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By Sydney Bucksbaum, October 29, 2017, The Hollywood Reporter

Why ‘Outlander’ Made That Huge Departure From the Books

Executive producer Matthew B. Roberts tells THR why that change was made and breaks down
"one of our biggest undertakings as a show" from Sunday's episode.
Courtesy of Starz Entertainment, LLC
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday’s Outlander, “Creme De Menthe.”]

Outlander‘s Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) aren’t living happily ever after.

Now that the star-crossed loves have reunited after 20 years of separation, they have to reconcile the fantasy of the person they’ve been missing for two decades with the older, changed person standing in front of each of them. After the romantic and idyllic print shop episode, real-life came crashing back down on the couple with “Creme De Menthe,” and amidst the action of Claire defending and killing her mysterious attacker and Jamie’s illegal smuggling business being brought to light, another secret was revealed that will shake their relationship to its core.


Both Ian (Steven Cree) and Fergus (Cesar Domboy) whispered to Jamie throughout the episode asking how he’ll handle Claire’s surprise return with his “other wife,” alerting the audience before Claire that Jamie has been hiding this secret marriage from his first wife. In Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager novel, Claire finds out much later, so it’s more of a betrayal for readers as well as the protagonist. In this massive departure from the source material, the Starz series has planted seeds of Jamie trying to figure out a way to break the news to Claire at the right time as well as having Fergus contact old lawyer friend Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson) at once, presumably to figure out a way to end his second marriage now that Claire is back.

Executive producer Matthew B. Roberts revealed that the change was born out of many debates in the Outlander writers room about how they could best “protect Jamie’s character.”

“Because we’re watching it in a different medium, when you read about it Claire is taking you through it, it’s easy to not delve into Jamie’s inner thoughts,” Roberts tells THR. “But when you visibly see Jamie on the screen, you have to play that something is bothering him, something he’s holding in. When you do that enough, you have to give the audience a little bread crumb to know what this is.”

Those breadcrumbs include the moment in “A. Malcolm” “when Fergus pulls Jamie aside and he immediately sends him to contact Ned Gowan which is another switch from the book,” according to Roberts.

“That’s us saying in a visual way that Jamie knows that he’s holding something but before he tells Claire about it, he wants to get all the information so he can unload with all the information and legal ramifications of the secret,” he continues. “Jamie wants to tell her but he holds back. It is only 24 hours [in the print shop] so we felt very comfortable with when you find someone again after 20 years, all your prayers have been answered, the first thing you’re not going to tell this massive secret that might send that person right out the door again and back to the stones. We felt it necessary to protect the character that way, and show that he knows and he’s trying to do something about it.”

Instead of having viewers find out when Jamie’s second wife shows up out of the blue to confront Claire, the team wanted to let everyone in on the secret as soon as possible so it’s not as much of a shock. In fact, the writers even considered having Jamie confess to Claire in the print shop episode but ultimately decided against it since it would have been too much of a change.

“That’s exactly what we debated round and round about why wouldn’t he tell her, why would he hold it back, so we gave visual cues of his worry about it and looking guilty,” Roberts says. “We did talk about revealing that right off the bat but the trickle down of doing that would have caused havoc with the storyline so we decided to not do that.”

Now that Outlander is finally on the other side of the big print shop reunion, the story starts to really pick up and give a new kind of momentum for the season.


“The structure of it actually becomes an epic; the pace picks up quite a bit,” Roberts says. “They are going on an epic adventure and over the next couple of episodes they find their footing being back together. Because the print shop really only focused on 24 hours and real-life hadn’t really settled in yet for them, the ramifications of that intruder hit in this episode and going forward, it’s really welcome to the 1700’s again for Claire and very quickly trying to find her footing. It almost immediately competes with her modern-day sensibilities.”

The ended with a massive set piece, as an intruder trying to bust Jamie for his illegal alcohol smuggling ended up setting fire to the print shop when Young Ian (John Bell) tried to stop him. Jamie rescued his nephew from the fire but was forced to watch along with Claire as his beloved shop burn to the ground.

“The print shop fire was one of our biggest undertakings as a show,” Roberts reveals. “The battles have become second nature to us in a way but this big fire [was the most challenging]. We built the print shop on the stage, then we went to Ediburgh and we found a building we could use and then we replicated that building exactly at our studio outside on the back lot. Over the course of two nights we progressively burned it and then we went inside to the interior set and we burned that.”

Roberts laughs as he recalls how the production named the different locations as “the main unit and what we were calling the burn unit.”


