Battlestar Galactica Interview Transcript (Parts II and III)
This post contains Parts II and III of the transcript of our interview with Ron Moore and David Eick, the creators, producers, and writers of the TV show Battlestar Galactica. Joe Beaudoin, Jr., the project leader of the Battlestar Wiki, transcribed the interview for us. We edited the transcript, but the bulk of the work was done by Joe. The transcript is also posted at the Battlestar Wiki, which has a ton of great information for fans of the show. In editing the transcript, we took the liberty of cleaning up grammatical errors and eliminating “ums” and other distractions in order to make it more readable.
Our interview explores the legal, political, and economic dimensions of the show. Part II (see below) examines politics and commerce. Part III (see below) examines the cylons. Daniel Solove, Dave Hoffman, and Deven Desai pose the questions to Ron Moore and David Eick.
Click here to read Part I of the interview transcript, which examines the legal system, morality, and torture.
PART II: POLITICS AND ECONOMY
Dave Hoffman: I’m going to explore with you some of the political and economic themes in the show. Just like the [topics of the] legal system and torture that we’ve been talking about, [let's discuss] the [Colonials'] political and economic systems under severe stress. I wanted to talk a little bit about the economy to start.
So in the [season two] episode “Black Market,” we learn that their current economic system looks like Soviet-era Russia with a state-run distribution of economic goods, supplemented by a black market [with] luxury [items] and medicines. [Earlier], in [season one's] “Bastille Day,” we learn that the Fleet has engaged in forced labor in the past. Finally, we know from [season three's] “Dirty Hands,” and maybe after “Dirty Hands,” that there’s a work rotation in place. All these systems imply an absence of a market economy. We know very little, however, about how the economy is supposed to work. Was this a deliberate dramatic choice?
David Eick: Before either of us answers, I just want to say that I’m sorry that [Dave] mentioned ”
Black Market.” I meant to sent a memo before this that no one was allowed to bring that up.
Hoffman: What’s wrong with “Black Market“?
Eick (laughing): Oh nothing!
Ron Moore: Not one of my favorites.
Hoffman: Ah. . . .
Moore: [Regarding] the economic system, we started from the assumption [that] the Colonial society that was destroyed was very analogous to our own [American society]. It was a capitalist society; it was a democratic society. The culture was very similar [to our own]. We wanted all those touchstones. We assumed that there was an economic system very similar to that in which we operate now. We then started thinking in broader terms: Okay, there’s Twelve Colonies. Each one is on its own planet, [and] they probably have a lot of variation [between] them. Probably more than the states [in the US] do between them, but maybe not [as much] as nations do between them. [The variation among them is] in some sort of middle ground between the two, [with] a certain amount of autonomy to each Colony, but they were in some federal existence.
Also, [they were] in some kind of trade partnership with one another [with] some commonwealth [like] notion. Then, after the apocalypse and the exodus from the Twelve Colonies, now [the people are] just in space, in just these ships. At that point, you had the top-down system. “Okay, we’ve got to distribute; we’ve got to divide up the supplies; we have to ration certain things; we have to make sure everyone is getting fed, everyone is getting clothed, everyone has fuel for their ships.” It just felt like there had to be this very strong hand of authority from above.
But as things went on [the] black market would develop. Naturally, there would be the impulse to return to capitalist systems [and] that the market would assert itself. There would be a tension. The idea of the episode, “Black Market” — which was a little too complex for television (and certainly in the way we went about it) — was to try to illustrate that tension. Okay, here Laura [Roslin] is trying to guide them back to a market-driven system and introduce a currency [in an attempt to] move them off of an authoritarian scheme, but the black market was already getting more and more powerful. It was starting to devolve into power bases, and ruthlessness, and killings, and all these other things. It was supposed to be an episode to try to say: “The market will be heard even in that place, and you have to make some accommodation for the fact that people will be people. They will always try to trade what they have, and they will always seek out what they don’t have.”
A scene from the episode “Black Market”
Hoffman: So you guys don’t feel like that episode succeeded as dramatically as you hoped it would. Is that one of the reasons you haven’t returned to trying to figure out what daily economic life looks like on a civilian ship?
