The Final Word on Battlestar Galactica (2009)
Ronald D Moore and David Eick have impressive pedigrees as creators of television SF. I was lucky enough to speak to them just after Battlestar Galactica ended, and go their final thoughts on the series. We also spoke a little about the prequel, Caprica, which at the time we did the interview was being produced. Sadly, it was cancelled before the end of the first season. From Death Ray #18.
All this has happened before, all this will all happen again…
It’s out with the old and in with the new as Battlestar Galactica comes to a final end and production on Caprica ramps up. The Adama clan will be off our screens for the best part of a year, before we are introduced to their immediate ancestors. We were lucky enough to get creators of both shows, Ronald Moore and David Eick, to talk about writing the climax of one, and the beginning of the other.
You’d have to travel halfway to Kobol to find an SF series that has been as consistently good as Battlestar Galactica. Basing their show on TV maverick Glen A Larson’s space-take on the Exodus, veteran SF producers Ronald Moore and David Eick succeeded in crafting a tale fit for our times, an action-packed saga of the near-extinction of humanity, wrapped up with fat agnostic bows. Battlestar’s complexity, cast of diverse characters and willingness to ask some tough questions about religion, loyalty, belief and societies under stress (not to mention some kick-ass space battles) have earned it numerous Emmies, Saturns and Hugos, as well as the prestigious Peabody Award. They kept us guessing until the end, and now it’s over. Not to worry, show creators David Eick and Ronald D Moore have a spin-off, coming soon.
We spoke to Moore and Eick about the series, where some of its major themes came from, its legacy, the fans and that pesky writers strike that threw US TV for six back in 2007. It’s not just the timing: this really is the last word on Battlestar Galactica.
Death Ray: What are you guys most proud about the series ending?
David Eick: I’m probably most proud of the fact that I think we were able to answer most of the questions that we had raised over the years, to resolve most of the mysteries of the show, and at the same time give a resolution to all the character arcs.
Ron Moore: It’s so rare that you get to end things in the way that you intended. There are myriad details of course that changed and shifted, but we talked about ending the show this way two years ago. I found it very satisfying. I was very pleased with the way that the show ended, creatively and personally. It just feels like we’ve completed the piece. We are able to step back a little bit and look at it from beginning to end I feel good about the complete story that is Battlestar Galactica. It’s just been a tremendous experience. It’s easily been the highlight of my career, the cast and the crew and the production staff mean the world to me. I was just very proud of all the people I worked with, and very proud of what we were able to put on the screen.
DE: The show has provided such a great professional springboard for both of us. We don’t tend to talk about that as much, but the reality is I started writing on this show. I hadn’t been a writer prior to it. Ron started directing. Both of us have had doors opened for us. We met people I don’t think we ever would have met in the industry, and gotten some opportunities that will probably continue for some time. That’s no small thing. You know, it’s hard to find those situations, that kind of fertile topsoil. Battlestar Galactica, beyond the show itself, has meant a great deal to us I think in terms of our future.
DR: Will there be any more opportunities for more movie offshoots?
RM: Don’t know about Caprica. Haven’t even thought about that direction. I don’t know that there’s really any opportunity to do more Battlestar pieces. We’ve struck the set. I mean the sets are gone. That alone raises a huge hurdle to try to do any more. I don’t know how they would scrape together the money to reassemble that ship. But there’s always virtual versions of the ship, and you never say never. But I would say it’s very, very unlikely that there would be any more.
DR: What’s in the future for both of you?
RM: I’ve got some future things in development and I’m waiting to see what will happen with Virtuality which is a pilot at Fox. And I’ll let David speak for himself.
DE: Nothing really, I’m going to shoot some pool. Try to do a lot of drinking! No, there’s a lot, we both have deals at Universal. There’s a pretty active development slate for both of us in terms of pilots. There are two at NBC right now that I have that are in serious contention and various and sundry things elsewhere. But I think our primary focus right now is Caprica because that really is the next at bat.
