Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica premieres tonight [9/8C], and on Tuesday, I took part in a conference call Q&A with series co-creator and executive producer, David Eick and Paula Malcomson, who plays Amanda Greystone on the show. It got off to a bit of a weird start, but quickly picked up steam and was, ultimately, a very interesting experience.
Also taking part were: Jim Halterman [jimhalterman.com], Charlie Jane Anders [io9.com], Troy Rogers [thedeadbolt.com], Michael Hinman [Airlock Alpha], Lisa Steinberg [Starry Constellation], Ivy West [CliqueClack TV], and Steve Aramo [SciFi Talk].
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Paula Malcomson: Can I just point out that I’m a woman? Just before we…
Oh I’m so sorry.
PM: …go any further.
Sorry about that, sorry about that.
PM: No problem.
I just want to know the intention to make the show different from Battlestar Galactica, can you talk about that a little bit because it definitely has a whole different feel to it.
David Eick: Well I just wanted to use this opportunity to point out that I’m a woman too.
DE: You go first Paula, you’ve earned it.
PM: You go, that’s for you. That’s – this is you – this is all your field.
DE: Okay now that we’ve screwed around what’s the question again my friend?
PM: It was about the differences and…
DE: Oh yeah the difference between Battlestar and CAPRICA?
Yeah, basically just the intention to make it different because it definitely has a whole different feel about the show.
DE: Yeah I think we’re very intently committed to the idea that this show stand on its own, that it not in any feel like an echo or a descendent or a, you know, extension of Battlestar Galactica in any way. You’ll note that the title is not Battle Galactica CAPRICA it is simply CAPRICA.
And the relationship that it has to Battlestar is purely inconsequential. It’s kind of in an Easter egg sense fun for the fans and audience that followed Battlestar Galactica but if you never saw a lick of that show it will have no impact on your ability to really get involved in and relate to the characters and the drama we’re doing on this show.
Okay. And also the fact that people can pretty much see pieces of CAPRICA or the pilot a lot of different places other than the Syfy Channel just because it’s, you know, there’s episodes being put online and stuff. Is that part of your design or does that come from the network?
DE: Well it was a network design but I believe – and I’m not certain about this – that it’s a release strategy or a distribution strategy that other networks had tried as well. I think Glee may have done something like this where the pilot premiered and then a period of time went by and then the pilot re-premiered as a launch to the series.
And so I think in a multiplatform universe as it were where people are consuming dramatic material on their televisions, on their DVD players and on the Internet it’s really kind of smart and ahead of the game to figure out new and unorthodox ways to launch a show.
And – but that was definitely the network’s call and we were happy to get aboard. And in fact it gave us an excuse me spend even more money on the pilot because the version that airs Friday is, you know, sort of tricked out with a bunch of new shots and visual effects and a couple scenes we even redid. So it’s been worth it all around.
PM: Now he tells me. That’s interesting – news to me.
DM: Don’t worry it’s not…
PM: It’s fine.
PM: That scene where I’m in drag, is that included?
DE: Yeah. Yeah.
DE: I’m sorry.
Thanks for doing the call today, you guys. And I mean guys in a non-gender specific way. Actually this is a question for Paula. It seems like watching the first few episodes it seems like your character has a lot of really – a lot of really tough moments to play. And she makes a lot of choices that might make her unsympathetic in the eyes of a lot of viewers.
And I’m wondering how you struggled with portraying that and making her a likeable character even though she’s kind of, you know, maybe not the best mother and she makes some decisions especially at the end of the second episode that are…
PM: Well we – yeah absolutely. I think that was – it’s definitely something that occurs to you in the back of your mind but as an actor you have to sort of aside your own judgments in terms of whether the character is good or bad necessarily as, you know, I think being a good actor is sort of understanding the complexity of the human psyche and also knowing that we are none of us perfect.
So but yes it was tough and I did think about – particularly that man would find perhaps this character unsympathetic. And I just tried to play, you know, I just really tried to tap into the loss and the pain and the fact that, you know, she has made mistakes and, you know, go from there you know.
