FEATURE ARTICLES

BETWEEN THE REAL AND THE FANTASTIC

An Interview with Stargate's Writer/Producer, Damian Kindler


Damian Kindler "I admit, I gravitate towards the offbeat," Damian Kindler acknowledges. He joined the team of SG-1 writers in the sixth season, and hit the ground running with his script for The Other Guys, a story with a quirky sense of humor which left audiences wondering "How much was real?" He revels in that fine line between what things are and what they appear to be, a theme which he revisited in Cure, with the revelation of Egeria, Sight Unseen, and its invisible dimension, Forsaken, which introduced the Serrakin, and Memento, a world without a past. It's that sense of wonder and discovery that Damian loves to capture in his stories.

"The more straight ahead investigations, the investigation-style stories, I find, are harder for me to get completely into. Yes, they can be written, I mean, look at Cure. It's a very scientific based investigation into a culture and what they're offering, and peels back layers of the onion. I'd say I'm more character driven than plot driven. I definitely gravitate towards characters who react to seeing what the group does for the first time, whether it's Felger, or whether it's a guy named Pete [Shanahan]. I'm always curious about what the outside world thinks when they get a glimpse of what the team does. I love that. That's exciting to me, because it's very real. My love of Stargate is based on the fact that it's all set here and now. We're not on some ship 500 years in the future. We're here and now.

"I like to think that, although I do like offbeat episodes, like, obviously, Fragile Balance, and The Other Guys, and things like that, I really like the idea of the here and now impacting on the fantastic and unbelievable and alien. That contrast is what makes the show for me. So I'm always searching for that moment, the flashpoint, where people go, 'What's that big 'O' doing, and why is it going flashing, and what is this?' Because it can happen. In the show, you could go stumble onto an alien thing, and suddenly find the worlds are colliding. So I like that. I like the real humanity in the show. I definitely gravitate towards that. When something is more hermetically sealed within an alien environment, and everything's fantastical, I find it's harder to find my bearings as a writer. I don't know what an alien would say to an alien, but I know what a human would say when he met the alien! You know? So I tend to try to find a good balance between the real and the fantastic.

"What I love is the 'Things Are Not What They Seem.' In Memento, the moment of, 'They were right, and we were wrong, to forget about the past,' that moment of, 'We're standing where the stargate is and there's this huge ship above us. Oh my God, we're not alone!' as the Tagreans go, 'Okay, we really underestimated the situation!' I love that. I like the reveal of Egeria. I like the reveal of 'Don't judge a book by its cover' that Warrick is. I like the surprise, I like the twist, and I think that's a very human thing. I think that life is really surprising. Life has twists and reveals, and I think that I'm always looking for that really interesting center of the onion, once we peel back all the layers, what's in there. It has something to do with a real basic human emotion. That's the story I'm looking for."

Damian considers that search for the fantastic to be an ongoing one, an evolution of experiences and styles. "I think you can study filmmaking, and you can study literature, and you can study creative writing, but I think that you can't 'train.' It's all on the job. I've been lucky in that I've met some great writers. I've also worked with great writers in TV. And I've worked with terrible writers in TV! And the thing is, you can learn equally from both. But the worst thing a writer can do is to develop bad habits. There are a lot of writers out there who have the bag of tricks, and the tricks are all the same, and they've been using them for twenty years, and they just sort of cycle them. They just throw out the stories about the lawyer and this, and the stories about the cop and that, and they just throw them all out. I've never ever tried to nail down any kind of technique or approach because I'd like to think I'm constantly evolving, and my best writing is still ahead of me. There's a lot I can learn, and I never want to think I've got a complete handle on it because then I think I'm not learning. I want to think, this will be a challenge, I'm going to try my best, I'm going to be open to as many ideas as I can. But I'll definitely learn, because there's other ways it can be done. I never think I've nailed down my writing. I think there's always room for improvement. And I'll probably feel like that until I die of natural causes."

