Outlander Cast Chats w/Outlander Showrunner Ronald D. Moore
Transcribed by: Denise Stewart
September 24, 2015
Hosts Mary and Blake discuss all things Outlander with Showrunner, Ronald D. Moore. In this episode you’ll learn all about how Ron came into writing, what exactly a “showrunner” is and does, the biggest challenges of season 1, Ron’s unique relationship with Ira Stephen Behr, Ron’s rebuttal to those who thought the show went “too far,” the hardest episode to break, Blake geeking out over Star Trek, the process of choosing his team members, post production of Outlander, what Ron looks forward to in season 2, comparing Outlander fandom to Star Trek and BSG fans, whether or not Ron is team Jamie, or team Frank and much more!
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For a full transcription of the interview click below
OC: How did you come into writing for television?
Ronald D. Moore: OK, I was in Los Angeles, I had flunked out of school, at Cornell my senior year, and suddenly found myself without a future or a career. And a roommate of mine had moved out here the year before, and was trying to be a writer and he came back to Cornell for a visit one weekend and we hung out and he finally said so what are you going to do with your life and I said I had no idea and he said why don’t you come back to California with me and be a writer and I said OK. Because I had always written stories growing up and I had wrote a play in high school. And he and I were in the same literary fraternity at Cornell. So I like to write but I come from a very small town in California called Chowchilla, and being a writer wasn’t a real job there. So it wasn’t something I would have really considered to make it my vocation. Til I didn’t have one. So, I cashed out my bank account, got a one way ticket, flew to California started sleeping on Eric’s floor, my friend. And took a series of odd jobs. I was a messenger. I was a hospital receptionist. I did contracts. I did personnel, and tried to write scripts in my spare time. I tried to sort of learn the craft. You know, with not a lot of discipline but I was trying to learn what it was to be a writer. And then one day I started dating this girl. And she, it turned out she had a connection to what turned out Star Trek the Next Generation. And she knew that I was a huge fan of the original series and was becoming a fan of Next Gen, which was at that point in its second season. And she said oh you know they have a set tour over there. There were so many people that wanted to see the Star Trek set that there was an actual regular tour that you could get on if you knew people. So she made a call, got me on the set tour, and it was gonna be in about six weeks. So I just decided I was going to take a shot. And I sat down and wrote an episode and brought it with me on the set tour. I convinced the guy that was giving the set tour to read it. And he turned out to be one of Gene Roddenberry’s assistants. And introduced me to my first agent. The agent submitted the script formally to the show. And it sat in a slush pile for about seven months. Then a new executive producer came aboard the beginning of the third season named Michael Piller. Michael started going through the slush pile and he found my script. And he bought it and they produced it and it’s called “The Bonding.” He asked me to write a second one, and I wrote a second one. And then not too long after that I got this call asking if I could come down to be a full time staff writer. And I did. And I was there for the next ten years. And that was pretty much how my career got started. I got a really lucky break at the right time and, you know, it’s been an amazing, amazing adventure ever since
Mary: Yea, that’s an awesome story. I want you to know that you are in good company. We actually have the USS Enterprise plaque here in our recording studio. Blake is a HUGE Star Trek fan. So, we like you on multiple levels, my friend.
Blake: I’m not exactly sure how much you had to do with it, but I just want to thank you for “The Best of Both Worlds.” It’s just….the entire writing staff…… that almost changed my life, that episode.
RDM: Yea, I was there when we did that show. Michael wrote that, but that was a sort of turning point in Next Gen’s acceptance really within the Trekkie community. Cause people kinda forget is those first couple of years we were the bastard stepchild of Star Trek. You know you go to conventions and there were bumper stickers and posters that were proclaiming that they were a fan of “Real Trek” and didn’t want to have anything to do with “that bald headed guy.” Yea, we were not really accepted as the real deal until “The Best of Both Worlds,” and then over that summer when Trek had ended on the cliffhanger and were they gonna kill Picard and all that. Suddenly it got some buzz and really got a lot of hype. And going into the 4th season was really where everything turned around for the show and we were Star Trek all of a sudden. It just sort of cascaded after that.
OC: It was remarkable television stuff. It was the first cliffhanger I really remember. But I could talk about TNG all day, but I don’t want to waste your time so. Getting to Outlander eventually, that’s a huge time jump. But how did the conversations about Outlander start for you? And what drew you to this project?
