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Posts Tagged ‘Cylons’

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Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending a free live performance by Bear McCreary and his team of world class musicians perform his original scores from the Emmy-deserving television show, “Battlestar Galactica.” It was the opening for this summer’s Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles, a consistently wonderful showcase of world music.  We’ve been going for years.  One of those hidden treasures of LA.

As indicated on these pages in January, I think “Battlestar Galactica” is fracken great.  However, I didn’t really understand how important the series was until I attended a panel last week hosted by Geoff Boucher (LA Times Hero Complex) as part of the LA Times “Envelope” Emmy screening series. Writer/creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were there, as well as stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, but the surprise was that they were joined by United Nations Senior Human Rights Official, Craig Mohkiber and United Nations Senior Political Affairs Officer, Stephen Siqueria. I guess last March, this same group sat in front of the United Nations (video links here) and discussed issues ranging from human rights accountability to peace and justice in the world. They not only talked about how these issues related to BSG, but what we as nations can learn from the decisions made in the show, both by the military, demonstrated in the series by Admiral William Adama, played by Olmos, and, on the civilian side, by President Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell.

If who haven’t seen the show, tens of thousands of human survivors have escaped annihilation from the man-made Cylons by taking refuge aboard a group of spaceships, lead by the aging warship Galactica. They begin a search for a new home planet, the mythical 13th colony, called Earth, chased by the Cylons, many that look human. As President, Laura Roslin sacrifices thousands of innocent civilians, abolishes reproductive choice, executes enemy combatants without trial and nearly steals an election over the course of the series. That was the point of the UN event and the Los Angeles event billed as “TV – making global issues relevant.” After showing clips from the series, the speakers shared how these shameful and violating acts continue for real across our world. As UN official, Craig Mokhiber said, “every nation on this planet has broken the rules of human rights,” and talked about how part of the UN mandate was to safeguard the human rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and station. This fictional series gave us all an opportunity to think and discuss human rights, justice versus revenge, punishing people who perpetrate crimes against humanity, by watching episodes that take place on a spaceship in the future.

Isn’t that amazing? A fictional television show that carries significant political and world issue relevance. Most important, BSG was entertaining, I never felt like I was being preached too. That is the true genius of Ron Moore and David Eick.  In addition, the contribution of director Michael Rymer, as Moore acknowledged that night as “the third creative force that contributed heavily to our vision.” (It was fun to see the director get credit publicly for their creative input on a television series.  It rarely happens.)

It doesn’t have to be mindless, to be entertaining. That’s why I got into filmmaking.  To tell stories that make us think, react, research, formulate an educated opinion. We understand this to be true with documentaries, but as Basil Tsiokos reminds us in the terrific blog he wrote for indiewire,”8 Documentary Dos and Don’ts,” no one needs another wrongly executed doc film that’s only about message. Basil is a programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival and was Artistic Director for NewFest for twelve years.  He screens a lot of films and knows that a documentary can be important and informative, but it still needs to be entertaining.

That was our goal for the documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” directed by Nicole Torre. The film explores our dangerous addiction to oil through candid insights from the Barons, Wildcatters, CEO’s and Roughnecks that comprise the world of Big Oil. An inside look into the culture of oil that explores the history of our dependency and how it has led us to the current energy crisis.  I’ve written about this film before here, when it premiered at AFI-Dallas and it continues to play the festivals. The issues the film addresses are important, but I believe we presented them in a fun, sometimes humorous, never boring way.

However, I am no Ron Moore. I’ve tried to write screenplays with significance, usually with them ending up being obvious and heavy.  I look forward to Mr. Moore’s television movie “Virtuality” airing June 26 on Fox about a group of astronauts who pass the time in virtual reality modules as their interactions are beamed back to Earth as a reality TV show. The new BSG series “Caprica” starts in January, about the kind of people, think us, that would create Cylons in the first place.  There is also “The Plan,” the Battlestar Galactica story from the Cylons perspective airing on Sci-Fi in November.  Directed by Edward James Olmos, a trailer was shown at the event and to quote Olmos, “it is breathtaking. It’s fantastic… I couldn’t have imagined this kind of a situation happening at the end of a show, where you would actually start at the beginning. That’s a masterful piece of understanding, Ron is a genius. Because after you see ‘The Plan,’ you’ll want to go back and view the whole series again.”

