Roundtable Interview with Outlander Novel Author Diana Gabaldon and Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore
Diana Gabaldon: It would be nice to have a female character to play off of these guys, since it was essentially Scots vs. English during the Jacobi rising, let's make her an English woman. We'll have lots of conflict. So she walked into a cottage full of Scotsmen, one of them stood up and said, “My name's Dougal McKenzie, and who might you be?” And without my stopping to think, I just typed, “My name's Claire Elizabeth Beacham, and who the hell are you?” I said, “You don't sound at all like an 18th century person.” So I found with her for several pages, trying to beat her into shape and make her talk like an 18th century woman. She wasn't having any of it. She just kept making smart-ass modern remarks and she also started telling the story herself, so it's all her fault that there is time travel.
Q: What I like are the details, like those things you mentioned in 1945, down to the lavatories and the bedrooms and everything like that. And then go back to 1730, and it's the same thing. The language, how much research did you have to do?
Diana Gabaldon: Oh, I do an immense amount of research concurrently with the writing because I knew a lot of people who wrote historical fiction. Basically what they do is 10 years of research and they say, “Well, I don't know enough to begin writing yet.” And I said, you know, the point here is not to know everything about Scotland in the 18th century, it's to know how to write a novel, so I said I'm going to begin writing immediately and do the research, and you know, I write something and later discover it's wrong, I'll change it on the page, not a problem. So that's what I've always done. I find the research and the writing feed off each other.
Q: How much do the fans, I'm sure they have opinions and they tell you them about casting and how they want it to be like, how much do you let that affect you?
Diana Gabaldon: I listen politely, and they're entitled to their opinion and so forth, but the fact is that I am the writer. You just can't. If you have more than one reader, you can't write for the readers because they will all want something different and so forth. That being so, if you have 25 million readers, you know, forget it. There's no point in trying to please any of them because you can't please all of them, so you know, please yourself.
Q: When you're writing, do you picture what the characters obviously would look like? Diana Gabaldon: Oh yeah, I can see them. Q: Are you involved in the casting process?
Diana Gabaldon: Oh, well to the extent that was they had someone that they thought was the perfect Jamie and Claire. They did send me the audition tapes, and I was very impressed, you know. And luckily, I agreed with them.
Q: What stage is the show at now?
Ronald D. Moore: We just finished the first week of shooting. We started, the first stuff we shot was still in the 1940s, shooting the 1940s stuff first which is great. It helps the character move back, it helps the whole production move back in time, so we're shooting in Scotland. We have a production home outside of Glasgow. We turned a, there's an old abandoned factory that we renovated and have turned into a full-blown studio, and then we shoot on locations in the surrounding area as well.
Q: I'm from London. You get Da Vinci in Wales and you're off in Scotland. Are you on location? Are you going to the shoots?
Diana Gabaldon: I will be next month.
Q: Oh, that's fun.
Diana Gabaldon: Yeah, it will be very exciting. Looking forward to it.
Q: Will this be the first time you were approached on, it's an amazingly visual series, had you been approached-
Diana Gabaldon: Oh yeah, 2 or 3 times a month for the past 23 years! But you want to be very careful about who you do options with because there is a severe risk that at some point they will actually get the financing and the deal will go through. So you want to do options only with people that you more or less trust, you know, to understand and respect the material. We've done options only four times in the past 23 years, and finally one worked.
Q: Why did this particular group of people really appeal to you that you went forward?
Diana Gabaldon: Well, this was a complex evolution. The last option that we did was with a guy named Jim Colberg who in fact does still own the rights, but he wanted to do a feature film. But you know, I like Jim. He'd read the books 4 times. Before talking to me, he called up to tell me he thought he was channeling Murta in the middle of the conversation. And he was working very hard at it. He had several writers, respectable screenwriters, write scripts. It's just impossible to do that book as a 2-hour movie, and eventually he came to the same conclusion. Meanwhile, Ron had been attracted to the material and was kind of keeping an eye on it, waiting for the time to be right, and it finally was.
Q: When are you aiming to air?
Ronald D. Moore: Next summer. I don't think they've set a date.
Q: How many episodes?
Ronald D. Moore: 16. That will take us through the first book.
Q: When you're breaking the book down into episodes, when something that happens in the book doesn't exactly translate into film, how much do you-
Ronald D. Moore: Vary? You know, it really depends. We always start with the book version of everything and that's kind of our mandate going forward. When we sold it to Starz, Chris Albrecht is the head of Starz, he read the book himself which was remarkable, and then he came back to me and he said, “You know what, I love the book. Make the show for the fans, trust the material, and also trust that anyone who's not read the book will be swept up in the story too, so we had permission to just try to do the book, so we always start with the book version of the story and scenes and dialogue. And we sit in the writer's room and the challenge is, “Okay, 16 hours. Where are the breaking points? What is an episode here? How long do you spend at this part of the story? What is the rhythm and flow of it, you know. What the shape of a particular episode with these events drawn from the book that aren't necessarily a discrete chapter of the book. We might be taking several chapters and part of this last chapter and constructing an hour-long episode out of it. You end up making changes along the way, but we always kind of get back into the lane. We're always trying to return to where the story needs to be. We try not to change the characters. We might embroider on things, we might add , one of the things we're doing right up front is the book begins in 1945. It's post-war, Frank and Claire are (inaudible), but she spent a big chunk of the Second World War in a field hospital, and I said, “Well, let's start there. Let's show her in the field hospital in World War II doing the thing, so the audience gets an immediate sense of what this woman has gone through, what she's capable of doing right away. So that's adding something that's not in the book, but it's implicit in the material and it's not violating anything. It's really just sort of saying, well, this is part of the story which is adding-
Diana Gabaldon: Yeah, that's what I was saying, was, that sounds right, good idea!
Q: Who will be writing the score?
Ronald D. Moore: We are very close to locking in our composer. I can't say yet, but I have somebody very good in mind. Someone I'm familiar with.
Q: You can't share that name?
Ronald D. Moore: No, yeah, she will hit me if I do. (Something about Irish and Scottish.)
Ronald D. Moore: Well, it's a mixture. Katrina is Irish, Sam is Scottish, Graham is English, and Gary is Scottish and Tobias is English, yes, there is a mixture. Murta is Scottish, no, he's Irish. All I know is they all sit in Gaelic classes. We have a little school room. They literally have to learn to speak Gaelic. They're given language lessons because we're going to play Gaelic on the show, big chunks of dialogue are just in Gaelic, subtitled, so they have to learn to speak this language.
Q: You said it will be subtitled?
Ronald D. Moore: Yeah, because the story is told from Claire's point of view, and to her, it's a foreign language, so I'm just going to play it that way...I have enough quotes to keep you busy?
Q: Which book are you working on now?
Diana Gabaldon: I'm working on book 8, it will be out in March