On Being the Stargate Universe Creative Consultant: Get Your Questions In

Me, pointing at the Stargate room last January. Photo: Joe Mallozzi

Update: First set of answers up here. I may do a second set on Friday, so feel free to pose a question that hasn’t already been answered.

As you may have heard, I’m the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, which debuts this Friday night on the Syfy channel here in the US (and on the Space channel in Canada, and on Sky 1, uh, wherever it is Sky 1 does its thing). I thought it might be fun to finally get around to answering some of your questions about what a “creative consultant” does on a television show (or at least, what one does when I am him) and other things about SG:U that you may want to know about.

So: Got any questions? Leave them for me in the comment thread. I’ll go through them later today and write up a Q&A for tomorrow. You can also send them to me in e-mail if you prefer.

Go on, don’t be shy. Ask away.

113 Comments on “On Being the Stargate Universe Creative Consultant: Get Your Questions In”

  1. So, do you get to make suggestions about the total design of Stargate Universe and the different worlds the characters visit? Do they (the producers and writers) come to you with questions, or do you go to them with suggestions and/or notes? Both?

    Are you Facebook Buddies?

  2. As a creative consultant, do you stand back and keep an eye on the “big picture”, making sure that if the writers/crew wander off on a tangent they don’t end up down a dead-end, or are you a fixer who saves the day when they have painted themselves into a corner? Or is it something else entirely?

    Also, will you get your very own SG:U uniform?

  3. Here’s my question:

    Can you remind me to set the Tivo?

    …wait…I suppose you already did. Nevermind.

  4. Sky 1 is the UK, well most of the UK, except the hillier bits which get in the way of the satellite signal. Which is about a third of the UK come to think of it.

    Do you get your own coffee cup with the series logo on it? And will you get to meet Richard Dean Anderson?

  5. I have 2 Questions:

    How much input/control do you have over the plot/storylines? Do they come to you for ideas or do they simply bring ideas your way for feedback?

    When is your cameo?


  6. Who owns the intellectual property for ideas discussed during consultation. I would assume that the franchise would own rights for creative ideas that get used, but what about draft ideas that never pan out? Are you free to use those in your other work?

  7. Does being “Creative Consultant” mean you get more hot babes? If so, where do I sign up?

  8. Do you get to consult on each script, as part of the overall writing process, or are your services mostly on demand?

  9. Were you given any restrictions regarding star gate cannon or no go zones regarding parental ratings? ie for recent Star Trek the writers were told they can’t blow up the enterprise..

    Do you get paid by the idea(and therefore what is an idea)? I’m curious if creative consultants still get paid if their ideas are unused?

    How did getting this job work for you? Did they come to you or you to them?

    More questions than I thought I’d have,


  10. Sky 1, in the UK, starts the series on 6th October. And I’m going to try hard to wait until then. But I guess this makes another blog I have to ignore for the days inbetween.

  11. So what are you doing? Do you talk with the script writers about pre-written scripts, help them work out ideas for scrips in progress, or what?

    That’s a neat looking coat you’re wearing. Leather?

  12. What exactly do you do?

    Specifically, can you give us a day in the life? (Obviously, for a day where you spent most of it on SGU. Give us a schedule in small increments of what you were doing regarding SGU)

  13. Are there doughnuts?

    But seriously, how much of your time do you spend consulting creatively? Is it a part time thing? full time thing? not but once a fort-night?

  14. 1. Do you believe your suggestions have avoided any “disasters”?

    2. What do you count as your single biggest contribution to the show?

  15. How does it feel to be in the same position as Harlan Ellison? Do you like or hate that comparison?

    All the reviews I’ve read look great, they tend to compare SGU with three things: 1) Star Trek (the original, thank you very much) 2) Battle Star Gallactica (NOT the original, thank God) 3) Lost. SGU, according to the reviews, is unlike the other two SG series in that it is darker and more serious. THAT is how I like my scifi! I didn’t like the SG1 and SG Atlantis series because each episode, for the most part, consisted of self contained stories which, also for the most part, had little to no effect on the overall story line or, more importantly, on the characters who inhabit the story. Sorry, but in life actions have consequences. That is one of the things that made BSG so very enjoyable.

    Given the previous two SG shows were created by the same guys who are running SGU my assumption is that the difference can be boiled down to one thing: John Scalzi. So, John, tell me; how does it feel to ROCK!

    PS – I hope this show is all it has been billed as. With no Farscape, no BSG, no Babylon 5 & no Firefly television has a vast nothingness in the kick@zz space opera slot.

