Day 2 of Comic-Con is over and now, the Convention is really underway! Todays ScriptPhD.com coverage has a heavy focus on television, and sci-fi television to be specific. Really, is there any other kind? We spent time in the press room with the stars and producers of SyFy Channel hits Caprica and Stargate Universe, our favorite geeky physics show Big Bang Theory and the exciting (first-time ever!) Comic-Con Discovery Channel unveiling of their new scripted series Reign of the Dinosaurs. As always we try to pay hommage to the roots of Comic-Con with coverage of the design tricks behind comics and graphic novels. Additionally, we provide pictorial documentation of the costumes and happenings of the Con, and our Day 2 Costume of the Day. Complete coverage under the continue reading cut.
From the Press Room: Stargate Universe
We were delighted to start our day with the cast of one of our favorite sci-fi shows on the air, Stargate Universe, to get a little peek into the cast’s geeky sides and what they think of their characters and show.
For star David Blue, playing the ship’s resident math geek Eli Wallace, this year is a completely different experience. Last year, there was so much uncertainty about the show’s acceptance and success, while this year, the cast walks into Comic-Con confident of where they are headed. He spoke of liking the idea of Eli as a hero, the show’s surrogate for the audience. Though he admits to being a geek, he was very hesitant to play the role when he heard about it, because of his previous computer nerd role on Moonlight for fear of typecasting. But Eli is not a stereotypical nerd, and experiences a lot more emotional and character growth over the course of Season 2. “I am proud to be a geek/nerd,” Blue says. “Everything from computer programming to comic books to video games.”
We were so thrilled to hear that David was a certified Grade A USDA organic geek, that we got him to proclaim so on camera for you guys:
Ming-Na, whose character Camile Wray is far more controversial and decisive on the show, was asked right off the bat what she’d do differently in real life as opposed to her character. “Well, I wouldn’t be a lesbian,” the married actress quipped. Turning more serious, she said that she wouldn’t be as level-headed and calm as her character, who is often asked to make difficult, morally ambiguous decisions based on emotional issues. The fan’s response to Camile is largely a love-hate relationship. She’s gotten great response from the gay community, something that Na appreciates, but Camile’s escape from cliches or stereotypes is something that has resonated. The morally wrenching decisions are a staple of the show (and sci-fi television in general), and will only continue into Season 2. “You may not like her decisions,” says Na, “But I like her.”
From the Press Room: Caprica
One of the most pivotal roles in the history of sci-fi television (the first Cylon) went to a girl that didn’t even really know the significance of the part. “I didn’t know what Battlestar was before I got the role,” admits Torresani, who was not a real sci-fi geek growing up. “I actually turned it down because I didn’t want to do [Caprica]. I wanted to do [Gossip Girl-type fluff]. It’s exciting now to [realize how important the role is], but it wasn’t nerve-wracking at the beginning. When I read the pilot, she was a spoiled brat, and then she gets in a robot. We didn’t know that I was going to be a Cylon. We just thought they’d use my voice and the robot’s body.” Filming the scenes as the Cylon, Torresani revealed, involves acting next to a giant green 7′ tall stick that everyone communicates with as the Cylon. She finds that the hardest part for her as an actress are scenes as the Cylon where she can’t communicate vocally, such as being lit on fire and not being able to utter a single word. “It’s really challenging. That’s something I never thought I’d have to do.”
We started our time with executive producer David Eick with a humdingerthe question we know fans would want to ask. What has been the producers’ reaction to mixed reviews and fan division of the show, most notably from the Battlestar Galactica fanbase? “We knew to expect a much greater mix [of opinions] because we knew going in that we were not going to craft it or market it as a spin-off of Battlestar,” replied Eick. Rather than containing cheeky references to BSG or inside jokes only the audience knows, Caprica is very much its own beast. He hopes fervently that as the show finds itself and its own focus, that the audience, too, would find its own way in the show. He reminded us that the early days of Battlestar were equally contentious in terms of critical and fan opinions. “The very first Comic-Con we came to for Battlestar was like George W. Bush showing up at an ACLU rally.”
In many ways, he feels more challenged by Caprica, which lacks the ticking time-clock feel of BSG. It’s a more sophisticated style of storytelling, which is based in defining the characters and the world around then, Rome before the fall. The mythology of that world is deepened as the show progresses, and how it’s harnessed by Zoey to express herself. Eick spoke of how much more graceful and elegant Caprica is visually and content-wise, with Blade Runner being a huge influence on the producers and writers. By contrast, BSG had much more of a Black Hawk Down, action feel to it.
