On Being the Stargate Universe Creative Consultant: More Answers!

Tonight’s the night for Stargate: Universe’s big debut (9pm on Syfy/Space), so soon you’ll be able to tune in and decide for yourself what you think of the show. I think all y’all will like it, but then, I have a reason to think that, don’t I.

A couple of days ago I posted a longish entry on what being the Creative Consultant for the show was like, and noted that I’d likely do a follow-up today to address some of the questions I didn’t get around to with the first article. So, here it is. With this one, I’ll tackle the answers more quickly and maybe delve into some of the goofier questions as well.

Mark Terry: How’s the buffet on set?

I imagine it’s pretty good, but I don’t know. I do my work from home, which is in Ohio, while they do their work in Vancouver, Canada. Given what I do and how I do it, there’s no need for me to be on the set on a day-to-day basis, and when I do need to talk to the producers (or they to me), phone and e-mail work just fine. I will say that when I visited the set in January, Joe Mallozzi took me out to a truly excellent dinner, but that’s not the same as the on-set craft service. Maybe next time I’m out I’ll sample it and report back.

Noah: Do you believe your suggestions have avoided any “disasters”?

Well, generally things are not as dire as that, so I’m rarely called upon to swoop down and save the day on that sort of level. Also, one has to know that TV show scripts are reviewed and revised a number of times from the first “final” draft to final editing of the episode. So many potential bombs are defused just as a natural part of the process.

That said, one of the things I sometimes do is note to the producers, “if you do [x] here, you’re probably going to get pushback in the real world,” and explain why and from whom. Now, sometimes doing [x] will be worth the pushback, because it cranks up the drama or explores something about a character. Sometimes it’s not. My job isn’t to tell the producers what they can or can’t do; it’s to alert them to what I think might happen if they do [x], so they can make an informed decision on whether [x] is ultimately worth the grief.

Kevin S: How much of your influence do you see in the final product?

I see a fair amount of it; you probably won’t, because as noted elsewhere the CC job isn’t about being noticeable, it’s about helping the writers/producers get the audience through the entire episode in a seamless and enjoyable fashion. If I do my job right, you’re not seeing what I do, in fact. Which in some sense makes it an interesting job for a raging egomaniac such as myself to have.

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

Fortunately, it’s not that kind of job. I offer advice and suggestions; the producers are free to take as much of that as they like and not take as much as they choose, as well. My job “crisis,” as it were, is purely in offering good and useful advice, and the only thing that would leave me feeling “unclean,” in this case, would be to do a half-assed job of it. This is not a tremendously morally ambiguous gig.

Andrew Fedge: I suppose my burning question is more fanboy than anything, but … what kind of swag does a creative consultant get?

You know, I have almost no SG:U swag. But I do have an SG:U paycheck, which, if I had to choose, is what I would go for anyway.

The Pathetic Earthling: 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?

Heh. Well, I don’t often worry about the financial considerations of what I suggest, because that’s not a parameter I’m told to work within. But in fact none of my suggestions, so far as I know, would have meant a huge additional outlay of cash. The closest I come to that is suggesting something that will change the dynamic of a special effect shot, but if I’m doing that, it means the effects shot was already there (and presumably budgeted for).

That said, I am aware that from time to time a suggestion of mine might be a good suggestion but might not be able to be implemented because it would require a major script revision or a wholesale interruption of a production process already underway, or some other such thing. This is filed under “real world priorities,” and in the world of expensive weekly episodic television, that’s the way it is sometimes.

Jim Wright: Creative Consultant – isn’t that Latin for “scapegoat” if the show tanks?

I think it works kind of the other way, actually. To the extent that people know what I do at all, if an episode succeeds, they’ll say “Wow, that was great! They must have really listened to John Scalzi!” And if it flops, they’ll say “Wow, that episode sucks! They should have listened to John Scalzi!” I win in either scenario. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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

What should one say? If someone’s already decided they don’t like a show before seeing it, that’s their karma. There are lots of other people to encourage to see the show, including people who haven’t tried a Stargate series before. Basically, I wouldn’t worry about the negative folks.

Mark: 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?

