INTERVIEW: Joe Straczynski

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

Today we're speaking with Joe Straczynski, the creator, producer, and main writer of "Babylon 5," and "Jeremiah." Mister Straszynski has created and/or produced a half-dozen TV series, he's been a radio host, he's a comics writer, he's a novelist, he's written the best damn book on Screenwriting you'll ever read, he's been nominated for a BAFTA, and won two Hugos, a Saturn, a Bradbury, an Eisner, an Inkpot, and he's the only person I've ever spoken with who has an asteroid named after him. Mister Straczynski, thank you very much for being with us today. It's a huge honor.

STRACZYNSKI:
Glad to be here. Did you really mean to wear those pants with that shirt? Just asking.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0
What, you don't like plaid? Anyway, first of all - forgive me for fawning - but thank you for like fifteen years of solidly above-average entertainment! One of the things I've always liked about you was your desire to 'demystify' the whole television production process during the 'ninties. I loved how you explained to people what you were doing, and how a show is made, the different stages in production, writing, and so on. I have to believe that went a long way towards transforming the medium from something magical to something do-able that people could aspire to and work towards. Now that you're writing Feature Films, I was curious to know how the creative process differs for you nowadays, compared to when you were primarily writing episodic TV shows.

STRACZYNSKI:
On the writing side, the process isn't that dramatically different. It's still story-telling, still making black marks on a sheet of paper and stacking them up until you hit the end. The main difference is that for most of my TV work, I was also a producer. In features, I'm the writer, and can let others handle the heavy lifting of producing, which is actually kind of nice. (I'm starting to get offers now to both write and direct, some of which I'm now strongly considering, which will be another universe I can explore.)

REPUBLIBOT 3.0
Since you spent so much time attempting to demystify the production process, I've got to know what your take on the emerging fan film subculture is. Also, I've noticed that aside from the last act of Star Wreck: In the Pirkenning, there really haven't been any Babylon 5-related fan films. What's your take on all that?

STRACZYNSKI:
I think that by and large, they're happy with where we ended, and are okay to leave it there. If we'd ended the series on a cliffhanger, or been cut off midway, then I think there would be more of an impetus to do more fan fiction and films. But we ended on "full stop," and that makes all the difference.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
I kind of feel cheated that "Jeremiah" didn't get any kind of conclusion. If the opportunity and the money and the cast presented themselves, would you be willing to continue that story, or give it some kind of wrap up? I know you don't like to give away unused story ideas, so I won't ask you anything terribly specific, but can you give us a general idea what would have happened in the third season of the show, if you'd been allowed to make it?

STRACZYNSKI:
I didn't think past year two because I wanted to get the heck out of there at the end of year two. I gave it as much of a resolution as I could, then ran like hell.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
NASA was interested in the "Starfury" design for use as a kind of space tug for the ISS. That had to be amazingly gratifying - as far as I know, there have only been two vehicles from Science Fiction shows that have been seriously studied by "Real World" agencies. The Navy did wind tunnel tests on the Flying Sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the '60s (It failed), and then there's your Starfury. Can you tell us what that was like for you? Do you know if they're still looking in to it, or has it fallen prey to budget cuts?

STRACZYNSKI:
I haven't heard anything new about this in several years, so I have to assume it's dormant for now.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Ok, I've been dying to ask you this one: In the Series Bible for Season 1 of Babylon 5, there's a lengthy and intriguing description of a recurring character named "Mister Jones" who never actually turned up in the actual series for whatever reason. Was Mr. Jones a technomage? I've managed to convince myself he was.

STRACZYNSKI:
No, he wasn't a technomage. What he was is something I may hold on for a different show.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Oooh! Interesting! When the Technomages showed up only to say goodbye in the second season of B5, several of my friends commented at the time that they felt too developed for just a one-shot appearance, they were too fleshed out. Of course they returned in force in "Crusade," but in hindsight, I've noticed a couple things that felt "Technomagey" in the early episodes of the show. The Ikarran Warrior from "Infection," for instance, and perhaps Mr. Abbut from "Deathwalker." Were these characters originally intended as Technomages before they evolved off in their own directions?

STRACZYNSKI:
No, neither of them extend from Technomage technology.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Ah, nuts. I was sure I was on to something there. Oh well. Moving on, I have to say, I was very impressed with the "Posession" story in "The Lost Tales of Babylon 5." You took a trope that's been used-to-death, and you found a very interesting logical double-blind in there that I'd never seen done before. I've made a point of showing it to some of my more religious friends in the last couple years, and everyone is very impressed. For an athiest, somewhat counterintuitively, you've always shown the ability to handle religious topics with great deftness and respect. Why do you think it is that you can do that, and why do you think so many other people can't?

STRACZYNSKI:
I come at it from a fairly objective point of view. I don't have a theology to try and shove down anybody's throats, I don't have an agenda, so I can treat the issue fairly and even-handedly, by treating them as people with flaws and virtues. As the saying goes, only Nixon could go to China.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Quite a few theists and atheists could learn from that attitude, I think.
As a novelist, you've written Demon Night, Othersyde, and Tribulations - I really liked "Othersyde," by the way - are you working on any books now? If so, can you whet our appetite?

STRACZYNSKI:
I've been working on a novel for a while now, which is about two-thirds finished (mainstream, an international thriller) and a play set in the Medieval period that's taken years to almost finish, but I hope to have it done soon.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0
There's a number of dangling threads in the Babylon 5 universe - Crusade, "The Hand," Prince Vintari, the whole Telepath War - has there been any thought given to continuing the story in some other format? Novels or even comics? I know there were a whole passel of B5 tie-in books of course (My favorite was the Psicorps trilogy), but it's been like eight years since the last of them came out. They didn't really tell us too much about events after the wrongful death of Crusade, either. Will we ever, maybe, see a novelization of "The Memory of Shadows," or anything like that?

STRACZYNSKI:
Nope.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Damn. So without betraying any trusts or giving away any spoilers, can you tell us what your latest project is?

STRACZYNSKI:
Remaking Forbidden Planet for Warner Bros, I have Ninja Assassin coming out in November, I'm adapting Lensman for Ron Howard, and I just placed a pilot project (mainstream) with the Fox Network. As well as writing comics for DC.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
And that's it. Again, I'd like to thank you again for being with us today.

STRACZYNSKI:
Happy to be here.

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