RDM: Well, I was up in Vancouver. It was towards the end of the Battle Star Galactica’s run. And my wife, Terry, and my producing partner, Maril, and I were having dinner. And we were just starting to look beyond Battle Star and Caprica. You know saying what other projects did we want to talk about doing some day. And what would be the passion project. Turned out that Maril and Terry were both fans of Outlander. But they had never really talked about it, and they didn’t know that each other loved the books. So they went off and got excited, and had this conversation on their own. And they finally turned to me and said you would love it, too. You should read them. You like historical fiction, you like period pieces. This is right up your alley. It has a strong central female character. Take a look. So then I got the book, and read it, and I was taken with it. It was a real page turner. And there were twists and turns in the story that I didn’t see coming. I liked the central character. It was a lot about the period that I didn’t know. I didn’t know really anything about the Jacobite’s uprising or the history of Scotland. So it was just kind of interesting to read about a period that I knew so little about. And by the time I got to the end of the book, I just thought this is a show, a TV series. I could see how you could make a season out of this. So we tracked down the rights. The rights were held by a man named Jim Kohlberg who Diana had sold the rights to at that point. He was trying to make a feature out of Outlander and had commissioned a couple of scripts along those lines. And I just said I don’t think it’s a movie. And I thought that once you try to boil that novel down to two hours, you would inevitably take out everything that I thought the fans loved. The readers of the book like the period, they liked the textured detail of the world. Spending time with Claire as a healer. You know really getting to know the social mores of the time. Sort of getting involved in this other world. And all of that would go by the wayside once you stripped it down to just the two hour version. It would become just the plot and you’d be racing through everything and I just told them I thought that you are just gonna lose what makes the book special and at that point we just agreed to disagree. And thought let’s just keep in contact and so every year Maril would call Jim and say “How’s the feature going?” And he would say, “Uh, I’m still working on it.” And then just a few years ago, finally, he said maybe it is a TV show after all. And we said Great. I took it to Sony, because that’s where my deal was at that point and I gave them the books and they got it. They got excited about it. And we pitched it to Starz. Starz is about the only. We didn’t pitch it around to too many places. Starz took the time to read the book. And they bought it! And they just kinda believed in it and said yea this is, we want to do it, let’s make it as faithful an adaptation as we can and then we were off.
OC: Well thank goodness you did. My gosh! It would’ve been very, very different and a lot of people, as you said, would’ve been very disappointed with just two hours. So, for those of our listeners who aren’t familiar with the term, what exactly is a show runner? And what are your main day to day responsibilities?
RDM: Showrunner is a term that has come up in the last ten years or so. There’s always been showrunners in television, they just never really used that term before. Like Gene Roddenberry was the showrunner of Star Trek. Steven Bochco was the showrunner of Hill Street Blues. It goes on and on. So essentially the showrunner is the person in charge of the show. It’s usually the writer. It’s usually the creator of the show. So my job is, to illustrate on this show, I’m the one who secured the rights and then I pitch it to people so I tell the story. So my job is to constantly tell the story. I’m telling the story of Outlander to the network, to the studio. I’m telling it to the actors. I’m talking to the director. I’m telling the room with the music. I’m the one that takes it sort of all the way from start to finish. So in each episode I’m, I have to approve the break session with the writers, then I have to approve the outline. Sometimes I have to rewrite it. Then through the script process. Then I have tone meetings with the directors and all the production staff all report to me. Shot and then I take it into post. I get the final cut of the episode in the editing room. I supervise music and the sound and color timing and final delivery. So essentially I’m like executive producer, well there are several executive producers over different shows but usually only one of them is “the showrunner” who says what the show is going to be. I run the show. I am the guy who says what the show is and what the show is not over and over again. That’s kind of my day to day responsibility. It’s inevitably a series of questions from all the people on the production or from “the powers that be” and I’m the one that’s arguing that the show is this or it is not that. That’s kind of my job.
OC: You must have to drink a lot of coffee. That’s a lot of work.
Ron: It’s a lot of coffee. It’s a lot of stuff. But a lot of it is knowing when not to do stuff. It’s hiring the right people and trusting them to do their jobs. There are a lot of very creative, very talented people on the show. And you try to let them do what they do. You try to give them guidance and say this is what I’m trying to accomplish. This is the mission. We are going in that direction. Come along and let’s all go that way. Then you try to step back and let them do it. Because they’re better at set design, or costuming or editing than I am. You know my job is to supervise all of it and make it all become one to try to make it cohere into an episode in the end that is Outlander and all of its components are. That each individual department head and each individual crew member and you kind of try to entrust them to bring their best work and to contribute to what we’re doing.
