Interview with David Weddle

Date: April 25, 2005
by John Larocque

I sent several questions via email to David Weddle, who with Bradley Thompson is story editor of the new Battlestar Galactica series, and previously worked with Ron Moore on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. His answers to the questions appear below.

1. One of my favorite films is "The Wild Bunch." One of the things that's part of your background is that you are a journalist/reviewer, film historian, as well as a biographer of film director Sam Peckinpah. Could you tell me a few things about that, including what it was that drew your interest towards Peckinpah?

I knew Sam Peckinpah's family, most particularly his sister, Fern Lea (Peckinpah) Peter. I grew up around her because my parents were friends with her and her husband, Walter Peter. When Sam Peckinpah's oldest son, Matthew, joined the Marines at 18, my father befriended him. This was because my father was a former Marine who had fought in some of the bloodiest Pacific battles of World War II, such as Guadalcanal and Peleliu. He had joined the Marines for much the same reasons as Mathew: he was lost, didn't know what he wanted to do with his life or how he fit in. So when I went to visit my parents on weekends Mathew would be there on leave from Camp Pendleton. Through Mathew I met Sam and watched him direct some of his last movie, The Osterman Weekend.

After Sam died, all of his production files and personal correspondence was turned over to the Motion Picture Academy Library -- thousands of pages of material. A good friend of mine, Jesse Graham, talked me into writing the book, arguing that I knew all of the players and that it was an unprecedented opportunity to write a major biography.

After the book was published, Ira Behr -- who is a major Peckinpah fan -- invited me to lunch at Paramount. He was then the head writer and executive producer of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After lunch he took me for a tour of the DS9 sets. We became friends and, being a shameless opportunist, I exploited that friendship by asking if Bradley Thompson and I could pitch story ideas for the show.

Ira patiently brought us along -- we knew nothing about TV writing. Eventually we sold a story, then two teleplays, then we went on staff for the show's last two seasons, which is where we met Ron Moore.

There are many reference to Peckinpah and his films in our Battlestar episodes.

2. In Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry created a utopian Federation where they had abolished war, hunger, poverty, and even money. In Deep Space Nine, they started exploring some of Star Trek's darker terrain, including "Section 31," a covert organization aimed at protecting the Federation's interests, even though in practice they committed acts which were counter to the Federation philosophy (something almost unthinkable in the context of the 1960s series.) Weren't the writers ceding that the Federation was no longer "perfect", with "Section 31" mirroring contemporary organizations opearting within today's flawed, imperfect political systems? Weren't they making Federation society resemble a bit more like our own?

Yes, we were trying to say that the Federation, as perfect as it seemed, had to resort to unsavory tactics and work black bag operations to keep their world safe and pristine. Brad and I wrote the first Section 31 script, "Inquisition," and it was perhaps the best DS9 episode that we wrote. The writers at DS9, starting with Ira Behr, and including Ron Moore and Rene Echevarria were pushing constantly to make the Star Trek universe darker and filled with shades of gray. They achieved great things despite incredible aesthetic restrictions that Rick Berman enforced on the franchise.

At Battlestar we are pushing way beyond that. Our characters don't have to encounter a space anomaly in order to have conflict. They are all flawed and maladjusted people, riddled with insecurities, prejudices, and weaknesses. In other words, they are us. You can call the vision darker, but is it really? If our characters find redemption, they will really have to fight for it, earn it, and it won't come easy. I think those are characters we can all relate to. And ultimately that kind of drama can be uplifting on a deeper and more visceral level.

3. David Lynch and Mark Frost's groundbreaking 1990 television series Twin Peaks built a devoted cult following, with its unique aesthetic and multi-threaded storylines. Yet by the second season, the show had lost much of its steam with the resolution of the "Who Killed Laura Palmer" storyline, as it meandered on towards its cancellation by ABC. Isn't there a danger that the mystery of the "Cylon Plan" might not provide enough of a longterm (i.e. multiseason) interest in the Battlestar Galactica story? Do you have some other storylines hiding up your sleeve, to keep up the audience interest?

Well, there's a danger every moment of every day that the series might lose momentum, inventiveness and vitality. We spend all of our waking hours, and many where we're supposed to be sleeping but can't, worrying about this very problem. I don't want to over promise, but I think the scripts we've produced so far this season are even stronger than they were the first season. We are just hitting our stride. There are plenty of twists and discoveries coming your way. Hang on tight because season two is thundering toward your TV screen like a runaway freight train. I can't wait to watch the shows myself!

Special thanks to David Weddle, and Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune.