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'Caprica' countdown: David Eick and the history of Caprica

January 20, 2010 | 12:34 pm

After a minor interruption, the "Caprica" countdown continues with just three days left until the pilot re-airs and reaquaints viewers with the characters and quirks of the Syfy show. We're coming back strong too, posting a conversation with executive producer/writer/whatever's-needed guy David Eick. Before that, a quick introduction to another of the 12 Colonies: Leonis.

Two major landmasses differentiate this beautiful colony, ideal for a variety of outdoor activities thanks to its predictable climate. Leonans are an overambitious and wealthy society that is increasingly isolationist and even xenophobic, making modern Leonan democracy and inter-colony relations deeply troubled.

And now, on to Mr. Eick and his thoughts on the optimistic, technologically enhanced culture of Caprica.

So how long ago did the idea for "Caprica" actually come about?
The first time that myself, Ron Moore and Remi Aubuchon got together to discuss it was was five years ago. It's crazy cause it doesn't seem that long. Ron and I came from these franchises that had spawned offspring. In Ron's case it was "Star Trek" and in mine it was the "Hercules"/"Xena" world. At some point Main_feature during the second season of "Battlestar," we started kicking around the idea of another story rooted in this world. We started kicking around the idea of a more human-based, terrestrial-based soap opera with a sci-fi undertone that would take place in the years before the events that were depicting in "Battlestar." In affect, it would be Dallas where the McGuffin would be artificial intelligence instead of oil.

We had a general conversation with execs at Universal, then we tabled it as we continued to make "Battlestar." We got a call from those execs some time later and they said that at some point in time they heard a pitch from Remi Aubuchon that they felt crossed paths in many ways with what we'd talked about for our "Battlestar" prequel. It just made sense to Ron and I to have another partner since we were so into just making "Battlestar" at the time.  So we sat down with Remi and started to hammer out where this spinoff would be.

So I don't really need to ask if it was a harder sell than the original 'reimagined' "Battlestar" premise?
Our reimagined "Battlestar" premise was held back by a couple of things at different stages. One was title, which was a blessing and a curse. It opened certain doors, but there's a whole contingent ... who would not watch a show called "Battlestar Galactica" no matter how many trophies you win. And Bonnie Hammer said to me, 'You're gonna have to explain to me again when you come in to pitch this why the world needs another space opera.'  And I think we did.

In this case, we had a leg up, you could say. We were coming at the "Battlestar" mythos at what did not feel like a lot of other shows.  As unique as "Battlestar" is, it's still easy to lump it in with "Stargate" and "Star Trek" and "Andromeda" and I can't even name them all. Whereas with "Caprica" I think we're operating in very unique territory.

So, what were your fears going into production?
Fears? Well, I think that we got really, really lucky with "Battlestar" in one respect and that was the cast. We had Oscar nominees and really accomplished actors and young actors who were doing if not their first  Samadama thing then their second thing, all side-by-side. So whether or not that was going to hold together and gel to create a long-running series was always a risk. And when it happened the way that it did -- I can't tell you the number of actors that we cast out of local Vancouver dinner theater who, two or three years later we were writing entire arcs around.  But they were so good and so reliable that we knew we could go in a variety of different places that we may have never intended or expected.

Certainly coming back to another emsemble show, you just wonder how or if lightning can strike twice.  And I have to say, I think we got lucky. I think between your critically acclaimed actors like Polly Walker and Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales to your younger actors who American audiences may not have seen much of before with Alessandra [Torresani] and Magda [Apanowicz]. I think that once again, we can look to side stories. Sasha Roiz, who plays Sam Adama, is Caprica's answer to Tahmoh Pennikett  or Katee Sackhoff or Jaimie Bamber. People who really hadn't been established, but in very short order, we found ourselves writing around.

