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Interviews: J. Michael Straczynski Answers Your Questions 67

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.
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?
by Opportunist

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
by hawkinspeter

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.

by beukerc

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.

Lensman movie
by grylnsmn

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.

Doctor Who
by jasper160

Would you ever take on running Doctor Who if it were offered to you?

JMS: Totally.

actors across series
by doas777

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?
by mrxak

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.

Social TV
by hhawk

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?
by PortHaven

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
by ThomasBHardy

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
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Interviews: J. Michael Straczynski Answers Your Questions

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  • Conspicuously absent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @12:05PM (#46640003)

    The massive thread about World War Z is missing.

    • And probably it can't be - sadly.

      Legally it can be challenging to release early drafts of the script â" there are in a weird in-between state between the original book and the final product. Also, you don't want to burn your bridges. Piss off people by doing a tell all and you can't get them for your next project. Brad Pitt's input on this project may have been iodic but you many need Brad Pitt (or his wife) in a future project.

      Slightly off topic, but this is one of the reasons why I am interested in s

  • No one asked him about The Office, that shitty whale movie, or the annoying esurance insurance commercials?

  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @12:23PM (#46640153)

    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.

    I just want to say one word to you, just one word.


    I mean Kickstarter.

    • I mean Kickstarter.

      I thought it was 'Blender'?

      Seriously, though, the fans should pick one scene, just one scene, probably one without any film matting (and not the gathering at Corriana 6!), and nail it - render the bloody thing in 4K while you're at it.

      That will build confidence in doing another scene, attract more contributors, etc.

      If there's enough momentum WB will be forced to act. They can either C&D the fans and cause a shitstorm, farm it out to their cronies at a "real" effects house, or hire th

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @12:57PM (#46640523) Homepage

      You did not read his answer clearly.

      Warner OWNS it, they have no desire in any way to do anything at all with the property. we are lucky as hell to get the DVD's. It was a bastard child as far as the executives were concerned and unless someone make them see that there is a 1.2Billion dollar profit in re-rendering the CGI they dont care. It will die in their vaults as an unloved redheaded step child.

      Read his book, he covers how studios are ran by the worst most evil people on the plant that are only interesting in whoring things out and gleefully crush dreams.

      • Babylon 5, really got the shorter end of the stick, I am just happy that they were able to complete the series. Unlike Crusades.
        But With Star Trek:Deep Space 9 with a similar concept and close story line going on at the same time, it really saturated the market. DS9 also had the advantage of having a familiar universe so we didn't need as many slow episodes at the start trying to explain the players involved.
        For example: The Narn vs Centari conflict, Membari Religion, Human Membari War, Psi Corp... These c

        • Don't get me wrong, I loved B5, and today, imho it's just behind the newer BSG as best sci-fi of all time. That said, the first series wreaked of day-time soap opera in terms of the acting. It got better, but lets be serious here... Again, loved the show, but wish they could re-shoot the entire first season with better acting, and a slight bump in the dialog.
          • B5 was meant to be like a soap opera with long story arch. But I think the stories in the first season were just too serious. The few that I liked is when there was an assassin out to kill G'Kar, which actually gave us a glimpse of the real G'Kar and not just B&W villain they made him in the first season. And the episode where they went to Babylon 4. Mostly because I like Zath'ras

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Warner OWNS it, they have no desire in any way to do anything at all with the property. we are lucky as hell to get the DVD's. It was a bastard child as far as the executives were concerned and unless someone make them see that there is a 1.2Billion dollar profit in re-rendering the CGI they dont care. It will die in their vaults as an unloved redheaded step child.

        It's only a weird 20 year old unloved redheaded step child of a TV show until someone shows an interest. If anyone with a big enough wallet went to them and said I want to redo it in HD, then it's 24 carat gold in a vault and they think like Battlestar Galactica type of remake. Much like the companies that wanted to port AAA games to Linux, they were thinking about covering porting costs and tuning a small profit to stay in business, the studios saw dollar signs and wanted millions up front for the right to

    • Even without fans doing it, JMS really shouldn't say never. It took many years for Star Trek TOS to be released with CGI effects. The same could happen to B5, but it's a lot more likely if JMS made some more series set in that universe.
      • Actually, this could be a huge opportunity for fans. Not only is it possible today to do virtually perfect motion matching for the space scenes, but applying the techniques of photogrammetry to the CGI space footage could yield great initial data for exact (and perhaps later improved) replicas of the original models, even without access to them. I mean, someone could do it for a thesis. 3D reconstruction is a big thing these days.
        • An omission that sort of distorts the message: I meant to say "Not only is it possible today to do virtually perfect motion matching for the space scenes with cheap software, on home PCs"
    • After the failure to honor the promise made to the Veronica Mars movie funders, I would hope that the community would have the good sense to not fund the projects of multi-million dollar studios that would gladly screw them.
      • by Pope ( 17780 )

        We got a movie. What else was promised?