Moore: Partially, but also we were scalded by the experience dramatically. ["Black Market"] failed dramatically as a character piece and as a story. I just wasn’t satisfied with it. It’s also limited by the fact that, in a production sense for the show, production constraints are such that we have a great difficulty setting episodes aboard other civilian ships. It’s very, very expensive and requires a lot of resources. We’ve generally chosen to put those resources into other areas, instead of completely setting up civilian society and an economic system somewhere else and really explore it.
But we’ve done a little bit [in that regard]. In “Dirty Hands,” we went over and saw conditions aboard the [tylium] refinery ship and [explored the issue of] labor. [Also,] we brought civilians aboard Galactica in season three and put them downstairs in the hangar deck [a.k.a. "Dogsville"]. We wanted this [civilian group] to be its own little socioeconomic sub-group, but it just never quite pulled the drama for us as storytellers. We just kept on finding other things to do.
Eick: As Michael Rymer (our producer [who] directed the mini-series and [our] most memorable episodes) likes to say — he’s Australian — “when I do somethin’, I do it prop’rly.” It’s very difficult to do stories like that “prop’rly” because, as Ron was saying, [we have limited] production resources. And you’d be surprised [at how difficult it is to] cram the density of stories like this into 40 minutes. (That’s what an hour of TV is now — 40 minutes.)
Since it’s difficult, you find yourself left to make the decision to spend those resources [between] the areas [of]: “Let’s build a new ship. Let’s do this, let’s do that.” Then you get into the cutting room and the episode’s 20 minutes too long. Guess what goes? All the stuff you spent your resources building because the reality of the show [is that it] ultimately wants to be about these people in the places that the audience has been accustomed to seeing them. [By spending your resources building unique sets and other trappings] it just becomes a luxury you can’t afford either economically or time-wise. I think eventually we gave up trying to make that a staple of the show.
It’s worth mentioning that in the selling of the show, we had to go to great lengths to assure the network that the show would not be war-culture rooted. [We had to assure the network] that we would be exploring the elementary school ship, the shopping mall ship, the Disney Land ship, and the nightclub ships. None of that ever really happened.
Hoffman: It seems like that in the first and second season there were more forays into [life on ships in the Fleet], like the meeting ship [Cloud 9] or the movie theater ship. [Transcriber's Note: Hoffman is likely referring to "Downloaded" when the Cylons are watching D'Anna's transmission in a movie theater, which is presumably on the Colonies and not set in a ship.] [And this] didn’t really go through, [so the answer to my earlier question] is going to be no. You’re not going to do an episode from the perspective of ordinary Fleet members.
Ron, you’ve [worked on] both “[Star] Treks” ([The Next Generation] and [Deep Space 9]), and there are often these [episodes that] once in a while [were] not [focused on the] main characters.
Moore: Yeah, but the trick on those episodes (even in Trek) [is] that the point of view is usually [of] someone [who] is a low-ranking crewmember who is already aboard the Enterprise [like TNG's "Lower Decks"] or on board the space station. You’re just shifting the perspective slightly, but not literally taking it off the ship and planting it somewhere else.
Hoffman: Right. I guess the big question is: Why do people do any work on the Fleet? In the absence of economic incentive to do so, are they forced to work at gunpoint? Is everyone like the folks [on the tylium ship] in “Dirty Hands“?
Eick: We’ve had a lot of conversation about that in “33,” which is the first episode of the one-hour series. I remember boiling it down to a particular moment in which a mistake that Dualla had made [in losing the Olympic Carrier] had cost them dearly, and Tigh, walking up and down the CIC, was yelling: “We’re all here to do our jobs.”
I remember looking at the footage, and everyone’s exhausted. They haven’t slept in days and days and days. They look like they’re about to keel over, and there was a part of you . . . . (I can’t remember, Ron, if we talked about this in the story phase or the script phase, or edit phase. . . I can’t remember), but there was a part of you that was [asking]: “Why are they doing their jobs? Why don’t they just say, ‘Blow me!’ and throw up their hands and walk away?”
