JMS on CompuServe (Dec 19, 1996) *POSSIBLE SPOILERS*

Brent Barrett bbarrett at
Thu Dec 19 20:56:42 EST 1996

 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WARNING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 The following posts may contain SPOILERS for
 upcoming Babylon 5 episodes.

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 [ Summary of subjects in this section: ]
    Sb: #From jms re: yr 4/5
    Sb: #627973-Your writing schedule
    Sb: #627873-#What came First/Last?
    Sb: #627895-#Spoo taste?
    Sb: #627944-"Messages from Earth"
    Sb: #627969-#From jms re: yr 4/5
    Sb: #628001-From jms re: yr 4/5
    Sb: #627812-Vorlon Question

 #: 627844 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  16:10:03
Sb: #From jms re: yr 4/5

There's been a fair amount of speculation and concern about the fifth season,
and how the story is laying out to handle the possibilities of renewal vs. no
renewal.  Though the ratings have continued to improve despite the shifts and
changes in the syndication marketplace -- it's a very different market than it
was when we first debuted -- nothing is certain yet about a fifth season.  Some
at WB say yes, some say no.  My job is to pick my way through this minefield
and make it all  work, and assure the story ending where is was meant to end.
So how does one do this?

Here's the skinny.

First, you have to understand that writing is a *process*, and that process is
constantly changing.  Ask any writer, and they'll tell you that many times
they've been working on a short story, or a novel, and they have to edit for
space.  This applies to both fiction and nonfiction writers.  Sometimes it's
done by the writer, sometimes by the editor.  On my second novel, the editor
told me at the halfway mark that we'd have to keep the book down to 100,000
words, which was about 75-100 pages less than I'd been planning on, so the
story had to be adjusted to fit.  As a journalist, I've often walked into the
office with a story in hand and been told, "Okay, you've got 15 column inches,"
or 25 column inches, or 10 column inches...and you just learn to write to fit.
Every writer goes through this.

And in most cases, the average person never knows.  Done properly, it should be
seamless.  Look at Stephen King's The Stand, cut by almost 25% by the editors
at first, then later released with all the ancillary material replaced.  I've
read both, and the latter is not appreciably better than the former...if you
didn't know the material was there, you would never have missed it.

This also happens on a per-episode basis.  At LosCon, I showed a finished scene
from 405, and the daily of the master shot of the same scene, which had another
minute or so of material cut from the finished scene.  We cut material all the
time; if you added up all the material cut from the third season, you'd have
enough for almost two episodes.  And we often slide material from one episode
into another; we slid Ivanova's scenes in 402 into 403, and another scene from
405 into 406...we've done that in prior seasons as well.  Sometimes you go back
and you *add* material.  Again, it's all part of the process.

(Interestingly enough, I just bought the new laserdisk of "Young Frankenstein,"
which has about 15 minutes of material cut from the movie for time.  I watched
it the other night, and of those 15 minutes, 13 were easily expendable...only
one scene was fairly interesting, but not really necessary.)

Okay, so how does all this relate to B5?

My obligation as a storyteller is to get to the end of the story in a
satisfying way.  So after we got the year 4 renewal, and knowing that the PTEN
business situation had the potential to impact us (when the network that
supports you is no longer there, so now your entire structure is shot out from
under've got a problem), I looked at the structure for the story, and
began planning adjustments so that it could go either way without padding
anything, and without shortchanging the story.

First thing I did was to flip out the stand-alones, which traditionally have
taken up the first 6 or so episodes of each season; between two years, that's
12 episodes, over half a season right there.  Then you would usually get a fair
number of additional stand-alones scattered across the course of the season.
So figure another 3-4 per season, say 8, that's 20 out of 44. So now you're
left with basically 24 episodes to fill out the main arc of the story.

Now, that arc is very intensive, and has three primary threads: the resolution
of the Shadow war, the situation regarding Earth, and a series of smaller
sub-threads that feed off those main threads.  But if you charge right from one
to the other, it's going to feel rushed, you're going to need some breathing
room between major movements, particularly after the shadow war.  Not so much
stand-alones as episodes that let you begin to rearrange your pieces for the
next major movement.  So now you're back up to about 27.

Okay, so *now* what do you do?  The solution to that came in several
unassociated pieces.

First came the word of the two B5 TV movies for TNT, which were envisioned as
taking place within the arc of our main story.  Suddenly I had 4 hours into
which I could slide some of this material.  One sub-thread I'd been planning on
was a 3-episode arc that would look at how the Earth/Minbari War started, and
Delenn's situation at the start of the war, joining the Council, that sort of
thing.  Now I was able to split that out.  So in the series I can, in an
episode, get into Delenn's role in the war and go into the background of how
she got to know Dukhat, how she got into the Grey Council, and so on...all the
stuff you'd need to see prior to the war. Then the two hours covering the rest,
the progress of the war itself, could be covered in the two-hour movie.

With the *benefit* that we'd have a little more money for the movie than we
would for two conventional hours, so we could do *more* in the way of EFX,
production value, and so on, which you're going to need to really sell the E/M
war.  So strangely enough, and as tends to happen, this has put us in the
position of doing it *better* than if I'd dropped it into two standard-budget
episodes, as was my original plan.

Another sub-thread wouldn't have been introduced until late in year 5, in part
to set up the possibility of a sequel (which, as I've stated from the very
earliest days of the show, was always in the back of my head) and which would
stand on its own in any event; a thread designed to illustrate the notion that
the duration tends to be a lot longer than the war. (You'll understand that one
later.)  That sub-thread would've filled about 3-4 episodes.

Now, again, having the second 2-hour movie lets me slide that piece of story
into that category and cover nearly all of that ground in doing so. The
remaining material could (and will, one hopes) be covered in the actual sequel
itself.  (If the sequel never ends up going, the material will be sufficiently
stand-alone to still work on its own.)

