In case you couldn’t tell by my post from last Friday, I was beyond excited to finally see the first two episodes of the long-awaited Battlestar Galactica prequel mini-series Blood & Chrome. The ten episode mini-series had been in development since 2010 and seemed to be stuck in limbo until it miraculously reappeared as part of Machinima Prime’s excellent live-action programming (see also: Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn). While the notion of 10-minute BSG webisodes gave me pause for concern at first, the writing and pacing handle it with aplomb, sinking their narrative hooks deep into my fleshy grey matter. Before letting out my umpteenth “frak yeah,” I caught up with producer/series co-creator David Eick to find out how the show came into being, the challenges of producing something of this scale for the Web and just what the Old Man would say about this one.
Nerdist: First and foremost, congratulations. I am always happy to see more Battlestar Galactica, but Blood & Chrome went above and beyond my expectations.
David Eick: Oh, great! Thank you. I’m happy to hear it.
N: This is a younger, less jaded BSG that we’re seeing. We’re in the middle of the First Cylon War. What was the impetus behind showing young Adama? Why explore this particular period?
DE: Well, it seems like a natural transition to make from the tone and the more mythologically dense environment we wound up in with the end of Battlestar and in a different way with Caprica. Whereas, with this, it’s more or less the salad days of William Adama when he was sowing his oats, a young hotshot on his way to becoming an ace pilot. We felt that because it was the story of a young man at a very exciting time in his life, the storytelling should be allowed to be, for lack of a better word, more swashbuckling and escapist. We always sort of included that tonality in the Battlestar requiem in episodes like – some of my favorites from the first season – “33,” of course, “Act of Contrition,” “Hand of God,” the two-part finale from that first season. Likewise, we introduce some of the Cylon mythology that you see in Blood & Chrome, but they’re very accessible stories. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Battlestar Galactica to enjoy it. So, we felt like with this canvas of Young Adama, it gave us the best angle to examine Battlestar stories.
N: So, this lets fans jump in whether or not they’ve seen everything from 2004’s Battlestar Galactica or Caprica.
DE: Yeah, I remember “You Can’t Go Home Again,” which was the fifth episode of our first season, the second of a two-parter, was our most popular episode of that season before the finale. You didn’t have to know a lick of anything; you could just pop right in. This girl is stranded on a planet? This guy is hiding in a cafe and a robot’s attacking him? And she’s about to run out of oxygen? Holy crap, what’s all that about?! Then the guy kills the robot! That episode has a lot of depth and sophisticated drama to it, but at the same time it was a great ride, which is a key to what we’re trying to do with this story.
N: One thing that stood out immediately was how gorgeous the episodes look. As I understand it, you filmed primarily in front of green screens rather than employing physical sets. Tell us about that.
DE: Well, the technology was always there to shoot with green screens – even in the early days of Battlestar – but it was prohibitively expensive, but Gary Hutzel and Mike Gibson, our visual effects gurus going back to the first days of BSG, have spent the last ten years building a mighty army of special effects masters from around the globe. We picked the best and brightest of the discipline and craftspeople who are second to none in their industry, so for that reason we have access to the best artistry and cutting edge software that are available right now. Because we built our special effects house in-house, we’re better able to control costs and quality. We don’t need to go back and refine shots again and again because we have the commitment of the people involved in doing it. We were posed with the challenge of how to make it look and feel different from Battlestar, so we used technology that wasn’t really being used in television. I challenge anyone in the audience to put our shots up against some of the most expensive shots of broadcast networks, which are shot for ten times the money. Ours are much more tactile, immersive and real. We wanted to create an aesthetic tone that felt like Battlestar, but different. Some of the sets may look familiar, space will feel familiar, but it’s a little bit different.
N: It’s funny that you mention that. The visual tone brought me back into the fold immediately, but it still felt fresh and new. So, this is set to run for ten episodes on Machinima Prime. What challenges were there in cutting the show down to smaller, webisode-sized segments?
DE: I think that question unfortunately comes from a misinformed place. People have developed a belief that we developed this pilot for SyFy Channel and they passed on it, but then said, “Let’s put it online.” It was actually the opposite. We developed this as an online project, but then SyFy read the script and said, “Let’s keep our options open.” As the production started coming together, we decided to go back to the original plan because there was a real opportunity to blow the wheels off of the level of quality you would expect from a web-based production. So, when people come to me saying that SyFy passed on Blood & Chrome, I’m like, “What the f@$# are you talking about?” They didn’t pass on it; we simply went back to our original plan of action. It was always going to be a ten-part story and a one hundred minute movie that you could divide into ten-minute bite-sized morsels. We embedded natural cliffhangers and segues within the episodes that lend themselves well to serialization. This has been a part of the plan since the get-go. When we were thinking about how to crack the digital marketplace with the Battlestar franchise, I just thought about Raiders of the Lost Ark and the world where that came from with these movie serials that you would go and see each week, they would end on a cliffhanger, then you would come back and see the next little installment the following week. You might be able to build something like that if you rushed mission design; military missions are made up of many smaller missions.
N: I agree – it does feel very natural. I didn’t realize that it was meant to be a web series initially, which is almost more impressive in light of the quality of the finished product. Did you find that making a product for the Web allowed you greater freedom in certain regards?
DE: We didn’t know for sure what the standards and practices are in the digital marketplace. I’m not sure the world knows. [laughs] We shot a little bit of footage that’s R-rated, so that will probably make it into the DVD release. We’re still involved with Universal and the studio executives who have been involved from the start made their views known. There were the same agreements and disagreements, but it felt the same as it always felt.
N: One of the things that I noticed – because it made me laugh – was that anytime someone used a non-“frak” curse word, a locker would conveniently slam at that moment. It was less jarring and moment-ruining than your typical network bleep.
DE: Yeah, our post-production guru Paul Leonard had that idea because we didn’t know if we’d be able to use swear words or not. I think he got that from Blazing Saddles, actually. [laughs]
N: As long as people are saying “frak,” fans will be happy. Are there any easter eggs for BSG diehards or something from the first few episodes that you hope people notice?
DE: Well, not really. I flirted with the idea of having a few cute moments like having Adama walking across the hangar deck and he bumps into a cute, bubbly school teacher who’s being given a tour of the ship and she introduces herself as “Laura,” and keeps walking, but we ultimately decided against it. We didn’t want to do little parlor jokes. There are a couple of small moments, very subtle – a little turn of the music, phrases, references, etc. For example, when the commander is talking to Adama in the CIC, there’s a slight reference to the fact that Adama’s father might be involved in organized crime. It’s nothing too on the nose.
N: How much of the First Cylon War does this series cover?
DE: Basically, it’s only a few days. It doesn’t really cover anything; just the events of these days.
N: Got it. Any last words?
DE: Only that I would attribute a lot of the aesthetic change to the director Jonas Pate and the DP Lukas Ettlin, who’s a big feature-film DP and had never done a TV pilot before. They really pushed for the intense lens flares and the look that you won’t really see anywhere else on TV.
You can catch new episodes of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome on Machinima Prime every Friday.