With two SG-1 movies heading to DVD and a fifth season of Atlantis assured, Stargate‘s future is as bright as it has been for some time. SG-1 and Atlantis co-creator Brad Wright sits down with GateWorld once again to discuss the latest hot topics regarding the franchise.
Brad talks about the impact of DVR-watching on the franchise, his reactions to Season Four of Atlantis and Joe and Paul’s work in bringing it to life, and shares a few visual effects secrets we can expect in Stargate: Continuum!
GateWorld’s interview with Brad is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 19 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: Atlantis has just been given the green light for a fifth season. The fans are sharing a collective sigh of relief. What are some of the feelings you guys have had?
Brad Wright: Well, it’s funny. I wanted and expected Atlantis to go a fifth year, but you never know for sure. The way ratings are going nowadays it’s very difficult for any network to know what the real ratings are because of DVR. DVR has really changed the nature of television viewing, and mainly commercial watching.
These diminishing ratings that we’re seeing across the board in television aren’t really indicative of a diminished audience. It’s just people use the TVR in Canada — they call it DVR in the States — and they watch the shows when they want to. Fortunately for us, according to SCI FI — Tom Vitale at SCI FI just recently told us that Atlantis is not only among the most DVR’d shows but people tend to time-shift it and watch the commercials, which bodes well for getting picked up.
GW: Right, they’re not skipping through it.
BW: Yes, exactly.
GW: Alright. Stargate has a very tech-savvy demographic. Do you think all this DVR is going to eventually hinder the franchise or help it?
BW: The whole television world has to figure out this DVR thing. Yes, you’re absolutely right. Not only is the Stargate audience tech-savvy — SCI FI is one of the networks that is most DVR’d, and Atlantis is among the highest DVR’d shows on SCI FI, so absolutely that’s the case. Like I said, as long as we have our core audience, however they record it — whatever number they assign to it — as long as they keep picking us up I don’t mind.
I still watch old sci-fi of anything. Forbidden Planet was on television the other night, and who doesn’t want to sit and watch Forbidden Planet? You know what I mean? It’s great. It’s dated like crazy, but it’s great. I love watching old Star Treks. And even though Sulu is driving the ship with three rocker switches, it’s still very cool. Because of the themes in sci-fi. And as my agent would call it, it’s “ever-green!” It lasts forever.
Robert has often said this: the legacy of Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis will be not so much how we’re rated now, but how we are viewed 20 years from now.
GW: Right. I’m here at Stargate Worlds and one of the privileges of being able to have lunch at your desk is to have the entire library of Stargate on our hard drives. I think I popped in “2010” the other day. These episodes that are now six and seven years old are still as relevant now as they were when they were created.
BW: “2010” is the one that’s going to be very quaint in three years, in the sense that it will be 2010 and there will be no aliens. But that reminds me of 2001, or Space: 1999 for that matter! [Laughter] 1984 — you give it a date and you’re in trouble eventually.
GW: Exactly, yeah. Now Joe and Paul have graduated from Drivers Ed, basically, and are taking the wheel themselves. Have you been enjoying some extra time off?
BW: Yes, I very much have. But it’s not really fair to say that those guys weren’t producing their own episodes before. They are simply, now, in charge of not only [their] own episodes that they were doing, but the whole ball of wax. They ran with their own episodes for the last several years with the slightest polish through production by either myself or Robert, depending on the show they were writing, which is necessary when you’re prepping a show to make changes accordingly.
They were due. They were so due. They were absolutely ready, and I was happy to step aside in order to do that. Just a few minutes ago they had a conference call with the network and the studio, and I got up and walked out, as opposed to being the one who went to the phone and everybody else got out of the room!
I’ve learned, because obviously Robert took over SG-1, to trust and to occasionally bite your tongue a little bit, but generally speaking I know that the show’s in very good hands.
GW: Do you like the creative decisions that they’re taking the show, or is there anything you disagree with, with this fourth season?
BW: I really love watching a dub of a show, and seeing, “Wow, that really did come together.” Even though it isn’t necessarily the way I would have done it. You know what I’m trying to say? Had I got the script, I might’ve changed this or done that. I didn’t get it. It didn’t go through whatever process I would’ve done. So it moved through the process onto the screen in a different way than had it gone through my typewriter.
