Executive produced by David Eick, the first two chapters of Blood & Chrome have premiered on the YouTube channel, Machinima Prime, with new episodes being added each week, until November 30th. This highly anticipated chapter in the Battlestar Galactica saga takes place in the midst of the first Cylon war, as the battle between humans and the robotic Cylons rages across the 12 colonial worlds. Gifted fighter pilot, William Adama (Luke Pasqualino), finds himself assigned to one of the most powerful battlestars in the Colonial fleet – the Galactica – but he quickly finds himself at odds with his co-pilot, Coker (Ben Cotton). Once those 10 episodes have all been made available, a two-hour movie will air on Syfy, sometime in the first quarter of 2013, with a release on DVD/Blu-ray on sale on February 19th.
During this recent interview about the unique new project, executive producer David Eick talked about how this was always intended as an online project, planning out the entire story arc, having future ideas already developed for further episodes, what it’s like to produce a series like this for the web, why Battlestar Galactica/Caprica executive producer Ronald D. Moore is not involved this time, how big of a role the Cylons will play, and the relationship between Adama and Coker, while actor Luke Pasqualino talked about how grateful he is for this opportunity, his auditioning process for the role, and finding the emotional core of his performance while being surrounded by virtual sets and green screen. Check out what they had so say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
DAVID EICK: There was an entire 10-episode arc planned out. This was originally developed as an online project. I feel like there’s a certain record to set straight, which was a little bit frustrating to me, a few months ago, when I saw the headlines that the Blood & Chrome project had somehow been rejected, or was a failed pilot, or wasn’t going to make it on the air. It was never intended to be a traditional pilot, so to speak, such that Syfy not picking it up in a traditional manner to an episodic series was some kind of a rejection or failure. It was always developed, at least from my point of view, as a project for an online environment. It was something that we built as a 10-part serial, kind of in the style of the 1930’s style movie serials, where you have 10 minutes of story and a cliffhanger, followed by 10 minutes of story and a cliffhanger. And then, after 10 of those episodes, it would all resolve itself in a pre-act structure, as a whole movie. So, when I set out to develop this, my thinking was to design a mission. Of course, once the characters and the overall idea had been approved by the network, missions in the military sense are often divided into 10 smaller missions. That’s really what we wound up with, and what the audience is going to see. The confusion happened when, after seeing the script, the network said, “Gee, we don’t want to rule out the possibility of just advocating the online venture and throwing this up as a pilot for a traditional Syfy series.” There were discussions about that, but for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was because there was a genuine feeling that we had really designed something groundbreaking from a visual effects standpoint, we decided to stick with the original plan. Its future may be online, it may be on air, it may be DVD, in terms of subsequent future episodes or stories. Who knows? But, it was never any kind of rejection or failure that it didn’t wind op as another Syfy pilot. It was always designed to be something much more unique and special than that, and I’m thrilled that it’s finally reaching its distribution and it’s going to be seen by the people it was intended for.
Do you have another story planned, once this one is done?
EICK: Yes. In fact, as an exercise which is not uncommon with these things, we’ve hatched a next mission for what the next leg of this character study would involve, should we be fortunate enough to go forward. It’s very organic evolution of where we leave the characters, at the end of this story, and what we would pursue as our next tale. I’m very hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be doing that soon.
What are the differences in producing a show as a web series, compared to producing a show for television?
EICK: We did nothing differently because it was geared for online versus broadcast. Absolutely nothing was decided or managed to accommodate that difference. The only choices that were made, aesthetically, creatively and narratively, that were different from Battlestar were purely driven by a desire to reinvent this franchise and this title, for a new audience. If we were doing this for broadcast or as a feature film, or any other reason, for any other outlet, we would have elected the exact methodology that we employed for this online exhibition. It was not driven, at all, by a change in environment. It was only driven by our desire to do something unique, and that would feel familiar and evocative of the first remake of Battlestar. There are a number of ways in which we shifted and changed our approach to production to accommodate that agenda, but it was in no way driven by doing it for online versus on air.
