Beware of SPOILERS for Stargate SG-1‘s tenth season episode “Bounty” and for Sanctuary in this interview!
Having been hired after the series moved to the SCI FI Channel in 2002, former producer/writer Damian Kindler is the man behind some of Stargate SG-1‘s most key episodes. It is only natural that on this year, the tenth anniversary of the series, the Web site that helped him in his research takes some time to recognize his contributions.
Damian takes us back to where it all began, in the early Season Two episode “Need,” an episode which he helped bring to life. He discusses, in detail, some of his favorite and least favorite shows, bringing the character of Vala to life, and the final episode of SG-1
But most importantly, Damian sheds light on the up-and-coming enigma of his brainchild, Sanctuary, and speaks passionately about what he hopes it will accomplish for casual viewers, dedicated Stargate fans, and the future of online entertainment.
GateWorld’s interview with Damian is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs a whopping 51 minutes. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m talking with Mr. Damian Kindler, writer and producer for Stargate SG-1 and consultant for Atlantis. Damian, welcome, and thank you for being with us.
Damian Kindler: It’s a total pleasure.
GW: Some folks don’t realize you were involved all the way back in Season Two of the series. Tell us how your relationship with Stargate first came about.
DK: That’s such an old story. My relationship with Stargate began actually before that. I am a Toronto guy and worked on a sci fi show that’s long since gone away called Sci Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal. I worked on that in Season One. I worked on it basically for all four seasons, in some capacity or another, as a writer and producer. In Season One it was quite a heavy-workload of a show. At a certain point the other staff writer and I threw up our hands, pulled our hair out and said “We really need some help here.” One of the writers that was on a list of writers that we liked — at the top of that list — was a young, promising writer named Robert Cooper.
I really liked Rob. We had met at a very early meeting when the show was being conceived. He had done some writing on shows and I had done some writing shows. It was nice to meet a guy my age with interesting sensibilities and we really got along well. This was back in 1995 or 6. I think 96. I remember calling him and begging him and saying, “We have a list of one person that we really need to come help!” So he came in for the second half of Season One [of] Sci Factor as a staff writer and really saved our bacon. I knew right away he was a very special talent. He wrote features and had an amazing work ethic, even back in his mid-twenties.
When Sci Factor ended his agent had arranged for him to fly out to Vancouver to pitch on this new show called Stargate SG-1, which was being done by the Outer Limits guys and it was based on the movie, and he had a neat pitch. So he went out there and literally, a few months later, he and his girlfriend-to-be-wife one day, Hillary, went out and never came back. But we stayed in touch since then. We’d become good friends.
I was working on Sci Factor for the next four years, had written Earth: Final Conflict and written Code Name: Eternity. I wrote all these shows. Relic Hunter. I was very involved in the Toronto scene. But I remember in the second season of the show Rob and I chatting. I always really loved Stargate. I thought “This is one of the top, if not the top show in Canada.” It was that, and Outer Limits, [which] were the one-two punch at how huge and awesome Canadian shows could be and hit the global market.
So I remember pitching ideas to Rob in Season Two. None of them quite fit with what they were doing, and that was fine. It wasn’t the end of the world. I had a lot of other things on the go but it was really nice that Rob was always keen to take my pitches and present them for me. I never actually had flown out there to discuss anything with Brad or Jonathan [Glassner, co-creator of SG-1] or any of those guys. I was just throwing them to Rob, going “What do you think about this?” “What do you think about that?”
And then to my shock and pleasant surprise he called up one day and said “By the way, we’re going to give you story credit on this one” because there’s a pitch that had to do with Daniel and the effects of going through the gate, and addiction, and things like that that really tied in well with another idea, “so you’re going to get a story credit on it.” It was the episode “Need.” I was very happy about that and thrilled that my name was in some way associated with a really cool show.
Many years passed since then. Rob, being amazing at what he does, rose up through the ranks. And, might I say, very tough ranks. Brad Wright is a very, very strong taskmaster at demanding quality and discipline and great ideas. He holds everyone to the same standard he holds himself to and he’s a pretty gigantic talent in his own right. So watching Rob flourish there wasn’t surprising, but it was gratifying. He was a Toronto guy making it in the big. I loved watching his career from afar. We kept in contact, and if I was ever in Vancouver we’d hang out and see each other in Toronto when we could. So on and so forth.
