Wednesday, October 25

Ronald D. Moore on Battlestar Galactica

Source: Coming soon
At the Screenwriting Expo 5 in Los Angeles, sci-fi writer, producer and developer, Ronald D. Moore was honored and presented with the TV Writer of the Year Award by his friend and fellow writer Harlan Ellison. "This award is for an astonishing job of making one of the worst television series ever made into one of the best television series ever made," Ellison said as he gave Moore the award.

Of course he's talking about SCI FI Channel's "Battlestar Galactica," for which Moore was asked to come on board and essentially recreate the show that originally aired almost 30 years ago and cancelled shortly after it debuted. As Moore walked on stage to accept his award, the crowd stood and applauded.

"Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here. Thank you very much for this award. It's very nice. I'm often asked, you know, what's the best part of writing for television and the truth of it is it's really not about watching dailies or going down to the set or even sitting at home and watching your name up on the screen, the truly honest best part of writing for television is something called the writer's room where you get to sit in a room with a group of other talented people for the most part and you sit and break stories day after day, hour after hour," he told a cheering room of people.

"You sit there with these group of men and women who become your family for the life of that series and you argue and you laugh and you tell stories and you procrastinate and make fun of each other's bodily functions and it's a very singular experience. If I'm here for a reason, it's because I sat in writer's rooms for 13 years and "Battlestar Galactica" in many ways is a result of that process. It's a result of sitting with other writers and learning the craft through countless hours. I accept this and I dedicate this to the dozens of writers who have helped me down through the years and most especially to the late Michael Piller who found my script and gave me my start."

The colorful and entertaining Ellison served as moderator and interviewed Moore about the show and his success.

Q: Will there be an episode where Dr. Gaius Baltar doesn't wine or cry?
Ronald D. Moore: If he didn't wine or cry I'm not sure I'd know him as Baltar. There are a couple of episodes coming up to where he does something other than wine or cry, but we can always add the tears in post.

Q: Is every female character going to wind up knocked up on the show?
Moore: Well you've gotta have goals.

Q: I can't think of any other superlative shows that were made from a poor start. Tell us about when you got the offer to recreate "Galactica."
Moore: I got this phone called that said, 'would you be interested in doing "Galactica?"' And I wasn't sure. That is what I sort of had trepidation about. I hadn't seen the old show in a long time since its original run and I'd done a very long time on "Star Trek" so I'd done a lot of years out in space and I didn't know if I wanted to keep doing it. It wasn't really until I said, 'okay give me until the weekend. Let me think about it before we even keep talking about this.' I went out and I found the pilot to the original which I hadn't seen in 20 years. I brought it home and watched it and you can certainly pick the pilot apart 50 different ways. I mean it doesn't work on a lot of levels and there's some really bad stuff in it. But, I was really intrigued by the premise. I thought at the heart of what that show was was a really interesting idea because the original show has the same premise that ours does which is it opens with this apocalyptic attack on human colonies. It opens with a genocide. The genocide of man and then the show is about survivors who are not fighting back. The survivors are running away from their enemies perpetually into the night. I thought that's an intriguing place to be. When I was looking at the pilot I think in January [or] February of 2002. It was just a few months after the 9/11 attacks and I realized that there was no way you could do this project with the audience on some level bringing their feeling, emotions and memories of that event. I thought well if you treated that idea as truthfully, as truthfully as you could. If you try to go to what really happens to people in those circumstances and really try to tell an honest story about what happens when an unthinkable event like that occurs to everyday people when their not the crew of The Enterprise. When they're not the elite, the best of the bests. What's happens to the people on the broken down ship that nobody cares about anymore and it's crewed by a bunch of screw ups and that's like humanity's last best hope. That's an interesting series. So I jumped at it after that because I realized it was an opportunity. Ever since I've always thought that what we do on the show is take the premise of the original show more seriously than they do. That's kind of how I think about it.

