Beware of SPOILERS for Season Five of Stargate Atlantis in the interview below!
GateWorld’s interview with Stargate executive producer Brad Wright continues in this second half, as the topic turns from the upcoming DVD movie Stargate: Continuum to Atlantis, the past and future of SG-1, and what lies ahead for the venerable franchise.
Wright reveals his plans to return to the original SG-1 pilot episode “Children of the Gods,” and discusses his brand new Stargate Atlantis episode “The Shrine.” He also gives us the exclusive working premise of Stargate Universe, the planned third TV series.
Part 2 of our interview with Brad runs 24 minutes. You may listen at your leisure, download to your MP3 player, or read the transcript below!
Check out Part 1 of our interview here!
GateWorld: Atlantis Season Five is in full swing, and you’re writing an episode this year.
Brad Wright: I am. I’m in prep for it right now, in fact. Again, I had fun writing it because I gave myself and had a little more time to do it. The one thing I found when we were making 40 episodes a year for those three years, and it happened the first time I tried to do this when I was producing The Outer Limits the first two seasons, three seasons of Stargate at the same time, is that something gives, and quite often it’s creative.
You always try to make the best product you can, always. When you give yourself that little bit of extra time, “Oh yeah, I can solve that.” Or, “Oh yeah, that’s a nice character moment.” And you can make it better. You can write a better script. You can be on set more. You have those luxuries. I like this one. I feel pretty good about it. It’s a character study for practically everyone on the cast. David gets to play as an actor in a very big way.
GW: He’s extremely excited about it.
BW: Oh good, I’m glad to hear it.
GW: He says it’s one of his favorites.
BW: Good. I should never admit this, but when I am writing I get right into it. My daughter happened to come in to ask me to help her with something, as I was writing a scene, and I’m all choked up. I’ve got tears falling down my face. She goes, “Dad, what’s wrong?” “Oh, nothing, honey. I’m writing a scene.” I’m all embarrassed.
I’ve heard it from a few folks reading the script that it’s choked them up. Hopefully I have the same effect on the audience when they see the scenes.
GW: Is this a scene between David and Kate?
BW: There’s lots of scenes. It’s sad. It’s moving. I wouldn’t say sad. It’s moving. [In the end] everything’s OK. I don’t kill anyone. [Laughter]
GW: Do you have a basic logline of what this one’s about?
BW: It is the inverse of “Flowers for Algernon.” McKay ends up suffering from the effects of something that is very common among the very old in the Pegasus Galaxy that is equivalent to a fast onset Alzheimer’s. It’s called ‘Second Childhood’ in the Pegasus Galaxy. He very quickly, not just loses his memory, but becomes quite childlike.
Interestingly, the first symptom is that he’s a wonderful person, and nobody notices that there’s something wrong at first because they all like it, until it’s too late to operate. And then Ronon comes up with an idea, and the story takes off from there. It’s not told in linear fashion. It goes back and forth.
And the other big thing I’ve got on the go that I’d like to mention while I’ve got you guys here, is I’m re-doing “Children of the Gods.”
BW: I saw it on television at some point months ago, and I thought “God, we can do better than this.” It wasn’t just the visual effects, it was the whole thing. It was the way we tell story. It was the whole 4:3 thing. The score and the music [were] so heavy-handed, and frankly there was some bad writing.
GW: So this is not just a new cut.
BW: We went back to dailies. We’re re-scoring.
GW: Taking some of the original shooting footage or shooting new material?
BW: There is new material but most of the new material is visual effects or scenes that have been cut. It is tighter. It’s significantly tighter. It is not a pilot. In some ways “Children of the Gods” was an excellent pilot episode, but twelve years on what is worth making, I think, is the movie. The story, that is “Children of the Gods” that is the movie.
Brad Rines, who I’ve been working with for 14 years now as an editor, went back to the original dailies and we spent a week or so together re-cutting after he had put together a marvelous cut. We’re editing, pulling some stuff out, adding some stuff, updating the visual effects in many cases, cutting out things that I thought never belonged there, like the nudity.
GW: Showtime said “You have to do this,” didn’t they?
BW: They did, and I stomped up and down and said “It’s a bad idea,” and I didn’t stomp loudly enough. I think I told you the story of bringing my then-five year old daughter to the final cut and said, pointedly to try to make my point, “Well, I have to take my daughter out of the room now for the next scene, hint-hint.”
Actually, then-president of MGM John Symes — who’s a wonderful guy, I don’t mean to say this in a negative way — he knew what Showtime wanted, but he cut a little of it back. It just wasn’t enough. It doesn’t belong in Stargate. I’m not a prude. This is a family show. It has violence. There’s no question it has violence, but it is always some sort of just violence as opposed to random or gratuitous.
GW: What else gets cut or added?
BW: There’s just some awkward dialogue. We call it “pipe,” where you just overstated the obvious a million times. It’s simply seven minutes tighter, plus a new scene, with a slightly different beginning.