“We burned it all because we couldn’t do any burning at the real location,” he says. “It took about seven days to do the whole thing and since this is what the episode is about, we felt like we had to give it enough time to do it right.”

Another change in the story came during that fire scene after Jamie saved Young Ian, since in the book he ends up going back inside to save his printing press and any supplies he could get to before the building collapsed. In the episode, once he and Young Ian were safely outside, he never attempted to run back into the burning building. That subtle difference came about simply because of practicality.

“It was actually the presses themselves that changed that,” Roberts explains. “We had two practical presses built and they are pretty massive. They would have been, from our research, bolted to the ground or ceiling. Jamie, as strong and as superman like that he is, he couldn’t carry it out on his own.”

Roberts acknowledges that in the book, bystanders helped Jamie save his press, but he says the writers ruled out that idea.

“It wouldn’t even fit through the door,” he says. “Our print shop was on the second floor and the presses were on the bottom floor so he would have had to carry it up and then down stairs so practically it just would never have worked. So instead, the spirit of that is still there – when he is saving Young Ian, he pushes that press against the window and uses it as his way of escape.”

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.



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July 19th, 2016

In the second half of Season Two, Outlander took a major geographical and tonal leap, returning Jamie and Claire to Scotland at the dawn of the Jacobite rising. These episodes focused on their efforts to prevent inevitable deaths at Culloden. My score needed to shift back to the haunting Scottish sounds of season one, with an added emphasis on military percussion and pipes.

This change is evident immediately with the new Main Title Theme in Episode 208, “The Fox’s Lair.” The track begins with Raya Yarbrough’s haunting vocal once more, but I removed the viola da gamba and chamber orchestra that implied Paris. Instead, the bodhrán frame drum returns. At first, it feels like we are simply reusing the season one theme, but the track quickly evolves from there. Iconic Scottish snare drums sneak in behind her voice, providing a distinctly militaristic feeling. For the final chorus, I replaced the moving bassline with a steady drone in the low strings and bagpipes. This gives the final chorus a distinctly Scottish feeling, evoking the pedal-tone drones of military bagpipe bands. The instrumentation is predominantly the same, but the emotional impact of this harmonic change is intense. This main title sequence prepares us for war.

I felt the Jacobite uprising story arc should be represented with a theme drawn from folk music of the era. Jacobite history is rich with famous folk songs. Indeed, the main title’s “The Skye Boat Song” is one of the most well-known. However, the vast majority of these songs were written after the Scots’ tragic defeat, and lyrically depict themes of melancholy and longing. None of these songs would have been appropriate for these episodes, because the story takes place during a brief historical time of rousing optimism. To properly underscore these episodes, I needed a song that was written during the Jacobite uprising as opposed to after it, a song that makes no comment about loss, only promises of victory.

I turned to famed Scottish composer and music historian John Purser, who was gracious with his time and assembled a collection a historically-accurate songs for me. I was immediately drawn to the soaring melody in “Moch Sa Mhadainn,” a song composed by Alasdair mac Mghaighstir Alasdair. A celebrated poet of the Jacobite era, Alasdair composed this song upon hearing the news that Prince Charles Edward Stuart had landed at Glenfinnan. That was perfect! When Jamie opens the letter in “The Fox’s Lair” and learns he has been roped into the revolution, this song was actually being composed somewhere in Scotland at that very moment.

“Moch Sa Mhadainn” Lyrics (in Gaelic):Hùg hó ill a ill ó
Hùg hó o ró nàill i
Hùg hó ill a ill ó
Seinn oho ró nàill i.Moch sa mhadainn is mi dùsgadh,
Is mòr mo shunnd is mo cheòl-gáire;
On a chuala mi am Prionnsa,
Thighinn do dhùthaich Chloinn Ràghnaill.Gràinne-mullach gach rìgh thu,
Slàn gum pill thusa Theàrlaich;
Is ann tha an fhìor-fhuil gun truailleadh,
Anns a’ ghruaidh is mòr nàire.Mar ri barrachd na h-uaisle,
Dh’ èireadh suas le deagh nàdar;
Is nan tigeadh tu rithist,
Bhiodh gach tighearna nan àite.Is nan càraicht an crùn ort
Bu mhùirneach do chàirdean;
Bhiodh Loch Iall mar bu chòir dha,
Cur an òrdugh nan Gàidheal.“Moch Sa Mhadainn” Lyrics (In English):Hug ho ill a ill o
Hug ho o ro naill i
Hug ho ill a ill o
Seinn oho ro naill i.Early in the morning as I awaken
Great is my joy and hearty laughter
Since I’ve heard of the Prince’s coming
To the land of ClanranaldYou are the choicest of rulers
May you return unhurt, Charles.
In that most modest cheek
Runs blood that is pure and undefiled.Along with overflowing nobility
That ever rises up along with good nature
And if you came again
Each laird would be at his post.And if the crown were placed upon you
Joyful would your friends be
And Lochiel, as he ought,
Would be drawing up the Gaels for battle. 

