Comic-Con 2009: DAY 1 Coverage

Greetings from sunny San Diego, California! The geekiest of the geeky have gathered at this oceanside oasis for a non-stop four day celebration of comics, television, film and gaming. As Comic-Con gets underway, we here at hope that our comprehensive coverage gives you a slice of the action (especially pertaining to our forte, science and technology in entertainment) and that through our words and pictures, you feel as though you achieved Nerdvana right here with us. Today’s coverage kicks off with Warner’s highly anticipated motion comics panel, where they debuted world premieres of several motion comics and rounded up top talent in graphic novels to atlk about the direction of modern comics. From there, we will segue to some Battlestar Galactica nostalgia, courtesy of Richard Hatch’s popular yearly panel. This year was devoted solely to fan questions! Our press room coverage of popular shows Psych and Burn Notice will quell your burning curiosities about what’s in store for those shows, and we end the day with Discovery Magazine’s panel Mad Science: The Science of Science Fiction (co-sponsored with the Science and Entertainment Exchange), including writers from Fringe, Eureka and much, much more. We also have our first Comic-Con Costume of the Day, a complete pictorial roundup on our Facebook page and insider interviews gallore from your favorite writers and actors! To read Day 1 coverage, please click “continue reading”.

Motion Comics: Graphic Novel Storytelling in the Digital Age
Moderator: Gregory Noveck (DC Comics)

Panelists: Paul Levits (DC Comics), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, Batman: Black and White), Paul Dini (Batman: Black and White, Mad Love), Lydia Antonini (Warner Premiere), Dylan Coburn (Karactaz, Superman: Red Son), Stephen Fedasz (Perpetual Notions), and Jake Hughes (director, Watchmen Motion Comic)

Motion Comics Panel: (from left to right) moderator Gregory Noveck, Stephen Fedasz, Paul Dini, Dylan Coburn, Jake Hughes, Lydia Antonini, Paul Levits and Dave Gibbons.
Motion Comics Panel: (from left to right) moderator Gregory Noveck, Stephen Fedasz, Paul Dini, Dylan Coburn, Jake Hughes, Lydia Antonini, Paul Levits and Dave Gibbons. starts the day by not forgetting the comic in Comic-Con. This is, after all, the event’s 40th Anniversary, which includes a plethora of tributes to and celebrations of the Golden Age of Comics. Our first panel includes several modern-day kings of the graphic novel, who gathered to talk about the art of graphic novel storytelling in the digital age and how the tradition is adapting with the changing times. Motion comics, incidentally, are short-form videos that amalgamate subtle movements, voice-overs, sweeping music scores and stunning comic book artwork to bring an engaging visual experience to life.

Gregory Noveck: How does the new media translate to modern comic fans and new ways of accessing characters?

Paul Levitz: Well I consider it a step on a long journey. I recently went on a trip to MIT, to talk about transmedia, and the conference was full of scientific-type people and cultural analysts. And what they kept wanting to know was how does the media converge, please tell us? Ultimately it all rests in the art of storytelling with all-new strange tools opening up, and it’s a completely experimental process. The challenge is that those [comic artists] brought up traditionally in the craft are wedded to it. They love telling stories on paper, but find it tough to adapt to doing it in a new way with a new medium. Newer guys aren’t bound by what happened before. But we don’t get to the next step without experimenting. So a big thanks to the fans for being here and helping us shape the process to move it forward even a year from now. Motion comics and these new tools don’t replace comics but it’s a new thing!

Gregory Noveck: What entails the technical production process?

Lydia Antonini: You’re asking if DC was using the best writers/artists to make these books? Well we searched the world for the best young animation studios to enhance the original material, we wanted to approach it as new medium, artistically and technically. Most of it was fun conversations between Warner and DC about what art can pop off the screens, what stories are the most exciting and worth telling.

Clip of Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (12 original episodes available on iTunes)

Gregory Noveck: How did the Watchmen motion comic come about and what were the challenges?

Jake Hughes: Making Dave happy, that was the challenge! I had been doing cut scenes for video games, experimenting with cheaper ways to do cut scenes, and in the process did a comic version of video game. I thought let’s see if we can do this with existing comic, so experimentally, I did the first page of Watchmen (my favorite comic). I had to ask, how do you make that art look nice? I had to convert the sidewalk cracks in the opening panels, animated it, added music, and people loved the end result. So I contacted Lloyd Levin, producer of the live action movie, and they set up a screening of the DVD, they loved it!

Dave Gibbons: I was sent to London to see mysterious footage of the first episode, and I didn’t really know what to think about it. I was certainly flattered to see my pictures move. But does this really need to be done at all? So I showed it to my friends in animation, and they were forensic about analyzing it, but they loved it! As a storyteller, you want people to react that way (“tell me more!”). So the bottom line is that this motion comic is not aimed at dyed-in-the wool old comic book people, but the new generation, and in a new format. They were all totally committed, were going to give it their best shot, and I’m really, really happy with what they’ve come out with. This is for people who wanted Watchmen to be adapted exactly as the graphic novel came out, with 5:40 of total footage.

Jake Hughes: Sometimes, of course, we’d get it wrong and Dave would set us right.

Dave Gibbons: I’d like to point out that the motion comic also works really well on an iPhone because its screen has got the same size as the original panels so that works really well.

Fan question: What was the budget on the first project and do you expect it to be reduced?

Paul Levits: Depends on how many of you fans show up!

Lydia Antonini: Well it’s an evolving art form, so it’s a moving target for budgets, meaning I can’t give you a specific number. 5’40” of high-end work in 13 months is a huge amount of work in a short amount of time. At some point we will make a comic and a motion comic at the same time.

Paul Levits: That will be the turning point moment for all of this, evolutionarily. We don’t know yet what all the tools are to do it right and efficiently, but you’re on a journey to shape the art form.

Clip of Batman: Black and White, Collections 1 and 2

Paul Dini: When I first heard about motion comics, some of the old Marvel Comics instantly flashed in front of my head (as candidates), but when you do it like this, there’s so many stylistic changes you can do, and interpretations of Batman that you can do, you can really give it a different voice. It’s really cool.

Jake Hughes: I have a question for you. Was making the Batman motion comic a different process from Watchmen?

Lydia Antonini: Batman was done by a small studio named Sequence Studios in Vancouver, with Microsoft Shake program, and it was fun to experiment with the black and white panels of Batman. They don’t make this program anymore, but they did some beautiful art with black and white, to really bring the art out, make it pop out on the screen. All 20 episodes are beautiful, but they all have a different look.

Fan: When it came to voice casting for these motion comics, what decisions did you make about one narrator versus different characters?

Jake Hughes: That really changes from project to project….

Lydia Antonini: For Watchmen, Zac Snyder was heavily involved in the project. The formalness that is found in Watchmen helped us get the voice there to convey that, and thinking about how to have the panels look formal on the page, and conversely we cast based on that desire.

Dave Gibbons: What’s next, Watchmen: the theme park? The Rorschach rumle and ride! [laugter] The narrator Tom Stechschulte) brought tremendous talent into it and he was also very into it.

Paul Levits: How differently would you have written the dialogue if you’d known you were writing for the spoken voice?

Paul Dini: Sometimes I was thinking about writing animation, with minimal voice-overs and things like that. With Case Study, I wanted to write like you were reading an interview. If I’d known I was writing for motion comics, I certainly would have experimented more. With animation, it’s minimal, not a lot of talk. That’s the challenge in adapting a graphic novel for animation. At first, I was a little lost, how to introduce certain elements. I think they did a really nice job with it. It brings its own nice tone to it. I have a question. Is there discussion about original motion comics for promoting Warner Brothers releases? Jonah Hex?

Jake Hughes: That’s an awesome idea!

Fan: Were these created specifically for the iPhone?

Jake Hughes: Well, not in our case. Watchmen was shot for 1920 HD, everything was done for high-definition, and that took a lot of time to render for HD, but we downscaled, and it looked great for the small screen, but looks great for the big screen as well. It’s easier to get it small once you’ve shot for the big screen.

Fan: What kind of process is there for weeding out certain characters/stories in interpreting the comics for motion comics?