        • I guess Frovingslosh is upset over the fact that the Kickstarter backers didn't get DRM free copies
          • Exactly. Backers were promised DRM free copies of the movie (for already paying $35 or more if I remember right, which I seldom do.) Once they had paid the studio decided not to honor the promise. What better way to encourage piracy than to cheat the people who already paid? Running Kickstarter campaigns for rich fat cats with deep pockets is a chumps game.
    • 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.

      That's simply not a true statement.

      To his first issue (aspect ratio). There are two possible solutions.
      1) Release in 4:3. There's nothing in the HDTV spec that prevents you from putting black lines on the left and right sides.
      2) Change aspect ratios when CGI is present (this commonly happens in movies. Batman: Dark knight uses something like 4 aspect ratios)

      To his second issue (resolution of CGI): So what. I know fan communities that could reproduce the graphics and have done similar. What they cannot redo

      • Though honestly: I think it might be better if B5 was just reshot entierely. There are plot threads that didn't get cleaned up because of unexpected changes mid season (though Talia had a grand exit that, while bringing a sudden end to some plots, was actually very well done, the other two created gaping holes in how the series unfolded). There were, bluntly, cheap-looking sets which would likely not be helped by a higher resolution (See shows like Farscape for better set use). The acting was something of a

        • by Anonymous Coward

          "The visual aspects—special effects and alien-species makeup—are excellent. But the stories falter.

          The comic relief—embodied in Peter Jurasik and Stephen Furst as Centauri, a fan-haired race with Balkan accents—is trite. Bui the scripts are feeblest when they ape the philosophical tenor of the current Star Trek franchises. Babble on, space dudes. "

          David Hiltbrand, People Magazine, 1994. []

          • The comment might be warranted if you only looked at the first season. But if you look at the 2nd and 3rd seasons it becomes completely different. The first season is mostly episodic. However once it introduces the concepts it changes. A lot.

      • From what I understand, they didn't retain the raw greenscreen footage. The space scenes actually don't look too bad on DVD, but the green screen'd actors with CGI backgrounds look really really dated. Those are the ones that most need redoing and there's no way for fans to do them. It would also be nice to have the space shots redone, because modern video games manage to look better with realtime rendering, but they no longer have the original model (and they'd probably need redoing anyway). This is so

  • Are we ever going to see the answeres to the RMS and Theo da Farther interview from February and March?

    • Are we ever going to see the answeres to the RMS and Theo da Farther interview from February and March?

      that was supposed to be "Raddt" stupid auto correcting touchscreen keyboard...

  • What's with the stall... man?
  • Glad to have lived in a time when great writers like JMS passed this way.

  • Oh dear god.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @12:53PM (#46640481) Homepage

    Only 2 questions asked him were worth asking, everything else was the crap that would make him stand up and scream. "GET A LIFE PEOPLE!" This is why I feel really bad for any speakers at comic con, all they get are the retarded, "what is Character X had sex with character Y would you have a spin off game show with the child?"

    You guys had one of the best writers/producers/directors out there and most of the questions chosen to present to him were clunkers or wierd nerdgazim crap.

    I knew Slashdot was declining, but not this fast.

  • Babylon 5!!!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Phloom ( 1969944 )
    There is one absolute and unconditional truth in the universe, Babylon 5 is the greatest television show ever.
  • Short, and a shame I missed the call for question submissions, I was reading back when JMS was posting as the episodes aired, would've liked to get in a few reminisces.

  • I'm sure the fx would cost considerably less nowadays, and frankly some of the original episodes were a bit formulaic (a necessary evil of producing a series under network auspices back in the nineties - quality be damned, just get it out on time and under budget, viewers aren't that smart anyhow . . . ).

    Still one of the best science fiction television series' of all time, IMHO. Unfortunately, Warner is still one of the aforementioned network studios - the rights will probably never be granted to anybody,

  • I hate to call B5 "Space Opera" because it was fragging awesome and one of the best shows ever.. but there seems to be no Space Opera at all on TV anymore since Stargate and Galactica ended. Except perhaps for the odd episode of Dr Who I guess, but otherwise.. nothing. Unless I've missed something.