I knew the song would require a vocalist. I tracked down an inspiring Gaelic singer named Griogair Labhruidh. I was struck by the power in his voice, which was both contemporary and traditional. I knew he would be perfect for Outlander, and featured him prominently in the episode “Je Suis Prest.” Fittingly, Griogair recorded his vocals in a recording studio less than twenty-five miles from Glenfinnan, where the Bonnie Prince first raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel.

This relatively rare song did not survive in mainstream memory as effectively as others from its era, perhaps because it originated in that brief window of history when Scots really believed this uprising could succeed. For that reason, I felt using it here made Outlander even more authentic. “Moch Sa Mhadainn” was very likely sung during the uprising by mounted or marching Highlanders, with larger groups joining in at the choruses. I wanted to capture that feeling by featuring male vocals in the soundtrack.

Listen to this song on Griogair’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GhettoCroft/

“In the aftermath of Culloden and the centuries following many of our traditions were deliberately wiped out during what was effectively a cultural colonization,” Griogair told me recently. “Schools were built in which only English was taught in which children were often beaten for speaking their native Gaelic language. Songs like this therefore only survived in the most remote regions of Gaelic Scotland or were otherwise appropriated by the bourgeoisie of the Anglicised Highlands and denatured by their passage through a musical system which was completely alien to the free flowing, ornamented and non Western rhythms of the natural Gaelic music of Scotland.”

“Moch Sa Mhadainn” had the melodic qualities I was looking for: strong intervallic leaps and a simple, repetitive structure to make it memorable. I did, however, make several musical changes to shape the song to fit the needs of the series, perhaps bending a few rules along the way. I worked closely with Griogair and John to ensure that essential Scottish musical traditions were preserved while simultaneously accomplishing my musical narrative goals.

“It is always difficult negotiating the gap between tradition and innovation but it is something I am becoming increasingly used to,” Griogair recalled. “I performed the song at a much slower tempo than it would normally be performed traditionally but I think it worked to great effect with the rich string voicings and the percussive elements of the piece. I was also very pleased to work with my friend John Purser who helped direct my performance of the song to suit the arrangement.’

‘My own regional version of the song differs quite dramatically from the one I performed [for Outlander]. This is quite a common occurrence as there is no such thing as standardization in Gaelic traditional music. Our music is much like modal jazz in that sense and involves a lot of improvisation. All the decorations and irregular rhythms I used in the performance were all improvised round the theme melody.”

I was thrilled to work with Griogair and to bring his unique voice to my score. I was especially grateful for his enthusiasm for the material. “Much like the characters of Outlander, we are living in very interesting times here in Scotland,” he told me. “And much of the music I perform is about being a contemporary twenty-first century Scottish Highlander as well as carrying the spirit of my ancestors who fought alongside Charles Edward Stewart in a struggle for freedom which continues to this day.”

The second season of Outlander concludes with an epic 90-minute long episode, “Dragonfly in Amber.” The episode leaps forward in time to the 1960’s, where Claire has an adult daughter, Brianna, and together they return to Scotland and meet Roger MacKenzie, now a grown man. Narratively, the story picks up from the season’s dramatic opening episode, bookending the season. My score, too, calls back to the premiere episode with an increased orchestral presence, and richer, more contemporary romantic writing.

“Dragonfly in Amber” was a logistical challenge for me because of its structure. The narrative leaps back and forth between two centuries, with different tones in each storyline. In the 1740’s, the tension gradually mounts as Jamie and Claire make their final preparations before the battle. This required a backdrop of Scottish instrumentation and a relentlessly accelerating percussive spine that peaked in the soaring emotional farewell at the stones. The music from every scene in the 1740′s can actually be stitched together to form a cohesive single piece of music, something fans will get to hear when the soundtrack album is released this fall.

