Beware of SPOILERS for the upcoming direct-to-DVD feature, Stargate: Continuum, in the interview below!
In addition to his work as a writer and executive producer on Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and the new DVD movies, it is fair to say that Vancouver native Brad Wright is the shepherd of the Stargate franchise. He co-created SG-1 in 1997, Atlantis in 2004, and this year is hard at work on a possible third television series, Stargate Universe.
GateWorld’s editors sat down with Wright during our visit to Vancouver last month, where we were treated to the first trailer for Stargate: Continuum. Part 1 of our hour-long interview focuses on that movie, which will arrive on DVD and Blu-ray on July 29, 2008. Wright wrote and produced the film, which is intended to be a stand-alone “romp” for the team.
In this first half of the interview, Wright tells us about the Arctic genesis of the story, the return of Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O’Neill, and responds to fans’ comparisons of the story with the SG-1 Season Eight finale, “Moebius.” He also answers the question regarding whether future Stargate movies will necessarily include the entire cast.
Part One of our audio interview with Brad lasts 21 minutes. You may listen at your leisure, download to your MP3 player, or read the transcript below!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m Darren Sumner. David Read and I are here with Mr. Brad Wright, Executive Producer of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, writer of Stargate: Continuum. Thanks for having us back!
Brad Wright: It’s good to be back, actually. I’m still in my office so I haven’t left anywhere.
GW: Brad, you’re the easiest interview in the world. All I have to do is come in and sit down and say, “So what’s up?” You tell me everything I need to know.
BW: [Laughter] I do talk a lot, don’t I?
GW: So … what’s up?
BW: There’s a bunch of things going on, but obviously I want to talk about Stargate: Continuum. It’s being released July 29. I just showed you the trailer and it looks pretty cool. I’m speaking at the convention tomorrow about it, and that’s exciting.
This is the biggest best thing, I think, I’ve ever done for Stargate. I feel very proud of it.
GW: That says a lot. Twelve years.
BW: Twelve years. You know, you always have some small regret with something that you couldn’t pull off. “I wish you could’ve done this.” “I wish we could’ve had that.” There are so few regrets in how Continuum turned out that it’s not even worth mentioning. Martin [Wood] did such a good job directing it. We had such a good time on set together because I was there, unlike in the television show where I had to be worried about the next script or the next cut or the next mix.
This was the only thing I had on my plate for all of last spring, and I devoted a ton of energy into the writing of it and was able to finish it with enough time … because I had to write the arctic scenes first. I had to have the scenes ready to go for the arctic and I wanted the whole script to be finished so that the actors who read it knew where they were going.
GW: So the movie we’ve been told started with “Hey, do you guys want to go to the North Pole?
BW: The movie started with a man named Barry Campbell who runs the APLIS Ice Camp for the navy. What they do, as I’m sure very interesting and very cool — it’s all submarine, stealthy stuff — but what they offered us was, at first, “Come on up. Bring some cast. Everybody would love to meet you. We know we have this one-in-a-lifetime experience to offer you and it’ll be great for morale at the camp.”
And John [Smith, line producer] and I, and Martin [Wood], obviously, said, “Well, why don’t we shoot up there?” Which meant “OK, now I’ve got to come up with some sort of frame, some sort of story, that justifies us being at the North Pole on Earth. And I wanted it to be on Earth because I knew there was going to be a nuclear submarine surfacing and you want to get that. You want to make that part of the movie.
When I found out that we could, for sure, shoot aboard the submarine, and we actually had to fly to San Diego and — not talk them into it — but convince them that we knew what we were doing and we had a good relationship with the armed forces, as the Air Force attested.
We had this opportunity and I literally framed the story around that opportunity. “OK, now how do I get them to the arctic?” The notion of the Stargate being at its most vulnerable in history, or at least since it was dug up, was when it was being transported from Africa to North America at the outbreak of World War II.
So, OK, the Stargate’s on its way across. Baal’s going to sink the ship, somehow a heroic act has to take place to stop the ship from being sunk. What if the captain of that boat, by cosmic coincidence, happened to be the grandfather of Mitchell?
Another heroic figure performs a heroic act of getting the bomb off the ship before it explodes and hence the ship just keeps going on the course it was when they were navigating their way, zigzagging across the Atlantic, and ends up lodged in the ice in the Arctic.
So when we get back after the timeline has been altered, we emerge in the hold of a ship in present day, but we’re in the hold of a ship in the arctic. How do we get out of this? It had to be a scenario that we had to be rescued by a nuclear submarine. And so that’s how the whole story started. With that thought. And of course there’s the “getting out of it” part, which is the rest of the movie.
GW: But it sounds like Baal’s got his hands on some time travel, or time manipulation, technology.
BW: He actually got the idea from us when he was on Earth. In fact, I didn’t even know how I was going to tell the story for this movie until I came up with the concept for the time machine.
It was so much fun. The visual effects are among the best we’ve ever done. Craig, who used to be at Image Engine, his team did the F-15 flying sequences, and they’re feature quality, as you saw a little piece … and I just had a blast.
