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April 11, 2005

Production Update, Q & A

We've almost completed shooting the opening of Season Two, with Michael Rymer back at the helm filming a two-parter written by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson called "Scattered" and "Valley of Darkness." Things have been going well so far, with a good mood on the set and a feeling of satisfaction and pride running through the whole team at their accomplishments in year one and anticipation for year two. I'm in Los Angeles at the moment, but I'm shuttling back and forth between here and there once again.

In terms of writing, we have scripts in hand for the first seven shows, scripts underway for the next three and stories underway for the next three after that, so we're in excellent shape in terms of being prepared for production. The further ahead you can deliver scripts, the more time each department has to plan and allocate resources, which ends up saving substantial money by simply avoiding last-minute surprises like, "Oh, we need a freighter interior this week" which causes an enormous scramble as everyone has to run around and either find a location with virtually no lead time which must still be completely dressed for camera, or a set will have to be constructed from scratch virtually overnight with consequent overtime overages. The solution sounds simple -- just write the scripts faster -- but executing that idea turns out to be much more complex. Changes in storylines tend to domino backwards and forwards throughout the episodes, requiring more rewriting and a lot of ball juggling to keep it all straight.

It's good to be getting dailies again and see the cast back in uniform after the long break. In fact, it's just good to be doing a show that everyone is so committed to and so proud of. Season two looks like it's going to be something really special.

Now some long-delayed Q & A:

"OK, How does the Six avatar on Caprica know Starbuck is Starbuck (during the fight in the museum in KLG part 2)?
Obviously she could get her rank from the uniform insignia, but how would she know her name? I didn't see a name patch on her fatigues or anything. Am I missing something? "

You're not missing anything. The methods by which the Cylons communicate with one another, the way they disseminate information and who has access to that information is something we haven't spelled out yet. There are answers, however, and as Season Two progresses, you'll learn more.

"Was the rest of humanity completely wiped out on the homeworlds? Or are there some pockets of resistance in remote areas along the lines of the classic movie "Red Dawn"? I would imagine that there would be survivors and groups would form, especially by those in the Colonial Marines and Army that survived, as well as by law enforcement personnel and other citizens. The Cylons would have to deal with an insurgency, which is always hard to fight unless they are willing to completely scorch the planets. Nuclear winter did not occur on Caprica so it must not have been nuked to that point. War is ultimately a test of wills, and I am sure some holdouts would exist and they would not sit on their assess but go find Cylons and get some."

I think you're going to like Season Two.

"Is Baltar screwed now that it's somewhat obvious that his Cylon test either, one, did not work on Sharon or, two, he withheld the info that she was a Cylon?"

Baltar will have to deal with this the moment he returns to Galactica -- which won't happen right away.

"I am not sure we can take this (BSG-75 = Battlestar Group 75) as being canon (fact) for the show. I would like to know what the source of this rumor is."

"BSG-75" was something created during the production of the miniseries and it stands for Battlestar Group 75. This definition is now official because it can be seen on one of the charts in the Wardroom scene in "Water" where they are discussing the water tank explosion. I don't know who came up with the designation or what the initial thought was. I think we must assume that battlestars are more or less permanently associated with a particular battlestar group, and that there's some particular prestige associated with the various groups akin to the pride that a particular army unit takes in being part of a prestigous division.

"What do you have to say to new fans, like myself, people who are unfamiliar with the mythos of BSG? You've been talking mainly to people who are intimately familiar with the original series."

I guess I say welcome aboard and you've got some homework to do. If my references to the original series drive you crazy, why not go out and get the DVD set of the original and see what all the hoopla's about? I try not to delve too deeply into the original show in my commentaries, but at the same time, this show does have a history and I think it's only fair to point out the connections between now and then, after all there would be no Galactica now were it not for Galactica then.

"Why does Commmander Adama wear glasses? (I'd very much like to see an episode explaining this, but focusing more on his son, Apollo.) I realize Mr. Olmos wears them... and by the way, I do too. I have since 5th grade, about 15 years now. You don't see many science fiction shows with people wearing "lenses", and I'd like to see that played up a bit. "

It's another way of saying that this society and these people are much closer to us and our society today than they are to some made-up space world. It's a nice bit of texture for a character and I think it helps ground the show in the reality we're creating. Sure, you can argue that a space-faring society is too advanced for things like glasses, but just because the technology and medical know-how is available doesn't mean that all members of that society have access to it or have chosen to avail themselves of it for one reason or another.