I remember the answer being [that] particularly when people are in dire straits, when it is all about survival, it’s surprising how they do take solace in having a purpose, in having a role to play in that community structure, in the idea that they’re a smaller part of a greater whole. That’s actually part of human survival, and we would talk a lot about things like [for example, the fact that the Jews in Germany] would still have Hanukkah in concentration camps [during World War II]. There were jobs. There was a social structure within even the most desperate situations.
It’s a really compelling question to me because I know that was a big question for us very early on. We all just said: “You know, they do it because to not do it is to die on some level.”
The tylium ship in “Dirty Hands”
Moore: There was an interesting line that [Tom] Zarek had in [season one's] “Colonial Day,” where he’s making his case for a collectivist approach to their government, and [arguing that] they should leave all the trappings behind [from] the old system. He was with some reporters, walking around on that ship that had a simulated outdoors [Cloud 9], and he pointed over to a gardener and said, “This guy gets up every morning and goes to work, and he gardens. Why? To what end?” He said, “It’s like we [are] all just repeating the motions. We’re just repeating these tasks we used to do. We have lawyers who are still pretend to be lawyers.” There was a sense of inertia, at least in those early days, that they all were going to continue to try to just keep doing what they used to do, because to give up that identity (to give up your identity as “the gardener,” to give up your identity as “the lawyer”) was to essentially cast [yourself] into the abyss. You would have no identity. So there were those pressures on these people as well.
Hoffman: I get that, essentially in the early seasons. I get that with the military and other collectivist sub-cultures. But after they have the interim on the planet [New Caprica] and then they go back to the Fleet, the question I’ve always had was: “Why are there journalists still?”
Moore: The society does have to do things like propagate information, so it seemed like there was an incentive for the government to want to have a press, to want to have ways of conveying information. If you believed in a free press, and if you believed that it was fundamental to a democratic society, you would allow the journalists to continue to operate like that and not appoint your own minister of propaganda.
Hoffman: I understand why the government would want it, but what do the people (such as the journalists) get out of it?
Moore: Yeah, one of the things that we’ve skirted around a little bit is how they are compensated. We initially were going to dispense with the idea of money, that the whole thing was going to evolve to a barter system. That became very awkward just for dramatic purposes, to continually just barter for everything. You’ll see some examples of that in the early days. Baltar bets his shirt in a poker [triad] game and et cetera.
We just defaulted to an idea that they’re still going to use currency. We want to keep using currency in the show for dramatic purposes. Let’s just assume that, somehow, the economic system has asserted itself. They still place value in money in some way, shape, or form. They all decided [to continue to place value on their currency], like we decide in this strange dream of a world where pieces of paper with dead presidents on it has real value. Somehow, they ascribe the same meaning to whatever form of currency they’ve got. It’s still scarce; it’s still buys you things; it still wants to make you accumulate it; it accrues wealth and status to you if you have it.
Once we’ve accepted that premise, it felt like somebody’s paying somebody in some fashion we don’t quite understand and we don’t want to examine. We don’t know what really stands behind it. There’s nothing of intrinsic value backing up the currency, but let’s just slide by that because if we look too closely to that aspect of the culture, it collapses and, darn it, we need them to be making bets in the poker game with something.
Eick: The journalist thing is so funny. I can’t remember what the first episode was that we introduced the press conference in, but I was on the set, and somehow or another, that question came up. It may have been Eddie Olmos who asked. He loves to provoke exactly this category of things. “Why would that do that!?” [And I would say], “Eddie, you’re not in the scene.” [And he would reply:] “I don’t care, why would they [do that]?”
I remember saying to the director, “You see those people over there? Those 8, 16, or 20 extras that we have? They were journalists back in the day, before the attack. It’s what they know.” It’s like what Ron was saying earlier: It’s a way they have of maintaining their identity. “You see those 4 people over there? They always wanted to be journalists, but they couldn’t get arrested before the attacks, and now here’s their chance! And you see those three people over there? They fucking hate journalism and think the whole thing is a crock, and they’ve basically infiltrated the room because they can see if they can somehow undermine it.”
