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Stargate SG-1 Crew Interviews: Joseph Mallozzi

20 Questions: Joseph Mallozzi, Writer
Joseph Mallozzi, Writer and Co-Executive Producer, Stargate SG-1, 16 March 2004

1.. Which authors and screenwriters have influenced your own writing? Whose writing inspires you?

- I've been influenced by a wide cross-section of authors, from those working in traditional literary mediums such as the novel and short fiction, to those working in less traditional formats, like comic books, film, and television. I've enjoyed the works of Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, H.H.Munro, Evelyn Waugh, Umberto Eco, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, Paul Jenkins, and James Robinson to name just a few. A well-written work is a well-written work regardless of the story form.

2.. Out of all the possibilities for creative expression, what drew you to writing for television?

- To be honest, I didn't set out to be a television writer. I had my heart set on being a feature screenwriter, but the reality is your chances of selling a film script (much less having one produced), are slim. In the beginning, I thought television would just be a stepping stone to get me where I ultimately wanted to be but, in time, I came to a surprising realization: television permits the writer more creative expression, opportunities, and money, than writing for features ever could. On Stargate, we're essentially producing roughly 20 mini movies a year. What more could I ask for?

3.. As someone who is both a writer and a fan, which qualities make a good script for you? Does the 'writer' make life more difficult for the 'fan'?

- A good script is one that engages the viewer from start to finish. It tells a great story, presenting elements that invariably come together at script's end to create a nice, neat little narrative. It is driven by character and strong plotting, its development free of silly complications, conveniences, and contrivances that mark a lazy writer and demonstrate a complete lack of respect for the viewing audience. Sorry, that one's a pet peeve.

4.. Your writing partner is Paul Mullie. Which strengths do you feel you each bring to telling a story?

- Paul is a stickler for detail and logic. On the up side, this means that once we've completed a script, it is usually bulletproof and rarely requires any major revisions. On the downside, being so highly critical occasionally leads to the dismissal of some terrific ideas from the get-go. I don't worry so much about the smaller details, preferring to find the solutions in the story. For instance, Paul and I each wrote a script to start season eight. He wrote the first part of the big two part season-opener (New Order I), while I wrote an episode called Lockdown. There is a scene in Lockdown in which Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c are having some downtime and they discuss the fact that Teal'c is going to be moving into an apartment, the formalities of the apartment-warming party, etc. It's a fun little exchange that, admittedly, has nothing to with the plot. It goes on for almost a full page and, when Paul read it, he suggested trimming it. It made perfect sense to edit it down, probably even lose it, but after some discussion, we opted to keep it in a wait-and-see approach - and, as it turned out , the rest of the writing department liked it. Hopefully it will survive the further hurdles and eventually make the final cut. Of course for every one
time it works out, there are a good ten times when Paul has done me the favor of editing out similar exchanges than really didn't belong.

5.. How do you and Paul actually write together? Please tell us about your process.

- Our writing process varies. For the most part, we sit in an office, toss ideas back and forth, and type them into our laptop. If pressed for time, we'll take turns working alone at home, sending the script back and re-writing each other's work. If we're really pressed for time (as we are this year), we'll write individual scripts separately and then, once our respective first drafts have been completed, switch off and do a pass/revision on one another's work.

6.. There must be pros and cons to writing with a partner. What is it you value about collaboration?

- We have a similar sense of humor and we get along well - and that's the most important part of a partnership. We are fairly accommodating when it comes to one another's input, and not overly precious about our own ideas. Cons? He talks about golf and hockey way too much.

7.. Television is a visual media. How hard is it to translate the visual into words? Is the completion of the script the end of your input as a writer or do you work with the production crew and the director as they take your script from words to visuals?

- As producers, Paul and I are involved in almost every aspect of the production process, from the formulation of the idea to the final cut. There's never really a time when you take your writer's hat off and put on your producer's hat, or vice versa. In both cases, you're trying to tell the best story possible and this is achieved through everything from script and costuming to visual effects and editing.

