Robert Cooper – Evolution of 'Stargate SG-1'

In a recent interview with Cinema Spy, Executive producer for Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis Robert Cooper discusses The Ark Of Truth.

When Stargate SG-1 ended its run in 2007, it was the longest-running science fiction series on North American television. The plucky show, inspired by and based on a mediocre feature film from 1994, survived for ten seasons.
At the conclusion of its run, two direct-to-DVD features were announced. The first, Stargate: The Ark of Truth, picks up the story where the Stargate SG-1 series finale left off, with SG-1 — Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), Vala (Claudia Black), Teal’c (Christopher Judge), Sam (Amanda Tapping) and Cam Mitchell (Ben Browder) — searching for an ancient weapon which will help them defeat the Ori.

The direct-to-DVD feature is available in stores today [Tuesday, March 11 (at a suggested retail price of $37.98 in Canada, $26.98 in the U.S.)]. The second DVD, Stargate: Continuum, is pending release this July.

To view photos from the film, click the PHOTO tab at the top of this article page.

CinemaSpy spoke with Stargate SG-1 executive producer Robert Cooper — who also wrote and directed The Ark of Truth — about the Stargate universe, how SG-1 has changed, what the future holds, and the logistics of having to make DVDs.

Blaine Kyllo: How long of an actual break was there between the SG-1 finale and production on the movies?

Robert Cooper: We shot “Unending”, the last episode of SG-1, in October of 2006. And we started production on Ark and Continuum, which we shot back-to-back…. It’s a little complicated because we did do a bit of shooting beforehand, before the main production shoot, because we had some assistance from the Navy shooting in the Arctic for Continuum but that took place in March of 2007. We shot most of the movies in May and June of 2007. About six months later.

Blaine Kyllo:
With a six-month break, that’s a couple of months longer than a normal hiatus would be, but did it feel like there was closure from the TV show and these films then were different things? Or did it feel — production-wise — like nothing had changed?

Robert Cooper: We have, for a number of years, had multiple productions going, so there’s always something happening. Atlantis was still in production on the same schedule as SG-1 when it finished in 2006, and even though the movies were delayed a bit, Atlantis came back for its fourth season on schedule in February, and we were developing that in the off-season hiatus. Basically we went from doing forty episodes a year to doing twenty episodes of Atlantis and four hours of SG-1. That’s easier, just because it’s a little bit less, but it’s still ongoing. It was nice to be back on set with the cast of SG-1, and get them back together, but even then, when we started shooting it really did feel like it was just a continuation of the previous year. When you’ve worked together for as long as we have, it’s like seeing your family again on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Blaine Kyllo: It wasn’t exactly a reunion feel, it was more of a, “Hey, we’re back together, let’s do something fun.”

Robert Cooper: Yeah.

Blaine Kyllo: Now that the principle photography on both of those films is done, do you know where things are going now? Is the door open to more SG-1 feature projects?

Robert Cooper: Obviously, yeah. The franchise … we look at it as a franchise. We look at Stargate now as encompassing two series, two movies — three if you include the original feature — and we’re actively developing a third series [working title: Stargate Universe], there’s an online multiplayer game, Stargate Worlds. There’s always the possibility of more Stargate . It’s a question of what is it going to be? Is it going to be more SG-1 straight-to-DVDs? Is the third series going to be first? I’m not really sure. That’s all something that is not entirely my decision.

Blaine Kyllo: The reason I ask the question is because there’s a bit of a feel, seeing what the cast are doing, that maybe they are moving on.

Robert Cooper: Yeah, I think that would be a fair thing to say. Kind of like characters on our show, though, nothing’s ever dead. Things always come back. I do think that, for the most part, the main cast of SG-1 is obviously off doing their own thing, whatever that may be, and that if we decide to proceed with more movies, that we would be able to get them all back. But there’s no deal in place to continue doing that right now.

Blaine Kyllo: Who’s idea was it to bring Ben Browder and Claudia Black in for season nine?

Robert Cooper: They were actually, believe it or not, independent decisions. Claudia was in an episode in season eight, and we cast her as a guest star in that episode. She was so awesome, that we were like, “We have to find a way to get her back.”

Blaine Kyllo: She’s very good.