In the 1960’s, Claire reminisces about the past while Brianna pieces together the clues of her ancestry. This storyline required a more subdued approach, leaning more towards orchestra than folk instruments. I struggled with writing a new theme for Brianna and Roger for this episode, and ultimately found there wasn’t room in the narrative for an entirely new musical idea. In this story, Brianna chases Jamie’s ghost. She discovers her own identity in this episode. It felt premature to define her musically when she hadn’t yet defined herself. Instead, I used snippets of the Jamie and Claire theme as she gets closer to the truth, an effective way of underlining this idea. Now that she knows who she is, I am confident I will find opportunity to compose an original theme for her next season.

The season ends with a glorious shot of the camera pushing back in on the stones, as the sun rises in the background. Here, I quoted the Stones Theme once more. I introduced this melody in the first episode, and have used it since to represent our characters taking important steps on an epic journey. There seemed no better way to wrap up one of the most ambitious seasons of television I have ever scored.

I am thrilled that my label Sparks & Shadows has partnered once again with Madison Gate Records to release my original score for Season Two! The soundtrack will be available on October 28th, and pre-orders are already available on Amazon. The tracks include my favorite cues from throughout the entire season:

1. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (French Version)
2. Leave the Past Behind
3. Wrath of the Comte
4. Versailles
5. Into Paris
6. Honey Pot
7. The Apothecary
8. Baroque Chess Match
9. The Duel
10. Faith
11. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Jacobite Version)
12. Je Suis Prest
13. 125 Yards
14. Vengeance at Your Feet
15. The Uprising Begins
16. Prestonpans
17. Moch Sa Mhadainn
18. White Roses of Scotland
19. Tales of Brianna
20. Running Out of Time
21. Destiny on Culloden Moor
22. A Fraser Officer Survived

The second season of Outlander has been a tremendous musical adventure for me. One of my favorite experiences as a composer is working on a project that allows me to learn a new musical language. My crash course in French baroque music, performance, and history, was one of the most exciting creative times in my career. I followed that with a dive into unexplored areas of Jacobite musical history. I concluded this season a better composer than when I began, and for that I am grateful. With the series now boldly picked up for two more seasons, I know my musical adventure is only just beginning.

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terry feature

Outlander: Terry Discusses Keeping Track of All Those Pieces!

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By: Erin Conrad July 17, 2016

On Twitter this morning, Terry Dresbach showed fans a bit of what it takes to wrangle the tens of thousands of costume pieces Outlander has used in the past two seasons. All of the information and photos in this post are from Twitter. With a system that has been used by large costume rental houses, museums, and other facilities that house extensive collections, she put an RFID scan system in place to identify and track the pieces and their details, who has used them, and where they’re stored.

She said that as they start Season 3, about 30,000 pieces have had a bar code attached and been entered into the system, taking about 6 months. Going forward, all pieces will be entered into the system as they’re made (for Season 3, so far, though, only about 10 costumes have been created). The system was set up retroactively, however, because when the show started, the costume department only had a small space and a staff of about 8. Her staff now numbers about 70 people.

Terry says that she believes Outlander is the only show using a bar code system – she says there may be others, but she doesn’t know of any. But the huge number of individual pieces, many of which will likely be reused, made an organization system a necessity. The costume department now takes up about 20,000 square feet, including offices, workroom, storage, ageing and dyeing, fitting, fabric storage, drying (costumes get wet from filming outdoors) and more. Terry says the only comparison she can make is “to running the military. Dressing, feeding, transporting…” She said “it takes a year, and a village. This is not the local theater group.”

Costumes for extras are fit weeks before those people work, so that if shooting is done out of the Cumbernauld studios, everything is already organized before travel. Terry estimates that they have used hundreds of thousands of buttons, and have about 40,000 pieces (shoes, cuffs, jackets, etc), and outfit at least 5,000 extras per season. They make up to 6 copies of lead costumes!

The slideshow below gives you all of the basics, and some fantastic photos inside the costume storage area:

Would you like to have the chance to meet Terry – and Grant O’Rourke – in person?
Join us at Thru The Stones in December!

Follow me on Twitter: @OutlanderTIBS, @ErinConrad2 and @threeifbyspace
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A Song of a Lass Gone

Ronald D. Moore on the daunting task of adapting the epic, wildly popular Outlander novels to TV and why he’s still paying for killing off one of Hollywood’s most beloved characters.

©2016 Starz
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in Outlander.
June 30, 2016 Written by Todd Aaron Jensen
Ronald D. Moore
[The industry] is going to tell you ‘no’ over and over and over again, and you’d better find out really quickly whether that’s going to knock you out of the business or if you just somehow insanely believe enough in your talent to keep on going.

