Saturday, January 3, 2009

sepinwall's interview with ron moore

With the premiere of Battlestar Galactica just two weeks away (my heart is racing in anticipation as I write this), Alan Sepinwall has posted his interview with creator/mastermind Ron Moore concerning the last season of the greatest show on television. I've said this before and I'll say it again... I probably wouldn't like Ron Moore if I ever met him. On the DVD commentaries, he notes which scotch and cigarette brands he's using, and the idolatry of that man is enough to annoy me. But still, he's created the best television show I've ever seen, and he's never insulted the intelligence of his audience, and in a business that is determined to dumb down its audiences, I really respect how Ron Moore has handled this show, its well-constructed characters (there is not a character I don't love -- though Gaius Baltar beats them all), and certainly the brilliance of its episodic and continuous narratives. So here, below, I've included some interesting sections of Sepinwall's interview (including bits on the upcoming Caprica series), though I definitely would encourage any fan to read the whole thing here.

Talk me through the narrative and thematic style of ("Caprica"). You like to compare "Galactica" to war movies and political films from the '70s. What's something that looks like what "Caprica" is going to be?
It's hard to say. The comparison I used to keep making was "It's a sci-fi version of 'Dallas.' But the deeper we get into it, it's not. It's so different in tone and style to what we did on "Battlestar." If you just watched and didn't know the other program or didn't know what the connective tissue was, it wouldn't feel like they're part of the same family. They're very different stylistically. This is really a character piece and a drama that's very political. It has a lot of religious issues too. There are terrorists and terrorists bombings, religious strife... In "Galactica," we talked about monotheism versus polytheism; in "Caprica," those ideas are just starting to percolate.
Prequels can be very tricky to deal with, especially when one of the characters is from the other show, and a lot of what we know about him has to go a certain way. What made you want to tell a story in the past of this universe?
I knew the series of "Battlestar Galactica" was going to end with a period at the end of the sentence. Because of the way we're ending "Battlestar," I didn't see other stories beyond it that I felt were interesting or had any real relevance to what the show is about. But we had a very rich backstory to deal with. I mean, we could have done another Battlestar, or the first Cylon war, but those would have been repeating things we had done. Remi Aubuchon had come to the studio with an idea to do something unrelated to "Battlestar" about robots and artificial intelligence and the creation of life, and when we started talking together, I got interested in the idea of doing a sci-fi show that was set on a planet, did not have an action adventure component to it, is even more of a character piece than "Battlestar," where it really has to live and die on its characters and its story without the Cylons attacking every week. Could you sustain a science fiction show in that kind of context? That's what got me excited.
Ever since you did the reveal of the Final Four, people have been really fascinated by the origins of the skinjobs and how they came to be. How much of that's going to be revealed in this final batch of "Galactica"s and how much will have to be in the new show?
It's mostly revealed in "Galactica." I don't think there are many pieces of the puzzle that are set up in "Galactica" that we held out for "Caprica." Most of the questions raised in "Galactica" are answered in "Galactica." We just said, "The Cylons were created by man and turned against their masters." And now we're telling that story.