And it all dovetailed into 2001 when I actually ended up being available to come in and pitch some ideas. I had been coming and going from L.A. to Vancouver and doing lots of work on different shows, and ended up coming in to pitch some ideas to Stargate just at the start of Season Six when it moved from Showtime to SCI FI. [I] pitched a lot of ideas. [I] pitched four ideas, one of which was “The Other Guys” which went very well. Two of the four pitches that they really liked — one was “The Other Guys,” which was the one they commissioned me to write, and the second one, once I ended up on staff, ended up being “Cure.”
It was really wonderful because I actually used GateWorld constantly in my research. Rob said, “Go to GateWorld.net, they have everything.” I was able to digest five seasons worth of shows and material. Of course the more I went through the synopses and the reviews that your site has, I was like, “Oh my God, every good story ever conceived by culture has been used by the show. How am I ever going to come up with something for them to use?” So when in doubt I always fall back on humor. I pitched “The Other Guys,” which was my favorite pitch. They loved it and asked me to write it.
I came in and worked on the story with them and wrote the script. At the time I was just very happy to have gotten the call to write a script and really enjoyed the characters and process. And the day I delivered the script Rob called and offered me a Producer job, which was one of the nicer moments in my career. And that became the next five years of my life. It’s just been an absolute joy, and an honor, to be part of that team. To watch it expand, to be part of the birthing of Atlantis and watching how things are done at the top level by some of the top talents of the business.
GW: Now you had not watched Stargate religiously before coming aboard?
DK: No. Not at all. It’s interesting. I had seen it, of course, now and then and thought it was cool. I’d been pretty open when I thought Season one was a bit stiff. Season two got better. Because I was basing a lot of my opinions of Season One I didn’t really get into it. I went in there and Rob said “Here’s twenty episodes to watch.”
I started going through them. And halfway through I started emailing him and going “This is not the show that I remember coming out to work on. This is funny and clever; and it’s got twists; and I don’t know what’s going to happen next; and it’s smart; and Rick is funny; and Amanda’s a great actor; and Chris is poignant; and who is this Michael Shanks guy; and holy cow are those effects hot.” And he’s writing back going “Yeah, see, it’s getting better! And we’ve got more budget and it’s a big hit.” I was really going, “Wow, why was I missing the boat on watching this?”
It’s pretty wild and cool. I found it a little bit more of a cool factor than — Outer Limits was fun and catchy and interesting. But if you didn’t tweak to the story right away that was it. But at least the consistent world and mythology that was blooming inStargate I found pretty appealing. Once I started getting into it and investing my time and attention to it I realized why the show was a giant hit and was probably going to be around for a while.
Now, of course when I started on Season Six I remember Rob saying “Well welcome aboard. A lot of people have had that office that you’re in.” “Oh, that’s nice!” The other thing he said is “This is probably, likely the last year of the show. But we’re hoping to do a spin-off and so if all goes well maybe you’ll get a chance to do some work on that.” I said, “Look, man, I’m just glad to be sitting in this chair and typing away. This is great. This is perfect. I love it. Here we are, and I’m working with you. This is wonderful.” I never, in my wildest dreams, could have said “Well, I’ll just be doing this for five years.”
GW: Right. You took nothing for granted.
DK: Nothing for granted. And I don’t think anybody did. I was definitely the one in the room in the fall. We’d sit around, Joe and Paul and Rob. I was always the one going, “I don’t know. I don’t see why they’d cancel. I think they’ll keep going.” And people would go “Nah, there’s no way! We can’t do an eighth season!” Sure enough we’d get the call and SCI FI wanted to keep going.
GW: They want to run them concurrently!
DK: Yeah! Then there was the Atlantis thing. It was quite the run to see. I had front row seats for the whole thing.
GW: There must’ve been “Oh, we can’t do this! Forty shows?!”
DK: David, it’s interesting: there was never that. Rob and Brad were always very-much like “We can do this, and here’s how.” That’s one of the reasons why they’re so good at their jobs. They said “We’re going to do this. We’re going to do that.”
I remember Brad saying to me once, “Well, one thing doing Atlantis means is I’m going to have to become ‘fast’ again.” When you’re a young writer and have got young kids at home and got to pay those bills you really bang out the scripts fast. When you’re show running and there’s a support system you have the luxury of saying “Well, I can deliver the script when I need to deliver it. Play with the schedule” and you can really take the time to fine-tune it.
GW: Yeah, throttle back.
