Interview: Mark Verheiden on ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Teen Titans’
Writer / Producer Mark Verheiden is one of those fortunate individuals who has been able to make a living doing what he loves. His list of career accomplishments crosses most of today’s media landscape from feature films to series televison to comic books.
Starting off many years ago writing comics like The American and Alien Vs. Predator, through feature films like Time Cop, to producing episodes of the TV series Smallville, Verheiden has been a busy man. For the last several years, Verheiden has been even busier than usual, serving as Co-Executive Producer and writer on the critically-acclaimed series Battlestar Galactica — which airs on the Sci-Fi Channel and has its Season Four premiere this Friday.
In addition to his producing and writing duties on Battlestar, Verheiden has also been hard at work adapting DC Comics’ The Teen Titans for the big screen as well as one of his own comic book stories, Ark. Recently, ComicMix sat down with Verheiden to talk with him about the next season of Battlestar, his plans for Teen Titans, the writer’s strike, what makes a good story and much more.
COMICMIX: Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
MARK VERHEIDEN: Of course. Always a pleasure.
CMix: How are you doing these days?
MV: Good. Now that you’re recording, I’ll say nothing incriminating.
CMix: Okay… unless you want to say something incriminating…
MV: No, not me.
CMix: Okay, let’s get to it then. You’re back from the writer’s strike. Hard at work on BSG?
MV: Oh yes, we’re back and right into it again.
CMix: Did the strike have any effect on your plans for the show? Did you have time to think while you were off?
MV: I think that’s what it gave us, yeah. We were all together on the line. We didn’t talk story much, but obviously the show was in the forefront of our minds — where we’d left it, where we were going to pick it up and how we might move forward.
So, it was good to have that time. Well, I’m not saying the strike was good, but…
CMix: There were some good things about it, though?
MV: Ultimately, it was worth doing but I was happy when we went out and happy when we came back. During that time off, we had a chance to think through the stories we were doing right before the strike.
I don’t want to say we threw the baby out, but we were able to rethink it again and approach the episodes differently.
CMix: There’s a baby?
MV: Yes, its Starbuck’s. Just joking, of course. We were also able to watch the first episodes we had done before the strike. We had 11 done, and I count [th erecent made-for-television Battlestar film] Razor as the first two of those.
Its one thing to read scripts and look at story outlines but being able to watch the episodes in a row, see how they’re coming together, how character arcs are developing, that was a very useful experience for us.
It was a good way to get caught up — even for those of us who obviously know the show very well.
CMix: Did you all get together at (Exec. Producer) Ron Moore’s house? Get some beers and pizza and watch the episodes?
MV: We did. It was fun.
CMix: Was there anything major that changed after watching the episodes?
MV: We didn’t really change that much overall. Although there was one episode in particular where we did make some changes.
Those were more to plot elements within that episode which didn’t affect the direction of the whole show. But no, otherwise we have it worked out until the very end and are sticking to our plan.
CMix: Does part of that plan still call for 22 episodes and then that’s it?
MV: Yes, the order was for 22 episodes and that includes the two for "Razor." So, I think the plan is to run 10 episodes, take a break and then run the last 10.
CMix: How long of a gap in between?
MV: You’ll have to ask Sci-Fi Channel about that one.
CMix: Hopefully it won’t be years.
CMix: There’s also going to be a couple of “catch-you-up” specials before the premiere?
MV: Yeah, they come on before the Season Four premiere.
CMix: Which is when?
MV: Friday, April 4th at 10pm on Sci-Fi Channel. We’re back on Friday nights now, which is great.
CMix: Did anything else come out of that party at Ron Moore’s house?
MV: Well, I think the other thing was just a sense of things being a bit frantic. Because when we came back, production wanted to gear up pretty fast, so we had to get going and start writing as soon as possible.
In fact, I’m writing an episode today that shoots in two weeks.
CMix: Oh, I thought you were finished with that one?
MV: Well, I’m rewriting now. There’s writing and then there’s rewriting.
CMix: Which one do you enjoy more?
MV: Well, I do writing for free but I get paid for rewriting so . . . I like it all, actually. The notes process on Battlestar is fantastic. What we talk about and discuss between all of us really makes the episodes better.
CMix: Just amongst yourselves? Or is the network involved?
MV: Between the writers, usually — but sometimes with the network, too. Mostly it’s with Ron, though. His input on it once he sees our first draft. Then we discuss it and he gives us notes and then we go away and approach it with those in mind.
CMix: He’s up in Canada?
MV: No, he’s here. Although he’s actually up in Canada physically right now because he’s directing the first episode we’re shooting after coming back. It’s Episode 14. He also wrote it, too.
CMix: Since its been a bit of time between Season Three and Season Four, do you think fans will have any trouble coming back for Season Four?
MV: Well, if you’ve been watching the show, I don’t think you will have much trouble catching up, because we start about three seconds after the end of Season Three. I’m pretty excited, because its an episode that I wrote.
But if you haven’t been watching every episode or its been hit or miss, the Season Three DVD is available, so that’s a good way to catch up. There’s also those “catch-up” specials, too.
CMix: One last BSG question… the one I always ask you. Any news on the BSG feature?
MV: I haven’t heard anything about it. Nobody has talked to me.