I had in my original plan to reshoot the whole beginning but there were financial constraints simply because redoing a lot of the visual effects is expensive, and Stargate puddles are still expensive as hell. And I wanted to give some money for Joel to re-edit his original score, because while Joel did a lot of the music for the pilot MGM insisted that we — I didn’t want to do it either — that a ton of music from the original feature, David Arnold’s score, be slapped on top of it.
This is actually what motivated the whole thing. Joel’s music, I thought originally was so beautiful and so understated in comparison. I understand why MGM did it. You know what, ten years later, a very successful franchise, they could well have been right. At least this is another way of looking at it. It’s going to feel like a different movie.
GW: Well “Children of the Gods,” you weren’t just creating a pilot, you were essentially creating Stargate Part II.
BW: In a way, yeah. Well, we were creating a universe in which a series could take place. There are elements of this cut that are just a movie. I mean, yes, it’s still setting it up. It’s still “Children of the Gods.” I just think it’s a better experience of “Children of the Gods.”
GW: Would you call it a special edition?
BW: I don’t know what to call it, to be honest. Robert Cooper keeps saying “a special producer’s cut,” which is very funny.
GW: Is this going to see a DVD release?
BW: It’ll be a DVD release.
GW: Do you have a timetable?
GW: Does the old “Children of the Gods” maybe go away? Will there be a TV version you can give to SCI FI to put in the rotation?
BW: The old “Children of the Gods” will never go away. I think fans are going to be mad at me for playing with it in the first place. It’s kind of the one I wish we made to begin with.
GW: Yeah, just don’t make Greedo shoot first.
BW: [Laughter] That’s a good analogy. That’s funny. This is different in the sense that if you A and B the two cuts, you will notice that the cutting pattern is entirely different, and therefore the performances are different. It’s a different movie. Side-by-side you’d go “Oh my goodness, this is just so different.”
GW: Was there anything that happened in your life where you said “This is the time that I want to redo this.” What spawned this? If you can talk about it.
BW: Sure. It came from a conversation I had with Jim Packer, who is an executive VP at MGM, where he was talking about bloopers. He said “You know, we want to go back into the last ten years. There’s probably a ton of bloopers there and we want to put them on a DVD release.”
I said, “If we’re going to go back in the last ten years let’s remake “Children of the Gods” and use the original score from Joel! Honestly, my first intention was simply to just release the existing cut, because we could never do the one that we have now as a Blu-ray. You’re going to have to go back to dailies anyway.
Even though this can be an up-res for a lot of it, because up-reses have come so far since the original up-reses for HD … I saw a 1080P up-res of “Children of the Gods,” and they looked fabulous, because it was originally shot on 35. But that’s going back to the original D too.
We were going to have to go back to re-cut it any. “If we’re going to go in let’s do it right.” I asked for a budget and they were very gracious and gave it to me. It’s a pet project to be perfectly honest. It’s something that I’ll feel better about.
GW: Are any of the actors coming back to do any of these little tweaks?
BW: They may have to do some ADR, I’m hoping. We could do it without them. I could have it delivered in a couple of months, but Fox and MGM will decide when it gets released. Probably closer to Christmas. Makes sense.
GW: Probably this year?
BW: Oh yeah. It can be this year. It will be ready for this year. And it may well be aired for the very first time on MGM’s HD, or even on SCI FI’s HD. For people who have seen the original “Children of the Gods” enough times you will notice the difference and I think you’ll like it better. For somebody who has never seen it before, if they saw the two, I think they would think the new one is the better movie.
BW: I hope so! I know so. It’s better. I’ve got a lot of experience now, cutting for 16:9 alone changes everything.
And the other cool thing coming down is something that David’s very much involved with, and that’s Stargate Worlds. I’m so excited about that. I think it’s very cool. It’s right around the corner.
GW: You’re excited with what you’ve seen so far?
BW: Yeah! It’s very cool.
GW: How does this game, as storytelling in a very different medium, fit into the Stargate canon in your world? In your mind?
BW: It definitely breaks new ground, but it breaks new ground in a way that is different because it has to be a different kind of storytelling. It’s just not “Here’s the story, here’s another story, here’s another story,” which is what I’m used to doing.
It’s a different way of playing in the Stargate universe, and I know just from the artwork and from everything I’ve read that while there are elements of it that are newly created for the game, that they are very respectful, incredibly respectful, for the existing canon and the elements of Stargate, like the free Jaffa.
They’ve broken it down in terms of characters that you can play, and of course that’s what they had to do. The overriding arc of their story isn’t something that we could’ve done as a single episode, or even as a series arc. It’s a big honkin’ story. Big enough to be a massive multiplayer role[playing] game.
GW: It’d take 40 hours, 50 hours to get through. And that’s one shard!
BW: There you go! Exactly, and so you’re talking literally seasons of television comparatively. But all essentially one story, which we don’t do. It’s kind of like letting it go off on its own knowing that the people who are doing it are respectful of the canon and of the franchise itself, because they don’t want to alienate fans. They want the fans obviously to join in, but just fans ain’t going to make it work.
GW: Stargate fans are eagerly awaiting word from MGM and SCI FI as to what’s next. Is it going to be a third movie first? Is it going to be a third series first? Can you give us a status update?