DK: Yeah. Exactly. But Brad did. He was just writing and rewriting scripts with incredible speed. He was like a young man again. He definitely enjoyed his golf trips as a chance to recharge, and needed them desperately once the seasons end. But never was there a “Oh my God, this is impossible.” It was always “Yep, bring it on.” You know?
GW: Wow. So you guys carried that on for … [Season] Eight, Nine … three years. Forty scripts a year.
DK: Well, that’s right. I was involved as a producer for four seasons and then I was a consultant and writer on both shows for [SG-1] Season Ten and [Atlantis Season] Three. So last year was my first year not as a producer. I was involved in the show in a little bit more of a marginal way. I literally was leaving to pursue other things. Mainly Sanctuary.
GW:Right. So you’ve been working on that for a year?
DK: Well, yeah. It takes a year to build a company to its proper place. To gear up to production. I’d say I wasn’t working on it for a solid year. I’d say it’s been a year, maybe fourteen months since the initial idea was discussed with the people who’d become partners in the venture.
It’s been a very wonderful year. And I’ll be honest. It’s a year that probably couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t still been part of the Stargate family. I’ve always been very, very grateful for the opportunity to remain part of the Stargate world. Even though, at the end of Season Nine it was mutually agreed upon that I was probably going to be moving on, because there was a lot of people on staff and there were other things I was very interested in doing. And they knew that.
But Rob and Brad were very magnanimous and said, “We’d really like you to remain involved in the show — as a writer on both shows. We like your ideas, and we don’t want you to just –” it was like “Not so fast! You’re not shaking hands and leaving right now.” I was very flattered by that and very grateful. It was nice to remain part of all that through the tenth season, which was a really huge landmark. I know the guys should feel nothing but huge pride over that.
GW: Totally. Before we move on to Sanctuary I’d like to discuss Stargate just a little bit further with you. Of all the stories that you wrote for them, which do you feel is the most realized?
DK: Well, it’s a good question. First of all, on Stargate, because people are so good at their jobs and there’s actually a very healthy budget, a lot of what you write gets realized in a very, very nice way. They don’t cheap out. They’re going to do a space battle, they’re going to do it right. You’re going to do a fight, you’re going to do it right. They’re going to do a scene in some amazing location, they’ll find it. Or they’ll build it. So that’s always really nice. I remember the very first one, “The Other Guys” that Martin Wood directed, just coming together brilliantly and going “Wow.” This is my first Stargate experience at that level. Just going, “Wow.” I’ve never had a script that was produced at a feature-film-level of quality.
I did a lot of space stuff. A lot of Prometheus stuff that I thought came together really well. A lot of effects-heavy stuff. I really like the way shows like “Space Race” and “Prometheus Unbound,” the first one with Claudia, came about. We had two cargo ships and the Prometheus. Then we had also Prometheus in a cloud and we had an alien ship which we only saw once ever and then it disappeared. And stuff like that. I really liked that stuff. I thought stuff like “Evolution” came together brilliantly. Really, when we built — the one that Peter DeLuise and I wrote that was a two-parter about Daniel being kidnapped in South America.
GW: That was “Evolution.”
DK: That was “Evolution.” Yeah. When they build a little Bolivian town. “Babylon” in Season Nine, which although I fully admit was a somewhat flawed story from my perspective. It could’ve used a little bit more in it. They built an incredible village for the Sodan. That stuff is just great. And the fights were great. Were there ones that I thought were a little less fully realized? Sure. There was a couple. But “The Other Guys.” The big two-parters. What about “Reckoning?” My God. That was just coming off the screen like fireworks, some of those scenes. Cutting to Anubis’s lair and seeing what was going on on Dakara. Just establishing shots of Replicator ships landing on Dakara. The stuff was just huge and I loved it.
GW: Very fulfilling.
DK: Very fulfilling. Sometimes you just hear the music and just go “My God, Joel Goldsmith is just a genius.” I can’t single out one. I loved the effects in “Space Race” and the world we created. I loved what we did with Hebridan. I loved the way we did “Poisoning the Well” I loved the look of the Hoffans. Even though they don’t exist anymore. And I loved what we did with “Trinity” The effects in “Trinity” are spectacular. Hats off to Brad Wright for demanding all that be done properly. That’s fortunately just an embarrassment of riches — how well stuff gets produced on the show.
GW: [Laughter] Done by the right people.
DK: Totally. Totally.
GW: You mentioned “Prometheus Unbound.” For such a big character that she is now, we can’t get by without talking about Vala.
GW: You’re the father of Vala, essentially!