OC: So you’ve wrote a lot of hard shows such as Star Trek The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, Battlestar Galactica and now Outlander. And what I want to know is what is it that you enjoy most about creating these large, complicated and layered worlds?
Ron: Well, I like creating the worlds. I think I am really drawn to doing period pieces. Star Trek and Battlestar in my mind are period pieces they are just distant future. I like creating a world for the audience that doesn’t exist. That’s not part of their day to day reality. So I like sitting in rooms and coming up with how this universe functions. What are the rules to it? What does it look like? What can they do and what can’t they do? I just enjoy that process of creation. I think if I was doing a contemporary show that was just in a normal police station where everyone has normal lives, I think I would get a little bored with it. It doesn’t have quite the challenge in how to figure out how can we recreate 18th century Versailles today? How can we recreate the Battle of Culloden? How can we recreate things that don’t exist anymore? I find that really challenging and interesting and fun in doing things with the show.
OC: So we actually, speaking of letting people do exactly what they like and what they’re good at, we actually had the opportunity to speak to Ira Steven Behr shortly after the finale of Season One. And actually in the interview, I refer to him as your consiglieri he admitted to the fact that that term may, or may have not, been used on multiple occasions by you guys, and it was really great. Can you talk about your relationship with him and your long-lasting working relationship and your dynamic with both of you in the writer’s room?
Ron: Well we go way back. I mean Ira was there with the very first writing staff of Next Gen when I started. He’s kind of the senior writer and I was very much the junior writer. I learned a tremendous amount from him both on the page and in the room. You know, how to get the most out of your people in a writer’s room. How to corral the various egos and the various different sensibilities and get everyone to work together and build a sense of camaraderie and fraternity in the writer’s room. And how to do the producing aspect of it. And I learned a lot from him on the page. The characters, the dialogue the tricks of the trade so to speak. Then we worked together on Deep Space Nine for five years, and I was kind of his number two guy. So he was running that, and I was helping him. So now we hadn’t worked together since that point. And now he’s helping me. And it’s a familiar relationship just our positions have shifted, and I really depend on Ira. I have him here to guide me, to challenge me, to sort of make me think about it in other ways. We have very similar story instincts and ways of looking at material. So it’s great to have someone that I have a real shorthand with. Because we’ll get into something and we’ll immediately know exactly where the other one’s going. That’s tremendously helpful with working on a really complicated thing, and Outlander is a very complicated show. And it’s fun. I really like having him around, and he’s a great friend of mine and a lot of love. And it’s a big plus to do it with Ira.
OC: Wow, I’m not going to lie, you’re pretty lucky you get to work with one of your best friends and your wife. That’s a pretty good work situation. So even though you do get to have your buddies with you, what was the biggest challenge for you in all of Season One of Outlander?
RDM: Well, season one of any show is a huge undertaking. Because you are creating something from nothing, literally. You’re starting from scratch. And we had to start from scratch. There was no sound stage. We had to build a facility, assemble a team, sell the material, break the material, write it, and then start to produce it. And I think what made Outlander particularly challenging was the nature of the show itself. It’s not just a period piece, it’s two period pieces, and on top of that it’s a travelling show. Normally in television you have standing sets. You have the bridge of the Enterprise, you have a hospital you have a police station, you have an apartment building, something. You have these sets that you go back to over and over again. They are the home base of the show. You save a tremendous amount of money. When you have standing sets, you save a lot of time because you are familiar with shooting on them, the cast and crew get familiar with them. It becomes easy; it becomes quick; and you know you can always go right back there to go shoot the next scene on the Galactica’s CIC or wherever you are going. This show doesn’t have that. This show is traveling so it just keeps leaving things behind. You are constantly looking for locations; you’re constantly building the sets; you’re constantly leaving characters behind. It’s always moving forward. So as a result instead of the normal kind of production rhythm that you get in on television, this was like doing 16 movies. You were doing all, we shoot them in blocks of two, so more like doing eight movies. Where every prep period you had to sort of start over again. You couldn’t really rely on the things that you established in the last two blocks. You were looking for new locations, strike the sets that you just built; you had to get new ones. We spent a tremendous amount of time and effort building and creating Castle Leoch just to trash it and move on just because we aren’t going back there again. That’s a very difficult thing to do on a TV production budget and time table. It’s just takes a tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of time and mental energy to figure out how you can accomplish this and keep it moving forward. So it’s just a very, very complex show to produce.