EICK: Well, we made this a green screen composite universe. We literally had a green screen stage with a massive lighting configuration, that was something you’d see at a Rolling Stones rock show, that could accommodate a variety of different looks and environments, and then we painstakingly put a creative army together by Gary Hutzel and Mike Gibson – our visual effects guys from the earliest Battlestar days – to achieve a look and a level of 3D immersive compositing detail that you would compare much more easily to what you see in cutting edge feature films than to anything you would see on television. The reason we were able to achieve that, and I’m not bragging, but just giving a reasonable assessment of what’s different, is that we’ve spent the last 10 years since the first Battlestar mini-series that we did in 2003, building this assembly of artists, experts, engineers and geniuses, who have nothing but love for the product. We don’t use a visual effects house. We don’t go outside the boundaries of our own four-wall in-house unit where we handcraft these shots. By doing that, and by combining that expertise and those artists with old-fashioned, ancient, in-camera filmmaking techniques, we have the craftsman with the know-how to employ. We were able to create digital environments that are completely arresting, totally real and tactile and immersive, and yet never require us to leave that green screen stage. And when I say old fashioned techniques, I mean diffusion, darkness, shadow, snow storms, and things that don’t cost anything except your ingenuity. Because of those factors, we’ve been able to create something that feels completely different from the Battlestar that people may have seen, three and four years ago, but that nevertheless retains a certain echo of what we had done, so the fans feel like they’re still immersed in that same universe.
Can you explain the absence of Ronald D. Moore and whether, if the project ever goes to series on Syfy, he might come back, or does he just not want to be a part of the show anymore?
EICK: There’s no story, honestly. You’d have to ask Ron that question. I believe he got wrapped up in another deal when this idea was hatched. He was at Sony. You’d have to ask him about that. I don’t know all the details, but there is no dramatic or exciting answer to that question. He was just busy doing other stuff, and we’ve been able to proceed forward. But, the great thing about my partnership with Ron is that we were always existing in the same mind-set and finishing each other’s sentences. I feel like there’s a proprietary Ron Moore-ness that co-exists with my approach to Battlestar, as I’d like to think there will be a David Eick-ness that will accompany his approach. Battlestar was a child we gave birth to together, and this new grandchild of it naturally has his genetic imprint on it. I wouldn’t ever claim otherwise. But, the factual answer as to why he’s not involved now or won’t be involved in the future is really just a matter of him having other irons in the fire, and these deals that we make in show business tend to be exclusive, so it’s hard to get to work on other stuff once you sign them.
EICK: I don’t know the answer to the soundtrack question. Every episode of Blood & Chrome is simply a 10-minute chunk of a larger movie that we made, so Bear’s score is, of course, prevalent in all the episodes, and I’m hopeful that, if we continue on, we’ll get Bear back for more.
Why was the show delayed in premiering, and why hasn’t there been much fanfare?
EICK: Well, this was an unorthodox and unusual distribution approach because this was not a pilot. This is not a project that was ever designed to air on Syfy, as its initial presentation or distribution. When you have a pilot that’s going to premiere as a first episode of the series, we’re all accustomed to billboards and on air and online, and we’re all bombarded with a multi-million dollar advertising budget. This was always intended and designed to be something that would premiere in a much more unusual way, in a different environment and a different space. I don’t know what the expectations are for an online premiere. I look on Machina and see this really impressive-looking Halo 4 series and I’m quite impressed with their production values, with the writing, and with the visual effects. I had never heard of it. No one ever told me about it, and it’s getting well over a million hits. I just think it’s a different universe for them. We’re in a much more diversified, much more nuanced viewing landscape now, and things are marketed and distributed in different ways, depending on what their intended venues are going to be. But, I think the delay had to do more with Syfy finding a digital partner that made sense for a project and title like Battlestar Galactica. Which outlet is going to be able to carry your brand and make good on your investment becomes a huge decision. We won’t know if the launch is in any way insufficient until we know what the numbers are, in this universe. In terms of how I understand the online world, it doesn’t just work in the old-fashioned way. You’re not going to see billboards and a bunch of commercials. It’s all viral.
Where did the idea for doing another prequel come from?
EICK: I was asked by the network to think about a concept that would be under the umbrella or the rubric of the Battlestar Galactica canon, that would make sense as an online series. I was on an airplane, thinking about the character of William Adama and the fact that we had seen him depicted as a very stoic, strong and very uncompromisingly anti-Cylon admiral and commander in Battlestar Galactica. And then, we saw him as a child, really being exposed to an alternate kind of immoral world on the show Caprica. So, I thought it might be interesting for an audience to see what that character might have been like when he was Lee Adama’s age. Where did this hatred of Cylons come from? Why was this man that we will later meet, as Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica, so uniformly and uncomprisingly committed to the utter eradication and disillusion of this race of robot people? Where did that come from? Was it because he was a prisoner of war? Was it because he was involved in some horrible conflict? He wants to incinerate them, but why? And the more I thought about it, the more I finally came up with an answer that I thought was emotionally driven. For me, it seemed like maybe the most interesting answer might be that it was because of a broken heart, and that it came from a very personal place where he’d been betrayed by someone he loved, and that through that experience came to feel that the Cylons were an unforgivable race of creatures responsible for our genocide and for attacking us, so they needed to be gotten rid of. But beyond that, there was something much more deep and personal driving him, and that was the nucleus of the genesis of it. I just proceeded from there.