In these days of Twitter informing the world of election protests in Iran before the news can cover the story, important stories, fact or fiction, WILL FIND an audience. Smart filmmakers are figuring out how to find that audience. BSG is just one of many, many great shows on television, so why go out and spend big bucks on a crappy studio remake. If you want your film seen, it’s about getting it out there, any way possible.  In fact tonight, I’ll be watching the pilot episode of “Caprica” on DVD that was rented from Netflix. I’m sure the hope is that as a fan. I’ll like the new show as much as BSG and so when it airs, I’ll tell my friends and it will become “must see TV.” That’s forward thinking and we need more writers, showrunners and filmmakers to be looking forward and to tell the stories that have important relevance to our lives, yet still are entertaining. And so say we all!

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Last Friday I had to join all the other fans and watch “BattleStar Gallactica” at it’s normal scheduled airing time on the SciFi Channel.  Down to the final 10 episodes, I now have to wait a week to get my next fix.  I’m not use to this, you see I’ve only recently discovered this gem of television.  One of the best written shows I’ve ever seen, even better then “The Wire,” “Gallactica” blends fantasy with issues of religion, politics and human psychology.  It’s nearly an 80-hour, ever-evolving mythology about the few survivors of a nuclear genocide wandering the universe in search of sanctuary.  Heads up, if you haven’t seen the series you may not want to watch the YouTube recap attached to this blog.

Just like Steve Erickson writes in the January 2009 issue of Los Angeles magazine, I discovered the series this summer.  My friend Stefan Rhys had the mini-series and the first three seasons on DVD.  Once I started watching, I was hooked, sometimes watching 4 or 5 episodes at one time.  I couldn’t believe how good it was, with such a brilliant cast and beautiful women.  What the “frack” had I been thinking?  Even though many had raved about the show, I couldn’t get past the original ’70s cheesy show produced by Glen A. Larson and starring the late Lorne Greene.  I also don’t usually like science fiction but like Erickson writes, “Galactica is that thing that always seemed possible in science fiction but for whatever reason hasn’t been: an adult drama, built around adult relationships, that happens to be set in a science fiction context.”

It might have been Glen A. Larson’s attachment to the series that stopped me from watching.  I had never been a big fan of his television shows, (Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, Magnum P.I.) but back around 1997, I was hired as the Assistant Director on a syndicated television show, conceived by Larson, entitled “Night Man,” based on the comic book character.  Matt McColm played Johnny Domino, the misunderstood musician who battled crime as Night Man with a limited amount of super power.  He also drove a really cool car.  We had a lot of fun making the series in San Diego and I was introduced to many of the Assistant Directors that I still work with today, including on shows like “24” and a few feature films.  I also assisted for the first time, one of my favorite directors to work with, Rob Spera.  The problem was the cheesy visual effects and the writing and continuity.  I remember in one episode Johnny’s father, played by Earl Holliman, was eating a steak, even though in previous episodes his character had been established as a vegetarian.  Or when Michael Woods, who played Lt. Dann, was handed rewrites after we had shot the scene.  Funny memories now, but not at the time.  The next year it didn’t matter because Larsen took the whole production up to Canada to save a buck and we were unemployed.  The show was cancelled the following year.  On a side note, another former Glen Larsen television show, “Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century,” is being created as a 20 webisode series to premiere in 2010, as reported in Fan Cinema Today.

“Battlestar Gallactica” has never won a major Emmy, but it is no “Night Man.”  The premise is something we’ve seen dozens of times before, “Man has created robots (in this case Cylons) and the robots get smart enough that they start to be like humans and seek revenge,” but this show puts to question what it even means to be human, to have emotions.  It ties myth and imagination to the political issues of our times.  As Erickson writes, “exposing humanity at its wisest and most ruthless, its most compassionate and murderous.”  Now that’s the kind of television I’d like to be a part of, but for now I’ll enjoy the genius of Ronald D. Moore each Friday night.  For those who haven’t seen it, start with the mini-series on DVD and just try to stop, I’m warning you.  There’s nothing else like it on television, well, except maybe “Lost.” Doesn’t that start again this Wednesday?  Oh man, how am I ever going to get any work done?

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