OC: So now you have an even further complication in the fact that you have to take the show to France. How are you going to achieve France in Scotland? (Mary: Oh and I need put a caveat Ron. Just so you know, Blake has not read the books, so he doesn’t know anything that’s happening or where they’ll be going next.
RDM: It’s tricky. For the first half of the season, we had to again we had to create a new show. There were no sets we could use from Season One. There were no costumes really we could use from Season One. There were no props or furniture or set deck or carpets or drapes or anything. Paris in the world of the Aristocracy which is where the story takes place, really has no common elements with the more rustic kind of feeling of Scotland. Where in season one there was a lot of dark, heavy wood and stone work and metal bar windows. Now suddenly you’re in Paris. It’s the land of gilt and candelabras and fine china and crystal and satin dresses as opposed to wool. So we really had to start over again just completely from scratch just to do Paris. We are doing it by creating some of the sets at our production facility in Scotland, finding some locations in Scotland that actually are somewhat French looking that we will be able to redecorate to make look French. We just got back from Prague about a week ago where we went to shoot some exterior work. Where the streets of Prague we were able to make look like streets of 18th century Paris. We also did some shooting in the South of England at one of the big palaces down there that some of the interior rooms were particularly French. And some of the scenes made them feel like they were in the Palace of Versailles. And then of course you have some digital work to fill in some of the gaps. But it is a big, complex mosaic between shooting in a lot of different locations and trying to create a world within a world really.
OC: So not only are you in charge of making sure the sets go and finding the right places. It’s all got to come under budget too. And then we have this small thing of actually making sure that the story is correct. So for season one, because obviously we aren’t going to talk about season two story yet, but for season one, which episode was the hardest to break for you in that writer’s room?
RDM: Well, probably ironically the third episode was the trickiest. Because I had written the first two episodes to get the show picked up and sold. So the pilot was really the first two if you think about it, because the story doesn’t really get going until you’ve met all of the characters from Castle Leoch. So the first two episodes in my mind have always been one story. That’s essentially our pilot. Then after that, cracking that third episode was tricky. Because that’s where we really had to start really maneuvering within the story itself. In the book there is a significant passage of time between Claire’s arrival at “Castle Leoch” and “The Gathering” which is the fourth episode. And in television you don’t typically have weeks and weeks fly by. It’s just not really the riff of an hour long drama. So we knew we were going to condense the time period. We also knew we wanted to give Claire a drive. We wanted to give her the “what’s this particular story about.” The chapters of the book sort of can go in a lot of different directions. You can spend a chapter in the book just talking about herbs and talking about the medicine of the time. Or Claire can have the little vignette encounters with different characters. She can go off in this direction or that direction. She can remember things about her life with Frank. There are a lot of components but they don’t necessarily add up to a strong story that has a theme to it, that is resonant, that takes your leading character from A to B. So we had to take all those pieces and construct a new narrative out of the material that was there on the page and figure out what is an hour episode drama out of this. And that was challenging. That took a while. That script went in a lot of revision and a lot of change. We were still getting our feet under us in terms of what the show was. How it would work and how we were breaking down the book into individual episodes.
OC: You mentioned Frank, and in addition to breaking down the book, you also added a lot of context with Frank, which we loved by the way. I wanted to know why is Frank so important to the story, and do you think we will be seeing more additions to his character like we did in Season One?