LUKE PASQUALINO: Actually, before I even got sent the pilot, I’d always heard of Battlestar Galactica and the phenomenon it was, but never actually sat down and watched anything. So, when I found that I’d been offered the role of Adama, in this early, 20-year-old period of his life, the furthest thing from my mind was watching anything that Edward James Olmos had done because it’s two completely different ages and two completely different stages in his life. I didn’t want anything that Eddie did to influence my interpretation of the material, so I tried to steer away from watching any of his stuff, but I did watch seasons of Caprica. Mr. David Eick made that a priority. It was homework for me, and I loved it. To be part of the Battlestar franchise now, and to be welcomed on board as this young William Adama character, it’s truly an honor, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
How important was it for you to continue this story, and to keep telling stories in this universe?
EICK: I consider myself terribly fortunate and uniquely blessed to have been given the opportunity to jump into this world, and to re-invent and re-imagine, as the phrase became this title in this universe. It’s been my number one vocation, entering into a second decade, and it remains my very favorite thing to do, to work on, write, create, produce, be on the sets, be in cutting rooms and casting rooms and visual effects rooms, and do all things Battlestar. It’s where I’m happiest, and it’s where I think I do my best work, in all humility. It’s something that I hope I’ll have a chance to continue to do.
Are viewers going to learn anything about what happened to this character, between Caprica and now?
EICK: I certainly think we had every intention of exploring that interesting conflict, between the William Adama who’s committed himself to fighting in a war that his father, who we came to know in Caprica, might have a very strong opinion against. In the Blood & Chrome pilot, we see an off-hand reference to this idea that William’s father was a mob lawyer, and that maybe strings were pulled to create certain opportunities for Adama. Those are definitely interesting and complex relationship trends that we want to explore. We’ve gone to great lengths, with Blood & Chrome, to not be cute about too many nods and winks to characters from Battlestar and Caprica. At one point, there was a discussion about having young William Adama in the hangar deck, bump into some young school teacher who is getting a tour of the Battlestar Galactica, and she would introduce herself as Laura, but we didn’t want to be that cute. I don’t want to be that literal with it. If we’re going to do stuff like that, we’ll save that kind of thing for later. There are a number of little Easter-egging nods to the Battlestar faithful, that anyone watching the DVD’s or seeing this online will be able to recognize. But, we did ask Esai Morales, who played William Adama’s father, to reprise his role, in some capacity, in a future episode. That way, we can show some of that conflict and strain between father and son, and some of the uniquely contradictory impulses that a mob lifestyle and military lifestyle present. That’s all really rich storytelling top soil for us to pursue, if we get the chance to go forward.
PASQUALINO: I think me and David both have different views on this, but it does have quite a lot to do with the Cylons and the birth of the Cylons. You actually find things out about the Cylons, in these earlier stages. In Caprica, we saw the complete birth of the Cylons. I don’t think Battlestar would really be Battlestar without the Cylon element in there. To see them from a young Adama’s point of view is something completely different. There are so many different stories that come together to make a big family. There’s the Battlestar story, there’s the Adama story, there’s the Coker storyline, and there’s the Adama and Coker element to it. To see the progression of the Cylons, in that story, throughout Blood & Chrome, is quite magical, really.
EICK: For sure. Very well put. The only thing that I would add is that I think what the viewers of the 10 segments of this Blood & Chrome story will discover is that, as the Cylons embark on their decision to mimic and surpass human beings, which is a storyline that those who watched Battlestar Galactica know all too well, they didn’t do it overnight. It’s not like they were machines with gears and rivets one day, and then had soft skin the next day. They took time to attempt to approximate an evolution. Human beings went through the fish stage, amphibious stage, a bird stage and a reptile stage, before finally becoming mammals. Throughout this story, we will see examples of those approximations of evolution, and how the Cylons were attempting to push through their evolutionary process in becoming more human-like. Those results can be terrifying and unexpected.
Will viewers get a chance to see them team up with the final five Cylons, and could you bring back any those actors?
EICK: Well, those actors are stuck in a finite timeline. I think it might be confusing for the audience if, suddenly, they were to see Michael Hogan in an episode of the show, even with the minutiae of that mythos apparent to the Battlestar faithful. That underscores the larger point here, which is that we really are making Blood & Chrome for a new audience, as well as the Battlestar faithful. As adherent and faithful as we are to the mythology and history of the Battlestar universe, we’re not slavish to it, to the point where only the nine people on the message boards are going to get a kick out of it and everyone else is confused.