Simply put, Ronald D. Moore likes it big. Really big. Through a jagged prism freighted with psychogenic combustions, desolate spiritual sojourning, and blunt, gory, diffident warfare—familial, romantic, global and, uh, intergalactic—Moore’s finest work as one of television’s finest showrunners, producers, and writers takes audiences to worlds far, far away, often to epochs long vanished, showing them that for whatever star system, colonial starship, constitution class transport, standing stone, alien race, or Highlander battleground they think they’re seeing, every tale is always, only about yearning for home.

Moore mined these bottomless philosophical wells expertly as a late-addition to the Star Trek: the Next Generation writers’ room, on the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and again with Outlander, his current project, enjoying critical acclaim and sizable audiences in its second season on Starz. Based on the bestselling franchise by novelist Diana Gabaldon, Outlander merges time travel, star-crossed romance, revenge play tropes, history-hugging detours, savage battles, and frank, unapologetic sexuality like few television shows before. The show’s ethereal thematic concerns remain well grounded by Moore’s trademark earthiness, satisfying fans of Gabaldon’s books while attracting a large “virgin” audience to the boob tube.

Which is to say that the 51-year-old Moore, who has already joined a legendary franchise midflight and reinvented a campy ‘70s Star Wars TV wannabe into a modern classic, still had some serious work cut out for him with Outlander. Nearly 30 million readers have bought at least one of Gabaldon’s eight Outlander tales, profoundly epic, truly sprawling stories that skip between centuries and countries. On the page, the Outlander stories take up some 3,000 pages to unfurl (with more arriving in bookstores soon). Moore’s task: to devote one 13-hour season to each of the 600-ish paged novels.

An impossible mission? Not to Moore. That’s where the fun begins.

Like Battlestar Galactica—and, to some extent, the Star Trek work you did—Outlander is a series that gives viewers what they put into it. It’s not a demanding show necessarily, but the more you bring to watching the show, the richer its pleasures.

When I was putting together the writers’ room for Outlander, I very specifically and intentionally populated it with the best writers I could find, and there was one critical caveat: half of the writers’ room could be fans of the novels and the other half of the writers’ room could not have read any of the Outlander books. I did that because I am acutely aware that Outlander is a show that has to play to two audiences simultaneously. We have to play to the audience that knows the novels and loves them, the audience who is looking forward to seeing how we’re going to bring these beloved stories to life. These are very passionate fans. They know these books very, very well—the characters, the dialogue, the minutest of details—and they have certain expectations and hopes about how the show will portray all of it. But we also have to play well for an audience that has no idea what Outlander is or where these stories are going. We’re always striving to connect with both audiences.

Of the Outlander virgins you hired for the writing team, how many have steadfastly resisted reading the novels?

There’s only one left. That’s testament to what Diana’s done with these books. You can’t resist them.

The series is midway through its second season, based on the second novel in the series, Dragonfly in Amber. How do you transform a 752-page novel into 13 episodes of television?

Everybody gets a copy of the book and we tear it to pieces. I don’t mean we denigrate Diana’s writing. Not at all. What I mean is: we have to break the book down into discrete, manageable bites. What type of scene is this? What storyline does this scene feed? Is it a scene that’s in some way redundant? Is it a scene that offers exposition? If it does, is there a more visual—or more filmic—way of getting that information across to the viewer? So we break it all down like that, creating this series of index cards that are very clearly labeled and organized: the major plot points, the A thread, the B storyline, the big action sequences [which take a lot of time and budget to shoot], the love scenes, and all that. We put all of the cards up on this big board in the writers’ room, and then we all just stare at that board. For a long time. Because it is, basically, an impossible task. But eventually the silence becomes too chilling, and I’ll have to sit up and sort of arbitrarily say, “Okay, from this card to this card, that’s one episode. Probably.” And we do that until we’ve got, in the case of season two, 13 bigger chunks. After that, it’s a matter of going into each of the 13 chunks and figuring out how to manage all of the character and plot details that need to be conveyed inside of that. So we’re always going deeper into the books in an effort to be as economical as possible with our storytelling. It is a fairly massive undertaking.

Novelists have very different takes on surrendering their works to filmmakers. Many of them just take the check and hold their breath, kind of anticipating the worst will come. Diana Gabaldon, though, has been very involved in the series, very supportive of the series, and is even writing an episode this season. For you, is it preferable for a writer to leave you to your work, or are there benefits to having someone like Ms. Gabaldon so readily available?

