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Executive Producer David Eick and star Luke Pasqualino discuss the new web series' origins and more.
Midday last Friday, in conjunction with the Machinima Prime debut of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome's first two webisodes, Executive Producer David Eick and series star Luke Pasqualino answered questions from the press about the web series, the production of the 2hr movie its derived from and its possible future going forward with the Syfy network which greenlit its initial creation. The full uncut, unrated Blood & Chrome film will be avalailabe on Blu-ray & DVD February 19th, 2013 and will air in its entirety on Syfy sometime that same month.
Back in 1978, as a nine year old child, I immediately fell in love with BSG's original incarnation and couldn't wait to behold its reimagining by David Eick and Ronald D. Moore twenty-six years later when it reappeared as a mini-series on the Syfy channel. Having thoroughly enjoyed the new Battlestar Galactica and its spin-off Caprica, both co-created by renowned Star Trek producer-writer Ron Moore, my first question to Blood & Chrome creator David Eick was inquiring as to why Moore is not attached to this project.
Can you share the particular reason why Ronald D. Moore isn't associated with this new Battlestar Galactica prequel?
David Eick: "I believe he got caught up in another deal when this got hatched. I don't know all the details. There's no dramatic or exciting answer to that question, he was just busy doing other stuff and we've been able to proceed forward. But the great thing about my partnership with Ron is that we were always existing in the same mindset, as you might say, finishing each others' sentences. And so I feel like there's a proprietary Ron Moore-ness that coexists with my approach to Battlestar and I'd like to think there'd be a David Eick-ness that would accompany his approach if I was gone. Battlestar was a child we gave birth to together and this new grandchild of it naturally has his genetic imprint on it and I would never claim otherwise. The factual answer as to why he's not involved now or won't be involved in the future is really just a matter of his having other irons in the fire. The deals we make in show business tend to be exclusive and it's hard to get to work on other stuff once you sign 'em."
How personally important was it for you to continue telling Battlestar Galactica's stories?
David Eick: "I consider myself terribly fortunate and uniquely blessed to have been given the opportunity to jump into this world and get to reinvent and sort of "re-imagine," as the phrase became, this title in this universe. It has been my number one vocation, now entering into a second decade of all things, and remains my very favorite thing to do; that is, to work on and write and create and produce and be on sets and be in casting rooms, cutting rooms, visual efx rooms and all things Battlestar. It's where I’m happiest and it's where I think I do my best work, in all humility. And it’s something I hope I'll have a chance to continue to do."
Where did the idea for doing another prequel story come from?
David Eick: "I was asked by the [Syfy] network to think about a concept that would be under the umbrella or rubric of the Battlestar Galactica canon that would make sense as an online series. I was thinking about the character William Adama and the fact that we had seen him depicted as a very stoic, strong and very uncompromisingly anti-Cylon admiral and commander in Battlestar Galactica. And we've seen him as a child being exposed to an alternate, immoral world on the show Caprica. So I thought it might be interesting for an audience to see what that character might've been like when he was Lee Adama's age, the character that portrayed his son in Battlestar when he was the young, crackerjack hot-gun pilot, fresh out of the academy. Where did this hatred of Cylons come from? Why was this man that we will later meet as Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica so uniformly and uncomprisingly committed to the utter eradication and dissolution of this race of robot people? Where did that come from? Was it because he was a prisoner of war? Was it because he was involved in some horrible conflict? He wants to incinerate them, but why? And, the more I thought about it, the more I finally came up with an answer that I thought it was emotionally driven, that there was something much more deeply personal driving him and that was the sort of nucleus or genesis of it. And through his experience, he'd come to feel that the Cylons were an unforgivable race of creatures that, beyond being responsible for our genocide and being responsible for attacking us, needed to be gotten rid of. This was a story that came from a very personal place for me and it was really about exploring the root of what made Adama tick vis-à-vis the Cylons and how that was informed by his understanding of the importance of a male figure in his life who he could depend on above and beyond his own romantic or blood relations."
Between Battlestar and Caprica what have you learned, from an accessible storytelling standpoint, that you've applied to making Blood & Chrome?