DK: One of them. I will not at all, publicly or privately, claim to wholly have created Vala. I definitely wrote the show and definitely wrote the draft introducing her. But that level of spunk and cheekiness and chutzpah, definitely, you have to tip your hat to Rob Cooper. He was the one that said “Come on, let’s take this further.” And I was going “Really? You want the Super Soldier to make a suggestive comment to Daniel?”
He’s like,”Yeah, yeah come on! She’s hot!” Really, I definitely gave her her name. But Rob, I would say, definitely took the ball and spiked it in the end zone as far as her character. I appreciate people saying “Oh yeah, you introduced Vala.” But Rob, like so many elements of Stargate, really got in there and gave it the spice that makes people really like it. I don’t at all claim responsibility 100 percent responsibility for Vala. If you like her or hate her I still have the same answer.
GW: [Laughter] I enjoy her! I will admit that when the season began and they were talking about adding her to the mix — long before I knew that she was going to be the mother of Adria, et cetera, et cetera — a little bit of trepidation there because Vala does not exactly equal SG-1 in her behavior. But now I think she’s really come into her own as a character and adds a level-headed comedy but also she’s very endearing because she’s so brittle in so many ways.
DK: Well the interesting thing is “Prometheus Unbound” was one of those scripts where Rob came to me and said — it was later in the season — he said “Look, we need a show, and we need a show set on the Prometheus. You can have some effects but we can’t go on locations too much. We’ve got to do a small show. You, get in my room.” He and I just sat down and talked about it. We beat out a story and I wrote it up real quick. He said, “Great.” I wrote the story really, really quickly. It needed to be written in seven, eight days and it was done.
He called me on the weekend and he said “Hey, it’s in good shape. I really like what you’ve done. I want to take it and do a pass on it because I think we can boost the character of Vala a bit, but I really like where it’s at. It was one of those things that came together really quickly and had we had more lead time, it would have been nice to get some notes to do a fun pass on Vala, if I had been given permission — or time permitting — to do it myself. Look, Rob did a killer job with it. I could never complain. I know that it was fun when I wrote “Bounty.” I don’t know if “Bounty” has aired in the U.S. yet.
GW: No, it has not. Though I have seen it.
DK: Yeah. It’s a really fun Vala episode. It’s a fun episode in general. I did a draft and delivered it and the guys said “This is great, but I think what we want to do is put Vala at Mitchell’s reunion.” Which was an idea that had been bandied around before when I was talking about the script initially. It didn’t gel at that point but it gelled once the script came in. So I said “You know what? That’s great!” Never had such a big note been delivered to me and had been accepted by me so happily. It was like “Yeah, no, I don’t mind doing it! I’ll totally make that work.”
Once the second pass came in everyone was very happy with it because that was a wonderful dynamic. That’s perfect. Let’s put Vala in small-town Kansas with aliens after them. And it’s great! So her character, when used properly, is just absolutely wonderful grist for the mill on SG-1. So I really loved what she brought to the show.
GW: I loved that episode. It was really well done. I really loved the angst between Vala and — oh, Peter DeLuise’s wife.
GW: Yes, Ann-Marie. Who was playing a character referenced all the way back in “Ripple Effect.” I can’t think of her name!
DK: Amy —
GW: — Vandenburg — that’s right. What a duo. That was so much fun.
DK: Yeah. Well they’re both such wonderful women. It’s fun to see them actually go out there and have fun doing these characters.
GW: Exactly. You’ve heard how I feel about Vala in Season Ten. What do you think about Vala in Season Ten?
DK: Well, to be honest I think her character really came into its own in the sense that the way she was forced to grow and confront certain issues. She became more than the petty thief person who may or may not stab you in the back. Having her daughter be who she was, and having Vala be put in the situation she was put in, and having her loyalties tested, was interesting. I liked it. I always have the fear — I don’t ever want her to become too earnest. Her character is such a fun character that when it stops being fun … Just because a character’s fun doesn’t mean they can’t deal with dark issues.
It’s just that I want her to have her dark section of her experience and then move past it into something even funnier. I always saw Vala ending up being a Lando Calrissian. A former swindler who’s gone legit and using her knowledge of how people achieve to run a good business. Or something like that. Run a mining operation or a colony or something.