8.. How have your wider responsibilities as an Executive Producer impacted on the creative process of writing stories? Is your broader awareness of the exigencies of production a strength or a distraction?

- As a producer (or an experienced writer), you are acutely aware of the exigencies of production (chiefly budget and actor availability) before you even formulate a story idea. We've had writers come in and pitch great ideas that would cost us more to produce than the entire show budget. That's not to say we can't go big (and we have). You just have to keep in mind that for every big, special-effect-laden extravaganza, there will be at least three smaller, more cost-effective episodes. And while bigger isn't necessarily better, the inverse is often true. Some of our (Paul and my) cheaper episodes rank among my favorites: Window of Opportunity, Point of No Return, The Curse, Chain Reaction.

9.. What kind of stories do you prefer to tell? Action, drama, mythology, mystery, hard scifi, character study? What do you find satisfying in telling this type of story?

- I like to tell a variety of stories, so long as I'm able to include a little humor in the mix. On the other hand, and to be totally honest, techy, hard scifi stories like Tangent and Fail Safe are ones I'd just as sooner avoid.

10.. Which element is your priority when writing a script? Action, dialogue, characterisation, character interactions. What's most important to you?

- I don't think any one element takes precedence over another. I just want to ensure the story is as tightly-scripted as possible. Given the choice, I prefer writing dialogue over run-and-jump action, but I'm sure 99% of scriptwriters out there would agree.

11.. Which of your scripts are you most proud of? Can you tell us why?

- If I had to choose three scripts, they would probably be:

Point of No Return: Because it was the very first script that turned out more or less exactly as we had envisioned it on the page.

Revisions: After six years, it was nice to be able to tell a story that had nothing to do with the Goa'uld, Tok'ra, Jaffa - in fact, anything to do with past arcs. The team went off-world, got into trouble, and went home - a nice, stand-alone story with what I thought was a very poignant ending.

The Curse: It's always nice to be able to explore the lives of the individual team members, and even nicer to be able to do so by mining the character's past. And having a terrific love interest/villain always helps.

12.. Do the reactions, praises and criticisms of the fans ever surprise you and the other denizens of The Room? Are there particular episodes which have prompted responses you weren't prepared for?

We're always surprised by fan reaction. For instance, after Chimera, there was a thread about the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo that went on forever. The fact that Carter didn't realize there was a zoo in the area was intended as a subtle poke at her character: she's been at Cheyenne Mountain for 6+ years and has been so into her work that she hasn't even taken the time to have a social life. It was a throw-away that was, perhaps, a little too subtle.

Overall, its always interesting to find out what the fans like and dislike. As for episodes which prompted responses I wasn't prepared for - well, I was VERY surprised Fallout was as well-received as it was. Alternately, I was somewhat disappointed Revisions wasn't as positively received as I'd expected it would be. Here was a script that harkened back to the show's early years, a stand-alone episode for fans of classic Stargate. Many fans who didn't enjoy the episode complained it was "too early Stargate". Damned if you do...

13.. What for you is the emotional 'hook' of each SG-1 character? What is it about each that draws you into exploring them in your stories?

a. Jack - He's the flip team leader who acts like he hasn't a care in the world - and yet, every so often, we catch a glimpse behind that devil-may-care facade. Despite all the bravado his casual, almost dismissive demeanour in the heat of battle, he's a man who deeply cares about his friends and would go to the ends of the Earth (or universe) for them. Every once in a while, it's nice to see that come out, through actions subtle (in Prometheus where he lays a comradely hand on Teal'c) and not so subtle (his insistence on remaining in the observation room in Lifeboat, his heated concern for Carter in Grace).

b. Daniel - Since season 1, Daniel has always been the team's conscience, its voice of reason. DJ, as a character, has come a long way over the show's 7+ years and yet, given all he's been through, he still remains SG-1's moral center. He won't allow the others to take the easy way out, never hesitating to challenge them if he has to. That is the mark of a true friend.

