Busy writer is drawn back to 23rd century

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SAN DIEGO -- The growing straight-to-DVD industry is keeping fans of canceled TV series happy, actors employed and satisfying Hollywood studios' bottom line.

It's also lured busy writer J. Michael Straczynski to return to his 23rd-century sci-fi creation, "Babylon 5," for "The Lost Tales," a planned anthology that revisits individual characters, starting with Interstellar Alliance President John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and B5's commander, Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins).

Peter Woodward, Bruce Boxleitner, writer/director J. Michael Straczynski and Tracy Scoggins on the set of "Babylon 5: The Lost Tales."
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"I started with the premise, what if I did a story and it was the same 72-hour period and it was from different points of view? OK, that would be cool. Now what would that be?" Straczynski says, sitting in the polished marble lobby of the Hotel Solamar in San Diego's trendy Gaslamp District. He's here for Comic-Con as a star attraction who's juggling many genre projects, including movies and comic books featuring iconic Marvel characters.

This day, though, is all about "Babylon 5," with Boxleitner and Scoggins meeting the media in another corner of the room.

   

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Straczynski is revisiting their characters 10 years after the end of the series as they mark the 10th anniversary of the Alliance. "Logically speaking, if you're going to do that, which characters would it be?" he asks. "The answer is Lochley, because she's running the B5, and since Sheridan's the president of the IA, he'd be coming [to the anniversary celebration], so I drew up a story over the same 72-hour period of Sheridan coming and Lochley on B5, waiting for him to arrive."

For a guy who's polishing a "Silver Surfer" script and writing the new Thor comic books for Marvel and has one fast-tracked screenplay and two others announced, there was no hesitation about returning to the "B5" world.

"The reason I keep going back from time to time, it's like, against all reason, you keep going back to your high school reunion. It's been five years [since the last TV movie]; it felt like time to go back."

He said back in the 1990s, during the five years it took him to sell the series -- "Nobody was doing science fiction then, they figured only 'Star Trek' could sell" -- he had flushed out details 100 years on either side of the timeline of the story "so I can drop anchor at any time within those 200 years of the particular year of what was going on."

The writer's head isn't only in the stars these days. His fascination with a real-life story about a mother whose prayers are answered with the return of her kidnapped son -- only to have her suspect that the boy who returned is not the same -- led to "The Changeling." It's a title listed for two movies in pre-production for 2008 (not to be confused with the 1980 movie starring George C. Scott), but only one of them is being produced by Ron Howard and directed by Clint Eastwood, stars Angelina Jolie and has been written by J. Michael Straczynski.

"After working on 'Jeremiah' for Showtime, I needed a break," Straczynski explains. "I'd been working on television for 20 years. I had heard this real story and I finally found more information on it, and I figured out how to tell it. I wrote the script in 12 days and gave it to my agent, who passed it to Ron Howard, who optioned the movie immediately to produce it. Once the script got out there, there was a line-up of female stars who wanted to be in it because [the role] is astonishing; it's Oscar bait. Angelina [Jolie] jumped to the front of the line and ... got locked in. And then it got to Clint [Eastwood], who said 'I love it and I want to do it.' "

The film came together in warp speed in Hollywood time. "It is unusual. And the things that have happened since; it makes me feel at times like I'm living someone else's life."

In this life, the writer will continue to juggle multiple projects, including more tales of "Babylon 5," if the most recent DVD does well.

With everything else going, can he foresee what comes next?

"Oh, yeah," he says. "I never want for stories. I write 12 hours a day. There's always a story to tell."


Sharon Eberson can be reached at seberson@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1960.


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