DR: If Battlestar Galactica were to be re-made in 30 years time, what would you least want someone to change about what you created?
DE: Oh God I have no idea. I would hope that they just come in and use their own best judgment. If somebody was going to do a new take on this version of Battlestar Galactica I’d want it to be fresh. I’d want them to do what I did when I approached the old series, which was to just go in and take no prisoners. And say, okay I’m going to keep what works and I’m going to discard what doesn’t.
Personally I would feel honored if someone does want to do that. It says that you’ve created something that has stood the test of time and that people are still interested in, and people want to continue to tell stories in this universe, and they’re interested in these characters, and they want to keep trying to explore different aspects of the show that we weren’t able to explore.
DR: Battlestar Galactica is in essence a complete science fiction novel with a beginning, middle and end. That’s only ever been done once before with Babylon 5. What are your feelings on it being a historical event in terms of TV history?
RM: This is the show that we work on. I tend to think of it just as a show that, you know, David and I put on for our friends and family and for the cast members. I’m always surprised when anybody watches the damn thing.
This idea that it’s sort of something larger… well that’s interesting, but I’m not really emotionally connected to that idea.
DE: I think both of us have a tendency to be pretty pragmatic anyway. We like to keep normal hours. We don’t like a lot of drama in our life. We like to have a happy group of people working together. There’s not a lot of Hollywood hysteria, I think along with that comes a certain pragmatism in how we look at the work. It is a job. It’s a lot of hard work, it’s long hours, it’s a lot of sweat. And if you try to take a step back from it and say to yourself ‘Look at us, we’re making Peabody Award-winning work’, or ‘Gee aren’t we special?’ I think you lose your way. So we try to keep our nose to the grindstone. It will probably be a couple years before we’re able to step back and assess it with any kind of objectivity.
DR: Do you monitor the Web sites to see what those people are saying about the show?
RM: I have a habit of monitoring Web sites on the night that a new episode airs. I’ll surf around to pick up fan reaction. I get a kick out of seeing message boards entries. I’ll put a couple of windows up on my computer and watch live reactions as people get to ad breaks. That’s kind of enjoyable. We receive some reviews and see what the general tenor of it is. But I don’t monitor it very closely beyond that.
DR: Have you ever read a theory about the show’s mysteries that somebody got right?
RM: Oh sure. There are theories out there, guesses about different parts of the mythology or different revelations that are spot on. Fortunately they’re buried with so many other bad ideas. But I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone who’s nailed the whole thing. Or anyone who’s gotten exactly what the show is going to be at the end or anything.
DE: Usually the most vociferous and intensely felt theories are the ones that are furthest off.
RM: Those are always my favorite, the ones that are really adamant about it. We’re like ‘Oh really?’
DR: Battlestar Galactica is really the most religious SF show on television. How did this get woven into the story?
RM: It came very early on, in the first draft of the mini-series. There was just a line in it, in a scene with Number 6 in Baltar where she said to him “God is Love”. When I wrote it I didn’t really know what it meant. But I thought it was an interesting thing for a robot to say. I just kind of liked it and kept it in there. When we got notes back from the network there was an executive at the time named Michael Jackson who really liked it. He said ‘This is a really interesting idea. You already have certain things going on with Al Qaeda and religious fundamentalism that are thematic in the piece. You could go further in this direction.’
And I thought well Hell, I’m not going to get the note to have more religious content on the show very often. And I just went for it. It was very organic, it played into things that were already inherent in the show. There were already a lot of terms, you know, taken from the Greek gods and the Roman gods. It felt natural to then make the colonials polytheists. If Number 6 says the God, singular, is love, it made her a monotheist. I thought, well that’s fascinating already, the monotheists versus the polytheists.
THE FINAL FIVE
DR: How did you choose who the final five Cylons would be? Was it like picking a name out of a hat?
RM: I think David has a dartboard and we…
DE: The answer is it was a little of both.