Q: The parallels to the Iraqi war I think are very clear. Did the parallel come from you or some sci-fi executive?
Moore: Fundamentally it came from me and I felt okay from that first weekend of thinking about it, okay this is going to deal with 9/11 and it's going to deal with a lot of things that we're going through in this society at that moment. It was just part of the premise. It was always going to be in the show and once you were on that path it just felt like we're just going to keep doing this. We're going to deal with things that happened in our contemporary reality, but just you go through a different prison. The show would never be a direct allegory. Laura Roslin is not going to be George W. Bush. The Cylons are not going to be al-Qaeda, but they were going to have elements of it and part of the opportunity of the show was to move pieces around the game board a little bit. Say, okay well we've all experienced this set of events, this set of emotions. What if I move this piece over here and what if I put you over there? How do you feel about it then?...One of the foundational elements of the show is the religious conflict between the two civilizations. The monotheism of the Cylons. The polytheism of the Colonies. You know what is God? What is human? What does it mean to be alive?

Q: The venue has changed and there is now a supernatural quality. Something like the force is at work. Can you talk about that?
Moore: Well, I sort of felt that as the religious aspects of the show were becoming more and more prominent and they were starting to dominate plot lines and certain character attributes, you had to sort of make a choice at some level of whether that was all bulls**t or not. Does it mean something? Is all this worship just about talk and about made up religions that don't mean anything or is there possibility of something greater? It's the extensionalism question. Is this all that I am? Is there something more? Why am I here? If all the characters on the show are asking themselves that, I felt that on some level I wanted to sort of give it a hint that maybe they're not all fools. Maybe there is some greater truth that they're all struggling towards. That none of them can see perfectly and so I started to fetter in ideas that could not be explained by rational means, but to never really come out and say, God is behind the curtain, you know. But, I wanted to add elements of it. I just felt like I think one of the things that I had noticed that working in "Star Trek" and science fiction was that mainstream films science fiction tended to shy away from this subject.

Q: Who is the worst person you've ever worked for?
Moore: I worked for a crazy man once. The late great Toby Halicki. There once was a man named Toby Halicki who did two films. He did the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" and he later did a film called "The Junkman." Essentially Toby was a car thief and he told us. He stole cars like in the early 70's and then made a film about it called "Gone in 60 Seconds." He was stealing cars to finance his film. He was a guerrilla filmmaker. Toby would shut down the freeway and just shoot a stunt without asking anyone's permission. He was truly a guerrilla filmmaker. He made a mint off the original "Gone in 60 Seconds." Many years later he decided to make a sequel ... Toby was looking for someone to writer the sequel to "Gone in 60 Seconds" so I went and I helped write it and Toby said "sure you can come write it and you can also come manage my toy business." Toby was sort of insane. I mean he was very litigious. He sued people at the drop of a hat and he was a madman. He ran around screaming at the office all the time. He had this compound down in Gardena where you drove up to this big wooden fence that screened it from the road and you pressed a button and you went in and Toby had constructed a full western back lot for himself and he had never shot a western before in his entire life. Then he had this gigantic airplane hanger filled with toys from top to bottom and these exotic cars. It was a crazy crazy experience. Ultimately what happened was Toby and I went to upstate New York to scout locations for this movie. We were at this big industrial park and there was this big water tower. Toby wanted to bring the water tower down for a stunt. We had this screaming match. Toby was going to bring this water tower down with his buddies at the welding shop and I was upset about this. We had a screaming match about how insane this was and subsequently Toby fired me. I went back to Los Angeles and Toby went on his merry way. I got my "Star Trek" gig. It turns out Toby went on to shoot this film in upstate New York and Toby's brother called me said "I've got some bad news. Toby is dead." I said "what?" He said "yeah." I said, "what happened?" He said, "well we were shooting a water tower scene." His brother sent me all the video tapes of the news coverage of this accident. There is this video tape of Toby standing in front of the water tower on camera being interviewed on camera by the local news reporter. Like I said, Toby was incredibly litigious and loved to sue anybody. He was literally threatening to sue the city of Dunkirk because they had made him take out a 10 million insurance bond to protect the city in case there was an accident on one of his sets. He was literally looking into the camera saying, "I have never had an accident on any of my pictures and I'm going to sue the city of Dunkirk when this is all over because they made me waste all this money on a stupid insurance." In the background you could see his buddies, the welders were on the thing and there were sparks coming off and like 10 minutes later the tower just came down. He was the only guy to get hurt in the accident. The tower did not fall directly on him. What he had done was there was this water tower and there were these two telephone poles because it was this abandoned factory and Toby wanted it to look real so what he did was he strung wires between the telephones poles so it looked like they were active poles and when the tower came down, it caught the wires which pulled down the telephone pole which fell on Toby's head. It was essentially God said, "don't fire Ron Moore."

