It's hard to believe it's been 24 years since Stargate SG-1 premiered on Showtime adding a new dimension to the already popular 1994 film from Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. Handling the TV adaption of what became the franchise was Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner. While SG-1 lasted 10 seasons, it would go on to spawn several TV films, two spinoffs in Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: Universe, and additional original stories of all three shows in the form of novelizations and comics. The latest is an A.I.-driven project from Google where it produced a custom script having absorbed 300+ episodes worth of material from all the shows so four of the series' stars can perform a table read. I spoke with Wright about how the project came about, his relationship with The Companion, and how he came to choose the specific actors.
"I've been working with The Companion for some time and we were exploring some way of doing some sort of reunion and read-through type thing," Wright said. "The trouble was there's no way it could be an old script of mine and I couldn't really write something new without MGM's blessing. Then, I got the notion that what if I didn't write it? What if we got an A.I. to write it? A.I. has been kind of at the center of most of what I've been writing lately and it's just fascinating. I knew that if we put it out there as a thought rather than us seeking out the A.I. writer. Laurence Maroney, who is the lead advocate for A.I. at Google, threw up his hand and said, 'Pick me, pick me', because we had met like 12 years ago and he was at Microsoft at the time before doing other things. So it was sort of kismet because he was up for the challenge of trying to start from scratch with a new A.I. in putting the hundreds of hours of 'Stargate' and taking it from there. So it became a win-win for The Companion and for me because I just loved the notion of the 'science project' of it. It was a great way of helping put them on the map because I love those guys and want them to succeed. It was kind of a fun way to get the band back together."
The actors chosen for the project are SG-1's Amanda Tapping (Samantha Carter) and Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson) and Atlantis' David Hewlett (Rodney McKay) and Jewel Staite (Jennifer Keller). As the script came together, Wright knew he couldn't put his editor cap and risk tampering with it. "I knew that if I allowed myself, I would be all over it," he said. "I could not touch it said, 'No guys, it will be every fiber of my being will want to edit these. So I'm going to suggest that you, Laurence, you can show me stuff, but keep me away from editing it.' So he set up some parameters and created a model for each of the characters. The model responds to the input of a previous line or character line. He created the model for the character's interpretation of action description. So the only human writing input was sort of a seed line Laurence would create a place for the scene to take place and an opening action description line. The A.I. took over from there. Laurence was trying to write scene sometimes between just two characters and others kept trying to insert themselves. It kept thinking, 'No, no, Daniel should be in this scene.' It's quite funny. When I saw the first scripts, it didn't take very long for it to finish. So Laurence curated what came out, and we ended up with a half a dozen or a few more of net-scripts scenes rather between characters that we asked him to include."
As far as the picking of the cast, Wright had his heart set. "It could have been more," he said. "I wanted it to be Michael and Amanda as core members of SG-1. Then it became, 'Oh, let's do the scientists.' Let's do the people who would probably as actors and as characters, be most interested in this project themselves. We have an additional surprise in our science project. Laurence said it ended up being the case in scenes between two characters were going to be easier for the A.I. to process because there's a certain randomness with the way it works. It's predicting the next sentence that should happen with the dialogue. So the scenes with multiple characters in some ways dramatically were the least successful in some ways, in others, comically were the most successful. We capped at the four I asked with our past. I knew as the scientists they would embrace the material Laurence and I can always do more. I think it could be fun to open the world up and invite other people."
Wright found a platform in The Companion that allows him to flex his creativity and provide an outlet to celebrate the fandom of his work. "It's some young, talented smart people who are trying to create something that will be a place for sci-fi fans to go to read long-form essays," he said. "I have a podcast with them that there's been a lot of fun and I've interviewed all the 'Stargate' folks and others and people from 'The Outer Limits' and they're growing vibrant young platform for exactly this kind of material and so that's exactly why I thought there would be ideal for this." While Wright's been inundated with new ideas to expand the Stargate franchise in the future, there's not much to do depending on what MGM decides. "I wrote a pilot for them and the timing could not have been worse in terms of delivery because the pandemic hit pretty much as I was typing the end." The Stargate A.I. table read premieres on November 6 on The Companion.