Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

FlashForward email interview

by Rob - July 5th, 2010.
Filed under: FlashForward, Interviews.

Eleven months ago, at the beginning of August 2009, I did a by-email interview with a reporter for a genre magazine who was doing an article about FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name. Only brief snippets were used int he article, and while cleaning my hard drive today I stumbled across the original by-email interview, which has some good stuff in it, and so I’m posting it here. Enjoy.

How did the idea for the novel come about?

In 1995, my wife and I hosted a 20th-anniversary reunion party for our high-school science fiction club, which is where we met. And all evening long, people kept saying, “If I only knew then what I know now, things would have turned out better.” Some were lamenting bad marriages; others, bad career choices; others still, bad investments. Well, I got to wondering if that was really true: if certain foreknowledge of the future would indeed make one happier. And so I contrived a science-fictional thought experiment: an accident that causes the consciousness of everyone on Earth to jump twenty years into the future for a period of two minutes. Of course, shunting consciousness forward meant everyone blacked out in the here and now — millions of people die in car accidents, as planes crash, falling down stairs, and so on. My tidy little notion turned out also to be a great springboard for a disaster novel.

How did the series idea develop?

My Hollywood agent, Vince Gerardis, read an early draft of the book in 1998, back when I was calling it Mosaic — a term that figures prominently in the novel, as well as in the TV series. He loved it, and got it into the hands of his old friend Jessika Borsiczky, a very fine producer who happens to be married to David S. Goyer; David, of course, went on to write Batman Begins. David and Jess both loved the book, but weren’t in a position to do anything with it at that time. Still, Vince was convinced that David and Jessika were the right people to develop the project, and so he talked me into turning down a very sizable deal from a Hollywood studio while we waited for them to have time to work on it.

In 2005, David ended up working with Brannon Braga on the science-fiction TV series Threshold, and they were talking one day, and David mentioned that he was keen on this novel now called FlashForward by Robert J. Sawyer. Well, Brannon replied that he, too, was a fan of my work and they hit on the idea of collaborating on a script adapting my novel.

In 2007, I went down to Los Angeles and met with David, Jessika, and Brannon, and they outlined for me how they were planning to adapt my novel; they seemed genuinely concerned that I be happy with what they had in mind — and I was, and am; they had a very clever take on the material.

Brannon and David wrote the one-hour pilot script, entitled “No More Good Days.” That script immediately sold to HBO, but as Dave and Brannon mapped out what they intended for the project, it soon became clear that the show could run a hundred episodes or more; it was simply too big an idea to do under the handful-of-episodes-per-season model that HBO specializes in. And so, with HBO’s blessing, the property was offered to the big-four US broadcast networks, and ABC and Fox got in a bidding war for it, with ABC ultimately prevailing. HBO still retains a financial position in the series and ABC Studios is producing. Brannon Braga is tied up with his duties for 24 at Fox, but is still serving as an Executive Producer on FlashForward; meanwhile, Marc Guggenheim has come on board to join David as the showrunners.

My deal has me serving as creative consultant, and writing one of the first-season episodes myself.

After the development of the concept, was there a challenge to developing the story(ies) itself?

Yes, certainly. If you were to film every scene in a typical novel — including FlashForward — you might end up with 10 hours of film. Normally, adaptation is a paring down, a stripping away. We’re hoping to run for many seasons, maybe five — and that would be a hundred and ten hours of programming. And so it’s been a process of expanding the vision of novel, finding little bits of business from the book that can be elaborated, and adding whole new dimensions, as well. Each new “day” in the novel FlashForward begins with a “News Digest” — summaries of world reaction to the events, such as, “A massive sell-off of Japanese yen has precipitated yet another crisis in the Japanese economy, following indications from the Flashforward that the yen will be worth only half its current value against the U.S. dollar in the future.” Obviously, any one of those could suggest an episode.

What’s entailed in your role as consultant with the series?

Just that: to consult. At San Diego Comic-Con this year, David Goyer referred to me as the series’ “unofficial science consultant,” and certainly a lot of the conversations David and I have had have been about scientific issues — about keeping it all plausible. But we’ve also talked about long-term issues, how the series will develop season to season, and so on.

Whenever literature is brought to TV or film, there are adjustments that have to be made for the medium. Were there alterations to the story?

Yes, of course, and to find out what they were, you’ll have to watch the show. ABC is very concerned about spoilers, and about keeping surprises intact for people. If something’s the same as it is in my novel, that should be a surprise; if it’s different, that should be a surprise, too. None of us are providing information about how the adaption is being made, but I will say this: I’m thrilled by how many people involved have read the novel. Obviously, David Goyer, Brannon Braga, Jessika Goyer, and Marc Guggenheim — the executive producers — but also many of the actors (who, after all have no obligation to read anything but the scripts), including Joseph Fiennes, Sonya Walger, and Zachary Knighton, special-effects supervisor (and Cloverfield genius) Kevin Blank, and even the whole team of guys at Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, who are dubbing the show into other languages.

The script you’re working on … Has it been slotted into the series’ schedule? How far along is it?

It will be in the backorder: the final block of nine episodes to round out the first season, assuming we get renewed after our initial 13. David Goyer and I have had some conversations about where my script will fit in — we immediately both gravitated toward me working on the same sort of story — and I’m very excited.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

1 Response to FlashForward email interview

  1. Any chance you’ll write an entry about what might’ve happened had FF been renewed?

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