I’m always delighted when I realize, “Well, this is still really good. This isn’t necessarily the angle I would’ve taken, but in some ways it’s better.” And that’s what I love about television! You find yourself hearing an idea from a director or another writer, which isn’t what your original idea was, but it’s better! You run with it, or let it come to fruition in a different way. I think that’s the fun of it. That’s the fun of our business. If you don’t like doing that, go write a novel, you know?
GW: Right, yeah. Well it must be a pleasant delight to see this baby you’ve nurtured and grown taking off in directions that you didn’t necessarily plan.
BW: Well how does one person plan 300-plus hours of television anyway? It’s bigger than any one person. John Smith and I always have a sit-back at the end of every year. We’re both kind of paternal people. And I like watching the people grow. I like seeing people that started as writers, or for that matter assistant directors become directors and just grow as artists. I really do get a kick out of that. Especially since we’re the kind of company that promotes from within and gives people opportunities from within. I’ve always been that way, and I like seeing that kind of growth. I think it’s as rewarding as putting out something on your own and seeing it work.
GW: In what ways do you feel Amanda and Jewel have contributed to the overall cast and storylines from this year?
BW: Well, Amanda’s a really great actress and is going to add that to every scene she’s in. She’s also a rich character who has ten years of SG-1 behind her in terms of experience. She’s doing exactly what I knew she would do, which is be great! And enriching the show.
Jewel is a really pleasant surprise and I think we would love to use her even more. She’s a very strong actress, but she brings a vulnerability to the show, to her character, that we don’t usually do — don’t have that much of in our show. We’re usually fairly tough, rolling with all the punches.
There’s some scenes that she’s done this year where she’s scared, and she’s vulnerable. I love that! It’s a dimension of the show that is really rich, and she’s actually a really strong actress, too. I think, granted, her character is going to get stronger as she’s more familiar with the environment she’s in, but Jewel is smart and will, I’m sure, continue to make those vulnerable choices.
GW: She’s a really interesting contrast to Jason’s character. Put them both in a scene together, it’s like you’ve got the Yin and Yang.
BW: Yeah! And yet there’s a chemistry between them! Jason’s really come too. I just watched a dub with the guys. He’s really growing. His character is becoming more interesting, which is really good to see.
GW: Yeah, I think Martin Gero really put it poignantly in “First Strike.” In one of the scenes ‘I really need to learn some science — I’m not much good in situations like this.’ And it’s good to see that the characters of Ronon and Teyla are beginning to grow out more this year, and that they’re being put more in the forefront than they were previously.
BW: Yeah, they very much are.
GW: Now Season Four ends in a cliffhanger. What can you tell us about it? We haven’t heard much about “The Last Man.”
BW: [Laughter] Well, I should let Paul talk about “The Last Man.” But it’s a great story. It’s a great idea. It puts Sheppard in a very interesting situation. McKay is in it, too, in a very big way, although it isn’t really McKay. I don’t want to give away too much. It’s a great episode and it’s, I think, a perfect season ender. Thank goodness it’s not the series ender!
GW: Yes, exactly! So it will lend itself well to a Season Five?
BW: It’s very-much a cliffhanger.
GW: OK, good! Now have negotiations with Amanda commenced for next year? You think she’s willing to negotiate for a second season on the show?
BW: I certainly hope she is. I don’t want to make any predictions other than I know she’s always been committed to Stargate and I know what it has done for her and what she’s done for us. I can’t help but think there’s going to be a middle-ground that we’ll be able to arrive at, and she’ll continue to be part of the franchise in a big way.
GW: Are you planning on introducing any new writers into the Season Five pool?
BW: Maybe. I think we’ll probably take some pitches from freelancers, but our staff is very secure and very strong. Robert and I are embarking on pitching a third series. That’s not going to happen right away, but we’re certainly developing it, and that’s the point where we’re going to need more writers again!
There’s something about knowing where we’ve been, in terms of story. And I’ve never once felt — having just spent the last couple of days with the guys spinning stories for the next season — I’ve never once felt, looking around the room, that we we’re going to run out of ideas any time soon. [Laughter]
To a certain extent it’s a testament to the guys and to our team, but it’s also a testament to the natural legs within the franchise itself. It’s just got legs. As a storytelling device it’s just got the capacity to go for a long time.