David Eick: "I felt that there was an obligation, if we were going to reintroduce Battlestar into the public, that we tell stories that felt accessible. We had already done a tremendously thorough job of defining an elaborate and confluent mythology. And that mythology would always stand intact and always be the subject of debate and argument about what is Starbuck, and all those kinds of questions, but this would be something that would function on a different level. I wasn't able to write the script because I was obligated to a couple other projects but I had this story that I wanted to tell. Fortunately I was able to go to Battlestar alumni Michael Taylor, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson who had done the kind of stories in Battlestar Galactica that evoked exactly what I was hoping Blood & Chrome would achieve. Hard hitting, mission-oriented, accessible stories that had depth and emotion and would be unusual in that they would extend into darker places and more human places than science fiction normally goes, which was always a hallmark of Battlestar, but would err more on the side of missions and objectives than mythology. Together we all broke the story in detail and then Michael Taylor wrote a gorgeous script that stunned everyone and got this thing green-lit. That's really the tale of how it all came together. But the emphasis has always been to give fans of Battlestar more episodes like The Ties That Bind, Act of Contrition and The Hand of God which were great hallmarks of Battlestar and were stories that even if you'd never seen an episode of the show before were still wonderfully, thrillingly accessible and engaging."
Did Syfy originally, or ever, greenlight Blood & Chrome to broadcast on-air for its television network?
David Eick: "No, this was originally planned and developed as an online project. I feel like there's a certain record to set straight which was a little bit frustrating for me a few months ago when I saw the headline that Blood & Chrome had somehow been rejected or was a failed pilot or wasn't gonna make it on-air and all these kinds of things. Because it was never intended to be a traditional pilot, so to speak, such that Syfy not picking it up in a traditional manner to be an episodic series was some kind of rejection or failure. It was always developed, at least from my point of view, as a project for an online environment and as something that we would develop and structurally, narratively build as a ten part serial. Kind of like how Raiders of the Lost Ark adapted the 1930s style movie serials, where you have 10mins of story and a cliffhanger followed by 10mins of story and a cliffhanger, and then after ten of these episodes it would all kind of resolve itself in a sort of three act structure as a whole movie. So when I set out to develop this my thinking was to design a mission, so to speak, that could be divided into ten smaller missions. And that's really what we wound up with and what the audience is going to see. Where the confusion came in is that for a moment the network after seeing the scripts said, "Gee, we don't want to rule out the possibility of just abdicating the online venture altogether and throwing this up as a pilot for a traditional series for Syfy." And there were discussions about that. But for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was because of a genuine feeling that we'd really designed something altogether groundbreaking from a visual efx standpoint, they decided to stick with the original plan. In terms of subsequent future episodes or stories, its future may be online, may be on-air and/or DVD, who knows? But it was never any kind of rejection or failure that this didn't end up as another Syfy pilot because this was always designed to be something much more unique and special than that and I'm thrilled that it's finally reached its distribution and is going to be seen by the people it's intended for."
If memory serves, an earlier release date for this web series was originally announced. What ultimately delayed its online debut?
David Eick: "I think the delay, as it were, had to do with Syfy finding an online digital partner that made sense for this project and a title like Battlestar Galactica. We all know there are a million online channels out there and what outlet is going to be able to carry your brand and make good on your investment becomes a huge decision. We won't know if the launch is in any way insufficient until we know what the numbers are and what they're even called in this universe. They're not called ratings, but whatever they're called, we won't know if the launch was insufficient until we see the results. But to my way of thinking, in terms of how I understand the online world, it just doesn’t work in the old-fashioned way. You're not going to see billboards and a bunch of commercials; it's all much more, as they call it, viral."
Why wasn't there more promotional fanfare heralding Blood & Chrome's online premiere?
David Eick: "Well, once again, this was an unorthodox and unusual distribution approach because this was not a pilot for air. When you have a pilot that's going to premiere as a first episode of a series, we're all accustomed to billboards and on-air and online promotions and we're all bombarded with a multi-million-dollar advertising budget. This was always intended and designed to be something that would premiere in a much more unusual way, in a different environment, and in a different space. I don't know what sort of expectations there are for an online premiere. Machinima, for instance, distributes this really impressive looking Halo 4 series. I have to say I'm quite impressed with its production values, its writing, with the visual effects, but I'd never heard anything about it. No one ever told me about it, yet it's getting well over a million hits. So I just think it's a different universe for them. We're in a much more diversified, much more nuanced viewing landscape now and I just think things are marketed and distributed in different ways depending on what their intended venues are going to be."
Had you previously been a fan of BSG, Luke? And how does it feel to now be part of the franchise's legacy, playing its most pivotal character?