Part of that learning experience is rooted in science fiction, but it is the drama of a story that Damian finds exciting. "Sci-fi is where I have been for most of my career, but I love writing 'drama' drama. It's funny, I really love to watch dramas that aren't sci-fi. It's not like I absorb sci-fi. I don't watch other sci-fi shows all the time. I keep up with it. I watch things like Buffy and Firefly, and I do see Andromeda. I keep up with it out of professional interest, but it's more professional interest than if I had my druthers. I'm much more a kind of a reader. And I watch the odd DVD collection. I guess I just don't draw the lines. I mean, I like sci-fi a lot. It's sort of where my childhood resides. I was so into sci-fi as a kid, Star Trek, Star Wars, Batman, Space 1999, Dr. Who. The world of the fantastic was always very big for me as a child. So I'm still living the childhood dream of doing this. But I think that I find anything that has human value in the drama very attractive. So I can't say there's one type of writing that I'm attracted to more than any other. This is just where I am right now. Who knows where I'll end up?"

Among those writers he admires, he counts several with whom he has had the privilege of working. "Without publicly kissing ass and blowing smoke, I've always liked the way Rob Cooper writes. He's got a great eye for plot, and for character, and detail. And Brad writes really good sci-fi. He writes sci-fi where you're left kind of wondering about the fate of our lives. He writes dark, and I really admire that in him. He can go to the dark places. I mean, he wrote Unnatural Selection. Wonderful. His Outer Limits are just awesome. For such a sunny happy guy, he's got a very dark way of writing sometimes! But I love that. I'm very admiring.

"I've worked with guys like Reuben Leder, who I worked with on Kung Fu, who has a real kind of fun approach. He wrote for Magnum P.I. for years, and brings a real fun, boyish kind of approach to the way he writes, and I like that. Hart Hanson is a guy I've known on and off. He writes for Judging Amy and other shows, and he's a more dramatic writer, not a sci-fi writer, but he did write The Nox on this show. He has a really fun approach. He writes character well.

"Obviously I'm a big fan of people like Aaron Sorkin. I'm inspired by [his dialogue]. Dialogue is literally like soloing when you know the tune. If you don't know the tune, the dialogue will ring false. If you know the tune, the dialogue's going to flow like water. And he's like that. He's sort of like, 'I know what this scene is about, I know what I need to set up, I know what's coming.' He's got an amazing aerial view of the story, and then he just dives into a particular section of it, and just starts ripping. And it's wonderful. I watched all the Sports Nights on DVD recently, and I was just inspired by how he trusted his actors. And the actors picked up the ball and ran with it. Sometimes his dialogue is just kind of ridiculous blabbering, but this stuff felt real, it felt erotic, it felt that there was great subtext, and it knew when to shut up and it knew when to really unleash. So I really like him.

"Some David Kelley, I think is wonderful. Some of it I think is a little beyond reality. But there's drama out there that I really like. I love writing like Kenneth Lonergan's smaller film he did with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo about the brother and sister in a small town [You Can Count on Me]. There are some movies out there where I just think this feels so real to me. There are people I know whom I admire, and there are people who I just admire professionally, and I'm really inspired by certain writers. I love Michael Chabon, who wrote a book called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and The Wonder Boys, and he just wrote the first draft of the new Spider-Man sequel.

"So there's all sorts of sources, and I think that it's good to have many different mentors as opposed to one, because then you have a broader horizon. I swear to you, I think I'm very, very much a work in progress. Five years from now, I'm hoping I don't recognize what I was doing now, because it'll be so much more assured and focused. I still feel like I'm finding the process of discovering a style. I love writers whose scripts have one thing going for them above all, which is 'I have something to say.' Aaron Sorkin's like this. 'I am going to say something about the death penalty, or about abortion, or drugs, or crime, or politics.' I like that. I think that you try to find that 'Here's what I'm trying to say,' rather than 'I'm just trying to distract or entertain you.' And I think that only comes as you keep at it and get older."