By the way, Ron and David have a longstanding tradition of taking a drink of tequila together before either a major show launch or major seminar/Convention. In fact, David brought the bottle and we all had a little fun. Kidding. But seriously, folks, next time you think the storylines on Caprica are getting a liiiiiiiittle wacky, just remember this picture:
Ronald D. Moore, who made a rare media appearance at Comic-Con this year, largely echoed Eick’s comments. Caprica, he maintained is a serial, and (purposefully) as different from Battlestar Galactica as possible. In an even rarer move, Moore openly self-criticized himself for some of the early hiccups of the show. He admitted that it was hard to follow, that the story was indeed confusing, but that the show gained confidence as it went on. He predicted as strong of a build-up for Caprica as the eventual success of Battlestar Galactica. Another fun tidbit that Moore revealed was that the group marriage concept was tossed around for Battlestar Galactica, but just never found the story or the characters to make it happen.
We asked Ron about his thoughts on the current state of sci-fi and what he enjoys. “I’m probably not up to speed on a lot of other science fiction,” Moore said. “I almost avoid it now because I spend so much of my time in a science fiction world that I tend not to go there. It becomes almost like more work to watch other science fiction shows. In my brain, I’m inevitably thinking ‘How does that compare to us? And that’s their structure. How many characters do they have? I wonder what their CGI budget was.’ I haven’t watched a lot of other science fiction television for that reason.” Nevertheless, he maintains that it’s a thriving genre that will always be with us, despite the rise and fall of popularity. The one holy grail Moore hopes for is a broadcast network (read mainstream) sci-fi hit. He isn’t sure what the reason is that this popularity has remained so elusive, LOST notwithstanding. “Maybe it’s just us,” he mused. “Maybe it’s just us [the collective sci-fi geekdom], and there’s not this gigantic mass market for it in television in the way that there is a gigantic mass market for movies. Maybe that will never happen.”
We here at ScriptPhD.com hope otherwise.
From the Press Room: Big Bang Theory
If Ronald D. Moore is concerned about the viability of a basic network science fiction hit, at least he can take solace in Big Bang Theory, arguably the smartest, most successful, streamlined show about science and scientists in the history of television. We had such a fun time hanging out with the actors last year, that this year, with access to the full production team, we decided to get as much scoop from the show as possible.
One thing fans would be surprised to learn, and the first question we asked right off the bat, is just how geeky the team behind Big Bang Theory is. Producer/writer Lee Aaronson, a self-certified comics and graphic novel geek, used to own his own comic book store. This is where a lot of the inspiration for Sheldon (and the rest of the team’s) love of geek culture comes from. They also have a close relationship to UCLA physics professor and the show’s science advisor David Salzberg. Often, they will write a line like “Hey guys, I was just working on [insert science here]” and let him fill in the blanks. We were wondering about that, too!
Geeky enough? Not even close. Showrunner and co-creator Bill Prady is a former computer programmer. He’s far more excited about Apple founder Steve Wozniak guest starring on the show than any fame or fortune that has incurred because of it. He and
co-creator Chuck Lorre maintained that the geek culture was their most important singular focus in writing the show. As one might glean from walking the halls of Comic-Con, they maintained that all geeks/nerds/scientists are not the same. There is a lot of heterogeneity amongst them, and differing, personal passionsbe they Star Trek or the mathematical concepts behind string theory. And where do they get all their geeky throwaway lines? “Oh, those are all available on the internet!” And THAT is why we love Big Bang Theory.
The actors themselves get right in the thick of the fun. Kaley Cuoco, playing perhaps the non-geekiest of the bunch in Penny, has nevertheless embraced geekdom. Her latest love? Her iPad! She and Johnny Galecki would both like to see a romance blossom between Penny and Sheldon (“Peldon,” joked Cuoco), but acknowledge that the road from platonic friendship to romantic involvement is filled with bumps and individual growth. Jim Parsons, who I shamelessly adore, started his time with us by telling me to shove it. He was, of course, talking about my tape recorder, but when I joked that I couldn’t believe Sheldon told me to shove it, his reply was: “And he’d tell you to shove it again and again!” Before telling Simon Helberg to bite him. Nice to know he stays in character so well!
We couldn’t leave a Big Bang Theory press room without getting our favorite superior elitist nerd to do something only for ScriptPhD.com fans. So here you have it, kids. From Jim Parsons, to you… a personal “Bazinga!”