Everyone went, “Ok, that works!” There was at least a system of logic, even though when you watch the episode there’s no telling the difference between the three categories.
Hoffman: But one of them [D'Anna Biers] was a Cylon, as we learn later. . . And I guess that makes a good transition to [what] Deven’s going to talk to you about the Cylons . . . although I can talk to you about the economy all day long.
PART III: CYLONS
Deven Desai: To loop back to some of the things we said earlier, you pointed out [one of] the liberating aspects of having Cylons is that you can explore things that [become a little more touchy] in other contexts [such as when just humans are involved.] In some ways it reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Electronic Sheep? and then the Blade Runner adaptation, where you seem to be playing with these ideas of implanted memories in Boomer, reminding me a little bit of Rachel [the Blade Runner replicant character]. The whole question out there is whether Decker is a replicant or not. At one level, it seems that you’re also looking at this question of what is it to be human. How do we treat those whom we see as different? Is that part of the lens that you’re playing with?
Moore (jokingly): First of all, what’s Blade Runner? It figured into our discussions from Day 1. Very influential.
Eick: And yes, Deckard is a replicant, for the record.
Moore: You’ve really put your finger on it. That’s something David and I have discussed from the moment we decided the Cylons were going to look like human beings. It raised all these questions which I just thought were fascinating. It just felt like that’s really what the show’s about. What is it to be human? What does it mean to be a person? The Cylons say they have souls. Can we say they don’t? How do we grant them status as people? What does it mean to be human? What are the attributes of being human? How would you know if you’re human [or] if you’re a Cylon?
All these questions felt fascinating, and it felt like the deeper we got into the series the more they came up. The more the Cylons exhibited human traits and human characteristics, the deeper and tougher the questions [became]. In the pilot, [the Cylons are] mostly off-camera. We only really meet a couple of them — they are pretty much the faceless enemy. They’re the enemy from beyond. They come; they destroy; they kill; they’re chasing [us]. They’re just implacable, they’re monsters. They’re literally machines, and they’re after you. There are hints along the way that there’s something more than that: that they have deeper interests.
[Like] Number Six in particular: she wants to be loved, she expresses a faith in god. Then the punch comes at the end [of the miniseries] when one of the characters you come to know and love–Sharon–turns out to be a Cylon. As the series went on, we started to develop the Cylons more and more deeply. We started treating them as simply human. They were human in all but name. They had a specific cultural history. They were a new civilization that had only been around for about 40 years, and they had very different ideas of truth and justice. They had different ideas of the cosmology of the universe and their place in it. They saw us as the enemy. We just started to play those ideas off against each other.
A cylon, model number six
Desai: Right. It seems like [that has been the case] all the way through then. If I remember correctly, even when Leoben is ejected in space [in "Flesh and Bone"] you have Starbuck pray for him. It was a great moment, I thought. Once you come into direct contact with something you set up as other, it becomes harder to not think of it as such, especially when [Cylons] look so much like humans. [The show develops] this dichotomy [between a simple] ruthless civilization [and a civilization with something of value to offer, perhaps with some attempt to mimic human civilization]. Is the humans’ belief system starting to have to construct the notion of: “Are our principles broad enough to encompass a group that is empirically not human, yet seems to mirror a lot of what humans are about?” Or are they going to be able to draw that line and say, “No matter what, that’s the dividing line. Our principles don’t apply. Our notions of what it is to be a sentient being that matters cuts off [at] this stage, because their spines glow red and they tend to wipe us out”?
Moore: I think that is the question of the show, which they’ve struggled with throughout. [William] Adama in particular has tried to draw a very bright line and say: “There are us, and there are them, and there’s no crossing of [that line].” Like I was talking about earlier, Adama gets to a place where he accepts Sharon ["Athena" Agathon] as a person. He does it because of a human interaction he has with her in particular, and most of that occurred off camera (which is a bit of a cheat), but most of it occurred during the missing year [between "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part II" and "Occupation"] where the [Colonials] are on New Caprica. Our back-story was that Adama used to go down and sit in that jail cell with her because he had a lot of time on his hands. He couldn’t quite wrap his mind around what this being was, and he found himself confessing things to her, talking to her, listening to her. Over the course of time, he just, at some point, stopped thinking of her as a machine and started to think of her as a person.
