by Paul M. Leonard
In the middle of my 22 year freelance career in episodic post-production, the pilot for “Battlestar Galactica” landed on me. Production was wrapping the 4 hour mini-series pilot in Vancouver, and editing was due to move to the Universal lot. The current Associate Producer on the show was overwhelmed by the number of visual effects in the project and basically the idea that it was largely set in space. The studio, Universal Cable Productions, asked me if I was interested in taking over the AP job, essentially to run post on the pilot for the next 10 months and get it delivered. I was scheduled for a phone interview the following day with Executive Producer David Eick and handed the script, which was as thick as a phone book. I started reading the script at 9 pm that night sitting on my couch and devoured it in one sitting. I was hooked and HAD to nail this job. The next day I convinced the EP David Eick that I was right for the position and set to work.
In reviewing the editor’s cut a few weeks later, I realized that there was a fair amount of dialogue created on set that was not in the script. I asked the director, Michael Rymer, about it. He indeed confirmed that Edward James Olmos playing Commander Adama ad-libbed by repeating Elosha’s last line of a prayer and turned it into spirit building chant “So say we all!” This was on his first day of work while addressing the Battlestar crew in his rousing speech that ends with “Earth will become our new home!” A less well known story is that Aaron Douglas, who played Chief Tyrol, only had 6 scripted lines in the mini-series pilot but had substantially more in the editor’s cut. Again I asked Rymer about this, who was in the cutting room next door to my office for 6 weeks getting his director’s cut together. Rymer told me Aaron Douglas added a few lines one day that were in character and, in his opinion, helped a scene. Rymer and David Eick approached Aaron at the end of that day’s work and asked him to return the following day to ad-lib some more. When I had the opportunity to ask Aaron about it on an ADR stage months later he laughed and told me he thought he was going to get fired. Instead, Aaron’s off the cuff contributions yielded moments like his speech to the deck crew, “Let’s get the old girl ready to roll and kick some Cylon ass!” Ultimately, it cemented a series regular part for Aaron that had quite the dramatic impact on the show overall.
Months later when we were a few days away from locking the show and already behind schedule with, among other things, the production of 400 vfx shots, Ron Moore called my office, introduced himself, and asked for a copy of the most recent cut. Ron had turned in his script some six months prior and had not viewed any dailies or iterations of his script. He had been busy running “Carnivale” for HBO. When I reported Ron’s call to Eick and Rymer they got nervous. I contributed that I thought the show was in terrific shape, but Rymer corrected me to point out that 25% of the dialogue was “off script.” While Rymer and I reminded Eick that our super tight schedule could not allow for sweeping editorial changes at this stage, Eick told us to calm down and wait for Ron’s call the next day. Most writers, certainly ones less accomplished than Ron Moore, would not tolerate seeing so many liberties taken with their scripts. The call did come, but it was not what we feared. Ron said, “Congratulations. It’s better than the script.” Unbelievable. When the series was green lit with Ron as show runner that very unusual type of collaborative leadership that encouraged an organic open dialogue with the cast and crew would produce the most exciting and challenging work experience of our careers for the next four years. This surprisingly democratic approach affected and infected post and editorial to such a degree that we ended up crafting whole episodes out of extra footage, changing stories with visual effects and setting the narrative rules – “And They Have a Plan” – with our own ideas. Those are stories for future posts…