DE: Yeah, I would also add that I don’t think in the sort of canon of this show or shows like it there’s a tremendous amount of concern for what I would call old fashioned television tropes-like sympathetic characters. I think audiences want challenging characters and characters who are neither, you know, black or white but are somewhere in the middle that they’re morally gray and that they’re going to challenge the audience’s expectation in every way.
I think the character that Paula plays and one of the reasons that she plays it so well is that you’re never quite sure what to expect from her. And there are times when you expect her to maybe lose her shit when she completely holds it together and vice versa. And I think that’s human and real and that’s part of what I think is the hallmark of the show.
David, in CAPRICA you’re dealing with – although it’s a totally different context you’re dealing with a lot of the same themes that recurred through Battlestar, things like religion versus science, faith versus knowledge. When is violence right – or is it ever, and the whole question of who or what constitutes a terrorist. And on top of that you’ve added something to the effect of what is the nature of the human soul. How do you translate these themes from the microcosm of BSG to the macrocosm of 12 colonies from a dozen planets and worlds in a star cluster?
PM: I’m really glad this question is to David Eick and not (David Milch); we’d be here for about a week. My God.
DE: Exactly because my answer is, huh, I don’t know. No, I’m kidding. It’s really simple. Nothing is different which is to say whether you’re telling a story in the realm of a combat-rattled spacecraft where everyone is battle weary and desperately hoping to survive or in an environment like CAPRICA where we’re in a much more terrestrial world that feels more accessible and is perhaps more vast and expansive.
The focus on the story is still all about character. And so whether the theme in question happens to be what kind of moral values are necessary for technological advancement or to use your example what is the nature of the human soul. Those themes still get explored on a very pointed specific point of view level in terms of those themes coming from character.
And character is always where we start our story. And like Battlestar I would say CAPRICA is not terribly plot-driven. There are wonderful yarns and threads wrapping around episodes and through episodes but ultimately I think the audience for the Sopranos, for Mad Men, for Grey’s Anatomy, for the Shield and the Wire and the kinds of shows that really are about delving into character are going to be the audience for CAPRICA.
And a quick thought on the scene that was filmed too late to be included on the screener, I’m just wondering how do you think that new scene will color the audience’s perception of the following episodes?
DE: Maureen, you’d have to help me here because I’m not sure which scene in particular that is.
Maureen Granados: This is a scene that we were adding to the pilot; it’s the pyramid scene with Daniel.
David Eick: Oh. I would say that was added to enhance and amplify the spectacle of this world which is to say one of the aspects of the CAPRICA universe as it were is they have a (fort) and they like them and they’re huge. And in that way they’re a lot like – it’s another example of how this is a culture from which our culture defended for those who are, you know, embroiled in the mythos.
And so because you’re always dealing with limited resources in the pilot we really were not able to convey the sort of largesse of that, the spectacle of it in the way that we would have liked. And so when we got the series order we were able to amortize certain costs over the course of the entire season to really do a one big bang scene in the pilot that really featured the size and scope of athletics in this world and it was definitely worth it, it’s really fantastic.
David, I wanted to know how much impact did female viewership play in not setting the series in space or relying heavily on space scenes.
DE: You know what most of the people I spoke to about Battlestar in terms of the fan base were women so the – this – the empirical demographic breakdown of the audience is something that I just choose to keep at bay and not pay a lot of attention to. So I never really think in terms of gearing a show towards a particular audience.
In sort of general terms do I recognize that fact that perhaps a female audience might be more inclined to watch something that’s, you know, deals in story from a sort of, you know, soap operatic kind of melodramatic terms and without the accompanying visual sort of ghetto and spaceships and outer space? Sure.
There might be – it might have more accessibility to a female audience just because of that generalization. But I don’t know, I mean, and certainly that was never a motivation for not setting the show in space. The motivation to not set the show in space was to make it as different and unique from Battlestar as possible.
Now, although people will look at CAPRICA as science fiction I wanted to know with the quick advances in technology how soon do you think I’ll have to start worrying about the machines around me?
PM: Start worrying now.
You should have been worried months – weeks and years ago. We’re pretty close. We’re pretty close. You know.
