Part One

On Sunday, March 3, 2002, we chatted with Gavin Scott, the creator, producer and writer of "The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne". 

zhaansacolyte:  Welcome fans of THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE.  We're privileged to have as our chat guest today screenwriter Gavin Scott, creator and writer of our beloved show.  He's kindly taking time away from writing a WWII action adventure screenplay for Warner Brothers, which will star Kevin Spacey, to be here with us today. 


odensdisir : Captain Nemo seems to have been very important to the series concept. Would you care to discuss?

GAVIN:  Yes, absolutely, it's true that in my original conception for the show Jules Verne's relations with Captain Nemo were vital.  In fact, the original SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE is a script that I wrote about Jules Verne and Captain Nemo.  It began with what, with a feature film script called NEMO AND ME.  And that, itself, was inspired by my discovery of the fact that when Jules Verne wrote 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA it was originally about a Polish nobleman whose family had been massacred by the Russians and who took on the Russians as his enemies.  That's why he built the submarine. 

And when Jules Verne presented this manuscript to his publisher, the publisher said it's great but we'll both go to jail.  Because, at that time, France, led by Napolean III, had a treaty with the Czar of Russia and anyone who was criticizing Russia was falling foul of the French government.  Jules Verne thought of this for all of about 5 minutes and then said  "OK, let's take out the Russians". 

So, he removed every reference to Russia.  You'll note that, in the original book of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Nemo is depicted as fighting ships, which fly no flag and who were originally ships that fly the flag of the double eagle.  And, of course, his name, Nemo, replaces an original Polish name

It was that idea that Captain Nemo was much more closely related to the politics of his time that inspired me to think "is it possible to relate more of Jules Verne's work to what actually went on in his lifetime"?  That inspired me to write NEMO AND ME and, that got the whole cycle going.

 As you imply, there isn't a lot of Captain Nemo in series one, partly because building the Nautilus would have been an expensive business, and when we built the Phileas Fogg airship that took up quite a lot our budget.  So, we hope if there is a chance to get a second series, then Captain Nemo will reappear, because he's a great character.  His daughter, Laura, is another great character and there are plenty of stories to tell about him.


zhaansacolyte: Which of your stories was realized on screen most closely to the vision you had for it in your own mind?

GAVIN:  Well, I think QUEEN VICTORIA AND THE GIANT MOLE, which was the first script for JULES VERNE that I wrote for the television series, pretty much exemplifies what I had in mind. 

In fact, quite a number of the stories in the series are very close to the vision I had for it.  One particular group that I'm very proud of is the trilogy, it's almost more than a trilogy, that begins with LORD OF AIR AND DARKNESS, where Jules first comes into contact with Count Gregory, indirectly, of course, through Phileas. The follow-up, in SOUTHERN COMFORT, and then LET THERE BE LIGHT.  That's a group I felt works quite well together as a trilogy and they're certainly very close to my heart.


ephialv : How did Phileas get changed from an American to an Englishman??

GAVIN:  Someone's asking how Phileas got changed from an American to an Englishman.  Now Phileas Fogg was always an Englishman.  That's one of the crucial features of Jules Verne's original book, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.  There are several pages devoted to his slightly satirical view of the Englishman.  He describes the clubs that Phileas Fogg goes to and how unsociable he was and how English he is.  He liked the English, but he liked to send them up and so Phileas Fogg was always, for Jules Verne, an Englishman.  He exemplified Englishmen and the difficulties that Englishmen have in expressing their emotions.


lagniappetite : Rebecca Fogg is a very strong female character.  Did you add her to be politically correct, to appease women, to attract women, because you know strong women - what were her origins?  Many of your female characters in the series are strong, both good and evil
lonalea : how did Rebecca get introduced?  Is she your avatar?

GAVIN:  That's a good question about Rebecca Fogg.  If you've seen any of the original proposals, she wasn't part of my original conception because the conception grew.  Phileas' airship was not part of the original conception, either.  That grew and there's a story attached to that. 

