Brad Wright and Robert Cooper: The Creators

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Vancouver2009-Cooper-Wright-01jpgWho can guess were Stargate would be today without our next guests? Probably still locked up tight in MGM’s vaults, right? Together with Jonathan Glassner, Brad Wright launched the SG-1 saga with high hopes and experience gained from The Outer Limits. Robert Cooper was right there with them as an executive story editor and writer. He worked his way up step by step from co-producer, to supervising producer. When Glassner stepped aside after SG-1’s third season, Robert became Brad’s co-executive producer, and then an executive producer for both SG-1 and Atlantis, taking part in both writing and directing. This dynamic duo, now filming and writing for their third series, has yet to see their peak.

It was a pure thrill to see these two. It was always part of my dream of my ideal visit to Vancouver to be able to see these guys. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think they have ever attended an event that was not held on the west coast. I knew my only chance of ever seeing them was in Vancouver, and I got my wish.

Brad and Robert did not waste any time before telling us the latest production news, and to me, their enthusiasm for Universe was infectious. “We actually saw the first directors cut of the first episodes on the weekend, and Rob and I were just backstage going, ‘It’s pretty good, isn’t it?’ So we’re really really excited about that, and we hope you will be too. . . . Thank you! Goodnight! (makes a motion to jump out of his chair and leave the stage, laughing).”

What’s with the element names? Rob said to Brad, “I don’t know. That was your baby. Why don’t you answer that one?” Brad answered, “when we were discussing the show, Rob and I, when we were talking about what it was going to be, the struggles, the stories that we were wanting to start with were exactly that: very elemental. We wanted the man against nature, man against man, the very simple survival thing to come back again because we had gone so far in fifteen seasons of things called ‘Stargate’ and teo movies, we needed to start fresh, start again with elemental stories. Yeah, survival. That’s why it’s ‘Air’, ‘Water’, ‘Fire’, ‘Earth’. And you know we’re going to run out of elements. We’re not going to do ‘Plutonium’! Although, I do have a good ‘Plutonium’ idea. But that’s the answer to that question!”

Brad turned to Robert and said, “Do you want to add something to that?” Robert scratched his head and said, “When we looked at creating a new Stargate, a new arm of the franchise, we sat down and talked about what we thought was very successful about the other two, and what we needed to bring in order to make it good, and one of the things that we really wanted to maintain was the idea that Stargate is science fiction but it’s happening now. It’s in the present, and it’s hopefully populated with characters that we can all identify with. It’s us out there in a supernatural situation, and I think in some ways Atlantis was the best and the brightest, and maybe separated itself a little bit from you and I (chuckles), who are not – well, maybe you’re a genius, but I know I’m not. I think we wanted Universe to be populated with characters that we could all maybe identify with a little more, and also put them in situations and against obstacles that we can all identify with a little more, as opposed to super bad guys. They are challenges that, – in a science fiction way – we can all maybe relate too.”

Will there be humor? Brad answered, “Yes. There’s no question that when Sci-Fi was putting together that trailer [which we watched just before Brad and Robert came out] they were going for a mood, for an energy, something illustrated by some of the new energy the show is going to have. My daughter said, ‘Are you making a zombie movie?’ (laughs) I said, ‘Yes, we are.’ There’s going to be humor in the show because of the same thing Robert just said. These are people from the here and now, not anaseptic (floats a hand skyward) distant future people who are very serious. Bad things happen and people still make jokes, so A) we can’t help ourselves, and B) the characters that populate Stargate Universe are the kinds of people who are going to be funny.”

Will there be references to SG-1 and Atlantis? Brad shrugged, shook his head and said, “It takes place in the same world. There will be visitors from those shows.” Fans went WOOOO! and applaud before Robert picked up the topic saying, “And a lot of back reference. We obviously want people who are going to be joining the Stargate franchise for the first time with Universe to be able to follow a long, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try and reward people who have been fans of the franchise from the beginning. We are going to try and achieve both.”

What about the Stargate Atlantis movie? Brad looked around and said, “Are there any pitchforks in the room?” We laughed and our wonderful Creation MC, Alan told Brad and Robert, “[The name sounded like ‘Bill’ but that doesn’t make sense, does it?] gave us authorization to hold you hostage if need be. Answer carefully.” Brad turned to us in all seriousness and said, “Look, we still want to make a Stargate Atlantis movie, and the sets are still up for that purpose. MGM does not leave multi-million dollar sets up and pay the rent at multi-million dollar stages if that is not their on-going intention. [We cheer until Brad gives us a ‘wait-a-second’ gesture, his index finger up] After I’ve said that, when we were originally talking about doing this, the world economy was a little bit different. And so the guys who say, ‘go ahead and do that’ are saying, ‘Uh, (repeats gesture) hang on a sec’. So, that’s where we are right now. Joe {Mallozzi] and Paul [Mullie] have worked hard on the script, and boy they want to make it as much as you guys want to see it.”

