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Gilles Nuytens

Michael Rymer interview

Date of publishing: 5th May 2007

Michael Rymer interview - Director Battlestar Galactica Michael Rymer is a film director and writer. He is noted for setting the tone and direction for the entire re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series in terms of how the show looks on film, namely due to his direction of both the Miniseries and various episodes for the series itself. Rymer was born in Melbourne, Australia, but completed his studies in film at the University of Southern California, where his abilities in writing, producing and directing short films earned him the Warner Communications Scholarship for Directing in 1987. Following this, he wrote two plays, Darkness at Noon and Ensenada before he returned to Australia to work on a number of films, initially as a production co-ordinator and as a writer. He made his directorial debut in 1995's "Angel Baby", which premiered at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, and won a total of seven Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Rymer also won the Australian Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, and the Writers' Guild of America award for Best Original Screenplay. In 1997, he returned to the United States, where he wrote and directed "Allie and Me", following it up with two directorial stints with "In Too Deep" (1999) and the less-than-stellar "Purfume" (2001), described as an improvisational film. In 2002 he helmed "Queen of the Damned", the sequel to 1994's "Interview with the Vampire" before taking the director's chair for the pilot episode of UPN's television series, "Haunted". From here he moved onto the 2003 Battlestar Galactica production. Biography from: Battlestar Wiki

Battlestar GalacticaGilles Nuytens: How did you get into directing and, more especially, directing Galactica?
Michael Rymer: I wanted to make films since I was about 12. So I went to USC, then worked as a reader and a P.A. I studied acting for two years and wrote a dozen screenplays until eventually I wrote one that was good enough to get me behind the camera "Angel Baby". When I was offered "Battlestar", I had just done a big FX studio movie, "Queen of the Damned". I was not happy with the result, so my plan was to go back to basics and do a small, character driven film. When my agent sent me the script, I read the title and said "Are you listening to what I'm saying I want to do." But I read it, and put it down four hours later (this was the 250 page mini) and changed my mind. The reason I changed my mind was because of Ron's script - which I think is brilliant for the many reasons that have been well explicated by the fans already.

Gilles Nuytens: Were you a fan of the old show? What did you first think about the idea to re-imagine the show instead of closing the chapter of the original series like it was intended in the first place?
Michael Rymer: I have to confess I was not a fan of the old show. I was a big starwars fan as a kid - lived and breathed that first movie when it came out - I was in Australia and we had to wait a few months so I read the novelization before I saw the movie. When I saw the old BSG on TV, it looked to my 14 year old eyes like a cynical and underbudgetted genre show that was trying to cash in on Star Wars. It didn't work for me at all. I preferred Star Trek, Dr. Who, Space 1999, and even Lost In Space.
But the reason I loved Ron and Dave's take on this material was because it didn't read like Sci-Fi. It was just good character writing with a great premise handled thoughtfully.

Gilles Nuytens: What episode was your favorite to direct and why?
Michael Rymer: I think my favorite show(s) were the last two: Crossroads, Part 1 and 2. I really enjoyed the writing: the courtroom scenes, the four cylons, the shared visions: I thought it was everything we do well, none of the fat. For me, its about performance, so I have more fun working with actors letting them try stuff and play - I've had a good day when something exciting happened - something beyond my expectations. That's when I get to be an audience member, and be surprised by something brilliant and talented one of the actors has found. The least fun is the action stuff because it takes a lot of time and you have to be careful - and its hard for us because we don't really have the resources to make these things everything they could be.

Michael Rymer interview - Director Battlestar GalacticaGilles Nuytens: Some people criticize the second half of season 3 of being too slow and less interesting. What do you say about that?
Michael Rymer: I tracked that response and I found it very educational. We had always talked about ways to do more "bottle shows" - stories that were self-contained, that resolved themselves with a beginning, middle and an end. What I didn't understand until I heard the feeback was that our show doesn't work like that. Its a piece of epic poetry that meandres along like "The Illiad" or perhaps more relavant, "The Odyssey". It can have "cycles" of story that build and resolve themselves, but the "bottle show" is not organic to what we do well. I think "Collaborators" is about as self-contained as we can go. I like that show a lot. I'm very happy with "Hero" and "The Woman King", but I can see why a fan of the big story would be frustrated and pissed off.

Gilles Nuytens: Did you have any say in deciding who the Final Four are? What motivated the decision to choose those people?
Michael Rymer: There are always a number of things that I rail against, usually to little effect. One was making Tigh a cylon - as brilliant as it is, we now have a Cylon who is either a clone, or we have a Cylon who has aged like a normal person. I have no idea how Ron deals with that - I'm sure I'll be blown away as usual. The others make sense to me because they don't have history on Caprica. Tyrol's already had fantasies of being a Cylon. He's also imagined killing himself which echoes Sharon's attempted suicide in Season 1.

