Brad Wright’s television career is a remarkable body of work, from his early days on series like Neon Rider to his more than two decades writing and producing for The Outer Limits, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, and Travelers.
GateWorld had a chance to sit down with Brad as part of The Companion’s “Stargate Celebration” livestream last weekend, in collaboration with our fellow fans at Dial the Gate, SciTrek, and 3 Fries Short. Here we’ve cut together GateWorld’s portion of the stream, but you can catch the entire, 2-hour event on our YouTube channel.
It’s been more than a decade since we last sat down with Wright, and we had some big topics to ask about. In this conversation Brad talks about his experiences in the writers room, his plans to try and save the crew of Destiny with an SG-1/SGA/SGU crossover movie, and the Aschen story arc. He also answers the question of whether he thinks a new Stargate show set in the future is plausible, and reveals which of his episodes ended up being his favorite.
Special thanks to our friends at The Companion for hosting this conversation! The video runs a little over 20 minutes, and you can find the interview transcribed below. You can also get just an audio version by subscribing to “GateWorld Interviews” wherever you find your podcasts.
GateWorld: Folks might know if they’ve been around for a while the GateWorld used to visit the set annually when you guys were in production. And you know, I was a kid – I was really nervous walking around and talking with Joe Flanigan and Torri Higginson and Amanda Tapping. And then we’d go upstairs to the writers room and you were the easiest interview. Because I could just walk into your office, plop down on the couch and say, “Brad, what’s going on?” And you would talk for 20 minutes!
Brad Wright: Yeah, I’m like a wind-up toy. I can just … pull my string and off I go. Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap!
GW: Well, I want to ask you first about your craft because I’ve been following your work since The Outer Limits all the way through years and years of Stargate and through Travelers. As you’ve moved through your career and have those different experiences, what are the elements that you would say make up a good writers room? The different writers rooms that you’ve been a part of – how have they differed from each other?
BW: That’s an interesting question. The Outer Limits was … because we were each writing individual stories there was never an arc that we had to worry about tying into. So basically, I would go into Jonathan [Glassner]’s or Scott [Shepherd]’s or Manny [Coto]’s office back in Season One and say, “How about this?” And they would say, “That’s cool – let’s pitch that to Trilogy.” Trilogy was the studio – no, not the studio, MGM was studio – but they were the production entity that had sold The Outer Limits to MGM.
So then we’d have to pitch that, and [it] would just be like a document. “What about this?” And they would just go, “Yes, no, yes, no.” And we would either write an outline and it would get developed further, or I would just write the damn thing and say, “Here, how about this?” And we got so desperate on The Outer Limits because we were a little behind when I started on that show.
But John and I were very good at working together and spinning story, Jonathan and I. And we did that on The Outer Limits together. So when we came to Stargate, the writers room was catch as catch can. We were never all together for any length of time, except at the beginning of the season, in a real room and long enough to even call it a writers room. It was like, “Hey, guys, can we steal an hour?” And we’d all sit we’d spin the idea or whatever we needed to spin.
And that kind of just carried over into the rest of the show. Except for the beginning of the season and the end of the season when we actually set we were able to sit down, we did not have a structured writers room in the same way that for example, I was able to do on Travelers.
With Travelers it was a giant … we had three or four weeks, and then all through prep it was me and the writers spinning stories, breaking stories on a whiteboard. All of which we did in Stargate, but in a more structured way, in a more all-at-once way. And part of it was because John and I were also producing The Outer Limits. So we just didn’t have time. We were like grabbing time to put stuff on a whiteboard and break stories.
We got better at it. We started devoting more time to it. And I have to say there is no more fun place than a writer’s room when you’re on fire. Especially when you have people as funny as Martin Gero, and Paul Mullie, just making you cry laughing at anything that we’re discussing – in context, or out of context. And that continued into Travelers.
