Ron Moore presented his latest show, “Outlander,” to the Television Critics Association before he had even shot the pilot. “Outlander” is based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon about Claire (Catroina Randall), a woman transported from her present of 1945 into 1743 Scotland.
Moore got into the spirit by wearing a kilt, which I’ve since seen him wear at every appearance. “Outlander” premieres Saturday, August 2 on STARZ.
CraveOnline: Is “Outlander” less science fiction and more of a period piece?
Ron Moore: Yes, it’s much more historical fiction. There’s a science fiction element of time travel, but it really doesn’t play week to week. It starts the story going and Claire wants to return to her time, but other than that it’s not really a sci-fi piece in that sense.
There are other books. Is the show over when she returns to 1945 or are there more adventures that can happen?
There’s many adventures. The books are all out there so there’s not like spoilers to discuss, but essentially she doesn’t really return to 1945. She does come back, but ends up going back again into the 18th century in subsequent books.
So the show keeps going.
Yeah, there’s eight books so far. Diana’s writing the ninth and coming out this year. It’s a big epic story. It’s a long yarn. Other characters come in. It jumps ahead in time and moves out of Scotland at a certain point, goes to Paris. Then comes back to Scotland, then goes to Jamaica, then goes to the New World so it’s actually a fairly evolving story. Year one is predominantly in Scotland but beyond that then the show starts to really move around the world.
Has she set an end date for the books?
No, she’s still writing them. She knows that the book that’s coming out is not the last one either.
And you’re not facing a “Game of Thrones” problem where you’ll catch up to the books?
I can’t imagine we’re going to catch up to these books, so yeah, I’m not worried about that.
How does working with STARZ compare to Syfy?
Very different channels. They’re very different networks and different cultures. Premium cable versus basic, right off the bat it’s very different. STARZ has been extraordinarily supportive. They’re very committed to the material. I pitched them the series and left them the books and they actually read the books. Chris Albrecht himself read the book and I was very impressed that once they picked up the show, one of the very first things he said to me was, “Trust the material. You don’t have to change the book. Do the book. Make the show for the fans first and we will just trust that anyone else who watches it, who has not read the book, will just be pulled into the story like everyone else.”
I was very impressed, because who says that in this town? Basically people buy books and will quickly tell you, “Well, we bought it for the cover. Do whatever you want.” It’s very rare when you find a commitment to say, “No, we like this material. We want to deliver this material to the people who love it and go from that point.” So we take that seriously on the show. We’re trying to do a faithful adaptation.
There are changes that we make. We change things all the time. We add stuff. We change some elements. We always try to get back to where the book is. We break down the stories in the writers room and we always start with the book version of events and the book scenes and say, “Okay, will this work for an hour? If it doesn’t, why not? Is there a way to make it work for an hour?” And proceed on that basis.
Is there any weight of “A Ron Moore Show” coming after your hits?
I don’t know. I’m not sure what A Ron Moore Show is. I’m happy that I had success at “Galactica” and that was a great thing. I loved working at “Star Trek” and “Carnivale.” All the shows I’ve been on, I’ve loved. Now I’m in love with this one so I just want it to be good.
You were able to do a real contemporary parallel in “BSG.” Is there any theme like that in “Outlander?”
Not overtly. In “Galactica” we were definitely doing parallels and metaphors for what was happening in contemporary society. This has more eternal themes. It’s about love and loss, courage and loyalty, those sorts of things so it’s not resonant with today’s political landscape in the way that “Galactica” was.
Are you directing any episodes?
Not so far, not the first season.
How many episodes is the first season?
Is that long for you?
It falls in between. At “Trek” we used to do 26 which now I can’t even imagine how we did 26 a year. And then we did 13s at “Galactica” and then a 22 and a 20. It’s all over the place. 16 was the right number for this and it’s plenty to try to take on to do 16 hours.
Could you guess how many book chapters are in the average episode?
I can’t because it really does vary. There are scenes in the book that all the fans of the book love and are really excited to see again and that stick in your mind when you’re reading it. And then you go back and on the page it’s two pages, or three pages. So we took something like that and expanded it into a full hour in one instance.
And at other times, we’re sort of bleeding through chapters or we might be pulling something that was mentioned later on because there are times when Claire is remembering something and talking about her life with Frank today in the 20th century late in the book. But we’ll put that earlier in the show because it plays a little bit better.
So we do play around with where the chapters are but the fundamental structure of the story, if we showed an existing fan of the book our structure for this season, they would say, “Oh yeah, that’s clearly the story.” And that was Diana’s reaction.
CraveOnline: How tough was the search for Catroina?
Ron Moore: Very difficult. We thought going into the project that we would cast Claire early and that Jamie would be the tough one, that we would be searching endlessly for Jamie because he’s built up as this big heroic figure in the book. In the writers room we call him The King of Men. We thought, well, who is that and that’ll take forever to find that guy. And it was exactly the opposite. He was the first one cast and it took us a long time to find an actress to play Claire.