Robert Cooper: She’s very entertaining and dynamic. When we looked at retooling the show in season nine, when Richard Dean Anderson decided to go back to L.A. and not do the show anymore, we looked at a number of options, but SCI FI, the network, was very familiar with Ben’s work through Farscape, and felt that fans of science fiction and of their station would recognize him and would like him. Basically, SCI FI liked Ben a lot. That’s not to say we were resistant to the idea at all. We love Ben. They were just two independent decisions. The fact that we ended up with the two stars of Farscape was something that we obviously talked about and debated. But it really wasn’t a big issue. We made a bit of a joke about it in the first episode, and they, I think, transcended their previous roles and became who they are on Stargate.

Blaine Kyllo: The dynamic of the casts — it’s true of SG-1 and certainly something that is true of Atlantis as well — the cast chemistry is really critical to the success of the show. You had already seen how Claudia was going to integrate with the cast, but were you a bit apprehensive about mixing things up?

Robert Cooper: Not really. It was season nine. It’s kind of hard to fail in season nine. If it doesn’t work and you end up off the air, it’s kind of like, “Oh, well, nine seasons.” But it did work, and it worked because Ben is a great guy and a very professional actor, and came in and recognized that he was joining a cast that had been together for a very long time, and found a way to make his role his own and kind of carve out his own little place in the Stargate world, and I thought he did a brilliant job to the point where Cameron Mitchell has become a part of the fabric of the franchise. That’s to Ben’s credit as a person as well as an actor.

Blaine Kyllo: Talk about the challenges of having to write a feature film instead of a 44-minute teleplay. How did that change for you knowing that your pacing and beats were going to be different?

Robert Cooper: Things on the show take on a particular pace because you set up your story structure based on act breaks. It’s not just the overall length, although that does have something to do with it, but it really has more to do with designing the show for commercial breaks. You have a tease, a short three to five minute sequence that ends in a “teaser moment” that is something to get you to continue watching the show after the credits and a commercial break. Then you come back and tell little seven or eight minute story segments that also end in moments that will hopefully keep you from changing the channel when we go to sell some soap. That’s a different process than writing something that basically, hopefully, you have a captive audience for. You can take the liberty of adjusting the pace to what you want it to be instead of trying to fit something into any particular time. There’s been a lot of instances where we’ve cut scenes or things from the show just because it doesn’t fit time-wise. Or added scenes because we needed to fill things out. They’re not always the best dramatic choice, but that’s television. That’s what you do. In this case it was a different experience of having the freedom to say, “I’m going to write the scene I want to write, and pace it the way I want to pace it.” There’s been some response to the film that’s been that it feels slow, or shouldn’t it be faster-paced because it’s a movie, but that’s a stylistic choice going in. I wanted to feel a little more luxuriously paced in terms of letting you sink into the process of it, feeling more like a movie.

The truth of the matter is that we didn’t have that much more money than we do on the show on a week to week basis. A lot of people are going to say, “Oh, it’s just a big two-part episode of the series.” Yes. Those were the resources we had to work with. What we tried to do in a small way was make it feel a little more special, take a little more time with some things, maybe shoot it a little bigger. In some cases take a little bit of the money we had and do some bigger sequences. But for the most part, what we wanted to do was address a number of the story issues that had been left hanging when the show didn’t get renewed, and resolve those, but do it somewhat in a condensed way. Initially, I had been talking about doing this story over the course of an entire season when we were potentially looking at having an eleventh season picked up. We would have played out the whole search for the Ark as our overall arc for season eleven. So now you get a little more punch out of the events in the movie because everything is happening in that hour and a half. You’re not dragging things out too much, you’re actually getting to see those moments right away.

Blaine Kyllo: So in a sense, then, the first film, The Ark of Truth, is what season eleven would have been.

Robert Cooper: Yeah, in a much more condensed way. I look at it a little more now as the final chapter to seasons nine and ten. There’s an eight or nine minute recap at the beginning of the DVD, that’s because a lot of the payoffs, a lot of the story points that are in the film are really very much intended to be conclusions to those moments.

Blaine Kyllo: Tying up loose ends, as it were.

Robert Cooper:

Blaine Kyllo: Does this film wrap the Ori storyline?

Robert Cooper: We’ve never wrapped everything up in a complete package with a bow on it. We really do try and leave doors open all the time. If people’s biggest complaint is, “But you didn’t answer everything and we still want more,” then that’s fine. I’m happy with that. We’ve always, even in wrapping up seasons from one year to the next on the show, we try to leave doors open or even introduce new wrinkles that will give us opportunities to revisit or tell new stories in the future. I think it’s almost an instinct, when you’re doing a series, that you want to leave doors open, and even when you’re answering some questions and closing some doors, you want to still have the opportunity to tell more stories. It doesn’t make sense to completely put an end on it.