  16. If I’ve seen the movie, and a few episodes of the original series, will SG:U make any sense to me, or is there too much to catch up on?

  17. Did you get any advice from people who’ve been creative consultants (or similar) for other shows?

  18. Having just finshed Metatropolis, and laughed out loud repeatedly through your story (and only your story…) and having laughed through Old Man’s War and Android’s Dream, please tell me that as a consultant one of your jobs was to make sure there was enough humor in the scripts.

  19. How does being a Creative Consultant stack up with being a writer in terms of workload, fun factor, and sheer coolness?

  20. Well hopefully that will make this new series better than the other ones. I trust you as a writer, but I’m not sure if you can match the sheer awfulness associated with the Stargate series. Just so there’s not another episode that has an exploding tumor in it, I’m sure it can’t get any worse. You have your work cut out for you, that’s for sure. I may actually follow this with you on board, though. I won’t hold it against you if it sucks. That’s just the legacy of this franchise.

  21. Are you allowed to actually, physically strike out at anyone? You know; land a few blows about the head and neck of individuals that get basic science grossly incorrect?

  22. Do you have more or less influence than you expected?

    Do you exercise it with an iron fist, a velvet glove, Force Suggestion, or something even more interesting?

  23. Do you encounter- and if so how do you handle- the “Never let facts get in the way of a good story” school of thought?

  24. To elaborate on my previous question:

    Do you encounter- and if so how do you handle- the “Never let facts get in the way of a good story” school of thought?

    As this applies to (at least) two different sets of ‘facts’:

    1) Hard scientific principles/commonly accepted science

    2) Canon or established background/science specific to the SG (small u) universe.

  25. 1. How do you approach issues with the writers and producers about which they might be sensitive, but about which you feel strongly?

    2. Do you make a distinction between your writerly input, e.g., plot points, timing, character development, and your science/science fiction input? Or is it all part of the same seamless consulty fabric?

    3. Has this experience inspired your career pursuits in any new directions?

  26. What specific consultation do you find yourself mostly doing? ie:

    Adding humour, squashing stupid science, inserting plot lines, ensuring continuity, inventing alien races/technology, inventing human technology, extrapolating future technology (ie, 12 exabyte hard drives) etc.

  27. Can you give us any specific examples (say, something in the teaser trailer you posted here, or maybe in the first episode so we all go and watch it to see what you’re talking about) of things that your consulting improved in the final show, and what they were originally going to do?

  28. Did SG:U get the smells right? Because there’s nothing in the world worse than screwing up how a fake universe in a TV show smells.

  29. How much of your soul did you leave at the studio? Did you ever have to do something that left you feeling unclean afterwards?

  30. I have one question for you. Do you feel it will reach out to both young and old, but still have that stargate edge we like?

  31. I suppose my burning question is more fanboy than anything, but … what kind of swag does a creative consultant get? Shall the Scalzi Command have a stargate? Do you get a SG-team jumper?

    Also, I suppose, do you find you’re getting creatively consulted more on tech, or more on alien civilization psychology ideas? Or has it been across all kinds of topics?

  32. I am actually a fan of the Stargate series despite the ‘crazy plot’ problem that Shawn S. references. I find the characters likeable and I don’t have very much time to watch tv, so basically I am stuck with Dr. Who and Stargate.

    Do you feel that you improved the quality of the series?

  33. Have you read any scripts, which made it to air or not, that you saw problems with? Just curious.

    And yes, just what do you do? Can you perhaps take us through an example of how the process works, for one script?


  34. Are you the only creative consultant on the show? Is one consultant normal for tv shows? What do you consult on, the science or the plausibility of the fiction or what?

  35. So, as “Creative Consultant” how close is your role to that of Martin’s in the SG-1 episode “Wormhole X-Treme!” where he played the show’s Creative Consultant?

  36. Is there something in Friday’s show that we can watch for that’s yours that wouldn’t have been there if you hadn’t been on the team? Like, I dunno, a can of Coke Zero?

  37. Do you expect anyone to listen to you or to simply cut you another check if you point out problems?

  38. … and following up on my previous post, how likely is it that you’re not just interested in outer space, but *from* outer space?

  39. Can you promise us the leaders of the team won’t be using a holodeck (or similar) to recreate old private eye stories?

    And no cute kids?

  40. You are certainly self-aware enough to realize your ideas might, on occasion, cost the SG:U folks a whole big pile of domars to implement. Does that stop you from suggesting them? In the alternative, do you suggest ridiculously expensive ideas just to see how they’ll react?

  41. I know that you’ve been a film and music reviewer for many years, off and on. But as best I know, this is your first gig on the production side. How, if at all, has Reviewer Scalzi’s work informed Creative Consultant Scalzi’s work, or vice versa?