DE: Yeah, I think there’s certainly a quality to this show that unlike Battlestar gives you a sense that what you’re seeing is 1-1/2 maybe 2 generations away from where we are right now. And so that tether that I think an audience is going to have to, you know, connecting their own reality to this sort of advanced reality they’re seeing in the show, the speculative reality, is going to be part of what makes it really compelling.
PM: I don’t think it’s even that far away, you know.
DE: Probably not.
PM: I think that’s the thing. I think it’s so much more even immediate than that in terms of artificial intelligence being as close as it is and, you know, anyway there’s lots of – I think this is really fantastic. It’s been – I’ve had a little time off to read about some of this stuff and it’s pretty interesting what scientists are talking about now and our themes on the show. I had no idea how prevalent they would be.
Yes, it’s cool and scary at the same time.
PM: Very cool and very scary. But I liked how this guy – I was reading this guy, Frank Kipler, who talks about actually heaven being this sort of virtual-ville if you will. And that sort of made me optimistic. And the guy’s really proving this mathematically, you know, that we might end up at this place, you know.
It’s kind of a nice thought.
Yay, we’re going to obsolete soon.
PM: I know. The dogs and us and you don’t have to be good or bad as well because no one would show up right?
I was curious since the – since some of the changes that happened on, you know, the show runner position and stuff, what kind of changes might we see, you know, I guess toward the midpoint of the season? And, you know, what can we expect that – is there going to be like a different pace to the storytelling or any other noticeable changes?
DM: A different pace to the storytelling did you say?
Yeah or, I mean, are we going to see – because usually when there’s a show runner change there’s usually at least some type of adjustment that even viewers can kind of pick up on. I mean are we going to see any of that with the midway point of CAPRICA?
DE: Well not in a way that I wouldn’t say characterizes any first-year show which is to say, you know, even on Battlestar which was very celebrated after its first season, you know, the show needed to find its legs, the show needed to kind of figure out what it was, how serialized is it going to be? How self contained is it going to be? How much action is there?
How much, you know, esoterica can we, you know, from a Cylon metaphysical standpoint can we really, you know, implement into the show? What arcs do we want to leave dangling? Which ones do we want to wrap up? Who’s’ going to die, who’s going – I mean all those things get discovered as you go.
I think the – in this case the show runner so to speak, the head writer change was much more of a function of practicality and just aiming weapons where they were best suited.
And – but the changes in the show, which there have been, the show’s definitely undergone a great and positive I think and fruitful evolution in growth from its beginning to its – now we’re nearing its conclusion of the first season – but only in a way that I would say is consistent with any first-year show.
Good shows should get better as they go and I think this one does.
And Paula, you know, we all loved you as – not just in these first three episodes of CAPRICA so far but of course Deadwood as well. And, I mean, outside of the fact that you’re probably spending more time on a soundstage, I mean, how is this experience with CAPRICA different from Deadwood for you?
PM: Oh God, in a million ways. And we’re not spending so much time on a soundstage believe it or not.
PM: This show is very heavy in locations. So it’s kind of been, you know, last week were in the middle of a forest on horses with fires lit shooting in the middle of the night, you know. And that’s not uncommon, it’s been – it’s sort of been an incredible odyssey this show.
And it’s obviously in some ways Deadwood was, you know, we were contained to one – what made that an easier show in a lot of ways was we were contained to one set, the writers, the producers, everyone was there on a ranch working together.
And this has been more spread out so there’s obvious challenges. But – and this is a longer run too. I’ve never done a series of, you know, as many episodes. We had 12 and I think it’s interesting to have to have to find a second wind and a third wind.
But what that serves to do is just creates deeper and deeper characters, you know. I’ve forgotten the question but…
…comparing the two a little bit like…
PM: I mean, you know, you approach the work in the same way always. And in a lot of ways this is – there’s been a lot of freedom here to really sort of feel as though almost anything is possible on this show. Like if we take a turn somewhere we can end up going down another road. It’s been quite an organic process and as was Deadwood obviously.
I mean I think that was really, you know, one of the signatures of that show is that it felt like a living organism and this does too in a lot of ways.
David just one last [thing] I want to know, has filming for Season 1 wrapped?
DE: We are about seven days away.
