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Interview mit JMS

Interview mit Joseph Michael Straczynski (JMS) über das Erscheinen der Babylon 5-Scriptbände

Erschienen im Januar 2005 in INFUZE


Infuze:After all these years of keeping the big secrets about what "might have been" on Babylon 5 (i.e., had Sinclair remained on the station throughout all five years), why reveal those secrets now?
JMS:One of the things you don't want is for people to get lost in alternate possibilities while you're in the midst of the story. You want the story to stand on its own, especially when it's first being told. Now that the show has settled comfortably in the collective consciousness, and is seen pretty much for what it is, it seemed like now would be a reasonable time to begin to release some of that information.
I've always been about process, about explaining how we get from A to C or Z. That's why I started the years-long conversation about B5 with the viewers online, to try and explain the process of production and how ideas turn to stories, turn to episodes. Now that people know what the show was, I can now go back and -- like a magician shoving the rabbit back into his hat -- show the process by which we arrived at that story, what was developed, changed, left behind, and elaborated upon.
Infuze:Fans are no doubt eager for answers regarding where Crusade and Legend of the Rangers might have gone. Any chance you might reveal similar "big secrets" about those shows?
JMS:We're still discussing the possibility of releasing those books; if so, be assured that, as with the B5 books, all will be revealed.
Infuze:You embarked on this remarkable journey of creating a 5-year "novel for television," and what's more, you were the first Hollywood writer/creator to make himself available to fans, online, on a regular basis. I know that unique aspect of all this is part of the reason you decided to release the script books. What do you hope your legacy is with Babylon 5?
JMS:There's a certain amount of presumptuousness that enters the conversation whenever one talks about one's "Legacy." In my mind, I picture somebody about a hundred years old standing in a wood-paneled room, speaking to a wood-paneled audience, muttering incoherently about one thing or another before fading away and being wheeled back to the home for the perpetually bewildered...
But to wax serious for a moment -- and don't you hate it when you get a waxy serious buildup? -- in terms of the tv world, B5 has already had a pretty significant effect. It was the first show to pioneer CGI on a regular basis for television, and the first American series to introduce an arc of this significance, a full novel for television with a planned beginning, middle, and end, to the tv world, paving the way for other, subsequent shows. It also broke the strangle-hold that Star Trek had on the science fiction tv world. Remember, prior to B5, no American space-based SF series other than Trek had gone more than three seasons in over 20 years. After B5, that changed. We broke a lot of new ground. (Some might say fertilized it.)
But if there's any one legacy that I value most, it's that the show has brought out one singular point: the power of one person to change the world. This theme is hammered home again and again across the five year arc, and it seems to have taken root in the hearts of a lot of people out there. At a time, and in a culture, where we are told you can't fight city hall, that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, that the individual can't affect change, having a voice that says otherwise is, I think, monumentally important... especially in a medium as ubiquitous and often shallow as television.
Infuze:Your original plans for Babylon 5 were modified as you went along. The core of the story was still there, but you were forced to adapt by the departure of Claudia Christian, for example. Do you dislike having to reconfigure your story when these kinds of things happen, or do you take it in stride? And how much light do the script books shed on this aspect of your creative process?
JMS:Changes happen in all forms of writing. I've probably made more substantial changes in the novels I've written than in B5... the difference is, you don't see the ones made in the novel because they're made retroactively as you write. If you get a cool idea in chapter 15 that changes everything before it, you go back and revise and nobody knows. But in tv, what you write and produce goes out as individual chapters and you can't recall them from the ether once they're out there. You're building the railroad as the train bears down at you, and there are no backsies. Granted, the changes were more often of an external nature -- an actor leaving a show, or breaking a foot, or the like -- but in the implementation of that change, the source really doesn't matter that much.
And yes, the books show what changes happened, how they happened, and how we were able to adapt and keep going. I'm all about process, especially when it comes to showing the creative process, and that's key to what these books were written to accomplish.
Infuze:In regards to the creative process, what would you do differently now if you were creating Babylon 5 today? Have you picked up any fundamental tools or lessons since then that's altered the way you work now?
JMS:There's really not a good answer to that when considering something as massive as a five year long, 110 hour story. I learned a lot from B5, most of it acquired the hard way, but there wasn't one thing that put me in a place where I could say, "Okay, I would change that one thing." Writers change and grow (one hopes), and if I were writing that story now for the first time, it would look very different than it did then because I have an assortment of tools I didn't have back then. Just as I will have more tools ten years from now than I have at this moment. We tell the best story we can while we're writing it.
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
Infuze:What's your favorite part of the creative process -- brainstorming, outlining, character creation, writing, editing, etc.?