I never saw her, personally, as the type of character who should be on the show for five, six, seven years. But definitely the sort of character who could come in for a couple seasons, spice things up and then move on and come back and forth. Or even have her own show in a way! She’s so different. Listen, the Ori thing was a great way to use Vala. And one of my favorite moments from Season Nine is her standing there pregnant in the window of a ship. That stuff is just great. I love Claudia. I think she’s very talented. I think she really worked hard to find her groove on a very, very entrenched, and very, very established, ensemble cast. So good for her.
GW: So you think if we de-clawed Vala and made her Miss Goodie Two-shoes she would cease to be interesting on a lot of levels?
DK: She’d suck as a character! [Laughter] I think Claudia or Rob or Brad or anyone would agree with that! “Don’t do that. If anything give her more claws.”
GW: Alright. Great. Now you were sometimes tasked with executing stories others had conceived. Now that’s a teleplay, I believe.
GW: In your honest opinion what were a couple of the most grueling to fulfill?
GW: Yeah. For whatever reason. It just didn’t click for you personally. It may have turned out great in the end but you just weren’t getting it at first.
DK: Well I know the one that stands out for me is just the one I felt I could never get a hand on and have all sorts of regret over. “Sight Unseen” from Season Six. I don’t know if I did justice to that at all. I know I worked very, very hard to try to make “Poisoning the Well” work. My first Atlantis. And I think it came together pretty well.
That was actually a story that was lying there in the dead pile that Brad was going “I wish we could figure out how to make this work. I like the story, but the woman who wrote it, I don’t think she can do it quick enough.” And Rob had said “Damian’s available.” And Brad goes “Really? Well what do you think?” And I sad “I think there’s a story there. Why don’t you let me try to find a door in?” It was a lot of work. And not just a lot of work to find the story and plot. I did a lot of medical research. If Carson is going to come up with an actual, working drug, it can’t be phony baloney. We have to understand how DNA, genomes, and how these drugs are synthesized.
I was able to talk to Rob about it. He’s very knowledgeable about medical research. But I did a lot of my own research. You’ll work for a whole afternoon to come up with one line. It’s that inefficient when you’re stuck in the medical stuff. “Sight Unseen,” that’s a little bit of a regret. I didn’t do that many teleplays. I can’t remember what other ones I did that were not entirely me as far as story.
I shared teleplay on both parts of “Evolution.” Part One with Michael Shanks, but that was where he contributed all sorts of neat stuff about the telchak device water. And Peter DeLuise and I mapped out his draft as well. That was no problem at all.
GW: OK. I remember with “Poisoning the Well.” I was a little bit scared when I first heard the idea about it. We’re five episodes in and already we’ve got a surefire way to kill a Wraith biologically. It was really smartly done because we also got rid of the civilization who came up with it.
DK: It’s the dark side of “Reset to zero.” Just like you know all of your heroes will be around at the end of the episode. Eventually. It’s the same with the bad guys. You don’t de-fang the bad guys that early in a show. No way. I remember writing “Cure” where we came up with what would be tretonin. I always seem to write these ones where we introduce the drug that we keep coming back to. So the Wraith drug was another one.
But one of the things that was so interesting about that show. At some point, I don’t know if it was Joe Mallozzi or Paul Mullie who was breaking down the story, said “This is a very dark episode. This is the Atlantis team coming across a final solution, Masada-type culture who are willing to die by the millions in order to defeat their enemy.” Two questions were posed. One was “Do we want to go this dark with this show? Can this show go this dark?” My hand shot up and went “Absolutely.” And I know Brad’s was too. Brad loves dark sci fi. The joke with Brad is always “And the world blows up, and the credits role.” That’s his favorite.
GW: Outer Limits!
DK: Outer Limits! Exactly. It’s his favorite. “The bombs are flying. The missiles can’t be recalled. And we fade out.” Brad loves that stuff. He and I were both of the same mind on that that the show could go that dark. The second was at this point Carson Beckett — we didn’t even know his name was Carson. I remember running into Brad’s office carrying the drafts going “Brad, what’s Beckett’s first name?” “Uhh, Carson?” “Fine. If you say so.” I couldn’t remember from the pilot. The question was “Could Beckett carry an episode?” Beckett wasn’t part of the team yet. He was a recurring guy. I think McGillion is great. And everybody was liking him. And sure enough, he knocked it out of the park. So once we got comfortable with what we were going to do, it was bombs away.
I think that any good show, be it SG-1 or Atlantis or anything, should be prepared to go … if you can do “The Other Guys” you should be able to do “Poisoning the Well.” And still be the same show. No one should go “Wow, that derailed,” or “Boy did they jump the shark.” You go “No, that’s still the show. It can be fun and a romp and it can also be very dark and kind of a downer ending.”