The "Star Wars" prequels had lots and lots of problems, but one of the big ones was that we knew they were going to a fixed point, where Annakin is going to turn evil, the Republic's going to collapse, etc. How do you tell the story of the creation of the Cylons when we know what's eventually going to happen to them? Will there be a lot of scenes where one guy says, "Are you sure this is such a good idea?" and his buddy insists, "Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?"
I think that's a good tricky point. I think there's some important differences. We're not tracking a given set of characters through this. Willy will be the only person from the other show who even figures into it, and he's a kid. Internally, it's like doing a period piece. If you do a WWII piece, you know the Nazis are going to lose, that the North is going to win the Civil War, but you can still tell good stories about those periods. The fact that you do know where it's all going to end adds a certain layer of dread. Events have a certain import, because Caprica is doomed. The opening line that we show on Caprica, right now is "Caprica, 51 years before the fall." Right from the get-go we're telling you these people are all doomed. In some ways, we're taking the fact that you know where it's all going work for us.
So, for instance, when you decided who four of the Final Five would be, how much thought did you have to put into it before revealing it in "Crossroads," and how much was, "Oh, we'll say this and figure it out over the hiatus"?
The impulse to do it was literally an impulse. We were in the writers room on the finale of that season, always knew we would end season 3 on trial of Baltar and his acquittal, the writers had worked out a story and a plot, they were pitching it to me in the room. And I had a nagging sense that it wasn't big enough, on the level of jumping ahead a year or shooting Adama. And I literally made it up in the room, I said, "What if four of our characters walk from different parts of the ship, end up in a room and say, 'Oh my God, we're Cylons'? And we leave one for next season." And everyone said "Oh my God," and they were scared, and because they were scared, I knew I was right. And then we sat and spent a couple of hours talking about who those four would be. Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard to lock in who made the most sense and who would make the most story going forward.
One of the things I've thought about since you revealed them is the amazing chain of luck that had to happen for these four to survive everything that's gone down. They survived the genocide, Anders survives his time on Caprica, they all survive being the resistance leadership on New Caprica. Is this a coincidence?
This very topic is wrestled with at the end of the new season. Within the show overall, there's been a constant discussion of, "Is all this a coincidence or is there some meaning to it?" It's a glass half-full or half-empty question. Adama took a hard-line secular view on things a lot of other characters took a miraculous view on, and we the audience have seen a lot of things that can't be explained by rational means. How did these four survive through all of this -- how did all these people survive? -- and ultimately the show does have an answer to it.
One of the things I've always liked about your storytelling style is that you let a lot of things just be assumed: "Oh, the fans are going to understand this, we don't need the technobabble or whatever. I just want to hit the parts of the story that are interesting to me, even if we don't explain everything."
I like doing it that way. On some level, I write the show for me and what I like, and I flavor everything in that light. "This is how I would like to tell a story." And I just assume that the audience is as smart as me, easily and they've seen a lot of TV and seen a lot of stories, and they can fill in the blanks and make the leaps with me on certain things.

A lot of times in the podcast, you'll say things like, "I know people are interested in this, but that's really not where the story's going." You didn't really deal with the toasters becoming sentient again, that sort of thing. After I watched "Revelations," I thought it was a great ending, but I jotted down a list of things that still had to be dealt with. I'm wondering, without you giving it away, whether these things are going to be addressed or whether these are things that we're thinking a lot more about than you were.
Do you have a list?
1. Obviously, the identity of the final Cylon, we will find this out?
2. The origin and nature of the Final Four and how they're different from the rest of them?
3. The origin of the rest of the skinjobs?
4. What happened to Earth and what happened to the 13th Colony?
5. Who, if anyone, is orchestrating all of this?
Basically, yeah. I don't know if it's going to be wrapped up in a neat bow. The show has an answer for it, whether it's a satisfying answer, I don't know.
6. Will "All this has happened before and it will happen again" be explained in some way?
7. The opera house?
8. What happened to Kara when she went through the Malestrom?
Pretty much.
9. Identity and nature of the "head" characters?
10. Tigh and Six's baby, and whether that means Cylons can breed?
Yes. That's not a "yes" to whether they can breed -- the question will be answered.
11. The fate of Boomer and whether there are other 1's, 4's and 5's floating out there?
12. Roslin's health?
Okay, that's a "yes" on all of them.
See? We knew what all the questions were! I'm kind of proud of myself. "Yes"es to all of them. I thought you were going to throw a curve at me, like, "Oh, (bleep)."

You said there's a part of you that wished you had done what David Chase did with "The Sopranos." How do you want, or how do you expect, people to react when we get to the end of this?
I hope it's satisfying. Ultimately, I hope it's satisfying. This one is a closed-end story to an extent, setting aside "Caprica" for the moment. It's a beginning, middle and end, "Battlestar Galactica." This big story, how it all began, the apocalypse of the 12 Colonies, then the journey, and then they get here. This is the end of all these characters that you have come to know and love. I really wanted it to be satisfying and answer questions that the audience has asked for a long time. I wanted them to like the answers, or at least appreciate the answers, that thought was given to them. At the end, you can say goodbye to the characters as you're saying goodbye to the show, and there's not a dry eye in the house.
Other than the toasters getting free will this year, what are some other stories you had to drop that, all things being equal, you wish you could have done something with?
The big one that we had to make a shift on in the first season is we never got out into the civilian fleet and showed those other ships. I always felt like different cultures would be on different ships, and as time went on, would develop into their own little mini-societies depending on their circumstances. Over here, you have one captain and 50 people, and here you have four captains and 500 people, those are very different worlds that they're trapped in. For production reason, we were never able to leave Galactica for any length of time. That's a big open chapter that I never got to write.

Things I would have done differently was the Lee and Dualla romance. It sounded better in theory than the way it worked out, and I would've laid more pipe to get there in the beginning if I had known. As it was, it felt a little too thrown together and punched in too quickly.

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