On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Peter turns the host mic over to Recode Managing Editor Edmund Lee, who talks with “The Martian” author Andy Weir. The two discuss “The Martian book and movie; Weir’s new book “Artemis”; and how a software engineer like Weir became a New York Times bestselling author.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. I am part of the Vox Media podcast network, but do not settle in and get used to my voice, because we are bringing in a new guest host today, Ed Lee, Recode’s managing editor. He talked to Andy Weir, who wrote “The Martian,” great book, great movie. He’s got a new book out called “Artemis.” Take it away, Ed.
Edmund Lee: Thanks, Peter. I’m here with Andy, the author of “Artemis.” Welcome, Andy.
Andy Weir: Hey, thanks for having me.
Cool, so you’re on a whirlwind tour right now with your new book.
Yeah, I am. I’m going all over the place.
All over the place. You’re from California, though, right?
Right. I live in Sunnyvale, which is just north of San Jose.
Right, so you are smack dab in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Right. You started out, or you were until fairly recently, an engineer, a software engineer.
Yeah, I was a computer programmer for about 25 years there, and then I bumbled into success with “The Martian,” and that was the last time I did any honest work.
“The Martian,” we should back up a second, that’s your first published book? And it was turned into a hit movie starring Matt Damon.
I read the book, I’ve seen the movie. Congrats on the success.
My 12-year-old daughter’s a huge fan of both, by the way.
Excellent. I’m glad I could expose your child to a bunch of profanity.
Yeah, well, no. You didn’t expose her to anything that we didn’t already expose to her at home ourselves, my wife and I.
Twelve-year-olds these days are pretty up to speed on the ...
Pretty educated, yeah.
Exactly, thanks to the internet. But of course, what was a big part of the success of “The Martian” and what made it so well reviewed is that it’s not so much science fiction ... I mean, it is a work of fiction, of course, it’s narrative, but it’s science real. In other words, you took the premise of, well, if you were to travel to Mars and someone had to be stuck there, how would that all work?
Yeah, I did my best to be as scientifically accurate as possible in “The Martian” and in “Artemis.”
Okay, let’s get to “Artemis.”
It’s your second book. What’s it about?
Well, it takes place in a city on the Moon, humanity’s only city that’s not on Earth, and the main character is a woman who’s a small-time criminal, and she gets in way over her head.
It’s kind of a caper?
It is. For sure, it’s a heist story, whatever, crime novel, set on the moon.
But at the same time, as you did with “The Martian,” you delve really deeply into how would you live on the moon? How would habitats work? What’s it like to run or to fight in 1/6th earth’s gravity, right?
Right, yeah. I mean, I did kind of the deep dive into the science probably way further down the rabbit hole than I ever needed to go. Probably only about 1 percent of the stuff that I worked out for “Artemis” actually made it into the book, all the technical details of how it was produced, like how they built the city in the first place, and all that fun stuff.
Right, but you still have those notes somewhere?
Like you could publish that someday as sort of the background notes, if you really wanted to go deep into it.
My “Silmarillion” kind of ...
Exactly, exactly right.
Well, let’s hope “Artemis” is popular enough to warrant that. How about that?
There’s a good chance it will, based on what I’ve seen so far. I want to actually back up a second. As you pointed out, you were a software engineer. What kind of companies did you work for?
Well, I had a 25-year career. I go back as far as, well, I was one of the programmers on Warcraft II.
When I worked for Blizzard.
Yep, that’s a long time ago. I also worked for AOL.
AOL, which is now, I think it’s called Oath, right, part of Verizon?
I don’t know, AOL, Time Warner, GE, Sheinhardt Wig Corporation, whatever.
I worked for AOL, and then I spent about half of my career working for startups in the mobile space, so apps for mobile phones, mobile devices, stuff like that.
You’re pretty steeped in Silicon Valley and internet Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, mobile revolution?
I suppose. It’s never been ... Well, I mean yes, I live in Silicon Valley, I grew up there, but also it’s just like I’m not a technophile. I’m not somebody who like, oh, I’ve just got to have the latest thing, the latest thing. I liked my job, I liked writing software, but it was never really this thing. It’s not like I liked talking about it at lunch, too.
