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Stargate SG-1 Crew Interviews: Robert C. Cooper

Robert C. Cooper Radio Interview
SCI-FI Overdrive on Interstellar Transmissions, 15 June 2003

Sci-Fi Overdrive

Joining us by telephone is one of the Executive Producers of Stargate:SG-1, welcome to this broadcast Mr. Robert Cooper!

RCC: Hello everybody.

SFOD: First of all it is fantastic to have you here at the start of the seventh season because we all have to admit it didn't look like there was going to be a seventh season. It looked like everything was going to wrap up with the sixth season. So as somebody who has been a writer and a producer for the program could you take us back can you tell us about the travails and triumph of getting the seventh season of Stargate:SG-1 on the air?

RCC: Well I was sitting in my rental house with pretty much everything in the house packed in boxes and my suitcases packed and my plane ticket ready to go home.

SFOD: You were ready to go home?

RCC: Well honestly we had our wrap party and we were holding our sets over waiting to hear and the decision came in awfully late. It was late October before we really heard that we were going to start. We had wrapped shooting early in September we're all sort of looking at each other wondering what to do for the next month and a half or two because usually we spend the end of season developing the following year planning stories writing scripts so we all just took a long vacation.
RCC: Actually you know it's funny but I think that actually helped us because we were all very fresh when we finally did hear we were coming back. We got together in November and had a little meeting about how now that we've heard we're going to do another twenty-two shows what are going to do? It was a great story session because everyone had a clear head and had a little rest.

SFOD: Fantastic. Now this is really great if we can for those of our listeners who have not watched Stargate:SG-1 and if you haven't shame on you how could you miss it? As it metamorphed from Showtime to syndication and finally to The Sci-Fi Channel, tell our listeners what the program is about and how it differs from the movie version of Stargate?
RCC: Well there's this big round ring that you step through and it takes you to other planets. In the movie there was really just one other planet and the issue was how to stop the alien on that planet from becoming a threat to Earth. In the series in the pilot written by Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright they really did I think a wonderful job of taking this core concept of the ring that goes anywhere you want it to go and expanding that concept so that it basically created a whole universe where the Goa'uld were these villains who had taken human beings from ancient cultures in Earth's past and transplanted them all over the galaxy. In a way sort of stunted their growth used them as slaves for their own Goa'uldish evil benefit, and we sort of open the gate again seven years ago in story time and start exploring those worlds and try to free the people who were enslaved. Collect technology that would protect Earth from the Goa'uld.
SFOD: Right, the series starts about one year after the events of the movie and the movie you can usually catch in rerun on like USA or get it from Blockbuster, and as you’ve pointed out the Stargate is actually in control of the military and it's located under the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.
RCC: We're endorsed by the actual Air Force and all our scripts are vetted and read by them. We had the actual the real Chief of Staff of the Air Force do a little cameo on our show.

SFOD: I heard he was a fan of the show.
RCC: Yes a big fan and in fact the new Chief of Staff, they do rotate them every now and then, one of the first things he said to his staff when he came on was ‘So when do I get to be on Stargate?’ So we're having him up this summer hopefully.

SFOD: Excellent!

RCC: He was supposed to be on the show in April but apparently he had this whole war thing that he had to deal with and had to postpone being on Stargate.

SFOD: You had an episode your 100th episode Wormhole X-treme which I really loved which pretty much spoofed and sent up the whole show. You actually referenced that I think you had Jack O'Neill going to the other show claiming that he was an advisor for the new show. So do you have an Air Force guy right there giving you tips and everything?

RCC: Yeah for sure. They aren't actually on site here; they tend to come up once or twice a year. But they do read all our scripts advise us and have actually provided us on occasion with some really cool stuff. We had a C-130 plane that flew up here and we shot it in an episode called Watergate and we had some jets that came up here last year that we used in an episode. They've really been great partners in the show and I think we've tried to portray the Air Force in a very positive light as well.

SFOD: And have there been any times where you've gotten the script back from the advisors and he's going you know you really can't do this.