What are some of the more recent visual effects innovations that you were able to incorporate into Blood & Chrome, that maybe didn’t exist when you started out with Battlestar Galactica, some years ago?
EICK: The truth is, it’s not that the technology didn’t exist, but it has always been cost-prohibitive and frankly remains cost-prohibitive, if you watch a lot of the expensive digital effect shows on broadcast networks that have five, eight or 10 times our budget. I don’t know those people personally. I’m not intimately involved in their process. But, I have to imagine that bureaucracy and certain traditions of visual effects being produced for television remain entrenched in old thinking because I look at shots that I know cost a lot more and took many more resources on Fox or NBC, then shots that we’re doing for Syfy or Machinima, and I know that ours are better. We’re doing better work, and there’s a more tactical, immersive reality to our 3D work. For the most part, if you can find the artist and build from within a uniform apparatus that is accountable to production, that does not have any overhead or any amortization necessary, other than your show. You’re not going to a visual effects house, like ILM. You’re just building it, in-house. You have a rag-tag fleet of visual effect experts, artists and professionals and, if you have the time and the wherewithal to put together that kind of squad, you can do amazing things for an amazingly low number. What you have to circumvent, in modern television making, is a bureaucracy that is attended to most major studios and networks, which demand that you use these visual effect houses because they’re trusted, and because the suits aren’t worried about shots not beings delivered on time or not being up to snuff. But, it is that bureaucracy that costs so much more money, and then, in my opinion, delivers so much inferior work. If you can find an environment, as we were fortunate enough to find, during the earliest days of Battlestar where, despite some pressure and some resistance, we were able to win that fight and not be forced to go to a visual house outside, and instead to create them in-house, where we had total control of them. We were able to deliver better work, as the technology advanced between Battlestar and Blood & Chrome. We were able to build less sets and create more digitally. It also lent itself to an aesthetic distinction. It’s not just that we accomplished it differently, it’s that it looks and feels different from Battlestar. That makes Blood & Chrome feel new and unique and different for a new audience.
Luke, as an actor, how did you retain the emotional core of your performance, surrounded by virtual sets and green screen and so many technical challenges?
PASQUALINO: When I first came onto the set and I saw this huge sound studio full of green, I thought I was in some kind of field somewhere. The hardest difficulties, acting-wise, is to judge those points where things are supposed to be. That’s tough. But, if I’m honest with you, I didn’t find it as difficult as you might think, to get the emotions and the messages across, just because the cast I was privileged to work with, such as Ben Cotton, who played Coker, was absolutely fantastic. Me and him together, we overcame it. We had a minor conference with ourselves, where we sat down and realized how we needed to overcome this green screen difficulty. The green screen was such a small factor of it. You have to really just try to pull yourself out of the fact that you’re actually working on a green screen and just really focus, as much as you can, on the material. The heart of the writing became so much more important that we didn’t even think about the green screen, in the surroundings that we had. I might only speak for myself when I say this, but I really didn’t realize how lucky we were to be doing this all on green screen. It’s taking slightly longer to air, but we had this opportunity to take this journey anywhere we wanted because we could literally put any kind of backdrop we wanted into this sci-fi Battlestar Galactica world. We could take it anywhere we wanted to. So, it had its pros and it had its cons, but I think everything was overcome and we executed what we had to do and what was most important.
One of the more interesting dynamics in the first two episodes is the relationship between Adama and Coker. How do those characters develop, as this web series progresses?
EICK: The decision to root Adama’s hatred and for the Cylons coming from an emotional place versus just a war scar place was very interesting to me. But, what trumped that, or what was a way of accentuating that, is this idea that, through this story, Adama will come to learn that a more reliable and deeper and trustworthy relationship is with his partner Coker. Through this experience, the audience of Battlestar might project that that’s why Adama – Edward James Olmos’ character on Battlestar – has this relationship with Colonel Tigh, which is a relationship that seems to run deeper and be more impervious than even Adama’s relationship with his own sons or any woman. Where did that come from? Why is it that that kind of relationship viewed by Adama as the more impervious to external factors, and the one that he can rely on the most? It became very interesting to me to explore how what we would call a bromance usurps the romance, and that bromance, in our case, is between Adama and Coker. This story is, in part, to explain why Adama views that kind of male comradeship with such unyielding importance and depth.
