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Jane Espenson Talks About Writing for Firefly and Battlestar — and Gives a Little Secret Cylon Backstory
Jane Espenson is the only person to have written for both Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, the two best TV space operas of the past decade. She wrote Firefly’s "Shindig" and at least three episodes so far for BSG. Back when Battlestar first launched, many people felt it was trying to copy the grittier look and handheld camera action of Firefly, so we decided to ask Espenson what she thought. Find out what she thinks the differences between the shows are — and how Cylons share memories — in our spoiler-free interview.
What was it like being the only Firefly writer to come over to BSG ? Did you get a sense that BSG was trying to imitate some of Firefly’s more revolutionary elements, like the grittier, less heroic tone ?
I don’t think Firefly influenced BSG. BSG was being developed shortly after Firefly was, and I’m under the impression that Ron would’ve been too busy coming up with Battlestar to be watching Firefly.
Portrait_of_Jane_Espenson.jpgWhat do you think the differences between the two shows are ?
Certainly the shows *feel* entirely different to me. Firefly was more episodic, while BSG is one long novel. Firefly laughed openly, while BSG’s humor is so black it can be hard to see against a dark background. Both shows reflect the souls of their creators and not each other. I know I never think about Firefly when we’re working on Battlestar. Does evolution think about a deer while it’s making a llama ? (No. It doesn’t. They’re equal, similar, and also different.)
How are the writing rooms on the two shows similar, or different ?
I never worked in a writers’ room at Firefly. Maybe there was one, but I worked on the story for Shindig one-on-one with Joss. BSG, though, is all about a very lively room that is guided by Ron, although not always in person. The writers at Battlestar, to a man, are amazing. They’re smart, funny, and incredibly devoted to making a challenging and intelligent show.
You came onto BSG with its third season. Is it challenging to take on established characters who’ve been around for a while, and try to come up with something new to do with them ?
That’s at the heart of a TV writer’s job. Even on a new show, the creator will have established the characters in the pilot and the writers have to build on what’s already there. In fact, my favorite part of the job is matching a pre-existing voice. And "finding something new to do with them" can be easy when you’re dealing with a world as dense in past conflict and grounded disagreements and desperate alliances as Battlestar is... throw a new situation at these characters and you’ll have something new and electric to write about.
Is it true that Ron Moore wrote a Cylon Bible, which tells about their culture and what life on a Basestar is like ?
There is, indeed, something like a Cylon bible — a document that describes their culture and their ships. There is also a similar document about life on Galactica. I was given these when I was hired and I can vouch that they’re fascinating !
Can you share anything non-spoilery from either of these ? Like, how do the different Sharons share so many memories ? When we first meet the Athena version of Sharon, she knows a lot of stuff that the Boomer version knows somehow, despite one of them being on Caprica and the other being on Galactica.
Not all Eights know everything the other Eights know. But during a download, memories are stored and can be accessed by a curious Cylon who knows how. Different models may differ on how widely memories are shared between different incarnations of the same model.