It is just so much fun to spin story. It can be frustrating as hell! It can be painful, because you know there’s something there but this thing is in the way, or whatever, and you don’t have an Act IV! It’s always Act IV, of course. But it’s so satisfying when you come away and drive home and think, “Yeah, that was good. That was exhausting!” It can be really exhausting, but so much fun.
And then another thing I learned on Travelers was you break a story – and this is what we started doing, we broke the story again. We would wipe it off the board and do it again. Amazingly, when you try to do it a second time all the glue and spit that was holding together the version 1 reveals itself. And it quite often is different in ways. It’s like the second pass on any draft. But by starting from scratch it’s like it’s a proof of concept – the proof that, “Oh yeah, this is a good story!”or “This isn’t a good story.”
But there’s no more fun place in the world than a bunch of people in a writers room.
GW: One of the really fun stories that you contributed to the Stargate world was Season Four’s “2010” and Season Five’s “2001.” We’ve heard whispers over the years that the Aschen we’re going to be a trilogy. So I wonder if you could talk us through the genesis of the idea: how did the Aschen come about, and how this idea gets developed in the writers room, and then why didn’t that third one come about? What was in the way that you couldn’t overcome?
BW: It could have, and I could have probably come up with another Aschen story. Because they would have been angry with what we did to them after “2001,” after that that episode.
I laugh and smile every time you say it because Rob was not a fan. I mean, he liked the episodes – but he didn’t like them as a villain. He didn’t like the slow game – the long game that the Aschen played out. Like, “Oh, they’re going to starve us out!” And Rob went, “‘Oh my god, they’re not growing corn!’ is not a great [story] …” And again, a funny writers room moment.
But I mean “2010” is arguably my favorite of my own episodes. Mainly because Andy Mikita did such a great job directing it, and it was one of his first directing assignments. The last act is like a feature, and Joel [Goldsmith]’s music again was spectacular.
But the story that sort of came to mind in terms of the Aschen coming directly without a Stargate to Earth ended up being a component of one of the direct-to-video movies … indirectly. I mean, I can’t even say it’s the same. But it just felt like it stepped on it. So I think that that was the reason. And I may even be wrong about that. [Laughter]
GW: You mean because you were already planning the sort of “Earth invasion” for a different race, for a different storyline?
BW: Yeah, something like that.
GW: That’s good. One of the things that I do on GateWorld is we sort of think of ourselves as chronicling the history of the show – the history of production. Which is why I ask all these sort of backward-looking questions. I think a lot of people who have been around for a while, they know that there were a couple of movies that didn’t get made. Joe [Mallozzi] and Paul [Mullie]’s Stargate: Extinction script for Atlantis. And I think it was you and Carl [Binder] we’re working together on Stargate: Revolution, is that right?
BW: Yeah, that’s right. And the truth is not only that they didn’t get made, they were relatively early in their development. It’s not like we had a script that we could have shot. We were still – we had first drafts, I think. And they were something we were planning to do like six months down the road.
And it was because of the Continuum and Ark of Truth [movies] did very well for MGM as direct-to-video movies. And the market for direct [to DVD] … it was a good business model. It was a really solid business model. And it was a way especially for Atlantis to keep going, because the television model was arguably going to be difficult. And we loved doing it. Rob loved making Ark of Truth, I loved making Continuum. And I thought, “Man, I could make two of these a year for a while. This would be great!”
And it was purely the collapse of the DVD market that triggered the sidelining of those projects. And it began as, “Could you just like put a hold on development for a couple of weeks, because we’re getting some numbers here that are …” Literally a month later: “Yeah, I think we need to put a stop on development on this for now, and just see how it [pans out].” And then a month later: “Forget it, there’s no way we can make these.”
And Continuum was one of the last movies MGM released direct to DVD that made money.
GW: What I really want to ask about is the movie that didn’t get as far, and most people probably don’t know about, which is the one that you mentioned earlier in the livestream – a sort of combo team-up of characters from all three shows, to give some kind of conclusion to Destiny‘s story. How far did that get into development, and what can you share with us about what it was going to be?