Dylan Coburn: It’s about being true to the book, first and foremost. As directors that’s what we’re ultimately trying to do. Then you get the voice down. And you do that with voice casting, the voice drives the whole thing, it’s all about the narrative.

Paul Levits: I’d like to also point out that the fans ultimately weed out what works and what doesn’t. The fandom knows what the cream of the crop is in the comics stories, or can at least unanimously pick the top 7 or 8 out of 10. That’s how you winnow down the stories that you want to tell, it’s what the fans want to see. You go to the great creative moments and you try to build from there. But over the years, we got a very good idea of what you guys think and we take it from there.

Fan: Did you think about not having voices at all? Voice talent makes it more animation as opposed to a comic book with animation.

Dave Gibbons: It’s either a reading or a viewing experience. This is a viewing experience. It’s also like reading a comic book the same way you read it in your own home. I was disturbed at how long it takes to read a page of a comic book—less than 10 seconds, which is sobering to me, who spends over 10 days making it. The addition of voice to the media puts it in the control of the artist. This also might evolve into being a spectrum of media.

Paul Levits: Once you have the written word, scaleability becomes a whole different problem, so that is definitely a big challenge to us. Along the way, there’s lots of interesting questions.

Stephen Fedasz: It’s also allowing us to experiment with different styles, allows us to get these stories and styles out to the masses who don’t typically read comics, so they can try something new.

World premiere clip of Batgirl: Year One

Stephen Fedasz: So in this motion cominc, I was trying to tell the same story, edit where you need to, try not to break the lines. It was challenging and exciting.

Fan: Can you discuss the decision to put up the dialogue balloons and have narrations for Watchmen?

Jake Hughes: On the demo, there was no voice over. But recording the voice changed the timing of things (some shots were longer, some shorter). The balloon informs the viewer of who’s doing the talking, because we’re not doing any mouth movements. It also conveyed that you’re looking at a comic book! Sometimes, you don’t need balloons if you have multiple voices, but because Watchmen can be confusing and you only have one voice, that of Rorscach, it helps to

Lydia Antonini: The other Motion Comics are all multiple-voicecast, so it is easier to figure out what’s going on. But with Watchmen, we had to promote this for our international divisions as well, so we had both versions, because if you’ve never read Watchmen, it’s VERY difficult to know what’s going on, because it is a very complicated story.

Fan: Where do you draw the line between motion comics and full animation?

Stephen Fedasz: It comes down to the placements. Sometimes you can give a scream instead of using a facial expression. It definitely depends on the medium.

Lydia Antonini: The Peanut comics are fully animated! If we’re using that strip and animating, then it’s a motion comic. We look at that as the foundation, and the house just needs to honor the suggested movement and the art. It’s very much based on the source material. So that’s why Peanuts is full action, full lypsinch. For many of them, they’re so well posed, that it already sets up the animation, and it’s just a matter of building on top of that.

World premiere clip of Superman: Red Sun

Dylan Coburn: I was so excited to direct and produce this. The challenge lies in the pace and the dialogue. It’s tough when you have a single panel where nothing is happening, but lots of dialogue. When you work in animation, you don’t often get to do stuff that’s hardcore, but this was great. And definitely hardcore.

Jake Hughes: Also edited very cinematically.

Dylan Coburn: I also used split-screen a lot in this motion comic, because it tells the story very well and tells the story in a way that makes more sense. A lot of comic book artists think cinematically, actually, like directors.

Jake Hughes: And as a reminder, DC Comics All Access opens today at DC

Fan: When do you create the original artwork to have more layers and in digital to begin with to save time when adapting to motion comics? Does that happen yet?

Lydia Antonini: Everyone has come to us and begged to layer the artwork to save time on Photoshop for later adaptation, but that moment when the two are being planned for together, that’s for the future. That’s definitely the moment that we’re leading up to.

Paul Levits: And you’re thinking a different way as an artist, a different way of telling the story

My SIGNED copy of Watchmen!
My SIGNED copy of Watchmen! was extremely fortunate to catch up with Mr. Gibbons to chat in brief about the Watchmen: the IMAX Experience movie and his thoughts on comics today. Were you pleased with the Watchmen adaptation for the screen?

Dave Gibbons: Yes, in fact I know all those guys (director Zac Snyder, screenwriters Alex Tse and David Hayter) very well and I was out promoting the movie when it first came out.

SPhD: How do you feel about the state of graphic novels today compared to when Watchmen first came out over 20 years ago?

Dave Gibbons: Oh it’s fantastic! Watchmen was one of the first graphic novels that ever came out, so it was very much uncharted territory, whereas today you have a whole wealth of graphic novels employing advanced techniques and a whole breadth of material. I’m also very happy about the presence of graphic novels in mainstream bookstores today, which was just not the case when Watchmen first came out.

Thanks much to Dave for chatting with us (and for signing my copy of Watchmen)! Watchmen: The Director’s Cut came out on DVD July 21st.

Richard Hatch: Battlestar Retrospective
Moderator: Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica)

Panelists: Bear McCreary (BSG composer), Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek writer/producer), Kevin Grazier (Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Virtuality science consultant), and special guests Lucianna Caro (Captain Louanne ‘Kat’ Katraine) and Tom DeSanto (producer, X-Men and Transformers)

Battlestar Galactica retrospective panel: (from left to right)
Battlestar Galactica retrospective panel: (from left to right) Lucianna Caro, Michael Tayler, Richard Hatch, Bear McCreary, Kevin Grazier and Tom DeSanto

Next, we moved on to a yearly fan favorite: Richard Hatch’s impromptu panel of Battlestar Galactica guests, ranging from actors, writers, and producers on the show. This year’s panel was treated as a retrospective on the collective four seasons of the show, from the musical (with composer Bear McCreary) to the scientific (with science advisor Kevin Grazier) to the written (with writers from the show). This year was also special because the panel graciously opened the floor to solely answering fans’ burning questions.

Fan: Was the story planned from beginning?

Michael Tayler: Yes, absolutely. It wasn’t seat of the pants writing, but rather organic, and we knew where we were going 10 episodes out. Ronald D. Moore had it planned out 4-5 seasons down the road. But we also didn’t kill ourselves to figure out every detail, because then the characters couldn’t surprise you. New Caprica, for example, was such a surprise, a home away from home that didn’t turn out to be what it was.

Tom DeSanto: 9/11 occuring also caused a delay in shooting, and also changed the nature of the plot as it was originally imagined. A lot of ideas were fluid from the old show and the new show. And of course, the big reveal at the end was that the Cylons were being controlled by the human beings.

Fan: This question is for Bear. Are you planning to release more outtakes or extra music?

Bear McCreary: Well, I’ve released an album for every season. Season 4 was released at Comic-Con today, but the best place to grab is at the House of Blues concerts this week. Fans astonish me with how much music they want, and they still demand more. A soundrack for Razor is in the plans, but if people still want more, then we could certainly put together a box set of cues that weren’t good enough to go on the original CDs. You never know. And there will definitely be lots more concerts to come. It’s bombastic and incredible. I’m actually hoping to put out a live DVD in the coming week of these concerts. My ultimate dream is to play “The Shape of Things to Come” at the opera house in Vancouver where we filmed.

Fan: Richard, you’ve been a big part of the whole BSG world. Did you have a say in how your character ended in the show?

Richard Hatch: I’m still hanging out on the tail fin, figuring out if I’m a cylon, I don’t know about you. No. Michael and Ron, they make the decisions, they decide the creative direction. I would have loved to have had creative input, but that just wasn’t how it worked.

Michael Tayler: We couldn’t wait to kill you dude! We were competing!

Lucianna Caro: And I cried and begged [for my character not to get killed off].

Fan: Hi from Vancouver! Thank you for having strong female characters. Are you guys planning to keep that up on future projects?

Michael Tayler: Well, Caprica should be a hint. One thing we’re trying to make clear is that while there’s elements of racism on Caprica, for some reason there’s a lot of gender equality. I don’t think of it as good female characters, just good characters.

Fan: I’ve heard the series borrowed a lot from Mormon theologies? Is this true?

RH: Yes, there was a lot from the Mormon philosophy. Glen Larson (creator and producer of the original series) is Mormon and he weaved that into certain elements of the show.