RCC: Well all the time yeah. We're always butting heads about what we can and can't do. I mean we say hey wait a minute we're talking about a Stargate here. We're talking about alien worlds, you can't apply completely real world rules to this. Who's to say the Air Force is going to allow you to do this in an alternate reality. And so yeah there's been all kinds of situations where we've kind of had disagreements. One of the big ones that I know fans are usually very concerned with is the O'Neill/Carter relationship. We've sort of played that sexual tension, which actually originally came from Rick and Amanda. They started it, we just sort of tweaked into it to play with it. But the Air Force has said time and again that Carter can't even call O'Neill *Jack*, that's against regulations; she's got to call him sir, let alone have any kind of a relationship that would just not be kosher so to speak. The Air Force regulations are kind of pretty strict as far as the relationship is concerned. There's no leeway for that.

SFOD: Umm it probably wouldn't be a bad question at this point for people who aren't familiar with Stargate:SG-1 to ask you to tell us it's called SG-1 because the primary team the adventures of who we are following consists of Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Samantha Carter although actually when we start off the series she's Captain Samantha Carter and she gets promoted.

RCC: That's right. That was actually also a suggestion of the Air Force. They said you know at this point we think Carter has been on the show long enough we think she should be.
SFOD: Yeah that kind of goes back to all those fanboys that were waiting for Sulu to get his promotion back in Star Trek.

SFOD: I think it's great that the Air Force is coming up and saying we really want this character promoted. It’s about time.

RCC: Yeah exactly.

SFOD: And we also have to continue from there we've got Teal'c who is the Jaffa on the show. And then we have Dr. Daniel Jackson who has been the center of controversy for the past season and a half because Michael Shanks left the show and then came back and then left and then came back. And now he's back for the season.

RCC: We like to think that he never actually went away. You know he did sort of request some time off and he was frustrated. I think he felt that his character was not necessarily taking the track that he had hoped for. But you know what after five seasons and a lot of different ups and downs for his character I think maybe he just you know it's a long time to be on one series and he just needed a little bit of a break. We left the door open for him certainly within the Stargate Universe. He ascended in an episode called Meridian and went to a higher plane of existence. He was in three episodes the following year. So it wasn't like he went away completely and then at the end of the season we talked and sort of mutually agreed that it would be great if he wanted to come back. And he has and I think come back with renewed energy. People who watch the premiere on Friday I guess will have seen a Daniel that very much resembles the season one Daniel. The wide-eyed, excited, happy to be here, Daniel Jackson.

SFOD: The one who sneezed when ever he wound up on a new planet?

RCC: Yeah, I mean you know the story, the way in which he comes back, allowed Michael to play that energy.  I think he felt that he wanted to come back but with that energy but on the other hand, you know you get to a point in a season five where you go to someplace or you see something new and the actors and you as a writer say 'Well you're going to react big to this. You gotta give it the wow' and they're like we've been to a million planets now and we've seen just about everything why would we look at this and go wow' And so the way in which we bring Daniel back he's.

SFOD: Whoa don’t give it away, we’ll be right back and find out about Daniel coming back!

SFOD: We're talking on the telephone with one of the Executive producer of Stargate:SG-1 Robert Cooper. And we're talking about the brand new season seven which premiered on Friday with Fallen and the next episode is going to be part two of that Homecoming.
RCC: Actually the debut on Friday will be both parts Fallen and Homecoming as a two hour movie.

SFOD: Actually it came along with Sci-Fi putting together this promo I guess you would call it to catch fans up on the show. Talk a little about what your involvement was in that was how did you feel what should be involved in that kind of show?

RCC: That started out as a project that was originally just going to go on the DVDs as sort of an extras package and Sci-Fi Channel wanted to sort of take advantage of that and expand it. They really wanted to kind of break the mold and do something a little different not your typical behind the scenes you know boring interviews with writers, so they cut us out of the whole thing. The actors did a very sort of casual let's follow these guys around and live a day on set with them and have a lot of fun and they did a wonderful job.

RCC: They're very funny and I think that the tone of the behind the scenes show really displays how what a great time we have making the show. And how great everyone's sort of sense of humor is. If there's any fun in our series at all it's coming very much from the fact that everybody who makes the show really loves making it and has a great time doing it. I'm sure that sounds like behind the scenes propaganda that you often hear that we're all just one big happy family. But the truth of the matter is actors who come up from LA or guest actors who come on the show for short periods of time will be the best witnesses to that. They can't believe what a great time they have coming on our show and how much our crew and everyone from top to bottom really feels very passionately about Stargate. I think that is one thing that will hopefully translate in that behind the scenes special that you'll just see what a great time we have.

SFOD: I think it certainly translates in many of the episodes especially the more humor based ones. Where you get to see almost that joy from behind the scenes of Jack and...

