Veteran helmer allowed to turn TV into art
I am twice the filmmaker I was when I started my first episode of “Battlestar Galactica.”
I have directed episodic television for almost 20 years and never encountered the freedom, the support and the encouragement to experiment that I did on the set of “BSG.” Only in that kind of freedom can you push yourself and grow. The producers of “BSG” have remembered what many have forgotten, that film — even in television — is an art form and thrives in an environment of openness and audacity.
There’s an old joke in television: Movie directors say, “This is what I want.” TV directors say, “This is what they want … ” Mostly this is true, the “they” being the producers, the studio and the network. Change a comma on a David Kelley show at your peril. But on “BSG,” I was given scripts weeks before prep and asked to weigh in with notes. I was encouraged to interpret scenes in new ways, to broaden the filmic and emotional language of the show. Some of my experiments failed — but that was never held against me. I was always encouraged to push things further … and to finish my day on time.
But the heart of “BSG” has always been performance. We took for granted the fact that the scenes were always beautifully written, digging deeply into the darkest or most exalted emotions. Everything had layers of subtext and meaning. I always tried to match these layers with visual metaphor, with images that reveal character.
But there was nothing ever rigid about the writing. We took out lines; we added lines. It became clear after a while that the show lived between the lines of dialogue. “BSG” was all about the moments. Many of the first cuts would be 20 minutes too long. We would throw out whole storylines — and tons of exposition — just to save the moments of humanity. Once, tonight’s episode contained a 10-minute Baltar story dealing with whether it was proper for Cylons to worship with him. It was sacrificed to make room for other moments of human behavior and emotion — virtually silent filmmaking.
In this dramatic laboratory, a strange thing would happen: After weeks of prep and planning, we would arrive on the set and realize we knew nothing about the scene until the cameras rolled. Only then would it come to life and we could get to work. Only in this singular atmosphere of creative freedom can this happen. Ron Moore and David Eick believe in hiring the right people and letting them do their jobs — a rare commodity in television. The results speak for themselves.
Michael Nankin directed eight episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” including tonight’s midseason premiere.