I’m so much looking forward to CAPRICA. And I wanted to ask you, David, obviously with Battlestar Galactica there’s going to be a lot of fans that will more than likely watch the show. And I wanted to know how do you really expect that new viewers will get drawn into this show or how do you feel, you know, how do you feel the show will draw viewers in that are not so familiar with Battlestar?
DE: Well as most people who know me might say I’m certainly not beyond arguing with my network and we have spirited debates and discussions about all aspects of the creative process. But one particular area in which I completely genuflect and am in complete awe of what they’re able to pull off is in publicity and marketing. They’re just – I think they’re the best in the business.
I have no doubt that the show is going to be a sampled. I had very little to say about how the show is being marketed, where the show is being marketed. It was presented to me. It was as iron-clad as you could hope for. They spent a ton of money and they really believe in the show.
And so the real answer to your first question is – was a marketing answer which is you draw viewers to the show by making people aware of it by your marketing muscle and by the kinds of things we’re doing right now. And so I’ve never been anything but completely confident and absolutely relieved to have the team that we’ve got at the network in those categories.
I think the question about how do you keep them once you get them there has to be to make the show rich and compelling and to measure up to what we often, I hope, achieved with Battlestar just from a qualitative standpoint but without the baggage and without trying to – and without having the audience feel like any heavy lifting is involved from the standpoint of knowing or understanding or being, you know, a fan of Battlestar Galactica.
So a great deal of very deliberate decisions were made very early in the process to make this show stand on its own, to have the Battlestar connected tissue extremely intermittent, inconsequential and really only kind of, you know, fodder for the fans and nothing at all that would be required by a new audience or misunderstood by a new audience.
And so, you know, the answer is hopefully we’re telling great stories really, really well and that’s the thing that’s going to keep the audience. But in no way are we relying on the Battlestar faithful to support the show.
As kind of a follow-up to that how important do you think it is – I’m not even sure if you could comment or, you know, if you would be familiar but how important are social networking sites to that promotion and getting the word out there? Like social sites like Twitter or Facebook – would you possibly be able to speak on that?
DE: I’m finally – I’ve finally reached the age where I can say I don’t know what those things are.
PM: I know.
DE: I mean I do know what they are but I’d be lying if I said I knew how to harness them or what to expect from them. I know that the way the show is cross-marketed this company leaves no stone unturned when it comes to squeezing every fruit available or every possible drop of either publicity or awareness.
So if it’s out there, if it’s Twitter or Facebook or Twitterface or Book – I don’t know what any of them are but I know that they’re being harnessed and definitely used to the fullest potential.
Paula I was wondering what it is about the role that you found really challenging?
PM: It was a very strong pilot. And it’s – I knew that these guys write very well for women – was the reputation. And I – she is – and this was a role that I didn’t know how to play so I wanted to do it. I really didn’t know – I sort of had to be talked into it because I thought it was so far from me in certainly superficial ways.
But when it all really sort of – when you really get down to the work it’s kind of amazing how much you do find, I mean, in everyone and sort of in the human experience what is – what we have in common and what connects us, you know.
So it’s always an interesting thing to do to take on a new role because it’s going to reveal to you levels of yourself that you weren’t aware of. It’s kind of frightening.
Mr. Eick, when you guys did BSG you guys talked about during – you and Mr. Moore talked about during the run of the show how the plot evolved organically instead of having everything mapped out in a direct direction.
Based on that reaction and based on your experience there have you changed that? And I think you spoke to it a little bit with Michael’s question earlier but if not why have you stuck with this mentality?
DE: Say that last sentence again, it’s not what?
Well it seems that you may have spoken a little bit to the question with Michael’s – with your answer to Michael’s question earlier but if you not why have you stuck with this – have you stuck with this mentality and if so why?
DE: Oh sorry I just didn’t understand what you said. Yes, you’re talking about the mentality of screw planning let’s make it all go along? Yeah that’s just called laziness. There’s no mystery to that, it’s just called – actually I will tell you Ron Moore and I had a number of discussions about this very early on.