RCC: We try not to take it too seriously and I think that's one of the things that really appeals to people about our series is that through Jack O'Neill's eyes we get kind of everyman's view of science fiction. Sometimes things in sci-fi concepts can be a bit ridiculous when you really you know scrutinize them and we're not afraid to have our characters you know have that opinion. Jack O'Neill will sort of go *Oh come on! People really talk that way?* When he hears aliens you know speaking strangely or stuff like that. So we try and have a real sort of tongue in cheek sense of humor about science fiction. Not to say we don't also aspire to tell a great dramatic story but I think it's our sense of humor that really sets us apart from other sci-fi shows.

SFOD: We’re taking a short commercial break and then we are going to come back and talk more about what makes Stargate:SG-1 such a great program.

SFOD: And on this broadcast of Scifi Overdrive we’re back with our interview with writer/ director for Stargate:SG1 and a man who wears many hats, Robert Cooper who is joining us on the telephone. We were talking just before the break about some of things that makes Stargate:SG-1 such a phenomenal program. You've got a great core of these four actors. You have great supporting actors in Don S. Davis who plays General George Hammond. You have Doc Frasier, you've got.

RCC: Teryl Rothery.
SFOD: You've got Sgt. Walter Davis played by Gary Jones. And he's going to be our guest in another hour on Sci-Fi Overdrive. But one of the things that must be very hard as a writer to have everybody act in a very believable way I mean there is so much that Chris Judge emotes when he just raises his eyebrow in the character of Teal'c as opposed to giving him gobs of exposition. So I'm really curious what does it take when you throw the script down in front of the guys before it actually comes back to you?

RCC: Oh we don't write dialog, we just write their character names and they make everything up<laughs>. It's a collaborative effort. We all get along really well and we try and listen to what the actor's are doing how they're playing their characters and we try and adapt those elements into the story. As I mentioned before you know that Rick and Amanda played that little moment of sexual tension and we kind of tweaked it out and we said 'Ooh we should really with that whole story line.' So it really is a collaborative thing. Our doors as writers are always open and we like to think that the actors feel comfortable talking to us about their characters.

RCC: This year you know especially we are focusing very much on Daniel and Carter and Teal'c characters. And their interpersonal relationships. I've had long conversations with Amanda about sort of where Carter's character is going and her life and her personal life and sort of you know career verses personal issues and I think we're doing about three or four episodes that really strongly address those issues for her this year.
SFOD: Could you be more specific? I mean you've got a brilliant astrophysicist who used to have a Goa'uld inside her so.

RCC: Yeah, she gets trapped on the Prometheus by herself out in the middle of space in an episode and she sort of gets conked on the head and starts to wonder if this is really what she wants to do with her life. She has a series of really odd sort of hallucinations that has her kind of reevaluating what she kinds of holds dear to her heart. And then in another episode later on we kind of have Carter exploring a relationship off base and how that hard it is when you work in a top secret Stargate facility and want to be able to share your life with somebody but really can't tell them eighty percent of what you do with your time. So..

SFOD: Tell them you do uhmm deep space exploration with telescopes.

RCC: Exactly. At some point you want to say `Hey guess what happened to me today?` but you can't.

SFOD: Or I'll have to kill them.

SFOD: Remember her first husband got killed in like the third episode of the series so that set a precedent there. We have to take another short commercial break, but don’t go anywhere cause we’ve got more with our interview with Robert Cooper.

SFOD: We’re back on this broadcast with Scifi Overdrive and we’re speaking one of the producers of Stargate:SG1, Robert Cooper and we were just discussing some of the upcoming episodes that are going to be happening in this next season. We were discussing Samantha Carter and what she's going to be going through. I am dying to know are we finally going to be getting some more of Teal'c because he happens to be one of my more favorite characters and we don't often get a lot of him because he is sort of the strong silent types. Are we going to be getting some episodes with him?