Season seven saw five more scripts from Damian Kindler, and a new sense of discovery within the familiar story arcs of the series. "I tend to think of unique situations based on a particular place within a story arc," he explains. "In season seven I had been very focused on Carter. Look at the episodes I wrote for season seven, which is Fragile Balance, Space Race, Evolution part one, and then Grace and Chimera. Space Race, Chimera, and Grace are all Carter episodes. Evolution is a lot to do with Daniel, but there is some Carter in it, and Fragile Balance is very much an O'Neill story. But the three are about Carter. I was thinking about it recently that I had kind of a mini agenda coming into season seven, which was I really wanted to write some good Carter stories. I was kind of obsessed with her character and the journey she was on, and I so admired the character and admired the way Amanda plays her, that I wanted to sort of investigate the arc of her character. And these three episodes that deal with her, do that. They explore her need for adventure, they explore her need for love, her need for reconciling the past and embracing the future, and it's been wonderful. Rob was great about saying, this is what we want to do with Carter this year. We want to have her go through these wonderful journeys, and delve into some heavy stuff, and come out the other end quite happy, and reconcile some things that have been looming over the past few seasons. I wanted to investigate these key moments in Carter's journey as a character, and I think we did in season seven really well.

Season seven also brought about the completion of Fragile Balance, an episode that had been in the works in many forms for several years. With its unique outlook, Fragile Balance provided the opportunity for a Jack-centered story without the full-time presence of Richard Dean Anderson, a bit of a balancing act in itself. The uncanny performance by guest star Michael Welch as Young Jack O'Neill, and the curious story ending spawned discussion and speculation across the internet. "We talked about it," Damian acknowledges. "We did talk very much about that scene, about that ending. If you recall, Real O'Neill says to him, 'High school??' I mean, you're differentiating at this point, which is important. They're not the same guy, exactly, based on just this adventure. You know, if I took your brain, and put it in the body of a 15 year old or your 15 year old body, and you spent a week and a half doing whatever, very quickly you would be different than the person you are now. You're like, 'Well this is a whole different ballgame. I'm 15. I know everything!'

Space Race

Fragile Balance

"Here's what made us go this way. Someone, it could have been me, or Rob, or anyone, said, 'Wouldn't you want to go back and do it again, knowing what you know, if you could go back in time, and have that chance, but have the knowledge you have now? I saw him as saying, 'I screwed around in high school, and then went into the Air Force, and maybe it would have been better if I had maybe learned some more. Based on all the smart asses I ended up working with later on, maybe it's time for me to kind of go gather my rosebuds while I could, and take it more seriously, and just enjoy that time of my life.' There were lines in there which got removed, but he's basically saying, 'I didn't like being a teenager the first time, but I think I could like it this time. And I'd like another crack at it.' And that's the sentiment that I think we were suggesting, which is it's never too late to go back and enjoy your youth. I think this O'Neill, this side of O'Neill, is saying, 'You don't have to go do this, because you're an old fart now, and you're still going to stay an old fart. I'm you, but I'm not an old fart anymore. I can't do what you're going to do. I can't keep going on missions and kicking ass, and then eventually retire and fish. I have to live the life of a teenager, so I might as well embrace it with gusto.' And I think that's what O'Neill would do if he was in that situation, and I think that's what he does.

"I think we might see him again. I think there could conceivably be missions where O'Neill's brains and savvy and experience in the guise of a younger boy would be invaluable in infiltrating certain situations, especially, after seven years, the galaxy's kind of getting the hang of who this Jack O'Neill is. And they're going to go, 'There he is! Five miles away - blow him up!' Whereas, along comes Young Jack, and you go, 'Who the heck are you, little boy?' And he goes, 'Well, I can field strip a P-90 in three seconds and kill you in five ways, and talk your head off.' So I think all that's wonderful. I think, although it is a little suspect that this 50 year old guy is sitting there, looking at teachers and wondering if maybe he should ask her out, I think all that's fun. I think it's got a fun open-endedness to it."