DK: Yeah. No, I hear what you’re saying and that’s an interesting point.
GW: Something that we caused. A mistake that we made terminates a society.
DK: I think you would’ve had to have some sort of glimmer, shard of hope, that at the end of the day you have to only take a handful of people somewhere else. You cross a line between dark endings for the sake of dark endings, and dark endings that really undermine the heroism. And unless it’s something you’re willing to bake into the series. “We’re going to be tortured by this for the rest of the season, until the end of the season when we actually do something to make up for it, then that’s different.” Something that jarring can really alienate people and you have to be careful. I know that I agree with you personally, but I think these choices have to be made with the big picture in mind.
GW: Right. I think that’s a good point. That’s definitely a good point about that. What’s your ongoing relationship with Stargate going to be?
DK: To be honest nothing right now. My relationship with Stargate pretty-much ended with SG-1. I was a guy that did some writing and consulting for Atlantis, but I was always an SG-1 writer and producer. With SG-1 ending it was a good end of the cycle for me. As far as my relationship with the guys it’s great. I play hockey with Paul Mullie every week. But for me it’s moving on to Sanctuary time.
GW: Right. Well “Unending” has not aired yet. And working at [Stargate] Worlds I have read it. And it’s bold. It is a bold ending. What do you think about it?
DK: Yeah. I agree. I am loathe to comment on SG-1 much because I want people to draw their own conclusions. I have my own opinions. To me it always comes down to “Should we have cancelled the show? Should we have kept going?” I guess because I know that SG-1 is going to live on in some way. You’re going to do these movies and you could be doing movies for five years! And then there could be a feature and [then] could be a whole other show.
I think there’s so many ways for the show to live on beyond just a weekly series. So yeah, I would never shut the door. Rob’s instincts are always bang-on. You don’t ever shut the door. I’m sure if Rob said “Well, this is it. There is absolutely nothing left to or say or think or feel about these characters in this setting,” he would have nailed the coffin and done it because it was the right thing to do. I think everyone, him most of all, agrees that that would have been ridiculous.
GW: Alright. Now you’re an executive producer on the upcoming Internet series Sanctuary. Amanda Tapping, Chris Heyerdahl. What do you want to tell us about this series?
DK: Watch it!
GW: [Laughter] Yes!
DK: It’s going to be unlike anything, I think, that sci fi has attempted before in a regular series. We’re talking about a sci fi series that — it’s a first. It has so many “firsts” behind it. It begins to sound by rote. It’s the first sci fi series in high definition that’s being made at the highest level. This is written and produced by me, directed and produced by myself, Martin Wood, Amanda Tapping, John Smith. This is not a little pet project. The look and effects and caliber of what you’re seeing can compete with any sci fi program that’s on the air right now. Network, cable, I don’t care. There’s no point in making something small, and “We did this in my father’s garage.” It has to be very high-level.
We are directly aiming at our online fans. The birth of the idea was the sci fi fans, Stargate and otherwise, they live for six days and 22 hours a week online. And then for two hours they are forced by the virtue of television to go over to another place, and watch it, and then in the commercials or afterwards dive back on their computers. In a way, you step back and go “That’s ridiculous when we can actually stream hi-def into your living room through your computer and you can have complete access to these files, do with them what you want, watch them when you want, how you want, on any media you want. Why are we forcing you to show up for an appointment” … There should not be such a thing as appointment television anymore.
GW: Yeah. I think TiVo is shouting out at that, too.
DK: But TiVo has to be there for you. You should be able to get what you want, when you want, how you want it, and watch it on your computer, on your iPod, on your DVD in your home theater. There’s no rhyme or reason why you should be a slave to programming and commercials anymore. Not when a billion people can watch stuff over the internet. When [over 40 million] people have broadband streaming in the U.S. alone. We know that the sci fi community are among the best, most loyal and most intelligent early adopters of new technology and entertainment in the world.
So basically myself and a man named Mark Aubanel, who is one of the senior VPs at Electronic Arts, formed a company to create a new type of product that’s made like television but has the best of the Web and gaming technology baked into it to create a whole new experience, a very immersive experience as you watch it. You can watch it passively as a viewer, or you can get right into the world of it. And we’re really thrilled with how it’s coming along. We can’t wait to see what the reaction is when it goes live in a few months.