If you asked him, he would probably say [that] she’s different or something. He would probably not be willing to really extend that idea to them as a nation, because it just raises a host of other issues. It challenges some pretty basic assumptions. It challenges the ways they do business. It challenges the righteousness of their cause and how they view themselves.
Laura [Roslin] has to believe that [the Cylons] are just machines in order to contemplate in taking a genocidal act and even in that episode [season three's "Torn"], Adama’s in a place where he’s hesitating. He doesn’t really want to do it, even though he can’t come out and say, “Well, we can’t do it because they’re legitimate people, and they have souls like we do, and therefore we can’t wipe them out.” It doesn’t feel right to him. His heart, his instinct as a human being [is that they] feel like they’re about to cross a line. He himself is actually already crossed the line to accepting them as something more than he thought.
Desai: So on the Cylon side of that equation, they have their own culture and society. The religion seems to play a large role in their culture, in this rather unique and directed vision of what they’re about. That seems to rub against the humans’ vision of the world. I’m wondering what was happening with the Cylon perspective in terms of how they felt they had been treated by the humans, and whether or not there could be a peaceful solution to the friction. Or [was their view] “we’ve just waited until we’re ready, and we [will] just come at you”? It seems as though their religion plays a part in that role, but is there something else at work in the Cylon society?
Eick: One of the subtexts of their agenda, and it did go back to the earliest conversation Ron and I had about this area, was that there would be an agenda to take the baton from humanity and pursue the next phase of evolution — that it was the Cylons’ time. Therefore, we could dispense with what typically seems to have accompanied antagonists in stories like [the old "Battlestar Galactica"], where they have an axe to grind, a bloodthirsty agenda, a grizzly destiny that they’re trying to perpetrate — and somehow [if] we can just get away from them, we’ll be okay.
That all seems so old hat, and it felt like maybe you’d do that in a movie, but in a series you needed somehow — we’ve talked a lot about this — to emphasize with the antagonists, to feel that their point of view was justifiable, that it had legitimacy, that you could not only relate to it, but also sympathize with it. So we talked a lot about different cultures that found themselves faced with questions like that. How do we press on? How do we move forward? At one point, I remember we were talking about “Planet of the Apes” because [it] had that notion, that story about [apes vs. humans]. Human beings just sort of assumed that: “You guys [apes] are done. You had your time, and now it’s our time.” Then what would happen is that the apes just wouldn’t go away. In this story, we’re the apes. We’re the ones who were not as evolved and who won’t go away.
So I think in that regard, it always allowed us to continue to… It’s not that we haven’t depicted the Cylons as misbehaving. (laughter) We tend to maintain a sense of their having a reason for what they’re doing beyond bloodthirst and ennui.
Moore: Another thing about what’s happening on the Cylon side is that they’re a very young culture. They really have not been around that long, but they’re a full-blown society of sophisticated, thinking beings that are at a level of human understanding of what society is, and [they have] concepts of morality and philosophy. In some ways, they’ve evolved past us, but they’ve only been around for a few decades.
[In the beginning] they [are] very much in lockstep with one another. There’s unanimity among the models about what they should do and how to carry out the plan. As the series goes on, you see that start to fracture. You see that the models begin to assert independence, first from one another, then within the models themselves. They begin to assert a certain independence of thought. I think the challenges of that dynamic will inform very strongly the things that happen in the fourth season.
Desai: Right. Dan had some questions building on this because what you just said really gets into some of the parallels between what we’re seeing with the humans.
Daniel Solove: Yes. We start to see a little bit about how the Cylons start governing themselves, especially in season two and even more in season three. It is somewhat vague as to how the Cylons operate and how they govern themselves. There are some hints of democracy [in their government], but it’s not entirely so. You’ve explained the past that [the Cylons are] a very young society and you’ve deliberately kept [their modus operandi] somewhat vague. Can you elaborate a little bit on how are they starting to govern themselves? How do they envision their political system?