Luke Pasqualino: "I'd always heard of Battlestar Galactica and the phenomenon it was, but had never actually sat down and watched anything. I had no clue about the franchise. I first got the script in February/March 2011, and to be honest, at first I was thrown; I was actually kind of scared. I didn't have any idea what the premise was, I was just completely out of my comfort zone. But as soon as I started reading, five pages in, I didn't want to put the script down. I felt like I was in Adama's shoes before I was even offered the role. And when I learned that I'd won the role of Adama in this early 20-year-old period of his life, the furthest thing from my mind at that point was watching anything Edward James Olmos had done because I think you're seeing this William Adama at a completely different age and completely different stage in his life. Being 22 myself, I know that when you're going into something new, like the flight school that he attended, it can be quite a difficult time for a young man. I did feel pressure doing an American accent, that was a big factor. But getting the technical aspects out of my head and just really trying to connect with the material, as much as possible, was key for the final product. I did watch all of Caprica. David Eick made that a real priority, a kind of homework assignment for me and I loved it.To be part of the Battlestar franchise now and to be welcomed onboard as this young William Adama character is truly, truly an honor and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I wanted the responsibility of trying to make this what it was and I think we did a good job."
How large of a role will the Cylons have to play in Blood & Chrome?
Luke Pasqualino: "I don't think Battlestar would be Battlestar without the Cylon element in there. In Caprica, we saw the complete birth of the Cylons. Here, in the 10th year of this Cylon war, we tackle them from a different angle, from a young Adama's point of view which is something completely different."
David Eick: "Viewers of this Blood & Chrome story, throughout these ten segments, will discover that when the Cylons embarked on their decision to mimic and surpass human beings - which is a storyline that those who watched Battlestar Galactica know all too well - they didn't do it overnight. It's not like they were machines with gears and rivets one day and then grew soft Tricia Helfer skin the next day. They took time to attempt to approximate an evolution. If they'd done their homework they would've known that human beings didn't start out as human beings, because first they went through a fish stage, an amphibious stage, and a bird stage and a reptile stage before finally becoming mammals. Throughout this story we will see examples of those approximations of evolution, how the Cylons were attempting to push through their evolutionary process into becoming more human-like and the results will be terrifying and unexpected."
Fans know that at some point during the Cylon war the Centurians teamed up with the Final Five. Will B&C possibly depict that team-up or introduce any of the Final Five actors?
David Eick: "Well those actors are stuck in a timeline. They exist in a finite time frame, so I think it might be confusing for the audience if suddenly they were to see Michael Hogan in an episode of the show even with the minutiae of that mythos apparent to the Battlestar faithful. I think it underscores the larger point here which is that we really are making Blood & Chrome for a new audience as well as the Battlestar faithful. And as adherent and faithful as we are to the mythology into the history of the Battlestar universe, we're not slavish to it to the point where only the nine people on the message boards are going to get a kick out of it and everyone else is confused. That's just not our intent or agenda."
Are we going to learn anything about what happened to Adama during the time between Caprica and Blood & Chrome?
David Eick: "We have every intention of exploring that interesting conflict between the William Adama who's committed himself to fighting in a war that his father, who we've come to know in Caprica (for those that watched that show), might have a very strong opinion against. In Blood & Chrome's pilot we see an off-hand reference to this idea that William's father was a mob lawyer and that maybe strings were pulled to create certain opportunities for Adama. Those are definitely interesting and complex relationship trends that we want to explore. We, however, went to great lengths with Blood & Chrome to not be cute about too many nods and winks to characters from Battlestar and Caprica. At one point there was discussion of having young William Adama bump into some young school teacher who is getting a tour of the Battlestar Galactica in the hangar deck maybe, and she introduces herself as Laura, and they sort of move past each other -- but I just thought, 'I don't want to be that cute.’ I don't want to be that literal with it, and if we're going to do stuff like that, let's save that kind of thing for later. There are a number of little Easter-eggy nods to the Battlestar faithful that anyone watching the DVDs or seeing this online will be able to recognize. I think one of the things that we'll be less resistant to is asking Esai Morales who played William Adama's father [in Caprica] to reprise his role in some capacity in a future episode. We could show some of that conflict and strain between father and son and some of the uniquely contradictory impulses that a mob lifestyle and military lifestyle present. That's all really rich storytelling top-soil for us to pursue if we get the chance to go forward."
Was anything done differently, from a production standpoint, to accommodate the web series format?
