Saturday, February 28

Director Michael Nankin Fights The Future With 'BATTLESTAR GALACTICA' and 'SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES'

Source: IFmagazine

The helmer reveals his favorite episode, slight spoilers and how he will miss BSG

Michael Nankin, who has directed eight episodes of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, including this year’s midseason premiere “Sometimes a Great Notion,” along with the TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES episode “Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today,” teases, “I know everything you want to know.”

iF MAGAZINE: Great! What can you tell us?


iF: Figures.

NANKIN: You don’t want to know. It’s so much more fun to discover it in the show.

iF: Do you have favorite BATTLESTAR episodes?

NANKIN: My favorite episode that’s aired was called ‘Maelstrom.’ It’s the one where Starbuck dies and we find out later she didn’t really die. It was such an intense emotional exploration of this character between me and Katee Sackhoff, I just pushed her to places that were painful, personal places that she was very willing to go there. As far as an actor/director relationship, it was really, really rewarding, a lot of hard work. So I’ve got a soft spot for that episode. And all the work that we did was all there on the screen.

iF: What were you trying to get out of the actors for the midseason premiere?

NANKIN: Well, as you know, the last images we saw in BATTLESTAR [before the midseason break] is that they’ve made it to Earth and it’s a nuclear charred wasteland. So the season premiere picks up from that same moment and deals with the emotional fallout. Thirty-some-odd thousand people trying to get to Earth, and they get there, and their hearts’ desire, the Christmas tree, is a nightmare. I have a soft spot for sad drama. I love tragedies, not tragedies that just are depressing, but tragedies that are ennobling, ultimately, and cathartic. Which is what the midseason opener is. If everybody is going to be sitting around moping, it’s going to be boring. So you have to accept that that’s where they are and then transcend it in some way, find the median, find the humor, find the life in it. What worked to our advantage was that this episode was shot during the writers’ strike. During all the prep of the episode, we didn’t know whether we were actually going to shoot it or not, and right before we shot, the writers went on strike, the producers left town and we got the green light to go produce the episode. Nobody knew at that time whether we were shooting the last episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or not. Because we knew that if the strike went six months, we would never come back. It wouldn’t make financial sense [for the studio to bring it back]. So the fact that what we were shooting could possibly be our last hurrah – everyone’s game came up. Everyone wanted to do the best work of their lives and so it was all these great actors working at their highest level.

iF: Do you feel there are thematic or practical similarities between BATTLESTAR and SARAH CONNOR?

NANKIN: They both have hot girl robots [laughs]. Well, obviously, when you have humanoid robots who exist on the cusp of humanity, you deal with issues of, what is humanity? Can they be human? Are we as human as they are? And what does it mean to be human? Is it experience, is it actually being flesh and blood, what is it? So those questions are the meat of both of those shows.

iF: Is it easier to direct BATTLESTAR because you don’t have the touchstones of contemporary culture, or is it easier to direct TERMINATOR because you do?

NANKIN: I find BATTLESTAR easy to direct, mostly because BATTLESTAR is written with the budget that they have in mind, so that the stories that you get, the scripts that you get, fit comfortably with the production resources, whereas SARAH CONNOR is always trying to be a feature and so it’s butting up against the limits of its production resources. We have the template of the TERMINATOR features, which have these gigantic set pieces. How can you do that in episodic? And yet we try.

iF: Does it help that Summer Glau, who plays the Terminator Cameron, is so handy with the action?

NANKIN: Oh, she’s amazing. I mean, the other thing that both shows have in common are these incredible casts. The episode that I did of SARAH CONNOR [“Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today”], I had very little with Summer Glau, and no action with her, really. All the action was Cromartie the Terminator [Garrett Dillahunt] and Thomas Dekker and Levin Rambin. It was fun. I liked the Rashomon storytelling, where we saw [different perspectives on the same events]. Every time we’d go back to a scene we’d already seen, I tried to shoot it in a shorthand. Once you got the idea of, ‘Oh, this is from [a previous scene],’ you might have more knowledge of a scene in a different light. As soon as you got that, I wanted to be out of it. I only wanted to revisit this very quickly.

iF: What are you working on now?

NANKIN: I’m writing a pilot for Fox I’m going to direct a CSI episode.

iF: Are you excited about working with Laurence Fishburne?

NANKIN: Are you kidding? Yes. He produced and starred in one of my favorite movies of all time, ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED. It’s this beautiful HBO film based on the Walter Mosley book. I can’t wait to tell him how much I loved it.

iF: Do you feel like you’re going to miss BATTLESTAR and are you going to be on CAPRICA?

NANKIN: I’m going to miss BATTLESTAR desperately. And I hope to be on CAPRICA in some incarnation or another. BATTLESTAR has changed the way I do everything. It’s changed the way I write, because now my writing has to be much better than it ever was, because I’ve had the example of that show, and it’s changed the way I direct, because I had such freedom on the set, unprecedented freedom, where I was able to grow as a director. So I’m twice the filmmaker I was when I started on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

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