Interview with Bradley Thompson

Date: August 3, 2005
by John Larocque

Along with David Weddle, Bradley Thompson is story editor and co-producer of the new Battlestar Galactica series, and previously worked with Ron Moore on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

1. Could you tell me a bit about yourself, how you got into writing (and specifically writing television) and the genesis of your writing partnership with David Weddle?

I met David Weddle in an acting class and we discovered we were both at USC School of Cinema. It was the same acting class that Richard Hatch frequented. Richard was doing the original Battlestar Galactica at that time, and everybody in class was in awe -- he was a WORKING ACTOR! And all the class ladies would go to parties and watch him when the show came on. Of course, while they were adoring him, they were ignoring me, so I didn't like the show very much. But they would have ignored me anyway, so I guess I wasn't giving the show a fair shake.

Five years later, I'm designing fiber-optic manufacturing equipment in a sweatshop in Van Nuys and I asked David if I could turn his play, Memoirs of an Awkward Lover, into a screenplay. David wasn't doing anything with it at the time, so he said to go ahead. He liked the draft, then did one of his own based on it, which I liked and rewrote and he rewrote on top of that and eventually we had something we both really liked. Then nothing happened for another dozen years. I got a job making educational films about cleaning your teeth, he interviewed dolphin channelers for Rolling Stone. Then he wrote a book: If They Move, Kill 'em -- The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah.

Ira Steven Behr, who ran DS9, was a big Peckinpah fan, read the book and invited David to lunch. David grabbed the opportunity: "You mind if I pitch your show?" Ira said, "Hope we're still friends after that." David came to me with a stack of material from DS9 and asked, "You want to do this?" We spent months watching the show and putting together pitch ideas. We went in to see Ira and spun out these tales for hours. A year later, when I was on staff at DS9 and detailed to hear pitches, I usually knew within the first three minutes whether the story would work on the show or not. Yet Ira listened to the whole thing, heard one he liked and wrote it on the board. "Worf kills a bunch of people." We'd labored hours to come up with the story, worked it into a twenty minute pitch and it was up there as one sentence. That sentence launched our careers in television writing.

Ira called us in to pitch our idea to the rest of his staff. We met Ron that day, along with Rene Echevarria, Hans Beimler, and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. We heard them take our idea, bend it, twist it, and forge it into what became "Rules of Engagement." Ron wrote the teleplay. It came out great. We thanked him, and he sent us copies of every draft. That was where our education truly began, because it was revision after revision -- as the writers honed the show into the final shooting draft. Later, on the strength of an X-Files spec we wrote, Ira gave us a chance to try a teleplay, "The Assignment." They were impressed with the work and gave us a chance to do another when they bought our story, "Business as Usual." At that point, Robert left DS9, and the remaining guys asked us to join them. In the crucible of the next two seasons, Ira, Ron, Rene, and Hans turned us into television professionals.

In 2002, David and were invited to a screening of the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. We expected it to be like so many other remakes of failed series -- but hey, Ron wrote it, it'll be worth a look. Oh, boy, was it! It blew me away. We told him so. And found ourselves invited to lunch -- we thought, to talk about old times -- but soon we were talking excitedly about where he was taking the series and where the character relationships could go and my god this is... can it be... an offer to write on my dream project? Carrier pilots in space? With all these amazingly talented writers? It's the best job I ever had.

2. Katee has said in several interviews that she's asked the writers to keep placing her character in emotionally vulnerable situations and away from "Super Starbuck." The dress scene in Colonial Day was written to showcase her character's femininity. More recently, she apparently asked the writers to keep on Micahel Trucco's character as a love interest in more season two episodes. To what degree is input from the actors re-defining their roles? And also, what kind of effects do these actor-driven changes have on the evolution of the story?

BSG is a very interactive creative experience, and actor input is an important part -- if it's good and doesn't conflict with some other uberstory, we gleefully steal it, bend it and use it. And actors have saved our collective butts at times, as Grace Park and Sam Witwer did during "Hand of God" last season. We'd written a scene between Sharon and Helo that had something to do with multiple Cylons and they pointed out that we'd never had a screen conversation between the two characters where Helo found out there were human-looking Cylons, much less multiples. They noticed the problem a day or so before we were to roll on it, so David Weddle and I put our heads together and came up with a fix that flew with Ron and David Eick -- and we got it into the pages just before the show went to the sets. We had to scrap the original scene and create the scene where Helo spots another Six. He's already seen one die and yet another is leading a batch of silver bullyboys toward their barnyard roost. Of course, this totally thrashed their following scenes that were going into Colonial Day, which was undergoing a rewrite down in California -- causing several writers' brains to melt. Fortunately, the office keeps several neural tissue scoops on hand because the situation isn't uncommon.

I've not heard about Katee's suggestion, but it's a good one. The scenes between them in dailies showed sparks that we'd like to revisit.

I love our actors. Everybody's so gifted that we never worry when we write a demanding scene whether the cast will be able to play it. They always deliver splendid work. I'm getting all choked up here. Somebody stop me.

3. Laura Roslin's character seems to have shifted a few degrees from Ron Moore's original intent. She was going to be the iron fist in the velvet glove, someone willing to use the military against her own people in the name of secruity, and become a threat to civil liberties that Commander Adama would eventually have to put down. Acording to Ron Moore, some of these original plans didn't fit with Mary's portrayal, although she still managed to trump his authority and force a showdown last season. There's also been an emphasis in her role as prophet figure, which has given her character an entirely different dimension. Where do you see her character going?

Hard to say. Her actions in response to situations beget more situations, she learns, she finds herself in untenable positions, makes decisions which create consequences, forcing her to adjust to the changes that ensue. The fact that Ron willingly adjusts his vision to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities is what gives Battlestar Galactica a visceral life of its own. Kind of like real life -- you know where you want to go, but you get a flat, which saves you from being on the bridge when it washes out -- so you have to take another way, which takes you somewhere you never saw, and maybe that's a place worth staying for a while -- you're always mindful of your destination, but aware that the map is not the journey.

4. Some of the discarded elements of Roslin's character -- the threat to civil liberties and freedom -- appear to have been grafted onto plans for the Pegasus storyline and Admiral Cain's character. Or as David Eick puts it, "The enemy is us." Where would we expect Laura Roslin to stand in this crisis?

Laura stands for the survival of the human race. That hasn't changed, and will continue to drive her decisions. Of course, Chamalla and Cancer and Prophecy can all influence that process.