RM: The final four came up literally in a moment in a writer’s room where we were struggling with the end of season three, and trying to figure out certain things. It was all about the trial of Baltar, and we had set that up to be the end of the season. The structure was working fine. But it just didn’t seem to satisfy, it didn’t quite seem as big an idea to me. And I said, you know, I just wish that we had some bigger revelation here. I just got this image of four of our people walking from different areas of the ship and all ending up in one room together, and they all close the doors and they look at each other. And they say, okay we’re Cylon. And then we just reveal like four of them, you know, in one fell swoop.
Everyone was kind of taken a back in the moment, but the more we talked about it, it just became well why don’t we really do that? Then we talked about who those four would be with an idea of holding out the last one for the last season. We kind of had a good idea going into the last season who the final Cylon was, but we were willing to look at other candidates and see who it could be and which one makes the most sense in the mythology. Ultimately we stuck with the original choice because it just made the most sense in terms of the history of the show and what it means for the characters.
DR: Does the song ‘All Along the Watchtower’ have any special significance to you?
RM: I had personally been obsessed with the song for a while, and I had wanted to work it into a project of mine for the last several years. In fact I wanted to do a whole Roswell episode about it, so it was always in the back of my mind. We started talking about music and using music as a trigger, I just immediately said it has to be ‘All Along the Watchtower’.
Everybody kind of laughed, but I just was very much dogged about it. Then we got the rights, and that became the song.
THE WRITERS’ STRIKE
DR: How big an effect did the writer’s strike have on the decisions that you made regarding the story itself?
RM: I’d say the one thing I took from the break was that there is a need every once in a while to stop and take a breath and be sure you like where you’re going. We had structured out the end of the show, the last 10 episodes, and had locked them in and had begun writing some drafts. We were working actively on them when the strike hit. But it gave me a chance to pause and reflect. I just wasn’t satisfied with some of the directions we were going. When the strike was over we gathered the staff together and right off the bat and said, you know what, I had some time, and I think we’re making a mistake with a couple of these story lines, so let’s go back and let’s re-break them and re-visit them. I was very happy for that. And, you know, maybe the lesson going forward is just that: Every once in a while take a time out, even though you think that there’s this relentless pace that you have to maintain, and you’re afraid to start over again. Sometimes it’s worth it. I think we have a stronger story as a result. For good or for bad, this is in my opinion the best ending.
Two families at war, their futures divided by a terrible tragedy, their fates forever intertwined… Sounds like North and South, but it’s not. It’s in space, for a start, and there’s a race of intelligent machines to be born. We’re going to be present at the delivery on Caprica. Ronald Moore and David Eick reveal their birthplan.
Battlestar Galactica may be dead and done, but it’s not the last we’ll see of this particular science fiction universe. Already under development is a prequel, Caprica. It’s set on the eponymous planet 50 years before man’s children, the Cylons, commit their act of patricide, and details their creation. It follows the fortunes of two families: the Adamas, well know to us from BSG, whose patriarch is Bill Adama’s father, the civil rights lawyer Joseph (played by Esai Morales), and the Graystones, headed by technologist Daniel (Eric Stoltz). The families are forced down two very different paths when both Daniel and Jospeh’s daughters are killed in an act of religious terrorism. Graystone reacts by creating a cybernetic copy of his daughter Zoe, a course of action Joseph becomes angrily opposed to.
A two hour backdoor pilot has already been shot for the show. It so impressed SCI FI executives that they commissioned a series off the back of it, and this is now being prepped for an air date possibly in autumn of this year. Great news, but the flipside is few have yet seen the pilot. Billed as the world’s ‘first SF family saga’, we hope for something truly novel, yet fear the spectre of Falcon Crest…
Death Ray: What’s the status of Caprica right now?