Gilles Nuytens: How did you choose the direction to take to unveil the four new cylons in the season finale?
Michael Rymer: Shooting the cylon material was great fun. The audience guesses pretty quickly what's going on, but we played it very simply - what would you do if you kept hearing this song no one else could hear? For me its not the reveal to the audience, its when the characters reveal it to themselves in the gym - I love that scene. David and Bradley didn't short-change anything, particularly in that scene - so often, the time constraints make it hard to pull off "big ideas". I think this time we got it right.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you know if the final Cylon has been already chosen?
Michael Rymer: I have no idea.

Gilles Nuytens: What is the most challenging thing you have done on Galactica so far? And the most challenging episode?
Michael Rymer: Challenging... well the biggest challenges are when things aren't going great. If the script hasn't come together or if the script hasn't been scaled down to a place where we can pull it off at the level we expect of ourselves. So the four eps that were the biggest challenges are my least favorite ones: "Eye of Jupiter" and "Scattered" stand out in my mind.

Michael Rymer interview - Director Battlestar GalacticaGilles Nuytens: What can you say about the upcoming TV movie, the storyline, and the involvement of the series regulars on it? There are rumors that you are directing it.
Michael Rymer: I really wanted to do the opener for Season 4 and I couldn't do both. Since it seems to still be a secret, I'm not going to be the one to spoil it. I hate it when the story twists get spoiled on the internet.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you think that finding Earth at the end of the show is a good thing or do you think Earth should be kept a mystery?
Michael Rymer: No, no, lets get to earth and spend some time there before we finish. Our show is all about the real consequences of people's actions. So what if they get to Earth and it isn't "the end" of anything for them.

Gilles Nuytens: What can you already tell us about the direction the show is going to take in season 4?
Michael Rymer: All I know is what is sort of obvious from the end of Season 3 - there's a lot of shit to sort out... the four Cylons, Starbuck, Baltar - it all likes juicy stuff to me.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you enjoy the most about directing Galactica?
Michael Rymer: I enjoy everything about directing Battlestar, that's why I keep coming back although I probably shouldn't for my "career". I love the cast, the crew, the "suits", Vancouver, you name it...

Gilles Nuytens: With such a long wait between season 3 and 4, even with a TV movie in the Fall, do you think the show may lose some of its audience?
Michael Rymer: No, I'd like them to find a way to make BSG feel more like an event. Make sure that people understand its a classy drama. So anticipation is good for that. I worry more about losing audience because of a weak episode. I've been turned off shows I've liked, and never bothered to go back and see if it was just one bad show. Hopefully the characters and stories are compelling enough that even when we slip a rung or two down the ladder, we're still up there, and the audience loves the characters and relationships enough to give us the occasional pass.

Gilles Nuytens: Galactica is really adult scifi, but when you say you like the show or you like scifi to someone, you can always notice a smile on their face: they won't take you seriously. They have pre-conceived ideas about what scifi is and that hasn't really evolved in years. It's like we must produce extremely good stuff to attract the attention of media--which is a good thing in the end because it means having a good product. What do you think about this situation and how can we change the mentalities?
Michael Rymer: I have to admit I was a little surprised at how hard it is to get past the title - I argued from the start that the title didn't help us, but I'm a filmmaker, not a marketeer. Something about "branding" I guess.

Michael Rymer interview - Director Battlestar GalacticaGilles Nuytens: Do you have any other projects outside of Galactica?
Michael Rymer: Yes, I have a number of features I've been working on. A couple of Australian movies. And I've just spent three months back home writing a new feature screenplay which i'm excited about, but I can't discuss that yet. I will say its a period drama.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you like when the actors you direct give you their point of view on a scene or when they suggest you something about how to play a scene?
Michael Rymer: Absolutely! I demand it. I harange them to bring everything they can to a scene.

Gilles Nuytens: There was that scene during the Pegasus episode with Michelle Forbes, when James Callis took the place of Edward James Olmos and apparently you didn't realize it until everybody exploded in laughs. Can you give us your point of view on this particular "event" (Note: Read the story on Leah Cairns interview)?
Michael Rymer: I have no idea what you're talking about. We have a lot of laughs, and usually Eddie is behind it, but that one I can't remember.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you have some special techniques for directing and could you give us some insight of your directing process?
Michael Rymer: I'll just quote one of my heroes Orson Welles who put it pretty well "Directing is the presiding over accidents." I think the most important thing is to be present and really "see" what's going on around you - that's where all the best ideas come from.

Gilles Nuytens: How do you work with Ron Moore in general, do you have a lot of liberty when you direct and produce an episode?
Michael Rymer: Ron is the boss, which is as it should be. He created the show, its his vision. And he can be stubborn, but I think that's a good thing, because the show has to have a singular vision. But Ron also gives me a lot of slack - he knows generally I'm going to add value to any scene. If he doesn't like a particular idea in the editing room, he kinows he can cut it out.

Gilles Nuytens: Thank you very much for this interview and continue to entertain us with amazing new BSG episodes!
Michael Rymer: Thanks, any time.

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© 2007 Interview by Gilles Nuytens for The Scifi World


 



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