achievements. "One of the things we are blessed with is a really great technical and visual crew." Acknowledging that Vancouver is now one of the busiest film- and television-producing communities on the North American continent, he is thankful that Poltergeist: The Legacy was able to retain over 95 percent of its crew to go forward into the new season. "We are trying to give the show a signature look, one that's designed just for us. We are fortunate in that the people we have are extremely motivated and united in that quest."

For "local boy" Martin Cummins returning to reprise his role as Nick Boyle was "a little hard, particularly as we all had such a great summer."

A testament to the affection the Legacy actors have for one another is the fact that they spend a lot of time together off-set. Despite having to work together for 12 to 14 hours a day "a couple of the cast members bought vacation homes within a two-mile radius of each other so we all hung out there." Confessing that "coming back to work wasn't that arduous," he says, "it's like meeting up with your family again. The crew is really cool -- we all grew up together and we actually do like each other." Playing Nick is not his only project this season. Cummins will be expanding his role as director too. "I'm really excited because I get to direct two episodes of this show, as well as an episode of The Outer Limits. It's great for me as an actor to be given the opportunity to branch out in that direction."

Cummins maintains that his character is probably the most down to earth and mirrors his own persona. "Whilst I don't go around punching people out or gunning them down, I think you take certain parts of your personality and photocopy them 10 times larger than life, then you have your character."

With a smile that suggests he shares Boyle's cryptic sense of humor, Cummins insists, "I think of him a Joe Regular guy -- but I guess anyone who lives in a house with three people who are forever off chasing ghosts has got to be kind of an odd bird." Comparing Nick Boyle's lifestyle to that of a detective who spends his time investigating and dealing with unpleasant situations, he feels the character has to be able to see the irony in the circumstance and apply a sense of humor. "He would to crazy otherwise."

Everyone from the technical side to the actors agrees that the move to the Sci-Fi Channel will be beneficial from many different aspects. Rosenberg expresses his view that one of the problems encountered in the past was that the audience was confused as to when and where the show was going to be screened.

"Now we can say that it will air at the same time on the same day each week without people having to search through the listings for us." Derek de Lint agrees: "The switch in channels is so very great for us because The Sci-Fi Channel is, of course, for Sci-Fi lovers, so it's where we should be."