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Masters of SciFi – J. Michael Straczynski on Changeling‘s Message and Warp-Speed Writing for Ninja Assassin

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Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski returns for the second part of his Masters of SciFi interview to talk about Changeling, which premieres this week, the Wachowski Brothers’ Ninja Assassin, and the Star Trek reboot that could have been.

Q: Changeling is a bit of a departure from your usual scifi milieu.

A: I’ve always been kind of a mutt creatively. I started off in journalism, and I’ve actually done more police and procedural shows than I’ve ever done Science Fiction shows. I was on Murder She Wrote, I was on Walker, Texas Ranger, I was on Jake and the Fat Man. I recently sold a spec script to Ron Howard called The Flickering Light, also based on a historical true story. Whenever you can bring your chops in as a reporter to unearth a cool story, that’s always a good thing.

Q: Changeling deals with corruption in the LAPD. It’s hard to not draw allusions between that story and the upcoming Presidential elections.

A: I think it never hurts to be reminded that power must be answerable. Certainly we’ve gone back to the notion that questions cannot or should not be asked, and that there are some things we leave our authorities to do unquestioned. You can’t really run a democracy like that, any more than you can run it with some of the rules that we have currently. It does take those cause celebres like the case of Angelina Jolie’s character, where one singular voice to rally behind can change all that.

Q: You once wrote a treatment for a Star Trek reboot very similar to the one J.J. Abrams is now completing.

A: Yeah Bryce Zabel and I — another television writer — were huge fans of the original Star Trek, and felt that it had gotten sort of diminished over the years. And we thought, “How would we do it if it was our option to do it?” So we wrote out a treatment similar to how you would reboot characters in the Marvel universe and we got it to Paramount, but at that point Paramount wasn’t even williing to talk about Star Trek. Now that J.J. is doing his thing, that’ll push everything further back. We just wanted to show a way to break free some of the log jam of thinking about how you do a Star Trek series.

Q: Did doing Babylon 5 foster that perspective?

A: It certainly didn’t hurt, because it does take you outside the box, and lets you approach a Science Fiction concept with a more realistic perspective, which B5 was. It hewed pretty closely to what real science is, which made it a favorite of NASA astronauts and scientists and engineers. In fact there was a bulletin board at NASA that for many years had a big sign on it that said, “Never apply a Star Trek solution to a Babylon 5 problem.”

Q: Did it feel like J.J. Abrams had stolen your wind?

A: My wind doesn’t move that easily… I don’t know J.J. personally, but I know his talent. And I have every confidence that he can pull this off. So I’m just very content to sit back and see what he does.

Q: You wrote the screenplay for the Wachowski Brothers’ upcoming movie Ninja Assassin, but you got the job in a rather interesting way…

A: One day I got a call from the Wachowski Brothers, who are friends of mine. And they said we need some help on something, can you meet us tomorrow and talk about something. I met with them and they had a draft for this movie called Ninja Assassin which wasn’t where they wanted it to be. And they said we need a whole new draft, a whole new script, and we go to camera in six weeks. And I said, “Okay, when do you have to have the scripts?” And they said it had to go out to actors that Friday. So I went home and put on a pot of coffee, and I wrote essentially a whole new script in 53 hours.

Q: That’s even faster than the Changeling script which took you eleven days .

A: Well, when a friend calls you and says they’re in trouble, you do what you have to. And if you add in the seven hours sleep I got in three days, it was 60 hours, but the actual writing was 53 hours. So I turned it in and Warner Brothers loved it, that’s the first time they had no notes. I was like, I should do this more often!

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