GW: One of the things I’ve been noticing this year — it’s a really good feeling to see the show take this kind of turn — Atlantis is so dark this year, and it’s such a different feeling and it’s a good feeling.
BW: Well we started dark, keep in mind. Atlantis was kind of dark and we built toward a very gloomy finale. Things are not looking so good at the end of Season One. But you have to fight your way out of situations and then, of course, get yourself back into them! And right now we’re in one of those phases where we’re in trouble again. [Laughter] Certainly Season Four, and the cliffhanger at the end of Season Four.
GW: Let’s talk about SG-1 for a bit. Are rough cuts for either of the movies complete?
BW: Oh absolutely, and they have been for months. Robert’s is very near finished, in fact. “Ark of Truth” is just dropping in the finals of the vis-effects. It’s been scored, and I just attended the mix, and it was glorious, as usual, with Joel [Goldsmith].
Mine has been sitting in the can waiting for our in-house visual effects department to be free to go and work on it, because they’ve been doing Atlantis shots and, of course, “The Ark of Truth.” Knowing that my movie was going to be released months after Robert’s anyway, I said “No problem, we’ll just wait.” It’s a little frustrating, but the other thing is it’s also possible that new visual effects will get invented between now and then.
GW: The budget’s freed up enough to do that?
BW: Well, the release date is the release date, so I just simply have the time in order to take advantage of our in-house vis-effects department. That’s all that is.
GW: For right now, which do you feel is the stronger picture?
BW: They’re very different. They’re two very different pictures. One is the completion of a series arc, and that’s what it’s setting out to do. It’s setting out to finish a story in a very big, rich way. And the other is to sort of stand alone. And in a way, it’s a throwback.
Continuum is more like Stargate of old than it is going forward. It’s a good ‘ole Stargate story made as big as possible. [Laughter] And that, in part, is because Rick is in it. But it’s also because it’s a time-travel story. Therefore I was able to bring back a lot of very familiar faces who’ve been gone for some time.
GW: The time travel stories are so useful, like the alternate universe stories, to explore things that didn’t happen or couldn’t happen, but there’s always that fear that in the end, especially with the movie, because we only get two shots of SG-1 next year, that once the timeline resets itself, if it does, they don’t remember anything after that. Will there be something that sticks from this movie?
BW: Yes! [Laughter] The timeline has been changed at the end of Continuum in a subtle, but permanent way. And that is actually illustrated in the final frame of the picture. You’ll see. It’s cool. Keep in mind, too, in this time travel story, what makes this subtly different than other stories we’ve done is these guys remember the old timeline.
GW: Oh really?
GW: OK, so they’re isolated from it. Ah, OK. So we’re not just watching an alternate universe of SG-1 or anything like that.
BW: That’s what makes Continuum different. That’s what makes it the time-travel story I wanted to do. As the movie unfolds, and as Baal’s plan unfolds, we try to get back to Earth and, granted, it’s a conceit of mine that traveling through the wormhole keeps them immune from the effects of the timeline.
Wormholes are a conceit, too. [Laughter]
GW: Alright. Now a lot of us have been kind of bummed that we’re not seeing the movies until almost the middle of next year, they were pushed back extensively.
BW: That isn’t true. They’re going to be released in March and in July.
GW: OK. Now has this only been because of the visual effects or is something more going on here?
BW: There’s a business plan set out by FOX. It takes them, I think, six months, after we deliver them the final picture, to be able to market it. And it’s taken us six months to post it. So there’s a year in the process. And yes, it’s because they’re big visual effects movies. If there were no visual effects we would’ve been slapping music on it and it’d be done a long time ago.
There’s hundreds of shots. Hundreds of visual effects shots in both movies. I have a sequence over the Atlantic with F-15’s and Goa’uld death gliders. That’s just one of the many visual effects. I have a freighter in the ocean crossing the Atlantic that is a visual effect. I have a lot of visual effects, and it’s going to take a significant amount of time to finish them.
But having said that, it’s not all us. There’s a significant amount of time in the release process that I wasn’t even a hundred percent aware of when we went into this. I love the time. I think it’s a really smart thing to do to release the first one in March and the next one around Comic-Con in July. “I think the summer’s a great time to release a movie like Continuum. Because it’s fun. It’s a fun movie.