Ron Moore: Caprica has been picked up for a full season. We start shooting that probably in July. We’re putting the writing staff together now and the crew. And, you know, just staffing up and getting ready to go. We’ll start breaking stories soon. We have a game plan of sort of what the general story line is and sort of some direction. So we’re not starting completely from scratch. So things are well in hand. In Caprica we feel really good about that. And beyond that,
DR: We know it’s a prequel that takes place 50 years before. But how does that tie into the mythos of what we learned throughout Battlestar Galactica? How much will you have to know about Battlestar Galactica to appreciate Caprica?
RM: They’ll certainly tie in. But we set out deliberately to set up Caprica in a way that you didn’t have to see Battlestar. I mean I think you could literally watch the pilot to Caprica without seeing a frame of film on Galactica and you would get it. You could invest in that story completely on its own, we wanted it to stand as its own project.
DR: How does that affect you as a writer dealing with the thematic transition of going from Battlestar Galactica to the period piece of Caprica?
RM: Oh it’s challenging. You know, it’s a different thing. We set out to do a very different show. You have to go back and start over. It’s a new cast of characters, new people, new story line. You can’t just go on a glide path and say ‘okay, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing, we know what this is all about’ because, you know, in this case we don’t. This is a different feel. It’s a different style. It’s a different method of story telling. It’s a different mood. Everything about Caprica was designed specifically to not repeat what we had done in Galactica. So now it’s a challenge. Now it’s about wow, back to square one. We have to sort of re-invent this, and we have to really make it work. There are no guarantees that people will accept it. We have to really rise to the challenge.
DR: How do you think the fans will receive the whole Cylon thread in Caprica, considering that we already know how the story pans out in the future?
RM: Hopefully they’ll view it as is intended, which is a period piece. In any period piece you know what lies in the future. If you’re doing Madmen you know the ’60s are a-coming, you know that that whole world is going to collapse. If you’re doing a World War II piece, you know the Nazis are going to lose, but you still are able to tell fascinating and compelling stories. I think that’s what we’re doing for Caprica as well. I mean, that’s at least the intent.
DR: Are you trying to keep Caprica’s ending more loose and open-ended than Battlestar Galactica’s?
RM: Right now we’re nowhere near even thinking about what the end of Caprica is, and that’s kind of the way it was with Battlestar, although I guess with Battlestar we always knew that eventually you were going to have to find Earth or not. With Caprica I guess we have the same challenge in that we know that there’s a war looming ahead of them. And the destruction of their entire race is looming ahead of them. But, you know, that’s 50 years away. And I suppose the show could run 50 years.
David Eick: Or at the end we could just cut to 50 years later.
DR: Are you trying to also keep the characters very different from Battlestar’s characters?
RM: Well they are different. I would say that there’s probably going to be similarities only in that the way we like to do characters, the way we like to make them ambiguous and challenging and surprising. That still matters to David and I a lot. But I don’t know that there’s any particular stand in for any of the Battlestar characters. I don’t think there’s Caprica’s version of Starbuck or of Helo or anybody. It’s its own thing.
DE: There’s a character for example, Esai Morales’ character’s brother, who in the realization of the pilot turned out really fantastically. The actor was sensational. I remember thinking as we were looking at it, you know, this is another great character. And there’s no one even remotely like this on Battlestar. So I think that there’s always going to be, hopefully if we’re lucky, a distinction, and a distinctive quality to the characters.
DR: Having worked on Star Trek in years past, Ron, are there any lessons that you took home from those spin off series that you’re now able to apply to?
RM: Probably first and foremost is that you don’t try to repeat the formula. I questioned at the time after Deep Space Nine when they developed Voyager, and then subsequently Enterprise. Both those projects felt too similar to Next Generation and to the original series for me. I felt that Deep Space Nine was the way to do a spin-off series of an existing franchise where you really are doing a very different show. It’s a different format. It’s a different feeling. The Deep Space Nine station lent itself to continuing stories. The Next Generation was episodic. I mean they were just very different animals. I felt that it was more creatively satisfying to do that instead of doing a spin-off that just felt like a different version of the mother ship. That definitely informed the process as we went into Caprica.