"WHERE the fraq is Boxey?
I can only guess the new baby cylon/human hybrid girl is Boxey’s future wife only if Boxey is still around."

Boxey died a hard nasty death on the page and in the editing room, and was last seen haunting the deleted scenes area of this very website. Boxey's character was included in several episodes last season, but ended up on the cutting room floor time and again, not for lack of ability on the actor, but simply because as the show evolved and focused itself over the course of the year, his character became ancillary to the storylines. But who knows, he might yet lurch out of the shadows once Sharon's daughter reaches the age of Colonial consent.

"How about bringing the Marines a little more to life other than to use them as background muscle? There oughta be some interesting tales to tell among their ranks."

I've thought about creating a few recurring Marine characters, but until now, I haven't had a role for them to play in any kind of continuing role. In season two, however, we're working on a couple of recurring Marine characters, and I'm sure we'll continue to see more.

"Why did you choose jerky camera movements?? I'd like to know just why you chose to do this? To me, the camera work looks like it's been done by a first-year film student trying to impress his instructor. It does not emphasize the documentary style you say you're looking for. It's a lazy way to try to instill some kind of emotion to a scene that's lacking in that emotion. If the dialog cannot convey the emotion, new-age and/or lackluster camera work is not going to aid in that conveyance. A weak story line isn't going to be made interesting by "creative" camera work so I would suggest you concentrate on script content, not photographic tricks."

The visual style of the show was deliberately chosen to evoke a sense of realism to a world that, by its very nature, is fundamentally unreal. Ours is a world of many conceits, in which the viewer is asked to believe a great many things that he knows do not exist and so we strive to create a mood that implies, in ways both explicit and subliminal, the idea that, "Yes, in fact, this is a real place and you are watching real events occur." By doing so, we hope to encourage the viewer to suspend his natural disbelief and invest himself into the drama. One of the tools we use to achieve that is to use a visual style which suggests that the viewer is eavesdropping on the proceedings, peering into an objective reality that was captured in some way by an imaginary documentary film crew. The same holds true for the exterior space shots, which are designed to continually suggest that a real cameraman is filming the action as a way of implying that someone had to go "out there" and shoot these objects. The audience has a built-in awareness, whether they are conscious of it or not, of exactly how real cameras move and behave when they are being aimed at real objects, and more we can suggest to the audience that a real camera was involved, the more they're willing to accept unreal objects as actually existing.

Then again, maybe it just looks cool and we like it, so there.

"Apollo's betrayal of Adama's decision to arrest the president is detracting from the believability of the show for me. I'm listining to your podcast of ep. 113 as I write this and you just said Lee is "a more capable, more competent, leader . . .". He's also struck me as a fairly honorable character. If he had doubts about this mission I think he would have at least voiced them and then not gone along with the strike team so he would not have been put in the position he was. I hope you won't use Adama's near death experience at the end of season one/start of season two to "write off" these betrayals, esp. Apollo's. His was much more unforgivable considering his relationship with Adama, his leadership role in the fleet, and the battle between the president and Adama. I find it hard to see Lee continuing as CAG after this. "

You bring up valid points and we are planning to play out the consequences of Lee's decision as it impacts both him and his father over the course of the season.

"After seeing what I quoted below on your blog, Ron, and being an avid fan of Dragonriders of Pern for many years, I just have to ask if there is any chance in the future for at least one Dragonriders of Pern movie or perchance a revival of the series? I don't really expect you to answer this or even see it (hopefully someone will pass the word along) since the BSG season has come to a close and you are busy with filming Season 2, but, I thought you might like to know that the millions of Dragonrider fans would dearly love to see their beloved dragons onscreen. Some of us had heard of the Pern project but never heard what happened or why. Please, if there is even a remote chance of bringing our beloved Pern to the screen, do so. Help us realize a dream many of us have had since the first book was published."

I've never given up on Pern and periodically I check back to see if there's some way to revive the project (at a different network). No joy so far, but hope springs eternal.

"I do have one question if you have an opportunity to answer. I feel that many critics and viewers of Space: 1999 often missed the point about the show. It wasn't warm and fuzzy like Trek for the specific reason that this crew never meant to become interstellar travellers and they had barely the technology or the psychological mindset to meet yet overcome the incredible challenges they faced. Also, the fact that the show was based on the moon wandering speedily across space wasn't the issue anymore than getting hung up on how a baby from Krypton could become the incredible Superman on earth.