What about the Stargate SG-1 movie, and what do I have to do to be in it? Brad and Robert laughed. Robert said, “Brad, I’ll let you have this one.” so Brad said, “That almost never happens to me. I’ll answer your first question first. Again, when we start shooting the Stargate SG-1 movie depends on whether or not we do the two movies back to back. The Stargate SG-1 movie will probably start shooting in the Fall. I say ‘probably’ because there’s a lot of deals that have to be finished being put in place before that can actually happen. That would leave the summer as the release time, roughly around the same as Continuum. And you can be in it if you audition and get the part. There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through.”

Why did you kill Fraiser? I got the feeling that this was a question that is asked often, since it was a difficult episode for a lot of fans to get through. Brad, answering in a round-a-bout sort of way, said, “Part 2 of Heroes, we really thought that was going to be the last season. We really really did. We thought ‘Lost City’ was going to be the end of the SG-1 run, so we didn’t think . . . We thought, ‘well Fraiser can die, real clean, the last season. Or the third to the last season as it turned out to be. (Shrugs) I felt bad about that.”

There was a question regarding stories that revolved around Ancient technology in Atlantis. I’m afraid I couldn’t understand what the questioner was after, but Brad understood well enough to say, “Quite often when you’re trying to come up with stories – and the rules of how the Stargate works is a good analogy. Atlantis is another; I mean the whole city is another way of looking at it – when you have problems, when you have obstacles in your path, that is much more possibility for creating story then when something is there for you. I mean if [they could just go,] ‘well why don’t we just got to the ZPM maker? (Clicks his tongue loudly) There we go! (pretends to grab the ZMP and plug it in)Problem solved! End of tease!’”

I missed what this question was exactly, but it had to do with how the episodes relate to what is going on in the world, and the re-occurring theme that asks people to band together for the greater good. This question caused Brad to go, “Oh, God. . . . Rob?” Everyone laughed at Brad’s generosity, and then Robert did an excellent job at fielding this question. “If coming together as human beings, and putting aside our various beliefs and differences so that we can all join in one world community, if you’re saying that’s a good thing I agree with you. I don’t think that we’ve necessarily been critical. I think that we’ve really tried to allow for people to interpret what they want out of the those stories. I think that science fiction allows you to tell stories that are metaphors for what is going on in today’s world. Sometimes they get closer to the truth than they do metaphor, but that’s the beauty of being able to tell a story in that milieu, right?” Brad added to that, saying, “There have been cases in our storytelling where blind faith is something that may be bought. At its core, it takes the characters, and the characters we are facing, into bad places. There’s no question. We did an episode called ‘The Warrior’ before 9/11, and after 9/11 we looked at this episode, where we had a Goa’uld posing as a Jaffa sending people through the Stargate with bombs strapped to them, and we went, ‘Oh my God, this is a little heavy, it’s a little too direct to what’s actually going on in the world’. But that’s what science fiction can do very well. And even though it seems too close to the bone at the time, we’re very proud of that episode. And with all the things, like the Ori are a great example of that kind of thing going too far and our characters having to fight it.” Regarding that, Robert had one more thing to add. “I don’t think it’s that bold or pretentious to say that killing people for what they believe in is bad.” For that, Robert received a round of applause from the audience. Well said, Robert!

Lightening the mood, questions returned to Universe. Will there be aliens? Robert’s “Ah, yes” was classic! Will you elaborate? “Well, the one thing I can say is that we’re doing, at least initially, are going to be very alien. They are not going to be human beings wearing prosthetic make-up. Or speaking English. They are going to be as alien as you would hope to find out there, in the far reaches of the universe.”

The next Universe question had to do with how the crew trapped aboard the Destiny will be able to relate back to people on Earth. Robert took this one. “There is a component in the new show that allows our characters – even though they’re trapped on the ship – to still relate back to Earth and to people on Earth, and it’s going to allow us to tell stories about them interacting with their loved ones and essentially tell Earth stories—“ “In Las Vegas.” Brad interjected. Robert smiled and said, “Well we are going to shoot in a couple weeks in New Mexico. There’s a patch of desert down there. We’re going to be shooting scenes from ‘Air Part 3’ the third hour, down there. We’re really looking to find new ways to do episodes that aren’t set in trees.” Brad and Robert said “trees” one right after the other. It was funny, especially with how Robert smiled rather sheepishly at us. However, they should practice saying it in unison. We would have been rolling on the floor!

