Canadian hit sci-fi show Continuum has arrived in the UK (Syfy, Thursdays, 10pm). We spoke to the show’s creator, Simon Barry about how he came up with the idea for the show and where he thinks it’s heading…
On with the interview…
SFX : Have you been surprised at success of Continuum?
Simon Barry: “I have been. You always feel that getting the word out is the most important thing. What we’ve had has been a lovely combination of not only the show being promoted wonderfully, but also the fans telling each other to try the show out and to tune in. That’s one of the great things about science fiction. The fan base is so devoted and communicative with each other. The discussions about the show are lively and the word gets out in a way that’s much more organic. I’m really glad that we’ve tapped into that layer of audience that appreciates this show, understands it and wants to recommend it.”
But fandom can be a double edged sword. When season one’s finished, they’ll be coming up with theories about season two, and when it doesn’t match their expectations, they’ll all turn against you...
“Absolutely true! I’ve been one of those people myself. I realise that that’s the devilish nature of it. It’s very hard to please everyone. When you’re a fan of the genre, you try and please yourself in the hopes that that translates to the larger audience as well.”
What’s your background?
“I was born in the UK. I moved to Canada when I was nine years old with my family who emigrated. I have always been a fan of science fiction, from the days of Star Wars and the original Star Trek series. It influenced not only my view of the world, but the way science fiction blends social commentary and politics with analogies and metaphoric story telling.
“My imagination was always running wild with visions of other worlds and aliens and spaceships. I was always attracted to that universe of story telling from an early age. I’ve always had a very close connection to the sci-fi universe.
“Once you’ve worked in the movie business for as long as I have, you can easily start to disseminate everything and disassemble everything in a way that takes away from the enjoyment of things. But with sci-fi I can still get lost in it. I think that’s one of great qualities of the genre, that it allows you to lose your cynicism and lose your ability to be too critical. You can let your mind wander and go to places you normally can’t.”
So was the basic concept behind Continuum something that had been kicking around in your mind for a while?
“It actually wasn’t. I’d been trying to sell TV shows for about 10 years. But the transition from pilot script to series had been very elusive. I think that I had been pushing the envelope quite heavily in a direction that was specific and maybe a little bit too risky.
“I started rethinking my approach. I took the notion of a police procedural, marrying that with science fiction. I developed three or four different versions of that. Time travel felt like the right way to go.
“The great thing about time travel as a mythology is it allows for a larger universe without the construct of typical science fiction restrictions, like big sets and tons of visual effects or being in space. I could have the universe feel bigger than it really was, but still be grounded in the real world and have all the benefits of science fiction without the cost prohibitiveness of shooting on a stage set all the time or something that really was driven by the visual effects. This felt like the right way to do it.
“I know there are good shows like Life On Mars that had tackled this in a way, but I was really looking at it more from a perspective of: ‘What would James Cameron do?’
“It’s a Prison Break format that uses a time travel device instead of breaking out through the walls. Once I knew that part of the story, everything else fitted in very quickly. It was a fairly quick process from conception to finishing. That’s what happens with ideas once you have all the bits you need. It moves very quickly once you figure it out.”
Were the politics of terrorism always a major part of the concept?
“In the initial development of the idea, they were criminals. I always was open to the idea that their point of view – based in 2077 – was going to be specific to that time and might look different from the perspective of our time.
“I like the conversations that people sometimes have about the rebels in Star Wars : that if you were to tell the story from the Empire’s point of view, the rebels would look like terrorists. It’s really all about perspective. Everything has a grey area. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
“The reboot of Battlestar Galactica was really good at taking stories ripped from the headlines about war and politics and transposing them into their universe. I would not say that Continuum is trying to be as political as that show, but our audience and our characters are smart. To avoid talking about complex ideas is not doing anyone a favour. But that’s really just a layer of the show, one of many layers.
“For me, primarily, it’s a character-driven show; it’s pushed by the actions and the reactions of our characters. I think the idea that we present things in a way that isn’t black and white is one of the things that make the show different from other shows.”
Rachel Nichols told us that Kiera was originally going to be Kyle. Do you think the show would have been better with a male lead?
“I think we got very lucky that we chose to go with a female lead, most importantly because we found Rachel Nichols who embodied a lot of different qualities that we probably wouldn’t have found in a man as easily.
“I think that shifting the main character to a female at the very beginning of the process really made it easier for us as writers to connect with her faster and a bit more intuitively.
“It also opens up other possibilities from a story-telling perspective that you don’t have with a male. I felt like the stars were aligned on that one. It was a great creative choice early on and that we got lucky twice because we found Rachel for that part.
“However, my ego says: ‘Yeah, if I didn’t have a choice and I had to make it a male lead, could I have made it work?’ Well, my ego tells me I probably could have. But you never know…
“That’s the funny thing about execution. I can only do so much. When you put a big crew of people together, there’s a certain alchemy that happens that’s beyond my control. I can try and shape it. I can try and guide it. But things are going to happen that you just can’t ever conceive of that are sometimes much better than anything you could have come up with as a writer.”
What have you learnt over the course of season one that you can now implement in season two?
“With the first season, it took a couple of episodes before the engine of the show was allowed to operate independently of all the establishing ideas. In season two we have the benefit of launching into a show where the characters are already defined.
“The best thing I did was to recruit and partner with really smart and talented people. Then I got out of their way. That was probably the biggest lesson, to be really sharp about who you collaborate with, and then let them do what they do best, and not micromanage
“You certainly see that in Continuum , with the visual effects from Adam Stern, the wardrobe designs from Maya Mani, the set designs from Chris August. ”
We heard that you have an ending in mind. Is there a game plan?
“I like to joke that we could run the show till 2077, and have Kiera grow old until she reunites with her family. But I don’t think that’s going to work out. It would be a nice twist.
“We couldn’t really sit down to break season one if we didn’t have an idea of where the show was going to end. We layered several things at the beginning of the process about how to end this show, and also which rules of time travel we were going to adhere to.
“I would certainly need more than two years to do complete it. I could probably do it in less than ten. So anything in between that would be fantastic. I think seven or eight years would be great to tell the whole story, the whole sordid tale. But if for some reason, things went sour and someone said at the last minute that you have to wrap it up, we could certainly do that as well. With more time you get to do more layers of story telling.”
Interview by Dave Golder
Write-up by Sarah Collins
Continuum – Brand New and Exclusive to Syfy, Thursdays at 10pm.