c. Carter - She's intelligent. She's beautiful. She can handle a P-90. I think she, more than any other character, has really developed over the past few years. I truly feel that its been in the stories focusing on her home life (ie. her relationship with her father, Carter's life outside the base) that we really get a sense of who she truly is.

d. Teal'c - A solemn warrior with a heart of gold (actually, this aptly describes both Teal'c and Chris Judge, the actor who plays him). Like everyone else on the team, there's more to him than meets the eye - yet we are only afforded an occasional insight into Tealc's personal life. Some of my favorite Teal'c moments have come in the memorable scenes he has shared with his son, moments in which he allows himself to truly show his emotions.

In the case of all four characters, there's a lot more to them than meets the eye. Like any member of your family, they have their strengths and they have their flaws, but you love them all the same. I suppose that, more than anything, that's what draws me to these characters and, when all is said and done and the show has wrapped, what I'll miss the most about writing for this show.

13.. Fans have long bemoaned 'DumbJack' and his sometimes crass, inappropriate humour. How do you keep Special Ops Colonel Jack O'Neill, USAF, 'real'? Will Jack have to evolve as a character to keep pace with his promotion to general in Season Eight?

Jack will have no choice but to evolve as a character in season eight. Circumstances will change at the SGC and Jack will have to change with them. He will be a "fish out of water" for the first little while, and will be fun to explore his character facing this sudden challenge. As for keeping Special Ops Jack O'Neill real - check out season 7's Evolution II.

14.. Which aspect of the Daniel Jackson character do you feel has gone unexplored? Given the opportunity, what would you have Daniel show us about himself? What lies in store for Daniel in Season 8?

It's always interesting to delve into the character's private lives, be it their downtime at the cabin or their cloying relationship with their new boyfriend. In season eight, we'll be exploring Teal'c's life off the base. It would be fun to do something similar with Daniel. What does he do in his free time? Does he date? Does he cook? I'd love to pursue his relationship with Sarah now that she's been de-goaulded.

15.. Fans were delighted with the warm, funny, classic Jack and Daniel scenes you wrote this season in Fallout. What is it about Stargate's signature relationship which so compels the fans, both old and new? What makes the friendship between these two so special?

What so compels the fans is really a question for the fans. As I mentioned earlier, I was actually surprised by the fact that Fallout was as well-received as it was. Still, I can see how the friendship between these two can play such an important part in a fan's enjoyment of the show. There's nothing like these two very different friends playing off one another, especially when they're on opposing sides of a debate.

17.. You've addressed the more ambiguous elements of Teal'c's personality, specifically his unswerving commitment to the Jaffa rebellion and the Jaffa revenge thing. Where do you think Teal'c's ultimate loyalties lie? To SG-1 or to the Jaffa?

Ah, that remains to be seen. I believe that, in his heart, his ultimate loyalties lie with his friends at the SGC. That said, if the time came when the Jaffa needed him, I believe his sense of honor and commitment to his people would probably override these feelings.

18.. Does Carter have what it takes to lead SG-1? Which actions and decisions of hers have proved she has command potential?

I definitely think Carter has what it takes to lead SG-1. As for proving herself.Who knows? The opportunity may arrive sooner than later.

19.. Will your creative energies be focused on Stargate SG-1 or will you also be writing for Atlantis? How do you think producing Atlantis concurrently will affect Season 8 of SG-1?

Paul and I will be co-executive producing season 8, and act as consulting producers for the first season of Atlantis. We'll write scripts for both shows and be in the room for all stories involving both shows.

20.. Robert Cooper has said that five scripts have been written and stories outlined for fifteen episodes of the twenty in Season 8. Can you give us five words to describe what may be Stargate SG-1's last season?

Get ready for some surprises.

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© Alison Butler for Stargate SG-1 Solutions, 16 Mar 2004. All rights reserved. You may post a brief extract of this interview to your website or mailing list and you're most welcome to link to the interview here at Solutions in its entirety.

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