But, Rebecca, as soon as we realized that although it was great to have some strong female villains, and there are plenty of them, it was also really desirable to have someone who was a strong female role model right in the middle, a heroine.  Rebecca just sort of leapt into being as that. 

Originally, we'd actually thought of her as being Phileas' sister.  But, once we, in fact, once we'd cast Michael… Not once we'd cast, but once we'd started thinking about the actual relationship between the two and their proximity, Phileas and Rebecca, we realized that there would be a sexual tension between them and therefore she should be a distant cousin.  So, yes, Rebecca really grew and then, once Francesca came aboard to play the part, then it was wonderful to write for her, because she exemplified the character of Rebecca so well.


odensdisir : May we ask whether you will have a role in Series Two?

GAVIN:  You bet, if there is a series 2, I'll be in the middle of it.  I fully intend to be.


viccivaw : Gavin, how did you feel about the actors who were cast?  Who was the biggest surprise?

GAVIN:  I am so pleased with the actors who were cast.  I mean I played a major role in the casting process for the lead actors.  We were all up in Montreal with a deadline ticking away to get the right people to play the parts by the time we began shooting.

The other producers and I sat around watching lots of tapes of lots of great talented actors and, then when we found Michel Courtemanche for Passepartout, and we found Michael Praed for Phileas Fogg, when we found Francesca Hunt for Rebecca, and when we found Chris Demetral for Jules Verne, we knew we'd got a winning team.  So, no, those guys are absolutely wonderful and it was just a delight for me, as the creator, to see the characters I'd created being embodied by such good actors.


zhaansacolyte:  How did the creation of the Count Gregory character come about?

GAVIN:  Count Gregory-I'm very proud of Count Gregory. <laughs>  Obviously, every series needs a great recurring villain and, again, we hadn't, I hadn't thought of Count Gregory. I hadn't thought of the notion of a recurring villain and so the idea of the League of Darkness came up.  Then, I wanted to have someone in the League of Darkness who could have lived for 100's of years, 'cause I find that idea very spooky.  Because it seems to me that having a conspiracy that had gone on for a long time is a very attractive thing.  This notion of a conspiracy of aristocrats who have manipulated European history for centuries is great, but it's even greater, IMO, if you can have one mind that's been dominating it generation after generation.

The idea of creating this half man, half machine who is that character was very attractive and I'm proud to say that I designed Count Gregory.  I figured out, A, what had happened to him and what he would look like, and I had to fight some quite strong battles from some people who said  "oh, well, it's too expensive to do that, let's just put him in a box, or something like that". <laughs> 

No, I really want to see those severed limbs semi-attached and I really want to see him come back together under certain circumstances.  I got together with some of the excellent designers we had up in Montreal and created this vision of him, which was very much what I had imagined. 

Then I realized it was a wonderful opportunity to bring in Rick Overton, who is an important figure in the series in many ways.  Rick Overton I discovered in a toy shop in Santa Monica.  He wasn't literally in the toy shop, but his models were.  Because Rick Overton, apart from being a terrific character actor (he was in things like MRS. DOUBTFIRE, for example) and a terrific comedian (he has guest roles in many sitcoms) and a great stand-up comedian, he's also a great model maker.  I discovered his Victorian steam punk models in Puzzles here in Santa Monica and said I wanna bring this guy on board. 

He was delighted and we brought him into the creative process for the series.  One of his models was the original inspiration, we developed it quite a bit, but the original inspiration for Phileas Fogg's airship, the Aurora.

Now, Rick came up to Montreal to continue to work on the designs of the Jules Verne devices.  He's a very big guy.  I'm 6' 4", he's about the same height as I am and some bigger and I thought he would be great to play the role of Count Gregory.  He was delighted and he threw himself into it and I think he really embodied that role wonderfully.


odensdisir : The fact that SAJV was shot in HDTV has added a great deal of depth and interest to the series.  Were you involved in the choice to shoot in HDTV?

