One of the highlights of the event for us was a chance to talk to Ronald D Moore, Executive Producer on Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, and all round creative genius. During the course of the interview, we discussed much of his career, from his early days as a freelance writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, through to his current project Caprica.
Also in the room at the time of the interview, was actor Esai Morales, who play’s Joseph Adam on Caprica.
Article by Ben Mortimer and Ted Leighton
HeyUGuys: Would you mind very quickly just starting with your early career. You obviously started out on Star Trek. It was a spec script, wasn’t it, that you submitted, that then slowly got picked up, with you becoming a producer or co-producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Ron Moore: Er, I made it to… Supervising Producer, I recall, on Next Generation. I was on Next Genfor five years. I did two freelance scripts: one was a spec and I was a staff writer, and then for five years I was a Supervising Producer, I believe; and then from there I went to Deep Space Nine. I did five years there and ended on Co-Exec as I recall.
HUG: How much control did you have with Deep Space Nine?You obviously wrote a lot of episodes, how much influence did you have on the way that the show was run?
RM: Well, you know, I was part of a group; there was a writing staff. We all broke stories together, it was a very tight group at Deep Space Nine. Ira Behr was the head writer, and I’m sure I had influence, but it would be hard to point at any one of us and say ‘well you influenced that’ and ‘you did this’. It was very much a collaborative thing, we sat in rooms for hours on end and argued and laughed, and just broke the stories day after day.
It was hard and looking back now it was much more intensive and a longer term thing than what I’ve been doing since, because we were doing twenty six episodes at Star Trek, which at the beginning of my career was me thinking ‘well that’s just TV’, and now that sounds so exhausting. Doing thirteen is a much better number: doing eighteen or twenty feels like a marathon. The idea of doing eight or six more than that is just like ‘oh my God’.
HUG: Was Battlestar written in the same way?
RM: It’s changed a bit, but the fundamental is still the same. It’s still a writing staff gathering in a room and putting cards up on the board, and arguing about which scene should go first, and what’s the best story. We thought we were telling this story, but it’s turning into that, or this doesn’t work, or ‘I’ve got a better idea’. The fundamental of working in a writer’s room is really the same.
For me personally it’s different, because shows like Battlestar and Caprica, I create and I’m running so I have more idea and control of what I want to do, whereas Trek was more somebody else’s to begin with and then I was more on the team rather than leading the team. My particular role shifted but the job is still kind of the same. It’s still sitting there and finding the best story.
HUG: There are influences from the end, particularly the last few series of Deep Space Nine have parallels with some of the themes and ideas that are explored in Battlestar. How conscious was that?
RM: I think a lot of Battlestar was born at Deep Space Nine in that Deep Space started as much more episodic because of the nature of the show, it became more a continuing serialised structure. I really liked that, and I discovered I really liked that style of storytelling, and also particularly when we got into the later years of Deep Space, and we started telling the Dominion War story (1997-99), we would sit and argue and fight with the powers that be at Trek about making it a more realistic war, about making it grittier, and ugly; adding more ambiguity to the characters, and roughing it up a little bit, and I kept bumping my head against the strictures at Trek. What Star Trek is could not accommodate things that I wanted to do, so I started to have this sort of pent up frustration about ‘well if we were really going to do it right’, these ideas would sit in the back of my head so when Battlestar came along, I could now do all of those things that I was never allowed to do at Deep Space.
HUG: On the subject of Battlestar, and you being able to run it; did you find that coming up against Execs from the network telling you ‘No, you’re going too far, you’re pushing it too far‘, particularly the New Caprica period, with the ideas of exploring the Iraq war from the view of the insurgents, did that cause you any grief from the network?
RM: My battles with the network were never really philosophical, they were more about specific things, you know, tonal things: ‘How dark is this episode?’, ‘How much blood are you going to show in this scene?’, you know, ‘how grim is this particular story going to be?’. Then we’d have big fights: ‘You can’t do this, you gotta do that’, so we’d argue it out and find the best point of accommodation. I never really had any bigger macro arguments with them. The New Caprica storyline in particular, when I wrote the opening two episodes, with the suicide bomber and [Saul] Tigh losing an eye, and all that stuff, that was not in the story, so when they got the script, it was all sort of like ‘Woah’.
Esai Morales: You mean Battlestar?
RM: Yeah, Battlestar and the New Caprica storyline. There was no reaction, again it was arguments about the tone, not how grim it’s going to be, but there was no philosophical ‘what are you doing? This is perilous, don’t do the suicide bomber, this is too close’, there was nothing like that. They really left it to me alone, in terms of the politics and content of the show.
HUG: Esai, moving into a spin off of Battlestar: you hadn’t watched the show prior to working on Caprica?
EM: Not really. I was aware that it was a lauded show, but there is so much stuff that I can’t see because I don’t have the time. I just didn’t happen to be a fan, not that I wasn’t a fan on purpose.
HUG: Have you seen it since?
EM: I’ve seen much more of it now, but I remember asking how much should see and what I should prepare. They were like ‘you don’t have to see any of it’. This takes place before hand. If you’re going to do a story about Ancient Rome, you don’t need to know about how Italy does today. I mean, you could, but they didn’t want us to colour it.
RM: They didn’t want him to lead, always trying to get to where Adama, where his son, would be this person. We didn’t think that was necessary.
HUG: Writing and working on a prequel would presumably be a very different process from working on a new concept or an original series or sequel. Do you feel at all constrained by the overbearing and overwhelming Battlestar fifty, sixty years in the future?
RM: Not so much. We had the luxury of developing Caprica while Battlestar was still on the air. We wrote the pilot a long time ago, but they didn’t make it for a long time. So we had the opportunity to separate the two projects and we were careful to end the last couple of seasons of Battlestar in a way that wrapped up all of the internal Battlestar mythology. So there weren’t big, giant hanging questions that we then had to go back and answer in Caprica.
We were also able to set up Caprica in a way that it could just start from its own course, fresh. There was really not a lot of direct continuity between the two that we’re constantly having to make sure that this lines up, or go ‘we can’t do that in Caprica, because that would contradict this’. We really separated them in terms of time, and in terms of storyline. We don’t really feel that much of a burden while developing the story, about trying to make it match up to Battlestar. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels that are so integrated, that it must have been a challenge to try to make sure it all lines up. We’re just separated.
EM: I think that John Lennon said it best: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’.
RM: [motioning some distance apart on the table] Here’s where we’re going and here’s Battlestar.
EM: You’re not supposed to know. Things happen, as they say.
HUG: One last question, and this is very much off topic, but you wrote a remake of The Thing, which is going through several redrafts, and several other writers. Have you seen the current draft, and how does that differ from yours, and how do they both differ from the original draft?
RM: I have not seen the current draft. I’m working with the same producer on a different project, but I said to them ‘go do that, and we’ll talk about it later’, because I don’t want to interfere with what he’s got going, because he’s got to make a movie. They’re actually shooting it right now, in Toronto and Vancouver, and so on, so I know it’s going. I don’t know how much it has shifted from the draft that I did, I’m sure it’s shifted significantly, because that’s a feature of the process. I do know that it’s relative to the John Carpenter Thing, it’s set in the same time frame and it’s the story of the Norwegian camp that originally discovered The Thing.
HUG: Any more news on the other project that you mentioned, that you’re working on?
RM: I’m working on a movie with the producer for Disney, but it’s still very early.
HUG: Can’t give a name?
RM: Can’t give you anything.