RCC: Absolutely, Teal'c is the kind of guy who doesn't say much but when he does say something it tends to really mean something. Which you know I think as a writer is great because it always adds a dramatic punch to a scene. Where if Teal'c is there and he's been sort of silent and everybody's been chiming in about their opinions when Teal'c speaks up everybody kind of listens you know.  We're doing early in the season there's a show called Orpheus that was written by Peter DeLuise and directed by Peter DeLuise. It's just an unbelievable episode I think from a production value standpoint. It's just huge and it's about Teal'c having to go rescue Bra'tac and his son Ry'ac from a Jaffa work camp. It's really sort of an exploration of Teal'c and his dependency on his symbiote and the Jaffa have this kind of this odd you know symbiotic like relationship with the Goa'uld where they're enslaved by them and want to kind of free themselves but they get their strength and their health from having this you know snake in their pouch in their stomach. We have in the last season given Teal'c the opportunity to free him self of that symbiote by putting him on this drug called tretonen. But it's having some side effects and not all of them physical. Some of them are mental in terms of you know Teal'c's self-confidence and his abilities as a warrior. And it all sort of plays into the mission of involving him having to rescue his son. So that's a big Teal'c episode.

RCC: And then Christopher Judge has written an episode this year called Birthright. And of course he's written about himself. That involves us meeting a group of female Jaffa warriors obviously another topic that Chris Judge was really very passionate about. On the lighter side of things you could say 'oh it's an Amazon episode' but at its core is a really very serious I think moral dilemma and a great issue and I think Chris did a wonderful job with the story.

SFOD: Now he actually wrote an episode for last season as well.

RCC: Yes that was called The Changeling.

SFOD: Hmm.... have any of the other actors come to you and said Hey I've got this idea?

RCC: Well actually yeah. They all have very much expressed interest in being a part of the creative process, which is great because I think it invests them in the show and they aren't just people who just show up and want to read their lines and go home. They do really care about these characters and they do care about the series and they work hard and they want to be involved. Michael Shanks directed in season four and he's also writing an episode this year which we've just finished breaking with the rest of the story department and that will be airing in the second half of the season, so sometime next year. And Amanda Tapping is going to be directing this year. So yeah they're all getting very much involved.

SFOD: On the other side of the camera. And you know speaking of camera work, I would be really remiss if I didn't take this opportunity. There was a shot in last season's finale Full Circle that actually the camera went all the way from the gate up a flight of stairs and into the control room. It was something I had never seen before. I couldn't believe how elaborately done this set was and just the fluidness of the ability to do direction. So could you talk about how you assemble a team that's able to get these unique camera shots and really put a viewer into the story?

RCC: I mean we think our crew is the best ever. We don't really hold back when we're talking about these guys. We have two Directors of Photography Peter Woeste who also directs and Jim Menard who are just fantastic. Our camera guys are great Will Waring is our camera operator who also does some directing and you know our steady-cam guys everyone including you know Michael Greenburg who is another Executive Producer and is basically on set every minute of every day from you know I'm sure he'll tell you from five o'clock in the morning until you know what ever time we finish shooting. And they all really give one hundred percent in terms of making this show as visual as we can. And you know Martin Wood and Peter DeLuise are both Producers on the show they're regular directors they each do about seven episodes each a year. And having directors who are full-time on staff makes such a difference to us in terms of developing the look of the show and having them being a part of the preproduction process as opposed to just walking in and hanging their hat and coming on set and deciding what to shoot. I mean they help us design the look of sets and from the point of view of how am I going to shoot this. I think our show has almost a feature level of quality to it and it's very much because of the people behind the scenes and their efforts. That shot that sort of stuff comes from here at this point of the season Martin has done so many episodes already that he's just bored with shooting the Gate room and the Control Room so he's looking for new ways to make it exciting. We did another one like that in the season opener called Fallen and in the opening of that sequence you go pretty much right from Jonas lab all the way through the base and up into General Hammond's office. So there's another one of those long epic steady cam shots at the beginning of that show.

SFOD: And it certainly shows the beefed up and details in the actual sets that are there.

RCC: They're incredible. Our production design team is just second to none. We build sets you know that other shows would consider to be great standing sets and we use them once and then throw them away.

SFOD: I want to focus on something you said there about feature film. Is there going to be a season eight? Are you going to put us through this anguish again? Is there going to a Stargate 2 movie?

RCC: All I can say is that I believe that the anguish will be much more short-lived this year than last year. I don't know about anything for sure yet but I know there are a lot of discussions going on. That's pretty much all I'm allowed to say at this point in time.

SFOD: Allowed to say he knows and he's not telling.

RCC: There is somebody standing here with a tazor right now. As soon as I go too far I get electrocuted so.

SFOD: Well that brings us to talk about the Sci-Fi Channel if I may.