Well, JMS was the creator of his show and I’m the CC on mine, and those are two very different positions. In a general sense I’m happy to talk about the show with all y’all, but I’m also under contract and sensitive to the fact that the discussions I have with the producers about the show are confidential information. I’m not at all likely to talk about specific discussions or suggestions I make to them, unless I get prior clearance (and in fact, before I did these Q&As I cleared them with the producers, because I thought it was the appropriate thing to do).

ShoeDiva: 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?

I knew in a very general sense where things were going from the beginning, yes, although a lot of the details had to wait for the specific scripts. In a larger sense I’m not going to be of much value to the show producers if I don’t have a global scope on the material, which is something they know, and which is why they keep me in the loop.

Shane: 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?

Well, what would keep me in Coke Zero and bacon is the fact that unlike many Americans, Krissy and I save a significant portion of our yearly income, so we have a nice cushion. Also, Krissy has a full-time job, so even if I bellyflop financially, we’d be okay. Moral of this story: Save your money, have a responsible spouse with a full time job. I’ve noted this before.

As for what I make being CC, anyone who knows me knows I don’t work for less than what I think my time is worth, and I think my time is worth quite a bit. With that in mind I’ll say that I am rather acceptably compensated and leave it at that.

Randpick: When are you going to get a real job?

God. Hopefully never.

Thanks for the questions, folks.

18 Comments on “On Being the Stargate Universe Creative Consultant: More Answers!”

  1. You are obviously too level headed for Hollywood. Don’t you understand that everything has to be a crisis and even the smallest contributions are life (and show) changing events. Please show more panic and pompous belligerence in the future.

  2. Hey, John Scalzi answered my question. I am so bragging about that all day today, maybe Starbucks will even give me a free cup of coffee. Whoot! (Hey, the barrista is a big Scalzi fan, it’s worth a try. “Say, I talked to John Scalzi today…howsabout some caramel machiato?”)

    I’m really not a fan of the whole SG franchise, but I admit the commericials for SG:U look friggin’ awesome (lots of people being blown screaming through the air – always a big hit with me) and I’m looking forward to the premier tonight. Set the DVR and everything.

  3. Thanks for answering my question!

    I’m really looking forward to the show. I’m glad that you’re consulting on it. I’m a big fan of Stargate, and I like Old Man’s War a lot. I’m certainly not expecting some kind of mash-up of the two, it’s just a cool thing on the side. This is like the science fiction equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter. At least in theory.

    I think the thing I’m looking forward to most about the show is yelling “RIIIIITCHIIIIIIIIIE!” if Lou Diamond Phillips’ character dies.

  4. So how inundated are you with “Dude, I have a script ready to go that your producers will just loooove!”?

    And related, who does my agent call about getting some of that sweet, sweet tie-in cash. (Stepson needs money for college.)

    (Actually, so do I. I’m too old to mortgage myself to Sallie Mae again.)

  5. Eviljwinter:

    Anytime someone tries that I point them to this. It usually solves the problem.


    It’s going to be on Hulu. I’ve actually answered this question, like, six times now.

  6. Well, I’m SO glad you put a priority on answering my buffet question.

    And I’d love to watch the thing tonight, but I’ll be sitting out in the rain (hope it stops) watching my son in the marching band for homecoming tonight. But tomorrow–Hulu. I’ll be there. And probably once marching band season (uh, okay, football season) is over, my Friday nights might free up.

  7. Mark Terry:

    Well if you miss it at nine, they’re showing it at 11… and at 9 tomorrow morning… and nine other times during the week. Because they really want you to watch it. But yeah, Hulu works, too.

  8. Well, I’m SO glad you put a priority on answering my buffet question.

    I question Scalzi’s dedication to the job if he’s not making it a priority to sample the FREE FOOD when it’s available when he’s on set.

  9. Well, if it is NINE times this week–is that a particularly important number, is there a 7 of 9 in this series, because really, you gotta have some totally babalicious babe in a hermetically sealed skintight suit completely with galactic space go-go boots, right?

    Hey, I’ll catch it this week. Promise.

  10. It’s a rule in basic cable. When a show debuts, the following week, every time slot leading into the show has to rerun the entire series up to the new one.

    Like they did with Ice Road Truckers, Battlestar Galactica, and Man Vs. Wild.

  11. Hulu doesn’t count as online, because only Americans can watch it.


    The Hulu Regional Restriction Awareness Committee (HRRAC)

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