GW: Oh, so when you’re watching Sanctuary you won’t necessarily have to play the games in order to get to the next scene.
DK: Oh, God no. No, no. You are able to be as immersed in this as you want. You can literally just fire it up and watch it, or you can burn it and throw it on your home theater and watch it as a show. But if you want to get into it there’s a whole gaming and social networking aspect to it. And there’s a lot of the stuff I can’t discuss in huge detail because there’s a lot of patents pending, as they say.
The idea is to not just make TV and throw in the Internet. Yes, that’s better than just making TV and then recycling it on the Internet. It’s better to make something for the Internet. But if you’re going to do that you have to be better than the big networks. You have to offer something that makes your product unique. We’re designing a lot of very, very original software applications and Web design features that have never been sutured from the get-go into big content. And plus, the fact that our content is 95 percent green screen. So it’s got a really original look.
We’re able to show places that don’t exist and create elements that you really want to explore in 3D HTML environments. You’re working on your MMO for Stargate. We’re, in a way, creating not an MMO — because that’s just gigantic amounts of work and time and energy. That on a smaller scale. But that could grow into whatever the community wants it to. We’re not going to protect our product against user involvement. People are going to be able to take assets, effects, avatars, green screen moments, and do mash-ups, and they’re going to be able to express themselves through the world of the show.
GW: Great. Wow. So you’re not going to be an enemy of the on-line people!
DK: Well not at all! We want to be their champion. We want to build the town square and then we want them to build the rest of the town. And this isn’t to say that Sanctuary won’t exist as television or boxed set DVDs. It will. But it’s a paradigm shift. Instead of making TV and DVDs first and then saying “We’ll throw it up on YouTube or on the Internet in low-grade, little windows.” We’re going to go out there and say “Look, HD DVD and blu-ray will become obsolete mainly because hi-def streaming is the future.” We’re just going there first. You already have the machine that allows you to stream HD, and if you just remove the digital rights management, you can do whatever you want with those files.
The Internet allows people with the wherewithal to be their own studio and network. Their own broadcaster. We found [a] healthy investment of people who realize that it’s all going to the net. Sanctuary will likely be distributed around the world on TV and DVD after the fact. But everybody around the world is going to get a version of Sanctuary right away. You’re not going to wait for your TV network to decide when you get a chance to see it. It all goes live globally which is, I think, another way. We’ve have to tear down the walls of where entertainment goes. And when you can access a global market, that levels the playing field. That flattens the world a bit.
GW: Right. How long will each episode run?
DK: The pilot was shot well over two hours. It actually translates to about three television hours. It’s 130-plus minutes of footage. Right now it’s going to be 8 webisodes. Each one is roughly 15 minutes long. There might be an 18-minute webisode and then a 13-minute one. But they all roughly even out to about 15 minutes per. And once we get into full-on production I think we will probably get into three 15-minute webisodes per story, because it will be a 44-minute TV hour. But the ones that are going to start coming out in May will be 15 minutes, and the full 8 webisodes will be probably released through May and June, into the beginning of July.
GW: OK. So we plan on launching in May.
DK: In May, yes.
GW: OK. It must be a breath of fresh air that you don’t have to delete anything.
DK: Yeah! Exactly. We don’t have to take the air out of scenes. The thing moves at a pretty brisk pace anyway. It’s not like there’s long, ponderous scenes. There’s a lot of action, a lot of fighting, a lot of effects, and a lot of really great creature design by Todd Masters. It’s astounding what he’s cooked up. This is a show about monsters, essentially, so you don’t cheap out on the monster part.
It is nice to be able to create the show answering only to the creative people behind it, and not have to dial in people who don’t make TV in the trenches. That’s not to say that all studio executives are evil. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying the process is expedited. You’re able to do it very quickly. “We’re going to cast this person and there’s no other approvals we need. It’s done that day,” and so on and so forth. So that’s nice.
GW: What can you tell us about the story? For those of us who haven’t seen Urban Rush.
DK: [Laughter] And had it all spelled out?
DK: Amanda came to me and said “I think I said too much!” I’m like, “You know what? It’s fine.” I don’t need to protect the story. I’d rather people be interested. The basic pitch would say that it’s almost “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” meets X-Files. It’s a show set in an undefined, somewhat Gotham City world with a foot in historical Victorian-era London.