RCC: Sure.

SFOD: Because Stargate made the jump from Showtime premium pay cable into syndication where I mean it's absolutely phenomenal and let's be honest you guys are the White Knight for Sci-Fi. They don't have anything but you at this point. I wouldn't chalk  Tremors up there.

RCC: Well I don't want to compare us necessarily to any other show that they have on the air. We certainly are doing well on their network from what I understand. I certainly hope I just hope that we are able to continue doing what we do we like it so much and we obviously that the franchise is not dead yet that there's still a lot of life left in the concept of the Stargate and whether it's in season eight or spin-off series or feature films or whatever we just you know I think that we haven't even begun to sort of explore all the options you know that we'd like to.

SFOD: The spin-off series like Atlantis?

RCC: Yes. That is sort of the working title of the spin-off that Brad and I have developed. Brad Wright co-created SG-1 and he and I have sort of worked together in coming up with an idea for what that would be.

SFOD: And that idea would be?

RCC: Umm all I want to say at this point is that it really expands the Stargate Universe. It's going to be more of everything you love about SG-1 but also very very different. I know that's not very detailed.

SFOD: God bless writers. Writers tell you everything they want to tell you but not everything they can tell you.

RCC: No no writers would tell you. I'm also an Executive Producer that's the politician in me who's trying to be more diplomatic.

SFOD: We’ve got one more segment with RCC where I’m really going to try to put the screws to him to get some insight into the Stargate:SG-1 franchise.

SFOD: Were back on the phone with RCC. You know what's kind of interesting here let me try it on this tack. As a writer and as an Executive Producer what is the idea that you know in no way shape or form would ever be tolerated. That if you went out there and said 'okay here's the episode we're going to do we're going to be symbiote inside General Hammond.
RCC: I have to tell you that I'm not sure that the studio really watches our show. So I'm not sure that there is an idea that we couldn't get away with doing. I say that and now I'm going to get a phone call from the studio. But honestly you know it's one of the pleasures of doing Stargate we have not had a whole lot of interference from anyone. We do well on any of the networks we've aired on. They just seem to want us to keep on doing what we're doing. So we don't get a lot of creative interference there really isn't a whole lot that we want to do that we can't do creatively.

SFOD: So when you switched over from Showtime to Sci-Fi there wasn't like a Sci-Fi executive who sat down and went *Okay we'd really kind of like you to do this*.
RCC: No in fact they sat us down and uh we were real nervous about it believe me. But they sat us down and said *Okay this isn't broken so we're not going to try and fix it* and that was a big relief to us.

SFOD: You know it's interesting that you say that because Freya not the Asgard but the Tok'ra the one with the big boobys.
RCC: That's the only time the studio has gotten involved in making creative suggestions. Umm you know what? That situation I still think was you know I honestly don't see that as quite as negatively as other people have in the past. To me that was a female character we tried to introduce into the story and it obviously just didn't work out for a lot of people.
SFOD: Do you think it would have made such an impact if it had been a male character?

RCC: Oh well it certainly depends on well if it had been you know a good looking guy I think it would have been an issue as well yeah.

SFOD: But it's interesting because Hathor a Goa'uld got killed off and I can't believe I forgot the woman who does the genetic manipulation.

RCC: Oh Nirrti.

SFOD: Yeah Nirrti and her midriff, woof!  But I mean one great thing about Stargate is that is really its cerebral but its testosterone fueled and it's not like you know Amanda Tapping Major Carter is always in uniform you never see her running around in a bikini you know.

RCC: Not in season seven!

SFOD: Oh does that mean we'll get to see the guys in cut offs and stuff?

RCC: If you watched Friday night you saw Michael Shanks without anything on. So ah.

SFOD: Everyone had their pause buttons on I'm sure.

RCC: So you know we listen, we have a very good looking cast, yeah. We like to take opportunities to get them out of those green BDUs. I personally think that it's one of the best parts of doing the Earth based shows we get some complaints from fans but I love seeing our characters kind of walking around Earth in normal street clothes. I think they look great.

SFOD: Good looking actors, good looking show. Robert Cooper, thanks for being on this broadcast of Sci-Fi Overdrive. Executive Producer and Writer for Stargate:SG-1.

RCC: We think we have the best fans in the world. We love to hear from them so keep watching and keep writing us.

Copyright, 2003 Interstellar Transmissions Inc.
Transcribed by Marla

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