Tom DeSanto: The name Kobol is from the Mormon religion. But he also borrowed a lot from other theologies and philosophies, for example with people coming down from space and helping us to discover ourselves.

Fan: Are you going to elaborate on Daniel (the boxed cylon)?

Michael Tayler: I can dispell some rumors right now. He is NOT Starbuck’s father. We never anticipated that much interest in that character.

Fan: Who came up with frak?

Richard Hatch: By the way, that did come from the original show, but they changed the spelling for the new one.

Fan: I loved the integration of All Along the Watchtower into the series. That was brilliant! Where was that specific song picked, and are there implications of how that song connects to now?

Bear McCreary: It came straight from Ron.

Michael Tayler: The implication is that it came from Dylan, Ron’s god. The Word of Bob.

Kevin Grazier: Ron had wanted to use it earlier than it did, but it came back later.

Bear McCreary: We always interpreted that the song was out there in the cosmos. Never implied that Dylan wrote it, more handed down from the cosmos. It was implied that Anders used to play this down on the original earth on his guitar. So it was timeless, it didn’t have an era or a time. That’s how we interpreted it. The use of that song still ranks among the most daring and unusual decisions in the show. Ron put it on Kevin’s and my plate to figure out how to get the jump coordinates for the final jump from the song. But the song isn’t catchy. So there were these 12 notes of original music that were integrated into Watchtower. And that was introduced in Season 3, and we suggested that idea in the final episode, that Kara was exposed to it earlier.

Fan: Did you like how Zarek was portrayed in the new BSG?

Richard Hatch: I love this character, but the realities of a show like BSG, is that there are many talented characters and actors, and only 44 minutes of a show, so a lot of scenes got cut out, and a lot of dialogue got cut out. But we had 70something episodes to develop a lot of different characters. I would have loved to see more backstory for Tom, other than the 4 part mini-series where I discovered that hey, I was a good guy!

Kevin Grazier: Other than that whole killing the quarum moment.

Fan: Was race ever a consideration for casting/writing? Or was it the best actor?

Michael Tayler: I don’t think it was a concern, but we’re trying to paint a post-racial world with a lot of variety, just like our own world. Ultimately, we’re always looking for different types, we’re just looking for great acting as a bottom line.

Bear McCreary: I talked a lot with Rekha Sharma, and she loved that she got to play a role where being Indian didn’t matter. For her, that was a big deal and she appreciated it!

Kevin Grazier: I made the argument that given that we have 12 planets with 12 different environments, we could have even MORE diversity than what you saw.

Fan: Richard I loved your books, and the sequels to Battlestar. Are we ever going to see you and Dirk Benedict give a better send off to your BSG 1980 characters?

Tom DeSanto: Well, the show (DeSanto’s original Battlestar remake) we were doing was a bridge between the old world and the new. And the FOX execs (where it was orignially going to air) felt the 9/11 tone of the genocide touched too hard on a nerve, given what had happened. There was never that great war to define who we were, and then we were struck smack dab into that new war that we weren’t prepared for.

Bear McCreary: Where did the Pegasus set come from?

Tom DeSanto: My construction crew from X-Men had started building the BSG sets, so they took a chainsaw to all the vipers because they couldn’t keep all the sets around. But we had these master boat-builders and they took the pieces of foam and bent them around to make the Pegasus set.

Fan: what do you guys think Starbuck is?

Collective group: An angel. That’s just an opinion. There’s no master plan or bible that says that’s what is definitely written.

Fan: How do you guys think they adapted to being cavemen? What if they’d flashed forward only one year?

Michael Tayler: That is an interesting question. I have a feeling they brought certain skills to the table. Maybe there’s mysterious ruins waiting to be discovered and it wasn’t a TV show but a history!

Kevin Grazier: Humanity, 70,000 years after Mitochondrial Eve, was reduced to about 15,000 people, so the fact is, most of them probably died. But there was a great scene in the rolling hills where they blew up all the raptors and they disappeared. For the belly flop, or Adama maneuver, I was remiss to remind them that Galactica would break up, but owing to the coolness factor, go for it!

Fan: How gratifying was it to get to talk to the United Nations?

Michael Tayler: I wasn’t there, I just watched it on C-SPAN. But they replaced the actual countries with the 12 colonies. For me, it was a little scary, because we have real problems! And all the UN people wore their old Cylon costumes. It was scary and gratifying at the same time. And we’ve been invited to work with the UN in solving real world problems!

Fan: How did your music evolve from Season 1 (raw earthy quality) to the full orchestral sound in Season 4?

Bear McCreary: Well, the key is that the writing also changed. It became much more emotional, mystical, as Season 1 reached its end. The end of Season 1 is where we really begin to understand the show. Normally, music is there to remind you what you’re watching and it stays the same. But the producers challenged me to make it different, but to make sense, to always “sound” like Battlestar. From Italian Opera, to drummers, to bagpipes, to Anglo-Saxon signing, strings, and stuff that doesn’t naturally go together musically. Every episode was a chance to experiment and change, and eventually the orchestra became part of the sound. The end was as bombastic as anything you’d hear in a movie score. At the beginning that wouldn’t have worked, but it did at the end. It was a natural process.

Richard Hatch: As a conclusion to this panel, I want everyone to talk about what they’re doing and future projects.

Tom DeSanto: There’s many incarnations to Galactica. If you have stories to tell, and want to celebrate this universe, put them online! Universal is looking at doing a feature of Galactica, but the economics of doing a big film means that you need a wider audience beyond just the TV show, and hopefully someone will pay hommage to both versions of the show, and in the process pay hommage to Star Trek, and I’m going to try to do that, on the big screen.

Kevin Grazier: It was very fulfilling to work on BSG. At the screening of “Daybreak” (the finale), Ron said, “If this was your first job in the industry, sorry, because it doesn’t get any better than this.” I have a book coming out, “The Science of Battlestar Galactica” and it comes out in December, just in time for the holidays. To be honest with you, since I stopped working on the show, I’ve been suffering from withdrawals!

Bear McCreary: I was suffering from the same withdrawals, and that’s why the concerts and fan interactions tend to be really great. In many ways, the show isn’t over for me. I’m also working on Caprica with Michael, so that’s great!

Richard Hatch: BSG has been life-changing for me, always more than entertainment, but about something, about asking who we are, where we come from, where we’re going. I love things that challenge you to think, open your hearts and minds, and show you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We find a way to pull together and survive. I want to be a part of projects that do that in the future. Projects that leave me with hope! No matter how dark BSG got, it left you with hope. To that end, I’ve put together a production company. Our first movie is entitled Don’t Let the Sun Get You Crying. I’m also producing a reality show depicting the Hollywood underbelly you’ve never seen, with the journey you go on as an actor to get to the E! True Hollywood Story. Lastly, I just left a relationship of 2 years, I’ve struggled in finding a relationship, and in making it work. So partnered with me, for those of you looking for your Sig-O. It’s hard to find a sci-fi partner out there!

Michael Tayler: Well, I’m working on the BSG prequel Caprica and the pilot of that aired and is available on DVD. We should be set to air sometime in 2010. caught up with Kevin Grazier who we interviewed and the rest of the panel for some pictures exclusive for, including a group shot right up on the stage! (Incidentally, yes those are BSG dog tags I’m wearing. My call sign? Hot Dog!) Check it out:

Richard Hatch (the original Apollo and Tom Zarek on the new BSG) with the ScriptPhD.
Richard Hatch (the original Apollo and Tom Zarek on the new BSG) with the ScriptPhD.
Kevin Grazier (the science advisor to BSG) with the ScriptPhD.
Kevin Grazier (the science advisor to BSG) with the ScriptPhD.
Group shot! (from left to right) Producer Michael Tayler, Tom DeSanto, The ScriptPhD, Bear McCreary, Kevin Grazier, Richard Hatch
Group shot! (from left to right) Producer Michael Tayler, Tom DeSanto, The ScriptPhD, Bear McCreary, Kevin Grazier, Richard Hatch

ScriptPhD note: spent an hour in the press room with the cast and production talent of Psych and Burn Notice gathering exclusive behind the scenes scoop and spoilers.