Uh oh, back to the heavy stuff. I wondered how long it was going to take for someone to ask this. What was the reason that Atlantis was cancelled? To their credit, Brad and Robert didn’t shy away, but they didn’t give us a straight answer either! Robert stated simply, “an extremely high stress job.” Brad laughed. “That’s true. (Shrugs) Things change, that’s all I’m going to tell you. Things happen. There’s other pressures outside our own little offices and our own pens, and other we-have-their-words. They pushed you towards cancelling? No, no I mean there are things – real tangible things in terms of ratings that we have to respond to.” Robert jumped in. “It’s not just ratings. Think about the type of things that go in on your work place or in any work place, and unfortunately those things often spill over into the creative decisions. They aren’t always related to our feeling about a particular character. There are other issues that become part of the picture.”

Tell us more about the SG-1 movie. Brad took this one, no doubt because according to sources, he penned the script himself. “We want it to revolve around Richard Dean Anderson’s character because he’s cool. One, and two because I had a story idea that really worked with O’Neill. And it’s not just his character, by any means. It’s a Stargate story that brings O’Neill back. He wasn’t in Continuum that much but I love the movie when he’s in it, so (shrugs) that’s how I feel about that.”

A fan came up and just wanted to thank them for the reference made in Atlantis’s series finale to the passing of Don Davis, who played General George Hammond. Brad said, looking at Robert, “I think that idea was either Paul [Mullie] or Joe [Mallozzi].” Robert confirmed, “I’m pretty sure it was Paul Mullie. We had decided that we wanted to obviously pay tribute to Don, but Paul I think felt that it would be nice to have the characters pay tribute to the character as well.” Brad added, “When Children of the Gods [the new cut] comes out, it is in memory of Don.” Thanks from me, Paul. You made me cry, and I loved it.

A fan went up with a comment about the Universe trailer saying that “you don’t get to see very much at all, and it seemed like the camera work is very Battlestar Galactica style”. Fans who agreed with that assessment, including myself, applauded as Robert began, “In style, it is very different from what we have done in the past. I don’t believe that it is Battlestar Galactica, or attempting to emulate Battlestar Galactica. It is very more mobile than we’ve done in the past with SG-1, and the concept is that we wanted to shoot this a little bit like a documentary crew would shoot a ride-along to a space ship out in the universe. That maybe we could get audiences to embrace the science fiction elements and the characters in a realistic way if we shot the show as though we’re using the language of documentary and reality, so rather than just necessarily waving the camera around, we’re trying to put the camera in places where a documentary crew might have to go in order to capture the performances, the action. What it’s allowing us to do – and in working with our DP on the pilot, Ron Schmit, and Jim Menard, and Michael Wendell, our regular DPs – is we’re trying to lighten sets in a very natural way, which allows the actors to walk in and basically perform as through they’re on a stage. As though they’re really in the situation. And what we’re finding, we’re getting out of that is far more real performances. The impression, at least from my own personal opinion of watching the show, is that you feel as though you’re there with them. It feels less staged. It feels less – in some ways – unrealistic. And to bring that tone to a science fiction show, I’m hoping will allow you or help you to connect with those characters in a way maybe you hadn’t been able to before. So I certainly hope you feel differently when you watch the show. It’s not intended to by style of style’s sake, or to emulate any other show, although to be honest with you, one of the shows that we both love (indicating Brad) that we did look at as a ‘that’s a style we would love to try and approach’ is Firefly. That’s how Firefly was shot. There’s a lot of handheld stuff. Cameras were placed in places that were non-traditional or typical of film making, and we examined that quite closely and looked at other shows – dramatic shows – that are shot that way as well. “

When can we expect to see more footage? Brad, being a smart-aleck, says “Well you’ll see footage when the show airs.” Robert said, “I assume there will be more trailers. You have to understand, these are teasers. They are really just to get you thinking about the show and to put a mood out there. Obviously as the air date gets closer you’ll see some more.”

We hear that one of the Universe characters is gay. Robert kindly confirmed this rumor, joking, “I don’t know what goes on in Joe Mallozzi’s mind. But there are at least one, potentially two, gay characters on Universe. Our goal is to make the characters on Universe as complex and complicated and realistic and identifiable as we can, to as many people as we can.”

Now for the two and a half pages of random notes I have left!

Brad and Robert said they were shooting the 5th episode in the coming week after the convention. That means – if they held to the usual schedule of one episode per week and have not gone on summer hiatus as of yet – this past week they would have filmed the 16th episode of the series. IMDB seems to confirm this, saying that several of the main cast members are seen in 16 episodes. Are you getting excited? Because I am!

When asked if there will be episodes similar to Atlantis’s ‘Vegas’, they only said that there is potential because “you have to find ways to change things up and keep things interesting.”