David Eick: "We did nothing differently because it was geared for online versus broadcast. Absolutely nothing was decided, complicated or managed to accommodate that difference. The only choices that were made aesthetically, creatively, or narratively that were different from Battlestar were purely driven by a desire to once again reinvent this franchise and this title for a new audience. So if we were doing this for broadcast, or as a feature film or for any other outlet we would have used exactly the same methodology that we employed for this online exhibition. It was not driven at all by the change in enviroment it was only driven by our desire to do something unique, fresh and accessible that would also feel familiar and be evocative of the original (er, first remake of) Battlestar for our audience. There were a number of ways in which we shifted and changed our production approach to accomodate that agenda, but, it was in no way driven by the fact that we did it for online versus on-air."
Can you elaborate on some of the fresh and unique changes made to reinvent the franchise?
David Eick: "What we decided to do to make it fresh and accessible and evocative, but not duplicative of the last Battlestar, was to make this a greenscreen composite universe. We literally had a greenscreen stage with a massive lighting configuration that was like something you'd see at a Rolling Stones rock show that could accommodate a variety of different looks in the enviroment. Using a painstakingly built creative army put together by Gary Hutzel and Mike Gibson, our visual efx guys (from the earliest of the Battlestar days) were able to achieve a look and a level of 3D immersive compositing detail that I think you can compare to what you'd see in cutting-edge feature films and anything currently seen on television. And I include, by the way, shows that have ten times the budget that we had. The reason we were able to achieve that is because we spent the last ten years, since the first Battlestar mini-series in '03, building brick-by-brick this assembly of artists and experts and engineers and geniuses who have nothing but love for the product. We don't use a visual efx house, we don't go outside the boundaries of our own four-walled in-house unit to handcraft these shots. By combining that expertise and artistry with old fashioned camera filmmaking techniques, which because of Jonas Pate and our director of photography Lukas Ettlin we had the craftsmen and know-how to employ, we were able to create digital environments that are completely arresting, totally real, tactile and immersive and yet never required us to leave our greenscreen stage. And when I say old-fashioned techniques, I mean diffusion, darkness, shadow, snow storms, things that Eisenstein would've done a hundred years ago and that don't cost anything except ingenuity. And I think because of those factors we've been able to create something that feels completely different from the Battlestar people may've seen three or four years ago, but that nevertheless retains a certain echo of what we'd done, so fans still feel like they're immersed in that same universe. It was definitely different, but there's no reason why anyone couldn't do it this way. You just have to have the artists and the personnel to do it."
It sounds like you're describing what George Lucas created for The Phantom Menace in 1999 or what Robert Rodriguez did more recently with Sin City in 2005. Since this technology has existed for years, why is it just now being applied to BSG?
David Eick: "It's not that the technology didn't exist but it has always been cost-prohibitive and frankly remains cost-prohibitive. With a lot of the expensive visual efx shows on broadcast TV that may have five, eight, even ten times our budget I have to imagine that bureaucracies and certain traditions of how visual effects are produced for television remain entrenched in their thinking. I don't know these people personally and I'm not intimately involved in their process, but, I look at their shots that I know cost a lot more and took much more resources than shots that we're doing and I know ours are better. I just know that we're doing better work and that there's a more tactile, immersive reality to our 3D work. If you can find the artists and can build from within a uniform apparatus as, I say an army, that is accountable to production that does not have any overhead or amortization necessary other than your show, so you’re not going to an outside company or visual efx house but are just building it in-house, you can do amazing things for an amazingly low number. What you have to circumvent in modern television making is a bureaucracy, attendant to most major studios and networks, that demands that you use outside visual efx houses because they're trusted, because the suits don't want to worry about shots not being delivered on time or being up to snuff. It's that bureaucracy that costs so much more money and, in my opinion, delivers such inferior work. We were fortunate enough during the earliest days of Battlestar that, despite some pressure and some resistance, we were able to win that fight to not be forced to dump our shots off at an outside visual efx house, but instead got to create them in-house where we had total control of them. We were therefore able to deliver better work and as the technology advanced as it did in-between Battlestar and Blood & Chrome, we were able to build fewer sets and create more digitally. That's the upside for a show like Blood & Chrome plus it also offers an aesthetic distinction. It's not just that we accomplished it differently, it's that it looks and feels different from Battlestar and that makes Blood & Chrome feel new and unique and different for a new audience."
Speaking of aesthetic distinctions, I congratulate you on making Blood & Chrome fit so comfortably within the larger BSG universe. Was it very difficult recapturing that familiar look and feel?