    I was brought up on Star Trek. Surely someone out there in TV land must have the means of brining a decently plotted and good looking Space Opera back to our screens?

    • If you don't mind subtitles then watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes []. It's the only thing that beats Babylon 5 for depth and scope and themes that you will ever see. It's a direct line-for-line, scene-for-scene adaptation of a series of Japanese sci-fi novels so, like Babylon 5, it's obviously very tightly written. With two movies and 108* episodes it is epic in scope. It's written by a historian and I swear has more characters than Game of Thrones, all of whose names you will remember. As a sci-fi junkie,
  • Lensman Series (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ImprovOmega ( 744717 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @02:03PM (#46641259)
    While I would love to see the Lensman series made into movies, it's got some major hurdles to overcome. Hollywood and steampunk so far have not gotten along (and the series is basically steampunk in space to modern sensibilities) - Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow tanked, as did Sucker Punch. Then as it is written from a 1930's - 1940's perspective it is deeply misogynistic all throughout. Women are largely window dressings except for one major character who is ignored or used as a damsel in distress as much as possible. Also deeply ironic would be all the CGI required to pull off production of it when computers are mentioned a total of once in the series, and no character is seen using them.
    • Weird thing about that misogyny: the novels explicitly state that equality between the sexes is one of the foundations of Civilization. Something of a jarring statement when one reads the books, and notes the number and significance of female characters. Still I also would like to see it, and agree with you that it's not likely.

    • Women are largely window dressings except for one major character who is ignored or used as a damsel in distress as much as possible.

      Clarissa MacDougall was eventually upgraded to an actual character. By the time Children of the Lens came around, she was a mental match for her husband. "Doc" Smith was one of several Golden Age writers who actually moved with the times. The Golden Age faded, but at least the survivors lost some of their prejudices.

  • I recently rewatched "Jeremiah" streaming online, and finally got to see the second season.

    The tone of the story changed from season 1 to season 2. I enjoyed season 1 more, but I liked them both.

    "Jeremiah" was a pretty decent show.

  • In the early days of the web, the Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5 was among a handful of sites I visited regularly (along with this one). Probably my first "wiki"-experience.

    I'm not sure the show would have done as well as it did, if internet growth hadn't started exploding right along the same time. Net activists pulled that show back from the brink of cancellation several times.

  • "...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..."

    Considering the processing power today in 2014 vs 1994-1998 (series run years), fans could probably render all the CGI scenes into HD on their Ipads between watching videos of cats over the span of a weekend:

    For example:
    Intel Pentium 90 (March 1994)
    Transistor Count: 3.2 million
    Clock Speed: 90 MHz
    Process Scale: 600 nm
    Thermal Design Power: 9 Watts
    CTP B

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That is not the problem.

      The problem is that WB were retards and outright destroyed the CGI assets - models, textures, scene files, down to demanding that no copies to be retained by the FX studios. Also both FX houses are long gone - both Foundation Imaging (early seasons) and Netter Digital (later seasons) having gone bankrupt in the years since B5.

      Everything would have to be redone from scratch. Artist looking at SD copy off a DVD, re-doing a similar higher-fidelity scene (and re-framing everything to 16:

  • by theguyfromsaturn ( 802938 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @03:25PM (#46642051)

    Not counting soap opera vamps anyways. Not really sci-fi since monsters of that type are folkloric in orginin, not scifyee. So, if we agree to exclude vamps and zombies (tiresome boring buggers), is there a single actual scifi show on TV? I honestly wanna know. I've been looking for one for a while now.

    • Rick and Morty -from cartoon network surprisingly

      it's on monday nights and the 8 or so episodes have been pretty 'science-y' so far -hope it remains popular enough to continue

      I think anime has probably replaced live action tv as the best venue for SciFi these days (too bad about SyFy)

      toonami (Adult Swim Sat nites) currently has IGPX, Ghost in the Shell, Sym-bonic Titan and Space Dandy which are all sc-fi-ish (not so much IGPX) and until recently had the exc
    • by surph3r ( 680588 )
  • I write this as replies to this thread.

    I don't know exactly what that means, but I know that it shows that even among the nerd-centric how short our memories are for off-camera media production folks, even when the shows that those people worked on are certainly nerd-centric. I wonder if Chris Carter or even Ron Moore would do much better.
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