Straight From the Press Room: Psych

Psych talent: (from left to right) Corbin Bernsen, Maggie Lawson, James Roday, series creator Steve Franks, Dule Hill, and Timothy Omundson.
Psych talent: (from left to right) Corbin Bernsen, Maggie Lawson, James Roday, series creator Steve Franks, Dule Hill, and Timothy Omundson
Psych stars James Roday and Dule Hill
Psych stars James Roday and Dule Hill
James Roday and Dule Hill with the ScriptPhD
James Roday and Dule Hill with the ScriptPhD

Corbin Bernsen (Henry Spencer)

Corbin Bernsen: [checking out The ScriptPhD’s iPhone] Ohh I just got one of those. Look at you!

ScriptPhD: Sweet, right?

ScriptPhD: All right well start with me? You obviously play James Roday’s character’s dad on the show. I’m a big fan of the show, by the way, love it. And it’s been really interesting to watch their relationship develop over the seasons. Because in Season 1, there was this very tense thing between them. They’ve grown closer. Can you talk a bit about the evolution of that relationship?

CB: You have to start out and show the tense relationship. The relationship is founded in this. I have a certain way of doing things, I wanted my son to be like me. And he has ended up being exactly like me, which is solving crime, but doing it his own way. And Henry Spencer is like, my feet are grounded in this cement, and I’m not budging. And what the evolution is, is not so much Sean having to realize that, gee, my dad isn’t such a bad guy, although there’s a bit of that, but rather Henry needing to loosen up. Henry’s got to recognize, as I’m doing with my own kids, I have a 20-year-old son, that you need to say, “All right, you don’t want to do it my way, as long as you get to the end of the game, and have values, we all have our different path.” We all have our different path. And that is what Henry is sort of doing, and it’s interesting, because he is sort of mirroring my life a lot.

Press question: Is Natalie coming back and what’s happening with that?

CB: I wish it was more of it, but I’ve always got to keep in mind that it’s not the Henry Spencer Show. It’s not about my stuff. It’s how it relates to Sean. I mean Cybil [Shepherd] and I had a great time, you know? But you have to find out where it fits into the show and how it relates to Sean. So, I couldn’t answer the question. I actually want my real wife to come back, who was in an episode that we went on a date with.

Press question: So is he going to be getting some then?

CB: Yeah, man! He’s 54, he’ll take all the girls he can get. Onscreen, whatever it is. It’s the only legal cheating you get.

Press question: James has written and directed a few episodes. Any similar aspirations to do that?

CB: No, I direct. I just finished a movie called Rust. I’ve done four movies, I write in the season, and I direct in the offseason. You know, yeah it would be fun, but I have a weird thing about TV, and directing TV and a showy you’re on. I’m not dying to do it. I don’t know where the win is. What if your show sucks and then you’re all, “Hiiiiii!” You know? I’d rather direct my little movies where I’m well-removed and I always said, when I direct, I want to do things on my terms. All the acting is kind of everybody else. Agents, networks, producers all of that. I make my movies and it’s, “Well, what do we think, Corbin?” And I wanted to reserve my directing for that.

Press question: You always have to play a younger version of yourself. How do you get into that mindset and pull that off week after week?

CB: I just try to make the younger me a little bit more amused with Sean. It’s probably very imperceptible, but I try to raise my voice a little bit. Because you put the wig on, and it’s hair but I still see lines. I try to make him talk a bit differently.

James Roday and Dule Hill (Sean Spencer and Burton “Gus” Guster)

Press question: Can you talk about your writing and directing and what motivated you to do it?

James Roday: Truthfully, it’s something that I’ve always been interested in doing, I just didn’t think the opportunities would fall into my lap the way that they have. Thanks to our super-generous and wonderful show creator and producers. It’s basically the warmest, safest environment to cut your teeth and flex new muscles and I feel like with each one I’m getting more confident, and what can you say? You work on a show where you get to write and direct and act. It’s a gift.

Press question: Do you hang out in the writers’ room

JR: I do. I got to spend more time than I’ve ever spent in the writers’ room. We finish shooting, and there’s still like a month left before they finish, and I just left and came down and spent that month with them and started breaking stories for this season with them, and so I got to have that experience as well.

Press question: Dule, are you jealous of James?

DH: Jealous of the writing? Noooooooo!

JR: I don’t think he’s jealous of not being in the writers’ room.

DH: It’s not something I’m passionate about, at all.

Press question: directing?

DH: Maybe one day, but I don’t really see myself directing an episode of this show. It would be something down the line. I always tell the crew, “If you ever see me directing, start for a new job.” Because I’d only direct when the show was cancelled.

Press question: Girlfriend for Gus? I mean Sean already has his love life.

DH: That’s the same question I keep getting today. I think something will happen this year. Something will come by at the end of the season. Hopefully, we’ll see. But when you have an energy with the tall guy over there—

Press question: Well, this guy is in the writers’ room!

JR: There’s something in the pipeline.

ScriptPhD: The energy between you translates really well onto the screen. Are you guys also good friends off-screen? Similar relationship?

DH: I think so. In real life, I would say, I wouldn’t say it’s opposite, but I’m not as straight and he’s not as crazy. But the friendship has definitely grown. A lot of what we do offscreen goes back onscreen. Just the dynamic and how we interact with each other and things like that.

ScriptPhD: And, James, how do you guys keep finding cool ways to hide the pineapple? I have to ask.

JR: Well, I have to say, we went almost a whole season without any cool ways to hide the pineapple. It was just sitting out on people’s desks. It’s like, “There’s a pineapple, right there.” We got a little lazy with it. But we did some recon in the off-season and you should be dully impressed with some of the hiding places this season. We put a lot of thought and care into it.

DH: I think He Dead was a good one. That was nice way they put that one in there.

JR: We just finished one called one called “Let’s Get Harriet” that’s got a good hiding place.

DH: I don’t even think I remember where it is.

JR: See? Is that good or what?

DH: Preeeeeeetty sneaky.

Press question: How did you develop your characters’ speaking styles? That reflects their personalities.

JR: My approach was just that here’s a guy who’s constantly flying by the seat of his pants. He’s an improviser by nature, and the influences were basically Chevy Chase’s inflection and Val Kilmer as Chris Knight in Real Genius. That’s it. Those are sort of the guys that I felt encompassed that the best. So I put them with a blender, along with a heavy dose of my own face and landed on that pretty early in terms of the weird little rat-a-tat delivery. I think with Gus, we’ve had more fun watching him evolve. The way he rolls with the punches, the way he’s learned to be spontaneous, sometimes he’s right there to add something to finish a run, sometimes he’s not.

DH: Because I don’t really—myself I never had any preconceived thought, it was more of an idea of who this person is, but as you keep doing it, you figure it out. Seeing how he reacts in a given situation.

Steve Franks (showrunner)

[preceded by major squealing and fangirling, inlcuding Steve Franks, over the fact that we were sitting next to the Futon Critic.]

Press question: The show has a very random and absurd sense of humor. How do you balance the tone and keep it from veering too far into the absurd?

Steve Franks: That’s the hardest thing. It’s like having a car, and the wheels are out of alignment, and it’s always trying to pull that—because what fuels us is the silliness. But we realize at the end of the day that if we are a detective show and we’re having a case, if you’re 30 minutes into the show and you’re like, “What’s this show? What’s this case about?” You’re probably either going to lose interest, so it’s walking a tightrope and we really wrote ourselves into a corner because we have so many things we have to do humor wise. We have to get these guys in a fun argument, we have to tie it to something that happened to him as a kid in the past, we have to relate it to what’s going on with the characters, and it’s a character piece, you know? It’s not like CSI, where every minute, they’re at a new location and they’re questioning, and it turns out to be the third person they questioned. So we always try to start with a cool case, and this show we started thinking about, instead of oh it’s the world of telenovellas, let’s think about what the guy did and then we’ll work backwards and try to put it into our fun world. So we’ve got some really cool cases this year.

Press question: Do you have to go as far as possible and as crazy as possible to get all the fun stuff that we do?

SF: Yeah, exactly, and I want our show, I drive our network insane, because I’m so adamant that our show be unique. We did an episode where a sea lion got hurt and they go to a funeral for a sea lion, and Sean—I directed that episode, so that’s my episode. I love it special. But for me that’s what we have to do. And it’s twice as hard. We could just do, OK, debutante gets shot, whatever.