One of the great, great qualities about Diana is her fierce intelligence. Before I even had a deal to make the show, I went to Scottsdale where she lives and spent a weekend with Diana, talking about my ideas for adapting the books and how, as much as I love the books, there would have to be changes. Diana just stopped me there and said, “Look, I’m an author. You’re a TV writer. I don’t do what you do. I’m going to have to just trust you with my characters and know that you’re going to treat them well.” I went, “Well, thank you, that’s very gracious. My intention is to do the best adaptation we can and to really be as close to the books people love as we can.” Diana and I started off on this really positive foot, and that’s been a really great thing.

From giving you her blessing to where we sit today, she has become increasingly involved in the show. How has that worked?

Well, out of respect, I’ve sent her everything as we go. Everything. She’s never asked for veto power or even to see the works in progress, but I feel we kind of owe it to her, so we do. She sees the breakdowns, the storylines, all the drafts, the dailies, the rough cuts, all of it. As she’s become more familiar with how television is made, she does chime in more often—which is fantastic! There’s not a formal notes process with Diana. She’ll simply reach out whenever she thinks of something that might be helpful or really good, or she’ll notice something that’s just a little bit out of whack, and nine times out of 10, she’s absolutely right. It’s easy to accommodate her, partly because she never asks for the impossible and partly because we really want to.

The second season has made some significant changes to the novel, primarily structurally, but in other ways as well. Has she been such a keen supporter, even through that?

Well, Dragonfly was a more complex and difficult story. As a writer, Diana tried out a lot of different things with that book. She changed the voice and point of view in different chapters. She played with time. The storyline zigs and zags. It’s a very complicated book, and Diana knows it. She knows the challenges of the material, and she’s really come to know that we’ll do right by her and her fans. Even with the changes we’ve made in season two, Diana mostly just points out certain grace notes that we, as outsiders to her novels, might overlook in our writing process—because a certain line of dialogue or a tiny little plot point doesn’t seem terribly significant right now, but Diana knows it means a lot in the fourth book.

Back to the writing room…You’re trying to break Dragonfly in Amber for season two. It’s a bigger novel. It’s a more difficult novel. What kind of nervous breakdowns are you and the writing staff enduring?

Oh, it’s just brutal. I mean, there’s not really a better word for it: it’s just brutal. For me, here’s the biggest difference between doing an original series, which I’ve done, and doing an adaptation, like Outlander: when you’re doing an original and you find yourself a little bit stuck, you just kind of write through it, and you can always go back and sort it all out. When you’re doing an adaptation, the tracks are laid. If it’s a tough ride, that’s too bad—because that’s the way the story goes! You have to figure out how to get it done. But it’s not easy, so that means there are a lot of spinning wheels, a lot of pacing back and forth, a lot of frustration, and a lot of ideas that get thrown out there and then shot down because they’re just not right. Ultimately, it comes down to determination more than anything else. You write a scene once. It doesn’t work. You write it again. If you have to write it again, you write it again. There’s just no quitting or giving up with an adaptation. You have to get there.

Determination is kind of a recurring theme in your work anyway. Looking back at Battlestar Galactica, which was a landmark series in so many ways, you devoted a good portion of that series’ storytelling to exploring your own relationship with faith and spirituality. Does that resonate for you?

Battlestar was a chance to play around with things in my own head—thoughts about spirituality, thoughts about my place in the universe, questions like “What does it all mean?” You know, the existential stuff. It was a chance to go a little deeper than the Star Trek stuff allowed me to. With Star Trek, you didn’t really want to delve into those weightier matters—unless they were somehow attached to an alien culture that had wacky superstitions or religions. That stuff had to be relegated to the aliens or the weirdos. You couldn’t really have your human characters grappling with those questions. On Battlestar, it was anything goes. What’s human and what’s not human? What’s faith and what’s science? Why do we believe and how do we choose what we believe in? All of that stuff. It was very rich ground there. I’m not sure if there’s anything terribly autobiographical about Battlestar, but it definitely allowed me to ask big questions from different points of view and to keep changing the answers. That, I never got tired of.

What about Diana Gabaldon’s novels lured you into this massive undertaking?