It’s a very original hero in the form of Dr. Helen Magnus who, yes, is well over 150 years old, but looking not a day over 35. And her ongoing quest to find, help, protect, [and] stop these creatures that walk the earth. Some she needs to lock up to protect the public at large, and some she needs to find to protect them from the public. It’s all in the name of research, and it’s very dangerous, tricky work, but she’s one of these people who’s been doing it for so long. God knows how many protégés she’s gone through.
At the beginning of the pilot she finds her next protégé in the form of a young psychiatric resident named Will Zimmerman, played by a wonderful actor, you’re all going to love, named Robin Dunne. He’ll give you a quirky, young Michael Shanks feel. He’s really a great guy. He does humor well. The chemistry between him and Amanda is just tremendous. He’s a real find. And it’s about being sucked into this world of monsters and good and evil, and basically having everything he thought was real undermined by this woman and what she does.
GW: Wow. OK. So this “Helen Magnus.” “Helen,” right?
GW: OK. Is she an immortal or is she just blessed with really long life?
DK: Her line at the end of the first hour, I don’t like to give spoilers, maybe put a little thing saying spoilers! … Her rationale is that when you treat creatures with incredible powers, sometimes the gifts are unexpected. That’s all she says, and it’s all we’re going to tell you now. Obviously there’s going to be a “How Magnus got old” episode somewhere in the future. I just don’t believe in spelling it all out in the pilot. There should be a lot of unanswered questions that should keep people wanting to come back to have those questions answered.
She’s not immortal, but I don’t think she’s going to die any time soon. And actually in the second hour we do address that issue. I’ll put it this way: She’s not happy about her condition — at all. It’s not like she lords it over people or even enjoys being the age. I think at a certain point she realizes “Who wants to outlive their children? I’ve outlived so many friends.” For her, finding the cure to her longevity is an ongoing issue.
GW: OK. And David Hewlett guest stars!
DK:David Hewlett plays a very, very quirky, interesting character named Larry Tolson, a very unbalanced young man. Former patient of Will Zimmerman’s. He does a lovely cameo appearance in the first hour. We fully intend to bring him back at some point, availability pending. He’s just fantastic. And Paul McGillion’s in it as a wonderful character named Wexford. He’s not fully human, I’ll tell you that. And he’s a character that we’ll be seeing again.
Martin Wood and John Smith and I are very, very thrilled at the amount of interest that people have in Sanctuary. But we don’t want to take advantage of our connections too much. We didn’t create Sanctuary to poach SG-1 and Atlantis. We want people to come to us because we’re interested in doing it, and we make sure everything is cool. We’re not overusing the characters or abusing our access to all this amazing talent, or overreaching our boundaries. We try to be sensitive and we recognize that it’s a very, very powerful, established show and we’re not interested in trying to take that for granted.
GW: Good. Good. Very good. So Sanctuary will be revolutionary in its delivery of entertainment. Is there anything else you want to tell us about it before we let you go?
DK: Well did I mention the fact it’s shot on green screen? It’s also the first tapeless, fully digital production. Everything’s shot on digital media right on to hard drives. We use very, very advanced computer imaging systems when we shoot so that we can actually see pre-visual effects on a computer of the space we’re working in and have the actors walk into it and look at themselves standing in the space that only exists in a computer. But they can see it in real-time while they shoot, which is really new.
It’s going to be something that I think a lot of people suspected was coming, which is the first hybrid show. The first show that works on TV, that works on the Internet, that works as something that’s streamed right to your device. It’s going to be the first multi-platform hybrid show of it’s kind.
What I’ve noticed with a lot of people who do a lot of things like “lonelygirl15” and all that. This is like an Internet-only project. Sanctuary is a multi-platform, fully flexible project series that will appeal to people on many levels. You’re going to want it on DVD. You’re going to want to watch it on TV. You’re going to want to throw it on DVD off the net and watch it wherever. You’re going to want to collect it and share it and you’re going to want to experience it, probably, in a lot of different ways. It’ll push to each other media.
You’re going to say “Well you can watch the TV-cut version because that’s a little different and you’re going to watch the full version online and get immersed in all the other elements of the online world. You can get it on DVD and they’ll be java-scripted stuff on blu-ray or HD-DVD that allows you to access other web aspects of it. And maybe you’ll want to see some special features that will be exclusive to DVD.
It’s one of the first, I think — as I understand — the first of its kind that’s a fully flexible hybrid series that offers something for people no matter what media they want to experience it on. And that, I think, is what makes it the thing of the future. It’s conceived with all those things in mind.