ScriptPhD: Or the spelling bee episode. Loved it!

SF: The spelling bee episode, I wrote that. This is great! All my fans are here, I love this. It’s like I turn on the CSI and it’s like, “When a toddler is found dead…” and I’m like, “Oh my god! How are you sitting down going Ohhhh this is going to be great?” Can’t wait to see them catch the guy, you know? It’s got to be rewarding and fun and I really want it to be something new and different, and it’s like even when we do serious stuff, our two guys in serious stuff, when they’re in danger, is another fun, different thing. Like on Burn Notice, that’s what’s really cool about it, our guys are screaming and running and doing all that stuff. We started hearing that this is silly, and this is the serious. We did the serious in the first season, and I want to keep expanding, expanding, expanding. I think “American Duos” is the silliest we’ve gone, because it veered into satire, and we had John Landis directing and John has all these crazy ideas, and we’re like do it! But at the end of last season, we did “Mr. Yang”, which is as far serious as we go. And we don’t ever want to change the show, but at the core of the show it’s a guy who’s disappointed his father, who’s trained him to do this. And he’s always thought that his father was the one who abandoned him as a kid, but his father was the one who stuck around, so it’s kind of a heavy-ish backstory to it, but it’s the reason that this guy is who he is and why he masks everything he does with humor. And we feel we have room enough to do all those things that I think it makes it so rewarding. Last season, we had the most gut-wrenching scene for Tim Omundson, where he gets back together with his ex-wife and he thinks she wants him back, and she’s actually there with divorce papers. And Tim was so good in that episode, so serious. And then two minutes later, we have a guy chasing Sean with an axe. And it’s like, “What have we created?” And that’s what season four is about. Season four, we have some really light, funny, whimsical episodes. And then we have a couple, so far, that are kind of dark!

ScriptPhD: I was curious where Sean and Juliette are going?

SF: Well you know that Sean’s now got a girlfriend, so that’s going to create some problems for a little while. Rachel Leigh Cook is back for a handful of episodes this year and we talk about her in the episodes she’s not in. It’s hard, because on our budget we can only get so many guest stars. The thing with Sean and Juliet is that you never know, you just never know. And I think they would make a really good couple. There will be no resolution to that. But things start moving in different directions. I don’t think you’ll see a wedding episode that ends with them completing the wedding.

Press question: Can you talk about The Mentalist

SF: My theory, and I came up with this last night, and it’s really good. Am I upset aobut it? Listen. When you go to the cereal aisle in the grocery store, and you see Fruit Loops and you see something that looks just like Fruit Loops and it’s in a different bag and it’s called Fruity Loop-o’s.

ScriptPhD: But along those lines, I love that you had an episode where Sean says, “I have to get home. I don’t want to miss The Mentalist.” I was like, yesssss!

SF: The Mentalist gets mentioned in the season premiere, but that’s the best mention ever!

Timothy Omundsen and Maggie Lawson (Carlton Lassiter and Juliet O’Hara)

ScriptPhD: By the way, I just want to say that I love you from Judging Amy. You’re amazing and that’s just all there is to it.

Timothy Omundsen: Awww, you’re my favorite person here.

Maggie Lawson: How much did he pay you?

TO: Seriously thank you.

ScriptPhD: They wouldn’t tell me anything about Juliet and Sean by the way. I tried.

ML: They won’t tell me anything!

ScriptPhD: I was like, “What’s going on?!”

ML: It’s very tight-lipped. I don’t know. I don’t know. It’ll go one direction and then it changes direction and then it looks like it’s going that direction.

Press question: Is Juliet heartbroken right now?

ML: I think that she’s covering it well, but yes, I think that she’s dealing with a bit of—I kind of see her as having a bit of a lonely existence anyway, in Santa Barbara, just because she throws herself into her work.

TO: It’s why she’s friends with Lasseter, for God’s sakes!

ML: But so I think that was a big deal for her, especially to open up vulnerably and socially and to have that shot down. I think she’s gone back into her hole a little bit. And now it’s like work, work, work, work.

ScriptPhD: So you think she does have feeling for him despite her protestations to the contrary?

ML: Absolutely! I think she always has, but just they played a little game and then things got real, you know? Wait, wait, what? There’s someone else?

Press question: Will Juliet and Lassie bon over their mutual heartbreak?

ML: I feel like we are doing that in our stories as characters.

TO: As much as he would ever open up to anybody. Yes, I think they have great respect for each other and their relationship has leveled out where they’re on this same level. Now it’s not so much mentor-mentee.

ML: And we would never sit with each other and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Here’s what’s happening with me emotionally.” But I think that underneath it, we have a mutual understanding of who the other one is, and we respect that. And we pick up the slack for the other one.

TO: It’s really a thing where also, he knows she totally has his back and it’s a real cop thing. She’s now his partner. It’s not she’s the trainee. She’s his partner and that’s that.

ScriptPhD: Do you enjoy being one of the consistently serious aspects of a very silly show?

TO: At first, I thought, “Man I don’t get to have any fun!” But a Rainn Wilson quote, and I’m totally going to steal it, “There is great comedy to be found in great seriousness.” And that’s where it is. To play that stillness. And, I’m a great fan of the straight guy. The William Holdens and the William Powells and all that. So, I kind of grew up with that. I was never like a Jerry Lewis fan, it was always the other side, so. It’s great, other than trying to keep a straight face.

ScriptPhD: Because you’ve done that before, on Judging Amy. You really had to put up with Tyne Daly’s shenanigans.

TO: You know, with Amy, I found that I was able to make him funnier as the show went on. I don’t know if you know this, but like, Tyne and I, it got to the point where we would work such late hours, and we were so tired and Tyne is such an amazing woman and actress, that we just said, “How can we make each other have fun today?” And wherever there was—and it was such a heavy show—wherever there was a spot for some funny, she and I would find a way to make it work. And it was mainly just trying to make her laugh.

The Futon Critic: Could you talk about the difference working with James as an actor versus a director?

TO: You have much more experience with this, so why don’t you take it?

ML: He is—James is such an artist anyway. As far as a difference, you kind of expect it. You know James is coming prepared. You know James has a vision, start to finish of what he’s directing or what scene he’s doing. And he’s very open as an actor to changes and improvising. And he’s like that with directing as well. Where he loves new ideas, but he also really knows what he wants, which I think is one of the most important things in a director. He knows what the episode and the scene needs to be, and he gets that. And I think that’s what he does even on our show. Sometimes a scene that on the page seems rather boring and expositional, he could throw a few zingers in there and elevate this scene to be one of the best scenes in the whole episode. And I think as a director, he treats it like that as well.

TO: He has just, a laser focus when he is working. We had half a morning to get in a scene I do with him, a couple of scenes, and it was the very first thing that we’d shot, and I really felt like I bonded with James even more over that, because I really needed his help as a director. And he was absolutely there for me. He was fantastic. Whereas as an actor he totally abandons me! [laughter]

Straight From the Press Room: Burn Notice

Burn Notice talent: (from left to right) ... and series creator Matt Nix on the bottom
Burn Notice talent: (from left to right) producer Alfredo Barrios, Jr., Seth Peterson, Bruce Campbell, Jay Karnes, Ben Shankman, Michael Shanks... and series creator Matt Nix on the bottom
Burn Notice star Bruce Campbell being very silly!
Burn Notice star Bruce Campbell being very silly!
Burn Notice star Seth Petersen with the ScriptPhD
Burn Notice star Seth Petersen with the ScriptPhD

Bruce Campbell (Sam Axe)

ScriptPhD: You look, if I can say, like you just walked straight out of Miami!

Bruce Campbell: I did! I’m going back on the set tomorrow.

ScriptPhD: With the white outfit—

BC: This is from the wardrobe department.

ScriptPhD: Are you serious?

BC: Oh yeah! I said, “I’m going to Comic-Con! Hook me up! Give me the Miami whites!”

Futon Critic: So do you inform the shirts or do the shirts inform you?

BC: Well you have to wear the shirts, how it should be worn! I don’t know, I can’t answer that. I have no idea. I don’t even ask them what shirt I’m getting. They just come out. It’s an endless supply. I think we’ve done about 150 different shirts. Tommy Bahama. Haven’t had too many hats. I don’t know why.

ScriptPhD: So you’re already shooting for the third season. What can you tell us about some fun stuff to expect?

BC: Well, in the second season, Michael Weston had to answer to this evil woman named Carla. She’s gone. She’s dead. And so, the protections that she provided him are gone. In the big spy universe. So this season, he’s back on people’s radar, back on foreign agencies, even the local police, in Miami. So, he now has to deal with people from all over—old adversaries, new adversaries, anyone can get a piece of him now. It’s a bad place to be in.

ScriptPhD: And the shippers want to know if Fiona and Michael are gonna work their stuff out.

BC: they’re always back and forth, hit or miss, it’s the tortured relationship. It builds, it crumbles, it builds, it crumbles. I think you need that. It’s a bit of the Moonlighting thing.

Press question: well I love the vicious thing between you and Fiona, when you guys are in the car and just snipping at each other.

BC: That’s what we do! Because I think she’s crazy and she thinks I’m a loser. So the feeling is mutual.

Press question: How do you guys think of each other in real life, though?

BC: Good! She’s so different. She’s so not Fiona. She’s this very dignified Englishwoman, who’s very classy and cool and she plays this psycho bitch. Which is good. It’s good to have that.

Press question: What about Sam’s love life?

BC: I think it’s around. You never see much of the ladies, though. You see a couple of them. He just talks about them. Maybe it’s all just talk. He’s full of crap. I’d like to see that explored only because it’s fun to do as an actor. Wooing a woman at a café, or whatever. Watching your love go down in flames, or I don’t know. We’ll see what the writers come up with. I don’t bug them too much!

Press question: There’s been some great moments. What’s been a highlight for you from this past season?

BC: Well they always have us playing these dumb alternate characters. Like, my guy is Chuck Finley. He always plays this guy named Chuck Finley when he’s on a mission. That’s how he always lies to everybody. Chuck Finley. So that’s always fun because they have him doing weird things. A couple of episodes ago, he was a motivational speaker. So that all is way out of the box for us, so it gets us very excited.

Press question: What about the interrogations?

BC: Sam’s specialty. It’s becoming his specialty, tormenting his people. Which is fun, too, because you get to figure out how to crack that person. And my brother was actually at Guantanamo Bay as a military police guard. So, I pick his brain, but he doesn’t really tell me anything. He’s like, “I can’t tell you anymore, I’d have to kill ya!” So, those are fun too, because you get to see a whole other side, where you can either be serious or mean or intimidating or crazy. Why don’t we just some stuff in front of a guy and it drips blood in front of the guy, and you try to freak him out. That if I’m willing to do that to myself, what am I willing to do to you?

Press question: Relationship between Sam and Alex? Can you comment?

BC: It’s good, it’s increasing. She considers herself my friend now, and I go over there to hang out and Sam protects her all the time and lies to her a lot. Which is not good but. He’s moving out and moving to a new girlfriend, who’s living behind Madeline’s house. It’s his neighbor’s daughter.

Press question: Talk about the tone of the show a little bit, the humor, the seriousness. Where is that balance?

BC: A director once said to me, “You should be a different character in every scene. Because you want to show all the different sides. A spy when he’s crabby. A spy when he’s tired. A spy when he’s pissed. When he makes a mistake. So all of that just adds up into our mosaic of characters. But, it’s a serious show with trench humor. What soldiers would say to each other when the bombs are coming in. It’s a very dark, gallows humor. We all have to find it all the time. And it’s changing.

Alfredo Barrios, Jr. (producer) and Matt Nix (creator/showrunner)

ScriptPhD: I asked this of the actors, but I also want to ask you. Where and how do you compile the really cool gadgets and scientific material? Who do you go to for your ideas and how do you incorporate that into your scripts?

Alfredo Barrios, Jr: I think like Matt said, we have a number of different sources, we have a consultant on the show named Michael Wilson who is a former intelligene operative, who has been instrumental in helping us figure out the technical side of things, the gadgetry, the ideas. Oftentimes, we’ll come up with the goal that needs to be solved, or this is generally the principle that I think could be employed, but how do we make it work? How specifically, what will be build, where will we get it? Oftentimes, I joked during the panel that we’ll find a lot of stuff on the internet. And ultimately you have to verify it, but you have to take great pride in being accurate with our science and in not giving everything away, because we build some pretty dangerous devices along the way. But we really do our research, and we take great pride in that and we’re both kind of geeks, and we take great pride in being right about stuff.

Matt Nix: Growing up, I always thought that I was going to be a scientist when I was little. I was a computer enthusiast when I was a kid, and a programmer and I’ve always been really interested in that stuff. And so if I go to a party, I want to talk to the engineer, I want to the scientist. It’s been a good thing for the show that I live near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and that my kids go to school with kids whose parents work as rocket scientists. So literally I’ll go to parties and be like, “Let’s have a beer. Tell me how drones work.” We also bring in people who work in various technical fields, and we’ll sit them down and buy them lunch and say, “Tell me everything there is to know about optics.”

AB: I think naturally, the whole writing staff, we like to read about all sorts of things, and oftentimes ideas come from where you don’t expect it. You read a story that has some science in it, and you’ll derive some interesting fact, which might build an idea for putting together a gadget or something like that. And we get excited about that and we bring it to the room and it’s kind of fun.

Press question: And yet, I love the gadgets, and I think that’s fun, but the characters are what’s so rich, all across the board. From the villains to the heroes and in-between. Every little character. Can you talk about that?

MN: The funny thing is that a lot of people, when talking about writing in Hollywood, will say talk about character and plot as if they’re two different things. And character is this really good thing over hear, and it’s what makes a show good, like character, some ingredient that you put into shows. And plot is just this afterthough, this mechanism that people will use. And we’re a very plotty show. We do a lot of stuff in 42 minutes. But I think tha tone of the things that makes the characters rich is that they have to do a lot of stuff. And creating a bad guy who’s a worthy adversary to Michael who can have the plan that Michael has to go to the ends of the earth to unravel, that bad guy is just going to get more and more interesting as you get through the script. Because how would he know how to get him to do that? Well, maybe he was a doctor, and we need to get from here to there. That’s going to demand a really dynamic scene between these two characters because this character has to get so mad that he’s willing to blow up that hotel. So, what’s that scene look like that would get you to blow up a hotel? Then we have to stop you, and so what’s exciting for us is making the characters. In the case of the ex-girlfriend of Michael’s, her son has been kidnapped, and she’s in this really extreme situation where she needs to trick michael into helping her. And if you start with “Woman needs to trick Michael into helping her”, that makes for an interesting character. Well how would she do that? Maybe she’d make him think that her son is his son. OK, that’s an interesting character. And that’s how it grows out a plot but it turns into character. And then, at the same time, who’s the bad guy that can trick this woman into doing this thing, well that’s a really formidable bad guy. And that’s how Brennan is formed. He’s a bad ass! And then it just goes from there.

AB: Yeah, and oftentimes, just trying to come up with as part of what Michael is doing in combatting these villains, is, he ultimately exploits a character flaw. Something that is borne of character, and seizes on it, and exploits it, and turns it on them. And that is always fun for writers to figure out. It is both the source of their power and the source of their demise. And it’s fun to see, what is that trait that is unique to each villain that Michael can kind of seize on. It’s a problem at the beginning, but then it becomes something that he can use to do that. And that’s character.

Press question: Did you purposely structure each season to have its own story and purpose or how did you plan that out?

MN: You know, honestly, I can be coy about it, but I’m a huge fan of The Shield and so is Alfredo, and he was the first writer I hired for the show and we kind of talked about it. And that show had a great structure of this overarching theme of is Vic Mackey going to get busted for being a bad cop, and then it had these seasonal villains of the season, a seasonal problem to deal with. And our structure, because we’re broken down into two seasons and it’s a different show, it turned out to be very different, because we had to do a lot of things that—we do things they couldn’t have done because of our structure, they did things we can’t do because of their structure. But, it was inspired by The Shield.