One of THE most fascinating panels that we attended at Comic-Con so far was on the design secrets behind some of your favorite comics and book covers. A panel of some of the world’s leading designers revealed their methodologies (and sometimes failures) in the design process behind their hit pieces. An unparalleled purview into the mind of the designer, and the visual appeal that so often subliminally contributes to the success of a graphic novel, comic, or even regular book. We do, as it turns out, judge books by their covers.
We will be revealing each designer’s comments on their thought and art process, but are waiting for images from the panel to be emailed to us. So consider this a placeholder until we can finish this writeup and include it in Saturday or Sunday’s coverage. Stay tuned . . .
Graphic Novels: The Personal Touch
(From our correspondent Bryy Miller)
Some panels have mysterious names, some not so much. This one belongs in the latter category. There was no hidden meaning behind the phrase personal touch. This was all about the writers (Gabrielle Bell of Cecil & Jordan in New York, Howard Cruse of Stuck Rubber Baby, Vanessa Davis of Make Me A Woman, Larry Marder of Beanworld, Jilliam Tamaki of Skim, C. Tyler of Youll Never Know, and moderator Shaenon Garrity of Skin Horse). More importantly and interestingly, it was about who they were. Some didnt know who they were, others did, but they all knew one thing: that something inside of them needed to write.
Tamaki started off the discussion by stating perhaps the simplest answer of why she writes what she does, I think thats the only kind of book I wanna make. Davis continued by adding that anytime its going to have a personal touch. Comics can soak up the peoples idiosyncrasies and sensibilities. Marder, perhaps the odd man in the group, stated that even though his autobiography is a FANTASY, it still is an autobiography in the sense that it tells stories about his own feelings. Before anyone else could chime in, C. Tyler (arguably the oldest member of the panel) shot to life with an amazing amount of energy and playfulness. Ive taken autobiographies for granted. she started I know were at Comic-Con, but I hate superhero comics. When I read the first autobiographical comic, I was floored it was disturbing and in a comic. She went on to describe how she is fascinated with the idea of putting yourself out there, grabbing pieces of scraps from the table and showing us as if they were her life story or even her creative process in visual form. She would get extremely animated, and it really helped to humanize the element of the mysterious writers block and constant internal struggle to find how to portray your story. She ended her opening remarks with this, the personal touch for me is I do it all by hand.
Bell was the most reluctant to speak, but also, besides Tyler, the most visual. Not in the sense that she was very gesticulative or alive, but that she obviously was thinking very hard but having trouble in how to phrase her thoughts. I try to cut my personal touch out, she started, displaying the classic writer’s twitch of not looking directly at her audience [I try to] make it universal. Professional.
This instigated a very visceral response from Tyler, who on the spot tried to get into an earnest conversation with her fellow comic artist about what it means to be professional. Sadly, it didnt last that long as Bell migrated back into thought. Cruse then brought up the point that, if your content is good, then mistakes in your craft are easily overlooked by a reader. The discussion (because calling it a panel at the end would just feel weird) had reached its time limit. Cruse gave some parting advice to young writers, It will literally paralyze you to think of how many people have an idea similar to yours. Marder stated that you have to fail in public. Garrity reminded everyone to heed that advice, as Carol, Larry, and Howard have been in the comics since the seventies.
Tyler let out a self-taunting gag.
Reign of the Dinosaurs
In November of 2008, the hoi polloi at Discovery Channel approached producer Erik Nelson (Grizzly Man) with a simple request: “the ultimate kick-ass dinosaur show.” They poured enormous resources, creative and fiduciary, to create a television series that will truly break ground, both for Discovery Channel and its own medium. Scripted, yet unnarrated, scientifically stunning, yet bereft of the omniscient “talking head” paleontologist, Reign of the Dinosaurs is the ultimate exercise in “show don’t tell.” Premiering in the Spring of 2011, Reign will consist of 36 self-contained episodes erected from the art up. The stories will be chronological, detailing the rise, reign, and ultimate extinction (with a twist!) of the dinosaur species. But unlike the plethora of educational shows that cover the same topic, these will be rooted in storytelling, in treating the dinosaurs not as dinosaurs, but characters with whom we share an emotional connection. Trust me, having seen the first few world-premiere clips, you will care for these creatures, and the show will both exhilarate you and break your heart.