Ellison then opened it up to the audience to ask Moore questions.

Q: Do you read the message boards and chat with fans?
Moore: I read message boards and I'm always interested in what fans are saying about my show and other shows. I remember what it was like to watch these things and to care about them to an obsessive point and so I have a certain amount of sympathy for people who feel that way about what I do. At the same time, it's not a democracy. At the same time it's like okay I've got an idea of what I want to present to you and I really hope that you like it. But, if you don't like it, I still like it. When I was approaching "Galactica" it was the same thing. I knew it was going to be controversial about reinventing the show. Going back and casting and making it much darker. A different sort of idea and that was going to upset a lot of the fans. I read a lot of those comments and I was intrigued to see what people respond to week after week. My job is to give you what I think is a good script. My job is to give you the best TV show that I think I can give you and then it's up to you about whether you like it.

Q: Do you have a specific destination for the show and if so can you just tell us what it is?
Moore: I do actually know how I want the series to end, but I didn't know at the beginning. At the beginning, I wasn't sure where it was going to end. It was sort of as we started into the second year that the show had matured to a certain point and I sort of understood what all of the themes were about and now I do have an end point of where it should end. Right now the challenge is about judging that correctly. Know when to leave the stage. Hopefully you bring it to a close perfectly...It's just about if you can line up all of those pieces at the exact moment. I have an idea of where it's going to go and I've started the season with fear that I didn't have enough stories to get to the end. Like, oh my God maybe we should just end it this year because I don't how I'm going to fill another 20 of these and then you're always filled up and the end of the season there's always more stories than we ever got around to doing. So right now my gut says we've got a couple more years to do it. I could see two more seasons. Next year you can ask me the same question and maybe I'll say two more seasons. So yeah, I don't know.

Q: How do you avoid using the show to express some of your own personal views like on the war in Iraq.
Moore: The show isn't a polemic you know. I don't approach it that r30; I don't like a lot of moralizing television. A lot of story is sort of structured in TV to sort of teach you a lesson. To tell you this is the right answer to a given set of circumstances. This show is dealing with a lot of complicated ideas, a lot of complicated notions ... What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be safe? I don't know the answers to a lot of those things. I have opinions and I have feelings and I have a political point of view and I'm not naive enough to think that doesn't influence what I do. But, I don't look at the show primarily as a vehicle show ... A lot of people draw parallels to the war in Iraq and there's an insurgency and suicide bombers and so on. But, the crafting of that story was less about okay here's a political statement about the war in Iraq than it was okay what happens to my people in those circumstances? What happens to these characters that we've created and I throw them into this mess and I move some of the puzzle pieces around so that it's not a direct allegory. So it's not so clear as to who the good guys and the bad guys are and just see what happens. I want to see what happens. I want to see who's going to collaborate, who's going to fight back, who's going to be trapped in the middle, who's going to be questioning their own moral judgments, who's going to become a suicide bomber, who's going to slap somebody because of that. It's like dealing with things that are contemporary and you're dealing with things that are important, but I just try very hard not to make the show a vehicle for that idea. That said, there are fundamental things that I do believe come out in the show. There was a point where I had Laura Roslin saying "every person gets a trial and it's not an option that the president gets to dismiss it their way." I want her to say that because I believe that. But, it wasn't a show that was all about that. This wasn't the lesson of the episode. It's just what that character would say in that circumstance so I had them say it.

Q: Do you think you could have done "Galactica" eight years ago because in terms of what was going on in the world was so much different and do you ever think about unfortunately as things get worse in the real world, it works out better for the show?
Moore: No, I don't really go there. It's a good question of whether I could have done the show eight years ago. I don't know because I think certainly the relevance of the show and the way it grabs you viscerally because of what we've all gone through. It's just a very different piece and I don't know if it would have been quite as attractive all those years ago. I know that when the original "Galactica" came out, yeah they had an apocalypse too. They had a genocide and all these sort of dark ideas, but when you watched it in 1978 it's a very different thing than when you watch it in 2002. The show just sort of came to life because it was of the moment and it's hard to say if you could have even done it or approached it eight years ago.

"Battlestar Galactica" airs Friday nights at 9/8c on SCI FI Channel.

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