BW: Yes! [Laughter] We know we’re doing something. That’s all I can tell you right now. I have been a bit frustrated at the time it takes for these things to unfold. Part of the reason it’s taking a while is Atlantis is currently ongoing, and also because we didn’t want to go into development with anything during the writer’s strike because it seemed inappropriate. Even though we’re Canadian we recognized it was for the American marketplace and I was respectful. I’m a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, so it was wrong on many levels.
Having said that, internally Robert and I are a little bit torn, because we had such a good time making The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum. Making one or two of those a year would be a damn fine thing to do, honestly. It takes up a big chunk of time writing it, a big chunk of time making it, and the post on a movie is more than twice as complicated as post on the biggest episodes. It’s not like you can just knock one off while you’re making a television show. It’s just too much.
I also know that Stargate Universe is a good idea for a television show.
GW: Are the crew and the writers not anxious to go back to 40 hours a year and do two shows simultaneously?
BW: I’m not anxious to do that. It was almost out of necessity that we did it last time. The money we had to do Atlantis was barely enough to do it right and the dollar had just skyrocketed. When we said we could do it, it was based on a dollar that was very different.
I hate to get practical here, but every tenth of a dollar, every point, depending on the budget on a movie it’s enormous. On a television show you’re looking at 60 to 80 thousand dollars. That just comes off the screen. And we like things on the screen. We like to make the biggest show we can and I hate, hate, hate being so — and I know fans don’t like hearing about the nuts and bolts of production to a certain extent — but when I see big expensive network shows with literally two and three times our budget and I think “Man, what could we do with that?” I know what we did — we made Continuum for the budget of a regular episode of …
GW: When Stargate Universe does get here how different do you think this series needs to be to move the franchise forward and attract new viewers? How closely, on the other hand, does it need to stay to the established formula?
BW: Well you just hit the nail on the head because it’s got to be both. It has to feel like Stargate and it has to feel new. And that’s the tightrope, that’s the balance you have to maintain, and that’s the challenge. To put it in the simplest terms, if we had ever just done SG-2 as a series it would never have worked. It’s not the CSI model. And it’s frankly because of the heroes that our team is.
The reason we couldn’t set Atlantis in this galaxy if SG-1 was going along side it on a day-to-day basis is “Well, wait a minute, where are these guys? If you’re in this dire situation well SG-1’s right over here. Why don’t you call them?” And vice versa. Which ended up giving me the idea to do “[The] Pegasus Project,” which they do have to work together, or at least interact, once, as fun as it was.
I was schizophrenic during the making of that episode too. “This is SG-1, right? I’m writing for Atlantis.”
GW: That was originally an Atlantis idea, wasn’t it?
BW: No. The Supergate was my pet, with “Beachhead.” “This is a far distance. If we’re going to go in another galaxy let’s come up with some mechanism to get them here.” I just love the notion of the Supergate. It’s actually my favorite shot in The Ark of Truth and in “Camelot” when it opens. It’s just cool. It’s fun. I love that stuff. The [Supergate] scale’s changed significantly since “Beachhead,” but we won’t go there!
GW: “The Pegasus Project” showed that the two shows could work together and generate such a good script. Were you disappointed that more opportunities didn’t ever really [occur?]
BW: It was a nightmare of logistics, and it’s prohibitively expensive. I would argue though, in future Stargate movies you could cull from both casts, and I think any Atlantis feature might want to involve Stargate Command. I really hope we get the chance to do a theatrical release, and I hope Continuum‘s success — first I hope it’s successful, and secondly I hope that success gives us the opportunity to do that.
GW: Ark of Truth is doing very well.
BW: I know! It’s far exceeding their expectations in terms of sales.
GW: There’s no threat of striking the SGC set any time in the near future?
It costs a lot to sit there, though.
BW: It costs a lot to sit there, although we do use it. It would cost so much more to take it down and put it up again if we’re doing a series of SG-1 movies. If you do the analysis, as long as we do another movie then it’s worth keeping. If it looks like there are no SG-1 movies on the horizon then that’s when it’s going to come down. So there’s your clue right there. That’s why it’s still up. Hint.
GW: You told us when you talked with David last fall that you and Rob were getting ready to go to SCI FI to pitch Universe. Was it received well?
BW: The pitch was received very well.
GW: And then the strike happened.
BW: The strike is only, frankly, part of it. We pitched an expensive series. The idea we have is not cheap. Universe, if we do it the way we want to do it, is very expensive, and I think we’ve proven ourselves, so “Can we please have enough money to do it right this time?” And if not, then honestly I don’t want to do it. Why do it wrong?
GW: Are there any hints about the show’s premise or characters that you’re ready to go public with yet?
BW: I will say that Stargate Universe, the idea of it, is that it is set on a ship that was part of an Ancient experiment that was set in motion probably millions of years ago. One that they never saw to fruition but that we can. They got a little busy with the whole ascension thing.
Their goal for the creation of this experiment, which is to send a ship literally across the universe, and to send one ahead of it seeding the galaxies that they encounter with Stargates. And that they would one day use the ninth chevron to get there, and that’s what Stargate Universe is.