Thoughts from Bradley Thompson on the making of “Sometimes a Great Notion,”
By: Maureen Ryan
Date: January 17, 2009
Source: The Watcher
Note: This is a snippet of an interview with BRADLEY THOMPSON where he mentions AARON DOUGLAS / CHIEF TYROL. To read the full interview, click HERE.
From the get-go, “Battlestar Galactica” has been about transcending limitations. It’s one of the themes of the drama, but it’s also a real-life problem our crew fought every day. “Sometimes a Great Notion,” was no exception.
Our production draft of the script hit the production team like an anvil dropped from the fourteenth floor.
EXT. EARTH STREET CORNER – DAY – PAST
Tyrol stands in front of a brick apartment building in a tight urban neighborhood. Corner coffee shop. Art gallery. Smoke billows in the distance from the burning city beyond. Dust fills the air. PEOPLE stumble past, moving away from the smoke. A disoriented Tyrol whips his head around, trying to get his bearings. SERIES OF QUICK DETAIL SHOTS, A LANDSLIDE OF SENSATION…
…A MAN and A WOMAN stagger toward him, silhouetted against the smoke.
…A car explodes into flame in the middle of the street.
…The building’s glass door blows out, spraying shards.
…Tyrol pulls several pieces from his bleeding face.
…Closer now, the man and the woman have smudged and scorched faces.
…A flaming phone pole crashes down, dragging its wires onto the pavement.
…THE WOMAN’S skin, where her clothing has torn away, is burned in the pattern of her dress.
Water. Please. Water.
They reach toward him. His eyes flash down at —
…their hands. LONG STRIPS OF BLOODY SKIN hang from them, like gloves turned inside out.
…Tyrol has to look away. At the doorway. Sees —
…A woman’s black hair, her dark eyes looking out at him. Could it be Sharon? No. Before we can recognize her, she turns away from the shattered opening.
Tyrol suddenly runs toward the apartment entrance. The sky WHITES OUT with a stupendous ROAR as another NUKE detonates. FOR AN INSTANT…
Tyrol’s eyes see HIS SHADOW on the brick, just as his body’s swallowed in the WHITE LIGHT AND ROAR.
A page that could cost a fortune. A street. Actors. Smoke. Set fire to a telephone pole and drop it. Blow up a car – and an entire city. Not to mention the makeup and the flying glass.
It wasn’t just this. We also had another nuclear explosion that dropped a building on two of our characters. A crashed Viper in a field. Some very expensive guest actors. Oh, and a ruined civilization on a beach – something the Art Department would have to build at the beginning of Vancouver’s winter. Yeah, and we’d have to shoot out there for at least two days. That’s a lot for a cable budget right there. It rains in Vancouver. And if the weather didn’t cooperate, we were hosed. Literally.
The production team looked at us as if we’d been smoking crack. In a masterpiece of understatement, Supervising Producer Harvey Frand (the man who had to find a way to pay for all this) told us:
“Guys, your script is great. But we seem to be in a financial bind with it. While the studio is willing to go over pattern on this episode, preliminary estimates have us at about two and a half times their limit. We are expecting new budgets this morning based on the production draft and the preproduction meeting yesterday. As soon as we have them, I’ll let you know the difficult areas and try to work with the departments to trim without having to devastate the script.”
Okay. Par for the course – part of our job as producers is to figure out how to tell things cheaper. Director Michael Nankin came to Vancouver to prepare for shooting. Together, we found ways that could make the story work better and theoretically bring the budget under control. In our next pass at the script, along with other cuts, the street destruction came way down:
EXT. WALL – DAY – PAST
Tyrol walks along an apartment wall. Catches sight of a WOMAN’S dark hair in the doorway. A glimpse of her almond eyes. She turns away. He steps up his pace. The sky WHITES OUT with the stupendous ROAR of a NUCLEAR detonation.
FOR AN INSTANT, TYROL’S EYES see HIS SHADOW on the brick, just as his body’s swallowed in the WHITE LIGHT AND ROAR.
That didn’t kill the story point, just eliminated extra eye candy. We could live with that.
Producer Ron French, who often had the un-fun responsibility of bringing us back to reality, corralled us in his office. He said that our other proposed cuts would go a long way toward making this episode possible, but that those dollar-sucking nuclear blasts were still in the script. Until they were gone, there was no way we could fit the episode into the time and money we had to make it.
And here is where “Battlestar” was different from any other show I’d worked on. David Weddle (my co-writer) and I simply looked at him and said, “We need those scenes to tell the story. What can you afford to do?”
Suddenly, it was no longer a fight between Finance and Creative. It was All Of Us Against The Problem. Ron dragged Production Designer Richard Hudolin and Art Director Doug McLean into the office. They thought for a while and finally said that maybe… maybe… they could afford to build a small two-wall set in a corner of one of our stages. Drop some Styrofoam debris on the actors. Blow it up with lighting effects – but that still left the destruction on the city street. There was just no way we could find a place to shoot that.
We dragooned Michael Nankin and visual effects wizard Gary Hutzel into the conversation. And Michael said, “If we can’t go on location, we’ll do it on the set. Give me one wall, a green screen, and a fruit cart. I’ll get the scene. And Gary will build the city and blow it up.”