EICK: We were fortunate to have many of the same crew people involved in Blood & Chrome who were involved in Battlestar. We were able to bring back and recreate and, in some cases, buy back from the fans who had bought things at the auction at the end of Battlestar. In one case, we had to go to a fan who had acquired parts of the rafter, so that we could use it to recreate the rafter on the set. So, there were some rather unexpected ways in which some of those items came back into play for Blood & Chrome. But, it wasn’t really difficult at all. The bigger challenge was finding a way to then, while armed with those familiar reminders of Battlestar, introduce an aesthetic that would feel different and new and not necessarily a reminder of the old show.
Between Battlestar and Caprica, what did you learn, from an accessible storytelling standpoint, that were applied to Blood & Chrome?
EICK: That’s a wonderful question. When it became clear that this story was coming from a very personal place for me, and it was really about exploring the root of what made Adama tick, and how that was informed by his love relationships, his understanding of the potential for betrayal despite love and the importance of a male figure in his life who he could depend on, even above and beyond his own blood relations. But beyond that, I also felt that there was an obligation, if we were going to reintroduce Battlestar to the public, that we tell stories that felt accessible. We had done a tremendously thorough job of defining an elaborate and confluent mythology, and that that mythology would always stand intact and would always be the subject of debate. I wasn’t able to write the script because I was obligated to a couple other projects, but I had this story that I wanted to tell and I was so fortunate that I was able to go to Battlestar alumni, who had done the kind of stories in Battlestar Galactica that evoke exactly what I was hoping Blood & Chrome would achieve – hard-hitting, mission-oriented, accessible stories that had depth and emotion, and would be unusual, in that it would extend into darker places and more human places, which is always the hallmark of Battlestar – but it would air more on the side of missions and objectives that bend mythology. Together, we were able to break the story in detail. That’s really the tale of how it all came together.
PASQUALINO: I had to try to establish William Adama as an early 20-year-old, when he’s already been established in his 40s and 50s, as Edward James Olmos portrayed him. This is the third age group that we’ve seen him in. Being 22 myself, I know that being this early 20-year-old, especially when you’re going into something new, like the flight school that he attended, it can be quite a difficult time for a young man. But, my main goal was to really not let anything that Edward James Olmos did influence my interpretation of the material. I just wanted to go in there with a fresh head. I didn’t really know too much about the franchise before I got the role, so I did my research and knew Edward James Olmos and his character. David Eick gave me some great homework, which was to watch both seasons of Caprica. I think all of us playing together, on our little team, really helped us get the message across and to bring out the valuable points in the script. I did feel pressure doing an American accent, and stuff like that. That was a big factor, too. But, I try to get as much of the technical aspects out of my head as possible and just really try to connect with the material.
Luke, how did you end up getting cast in this?
PASQUALINO: It was pilot season, last year. It must have been about February or March when I got the script from my team. Essentially, it was a new pilot for a Battlestar Galactica franchise, called Blood & Chrome. When I got the script, I was almost thrown. I was scared. Obviously, I had no clue about the franchise. I didn’t have any idea what the premise was. I was just completely out of my comfort zone. But, as soon as I was five pages in, I just didn’t want to put the script down. They said, “You do really have to feel that you can connect to the material,” and that was one thing I really did feel. I felt like I could really step into Adama’s shoes, before I had even been offered the role. And then, I flew to L.A. for the test and was offered the role there, and that’s where I actually met Ben and David. It was one of those things where it was more excitement than anything. I was excited about the opportunity of possibly having a show where I am the lead, and I really wanted it. When I finally got offered the part, I was just so thrilled. I finally got to be a part of something, and I wanted the responsibility of trying to make this what it is.
EICK: What Luke may or may not know is that he was the only one who auditioned on tape. He was in the UK and his people sent an email with his audition on tape without the benefit of our casting people to adjust the reading. Usually in the casting session, where you’re brining actors to the network, you’re at a disadvantage, if you’re not in the room, because people in the room are there physically and you can inter-relate with them. Anyone who’s not in the room is just watching on a screen. We knew that we wanted Luke, but we also knew we were at a disadvantage because he was on tape and everyone else was in the room, in person. And I have to say, to the credit of the folks at Syfy, we put the tape on after these very qualified and wonderful actors – any one of whom would have been great, but none of whom were as special and as unique we felt Luke was – and Luke was maybe four or five sentences into it when they turned to us and said, “Oh, my god, we found it.” It was just a huge sigh of relief because we were so concerned that Luke may have been at a disadvantage because he wasn’t in the room. It’s just a testament to how precarious these things are. You never really know how it’s going to go. I remember driving home that night saying, “I’m so relieved. Whatever might happen to screw this up, we know we’ve got our Adama.”