I responded to the first book as a piece of historical fiction, and I really liked the central character of Claire—her voice. I was really drawn to that female character. That book was just a really good page-turner. I was surprised by a lot of things that happened in the story, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. What Outlander has in common with my other work—Star Trek or Carnavale, all of it, basically—is that I really enjoy creating a world that doesn’t exist and making it more real than real for audiences. That’s really appealing to me. I like the challenge of that. I like the question of “How do you create a show when you can’t just go down the street and shoot a scene by whatever cars happen to be parked there that day?” I like all the questions involved in building a world: What are their tools like? What are they eating? How is their language the same, or different? I have the mind that goes looking for the one tiny thing that’s going to give away the whole charade, the thing that’s going to tear a viewer out of the story and remind them that, “Oh, yeah, this world doesn’t really exist.” And then I plug that hole too.

This is a terrible story to tell aspiring television writers, but your breakthrough happened simply, almost implausibly.

Yeah, I was dating a girl in L.A. Turned out that she loved Star Trek and had worked on Next Generation for a little while. One night, she noticed the Captain Kirk poster on my wall and asked me if I loved Star Trek, too—which I thought was pretty obvious from the poster. When I told her I loved the show, she offered to get on the set of Next Generation. The next morning, she made the call and got me a set visit for six weeks later. It took a while to schedule that kind of thing because the set was so open to fans; they’d do tours of that set regularly. Fans loved that show, and it was cool that they could come and walk around the set. So I had my date, and I decided I’d roll the dice. I wrote an episode of Next Generation, something I thought was really good, and I took it with me to the set visit and I convinced the guy that was giving the tour to take the script and read it, and I asked him to tell me later if it was any good. He turned out to be one of Gene Roddenberry’s assistants. The script made it all the way to the showrunner. He bought the script and asked me to make another one, then another one. Eventually, I got a call that they needed a staff writer who could start work the next day. I showed up. It was the luckiest of breaks, really. I had the right script at the right time. I knew the show inside and out. I loved it. I channeled that passion, threw myself into it, and it all happened to work out.

That all happened in the couple of weeks before you were supposed to report to boot camp with the U.S. Navy. In some alternate universe, Ronald D. Moore is serving in a submarine deep in the ocean enduring all of the nightmares he’s put his characters through!

Oh, the alternate universes available to Ronald D. Moore could be so much worse than being in the U.S. Navy. Trust me! The life I’m living, it’s the only life where things go the way they have for me. In every other possible scenario, I’m dead in the water. This is where I was at when Next Generation happened for me: I had flunked out of school, and I was in Los Angeles, and I had no money and I was trying to be a writer, and I was a messenger, and I was an animal hospital receptionist, and I was making just a few hundred dollars a month. It was an impossible situation. But I can look back on all of that and see now that if any one of those horrible things had been easier than they were, I might not have taken that insane chance of writing a script no one was asking for and imagining it would actually be read and loved and lead me through a series of pretty great jobs that have brought me here.

It’s kind of surprising to learn that you had a Captain Kirk poster in your apartment. You know where I’m going with this: you’re the screenwriter who killed Captain Kirk in the Generations feature film!

I will never fully serve my sentence for that! That was a…what’s the word…a complicated thing. When we first started talking story for that film, we were all talking about destroying the Enterprise as a key event. I thought that was interesting, but what if we went even further and told the story of the death of Captain Kirk. I thought that would be even more powerful for audiences. So I became very determined to tell that story. It was probably some deeply embedded psychological thing from my childhood where I was determined to kill the characters I loved as a child now that I was a man making films! There are depths to killing Captain Kirk that I’ve yet to fully explore.

Which is why the world will not let you forget that you killed Captain Kirk.

As a writer, the death of Kirk really could have been an amazing thing—a noble, inspiring, kind of tragic, Arthurian thing. But here’s the truth: I really wanted to tell that story, but back then I just didn’t have the maturity or the chops to do it well. If Captain Kirk had died well, people wouldn’t be so pissed about it 25 years later. The whole movie is this kind of meditation on mortality, and then I just didn’t land the big death, the whole point of the movie. The other problem was that there was a very real, serious pressure from the studio to make a movie that would attract new fans instead of dropping old fans, like the last couple of Star Trek movies had. So Generations ended up being kind of a Pop Star movie, a bridge thing, a transition from the original series to Next Generation. And then we were told we had to bring in the Klingons, too. There were just so many things that movie had to be that there was no way, even if I’d had the chops, Kirk was going to die well.

Your chops, they’re pretty impeccable these days. Outlander is one of the best series on television. The cast is simply flawless, uniformly outstanding. How does that impact your writing, having such a gifted group of actors?