RDM: Well, I thought Frank was key to understanding Claire. That’s why I thought his part needed to be expanded more. Her drive through the whole, say three quarters of the first season, is to get back to Frank. It’s to get home. Right? So you had to sort of understand why Claire wanted to get back to this man. Otherwise at a certain point you sort of just say, “Screw it. Look at Jamie. Great looking guy; why don’t you just stay here?” (Blake: King of Men) Right, he’s the King of Men, what’s your hurry to get back to the 1940’s? But it drives her strongly through the book. Through that whole section she’s always trying to get back to Frank. Even as she’s falling in love with Jamie, even as she gets married to Jamie, she’s still sort of struck by the fact that she’s still married to this other man. And when you get to that point in the book where Jamie tells her to wait in the glen until he gets back from seeing Horrocks, and he leaves, and she just takes off for the stones, that was the moment for me that I said, I’ve got to understand Frank more. The audience at home, who hasn’t read the books has to really identify with Claire’s dilemmas. We have to be sure that they really understand why she’s gonna do that. Otherwise, her choice to go back to the stones is going to be inexplicable, and no one would believe it or care. So to me you had to keep Frank more of a presence, visually. You had to see his face; you had to be reminded of this other man that she was in love with, and you had to kind of be torn. You had to feel her dilemma. That she’s torn in her loyalties, and she’s torn in her feelings. And the audience had to feel that as well so they too would kind of go “God, you know in the pilot I was really kind of routing for those two. I kind of liked them. And Wow I get it. I hope she gets back to him. And then oh there’s this Jamie. Well that’s kind of intriguing too.” So again I always have to sort of put on and look at the show through the eyes of someone who has never read the books at all. And they’re just accepting the story that you tell it to them. I felt in the visual medium, in the television medium, you had to know Frank more, you had to see Frank more. You had to flush out more of who he was and what their relationship was.
OC: Well I have to say you obviously succeeded, because I am one of those people who has never read the book, and I being a married man, I always felt like Frank kind of spoke to me a little bit. Because I always felt like that would totally happen to me. My beautiful wife would go leave me for some strapping, young, red-haired Scotsman. And you know I always felt like man I got that guy’s back. I was always Team Frank. So I just wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn about him because everybody kind of gets on him a little bit, and I’m always like why? Man he just seems like a nice guy.
RDM: Yea, I always liked Frank. I always felt for him. I always liked him in the book. Again the fact that Claire cares for him so much and does love him and works so hard to get back to him, that tells me that he has to be a good guy. Because otherwise my heroine shouldn’t be so completely driven to get back there.
OC: Well, I love Frank but, conversely, I love Black Jack Randall. Just simply because I think he’s a fascinating antagonist, or maybe I’d even say villain, too. But I think I’d rather go with antagonist.
RDM: He’s a very interesting character.
OC: The depth that you and Ira have given him. I didn’t expect that. I expected him to just be evil for evil’s sake. And he certainly was not. Even with that scene when he’s sketching Claire’s face, that’s a small thing that just made his character very alive. But towards the end on the show (I’m just gonna talk about it because that’s my job) a lot of people have, unfairly in my opinion, said the show went too far in the last two episodes of Wentworth. What would be your rebuttal to them? And why do you think what happened and everything that happened with Black Jack was necessary to the story? As I believe that it is necessary to the story.
RDM: I guess my first response is, I only went as far as the book did. The book is pretty graphic and the book goes further in some of its description and some of what happened that’s revealed later. There is a line in Season Two or Book Two, I’m sorry, where Jamie and Claire are having and argument talking about Black Jack and Jamie says “You’re fighting for the man, he made me suck the blood off, my blood off his own cock.” And I was like “Whoa!” That’s one of those lines where your eyes kind of fly up in your head. We certainly never went that far, but it was inherent to what was happening in the drama. I mean it was built into the book and into the story line. It influences everything that happens with Jamie and Claire for the rest of the book series really. It’s a pivotal moment. It had been building towards that. And if some people thought it went too far, then that’s OK. Everyone has their own line. And I tried very hard as we were writing it and shooting it and particularly when it was being edited together, I tried to just use my own judgment on what. I tried to take it as far as it could be taken and not cross the point where I thought I couldn’t watch it anymore. I don’t mind making the audience feel uncomfortable. I don’t mind horrifying the audience; I don’t mind shocking them or any of that. But I don’t want to lose the audience. When the audience can’t watch it anymore then you’ve lost them. And I tried to take it right up to that line; because to do that story and to do it properly, meant that it had to be horrific. It had to be brutal. It had to go to dark, dark places that are really hard to watch. And I felt that we had to honor the story by taking it as far as we could without tipping over the line of being gratuitous or just doing it because we thought we could get away with it. There was never a time when we said, “hey let’s go further because this is Starz and we could do anything we want.” And there was never that attitude. It was always, this is the story, and this is the relationship between these two men, and let’s just look at it directly. And let’s not shy away from it, and let’s not revel in it either. Let’s just tell it.
