He’s worked in the realms of such science fiction features as Andromeda, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and on the upcoming second season of Fringe. He also has two movies approaching, Marvel’s new Thor and Disney’s The Feynman Chronicles. You can enjoy more geek depravity in his weekly guest column, or the constant barrage of his Twitter feed.
Reznik: A friend of mine once said, “It’s like when you want to watch Battlestar Galactica and the only thing on is Andromeda.” It’s syndicated heavily in Canada, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t think twice about Kevin ‘Hercules’ Sorbo in Gene Roddenberry‘s ‘Not Trek’, and that’s a shame because it was really quite enjoyable. Was this your first ‘big break’ into sci-fi writing, and how did it come about?
Ash: Andromeda was definitely the big break. In a way, the gig came about for the same reason our partnership did… internet mud-wrestling.
Zack and I met Robert Wolfe (the creator/showrunner) on Usenet in the mid-90s after Zack interviewed him for a piece on the DS9/B5 fan wars. It was very interesting, in that it compared the situation to conflicts between religious zealots. Very smart, very Zack. He got flamed pretty good for failing to interview J. Michael Straczynski (never mind the fact that JMS had declined to participate), so Robert jumped to Zack’s defense, and was attacked for his trouble by smug fanboys with no sense of irony. I waded into the fight on Zack’s side, all guns blazing. This was before I knew either of them—and long before I was a pro—so for me, it was all about unloading on a bunch of fanholes because I thought they fucking deserved it.
Long story short, Zack and I became friends. Zack and Robert became friends. So when Zack and I started writing together and pitched Voyager a few times, Robert would have lunch with Zack and give him feedback on our ideas. When Robert got Andromeda up and running, he remembered some of those stories and announced he intended to buy one. (It eventually became “Banks of The Lethe”). We were invited to pitch in January 2000, and sold I think five of seven stories in the room. “D Minus Zero” was our audition script, and got us our staff jobs.
Over the three seasons we were on the show, we ended up writing every single story we pitched that day. I believe the last of that batch to make it to the stage was “The Lone and Level Sands”.
Sometimes I feel like we cheated a little. We were such huge fans of DS9 and Robert in particular that we were able to get inside his head and pitch stories the way he liked them. I think we differ from him as writers in important ways, but we are very much of that school. DS9 and Robert Wolfe are definitely in the DNA of everything we do.
Reznik: After the huge ‘Holy Shit’ cliffhanger of season 2 and the subesequent cancellation, I (like many other intelligent science fiction fans) were left out in the cold. Explain what would have happened in season three in 7 words or less.
Ash: Thirteen to twenty-two episodes of great television.
Reznik: Adapting between a rock and a hard place: What was it like dealing with a franchise with an already established mythos? Was it more like a glorified fanfic with all the grunt work of back story and history already taken care of, or more like writing with an entire committee constantly reading over your shoulder?
Ash: It’s funny you put it that way, because the truth is a lot of the “grunt work of back story and history” really wasn’t ever taken care of, except in the broadest of broad strokes. A lot of things were implied, but very few things were spelled out. There’s also the interesting way in which POV informs what you think about Judgment Day. Kyle Reese and Uncle Bob relate superficially similar but vastly different accounts. What’s the truth? The fun of the show was in squaring that circle, and bringing out some of the details without destroying the mystery.
As for the committee… never felt that way. We’re fans. We were the committee. We wrote to amuse ourselves, and no one else. That’s how we’ve always done it.
Reznik: I couldn’t help but notice more than a couple themes and elements from the show seemed to creep into the newest flick, Terminator: Salvation. In regards to overall continuity, and gods forbid, some intelligent subject matter and not just shit blowing up, how much of an effect do you think the show had on the new series of movies?
Ash: I can’t really speak to that. We’re all obviously playing in the same sand box. It’s reasonable we’d find a lot of the same toys. I do think we did some very different things with them. In practical terms, I think the movie actually used our submarine set for some pick-up shots but I’d have to ask James Middleton to verify that.
I know McG had some interest in connecting the two continuities, but Josh rightly pointed out that there was no way to make that work given the realities of movie production and the kinds of storytelling we liked to do on the show. It would have boned us, and I think you can see how if you look back at the second season and where we ended up.
It was kind of fun when McG would come over to Josh’s office for show and tell. He’d bring versions of the big, special effects action scenes and Josh would be like… wanna see a toilet turn into Shirley Manson? We didn’t have 100 foot tall people-pickers, but we had THAT.
Reznik: I was wondering about the relationship between you and Josh Friedman on #SCC – Were you the Han to his Luke, or the Chewie to his Han?