Blaine Kyllo: That’s one of the benefits of exploring a created universe, as opposed to the real world.

Robert Cooper: It’s not like this is a marketing thing, but it’s one of the things that makes the Stargate universe more “user friendly.” What you have are fans who really immerse themselves in the world, and sometimes choose to write their own fan fiction, or expand their conversations about particular aspects of the series, and I think that if you were to close everything down, and say, “It’s over, it’s done,” then it kind of kills the world. And that’s never our intention. Whether we’re continuing to make shows in a particular series or not, we want people to be satisfied but at the same time we want it all to be open-ended so that a) it can continue, or b) it can continue in the fans imaginations.

Blaine Kyllo:
Where are you in terms of post-production on Continuum?

Robert Cooper: Continuum is done. It was shot at the same time and then delayed in its post-production until Ark was finished, and Brad’s [writer and producer Brad Wright] finished it off, now. Believe it or not, it’s been a different experience for us, too, because we’re used to finishing a show and having it on the air the next week. But when you’re releasing a DVD there’s all kinds of marketing, and they actually have to make the DVD and the box… The whole process actually takes, like, six months. That’s at a minimum.

Blaine Kyllo: It’s like, “We can’t just pipe something down to L.A.? We actually have to manufacture something?”

Robert Cooper: Exactly. Normally you just press play and everybody has it on their television, but in this case they’ve all got to get shipped to Wal-mart and Amazon. It’s a different beast and it requires more time.

Blaine Kyllo: Do you actually have a release date for Continuum?

Robert Cooper: I know it will be coming out at the end of July to coincide with Comicon [in San Diego].

Blaine Kyllo: Have we seen the last of the Goa’uld?

Robert Cooper: They’re a big part of Continuum. That’s why I say nothing is ever dead. People said, “Oh, the Goa’uld were done and the Ori were in season nine,” but there were a number of stories involving the Goa’uld in seasons nine and ten. Ba’al was still a significant factor in terms of being a villain in the show, and I think we kept them alive and used what was interesting about them. That plays a huge part in Continuum, which is a bit more of an old school SG-1 story.

Blaine Kyllo: Mucking around with timelines, if I read the synopsis correctly.

Robert Cooper: Yes.

Blaine Kyllo: Which is something you’ve done on the show before.

Robert Cooper: Yes, we have. Every time we look at revisiting sci-fi concepts we ask, “Is the end result worth it?” In this case I think it is.

Blaine Kyllo: I have this idea that the heroes in any show are only as good as the villains are villainous.

Robert Cooper:

Blaine Kyllo: How do the Ori compare to the Goa’uld in terms of their villainy?

Robert Cooper: Those sorts of questions are really up to the fans to decide, not me. I put it out there. I’ve certainly read some reviews and responses to the latter years of SG-1 and some criticisms. But a lot of people felt that the Ori were almost too scary and too bad and they never understood how SG-1 was ever going to win and defeat them. My argument against that was, that’s they way the Goa’uld felt at the beginning. The reason we reset things was because in seasons six, seven, and eight, it kind of started to feel like we won every time. That the Goa’uld had lost their power, and no matter what we did to build them up again, you kind of felt like SG-1 was going to kick their asses. So we needed to reinvent the villains in order to make our heroes someone to root for again. Whether you like the Ori better or worse than the Goa’uld is up to you. It’s a taste issue.

Blaine Kyllo: They are very different villains, though. The Goa’uld were very physical and the Ori — and this may speak to the times in which we live — were mystical and almost philosophical villains. I wonder if they were harder for people to appreciate.

Robert Cooper: To me they were a natural evolution of the Stargate universe that had been seeded. Stargate is an action-adventure show, so it’s not a drama, but we do try and root it in certain ideologies, and it has always been about the examination of belief and religion. The Goa’uld were, essentially, false gods. They were using ancient religious beliefs to empower themselves, and that was something that, I think, we wanted to continue with the Ori. But at the same time, change the skin of the whole thing and make it look and feel a little different. It’s a little darker take on things. That may have been a reaction to what’s been going on in the world.