How was the casting process?
Well, I guess I found it a little bit easier. To be perfectly honest, people said no right off the bat before even opening the script [on "Battlestar"]. It's now part of the "Battlestar" apocrypha that we had Ron write a manifesto on top of the script explaining to the reader that this wasn't what you'd expect from something called "Battlestar Galactica," just to get them to read it.  Certainly [director] Michael Rymer and Edward James Olmos would not have even had a meeting with us without that mission statement ..."Battlestar" is not a tremendous ratings juggernaut. It's much more of a cult hit, though in the industry it's certainly recognized and has a good deal of respect. That kind of respect greased the wheels so that we could get people interested [in "Caprica"] and get people into rooms who we may not have been able to if that had not been the case.

The types of stories being told seem to be more familial, right?
I would say they run a pretty wide gambit. Our central sci-fi component is artificial intelligence. The birth of an advanced, sentient being, or the struggle to realize that being and all of the things that surround having such a ground-breaking event. I think that ultimately the theme of the show is exploring how potentially life-affirming and consciousness-raising discoveries or inventions often are born by very personal motivations. And not all of them pure, oftentimes involving greed, selfishness. despair, jealousy and violence.  And that sort of colliding of a potentially good thing that's being brought about amidst all of these gnarly dramatic events, is where the show lives and breathes.

In more practical terms, our vistas or landscapes tend to be comprised of terrestrial recognizable environments with a kick to them; a certain advanced visual aestethic so that you don't feel like you're on planet Earth, but neither do you feel like you're in a completely alien landscape. All of that is juxtaposed against a virtual world which, thanks to Mr. [James] Cameron, can be explored without having to explain what an avatar is  It's comprised of a hedonistic environment where anything goes. Just from a storytelling point of view, we've created a landscape that's allowed us to pursue and explore a variety of worlds from just one world. That's always what the best science fiction does.

You mentioned James Cameron and "Avatar"... When you see filmmakers/storytellers doing other cool technological things, does it make you adjust what you're doing?
I tend to avoid other like genre projects when I'm in the middle of making a show like this, especially if I'm writing or deeply involved creatively because I think there's an unconscious tendency to borrow, and I think Keyart any honest writer will admit that. The irony is, James Cameron's "Avatar" does help to pave a way for a show like "Caprica" for the reason that it's helping define what that term means to a wide audience.  The idea of an avatar is certainly a big component in "Caprica," but in a very different way. ... But we're just doing projects that are so completely different that there really isn't much of a chance for that particular movie to bleed into what we're doing.

We're a little looser with "Caprica." We're not doing a war show, we're not doing a combat show. We're not being forced to introduce wildly unfamiliar realities or technologies that don't have, in some way a tether to what exists today. If you watched video from the CES convention ... they're already creating synthetic humans..The technology on "Caprica" represents where we are today, advanced maybe a couple of generations.

The "Caprica" universe seems to be bigger and less stifling than "BSG."  I've been posting planetary descriptions, but how much background did you guys do on the worlds surrounding Caprica?
A great deal, because in part much of it was fed by the work that we had done on "Battlestar." The Caprica City that existed before it was nuked in "Battlestar," was based on a martial society, and we looked at a lot of 1930s Munich and Berlin to see what it looked like when a previously non-military society took on military attributes.  You know, the flags, and martial iconography.  Things that made you stand up straighter and thnk about your army. So really going backwards from that we were able to deliberately create a Caprica City that was a progressive city, in a lot of ways like Seattle and Vancouver, which is where we shoot the show. This idea of a clean city with a variety of cultural diversity and technological advancement. When you walk down the street in Seattle, you're struck by just how pretty things are.  When you go to the market it just feels like somehow you're in almost a benevolent place.

I wouldn't say it's "Gattaca."  It's not slick and sterile in any way.  It really feels dense and textured, but very positively optimistic.

-- Jevon Phillips

[UPDATE: Thank for the comments, and for questioning my schooling! Some of the errors were introduced, some were mine. Martial, especially, is now corrected.]

Photos: Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) and Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz); Sam Adama (Sasha Roiz); and Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani).  Credit: Syfy.