Press question: can you talk about how the break of the season structure works into the storylines that you want to tell?

MN: It helps in that it forces you to digest the material. It doesn’t feel like help at the time, but it feels like, “We just did a finale! God!” But yeah, think about it. If someone came to you and said, “All right, you’re going to do a nine episode season and a seven episode season. And a nine episode season and a seven episode season. And so on.” How? Why? But that’s what we do and we don’t want it to be like “Here’s a season of Burn Notice and we just took a really long break in the middle.” It’s got to feel like something resolved between seasons. It makes the writing harder and better.

AB: Unlike a 22 episode order, where you run 22 episodes from beginning to end continuously, splitting up the season makes for a more dynamic show. You have to come up with a mid-season twist that makes sense and sets up everything you’ve come up with in the previous episodes, and yet launches you to the next season.

Mad Science: The Science Behind Science Fiction
Moderator: Phil Plait (astronomer, Discover Magazine contributing editor and blogger)

Panelists: Jaime Paglia (co-creator/executive producer, Eureka), Kevin Grazier (science consultant, Eureka, Virtuality), Jane Espenson (executive producer, Dollhouse, BSG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman (staff writers, Fringe) and Ricardo Gil da Costa (neuroscientist and consultant on Fringe)

Mad Science: The Fiction Behind Science Fiction panel: (from left to right)
Mad Science: The Fiction Behind Science Fiction panel: (from left to right) Caprica and BSG writer Jane Espensen, Eureka creator Jaime Paglia, BSG science advisor Kevin Grazier, Fringe neuroscience advisor Ricardo Gil da Costa, and Fringe staff writers Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman

We ended our Day 1 coverage with a panel that embodies the epitome of what stands for: the intersection of science and entertainment. Discovery Magazine, in concert with the Science and Entertainment Exhange, put together a panel of leading science fiction writers and the science advisors that make their shows happen. What ensued was a riveting discussion about the role of entertainment to educate, philosophy and moral extrapollations of topics covered by these shows.

Brief clip of Eureka

Jaime Paglia: Thanks fans for supporting our show, this past season we’re seeing the highest numbers we’ve ever had, thanks for coming.

Kevin Grazier: I had so much fun at the panel last year, I’ve been looking forward to it all year!

Clip of Fringe

Glenn Whitman: Farnsworth, our character, incidentally, was named after Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television, not Futurama!

Rob Chiapetta: I love Comic-Con, because you can drink at 3 PM, and you’re not hallucinating if you see furry creatures walking all around you!

Glenn Whitman: This is the first time I’m on a panel rather than out in the audience so this is really special.

Ricardo Gil da Costa: I want to assure everyone that the neurobiology happening at the Salk Institute is actually a lot more tame than what you see on Fringe!

Clip of Caprica

Jane Espensen: I wish we had something new to show you, but only in the 2nd week of shooting post-pilot material. But we’re wrriting and shooting as much as we can. Hot robot action coming soon!

Phil Plait: Let’s talk about the good and evil of science and how it’s used on television, particularly on Caprica. This idea has been around for a long time. If you could create a duplicate of someone, how would it work? And is it right?

Jane Espensen: We actually had this discussion in writers’ room. How similar it is to downloading, what the Cylons eventually did fifty years in the future. Versus this version where two of you live simultaneously. And we had a big argument about is this afterlife or on the road to afterlife, and how do you squeeze the maximum drama out of that. What I love is that you’re having very ethical and philosophical discussions in sci-fi environment.

Jaime Paglia: In Season 2 of Eureka, Wlater Perkins loses wife, Susan, they buried her and she shows up again in the future. But he is living with a clone of his ex-wife, and had a child with her. Susan discovers this child is genetically hers but has no connection with. Does she have an obligation to this child?

Kevin Grazier: Legally this poses interesting questions too because she couldn’t prove it wasn’t her child in a court of law if she were to reject it.

Glenn Whitman: We’ll do that on Fringe! Season 5! [laughter]

Phil Plait: Transporters—if they destroy you and reinstate you, if you could do that, be dead and brought back to life? Then what happens?

Glenn Whitman: We need to have a Law & Order: Fringe, to debate the ethical issues. I came across this web site that’s actually some company like, and you go there and put assets in escro for a future life for an inheritance. But what kind of proof would they accept when you came back to cash your money?

Phil Plait: In the Fringe clip, they scientists are trying to extract info from a guy who was dead, and it seems a bit like torture. Sci-fi is a reflection of our current standing in our moral decisions. We don’t torture because we don’t get correct info when we do. But imagine if you could torture AND get accurate info? Where does that leave us?

Jane Espensen: we’re thinking about a torture ep for Caprica, and we keep pulling ourselves back, but ethically, we don’t want to promote that. This is one of those places where drama and the real world, you sometimes have to work to make them work together.

Ricardo Gil da Costa: How we extract info from the brain if they’re not willing or dead is actually an interesting question. But there’s a lot of fMRI and brain imaging techniques that are already out there, and we assume that we can outsmart a polygraph. You can really get this information right now. Sometimes you use it in courts. But it’s very tricky to interpret because we don’t understand the brain fully yet. The brain doesn’t lie, but what we get is our biased interpretation. You cannot always directly transpose laboratory advances socially and legislatively.

Phil Plait: In the show, the guy was dead, but do you have the right to your thoughts after you’re dead? What if you could download their thoughts and put instructions?

Jane Espensen: Well you put them into a robot and get it to do what you want. [laughter]

Kevin Grazier: In Caprica, Zoe made the claim that you can download the personality information that you need to rebuild a person from online, so you don’t have to necessarily violate them directly. But is that still a violation?

Jane Espensen: It’s a dicey area. I think we should all worry about being downloaded and put into robots.

Kevin Grazier: Think about all the things that are “out there”, though, and freely available that reflects on your personality and who you are. It’s kind of scary!

Phil Plait: I’ve never been involved in the writing of a TV show. I advised for a children’s show called Zula Patrol, but didn’t develop the storylines. When you’re in the writers’ room, do you find what’s morally ambiguous, and then apply the science? Do you do plot and then science or vice versa?

Jaime Paglia: On Eureka, we look at everything: newspapers, magazines, news, and then come up with our own ideas that are little homages to books and movies. We basically try to find a unique way to approach it. Eureka is a ¼ turn different that makes it fun to explore. Everything depends on how we approach it. We want a story arc for our characters and want them to develop, and then ask what can we marry thematically to advance those developments? Then we pop in a science fiction idea into it.

Kevin Grazier: My interaction is, it depends. Different writers will come to you beforehand, but most people will come to you after the script is written. Remember when we toyed with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes on Season 1 of Eureka?

Glenn Whitman: We’ll do it on Fringe! Season 5! Sometimes we start with the science—recently we wrote about a transgenic animal made into an eight-part beast, and that came from reading articles about real transgenic hybridized and engineered animals. Some episodes definitely come from those science headlines. Sometimes someone will have a crazy idea for an episode, and you better figure out a way to make it work and justify it. Why would someone’s head explode? Because J.J. Abrams thought it was cool, now justify it scientifically!

Kevin Grazier: And usually the response on our end is Oh Cool! or Oh my God! A great example is the Eureka season finale coming up. We worked on that for a long time to justify the science.

Jaime Paglia: I knew what we wanted to happen storywise, because it’s pretty big [story development], but it was one of those moments where Kevin was able to help us out, and it turns out that this theoretical thing was already out there that couldn’t have been more perfect for this episode.

Rob Chiappetta: That’s a double edged sword, because if it already exists, then the producers want you to “think harder on it” and make it work, because they want it to seem made up and implausible. They don’t want to believe that it’s real or that you came up with it too easily.

Glenn Whitman: Sometimes it’s disappointing to hear that it exists, because you want to push the limits of what is out there as a writer.

Ricardo Gil de Costa: I think there is still some cool stuff that is exciting, realistic and not out there. Just recently we were talking for an episode, and using an already-researched application of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to inhibit brain areas. So I think we can still do this feedback both ways.

Rob Chiappetta: From an audience perspective, you want to start with something that’s more grounded, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of that” and then take them on the ride. Start with familiarity, easy to understand concepts, because then you get the opportunity to push people’s buttons.