    A second question: so far, has the SGU gig surprised you in any significant way?

  42. I REALLY liked the previous two series. Is there anything you have done to help us fans of Stargate SG1 and Atlantis like the show too?
    All I hear is how different and how much better and cooler it is, makes me feel like the producers of this series think I’m a scmuck for liking the old ones so very much.

  43. I had assumed from previous posts that your job was to keep an eye on the “science” end of the “science fiction”, ie- keeping everything scientifically plausible within the SG universe (heh). Was I completely off in this assumption?

  44. So will SG-U stumble upon a race of cat aliens who have aspirations of invading earth somewhat like a certain author-recently-made-consultant-for-SG-Universe daughter’s story?????
    Just sayin’.

  45. Did you write or contribute to the series ‘bible’? Is there a comprehensive bible? Is it just backstory or is there an overview of the larger story arc(s)? Were you satisfied with the depth of the bible and initial cut of character backstories?

    And, do you ‘really wanna direct’? Produce, be a showrunner?

  46. Of Earth’s nations which ones are actively researching alien technology, which are hoping to profit from the work of other countries, and which just want to be left alone?

    Who is most active in interstellar trade?

    How many people are living off world? Are there any colonies? What about tourism?

    How many extraterrestrials are now living on Earth? How many are tourists? How many permanent residents. What is there legal status.

    How many humans have become citizens or subjects of extraterrestrial nations.

    How many extraterrestrials have become citizens or subjects of terrestrial nations?

    What extraterrestrial technology has made it into the terrestrial market? What terrestrial technology has made it into the extraterrestrial market. What of art and culture? What effect has this adopted technology or culture had on terrestrial or extraterrestrial society?

    Are there any ETs that get stoned on ginger?

    How big is the market for human science fiction among ETs? For ET SF on Earth?

    There are my questions. All inspired by the fact there is no way in hell something like the Stargate is going to be kept secret for long. :)

  47. How many people have you gotten fired so far?

    If zero, then how do you enforce the vision of your artistic genius when no one else is smart enough to see it?

  48. 1. Which areas have you had the most input on? (Earth tech, Alien tech, New hybrid tech (aka, produced/adapted by the main characters), Planet design, System design, Species design, Faction design, something I haven’t even thought to ask about, etc…)

    2. For the areas you have had significant input on, how many questions deep are you working?

    3. Have you felt constrained by the Stargate continuity/tech bible?

  49. I assume that you communicate with the production from home (phone, internet and such), but does the job include visits to the sets as well? Do you ever get to have input on such things as, say, art direction of set design?

  50. I’ve always imagined Creative Consultancy to be sort of like working on the back-end of an RPG – world-building, hashing out the rules of the universe, that sort of thing. You’ve never mentioned anything like it on the blog as far as I know, but I don’t suppose you’ve ever been involved in the games industry and can give a comparison?

  51. – Do you confront cliche or repetitive story hooks? Like “Oh, our shuttle has problems…” in Voyager?

    – How do you go about being creative when chasing a solution? Do you sit around going “Hmmm” and biting your pen?

  52. Others here have mentioned bacon. Still others have asked if there are going to be any personal touches that Fans of Scalzi will recognize in the show.

    No one has yet asked the truly burning question: Will there be bacon IN the show?

  53. If there are regular military involved, as opposed to paramilitary, will they actually behave like the real military does, or will they be reduced to the quirky commander and drone-like soldiers?

    Will they actually behave like modern soldiers, including things like the use of mines and prepared ambushes, and above all the ability to actually shoot instead of the usual spray-and-pray that virtually all soldiers in the Stargate universe seem to practice? Who understand the need for munitions conservance when literally light years from the next resupply? Who get dirty and wear their armor? Please????

  54. 9.# Christopher Turkelon said: Does being “Creative Consultant” mean you get more hot babes? If so, where do I sign up?

    Chris – John already has a hot babe! Haven’t you SEEN the pictures of Krissy that John has posted here on Whatever? Especially the pictures from the most recent WorldCon?

    Oh, and I thought of a couple of other things. Harlan Ellison was the creative consultant for Babylon 5, and got to do a voice over for a computer voice. Will *you* get to do a voice over for a computer voice? Or a walk-on? That would be cool!

    Do you get the cool swag (hats, shirts, jackets) that the rest of the production crew gets? Can you get some for your family? Friends? Whatever commenters? (i’d wear a large. just sayin…) :)

  55. Like others, I wonder if you will do any writing for the show. Which I guess means: do you WANT to, and would they want you to? It’s hard to imagine the question hasn’t come up.