Ash: Mostly, I was the Boba Fett to his Sarlacc Pit.
Reznik: Never watched it after season 1 – episode 1; I wrote it off as an X-Files/CSI/Medium mashup. Why should I?
Ash: If for no other reason, watch it for Walter Bishop. There are a lot of great characters, but putting a bona fide Mad Scientist front and center of a network action drama was a stroke of genius. Think of Walter as the Fringe gateway drug.
Reznik: What can we expect from Kenneth Branagh trading Shakespeare for norse myth and Marvel setting up for the series of mega-blockbusters? I must admit that I was astounded to hear about the talent and people involved, and I was curious about the process of how all these great minds collaborate on a ‘funny-book’ movie.
Ash: Here’s what I can tell you about Ken. He’s a fucking genius, and I’ve believed that for twenty years. Henry V changed my life— no shit. Working with him is easily the highlight of my professional career. I mean, his last two collaborators were a Nobel Prize winner and the greatest writer who ever lived. So, no pressure. Right?
It’s funny how many people bring up the Shakespeare/comic book dichotomy, but I reject it. Shakespeare wrote people who were larger than life but every bit as human as the rest of us. Isn’t that what the best superhero comics are about? It’s definitely what Marvel comics are about. Ken’s great wisdom is in recognizing that and treating THOR the way he would treat anything else. I think people are going to be surprised at how emotional and human the story is. Stunned even. It turns on things I don’t think we’ve really seen before in a comic book film. I’m tremendously proud of it.
As for the mega-blockbusters… just you wait. It’s been a lot of fun being a part of that process, as a fan and as a writer.
Reznik: With each of these huge solo titles ultimately leading to the upcoming Avengers flick (once again working within the confines of a franchise), how does the new Thor fit into the new mythos of Marvel’s uber-franchise?
Ash: Thor absolutely occupies the Marvel universe, in every conceivable sense. Once you see the movie, you’ll get it. I can’t imagine the Avengers film without him.
Reznik: I have to check—does everyone involved “get” Thor? Can we expect the source material to be treated correctly with reverence, and yet still work as a summer blockbuster for the mouth-breathing general populous?
Ash: Every single person involved with the development of the movie “gets” Thor. That’s a big reason why the work has been such a pleasure… you never have to defend the property from the people who own it. You can even make frog jokes without getting blank stares in return. If you get the frog jokes, you get Thor. That’s all there is to it.
Reznik: Your upcoming project is The Feynman Chronicles. I have but one question. What the fuck is The Feynman Chronicles?
Ash: The Feynman Chronicles is a period sci-fi adventure film that pits young Richard Feynman and Antoine Saint-Exupery against Werner Von Braun and a bunch of Nazi assholes in a race to… something… in the middle of the Congo. Also, there’s a zeppelin with guns.
No, really. That’s the movie. It’s fucking awesome. And it kicks you square in the balls at the end.
Cylon centurion (classic series) vs Terminator T-88
The Terminator has two red eyes, the Cylon only has one. Two is greater than one. The Terminator wins.
Han Solo vs Snake Plissken
I love Han Solo, but Snake would mop the floor with him. It’s not even a question. Although I do believe Snake would let Han call him “Snake”, because that’s just how he rolls.
John Connor vs Paul Atreides
Paul Atreides can see the future. John Connor is from the future. It’s a tie.
Sylar or Mirror Mirror Nimoy Spock
Sylar can do a lot of things, but have you ever seen him grow a goatee? No. You have not. Mirror Spock wears a goatee, therefore he can grow one. Mirror Spock wins. Now, you might argue that Sylar could steal Mirror Spock’s goatee growing power, but he has to win the fight first. Which he can’t.
You & Josh & Zack
Zack, in a walk. He distracts me and Josh with a box of fudge, waits for us to pass out from the sugar crash and then kills us in our sleep. Quite sad, really.
With sincere appreciation and rabid fanboy enthusiasm, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m excited and pleased to host your weekly column, the aptly named “Hey, Fuck You.“ I look forward to both the upcoming projects you’re working on, and your fantastic contributions to FLIMgeeks.
The second season of Fringe begins Thursday, September 17th on FOX. Thor is headed to theatres May 20, 2011, and The Feynman Chronicles is also expected in 2011.
Reznik: And finally, last but not least: Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Ash: It depends. Are we talking about the unpleasantness at the Mos Eisley cantina, or that time with Oola the Twi’lek in Jabba’s palace? Because Greedo DEFINITELY shot first that time.