JMS:The writing. That's where the characters come to life for me. The brainstorming -- or brain drizzling in my case -- happens in the background while I'm doing other things. I'll be writing something else, or in the shower, or taking a walk, wondering what to have for dinner, or what that strange smell is in the middle of the street, when suddenly something goes ding in my head and I'll have a scene or a story. I have no idea where it comes from. It just does.
Outlining... quite frankly, I suck at outlines. I hate them, and won't do them other than at gunpoint. Outlines are all plot and structure, and for me, both of those come out of character interaction, out of dialogue, which you don't generally have in an outline. For me, it's the difference between writng out the steps you'll probably take in foreplay, in which order, for how long... and actually doing it. The latter is fun; the first is perverse.
After the actual writing, I probably enjoy editing the most. I love watching a scene come together, tightening and trimming and pacing it up. That's the second time you tell the story, in editing, when the how you show the story is almost as important as what you tell.
Infuze:I can't let you go without lobbing a few questions about your current projects... What inspired The Book of Lost Souls?
JMS:I have a degree in Clinical Psychology (minor in Philosophy) from San Diego State University. (Also a second degree in Sociology with a Literature minor.) As part of that training, I had to do counseling work of various sorts... from peer counsling to academic counseling, encounter groups and crisis counseling. So I often found myself at the other end of a phone connected to someone perched on the razor's edge of despair, looking for some reason not to check out early. Lost souls. Gradually, this metamorphosed into the thought of a character whose task is to find those who are on that very same edge, who can go one way or another... and who has the ability to tip them in the right direction (with the caveat that the right direction may not always be the direction they would prefer).
Again, for me, as good as telling stories has been, and is, there has to be some kind of moral or ethical center to the thing, and The Book of Lost Souls helps me to examine that dynamic.
Infuze:Book of Lost Souls is not the first time we've seen you using religious ideas and themes for storytelling purposes. I know you're an atheist yourself, but you're well-versed in many of the religions of the world. I have to ask... why do religious ideas and themes always seem to find their way into your work?
JMS:There are big questions and small questions. Small questions are... will the Good Guy stop the Bad Guy before he can blow up the school bus crammed with children and kittens? Big questions are... why are we here? Where are we going? Who are we? As a writer, those are the questions that interest me... and those questions are the common coin of the religious experience. We think of it in the language of religion. So I co-opt the language of religion in order to let me ask questions that I find compelling. Where does justice end and revenge begin? What is the role of the individual in society? What do we owe our fellow human beings? What is the nature of compassion, and why is it so often in short supply?
Science and religion, though opposites in methodologies, both emanate from the same wellspring: the desire to understand ourselves and the world around us. So I use both with equal flexibility to try and pose questions that will lead either to better understandings or at minimum a really good bar-fight. That I am an atheist doesn't enter into it. I don't have to believe in Vorlons to know I have to write them honestly and three-dimensionally in order for a story to work. Where's the fun in writing only things that we agree with? Or in turning the other side of an argument into a straw-man so you can beat it up without breaking a sweat?
Funnily enough, a quick Google search will show B5 referenced time and again by ministers and rabbis and priests, by Zen Buddhists and pagans and Christians and others... by people writing books about religion and television, more than just about any other secular tv show that doesn't go out of its way to tout the religious connection (e.g., Touched By an Angel). Just today, in fact, I received the galleys for a book from Brazos Press called Christian Faith and the Classics of Science Fiction, which has a whole massive chapter dedicated just to Babylon 5. We were warned about covering this area because it tends to be conducive to controversy... but in five years, I can't recall ever getting even a single angry letter. Because we always treated every religious person as fairly and honestly as we could.
I guess being an atheist means I can, to some degree, approach those matters with a modest amount of objectivity and balance. I don't have an ax to grind or a point to hammer home. All I have are questions.
And a kitty.
Infuze:What else are you working on in the comic book world right now? Any tidbits you can reveal about your upcoming Silver Surfer mini?
JMS:I can't reveal much about the Silver Surfer story at this point, but as for other comics work: I'm writing Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, Squadron Supreme and Hyperion, just finished a five-issue miniseries called Bullet Points that will be coming out sometime in the summer and looks at the consequences of one bullet in the Marvel universe over the course of decades. I'm writing a new mini using some of Marvel's classic WW2 characters who haven't been seen since the war. And (I have) some surprises coming down the road.
I just finished a script for a new tv series, and I'll shortly be heading to Toronto to help direct and produce a 20-episode supernatural/comedy/action radio drama series I wrote for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called The Adventures of Apocalypse Al. The show will debut on the CBC first, then go to the BBC, Radio Ireland, NPR (I think, or Sirius), and out from there.
Infuze:Can you tell us anything about the new tv show you've signed on to produce? I'm sure you can't reveal any major details, but will it appeal to Babylon 5 fans? Closer in tone to B5 or Jeremiah?
JMS:It's nothing like either one of them. Suffice to say that I think it will definitely be of interest to B5 fans and fans of science fiction in general.
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