And Joel Goldsmith just wrote the most magnificent score I could imagine, and we had the privilege of listening to it being recorded in Seattle just a little while ago. It was so much fun to go through the process of hearing his little frame, his little skeleton that he does electronically, and then hearing a whole orchestra play is just amazing. I just love that.
GW: Richard Dean Anderson’s back in the movie. Is Jack O’Neill back, too?
BW: Jack O’Neill’s back. General Jack O’Neill is back, and so is Colonel Jack O’Neill. I’ll let you figure that out when you see the movie. It is funny, because he plays the characters, if you will, a little bit differently. There’s the O’Neill who’s gone through the process and is the evolved funny guy who doesn’t take very much seriously anymore because he’s seen so much. And then there’s another side, not an older side, but a side of O’Neill from a few series back.
There’s one thing about Rick and his performances. They seem like he’s just so fresh. He seems like it’s just coming off the top of his head. I promise you, he’s put so much thought into how he’s going to play it into the arc of how it plays out in the whole movie, and I know that from the editing room.
I go, “Oh my God.” He doesn’t act like he’s done a whole pile of homework. Maybe it’s just he’s got actor instincts, but he’s always spot-on. It was so much fun to have him back. I was saying in another interview recently that the fun of having Rick back — you watch dailies and you go, “That’s what we’ve been missing. That quality, that Richard Dean Anderson spark.”
GW: It’s his seal.
BW: Yeah. Yeah, kind of. He’s not wall-to-wall in the movie. It’s really about our team, and of course, the altered timeline.
GW: So you would say the movie has lived up to your goals and expectations?
BW: Yeah. Like I said off the top, this is my best work. And I think it’s some of Martin Wood’s best work. You always say when you’re making a show, considering what we had — considering the budget we had and considering the schedule — the audiences don’t know the constraints you’re under. We shot this movie in 18 and a half days, plus a couple days in the arctic, that were hardly full shooting days. They were “Catch as catch can,” so the windshield didn’t go above 60 below. But cold!
We did, on my estimation, a movie that looks bigger than the resources that we actually had, because we literally pulled every trick we knew out of the book. And I was there, which was very helpful for Martin, not that these guys don’t completely know what they’re doing, but quite often they will cover something thinking I might want it. “OK, I better do a close-up here in case Brad’s going to say …” I’ll be shouting in the editing room, “Dammit, where’s my close up??”
I was able to say “We’re done, we got it. That’s how we want to do it. That’s how we want to leave it.” For that reason it has quite a filmic look. It looks like a feature as opposed to a big episode. It has a film structure. It has a film’s size. It’s got scope like you saw in the trailer and there’s, believe me, a lot more you haven’t seen that’s just enormous.
We built a ship. We built the 1939 ship. James Robbins [art director] and I were chatting at the beginning of prep, and I said to John Smith, our line producer. “We can get a ship in the harbor,” and he said “Yeah, but 1939, I don’t know …” And then James realized that to retrofit any real bridge that is in the modern, we’d have to cover up all this equipment and add all this stuff. We’d end up spending as much money as if we built the thing from scratch.
Plus, what we were able to do — we were going to have to build the hold separately — that’s the hold that the Stargate is inside that we find ourselves in. And that hold that we built, whereas in the television show we built a nice room with a Stargate in it, we built a nice gimbaled room, so when the ship begins to sink in the arctic after we blast our way out of the side of the ship with C4, it actually is tilting. It actually is sinking, if you will.
And of course, it’s the arctic, and the arctic is cold, so we refrigerated the stage. And these are things we had done on the television series but never quite to this scale.
GW: How do you think it compares to Ark of Truth in terms of how the budget looks on screen?
BW: Well actually we spent a little more on Continuum. You know, you saw Ark of Truth. It’s got an epic feel, too. It’s huge. Flying helicopters over mountains. So it’s similar in scope in the sense that they’re both big movies. I think the difference between the two movies is exactly the difference we set out to make between them, and that is the fans deserved a big completion of the Ori story, and that’s what Robert made.
But Continuum is, in a sense, I’ve been calling it “a good, old-fashioned Stargate,” and in that sense a big movie I always wanted to make. It’s the movie I wanted to make, and it’s not a hell of a lot smaller in scope than the one I would have put as a theatrical release. It feels like it could’ve been a theatrical release in many ways. Of course we had nowhere near that much money to make it.
But we had enough that we could put quite a lot on the screen and that’s the difference. One is what we set out to do, which was to complete the Ori storyline, and the other is a stand-alone, good old fashioned Stargate movie that we hope is one of many going forward. And maybe even, I keep saying this, an audition to MGM and to the world that we know how to do this. Maybe we could do a theatrical release.
GW: We were talking with Cliff Simon and he said that the ending leaves a big question mark. Have you considered, perhaps, revisiting the stories that this movie tells in a future movie?