It’s huge. One of the challenges of writing for television—because of how quickly they have to come together, mostly—is that it can take some real time for the writers to get to know their cast. That’s why so many shows take six episodes or so, maybe a whole season, to get really going. The writers have finally figured out what their actors do best. A lot of times as a writer, I’m not even aware when that eureka moment happens; I just suddenly realize I’m tailoring. I’m writing to things I know for a fact are an actor’s strengths. By the way, actors really appreciate that. On Outlander, the writers realized really quickly that we had gold in this cast, that there is literally nothing we could ask Caitrioina [Balfe, Outlander’s lead] to do that she couldn’t or wouldn’t do. That opens up tremendous possibilities for the writers. You’re, of course, beholden to the novels, but the ways you honor the novels increase exponentially when you’ve got a cast this good.

Since you’ve ruined aspiring writers with your story of “Yeah, just go ahead and get yourself into a bad pickle, write a script very quickly, and then hand it to a total stranger to get your big break,” do you have any advice for writers that might be useful?

Hey, you asked! I actually do have some advice. It’s in two parts: the first part is a story told to me when I was just starting out in the business. It contains very, very true information. The second part is a great piece of advice told to me by one of the great masters of science fiction.

Part one…

One day backstage at Carnegie Hall, the concert violinist Jascha Heifetz is preparing to go on when a young man in the wings approaches him and asks, “Mr. Heifetz, will you please tell me if I have any talent?” The kid has his violin with him. “Please, sir, just one minute of your time. Tell me if I have what it takes to make it.” So Heifetz, he kind of gives in, right? “Okay, kid. Go ahead.” The kid plays for not quite 60 seconds. Heifetz looks at him dead in the eyes. “Nope, kid,” he says. “You do not have what it takes.” The kid’s devastated, sulks away, and drops music from his life altogether. Ten, 15 years later, Heifetz and this kid, who’s now grown up, run into each other some sort of a social gathering, and the kid goes up to Heifetz and says, “You probably don’t remember me. I came up to you one day at Carnegie Hall and asked you to listen to me play the violin and asked you if I had any talent. You said that I didn’t, so I dropped the violin and now I’m in insurance,” the kid says. “I just wanted to ask you: how could you do that to me when I was so young? How could you crush my dreams like that after only listening to me for a minute?” Heifetz doesn’t miss a beat. He looks down at the kid and says, “I say that to everyone—because it’s the kind of business that if you can be discouraged, you will be, and you should find that out sooner rather than later.”


That’s a profound insight into the business that is really true. It is a firmly, savagely discouraging business. It’s going to tell you “no” over and over and over again, and you’d better find out really quickly whether that’s going to knock you out of the business or if you just somehow insanely believe enough in your talent to keep on going.

What’s part two?

I’m on a panel with some sci-fi writers at some event in Beverly Hills. The great, great science fiction Harlan Ellison is on the panel with me, which I can still hardly believe. The forum was, basically, the panel would be asked a question and then the moderator would go straight down the line, getting each of our responses. So the question was, “What’s your advice to young writers?” And Harlan Ellison takes the microphone and he’s kind of growling, this guttural, phlegmatic thing going on in his voice, and he says very, very firmly, deadpan, insistently, “Don’t. Be. A. Whore!” And you know what? Harlan Ellison is right! In this business, all they want to do is whore out your talents. Livelihoods are based on that kind of pimpery in this town. I’m not saying you’re too good to do a job for hire. There is much to learn and many times a lot of happiness that comes with jobs like that. But if you write like Paul Schrader, but you’re being asked over and over again for some reason to write cartoons about clever, talking pets, and you do it more than once, that’s tragic to me. You are probably a whore. Don’t do that. Don’t be a whore. Stand up for your work. Have some principles. Don’t sell out to the lowest common denominator. Those two stories sum up almost everything a writer in Hollywood needs to know.

– See more at: http://www.wga.org/writers-room/features-columns/the-craft/2016/outlander-ronald-moore#sthash.P73uVl60.dpuf

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It’s true.  I am still obsessed with the knitwear on Outlander.  Not just the main pieces either.  Yes, I love Claire’s cowls, caplets, and shawls, but even the supporting players and extras had beautiful pieces.  (click on an image to enlarge)

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I am sure it isn’t just me.  There are a lot of websites out there for patterns, both free and paid.  There are people selling premade replicas, and even LionBrand Yarn has gotten in on the act.

I was a little nervous about it, but the amount of love it has generated, the fact that there are women who are knitting all of these scarves and cowls based on our show is so touching and so lovely and speaks so much about our fans and who they are and the relationship they have to the material. It’s really quite lovely, and I don’t think twice about it anymore.  – Terry Dresbach

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