Then, finally, you take the stand-alones you pulled out earlier (which nobody
would miss, not knowing what was in them), and the final couple of sub-threads
(not yet introduced or implied in the main series) and slide them into the
sequel series, CRUSADE.

So if we *had* to collapse everything into a fourth year, it would all fit
perfectly.  If word came that there *was* going to be a fifth year, you
commission some scripts early, drop some of the stand-alones back into the
slot, and bring up the sub-threads that would otherwise have been transferred
into the sequel.

Bottom line're covered either way.  You end up where you wanted to end
up, the main threads get dealt with, secondary or tertiary threads have other
venues in which they can be dealt're solid.

There's nothing particularly extraordinary or amazing in this...this is how all
writers work, since there are always going to be varying constraints in length
or venue.  Writing is a process, and that process is such that it is infinitely
variable while still proceeding where you want it to go.

So that's where I am currently.  If I know the fate of the fifth year by late
February or early March, I can then flip either way and get out cleanly.  Worst
case scenario is that I might have to write alternate scenes or alternate
endings for scenes in the last few episodes if the word comes much later than
that, just to give me the flexibility to adjust the story in editing, which
would definitely take place after we wrapped, at which time we have to have
word by contract.

None of this could've been done in three seasons...we had to have a minimum of
four to give us the flexibility of cutting either way.  There's no point to
reading a book that leaves you hanging for an ending, and B5 was meant to have
an ending.  At this juncture, finishing off script 15, I feel very comfortable
with the way all this is laying out.  The flow is there, and I know we'll get
where we need to.  No matter what happens, we're covered. We can handle year 5
without padding, and handle year 4 without shortchanging the storyline.
Granted it took only slightly less planning than the invasion of Normandy, but
it works, and that's the crucial thing.

Anyway...I've gone on for longer than I'd intended.  I hope that this will
answer some of the questions and concerns raised about the situation, and
explains how you do some of the planning for this kind of thing.  Again, this
online experiment is about letting people understand the process of telling a
story like this, and of making a TV show in general.  As I've noted before,
telling a story of this nature for television, with all the exigencies and
real-life surprises involved, is like doing an elaborate step-dance while
people are throwing live chickens and chainsaws at you...but I knew that would
be the situation going in, and it was only a matter of whether or not the story
was worth the grief involved in telling it.

And it most definitely has been.


 [ Summary: Asks how the arc has changed and cites the pilot's opening 
   narration by Londo stating that Sinclair was the final commander of 
   Babylon 5. ]

 #: 628065 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  23:55:34
Sb: #627973-Your writing schedule

      Actually, Sinclair wasn't identified by name in the pilot episode as the
final CO.


 #: 627873 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  17:35:56
Sb: #What came First/Last?

I think you've said B5 came to you all at once, in the shower.  But it couldn't
have been everything, could it?  So, in broad strokes, could you define the
order in which you created the universe/story?  Something like: the main
conflict, the locale, the characters, key events...

On the other end, was there anything major in what we've seen so far that got
added in after the fact?  I guess that Sheridan is #1 here, now 'bout #2?
(Talia was a subtraction...)


 #: 628066 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  23:55:36
Sb: #627873-#What came First/Last?

      Doesn't work that way.  I can't separate out the elements like that, it's
all of a piece.  It's like, when someone asks you to remember your first
relationship, you don't define it or bring it up in terms of trips in cars,
clothes you were wearing, or the like.  It's a whole.  And that's how I tend to
tell, and how I developed, the story...sort of like remembering it all.


 #: 627895 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  18:24:41
Sb: #Spoo taste?

        we're planning on having a B5 dinner party soon, and plan to have
breen and spoo. But the question is, what earth food is most like it?

        Escargot? tripe? Scallops? steak?

        Any help appreciated. Flarn too, if you have a chance...


 #: 628067 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  23:55:38
Sb: #627895-#Spoo taste?

      Meat Jello.

      Served chilled.


 [ Summary: Comments that the line "The price of freedom is eternal 
   vigilance" is also in "Wing Commander."  The poster is apparently 
   unaware of its true origins. ]

 #: 628068 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  23:55:40
Sb: #627944-"Messages from Earth"

      You need to get out more.  "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom" is
a very famous phrase from history.  Your homework assignment now is to go and
find it.


 [ Summary: Thanks JMS for explaining how he's handling this season and
   wonders if Babylon 5 will have any impact on television in general. ]

 #: 628069 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  23:55:43
Sb: #627969-#From jms re: yr 4/5

      Thanks.  I think the impact of the show will only continue to grow with
time.  In a few years, we'll be discovered, as though suddenly we materialized
on TeeVee...but that's okay.  It's the doing that matters.


 [ Summary: Asks if the two TNT movies are confirmed and when the reruns
   would start on TNT. ]

 #: 628070 S5/Babylon 5: General
    18-Dec-96  23:55:45
Sb: #628001-From jms re: yr 4/5

      Yes, the two TNT two-hours are confirmed.

      And the regular series will start on TNT right after the main run is
finished, starting with season one.  (So if we finish new episodes in any given
November, the show begins reruns on TNT the following January.)


 #: 627812 S6/Babylon 5: Spoilers
    18-Dec-96  13:37:58
Sb: #627174-#Vorlon Question

But the Vorlons are a lifeform and I thought you said they were crystiline?  Or
are they a lifeform?


 #: 628072 S6/Babylon 5: Spoilers
    18-Dec-96  23:55:50
Sb: #627812-Vorlon Question

      Silicon or crystalline based lifeforms are still lifeforms, just not the
same as carbon-based lifeforms (like us).



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