Foundation: David S. Goyer Discusses Approach to Asimov's Sci-Fi Epic

Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels are probably the most influential Science Fiction novels of all time. Influenced by Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov's books imagined the lifespan and survival of a galactic civilization. Without Foundation, we might not have had Dune, Star Trek, or Star Wars. To read Foundation as a teenager is to feel adult and clever.

Foundation: David S. Goyer on How he's Adapting Asimov's SciFi Epic
Still from "Foundation", Apple TV+

Now David S. Goyer, who co-wrote Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" Trilogy and Man of Steel, amongst other movies and TV series, is the showrunner behind the Apple TV+ adaptation of Foundation. In a career-spanning interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Goyer gives the most detailed account for how he's translating the books into an epic Science Fiction TV series, especially the more dry, abstract parts of the story.

"There are three tricky aspects to Foundation that I think have tripped up all the other adaptations," Goyer said. "The first is that the story is supposed to span 1,000 years with all these massive time jumps — that's hard to tell. It's certainly hard to capsulize in a two- or three-hour film. The second aspect is the books are kind of anthological. You'll have a couple of short stories in the first book with the main character Salvor Hardin, then you'll jump forward a hundred years and there'll be a different character. The third thing is that they're not particularly emotional; they're books about ideas, about concepts. So a lot of the action happens off-screen. In the books, the Empire, which is on 10,000 worlds, literally falls off-screen — like, it happens in between chapters. Obviously, that wasn't going to work for a television show.

"So without giving too much away, I figured out a way to have some of the characters extend their lifespans. About six characters will continue from season to season, from century to century. That way it becomes a half anthological, half continuing story."

Apple asked Goyer to pitch the entire epic in one sentence, which Goyer duly did.  When Apple

"It's a 1,000-year chess game between Hari Seldon and the Empire, and all the characters in between are the pawns, but some of the pawns over the course of this saga end up becoming kings and queens."

"It's a generational saga. But the anthological time element didn't take me too long to figure out. What was [harder] to figure out was: How do I make the show emotional? Because the books aren't particularly emotional and, in general with television, people watch for emotion. They want to fall in love with these characters. So I had to figure out ways of using Asimov's themes and ideas, but internalizing them into the characters.

"I pitched this as eight seasons, so if it works out, I get 80 hours. No one knows if it will work, but I can say there's definitely never been a show like it on TV before. It takes some big-ass swings. And Apple, by and large, went for it. We do very unusual things in the show. We use unusual structural things. They had some trepidation about the science of it all. [Apple TV+ chiefs] Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg had come from Sony, so they had done The Crown and Breaking Bad, and I remember what I said to them was: "Don't note me on the science-fiction. I can handle the science fiction. Note me on the drama, note me on the characters, note me on their relationships. I'll take care of the other crap."

Goyer is of course conscious of Foundation's influence on Science Fiction as we know it now. He was asked he would avoid accusations of ripping off Star Wars when it was Foundation that came first."

" One of the aspects that I added was this idea of the genetic dynasty. Because in the books, there are different emperors but they're largely faceless. You jumped forward a couple of hundred years and there's a different emperor. I wanted there to be consistent faces, even if they're different characters. So, I came up with this idea that the Empire is a series of clones of one man that they keep recycling over and over again. But, at any one time, there are three of them on the throne — Brother Dawn, Brother Day, and Brother Dusk. And so, even though we'll jump forward sometimes between seasons and these will technically be different characters, these three guys have the same face. I felt that would give the audience a foothold. And since the Empire doesn't want to change, what's the cleanest expression of being resistant to change or wanting to impose your will across millennia? It's, "What if I can be the same person over and over again?"

Foundation will begin streaming on Apple TV+ on September 24th.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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