Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski talks 'going small' on the epic Netflix series Sense8

Contributed by
May 26, 2015

After garnering a ton of genre fans with Daredevil, Netflix is going deeper into science fiction with the ambitious new series Sense8. One of the men pulling the strings? Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski.

Straczynski teamed up with Matrix creators the Wachowskis to develop the series, which focuses on eight people from around the world who are suddenly connected. Following a violent vision, the strangers are able to see, feel, hear and talk to each other, as if they are in the same place. Just as they’re starting to figure out their new abilities, a mysterious organization starts hunting them down. 

It’s an intriguing setup, made even more interesting by the fact that the creative team already has a five-year plan for where they want to take this world. Despite the massive scope, Straczynski told Collider they made a point to keep the story honed in a “small” way to ensure they were always focusing on an emotional story, and not the cold, hard grandeur of it all:

"It was more about establishing what the rules were, how this worked and what it was to be sensate. Our theory was that originally we’re all sensate, and we all had this ability. The mutation was those who are born without the ability because they’re more efficient killers. If you can’t feel that person’s pain, it’s easy to wipe that person out. Over time, those individuals outnumbered those who were sensate. We got those rules first, and then we started to ask, what countries do we want to explore? It was about storytelling opportunity, but also about contrast, with Nairobi up against San Francisco, or Seoul up against Chicago, or Mexico City against Berlin. We went through a bunch of different permutations. At one point, we were going to be in Iraq and a couple of other countries. We finally figured out the ones we wanted, and then the characters came from there…

Science fiction shows are traditionally about the gimmick or the gadget and tend to be emotionally cool to the touch. We thought, ‘We’re going to have these big, huge action moments, so, we need to have the quieter, more human moments to say what this is all about.’ You can’t always relate to the big action things, but you can relate to small moments. I worked with James Cameron, a few years ago, on a remake of Forbidden Planet, which is still sitting at Warner Bros., and he said one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard about science fiction. He said, ‘I thought science fiction was about familiar characters in unfamiliar settings. It took me ten years to realize that was wrong. It’s about relationships and not settings.’ Terminator 2 was a father-son relationship, even though it’s not. Aliens was a mother-daughter relationship, even though it’s not. You don’t buy into huge car chases or sensates or interstellar warfare, but you can buy into a loving relationship or a father-son relationship, and you can buy into the small humor. If you want to make your fiction universal, go small. That’s the best way to do it."

The full interview is a fascinating read, and Straczynski revealed that they shot everything (literally everything) in the globe-trotting series on location, and that Netflix gave them a ton of flexibility to tell the story they all wanted to tell (season one consists of 12 episodes).

The entire first season of Sense8 debuts Friday, June 5, on Netflix.

(Via Collider)

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