The stories for season eight are now already well underway, and Damian is juggling the responsibilities of both writing and production. "There's so many things beyond just the writing that you have to pay attention to, casting, edits, prep meetings, staying in contact with what other things are happening, scripts that are about to be written, or in the process of being prepped." Still, there's plenty left to discover, and with Stargate already three years beyond its anticipated final season, there is no shortage of ideas. "Some ideas are from the past, ideas that didn't go last year or the year before, but maybe if I changed the approach they might be receptive. And some ideas are ideas that just come to me as I'm falling asleep or what have you. So, yes, there's always something creatively in the reservoir that comes bubbling up when you know that there might be a home for those stories." This year, with the luxury of an early renewal, there was time to look ahead, to adjust the end, and to turn what might have been a conclusion into another twist and turn of a story arc. "I'm going to say it," Damian smiles, "That's the beauty of the concept, that you can always delay the destination, and create more stops on the train." With Stargate's successful track record, who can guess where that train might end up?

****************

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN...

Many questions were submitted by fans hoping to hear an answer from the cast, crew, and production team behind Stargate SG-1, and several questions were selected for this interview. Here is how Damian Kindler responded to the fans...

From: gcardaminis
I was wondering where you get the ideas for each week's episode?
Thank you.
George Cardamenis

Damian Kindler:
It's really a collaboration. Fragile Balance was by Peter [DeLuise] and Michael [Greenburg]. It was ironic, because we were trying to address the reality that we didn't have Rick for as many days as we did last year, because his schedule was cut shorter, so he's not so available. So we began to discuss ways that we might be able to have O'Neill stories without O'Neill in them. We discussed this idea, and we broke the story, and as we were talking about it with Michael, he said, 'You know, that's so much like Fragile Balance.' And we said yeah, it is. This is the Fragile Balance take we've been looking for that really works. And he loved it, and so we were sort of meshing new ideas with old, and it came together, and I got the privilege of writing the teleplay. So I was involved in breaking the story, and got to write the screenplay. When you write the teleplay you really do bring a lot of those kind of moments to life, to make these decisions of how it's going to work, although, definitely, it was based on a great story concept by Peter and Michael. I was lucky to get to execute it.

Evolution was based on an idea I had, a sort of a pitch, that ended up gelling well with some ideas from Peter [DeLuise], and we ended up taking story credit on both. Michael Shanks actually supplied a very interesting idea, so he and I share story on part one, and Peter and I share story on part two. I wrote the teleplay for part one, Peter wrote the teleplay for part two.

So you can see how everybody's sort of melding together in the creative process. What happens often is Rob or Brad or someone will say, 'I really want to do a story about this.' For example, with Space Race, Rob came back once we started breaking stories for season seven and said, 'Hey, I really want to bring back Warrick from Forsaken. I want to do an episode where we go to his planet and get involved in some kind of a big adventure Ben-Hur.' And inevitably one of us responds, 'Oh, that's wicked!' You know, having created the character of Warrick, and the Hebridians, and the Serrakin, and all that in Forsaken, I thought, this is such an honor to have someone say, 'I love the world you suggested, let's widen it.' So Space Race turned out wonderfully. The effects are mind blowing. And it was a pleasure to write that.

A lot of these come from Rob kick starting something, or somebody saying 'I want to do this,' and then everybody gets excited and gets involved. So even though an idea may initially come from one person, the entire group gets involved in how that story is actually done, and one writer is actually given the task of taking it and shepherding it through to the final stages of the script.

Avenger 2.0 was an idea Rob had, too. He sort of said, 'I want to bring back Felger and have him massively screw up.' And we all went, 'Exxxcellent! This will be perfect!' And just, luck of the draw, Joe and Paul got the script and I thought they did a fantastic job. Actually, at first I was like, 'I created Felger! I want to write Felger!' But then, when I stopped whining, I thought, 'Well this is exciting. I want to see how they write him, what their take is. And they did a great job. I love Avenger. Avenger is hilarious. It has the same tone as The Other Guys. It's very wacky. And I just love Patrick McKenna. So they picked up the ball well. If we ever see Felger again, it might be my turn. I don't know.

Some of them are like Grace, where I literally had a dream of a cool sci-fi episode dealing with Carter on a ship alone and facing all sorts of personal issues as she tries to stay alive. I literally came into the office the next day and said, 'Rob, I had this dream, and it was this.' And he was like, 'Oh yeah, we can do that,' because he had an idea about a monster ship that gets in a battle with the Prometheus. Well, let's marry them together, and let's see, and I said it's perfect. And that turned out wonderfully.