The point was "IF" this were to happen to a crew of relatively normal humans from earth habitating a moonbase then these are the stories that could occur. It represented the awe, spectacle, thrills and constant imminent danger of deep space better than any show I've seen and showed a crew that wasn't usually joking around or having a good time because they were working tooth and nail just to survive. However, in spite of their situation the observant viewer would always see clues that they did have a obvious caring for and about one another that was represented by looks and actions that went beyond words.

Thus, my question is what impact if any has Space: 1999 had in the work that you've done? "

I'm not sure "Space: 1999" has had a direct impact on anything I've done other than influence our main title sequence. I must admit the show is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, since it has one of the more ludicrous premises of all time (the moon?!) and some of my pleasures things like glee at watching how quickly Commander Koenig goes to the "We're all doomed and going to die," card during a crisis and watching Barbara Bain turn like she's a mannequin on a lazy susan during the main title. But, I do own the DVD set and I think the Eagles are one of the better spaceship designs ever. Okay, I'm a closet fan, you found me out.

"Kara might be the best shot in the fleet...but being a good shot is far from being a trained sniper. And she missed in that episode, a huge faux-paux for a scout sniper. In addition, she could not have been conducting unit training and sustainment training with the Marines...and fly her Viper.

In the season finale, with the Marine boarding party assaulting into the President's office...her guards would have had to put down their guns..or they would have been shot quickly..or at least physically detained at gunpoint. There is no way a standoff that close would ensue."

I think both comments are well taken and I concede the points. In both instances, we chose to go with the dramatic needs rather than the "real" choices. Making Kara the sniper was simply a way of providing more tension and drama into the final sequence of "Bastille Day" rather than going with a brand-new Marine sniper who the audience would have no investment in or identification with. Likewise, the stand-off aboad Colonial One would've probably never occured with real Marines and Secret Service agents, and indeed, early drafts of the script had the final beats playing out on either side of a barricaded hatch that separated the two sides. However, the feeling was that separating Laura et al from Tigh et al dissipated the drama and felt less suspenseful, so we decided to go for the stand-off. It's a judgement call, frankly. We're always striving to keep things as "real" as we can make them, but we are still producing a television series and we're telling a story, so sometimes we bend the rules to make the show more compelling or to avoid awkward scenes that actually slow it down and dissipate the momentum.

"I had to see Kobol's Last Gleaming part 1 a second time to confirm it, but that was a very nasty trick showing Jamie Bamber and Katee Sackhoff together in the opening scene before switching to James Callis. Was that foreshadowing (not that I *really* expect you to answer that) or more of helping to re-inforce who is truly the object of Starbuck's affection? "

It was really to establish who Starbuck would rather be with.

"I'm working on a a VERY comphensive timeline of Colonial History. (Yes, I am a fanboy.) I was wondering is Colonial Day an event that happens every 38 years (since the calamity on Kobol 2,000 years ago) OR does it take place every year, placing it only 52 years before the invasion? I'm leaning towards every 38 years, but if so then can it be assumed that the "Colonies of Kobol" were officially founded 1,962 year ago. Even then, why would a people chose to celebrate their independence day, every 38 years. I think this is about as nitpicky as I can get. I assure you, I won't ask what color Starbuck's car is or what cereal she eats when she gets up. Just curious..."

Colonial Day occurs every year and it is the anniversary of the founding of the "federal" system of government which was a relatively recent event. Before that time, the Colonies functioned more or less on their own, possibly with various attempts at alliances or even complete Colonial government over the centuries since the exodus from Kobol, none of which were successful. When the first Cylons were created, individual Colonies still warred against one another and it wasn't until the Cylon rebellion that the 12 Colonies finally came together in a permanent way. Presumably, the Articles of Colonization were not made up out of whole cloth, however, and there may well be principles and ideas of justice that date back to the original colonists. (Too bad you didn't ask about the color of Starbuck's car, because I actually have an answer for that one...)

"I'm going to take a wild guess that you don't have loads of time right now to lounge around watching your past work and talking into a microphone, but nevertheless - is there any chance you might supply podcasts for episodes in the first half of Season 1? "

My digital recorder is mocking me at this very moment. I had plans to do podcasts dealing with writing and production which would then be downloaded, but so far I've been either too busy or too lazy. I also think about going back and doing podcast commentary on the first half of season one, but I haven't made a move in that direction either. I'll do something, I promise.