BW: I just started typing, Darren. I asked my boss at MGM – who was a huge Stargate fan and was kind of mortified by the fact that all of this was happening. And I said, “Look, we have many millions of dollars worth of sets here that are going to have to get packed up and basically discarded. And if I can get a script in your hands quickly enough, I bet I can get the cast of SGU and bring aboard enough cast members from the other show that I could at least give us a two-hour movie to wrap it up, or a 90-minute movie to wrap up SGU and finish the story that we were trying to tell.”
I pitched him the rough idea that I had for it – and it was rough. I mean, I was typing as fast as I could. And my process is not like … I didn’t whiteboard it. I just had this sort of structure in my head and concept for the characters from the other series that I was going to bring in. And I started writing it, started laying it out, and it started with McKay and began [with a] recognition that Destiny was in trouble. And, you know, I don’t want to go into the plot details, but at the end of the day before I really got into any … like two weeks into the process I found out it’s not gonna happen.
And even as we were going through it, it was, “Could you do it for this number?” … “Could you do it for this number?” And then it got to the point where, “Look … I’ve already taken my own producing fee out of the budget. But I can’t take visual effects out of the budget!”
GW: “Can you do it with puppets? Can you do it with hand puppets?”
BW: There comes a time where the desire to finish something doesn’t line up with the financial resources to do it. And that was where it was already heading when I found out they’re not interested. The new regime was just not remotely interested.
GW: That’s my memory is that it was 2011, by my reporting. So this would have been after the bankruptcy, after there was a new set of people inside MGM.
BW: Yes. I was writing – but we had left the sets up out of the hope that we could do that. And we funded it with … I can’t remember how we funded it. We had an underage that season. And the truth is that it probably cost MGM a few bucks for that show of good faith and the hope that we could keep to keep the flame alive, if you will.
And that was sad, because I was trying really hard. I just … I had been spoiled for so many years, Darren, of them saying, “Well, come up with another one!” “Well, come up with another one!” And to have something that was not only out of my control but out of the control of the executives at MGM I was working with. A structured bankruptcy means everybody goes home, and a new regime comes in and takes over. And the new regime was not interested.
GW: Let me ask you one last question. Look forward, we’ve been pushing hard for a lot of years for your involvement in the next project – and if not your involvement then the universe that you’ve helped to build, to continue on with that continuity. You’ve always said – in interviews at The Companion, and on your Reddit AMA – that you think one of the core ideas about Stargate is that “it’s us.” These characters are relatable, or they’re contemporary.
So jeremfg on GateWorld asks: Do you believe that that “here and now” is still the secret ingredient to [Stargate’s] future success even under this new paradigm of binge watching, serialization, streaming series? And then I’ll just add to that by asking: In your mind, in new creative hands, is there room for something like a “Stargate: The Next Generation” that is actually set a few decades in the future?
BW: The answer is absolutely yes. Because frankly one of the difficulties – and I say this as somebody who would probably benefit from an in-canon continuation – I get the rationale for a reset. But a “next generation” is sort of a happy medium. Because it is sort of reset. It is enough in the future that the world is different. But the one thing – another thing that happened in Stargate … the thing that you can’t do if you do a future Earth is, you know, walk around Earth the way it is right now. Earth has advanced.
And I say this … I had this conversation with my producing partner Carrie Mudd about another idea that we had, and I said, “It’s so hard to do the future!” If you do something set 80 years from now, what do the cars look like? What does Earth look like? What are the social norms? What are the politics? It’s a whole other world-building, in addition to the sci-fi component, right?
GW: And everything has to be shot on sound stages.
BW: Yeah, pretty much. And you know, honestly, Star Trek is doing a pretty good job of it – of modern Earth. They really are. But they have a lot of money. They have a lot of money. So if you do that then my suggestion is: have a lot of money. Does that make sense?
GW: Yeah. Good. Good answer!
Thank you! It’s always a joy. Thank you.
BW: Thank you, Darren. And it’s good to see you. I appreciate the decades-long support!