Ronald D. Moore Talks Outlander, Helix & Trek
Ronald D. Moore is on a roll. The former writer-producer of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, not to mention First Contact and more, has his latest show, Outlander, debuting August 9 on STARZ, and is also prepping season two of Syfy’s disease-outbreak thriller, Helix. Outlander is based on Diana Gabaldon’s novels about Claire (Caitriona Balfe), a married World War II combat nurse (in 1945) who’s thrown back in time to Scotland in 1743, where she must think on her feet to survive. Along the way, she falls for a handsome warrior (Sam Heughan) and must dodge the villainous Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), who very much looks like her husband. StarTrek.com hadn’t spoken with Moore in quite a while, and with Outlander set to premiere, he agreed to an interview. Here’s what Moore had to say about Star Trek, Outlander and Helix.
Do you ever miss Trek, or did you scratch that itch with your 10 years working on the shows and films?
MOORE: After I left, I had definitely scratched that itch. I needed a break from it. I didn’t even watch it for quite a while after that, even though it was part of life’s blood since childhood. I just kind of stayed away for a while. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone back to it and started to really enjoy it again. I got out to a couple of conventions here and there. I’ve been involved with the Blu-ray releases of The Next Generation. So I literally pulled out my boxes of old scripts from the USC Film and TV Library and went through the old memos to prepare to do the commentary tracks. I saw some of the cast and the writers. And I started to really enjoy it and appreciate it after some time had gone by. And, yeah, there’s certainly a part of me that would love to it again because it was such a special thing to me personally. I still think it’s an amazing franchise. You never say never. You never know what the future is going to bring.
You mentioned having done a couple of convention appearances. What do the fans still want to know? What surprises you about what they’re asking you all these years later?
MOORE: It’s amazing that they still ask about specific episodes and why this character did that. Or, “Didn’t you every think of that?” or “What are the stories you wish you could have told?” or “Tell us some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.” It’s just fascinating that this much time has gone by and that the passion for it is still there. When we were doing Next Gen and Deep Space, we loved it and we were proud of it, but I don’t know that any of us were convinced that 20 years later there would be a fan base that was passionate about it as they were for, say, The Original Series, that it would last that long. We kind of felt like, “Well, this is our time in the sun and then the world will turn and, 20 years from now, people will like these shows, but they will probably think of The Original Series more than us.”
And that’s often not the case right?
MOORE: Those shows, Next Gen and Deep Space, those casts and those stories, have managed to bring in a whole new generation of fans. I love going to the conventions and talking to people who literally look at me now and say, “Yeah, you kind of made the show before I was born, but my dad showed it to me.” I think, A, “Holy cow, I’m old,” and B, “It’s fantastic that those shows can appeal to young people and to see new fans generated.”
Outlander is your new project. What was it about Outlander that connected with you?
MOORE: I love history and I like period pieces and I like strong female characters. There was a little bit of time travel in here, which gave it a certain flip. And I was just really attracted to the central character most strongly. When I read the book, I really liked Claire. I thought she was a smart, interesting woman, in an interesting situation. I like the detail with which Diana had drawn the world, because she came from an academic background. She really enjoys research and did a fair amount of research into the social life and morality of the time, the politics and everything that was going on. It was just a fascinating world. The story itself was unusual, and I’d never seen that story told on television. I could see it as a show and thought it would be a really interesting and unique piece.
How involved is Gabaldon?
MOORE: Diana reads all the scripts and outlines. She sees dailies. She sees the cuts. We talk periodically. She is a consultant on the show formally. So she’s not one of the in-house producers, but we hear from her. She says things. We ask her questions. I went out with my producing partner, Maril Davis, before we sold the show, and spent a weekend with Diana, just to talk conceptually about adaptation, to ask questions about the world and the characters. Her attitude from the very beginning was perfect. She said, “Look, I’m an author, not a TV writer. You do what you do, I do what I do. I know things are going to be changed. I’m here to help. I just want it to be good. Use it as a resource.” And I was like, “Fantastic,” because my attitude on adapting this piece of material was to try to make as faithful an adaptation as I could. I wasn’t coming in to reimagine it. I wanted to adapt it and preserve the story as faithfully as possible. So we were very much on the same page. And ever since it’s been great. She’s been very happy so far and it’s been a good working relationship.
You have a bunch of your old Trek team with you, including Maril Davis and Ira Steven Behr. Is that just a matter of working with people you know and respect?
MOORE: It’s great. I’ve been working with Maril for a long time. Ira… the formative years of my career were spent working with Ira, but we hadn’t worked together in quite a while. So it was really a treat to bring him on to this. Michael O’Halloran, who is our supervising editor, was also with us as well at Star Trek. I’m here in Scotland right now. I kind of go back and forth roughly every two or three weeks, and the writers’ offices are in L.A., and so is post-production. We also have individual writer-producers who will come to Scotland from L.A. to produce a block. We shot shoot the series in blocks of two. So we’ll do two episodes at a time, cross-boarding them, and then we’ll have a writer-producer come here to be on set during the prep and during the actual shoot, then I’ll shuffle in and out across the seas.
Let’s talk about Helix. How satisfied were you with season one?
MOORE: I thought season one was good. I think we can improve in season two. I thought we started really well. I thought there were some rocky parts here and there. First-year show, that’s a natural thing. I think we got a little bit more money going in to the second season. We got a little bit more time to plan. We learned some lessons. But I was very encouraged by the response of the audience and the network. People seemed to enjoy the show and stick with it. I think we have a good cast. I’m feeling very optimistic about season two.
What direction will things head in during season two?
MOORE: What can I tell you without giving too much away? There’s a new setting. We’re going to maintain the one day per episode structure. It’ll pick up the mythology from last year, but hopefully in unexpected ways. We still want that sense of claustrophobia. Right now, with me doing Outlander, I supervise. I give notes. I speak with Steve Maeda, who’s the day-to-day show runner. It’s really his show and I try to help when they have questions or problems. But the lion’s share of my time now is certainly spent on Outlander and Steve is running Helix.
So much of your work -- Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica -- has been in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. Is that just your comfort zone? Are they the stories you like to see, so they’re the stories you like to tell?
MOORE: Well, I’ve always liked the genre. I grew up with it. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Trek fan growing up. My first gig was Trek and I was there for a decade. So that set the tone. When you spend that much time working on a big, successful genre piece like that, suddenly people want to hear about genre pieces from you and they bring them to you. Those doors open. I enjoy it, so I continue to do it. I have other interests in other things, too. Outlander, there’s a sprinkle of sci-fi or genre in it, but it’s mostly a big period piece. So I’m enjoying that most of this job is just dealing with creating a world that’s not here anymore and dealing with period stuff and history and details. It’s in the ballpark of what I like about science fiction, which is, as a producer, creating worlds that don’t exist. I think I’d be bored just replicating contemporary reality in a cop show or hospital show. I like the challenge and creative chaos of creating a world that doesn’t exist or hasn’t existed for a long time and trying to draw an audience into that world and make them believe that it’s real.
Visit www.starz.com for details about Outlander and to watch the first episode.