Brad had a little bit more to tell us about the new release of SG-1’s Children of the Gods, which is currently scheduled to be available on July 17th. As of the convention, the new cut had been delivered to Fox. The most exciting news is that the DVD will include the first ever audio commentary on SG-1’s Pilot, and you’ll never guess who’s on it! May I have a drum roll please? Brad Wright and RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON! That’s right! This will be Rick’s first ever audio commentary! Regarding actually sitting down with Rick to do the commentary, Brad said, “It was like he was seeing for the first time, it was funny! He would say, “Oh yeah, this is good!”, and he never used to do that.”

We put the same question regarding bloopers to Brad and Robert as we did N. John Smith, and we learned that Robert is not opposed to bloopers, but Brad doesn’t think that the footage he’s seen that would qualify is all that good. We attempted to tell them otherwise, shouting that we love that kind of stuff, and we were told “there may be bloopers someday.”

When asked about a theatrical release for any future movies, Brad and Robert said they’d like to see it happen too, but it’s not their choice, it’s MGM’s, and business reasons make it very difficult to do it.

I think someone asked if Brad and Robert have something against doctors, since they have killed doctors on both series. The only note I have as a response is that the SGU doctor should clone himself. . . . Is that a hint?

When trying to get more details about what we will see in Universe, Brad and Robert summarily told us we may or may not see Furlings at long last, they will invent new races, and there will be ties to the Ancients because the Destiny and its mission was built and begun by the Ancients.

Someone – possibly from the UK – asked if Universe will be airing simultaneously on Space. Brad and Robert said they didn’t know about when the UK would air it, but they suspect it will be quicker than usual because Robert Carlyle is a very popular actor in the UK. Apparently, Joe Mallozzi either has or will be paying Robert to come on his blog!

Someone commented on the constant cast changes in Atlantis, to which we were told, “It added drama if no one is safe.”

Will the Stargate in SGU be different from SG-1’s and Atlantis’s? It was clear that Brad and Robert didn’t want to give us any details on this. Robert only said, “I think this is the coolest gate ever”. In an attempt to placate us as we demanded more information, we were told that at the beginning of the series, the Earth gate will lock a chevron that we’ve never seen before. . . . We all oooo’d as if we were impressed. Has anyone really kept track? Thanks a lot, guys!

Someone familiar with John Scalzi  asked about his involvement with SGU. We were told that Brad and Joe Mallozzi are big fans of his work, and he’s working as a creative consultant on Universe. “Hopefully he will write.” Thanks to Shannow for providing me with the correct spelling (I wasn’t even close), and a link to more info in the comments below!

We were told that next year the SGU sets should be available for the tour.

Finally, someone asked if we might see Cliff Simon return and play the part of Ba’al’s former host in a future story. We were told there is potential for that, but we won’t be seeing him in the next SG-1 movie.

I’ll never take for granted how lucky I was to be able to see Brad and Robert. I hope that I will get the chance again someday. It’s always fascinating to learn about the thought process that went on behind our favorite show, and who could know more than the executive producers and the people who created the series?

Beyond all the amazing new hints and information they gave us regarding Stargate Universe, Brad and Robert’s overall message, and their parting words to us, were “Please give SGU a chance!” They are aware of our concerns and our skepticism regarding some of the details that we know of to date. Personally, I am more than happy to devote an hour a week to their latest creation. I trust these people. They have made me laugh, cry, and yell at my TV for over 8 years. They’ve inspired me to dream and create in ways I didn’t think I was capable of before. Sure, I have my concerns just as many fans do, but I have complete confidence in the writing team and the Stargate production crew. They will remain true to the existing Stargate franchise. They will not let us down.

We’re down to our last two guests, but I saved the best for last! Next, it’s time to see everyone’s favorite archeologist! Michael Shanks is on stage with great stories to share!

Alyssa

4 thoughts on “Brad Wright and Robert Cooper: The Creators

  1. Thanks for the Mallozi blog link Shannow and thanks Play It Grand for an excellent in depth news report on Brad Wright and Robert Cooper!

  2. Hi Shannow! Thank you so much for the info! The most difficult part of taking notes as I do is when they give names that I’m unfamiliar with. If they don’t pronounce it clearly enough, I can’t get the right spelling, and of course they’re not about to spell it out for me. Without the right spelling, I can’t find more info. Thanks so much for helping, and I’m gald you like the blog! Keep reading!

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Mon Jun 29 , 2009
Today, Monday June 29th, is the one year anniversary since the Stargate family lost one of it’s own. Don S. Davis suffered a heart attack while at home, and died at the age of 65. Don’s death was a huge shock to fans, shock that can be felt still on different […]

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