BW: I think the funny part of this movie is people go “That was fun,” and then they start asking questions. “Wait a minute, then what happened to Mitchell, and what does this mean to this guy, and what especially for Cliff’s character?” There’s even a whole new potential for his character going forward. But that’s what a good movie is supposed to do. Especially a good Stargate movie. It should make you think of other possibilities.
We have enough other Stargate stories that we might want to tell on the big screen before we mine from the mythology of Continuum. If this were a television series and Continuum was one of the episodes, oh yeah, there’s a whole bunch of stories that I’d like to tell. There’s an interesting period of time for Mitchell that could be a story all by itself.
GW: So fans have expressed that the short description of Continuum that we’ve seen so far sounds a lot like “Moebius.” Do you think the two are similar or dissimilar?
BW: You know, “Moebius” was my story idea, and I said, when we were developing it, “You know, this kind of steps on a movie idea. This could be a movie.”
The big difference between this and with “Moebius,” my idea for “Moebius” was seeing ourselves had the Stargate program never impacted them, and how very different — the idea that Daniel’s teaching English as a second language, and that Carter is a junior bureaucrat somewhere. They’re essentially the nerds that they are not in SG-1, and O’Neill is an old fisherman with a funny accent. Actually he’s hilarious in that scene. I just split.
The huge difference between [Continuum] and “Moebius” is because we’re trying to escape the change in the timeline as it’s taking place it’s a major conceit, if you will, of the way this timeline is altered, that people start disappearing individually. A wave is going through time from the origin of what had happened so that people are disappearing. And then eventually places start to disappear.
When the timeline begins to change Vala disappears first and we don’t notice how. She’s just suddenly gone. And then Teal’c just, “poof,” disappears in thin air. And then a bunch of the Tok’ra, in the scene we’re in, start disappearing, and Daniel realizes we’ve got to get out of here.
They’re in the Stargate, trying to get back to Earth, as the wave that would’ve impacted them, they’re literally out of space-time when this happens. The wormhole protects their memories and creates a paradox, because when they emerge on Earth they remember everything.
It’s kind of the opposite of “Moebius” in that sense. We’re outside the changed timeline and are running around trying to fix it. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be,” and as Landry points out, he says, “Supposed to be is relative. We kind of like it fine the way it is.” “Well what about the Stargate? What about all the people we could meet?” And Landry says, “And we’ll do that! There’s a lot of excited people around here. Why the hell are we going to change the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people. This Goa’uld you’re talking about,” and he kind of mocks it, “is not here, so lighten up.”
GW: Does the topic come up that maybe this reality is better because we haven’t gotten into such trouble in the galaxy?
BW: Exactly. That’s exactly what comes up. However, Baal has not done this recreationally. He’s done this to become as powerful as he can be, and fifty years has gone by when the timeline changed in 1939 and the present. He’s been using that, building up. When he comes he comes in a big way.
GW: How many Ha’tak vessels were in that shot we saw in the trailer?
BW: There are some that are minuscule in the distance.
GW: Will future SG-1 movies necessarily include the entire cast or might you choose to tell a story that doesn’t involve everyone?
BW: That’s a very good question. For me, an SG-1 movie should include O’Neill. That’s how I feel about Stargate.
GW: You were spinning your third movie idea. What can you tell us?
BW: It’s an O’Neill story, and I would include as many of our cast as we could, both financially and in terms of availability. These are talented people. They may well not be available at our beck and call the next time we want to make a movie, and that’s what happens. But you know what? They have a good time when they come. I think these guys had a good time making Continuum.
Is it likely we’ll ever get them all again? That’s kind of unlikely, just because of the math. But our core folks, I will move heaven and earth to get them if I can. I think that Jack and Daniel and Carter and Teal’c, and Mitchell now, to a certain extent, and Landry now, to a certain extent, are part of the fabric of SG-1. And fans will get mad at me if I don’t put them in it.
GW: Every character has their fans. You can’t please everyone.
BW: No, I can’t. It’s funny, I’m in Continuum as the third escort pilot, just because F-15’s are cool and I got to sit in one all day while we were shooting. You can’t really tell it’s me, but it’s me. I know it’s me, and it’s my voice.
As I said, I’m going to show a clip, and Martin, and Martin’s in the movie too, in the arctic. We’re going to show a clip of it at the convention just because fans seem to like actors much more than writers and directors.
GW: Will there be a Blu-Ray release for this movie? A soundtrack?
BW: There can be. There certainly can be a Blu-ray. It has the capability, because we shot it on 35 [millimeter], and the effects are finished in HD. There is a soundtrack that you’ll be able to buy, and it is magnificent, as is the one for The Ark of Truth.
I listen to them in my car, especially if I’m in a working mood and I want to use the drive to think about the script I’m writing. I like to listen to score when I’m writing. I always have. And I like to listen to Joel’s score because it’s inspiring.
In Part Two of GateWorld’s interview, Brad discusses his upcoming Atlantis episode, his desire to revisit the SG-1 pilot “Children of the Gods,” and more.