OC: You, and the rest of the team, and Anna Foerster did such a great job, especially with those final two episodes of telling the story. And my question to you is, how do you choose your directors? Are they picked with specific talents in mind? And have you ever thought about doing the True Detectives route where you just employ one director for an entire season?
Ron: We’ve never considered doing that? No, it’s too complex, too big of an undertaking. It’s really hard on our directors to just do two at a time. I think if we’d ask anyone to do a whole season, we’d probably never get anyone to do it. But we pick directors there’s a variety of criteria. A lot of it has to do with availability. Who’s available to do it? Who’s willing to commit to-you’re essentially asking the director to do two months, because a month of prep, then a month of shooting-so it’s a big block of time willing to do it. Then you’re looking for someone who would have an affinity for this kind of material. Someone who would have probably done period pieces before. Someone who’s done character work before. Sometimes someone who’s shot in Scotland before would be nice. They’re a lot of ways of sort of vetting directors and trying to figure out who’s the right person for which piece. Anna Foerster I wanted for the wedding episode because I thought it was a good idea having a woman direct the wedding episode frankly. And so I researched specifically for a woman to come in and do that. I thought it would bring a particular kind of take and sensibility to it. And I thought it was important it’s the wedding night. This was the big, sensual and sexual scenes of the show and I just wanted, I don’t know. My instinct was to try and find a woman who could come in and do that, and she did such a great job with it, I also thought that would be a thought that it would be a positive thing to direct the last two episodes. And other than that, you’re looking for if it’s an episode that has a lot of action in it, then you are looking for a director who’s done action. If you’re one that’s more interior in character, you’re looking for someone who’s done that. You’re just always looking to match material best you can to the director.
OC: How much of a say does the director have in the final cut of the episode? Is it something that they direct and you say “Ok thanks for all the footage. Move on.” Or did they stick with you for a while but you still have ultimately the final say in everything that goes on?
RDM: They always do the director’s cut. We have the editors at the facility in Scotland that work with them there. All during the shoot they communicate with the editor putting the first assemblies together, and then they deliver to me a full-blown director’s cut. And generally speaking at that point then they’re done with it and I take a cut at it. Take my producer cut. And then it kind of goes to the studio network. And they give me notes, and I kind of carry it through the rest of the process. Each episode is kind of unique and different. And there’s been episodes that I’ve recut completely. There’s been episodes I barely have done anything to. And really it all just kind of depends on that particular show. There are scripts that are like that too. There are scripts that I have rewritten quite a bit. There are scripts that I’ve only lightly polished or haven’t touched at all. Writing and editing are very similar skills in storytelling. A writer told me a very long time ago you always do your second draft in the editing room. And that’s true you’re telling the story editorially. So it’s very important that the rhythm and flow of the final product reflects how we do Outlander. If you cut the show to rock and roll music, it’s a completely different show. If you cut the show with a lot of dissolves and montages and overlapping images, it’s a completely different show. If you cut it really fast like a Michael Bay movie where it’s really staccato cut say you’re popping to people and popping out and moving all around the scene very, very quickly, that’s a different show. We have a particular style and rhythm of how we cut the series together. How we use music. The style of sound effects that we use. The color correction that we use for the different time periods. It’s all sort of part of what you would call the “voice of the show.” And again it’s my job to kind of maintain that it’s the same voice every week. That it doesn’t just become a completely different series when you tune in the next episode.
OC: One of the things I always felt was like the most creative the show did visually was in “Lallybroch” when the encounter with Black Jack and Jenny when things were black and white except for the red in Black Jack’s coat or whatever. There was some red bits. Is that something you decided on or is that something that was just team effort that was like “Ah this is a really cool idea we want to highlight this”?
RDM: I think that was something one of the editors came up with on that particular flashback. We had played around with, in the pilot, I made the color decisions about I wanted color World War II to look visually very similar to the actual existing color footage of World War II. Which is very limited, but it has that sort of slightly too saturated look the colors tend to bleed a little bit. It has a lot of heavy grey. And high contrast. So I gave that to the World War II section. Then I wanted the 1940’s to be very desaturated and scene to scene I would kind of pick a color usually the color of Claire’s outfit like her blue coat or her burgundy dress. And then I would bring that color up in the whole scene and crush everything else down. And then when we went to the past, when we went to the 18th Century, I wanted to be brighter more saturation, sharper, have a little bit more brilliance and sort of add clarity to it. But that set the sort of style of the show from that point.
