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Terra Nova – How Brannon Braga deals with the dinosaurs’ extinction

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Terra Nova - Prehistoric Earth
Prehistoric Earth © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

For 13 years Brannon Braga was a creative force on one of the most successful science fiction franchises on television as creator, writer and executive producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Enterprise.

He returns to his sci fi roots with his new series Terra Nova, which he executive produces with a slew of people, including Steven Spielberg and Rene Echevarria, who worked with Braga on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It’s 2149, and the Earth is dying. Jim and Elisabeth Shannon (Jason O’Mara and Shelley Conn) have decided to take their family back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race.

This looks and feels very much like a Ray Bradbury story that I remember hearing about 20 years ago. Bradbury was hired by a TV studio to do a spec script, and the studio liked it but said it was impossible to film for TV. What has happened in TV since then that makes a show this big possible today?

Terra Nova - Rene Echevarria and Brannon Braga
Executive Producers and Creators Rene Echevarria and Brannon Braga © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

The story you’re referring to is A Sound of Thunder, the great dinosaur Ray Bradbury short story. And the answer is it probably wasn’t possible until we got a visual-effects team together that has literally created new technologies to make it possible.

They’re doing extremely advanced things with motion-capture dinosaurs, motion-capture animals. We’re creating things as we go along to make it possible, to make the show look just as expansive as it did in the pilot.

I guess the overall perception is this series is an extremely difficult undertaking. Have you found it to be?

Terra Nova - Stephen Lang, Allison Miller, Christine Adams, Jason O'Mara, Naomi Scott, Landon Liboiron, Shelley Conn and Alana Mansour
Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang), Syke (Allison Miller), Mira (Christine Adams), Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara), Maddy Shannon (Naomi Scott), Josh Shannon (Landon Liboiron), Elizabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) and Zoe Shannon (Alana Mansour) © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

A lot of people like to talk about, ‘How are you going to do this week to week? How are the dinosaurs going to look? How are you going to pull this off?’ Our proudest and luckiest accomplishment is assembling the cast that we assembled, because it really is about the Shannon family.

More challenging than creating any dinosaur was finding a believable family that you can fall in love with. Fortunately that’s the thing that’s working the absolute best about the show right now.

How are you going to deal with the extinction event that happens to kill off the dinosaurs?

Well, that’s a problem they’re going to have [in the future]. There’s an asteroid coming. But one of the cool things about the show, without giving too much away, is they have futuristic technology that we don’t have today. So they’re a little more prepared to deal with some of these catastrophes.

Can you talk a little about Steven Spielberg’s contributions to this show?

Terra Nova - Stephen Lang, Allison Miller, Christine Adams, Jason O'Mara, Naomi Scott, Landon Liboiron, Shelley Conn and Alana Mansour
The Shannon Family: Elizabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn), Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara), Maddy Shannon (Naomi Scott), Josh Shannon (Landon Liboiron) and Zoe Shannon (Alana Mansour), trek through the jungle to Terra Nova © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

His involvement has been significant since day one. We could go through a list of interesting details that he’s added to give it all a sense of verisimilitude. He’s really into making things seem more believable.

He’ll take a sequence, and he’ll examine it, and he’ll say, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if these people escaping from a suffocating, polluted world ironically were suffocating on the very oxygen that they were seeking because their bodies couldn’t process it?’ The show is filled with things like that.

He has a lot of input into the dinosaurs along with Jack Horner, the great paleontologist, who is our dinosaur advisor, and he gives inputs on scripts and every aspect of the show.

This takes place in 2149. What’s going on at that time? How much of that will we see, and how did you come up with that year?

Terra Nova - Naomi Scott, Alana Mansour and Shelley Conn
Maddy (Naomi Scott), Zoe (Alana Mansour) and Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) take cover from an attack on Terra Nova © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

This sounded like a good year. There will be glimpses without giving too much away. The happenings in 2149 we’ll figure into our storytelling.

Do you have a budget for three or four action sequences per hour, how do you do that part of it?

There will be dinosaurs. But remember, it’s not Jurassic Park. This is an entire ecosystem of all sorts of different, weird creatures. But it’s not like The Hulk where he hulked twice per episode. It’s never about the dinosaurs. These animals are a complicating factor every week in some unexpected way. They will be there. They are always there. They are always present.

Is there anything at stake for the people in the future other than trying to get family and friends there?

Terra Nova - Rene Echevarria,  Stephen Lang and Brannon Braga
Executive Producers and Creators Rene Echevarria (L) and Brannon Braga (R), with cast member Stephen Lang at Comic-Con 2011 © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

This is very much the beginning. We are not coming in seven years into this. These are about the frontiers, the pioneers. These are the pioneers. This is the first wagon train to settle here. So a lot of what happens here in the early episodes is about new things.

One of the early episodes has to do with the first murder in Terra Nova and how they deal with that. How they deal with things like that will define them as people, as the new dawn of human civilization. How will they be different from the ones before?

You are saying that the heart of it is the family drama rather than the dinosaurs, but there’s an audience that you can sell dinosaurs to that you can’t sell family drama to. Are people who are science fiction buffs, who do like character but basically do want that science fiction, going to like it?

René and I first met on Star Trek: The Next Generation. That show has a very broad appeal in that regard because that was really about a family crew in that case. It was very humanitarian, but it also had scary aliens and weird things happening. This show is similar in that regard.

There’s a little something for everybody.

Terra Nova‘s second episode “Instinct” airs today, October 3, 2011