GAVIN:  I'm delighted with the HDTV.  Yes, I was involved in that choice.  That wasn't my choice specifically, but Pierre de Lespinois', who was one of the producers, one of my earliest supporters, and a great technical guru for this, wanted to experiment with it.  I think that it was great that he did so.  I think it gives the show a great look, but also, because we were shooting digitally, it meant that we could take the images to the bank of computers that we had up in the rafters of this huge old railway repair shed in which we were working in Montreal. 

We could begin to manipulate the images straight away as a result of which we have so many more special effects shots in these shows than you get in a normal television show or even a normal movie.  I mean there are some shows with 140 special effects shots in a 45-minute show, which is too many. <laughs>  I mean we… that was probably because I was demanding too much in my scripts and didn't realize just how demanding that would be to turn into visual reality.  But having said that, we could never have done it had we not shot in HDTV.


lonalea : Was Count Gregory also an enemy of Sir Boniface Fogg?

GAVIN:  Someone is asking was Count Gregory an enemy of Sir Boniface Fogg.  Yes, but not to the same extent, because in many ways, you see, Phileas Fogg's father was, as head of the British Secret Service, working on behalf of the status quo.  The difference between Jules Verne and Phileas' father is that Jules Verne represents the future, he represents the use of technology to empower ordinary people. 

That was not what Sir Boniface was about.  He was much more conservative and, so probably, he would have not been a major…uh, Count Gregory wouldn't have been particularly interested in him.  Jules Verne, however, is a different matter.


viccivaw : The Aurora is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

GAVIN:  Someone was mentioning the Aurora there, yes, I think the Aurora is gorgeous.  At some point if … uh, there are various drawings of it floating around because we circulated them to computer experts and to production companies and things.  And, as those drawings of the evolution of the Aurora surface, if they ever appear on the net, I'd love to see some of them again myself, 'cause they do look terrific. 

The Aurora almost became a character in the show.  There was a real model of it, which, I mean, obviously we, well, not obviously, but we did in fact build the interior of the Aurora at full scale with, you know, its real, the real people are there.  We built a model of it with a huge balloon above it, which was, itself, huge.  I think it was about 8 feet long and about 6 feet high, which we used in some of the shots and, gosh, it was gorgeous.  Hats off to Rick Overton and the design team in Montreal for creating that.

Well, it's no, it's not a hot air balloon, definitely, it's definitely powered by an unusual mixture of chemicals, which create the gases that keep it afloat.  It is technically a dirigible, being a directable balloon.   It would have taken a very special gas, indeed, to keep the weight of the thing afloat and that's why I think we should be discreet about the nature of that gas. <laughing>


odensdisir : How about the technical questions, though . . . is it a hot-air balloon, or a gas balloon?  Wicker?  Aluminum?  Any thoughts about the technical challenges of the "real" Aurora?
viccivaw : How many rooms does the Aurora have?  We have all been wondering?
lagniappetite : How is the ship structured?  How many rooms? etc.  We alwasy wonder hoe all the characters could fit on board!  LOL!

GAVIN:  How many rooms has the Aurora got?  Well, it's got, I have to count them up, but it's clearly got the main cabin where you see the characters steering the ship.  Behind the main cabin is Passepartout's kitchen.  Then, there's a corridor that runs off the main cabin down the center of the gondola, on either side of which are the bedrooms of all the main characters.  They each have their own room.  And then upstairs… And, let's say there are 5, I think there should be 6 bedrooms 'cause they're going to have a guestroom.  And then, up the stairs there's Passepartout's workshop.  I've actually lost count of that, but that's the number, I think.  And then there's a little space at the back they can stand in to look behind.


dani_girl36 : Just where is the Aurora parked?  

Gavin:  The question as to where the Aurora is parked is an interesting one.