OC: Is that something that’s done in post or is that done on camera? Just for people who don’t know.
RDM: That’s all done in post these days. That’s a reflection mostly of the technology. When we did Battlestar Galactica, which was the early days of digital photography, we were still shooting it on digital tape. And Steve McNutt who was our DP on Battlestar who is actually with us this season on Outlander. But Steve would sit at a console live on the set and he would, it’s called “baking in” the color. As the show was being shot, he would move buttons and dials on his console that would give Battlestar the look that you saw, and it was baked into the material. Now with the more sophisticated cameras and there’s no longer digital tape literally computer cards, you shoot everything pretty much raw. And then you apply what’s called a LUT. I can’t remember what a LUT stands for, it’s light something or other. It’s essentially, it’s sort of a brief and temporary color correction all the dailies have and everyone looks at. And say this is generally what the show is going to look like. So you have some idea. You’re not just looking at the raw footage which is usually not so great to look at. And when the show is finally put together and edited, then we send it to a there’s a color facility here in Los Angeles with a full-time colorist who literally goes shot by shot through the whole show. Color timing out or color grading each particular scene, and then we’ll fine tune everything. I’ll say, let’s bring up the red in that a little bit more, let’s bring out more of the shadow. You have these very detailed conversations at that point.
OC: So with that in mind, in creating Season One and now creating Season Two, you have told a story for Season One, what are you most excited and let’s say even nervous about for in Season Two and, for those who haven’t read the books in a relatively “spoiler free” fashion.
RDM: It’s a big thing going to France, obviously. It’s delivering a whole new look for the show. All the things that made Paris so challenging to deliver are also the things that hopefully will make it really amazing to watch. It’s a completely new color palate. It’s a completely new environment. It’s urban as opposed to rural. It’s the aristocracy as opposed to the poor. I mean in every possible way it’s a completely different show. And it’s exciting to do something in a second year of a show that’s so different. Because typically the second year of a show is expanding on what you did in year one and so on. And this is one of the great joys of doing this and one of the biggest headaches is not doing that. It’s doing something completely different. So it’s really exciting to sort of create a whole new Outlander.
OC: Yea it almost reminds me of Season Two of The Wire. I’m not sure if you ever watched that. Or what they’re doing with The Leftovers now where they’re just changing the story pretty much. Well they aren’t changing the story. They are just taking it and moving it to a different setting, a different creative setting. Similar to The Wire. And introducing a whole new set of characters that you did not even meet in Season One. And it sounds pretty similar to that. Would that be relatively true?
RDM: Yea, I really don’t remember season two that well. I remember it had something to do with the docks. I don’t think I finished the second season. But I remember it was a whole new story. This is a similar challenge in that it is a whole new story that you’re telling. You have the same central characters. It’s a whole new group of characters that are going to become involved with in a different social strata. It’s just a different thing. It’s also, well I don’t want to give any spoilers away. It’s a more complex book than the first book. The first book was, narratively speaking, it was a fairly straight line. It was very linear. Follow Claire in the past and it’s essentially about her trying to get home, then falling in love with Jamie and then rescuing him and then it’s the end. That’s essentially what that book is. The second book is just more complex. Diana shifted points of view in the book, narratively. Sometimes it’s also first person where Claire is telling the story. Other times she’s shifted to another character, and told it from his point of view. And then other times is was the objective point. So she also, the second book is also more complex in terms of, its more involved with the politics of the era. There’s more conspiracies and double-dealing and sort of wheels within wheels. It shifts locations several times. So it’s a complicated book overall and it was a bigger challenge to adapt than the first book was.
OC: With that in mind too, you’ve gone from 16 episodes in Season One to from what I believe 13 episodes in Season Two. Is that something that was planned? Are you nervous about that? Because it seems like there’s a lot of story there from what you’re saying.
RDM: There’s a lot of story there. The second book is the shortest of the books, fortunately. The episode order is really about the network and the studio and a lot of business. For Starz, up until Outlander they had never done an order bigger than ten. Now their typical order was eight. And then they had a few shows that they did ten with, so for them to do sixteen was a huge investment and big show of faith. We knew that we were probably not going to continue to do sixteen. That really doesn’t fit their broadcast schedule and the format of what they do. But they still are giving us thirteen which is still three more than they give their typical shows. So that’s great. And for us it’s a familiar number. For whatever reason thirteen is sort of a standard order in cable television. So it’s kind of a familiar number to get your arms around as writers. We sort of get how to get a story out in thirteen episodes. So it’s not too big of a challenge in terms of that, in terms of the storytelling.