Other ideas, for instance Chimera, Rob said, 'I want to do an episode about Carter and a boyfriend, and about O'Neill, and about Osiris and Daniel.' And he said, 'I'm very busy. You're going to write it!' And we sat down in his office, and I picked up a big pad of paper, and wrote down five pages of stuff as he went 'blablablablabla', and I went, 'Great!' Came back and gave him more stuff and he went, 'Great!' Then I wrote scripts and drafts over the hiatus. So then you get his story idea, my take on it, his reaction to that, and everything comes out well. So the more people involved in a story's birthing process and development, the better here. This is why I hope that this team will stay together, because the results speak for themselves. It's exciting.

From: MROBB2318
I'm sure you've probably all gotten this question many times by now. It's of course regarding the very "hot" topic of the Sam and Jack relationship. I was wondering if there will be a "happy" resolution for the Sam and Jack relationship? I absolutely love the UST between the 2 characters, but would love, in the very end for them to finally have a happy ending together. Keep up the great work and I can't wait for more!
Sincerely,
Michelle R

Damian Kindler:
You are a shipper? Well, the shippers will canonize me and then lynch me. They'll canonize me when they see Grace, and then they'll probably want to lynch me when they see Chimera. But Rob's got a credit on Chimera too! Story by Rob, teleplay by me, so they can complain to us both. The idea is we are going to address Carter's relationship with O'Neill. We are going to address it. We are not going to conclude anything. We're going to address it, actually fairly head on. In Grace there's a moment of reckoning between them, in a sense. It's quite a surreal moment, but it's a real moment. She has to basically address some very heavy issues in her life in order to find a reason to keep going, and one of those big reasons to keep going is O'Neill. There's another big reason, but O'Neill is one of the final reasons, her feelings for O'Neill and the hopelessness of what she's been going through. It does in a way come out and resolve itself to a point. We understand why Carter has feelings for O'Neill, and what that has been doing to her for seven years. But! In Chimera, she gets a boyfriend.

I'm trying to stir the pot in a way. I would tell all the shippers to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, about two people that are in love from the moment they meet as children, but don't get together til they're 90. It's like Scully and Mulder, the moment they kiss, the show has lost its mystique. I would never do that. Not only is it not fair to the show, but it's not fair to the characters. The characters carry this wonderful tension within them, because the moment you actually start to act on these feelings, the wonderful kind of caring relationship that we've been working on is destroyed. You need that balance. And it's a terrible ecstasy and tension. But I would tell the shippers, just enjoy it! What would you do if it was over?

From: bassmantl5
Is Daniel Jackson's grandfather ever going to return from the giant alien planet?
Thank you for the great shows.
Jim Herlinger
Amelia, Ohio

Damian Kindler:
We referenced Nicholas in Evolution. That is actually the part of the plot that Michael contributed. So Daniel used his grandfather's diaries as a way to sort of connect the dots and find his way into these Mayan temples in Central America. So that's the only reference. Really it's a passing reference, but it's quite an important piece of information supplied by Nick to Daniel. I don't know if he's alive anymore. I mean, he's obviously disappeared somewhere off with the crystal skull. But we do reference him, so you never know. I know he's so loved, but we sort of tease you with that. There's no plans to bring back Nick Ballard because we haven't yet found a story where it makes sense for him to reappear.

From: dc_wray
Any plans for Maybourne to return? He and Jack work so well together, even if they don't get on with one another!
Diana
London, England

Damian Kindler:
I'd like to think so. We love Maybourne. He's out there. He's out there with concubines, and shirtless men with big palm leaves, and I think probably a coconut drink somewhere, going, [doing a passable Tom McBeath impression] 'Jaaack…! This is a good deal!' I would say I doubt we could resist bringing him back for season eight.

____________________
Ritter, Kate. "Between the Real and the Fantastic." July 23, 2003.


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