  56. Andrew @ 73 Is there going to be a long-term storyline such as what we had in Battlestar Galactica and other well known SF TV shows?

    Yeah, and will the series end on a big pile of suck?

  57. Come on and admit it, you’re doing gig this just so Joe Mallozzi will keep taking you to Fuel and maybe take you with him on his next annual culinary adventure trip to Japan.

  58. *Spoiler Alert*
    Opening scene:
    An alien (which looks surprisingly like Doctorow) jumps through the Stargate and gives Scalzi a cosmic wedgie.
    Closing scene: Scalzi finally getting up, decides to go “commando,” and follows after C. Wedgie through the Stargate.

    The alien fled across the universe, and the commando writer followed.

  59. Dear Sir,

    I saw the original Stargate movie just a few months ago. It was all right, I guess. A little bit of Von Daniken, a little bit of Escape from New Cairo. And I have been aware that there was a spin-off TV series. Later it spun at least one other series off from that series.

    That’s about all I know about the Stargate Universe. Why should I watch Stargate: Universe? What’s appealing about the premise of the show? What kinds of stories are told, week to week? Is it shooty-exploding awesome lights, delving into character backgrounds, or offering social commentary? Is it episodic stories or is there an overarching plotline?

    Best of luck with the project.

  60. Do you have any ability to prevent the inevitable groan-worthy, facepalm-inducing idiocies that creep into any SF series? Or at least limit them? Will they listen to you when you say, “This is exactly this sort of thing that I would tear to shreds on my blog”? ..bruce..

  61. So, I watched the movie a gazillion years ago, didn’t much care for it, and never watched the other shows (SG-1, Atlantis), should I give this show any time whatsoever, especially since I have no back story of any kind really?

  62. My wife and I are longtime Stargate fans. The promotions run for SGU on the Syfyllis (her nickname) channel have completely turned her off, while I’m still open to it not sucking. Any suggestions on how I can get her to at least watch the first episode?

    She’s also a fan of your books (I got her to read both Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades) so I already played the Scalzi card (“Hey did you know who the creative consultant on SGU is?”) to no effect.

    Any suggestions are appreciated!

  63. Will it be possible now to watch something on SG:U that will cause my intestines to spasm with joy?

  64. Part of me is wondering how big a fan of the shows (and movie) are you? I guess I’m asking this because as much as I liked SG1 and Atlantis, the shows had … problems. And I’d be more enthused about the show if you were not a gushing fanboy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ;)

    Oh, and is there any hope of perhaps squeezing one of your own alien races into the show? I’d love to see an encounter between the crew and some Whaidian-like or Rraey-like aliens :) The aliens on the other shows were a little too stereotypical for my taste.

  65. Seems all the good questions have been asked, so I’ll go with this:

    What do you say to “fans” who try to tear a show down before they’ve even seen the first episode?

  66. John F. Opie: In SG:A, Major Sheppard did act like a real Marine on at least one occasion — in “The Eye”, he demonstrated correct technique for negotiating with hostage-takers by single-handedly deleting several dozen Genii. On the gripping hand, you have to subtract points for the crap security that allowed them onboard in the first place, and leaving their planet with a functional stargate afterwards.

  67. Isn’t this exactly the same premise as ST Voyager? Except that instead of a Borg with Dagmars you’ve substituted hot girl on girl action?

  68. Do you watch while they shoot or do you comment on things before they actually shoot (e.g., on script, on set, etc.)?

  69. Any plans to keep up an ongoing dialogue regarding the show and processes apart from these introductory sessions with the fans as did Joe Straczynski (JMS) on Babylon 5 over your time with SGU?

  70. You refer to “getting the science right(ish)” in order to suspend disbelief. Wonderful news.
    Are there any fundamentals / lines in the sand that you and the producers are using?
    Meaning sound/fire in space, newtonian motion for ships (no swooping), the use of cute robots, kids or pets, etc?

  71. When will they bring back “one shot stuns, two shots kill, three shots disintegrates?” That was a great concept. It really made sense.

    Also, why do people who are “out of phase” not either float around or fall through the floor?

    And finally.. will there be SmartBlood? (Please let there be SmartBlood!)

  72. Are you getting any input on the VFX side of things as well? Do you get to look at pre-vis renders? Does your science-plausibility hammer reach as far as saying “That would snap under it’s own weight” or “Five light-seconds distance is not a dozen ship-lengths, that wouldn’t be visible at all”?

