Writer and producer Jane Espenson has written, or co-written, episodes of some of the most popular and successful TV shows in recent memory. Getting her start on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Espenson also worked on hugely popular shows such as Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and one of the most celebrated series ever on TV, Battlestar Galactica.
More recently, Espenson has written for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, wrote the BSG TV movie The Plan and she is now Executive Producer on the upcoming BSG prequel series Caprica. Recently, I had an opportunity to talk with Espenson about, among other things, The Plan, Caprica, Dollhouse budget cuts and the move to the internet from traditional media.
CHRIS ULLRICH: What can you tell us about The Plan? It supposedly shows Battlestar Galactica entirely from the Cylon perspective, correct?
JANE ESPENSON: Technically, that’s correct, but perhaps misleading. It shows events from the series from the POV of two very specific Cylons, not from the point of view of them as a group.
CU: What was the impetus to create something like The Plan? Was it a side of the story you or others (Ron Moore, David Eick, etc.) felt was not sufficiently explored in the original series?
JE: The idea came, I think, from the network, who wanted to know if there was a movie to be done. When we looked back, we saw that we had a chance to tie up some loose ends and have some fun with the events from the early years of the show.
CU: Do all the BSG characters appear in “The Plan”? Or, is it primarily just the Cylon characters?
JE: There is a mix of BSG characters in the show — not everyone, but lots of them.
CU: Will we learn more about the Cylon’s religious or philosophical beliefs or more about the creation of the Cylons in human form during The Plan?
JE: Yes — the former more than the latter. Cavil’s beliefs are explored in particular. Dean Stockwell does an amazing job in The Plan.
CU: Can we expect any surprises or revelations when watching The Plan? Things hinted at during the original series maybe?
JE: You will have moments of “Ahhh… that’s how that happened.”
CU: Edward James Olmos has said that after watching The Plan fans will want to go back and watch the entire series again to see “what they missed.” What do you think about that?
JE: Yes, I think he’s exactly right — Eddie is usually exactly right. The Plan sort of takes you behind events you’ve seen before — like going backstage — and you’ll probably want to look back to see how the same event played originally.
CU: Is “The Plan” supposed to be the final word on “original” BSG as we know it or do you, Ron Moore and David Eick have more movies up your collective sleeve?
JE: I have nothing up MY sleeve. You’ll have to interview their sleeves to get the final answer on that one.
CU: Turing to Caprica, how did you get involved in that show?
JE: I got involved after the pilot was done — written, shot, cut. Ron called and asked me to come run the writers’ room with an eye toward easing into a showrunner position. It’s been fun and exhausting and incredibly educational… and we haven’t even started shooting yet!
CU: For those who haven’t seen the DVD yet, can you give us a bit of info about the story of Caprica and the characters?
JE: Caprica is set in the colonies 58 years before the events that launch the BSG series (the Cylon attack). It’s the story of the events leading to the creation of the first Cylon (not the first skinjob), and the events that follow.
It’s not like BSG in that it’s not a war story. It’s more serialized, with stories based in the lives of characters living in a culture that driving itself toward its own destruction.
We’ve got organized crime and religious conflict and terrorism and show business and corporate misdeeds and robots. The tone is not unlike Mad Men or Rome or Sopranos — lots of events, often dark events, but with a light enough touch to allow all the irony and denial of real life. We concentrate on two families: The Graystones and the Adamas, and the people around them.
CU: Can we expect to see any BSG characters showing up on Caprica? Some of our favorite Cylons perhaps?
JE: It’s possible that some BSG characters could appear on the show, but it’s not something we’re making an effort to do.
CU: How far will Caprica go story-wise? Will we see how the first Cylon / Human war begins, for example? What’s the “five year plan” for the series?
JE: This is still open to discussion. We have road maps, but they’re subject to rewrite, elaboration and sudden inspiration.
CU: After a bit of a slow start, Dollhouse has turned out to be a very good show and I’m glad its coming back. Can you tell us about some of the changes that were made during the season to improve the show or take it in a different direction?
JE: My impression — and this really is just my impression — was that the show got closer and closer to Joss’s original vision for the show. As the show progressed, Joss was able to get deeper into the mythology and meaning of the show, which was all the stuff that fascinated me so much. I love the show and loved working there.
CU: Will you be writing more episodes of Dollhouse next season or taking a more active producing role on the show?
JE: I wish I could. Caprica has me too busy to take on anything outside of that.
CU: What do you think the reduced budget will do to the show next season? Will it have an impact of the kids of stories that can be told?
JE: Budgets are smaller all over. This limits the number of sets you can have, the number of speaking roles and extras, number of special effects, and it can cut the number of shooting days which can lead to fewer locations used in each episode. This will favor stories that take place on the standing sets, using only the regular characters.
It moves the action off-screen (you’ll tend to hear about the big riot rather than seeing it). There’s a lot of elasticity in story-telling and you can do a lot of this without it showing too badly — sometimes you even are forced into creative solutions. But you can only go so far and then it’s a show about sock puppets. Budgets are getting awfully small.
CU: Was it always the plan to have Echo realize she was a Doll or, at the very least, that something was “wrong” during the first season?
JE: My understanding was yes, that was the plan.
CU: Was Ballard always supposed to be a main character on Dollhouse and discover its secrets? It seemed his role was amplified during the first few episodes to become more of a main character?
JE: I certainly believed that he was always intended as a main character.
CU: With all the problems series creators seems to face these days getting shows on the air or finding an audience quickly, do you think creators will turn more and more to the internet to make their shows? Much like Joss did with Dr. Horrible?
JE: I don’t know. I’d love to see a really pure-writer medium develop. I’m watching and waiting.