Posted by Ron at 02:53 PM

April 01, 2005

A Debate Worth Having

There's an interesting thread on the Galactica message board here at SciFi.Com entitled: "Human Rights abuses in the Show" The central question debate therein, concerns whether or not Kara was justified in torturing the Cylon prisoner in "Flesh and Bone" as well as some of the other practices and methods we've seen the officers of Galactica use, such as the interrogation of Valence in "Colonial Day."

Not only is this a (by and large) intelligent and thoughtful debate on a serious topic, it also brings up a question I'm often asked -- namely what are the politics of the show and what is its political agendat? The quick answer is that the show doesn't really have a political agenda in the sense that it's neither liberal nor conservative in the way those labels are thrown around in the sound-bite era of demagoguery that currently passes for political discourse in this country. One would be hardpressed to say that watching Laura Roslin break her word to a prisoner and then kick him out an airlock would be advancing a progressive, liberal agenda, or that Adama questioning his society's worthiness to be saved is somehow indicative of a conservative bias.

I certainly have my own political views and it would be disingenuous at best to say that there's some kind of firewall between my beliefs and those portrayed on the show. I'm the head writer -- my views and thoughts are on life are on display every week, including my political predilections. However, I don't see the show as a platform to advance my political belief system or my own views on morality. I do see the show as an opportunity to raise questions in the minds of the audience and ask them to think, which is something of a rariety in these days when politics seems to be about stoking emotionalism and finding simple-minded slogans to stand-in for actual answers to complex problems. ("Culture of Life!" "Right to Die!" "Ban Smoking!" "The Ownership Society!")

Galactica is both mirror and prism through which to view our world. It attempts to mirror the complexities of our lives and our society in turbulent times, while at the same time reflecting and bending that view in order to allow us to extrapolate on notions present in contemporary society but which have not yet come to pass, i.e. a true artificial intelligence becoming self-aware and the existential questions it raises. Our goal is to examine contemporary culture and society, to challenge (and sometimes provoke) our audience, but not to provide easy answers to complex problems.

I firmly believe that what Kara Thrace did to Leoben in "Flesh and Bone" was wrong. I believe that a society which employs torture on the defenseless captives in its custody has crossed a bright shining line that civilized people should not cross. Likewise, I think that Laura Roslin promising a man freedom only to kill him in the end is abhorrent to the ways in which I want my president to behave. However, I also understand why each of them did what they did. I understand the emotional, psychological and moral quandries which can lead two moral, good people to take such ghastly actions. And, in the end, I also believe that it was true to who characters really are, and that trumps everything else.

Would I personally behave the same way in similar circumstances? I hope not, but neither am I so confident of my own immunity to the pressures felt by an interrogator charged with finding a nuclear weapon or to the enormous weight sitting on a chief executive trying to protect her citizenry that I can say I would absolutely have made the more "moral" choice.

Was it wrong for Adama to dissolve a legally constituted judicial tribunal in "Litmus" simply because he sensed it becoming a witch-hunt or was he actually protecting the larger concepts of justice? Was it right for Lee to shoot down a civilian ship knowing full well that it was probably filled with innocent human beings or was he making a pragmatic choice to protect the greater number in the fleet? Is Tyrol a fool for protecting Sharon or is he honoring the most fundamental human emotion of all -- true love?

These are the debates that I hope you have among yourselves, your families, your friends. I want the show to provoke you into thinking about the times you live in and the choices that are being made all around you every day. In a time when the President of the United States actually asserts that he has the power to arrest without warrant and detain indefinitely without charge or appeal, any citizen (indeed any person on the face of the Earth) simply by designating them as an "illegal combatant," we should all be engaged in a vigorous and energetic debate about who we are as a people and as human beings and exactly how we do intend to respond to the very real threat posed to this nation and to the foundations of liberal democracy posed by people capable of, and willing to, fly airplanes into buildings.

I hope this show makes you think. I hope this show makes you question the moral choices that are being made in your name and by your representatives. I hope this show angers you at times and makes you outraged at the actions that good people like Kara and Laura sometimes take. But the show is not a polemic; our aim is not to screech and demagogue these issues in search of facile answers. Good people can make bad, even horrific decisions, just as bad people can make noble, even righteous ones. Balancing civil liberties with security is a complicated, difficult gymnastic act which defies the easy, pat answers typically served up by an hour of episodic television.

If the show does have a single, consistent point of view, it is probably best summed up by something Lincoln said during his second inaugural address:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all..."

Think about that. Debate the meaning of that simple idea. For that, more than anything else, expresses this show and the politics behind it.

Posted by Ron at 07:14 PM

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