The true key to the success of Reign of the Dinosaurs was a dedication to amassing cream of the crop talent, formerly of Disney and Pixar, which allowed them to channel superlative animation and design talents towards an ambitious format. Along with Nelson, the team (and Comic-Con panel) consisted of renowned artists Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse’s Age of Reptiles), Tom DeRosier (Lilo and Stitch, Mulan), self-proclaimed dinosaur nerd David Krentz (Disney’s Dinosaur, John Carter of Mars), Iain McCaig (Star Wars 1, 2, and 3), Mishi McCaig (Iron Man), Pete Von Sholly (The Mask, Darkman). Along with showing the audience their two (so-far) completed “cold open” teasers that will open episodes of the show, several of the animators simulated storyboard pitches (see picture below), just like the ones they would exchange in a writers’ room for several forthcoming episodes.
Several things impressed me upon the early viewing of Reign of the Dinosaurs, aside from the stunning art direction and well thought-out design. First of all, this show is really cheeky and funny. When the writers say that they’ll give the creatures personalities, they mean it, and it’s all done through expository action rather than showy narration. An early cold open has a dinosaur, trying to soothe her babies to sleep in the wee hours of the dawn, annoyed at the incessant chirping of a smaller dinosaur deep in the forest. Finally, she marches over and does what a dinosaur would do: bites the head off of her more annoying, diminutive co-habiting pest. Literally. Secondly, the stories pack an emotional wallop. A cinema-quality sequence shown at the end, taking place post-impact of the asteroid that ultimately killed off the dinosaurs, has the post-apocalyptic feel of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road (which the illustrator said influenced him) and visual appeal of Blade Runner. The ending, a hopeful coda on the extinction of the dinosaurs as an evolutionary stepping stone for our modern birds, had me sobbing. And then giving the panel a standing ovation.
Spring of 2011 is far away in television terms, but close enough for me to say this. Be excited, folks. Be very, very excited.
From the Press Room: Reign of the Dinosaurs
Not only did we get treated to a front-row preview of Reign of the Dinosaurs, ScriptPhD.com was extraordinarily fortunate to join the Discovery creative team for an intimate roundtable discussion panel after their panel. We were able to get enormous insight into the team’s collaborative process, storytelling aims, and dedication to balancing scientific accuracy with emotional connection, all while reinventing an entire medium. Ambitious? Just slightly.
One of the first things that impressed me upon talking to the Reign of the Dinosaurs team after their panel was their sheer dedication to, almost obsession with, “getting the science right.” Mishi McCaig and Iain McCaig spoke at length about the team’s dedication to nearing the line between science and entertainment. Hugely important to the project was the involvement of renowned University of Maryland paleontologist Thomas Holz, Jr., who cross-checks and gets pitched all the storyboard ideas. The behavior depicted in the show is speculative, but based on facts. This includes the animal’s muscle movements, how they would hunt prey, how they would interactall aided by the paleontology knowledge of illustrator Dave Krentz. Ultimately, the team wants interest in the show to launch a more widespread educational initiative, which will include a Discovery multi-media website, and other supplementary materials to the show itself. Even when stories delve into the outrageous or fun, they’re rooted in research. A clip depicting high dinosaurs hallucinating was rooted in the marula tree, whose hallucinogenic fruit animals will eat and get high off of.
Producer Erik Nelson and illustrators Tom DeRosier and Ricardo Delgado spoke at length about the collaborative process of making the show, which they described like a TV writing room, only with animators. “Everyone’s sensibilities came together in a ‘hive mind’,” said Nelson. This visionary approach was important to the team, which is essentially trying to reinvent a TV genre. The last non-narrated, no-dialogue animated show was Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” back in 1938. Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since then. The team was amazed at how constructing the dinosaurs’ stories moved them, comparing their effort to “March of the Penguins,” another simple vehicle showcasing animals that was rooted in an emotional audience response. This empathy for the dinosaurs peaks with the show’s conclusion, in which the dinosaurs die out (spoiler alert!), but which is still painted in an upbeat, survivalist way, as most geologists and paleontologists agree that modern birds are the direct evolutionary ancestors of dinosaurs.
“We’re not trying to hook you as a dinosaur person,” concluded Delgado. “We’re trying to hook you as a human being.”
Two last fun tidbits from today. Last year, on Day 3 of Comic-Con, we got geeky in the press room with our friend Barry of The Ugly Couch Show. When we saw each other again this year, we thought we’d start an annual tradition. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen. Two very tired, cranky, overworked press corps members getting silly in the press room:
And last, but definitely not least, is a very worthy Day 2 Costume of the Day. These ladies hit it out of the park. Bonus points if you can tell us which comics they’re representing:
Come back tomorrow for more geeky sci-fi fun! And don’t forget to become a fan of our Facebook fan page for extra Comic-Con photos and a chance to win amazing surprise swag when we get back from San Diego.
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