Thursday, September 20, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: The Writer's Room!

Talking about process... ever wonder how the writing staff of BSG works out the story for an episode? Even through we're careening toward the end of the series and have a well defined road-map generated via story meetings with Ron Moore and the staff, each individual episode still requires much care and feeding to get off the ground. Here's how it (generally) works in the BSG --

WRITER'S ROOM.

First, a physical description of our space. Start with long, oak conference table in a big, comfortable room. Laz-e-Boy recliners. Smoked glass windows, a view of the ocean, masseuse in the corner to crack "writer's block," humidor for our cigars, a wet bar to break the tension and... no, wait, sorry, I think I just described the writer's room on HEROES. Our room is a small office with some couchs, white boards and the occasional outbreak of ants. And we love it all the same...

STAGE ONE: Staring at the blank cork board. This is depressing. If it's mid-season, moments earlier the cork-board was a colorful conpendium of scenes from the previous episode, all worked out, a masterpiece of hopefully searing drama, and best of all, it's finished! (Well, at least that PART of the process is finished.) Now the board is an arid wasteland, the episode number leering at us, begging for attention. This is usually the time when the hard-working professionals at BSG fasten our seat-belts, gird our loins... and discuss our favorite movies, last night's television, politics, lunch, practice our Walter Brennen and "Sling Blade" impressions, anything BUT the story. Because getting started is always the hardest part...

STAGE TWO: Ideas. Spit-balling. Okay, where are we going? This process changes depending on the type of story we're telling. If it's a two parter, the answers generally come a bit easier. If there's a gap in the timeline ("okay. It's one year later."), the field is a bit more open. This is when we start throwing up general benchmarks, and yes, these are benchmarks we actually intend to hit! What is the story we're trying to tell? Where are our characters in this moment of BSG history? What are we hoping to reveal about our people, about the BSG world, and about the uber-plot?

STAGE THREE: More. Staring. And. Frustration. Okay, there are some ideas up there, it's looking good -- now how do we make it better? What are the emotional linchpins, what are the revelations, and finally, what are we doing in this episode that we haven't done before? This can mean anything from revealing a surprising nuance in a previously established relationship to coming up with a new twist on the action sequense. The best room moments come when there's an idea that turns everything on its head, but still makes sense within the context of the show. Story traditionalist that I am, I find these ideas incredibly scary and hence always worth more discussion. Discussions like these lead to interesting (*ahem*) plot twists like "Tigh is forced to take drastic action with Ellen", or "four of the final five Cylons are...", or, coming soon, "the fifth Cylon is..." There are a lot of these "holy mackeral!" moments coming in season four, incidentally...

STAGE FOUR: Okay, now we've got a sense of the show. It's starting to come together. Now it's the nitty gritty of going through the story scene by scene, making sure we're getting the most out of the drama. Scene cards are swapped, moved, discarded (writer Bradley Thompson, aka "the card ninja", is the master of ripping dead cards off the board with a disdainful and powerful swoop), until the story feels like it's working. Deal with everyone's notes, tweaks, improvements, and then...

STAGE FIVE: Let's see how it flies with Ron...

TO BE CONTINUED...

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