CMix: And you would probably know?
MV: I would probably know.
CMix: Let’s talk about your background for a minute. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and when did you know you wanted to do it for a living?
MV: Well, I moved to LA and I knew nobody. A couple friends moved down with me and got jobs in town. One worked in sound and I begged him to let me come in and pitch the producer some movie ideas and he ended up making one called Terror Squad, starring “The Rifleman,” Chuck Connors.
CMix: Last time we spoke you were writing a couple of feature films as well. What’s going on with those?
MV: Fortunately, both are back on. I’m back full into writing the Teen Titans movie. I turned in a pass to Warner Bros. right before the strike and we’ve talked about that and I’m going to get back into it. I’ll address some of their thoughts and work on the next draft.
The other project is one called Ark, which I’m writing for Neil Moritz’s company, Original Film, at Sony. It’s based on a story I did for Dark Horse several years ago. So I’m busy with both of those.
CMix: What’s your plan for Teen Titans?
MV: Well, I’m still writing it, so I’m not 100-percent sure at the moment. One thing I can tell you is that there will be a Nightwing story and Robin is in it, too. Take from that what you will.
We’ll also be dealing with a transitional period in the lives of the Teen Titans. It will be a huge, fun, action movie but it’s the characters first. What makes them interesting and exciting? That’s how I approach any story.
It also won’t be the Titans as young adults or anything. I’m also looking to the work of Marv Wolfman and George Perez as the touchstone of inspiration for the film.
I’m a friend of Marv and I’ve talked about the movie with him so his influence will definitely be felt.
CMix: Is Warner Bros. very particular about what they want you to do with Teen Titans?
I think so. Its a huge project for them and DC. The Teen Titans are a legendary group for them. Its two things, really: One, they are absolutely committed to doing this move. Two, they are absolutely committed to doing it right, so the fans who love and revere it will get something they love and doesn’t make their heads explode.
CMix: So you’re aware of the fans and their feeling as to how things should be done?
MV: I’m aware there are things you can play around with and things you can’t. It worked. Why fix what isn’t broken?
CMix: When you go in to pitch something like a Teen Titans movie, isn’t the studio looking for your “take” or “spin” on it? How do you approach a pitch for something like this?
MV: In the case of Teen Titans, its more like how do you see those characters in a live-action movie and how do they react and live in our world?
There’s a lot of ways to go with this, but my "take," if you want to call it that, is to try and make them as real as possible given the circumstances. Possibly a little bit more of a heightened realism in this, much like they’ve done in the comic recently.
The trick is to find a balance between the realism of how they can work in this world so you can connect with them and they feel real to you, and then the fact they have powers, or most of them do, they have fun and do what they do.
We’re not going to make it grim and gritty or anything, but it will have great jeopardy, action and conflict. The bottom line is, we’re going to try and have some fun with it, which is the best way to describe it.
CMix: What about the villains of the story?
MV: We’re going to have some strong adversaries, or antagonists, but really, I’m trying to concentrate on the core group of these characters, who we meet at a point when they’re at the cusp of adulthood.
Actually, when I first started thinking about it, I wondered what it would be like, for example, to be Tom Cruise’s son if you wanted to get into acting. You have a lot of baggage to overcome.
It’s the same with this story. It’s no secret Robin is in this movie, so what if you were him, after living in the shadow of Bruce Wayne and Batman, and now you wanted to go off on your own and become your own man, your own superhero? That’s got to be a huge thing to overcome. That makes it interesting for me.
CMix: You also wrote My Name is Bruce for Bruce Campbell to star in and direct. When’s that coming out?
MV: That’s a good question. The release dates keep getting pushed so I’m not so sure these days. I think it’s looking like Halloween-ish. Not because it’s not finished, as it’s completely done now, it’s more that they were looking for the right time to put it out.
Actually, we’re planning on doing a sequel. I really enjoy working with Bruce.
CMix: You writing anything else? More comics in your future, perhaps?
MV: Not at the moment, no. A TV show and two features is enough for me right now. Although, I’m looking at several possibilities, so you never know.
The show is ending after all, so I may go back to comics. But I do love television, too — so it would be great to keep working in it. I just have to find the next job.
CMix: Okay, Mark, last question: As a writer who’s worked in several different mediums, what makes a good story, in your opinion?
MV: You know, it funny. That’s a good question. We were talking about that exact thing last night in the writer’s room at Battlestar, trying to break down a story while looking at all the cards on the board.
What it really comes down to is, it’s just an instinctive thing that you develop over the years after doing it. You start to realize what works and what doesn’t. What beats and story points can follow each other and what can’t.
I think it comes down to this: A good story is great conflict and great characters. Characters first, always.
CMix: Okay, great. Thanks again, Mark.
MV: No problem. Thank you.
Be sure to check back next week right here at ComicMix for the start of our new, weekly Q&A feature with Mark Verheiden. We’ll take questions from fans and ask some of our own following each new episode of Battlestar Galactica, now in its fourth and final season on the Sci-Fi Channel.
If you have a question you’d like to ask Mark Verheiden, e-mail Chris Ullrich at: chris [at] comicmix.com.
Season Four of Battlestar Galactica premieres this Friday, April 4, at 10 PM EST on Sci-Fi Channel.