We had come from very different backgrounds in terms of how writers rooms are run. On Star Trek literally they sort of write the outline, I mean, this is all – I’m hearing this third hand, I can’t confirm any of this. But presumably the outline process takes place in the room; it’s very precise, very detailed. There’s not a lot of jazz or improvisation invited or tolerated. And it’s just kind of an almost military-like environment.
That’s not to say that the work is any less good it’s just that it was run with that level of discipline and structured parameters. On shows that I worked on – I worked a lot with Sean Cassidy, I’ve worked with, you know, other writers and producers in a variety of different capacities and there was a much looser environment where young writers were encouraged to, you know, come up with stuff and contribute and you might throw stuff out in this season.
And, you know, of course the (unintelligible) there is you’re really – you might somehow find something brilliant. The downside is sometimes you can’t find your ass with both hands and you have an episode that doesn’t work.
And so I think we really wanted to sort of combine the best of both of those environments. And when it came to how the writers’ room run on Battlestar and then later CAPRICA (unintelligible) which was to have a structure, have a large picture plan usually concocted over a few scotches between me and Ron in the off season.
And those – that would be delivered to the writing staff and then everyone was encouraged to improvise and add and subtract and change and go crazy and just sort of create an environment where there are no bad ideas. And then if we lost our way we’d circle back to (unintelligible) want to go. So it really is a combination of, you know, of running a tight ship and yet really allowing for there to be a lot of improvisation and changes on the fly purely with the intent of getting – of having the best ideas.
PM: That’s also applied in the, you know, on set with the actors as well. It’s really sort of – happened there also in terms of being able to have a sort of a – kind of loosely deal with the script so when a surprise or something interesting comes up we’ve had the luxury to be able to follow that instinct.
You know, like the other day I had a scene where I just decided for the good of the show it would be an excellent idea to slap Eric Stoltz. And so I did for the good of the show certainly.
DE: Of course that’s for the good of the show.
Well, that’s interesting that that freedom, that seems to be born out of the writer’s room it also shows up on the set as well. So…
PM: It’s really the only way to work as far as I’m concerned. Otherwise you – there are no surprises and it’s, you know, it’s boring and, you know, the beauty of this, you know, I think one of the directors said to me the other day I never know what you’re going to do. And I said, no, neither do I. And that’s, you know, there’s just something amazing and beautiful about that, you know. And hopefully it works.
Paula, I wanted to ask you if maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you first became involved in CAPRICA and maybe about your audition process if you don’t mind?
PM: Yeah, I met with Jeffrey Reiner who was directing the pilot. And I hit it off with him certainly. He’s very smart, he’s incredibly well schooled in film, is a huge film buff. And he just seems like the kind of director I wanted to work with.
So it was first of all responding to the material, then meeting Reiner. I auditioned for Sister Clarice initially and Reiner wanted to see me play Amanda. And like I said I had – I was trepidatious about that because I didn’t know if I could play her. And I was frightened of it. And I realized that that was a really good thing.
And sort of then I met David and Ron and everybody else involved and then I think I was the first person cast and then Esai and then Eric and I was delighted with the men that I would be accompanied by and then Polly.
And David just a quick question for you, looking now with the first season of the show almost wrapped what maybe have you enjoyed most so far about bringing the CAPRICA story to life would you say?
David Eick: Well the biggest and most pleasant surprise was the one that we sort of didn’t allow our self to dream could happen which was to get as lucky as we were able to get with this ensemble. You know, it’s just – that phrase about you’re only as strong as your weakest link really applies when you’re dealing with an ensemble cast.
And to have such strength across the boards from established and, you know, well-recognized actors like Paula and Polly Walker, Esai and Eric, combined with some real newcomers, some people who are going to brand new to an American audience and to have them hold their own.
And then to discover brand new talent like Sasha Roiz who plays Sam Adama, Joseph’s brother, who in almost no time we were able to start building episodes around him because he was a strong discovery. Those are the things that you can’t plan for you just have to hope.
You know, we got together in Lake Tahoe way back in January of last year to start breaking stories so it wasn’t for lack of planning when it came to aiming to make the show good in every way that we could control. But as hard as you might work on casting and of course we (unintelligible) you just never know until you get there and we just got incredibly lucky with the crew.