  73. Do you have any inputs on SG:Worlds (the SG MMO) and do you have any idea when it will be released?

  74. You talked about the overall story arc for the first season. Do you know going in what that is? Or do the writers feed you small portions of the overall story arc?

  75. 1. Is there any feedback that you’ve given the writers for which you’re already kicking yourself?

    2. Also, let’s assume that you run into something that just doesn’t pass your “realistic” test filter for the SG:U, but can’t be corrected within the constraints the show has in which to work – where do you compromise?

  76. Is part of your job smacking any writer who has a male character tell his female superior to ‘show them your breasts’? Because it would make me really happy if I never saw that in an SG show again.

  77. I have to confess I havent really liked the SG tv shows, but really enjoyed the light campiness of the original movie.

    is this series remotely funny or campy? or is it ‘hard’ scifi without alot of a sense of humor?

    I have always loved those moments in SF movies and tv series where they give a sly wink to their own seriousness. the men in black episodes on the XFiles, for example, which make me laugh to this day.

    or sigourney weaver in Galaxy Quest winking at her previous character in Aliens — “Ducts? Why is it always ducts?”

  78. I’m not after actual numbers but if you lost all your income from all your other gigs for a year would CCing keep you in Coke Zero and bacon?

  79. I’m a long-time Stargate fan. At one time SG-1 was on our must-see list. And we have the movie, and enjoyed Atlantis (although the wrap-up movies aren’t very good.)

    I’ve heard that SGU is going to be darker. Edgier? More violence? More sex? More darkly lit rooms?

    Thing is, I see this type of thing as usually an excuse for people who don’t know what they’re doing. You can write a dark story thats meant to be that and it will work fine. But frequently when you take something thats light, and turn it dark it doesn’t work. Its a confession of lack of talent.

    Also, I dislike the ‘we’re saving bucks on the light bill’ school of film where everything in a room is dark, and you can’t see anything clearly.

    The original Stargate movie had a pretty dark strain to it when the Col. is going on a suicide mission with a nuke. Hardcore is not bad. I like Gingersnaps. But its like those shows where they say ‘we spent a lot of money on special effects’ and you instantly know the SFX is junk.

    That said the trailers look interesting.

    And to make this rant a question…Can you assuage a long-time fan’s worries?

  80. To clarify my next to next to last para…

    I hear someone say ‘I spent big bucks on SFX’ or ‘this show is edgier, darker, and therefore better’ and I find myself sitting in the skeptic’s seat because those phrases tend to precede junque.

    That said, I’m rooting for the show. Stargate has given me many wondrous hours and I hope for more. I know I was worried when Atlantis came out, and that worked out pretty well.

  81. Tennwriter @102&103

    I’m very much in the same boat. I’ve been re-watching SG1 off DVD, and it’s been like a breath of fresh air. I’d forgotten what Sci Fi that actually made me laugh was like. Not to mention the not-uncommon “Hell, Yeah!” moments. Virtually everything that’s being produced these days seems to have two settings: “Grimly Determined” or “Determinedly Grim”.

    I worry about the Darker, Grittier More Realistic things they’re saying. Hopefully the injection of Vitamin Scalzi will keep the levity levels lively. Failing that, you can always imagine a rasher of bacon taped to the gate.

  82. I know you’re there to be a creative consultant for technical science-ey things, but do you contribute to other aspects of the story as well? For example, a lot of us lesbians really like seeing good representations of us on the screen, and you’ve been an excellent advocate for gay rights thus far. Do you have any input over things like what they do with Camille’s sexuality (trying to keep that as realistic as the science), or are you purely Tech Man?

  83. Megan Rose Gedris:

    In fact, I have sent them notes about Camille’s sexuality, and notes on other aspects of other characters and their personalities/salient character points, etc. As with everything else I do, they make their own decisions as to how/when/if to implement the suggestions, but I make them anyway, because that’s what they pay me for.

  84. Are there any gay MEN in this?

    Oh, wait, SyFy. Nope. Lesbians are sexxay, gay men are just icky. Because, you know, everyone who watches SyFy is a straight 13-year-old male.

    On second thought, don’t answer that. If there are any I want it to be a pleasant surprise!

    Actually I’ve already DVR’d it so I don’t have to get home in time, but I’m also going to make sure I do. I really can’t wait! And that’s assuming there will be no gay men (or even male eyecandy) in it. If there are…well, I’ll probably hurt my head on the ceiling by jumping up and down.

    Like a happy 3-year-old.

  85. Also, for all you know I could have been Alec Bings Who Sees Through Things, in which case hitting my head on the ceiling would be the easy part…jumping would be hard. So would watching TV.

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