OC: I want to let you know that you did a great job of tiptoeing around any spoilers. It is so hard for me. Our whole podcast is spoiler free, and I sit here often just staring at a wall so that my face doesn’t give anything away to Blake, because I have read the books. So, you did a really good job right there. (RDM: Thank you, thank you) So one of the things that stands out the most to me in Outlander is the fandom. I mean we have an amazingly strong fandom. And I wanted to just kind of get your perspective on it. Maybe if you wanted to compare and contrast from say the Star Trek fans, or just what it’s been like on the other side for you with this Outlander fandom.
RDM: I would say that I find the Outlander fans very familiar. My experience with Star Trek fans and Battlestar fans and now Outlander fans are they’re all pretty much the same, really. Because they’re all coming from the same place. They’re all coming from this place of love. They all LOVE this show. They all love it, love the characters. They want to know more about it. They want to understand behind the scenes. Why you made the decisions you did. Why didn’t you do these other things? How did you construct that? Where did you shoot that? Tell me the funny stories from the set. They want to talk to the actors. They want to see behind the scenes photos. They want to organize themselves into communities. They talk to each other. They write their own fan fiction. They create their own replicas of the props and the costumes. They buy t-shirts. It’s all the same stuff, really. And they express themselves the same. You stand on a stage at an Outlander gathering and it’s a very positive, warm lovely thing. They’re there to ask you questions and they’re there to laugh at your jokes because they know the show. And it’s all a great sense of community. And it’s pretty much like that at a star trek convention, or a Battlestar one. It’s all very much the same. It’s just the demographic is different. These are more predominantly female, largely because of the books. They are a little older. The Star Trek and Battlestar demographic is younger and more male. But there were a tremendous amount of women in the Trek and Battlestar fandoms as well. And interestingly enough they were usually the ones who organized everything. You would go to Star Trek conventions that were organized by women. The original letter writing campaign to keep Star Trek on the air were organized by women. They were the ones that really drove fandom in the early days. So with Outlander it’s just a very familiar setup. I don’t think I’ve been surprised at all or taken aback by anything I’ve encountered so far on the Outlander fandom.
OC: Is that why you do your own Outlander podcast? To connect with those fans on a more personal level?
RDM: Yea, I started doing that on Battlestar and I just enjoyed it. When they first asked me to do it on Battlestar I didn’t even know what a podcast was. It was still a new term. So I was like “what? What’s that?” and they said it’s sort of like radio and think of it like doing a DVD commentary. And I was like, “oh ok I’ll do it like that.” So when I started doing it, it started to become the last step of the production for me. Once I did the podcast, I was done with that episode forever. That was like the last step of producing it. And that’s still the way I feel about it. I produce the show, but my last step is to do the podcast on it. Talk about what we did, what we didn’t do, mistakes, things you’re proud of, interesting jokes, then boom! It’s done. It’s in the drawer, and I’m moving on to the next one. I was also a Star Trek fan. I’ve been on the other side of that curtain. I’ve sat in those audiences. I’ve read books and bought magazines; been obsessed with actors and what they were really like. What it was like on the set. I understand the hunger for information. How important it was that it was made available to me. So I like giving that back. Talking about the show. So I enjoy doing a podcast.
OC: Ron, I always have the distinct pleasure of asking the last question of every interview that we do. And it’s usually the most important question I always ask the interviewee. Are you ready for this?
OC: Are you Team Frank or are you Team Jamie?
RDM: (Laughs out loud) See I’m the one that has to be Team Both! I can’t. I’m the one who can’t choose. I have to be team ALLL of the Team. I have to be Team Rupert and Team Angus. They’re all my team.
OC: Well played. Well played. Well, Thank You so much Ron. This was an absolute delight having you on. I’ve been an avid listener of your podcast. So it is a true joy to have you here on Outlander Cast with Blake and myself. It was a real treat.
RDM: Well, it was my pleasure to do it. And I would be happy to do it again sometime.
Once again, thank you so much to Ron Moore for joining us on Outlander Cast. It was an absolute honor.
What did you think about Ron’s comments that episode 3 was the hardest to break?
What do you think would be the most difficult/best part of his job?
If OC were to interview RDM again, what questions would you ask him?