David Eick: "Well, we were fortunate to have many of the same crew people involved in Blood & Chrome who were involved in Battlestar, so we were able to bring back and recreat the BDUs [Battle Dress Uniforms], dog tags and helmets and things that fans of the Battlestar show had come to recognize and associate with our design aesthetic. In some cases we had to buy back items from fans who had bought props at the auction the studio had at the end of Battlestar. In one case we had to go to a fan who had acquired parts of the Raptor so that we could use it to recreate the Raptor on the set. So, there were some rather unexpected ways in which some of those items came back into play for Blood & Chrome. But it wasn't really difficult at all. I think the bigger challenge was finding a way to introduce an aesthetic that would feel different and new. And that was where Jonas Pate, Lukas Ettlin and guys who were newcomers to this franchise became so invaluable."
Luke, being a newcomer yourself, how did you adjust to acting on virtual sets and amidst so many technical challenges?
Luke Pasqualino: "When I first came onto set and I saw this huge sound studio just full of green, I thought I was in some kind of field somewhere. But really, it had its difficulties acting-wise. When we're doing scenes within our Raptor where Jonas, our director, will be saying, "Okay there's going to be a bomb flying over top of you now," or, "Something's going to hit the screen now." Trying to judge those points can be tough. Honestly, though, I didn't find it as difficult as you might think to get the emotions and the messages across just because of the cast I was so privileged to work with. Ben Cotton, who played Coker, was absolutely fantastic. He and I together, we overcame it. We had a chat, a minor conference between ourselves, and we realized how we needed to work out how we'd overcome this green-screen difficulty. And having people like David and Michael and Jonas all on board and involved together, pulling together the greenscreen was such a small factor of it. I think to try and pull yourself out of the fact that you're actually working on a greenscreen and just focus as much as you can on the material and the heart of the writing just became so much more important that we didn't even think about the greenscreen in the surroundings that we had. I didn't realize how lucky we were to be doing this all on greenscreen. It's taken slightly longer to air, but we had this opportunity to take this journey anywhere we wanted because we could literally put any kind of backdrop we wanted into this sci-fi, Battlestar Galactica world. We could take it anywhere we wanted to. It had its pros and its cons, but I think everything was overcame and well-executed."
David, will you share a bit about what Coker means to Adama and what he represents within the larger mythos?
David Eick: "As I mentioned before, the decision to root Adama's hatred and antipathy for the Cylons in an emotional place versus just a war scarred place was very interesting to me at the beginning. He ultimately learns that his most reliable and trustworthy relationship is with his partner Coker. From that, the audience of Battlestar might project that that's why Edward James Olmos' Adama on Battlestar had the relationship he did with Colonel Tigh, which seemed to run deeper and be more impervious than even his relationship with his own sons or with any woman. Where did that come from? Why is it that that kind of relationship is viewed by Adama as the more impervious to external factors, the one that he can rely on the most? So it became very interesting to me to explore what we would call the "bromance" between Adama and Coker. And even though Coker is not Tigh, we see a kind of echo chamber effect of those ties that we'll find William Adama has to Colonel Tigh years later. This story, in part, explains why Adama views that kind of male comradeship with such unyielding importance and depth."
How did Luke Pasqualino win Blood & Chrome's most coveted role? Was there anything in particular that made him stand out from the rest?
David Eick: "Luke was the only one who read for the role who did so on tape. He was in the UK and he sent an email with his audition done on tape. So he was the only one without the benefit of our casting people, who knew what we were looking for, to sort of adjust the reading or any of that. Usually in a casting session where you're bringing actors to network, you're at a disadvantage if you're not in the room because we're just watching them on a screen. Jonas, Michael and I knew from his performance that we wanted Luke, but, we also knew we were at a disadvantage because he was on tape and everyone else was in the room in person. To the credit of the folks at Syfy - Mark Stern and his team - I think Luke was maybe four or five sentences into his reading when Mark turned around, looked at us and said, "Oh my God, we found it." It was just a huge sigh of relief because we were so concerned that Luke may've been at a disadvantage because he wasn't in the room. It's just a testament to how precarious these things are. You never really know how it's going to go. I remember driving home that night and being on the phone with Jonas [Pate] saying, "I'm so relieved. I'm so relieved. Whatever happens," I was joking with Jonas, "whatever you do to screw this up, we know we've [at least] got our Adama.""
If you haven't checked out the new Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome web series yet, I can't recommend you do so highly enough. As a die hard fan of the franchise I was sincerely amazed at how truly immersive the first two episodes were and I really can't wait to watch the all-new material debuting today! BSG composer Bear McCreary scores B&C so I'm genuinely hoping it'll get a soundtrack release but you can pre-order the Unrated Edition digital disc combo-pack here. If you enjoy space oriented sci-fi and/or vicious killer robots you'll certainly enjoy Blood & Chrome. So Say We All!