Recently you had a chance to ask the writer and creator of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski, about the state of sci-fi, his body of work, and collaborating with Netflix. Below you'll find his answers to those questions.Re:Pleeeeeeeease?
by Unknown Lamer
I'd like to add to this question, since I missed my chance last time and I'm a huge B5 fan (it was on PTEN when I was a kid, and we didn't have cable so it was UHF channels for me... and then I missed season 5 entirely which led to rewatching it a couple of years ago... and hooking plenty of other people since then).
Would it be possible to have the portions that were not composited retransfered in HD, progressive scan video? And maybe the CGI portions upscaled and transferred as full frames at the original frame rate instead of being converted to interlaced/24fps video? Running a version of the filter at the previous link does result in a noticeable quality improvement, and it would be great if officially released versions didn't have to be ripped/filtered to restore the quality.
Availability in DRM-free formats (Bluray and GNU/Linux aren't really friends, and it sucks having to break the law to watch video you paid for) would be awesome too.
Of course, I hear that the rights situation with the whole PTEN explosion is likely what is preventing any of this from being possible.
JMS: In reverse order: no, you hear wrong, there's no issue with rights on the show. It's owned by Warner Bros. Always has been, always will be.
The problem is that the show was shot 16-9 but the efx were rendered in regular aspect ratio due to an issue that I was unaware of at the time. I'd assumed all cgi and comp shots were being rendered at full size. So transferring isn't a solution as they would have to be cropped and re-sized and that simply doesn't work as we've seen. (As I understand it, the DVDs are actually copies from PAL/laserdisc transfers because WB didn't want to pay for another run.) The only way to get HD versions of the episodes would be to re-render every single CGI and comp shot, and Warners will never, ever pay to have that done.
Any "loose B5 ends" that bug you?
I know that there are a few things in B5 that were mentioned, maybe touched briefly, that were hinted at and that did eventually not get the attention that I felt they were supposed to get, either because of time constraints, because actors decided to jump ship or because of reasons that I (or even we, as a whole) don't know about.
Are there any plot ideas that you were quite fond of that you could not flesh out the way you wanted them to? Any "loose ends" that you really wanted to tie up and give closure but couldn't during the series run? And, of course, why couldn't you?
JMS: I didn't look to give closure to every strand or story thread, and wouldn't do so in any event. My theory on the show as that it was a five-year timeline of this particular portion of history, much the same as you might do a documentary about the five years leading up to World War Two. The threads continue onward beyond the scope of the show because that's how life works. There are no clearly defined endings. Yes, jumping ahead, WW2 ended...but the threads in that set the stage for the cold war and everything that followed. So yes, some things in B5 got resolved, some didn't, and I'm pretty much okay with all of that.
Vorlon Takeshi's Castle is a three-edged sword
How about doing a spin-off from Babylon 5 involving a Vorlon game-show? I'm thinking of something like Takeshi's Castle.
JMS: Put your face in the book.
So, what is the story with Jeremiah? I only saw the first season and haven't been able to track down the 2nd, but I rather enjoyed what I saw of the show.
I read an interview you did where you mention that you finished the 2nd season and wrapped up what you could as best as you could and then ran like hell. What happened?
JMS:The experience shooting Jeremiah was probably the worst, most awful experience of my career, for a variety of reasons not worth getting into here, without a lawyer present. We managed -- barely -- to tell some good stories, but the day to day working on the show part was horrific beyond description. The day I delivered the last finished, mixed episode and was officially done with it I went down into the parking lot at the Vancouver stages and yelled out "Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, I'm free at last" at the top of my lungs.
Years ago, you mentioned that you signed on with Ron Howard to write a screenplay for a movie based on E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series. Is that project still in the works?
JMS: No. Universal looked at the cost of the film, which would've been close to 130M, compared it to the name value of the books to a mainstream audience, and decided it didn't justify the cost. I believe the rights have reverted back to the estate.
Would you ever take on running Doctor Who if it were offered to you?
actors across series
I've often noticed that if an actor played a speaking character in one scifi series, while looking mostly humanish, any other series they are in they have a pretty concealing costume. For Instance Mr Katsulas played a rather humanish Tomalok on Star trek, whereas his G'Kar had a pretty intense costume.
Is this done intentionally, or just coincidence?
JMS: We never looked to what was being done on other shows in that regard. So that has nothing to do with anything.
What do you think about the state of scifi on TV?
When I look back at the 90s, there was so much good science fiction on TV, Babylon 5 included. The writing was good, the stories were human and often inspirational, and above all they required a thinking audience. Nowadays, science fiction on television has become mainly action fantasy more than anything. Most of it takes place in the present day rather than the future. The shows that do start get quickly canceled off, and it seems like they're mostly pessimistic and dumbed-down. I seriously doubt a show like Babylon 5 could ever get made today, much less last more than a single season.
How do you view the current state of science fiction on television, and why has it become this way?
JMS: t's pretty abysmal, overall. The largest part of the problem is the assertion by networks that unless a story is taking place in a recognizable present, the audience can't relate to it and won't care. You can tell them this simply isn't true until you're blue in the face, it won't matter, because a prejudicial perspective isn't based in argumentation or logic, it simply is, and doesn't yield to facts.
For me, you are the father or grandfather of social TV, meaning the way you promoted Bab 5 (before, during and after) the series is more or less the methodology that many TV shows and movies have adapted. You maybe have been using NNTP (Network News) instead of Facebook or Twitter, but for me you are the first.
My question: in that context: What are show producers/runners not doing today with Social Media that they could or should be doing to engage and interact with fans?
JMS: More selfies.
Working with Netflix and the Wachowskis?
Sense 8 brings together one of my favorite creators of worlds, with one of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite companies.
What has it been like to work with the Wachowski siblings and Netflix? Has working with Netflix provided a freer avenue for creativity than a traditional television network experience offers?
JMS: It's been a terrific experience thus far, and the show is going to be unlike anything you've ever seen before. Which is all I can say about it at this time.
A Man of Many Mediums
It's probably safe to say that you have a broader range of mediums (comics, network TV, movies, and now non-network TV) than most if not all modern content creators. What would you say the best (and worst) parts of each medium are for you as a creator?
JMS: They're all of a piece to me, in the sense that the best parts are where I'm given the freedom to tell the sorts of stories I want to tell whatever the medium happens to be, and the worst parts are when I get hemmed in or gang-banged by executives. This can happen in comics or television as much as it can happen in features or fiction. For many years, writing Spider-Man was unabashed fun and creatively rewarding; the end point, when many editorial mandates were shoved down my throat, and caused it to end in ash and anger, made that part of it one of the least rewarding experiences. I'm not a "content creator," I'm a writer, and to the degree that I can tell stories with, as Balzac said, "clean hands and composure," I am happy, regardless of genre or medium. To the degree that I cannot, I am a cranky pain in the ass