It was really tough. She is the show in a lot of ways. It’s first person narrative so she’s in every scene every day, and it had to be somebody you could watch think, somebody who you were comfortable with to be in their interior life all the time, whose voiceover’s talking to you in the show. We saw a lot of great actresses but nobody quite had the right fit. Just like with Sam, we saw Catroina’s tape and we just went, “Oh my God, there she is.” But it was pretty late in the game. We were starting to get a little panicky because the shoot date was starting to get closer and closer.
Are there any set pieces from the book that you just can’t do on a STARZ budget?
No. I can’t think of anything that we had to do for that. No.
So the books lend themselves to adaptation.
They do. You know, the books are not big battle books. They’re not doing the march of armies. It’s not that. There are battles, there are skirmishes and there are things that happen, but that’s sort of happening in the background more than the foreground, so it’s not a situation where she described this huge battle sequence that we can’t do. There are definitely battles and skirmishes but almost all of them we’re able to deliver on the budget that we have.
What was it about the Outlander books that made you feel you want to be involved with this for several years?
I love the period. I love the attention to historical detail and I like the fact that the story evolved. It wasn’t just oh, we’re just staying in this one place in Scotland and we’re just going to keep telling story. The fact that the show moves to Paris and it’s a journey really appealed to me, and I really like the idea of doing a period piece on TV.
I love history, I love historical fiction and a chance to do a dual period piece where it’s the 40s and the 18th century I just fell in love with, and I really liked the central character. Claire was great on the page. I like writing for strong, intelligent women and that was a great character. I knew that I would enjoy working on it.
Had you been itching to do a period piece for a while while you were in sci-fi world?
Oh yeah, I pitched and developed a couple of westerns over the years. I developed a western for NBC one year. I did a version of “Wild Wild West” for CBS. Neither of them got made which was really annoying.
When was “Wild Wild West” for CBS?
A couple of years ago. Two, three years ago.
Do you know why that didn’t go?
I wish I did. I cowrote it with my friend Naren Shankar. The two of us wrote the script and we were big fans of the old show. We even talked to Robert Conrad on the phone and he was all excited. They seemed to love it and then they just decided not to go for it.
Had they shot the pilot?
No, never even got to shooting.
What is the writers room on “Outlander?” Any regulars from your past shows?
Yeah, I’ve worked with most of them. Ira Behr who I worked with at “Star Trek.” Toni Graphia who I worked with at “Roswell,” “Carnivale” and “Battlestar.” Anne Kenney is the one that I know the least, but I helped her pitch a potential series last year. Then Matt Roberts who I worked with on “Caprica” and he and I developed a western pilot a year ago as well.
Have you enjoyed the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Blu-rays?
Yes, it’s been great. I was tickled to participate and get to revisit the episodes. Many of those episodes I hadn’t watched since I was on the show, so just to sit and watch them again was kind of cool. To do the writers room, and a lot of the stuff they did, I was very impressed with the time they took.
They sort of saw themselves as doing here’s the historical record forever. We have access to all the material and all the dailies and you guys. Let’s really put it down while everyone is still here together and can talk about it. I love that because the historian in me, I save all my scripts. I saved every scrap of paper that I had on “Star Trek,” sent it all to the University of Southern California’s film and TV library so they have boxes and boxes of all the stuff that I wrote.
To do that project, I went back and got those boxes and could go back and read the old versions of scripts so I could talk about them intelligently.
Because they are actually reconstituting episodes and visual effects from raw materials, are there any you can tell are a little different?
No, not from what I’ve seen. There was precious little that they had to digitally put in, that they couldn’t find the element for or that wasn’t there. The models look better. The Enterprise looks so much better than it ever did on camera back in the day.
Was “Star Wars Underworld” the long promised live-action series before Disney took over?
Well, I worked on it. I’ve gotten more questions on that in the last three or four months than ever, but it’s been years since I worked on it. We went up and wrote those scripts with George up at Skywalker Ranch over the course of a year or two. We all just would gather periodically as a group of writers, work out the stories with him in a room, go off, write our scripts, gather together again six, eight weeks later and go over it.
I wrote two of the scripts and I think there were 48, 40-some that were written. We kept hearing periodically that George is thinking about this, he’s still trying to wrap his arms around the money or does he want to just shoot them all and give it to a network, or what it was going to be. Then suddenly it was all sold to Disney and I read in the trades or someplace that Bob Iger had the scripts, but I haven’t heard anything about if they’re ever going to do them or not.
Did you write I, Robot 2?
I wrote a version of it, yeah. I did a couple of drafts of it.
Is that going to be made with Will Smith?
Well, that project is even older. That one’s got to be at least 10 years ago so I haven’t heard anything about that one.
How involved are you still with “Helix?”
I’m involved. I’m the executive producer. I help to supervise things. I helped get it up on its legs and going. Steve Maeda though is the day to day show runner so he was really the guy in the trenches every day really making the show work.