Jaime Paglia: In our show, the manifesto is that we don’t want to cross over into magic, things that are not yet scientifically possible at all. But do you guys on Fringe have hard and fast rules?

Rob Chiappetta: We want to be “science next”, 10-15 minutes into the future as opposed to a year in the future. Visual [appeal] drives our show a lot. We get frustrated because we can do everything you want in terms of the really cool science, just give us more time to explain it [than a 42 minute show].

Glenn Whitman: There are plenty of us in the audience who geek out and think this stuff is really cool when we see it and want those in-depth explanations, but too many people in the audience want the story and tune out the science if it starts getting too complicated. So the trick is to feed just enough that people believe what will happen and want to go along for the ride.

Rob Chiappetta: Show your precedent, show what you want to do, and then show all the things that you want to do to get there.

Glenn Whitman: Rob used to be a lawyer, and he just have a lawyer’s outline for writing. I used to be an economist, so I should come up with a similar manifesto.

Phil Plait: I wondered when you’d have an astronomer on the show, and when you did, he bludgeoned his wife with a tire iron. Is this someone I need to know about?

Glenn Whitman: Fringe is a horror show, partly. Creepy and gross is easier with biology and virology, than astrophysics, usually.

Kevin Grazier: You haven’t hung out with many astrophysicists. [laughter]

Phil Plait: In 1998, Armageddon came out, and the only thing scientifically accurate about that movie is that it had an asteroid and yes, asteroids do exist. But Deep Impact also came out, and that movie was fairly accurate about predicting the future. What scientific breakthroughs will you put in there that you’d like to see or wouldn’t like to see happen?

Kevin Grazier: I can justify the glowing spines from BSG. I’m not going to, but….

Jane Espensen: We’re doing something on Caprica where we’re saying technology is accelerating so fast that it’s not reaching everyone quickly enough. Rich people have robotic butlers, but poor people have answering machines. Instead of reaching for big concepts, we are approaching little bitty things in the high-tech house that would be really cool to have. The little things are as cool as the big things.

Jaime Paglia: We play with that with the character of Sarah, who has had her good and bad moments. We also had people monitoring what technology gets out in the world. Those are the kinds of things that are fun to explore, not as dark as Caprica and Fringe, but good drama nonetheless!

Fan question: Do you ever consult visionaries, because sometimes science catches up to the visionaries. Do you ever look beyond the science to the spiritual to get ideas?

Jane Espensen: We certainly do ask what our wildest dreams would suggest. That is related to that, since their dreams come close to ours. But that’s as close as we go to consulting visionaries.

Glenn Whitman: We thought we were the visionaries!

Fan: We sane fans generally don’t think about trying the science at home. Do you ever worry about disclaimers for those that would?

Ricardo Gil da Costa: It goes both ways. You could have great synergy between these two fields, people like Michael Crichton who certainly do go both ways.

Jaime Paglia: With our shows, we pick normal scenarios that you’d see aywhere, but when you add the geniuses and the technology, that’s what makes it special. You could say, “Don’t create a second sun at home!” but most of those projects that we approach couldn’t create danger or couldn’t even be attempted.

Rob Chiappetta : The general rule of thumb is that if you see Walter do something on Fringe, don’t do it at home!

Fan: What is the correlation between science fiction and science fact: who drives whom?

Kevin Grazier: Yes. [laughter]

Jaime Paglia: Well it depends on the idea… you could read about something in Discover Magazine and say, that would be a great episode.

JE: Also design elements from science.

Kevin Grazier: I work at JPL, and I see two influences: you’d be surprised how many action figures abound in people’s offices. So many scientists go into science because they want to be Captain Spock. But then we get the picketers who are all the conspiracy theorists carrying the placards saying “Tell us the truth!” and it’s like, “We are!”

Fan question: Portrayal of evil robots versus good robots? Why the disproportion?

Jane Espensen: Stories sometimes trump idealism. Killer robots are just a lot more fun to watch. Serge, the butler robot is actually adorable, though on Caprica!

Fan: What does your role as a science advisor entail? How much time does it entail on top of your full-time jobs?

Ricardo Gil da Costa: Very dependant on the project and the show. Sometimes not that much time at all, other times you’re involved from the get-go. I really like my day job, but it’s a great compliment to it to be able to help the writers on Fringe.

Kevin Grazier: I’ve ranged from writing two sentences for an episode, versus spending a lot of time on Eureka developing ideas. But on a show like Virtuality, I did more on that 2 hour episode than for the entire half a season of BSG.

Fan: Are you going to talk about the solar system of BSG?

JE: That will definitely be addressed in Caprica, but Kevin came up with a beautiful system for how these 12 colonies can be so closely put together.

Fan question: Pertinent to BSG and the episode of DS9 that Jane wrote. You try to ground these stories in science and make it believable, but also weave in mystical elements. How do you reconcile those two?

JE: I was talking with my writing staff about this just the other day. I like the mystical stuff being downplayed where the magic is technology. For example, I would say Head Six and Baltar aren’t angels but so advanced that that’s the only explanation we can come up for them. We are so limited that we grasp for magic when it’s physics we don’t understand yet.

Fan: As an educator, I can definitively say we have a problem with communication. We are not taking the mystery out when we explain it. You’re in an important position to be educators working through entertainment. To say “Isn’t this stuff cool” through entertaining stories.

Kevi Grazier: I’m an educator as well. Lots of students are turned off of science because it’s too nebulous for them to understand. But other kids will listen to you because you work in the entertainment industry, because it’s a tool that allows me to talk and have them listen to what I say for an hour so that at the end, they can ask that burning question: “Do you know Tricia Helfer?”

Jaime Paglia: The closer that you look, the more magical the science is. That’s how I think of it. Heck, I want to know how my iPhone works because it’s magic to me!

Rob Chiappetta: Science and technology is such a forefront in our pop culture, that you have people now like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as people who are making a difference and people want to hear from them and what they have to say. So that’s why on our show we have scientists and engineers who are portrayed as trying to figure out how stuff works. And more importantly, they’re normal, real people. All we have to do [to promote science and scientists] is show people living lives as scientists and they’re real people too: husbands, fathers, in relationships. That they do their jobs but then go home at night and live real lives. That’s the one thing that we can really bring to scientific education. I can be an inventor and a hero and be a helpful part of society. That’s an important message for us to be bringing across every medium: video games, movies. That today’s heroes aren’t ballplayers or movie stars, but techies and engineers.

Phil Plait: And on that note, let’s end with a pertinent quote to our discussion: “It does no harm to a sunset to know a little bit about it. –Carl Sagan” caught up to Jane Espensen, showrunner of Caprica, writer on BSG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to get exclusive scoop for the upcoming season of Caprica:

Jane Espensen dishes with the ScriptPhD.
Jane Espenson dishes with the ScriptPhD.

ScriptPhD: Are you guys going to go into the religious monotheism and where that stems from for the original three students in the pilot (including Zoe the avatar)?

JE: Yes, we absolutely will! But there is a lot of that explored with their mentor and school headmistress, who really got them involved with the one god philosophy. But we definitely touch on the idea of where that stemmed from and what are really the roots of the Cylon monotheism culture. Where did that really stem from?

We also caught up with Glenn Whitman, staff writer on Fringe and chatted about some exclusive scoop. He was nice enough to oblige!

What exclusive Fringe scoop can you give to that isn’t out there but that won’t get you into trouble with your bosses?

GW: [laughs] Oh I have to think about that one! OK, well, next season, I can definitely tell you that we are going to be exploring the relationship between Peter and Walter, the father-son relationship and going much more into what drives those two. We love their relationship and dynamic and can’t wait to explore that!

That’s it from Day 1, folks! Same bat time, same bat channel tomorrow. But before I leave…. I believe I promised you guys a Comic-Con Costume of the Day:

Compensating for something? Oh the phallic fun! Batman pokes his gun at a lucky lady while another feminine superhero stands in the wings.
Compensating for something? Oh the phallic fun! Batman pokes his gun at a lucky lady while another feminine superhero stands waiting in the wings.

It was a tough choice out of the many…er…unusual outfits we snapped photos of today, but remember, you can find all of our pictures as supplementary coverage on our Facebook page.


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