Moore: They started with sort of a democratic idea, but it was always unanimous. They always agreed on everything. In the backstory, the Cavil models — the Dean Stockwell models — objected early to certain ideas, but always went with the majority view and were always willing to acquiesce to that concept. In many decisions, they were in lockstep with one another. Once you got to the New Caprica experiment, then you can see there was open dissent. There were open arguments. The Sharons and the Sixes had unified as a bloc to treat the humans differently (to have a different relationship), and they convinced a majority of the Cylons to go along with that idea. They were all in it together, but you were starting to see that there were fractures forming within them. They were starting to line up on different sides, and those agendas would carry forward. [They] still [adhered to] the idea that there was no one that was superior [amongst them]; they had an egalitarian system where there were no formal leaders. There was no executive. There was no legislature. They were all together. The models were all equal to one another, and they all proceeded as a group. That was one of the defining characteristics of them as a society: that we are together.
[The Humanoid Cylons believed: "We were created because] God wanted us to go forward, and He has imbued us with souls, and He has given us this mission, and we are humanity’s children and His children. We are all on the same page and equal to one another.” Then you would see that as time went on, the characters (like the D’Annas) would start to assert themselves, even though no one else [among them] wanted them to. The D’Annas would start to take de facto control of situations and make de facto decisions without even consulting with the others. The Cavils started to get a little concerned about this dynamic.
The cylons, aboard a cylon ship
Solove: We definitely see — especially from the interview — that you both are students of history and have done a lot of thinking about political science and philosophy. So that raises the question: What are the political, legal, philosophical books that most influenced you as you were thinking about the show and writing the show?
Eick: Machiavelli, for starters. For me, [I mention Machiavelli's work] only because it seemed like that it dealt with one of the themes we’re talking about right now — about the morality of dissenting during a time of war and about the duties of leadership. The one I remember us talking about was Helter Skelter. (laughing) Well, maybe I was the only one talking about Helter Skelter, because it dealt with a similar idea of subculture leading itself to being in the position to inherit the mantle, as it were, [and to] take the baton and evolve forward. Of course, they were crazy, and the Cylons are deeply sane, but [indiscernible].
Moore: Yeah, I’m trying to think if there were specific books. There were a lot of books that came up, and I don’t remember if there was anything in particular. I’ve read a lot of Henry Kissinger’s work, and, in my mind, there was a lot of bubbling up of realpolitick, and making decisions as a president, or as a military leader, balancing the practical versus the idealistic. I remember his volume on diplomacy. I was reading, at some point during the process The Age of Federalism by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick. It was fascinating because it was all about the birth of the American republic. I was fascinated with the young culture [of America at the time] and how they sort these things out. Everything was up for grabs [back then], I remember that being a really interesting idea early on. Neil Sheenan’s A Bright Shining Lie was on my bookshelf during a lot of the early going. [It explored] hopeless causes and realism, and tried to suss out what the truth was in a difficult situation.
I know that there weren’t a lot of direct correlations between any of these things [and what] we wrote. But [all these works helped us] deal with complicated issues, helped personalities [within the show] emerge, and provided answers for good and for bad. It’s a macro-level of watching the ebb and flow of history more than any specific story that was emblematic of what we were trying to do.
Dave Hoffman: Well, I think we’re out of time. We’re so grateful that you took so much time to talk with us. It was pretty fascinating. I know that there are lots of lawyers and, as Dan says, law professors who love the show and find your vision of the legal system’s reaction to catastrophe both frightening and motivating. I know that we are all looking forward to the next season. I guess the only question left is: Do you have massive spoilers you’d like to drop now?
Moore: Well, it’s going to be a rocky ride! It ain’t going to be an easy road to the end, let’s say it that way.
Desai: I guess the answer is “no” then.
Moore: No. (laughs)
Hoffman: We’re really grateful for you guys taking the time. Thank you so much!