Okay, so you wrote software by day and you wrote fiction by night. I’m just making that up.
I put on a mask to do that.
There you go, right.
But basically you, as a software engineer, you did spend your free time writing stories, writing short stories, and made up stories, etc., whatever it was?
Yeah, no, it really helps when you have no life and so you’ve got the time for those sorts of activities.
Well, clearly you’ve had a lot of time then. It has been very successful.
Well, so I did check out your personal website. I love the aesthetic, it feels like 1995-1996.
If that, yeah, it’s a very ghetto website. I made it myself, I’ll have you know. It’s just a white background with blue hyperlinks that are left-justified.
I love the blue hyperlinks. When I first started putting up webpages, that was with the gray background.
A gray? No, I can’t be putting the effort into changing the background color, I don’t have time for that.
What I found fascinating beyond just the success of “The Martian” is that you, as you pointed out, wrote stories on your own, you published them by yourself on your website for free, and that’s how “The Martian” actually started is you just had serials. You wrote it in installments and you posted it up on your webpage, is that right?
Yeah, that’s right. I was writing all sorts of stories. I had three different serials going, and random short stories that I would post. I just kind of wrote whatever I wanted, and “The Martian” was just one of the serials, but it was the one that the readers clearly liked the best, and so that helped encourage me to write it more than the others, yeah.
There’s all kinds of ways to skin a cat in terms of the publishing industry. This is the way you did it. When you were writing, though, did you ever think, “I should submit this”?
No, it never occurred to me. I had, earlier in life, in my 20’s, I had taken a three-year sabbatical off of work to try to break into writing. I wrote a book, it wasn’t “The Martian,” it didn’t get published, I couldn’t get an agent, couldn’t get any traction. Kind of the standard tale of woe that every writer has.
You hold onto your rejection letters, I’m sure, right?
For the people that were kind enough to bother sending me a rejection, yeah, and I couldn’t break in, so I figured I guess I either don’t have what it takes or I don’t know, but went back into the software industry.
This wasn’t a sad Charlie Brown music, hang your head situation; I like writing software, but I decided that writing would just be my hobby. By the time I was writing “The Martian,” it never occurred to me that it was publishable, and I really didn’t think it would have any mainstream appeal. I thought I was writing for this tiny little niche audience of 1 percenter nerds like myself who wanted all the numbers correct and the mathematical proofs in the text.
Well, the nerds are taking over the world, so clearly ...
Yes, you’re writing for a bigger audience in that way.
The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth.
Exactly right. They responded to “The Martian,” your installments, and said, “Hey, you should actually sell this as a Kindle book.” Was that the idea?
Well, not quite. Basically, people ... As you commented, my website leaves everything to be desired, and so I was getting emails from people saying like, “Hey, I loved ‘The Martian’ but I hate your website. Can you make an e-reader version that I can download and put on my e-reader?” So I did that, and then other people emailed and said like, “Hey, I’m glad there’s an e-reader version, but I don’t know how to download a thing from the internet and put it on my e-reader. Can you just post it to Amazon so I can just get it through their system?"
And so I figured out how to do that, and that’s how I ultimately kind of accidentally self-published, and that started ... Basically, you have to charge $1 minimum — well, actually 99 cents.
You have to charge that, so it’s sales, and then so it started working its way up the bestsellers in science fiction, and that got the attention of Crown Publishing, and it got me an agent, and a movie deal, and ...
And they published your book, and now you’re a movie guy and big-time author.
Right. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t just do this, it’s awesome.
Exactly, I mean come on, there you go.
I highly recommend it.
Okay, I’m curious of the mechanics of that. It was a free serial, and even when you ... I guess ultimately when you put it up as a Kindle, it had to be 99 cents just because there needed to be a transaction?
That’s the rules. Well, those are the rules that Amazon has.
Did you have to take it down off your personal website after that?
Not when I posted it to Kindle. But of course once Crown came in and had the rights, then I had to take it off my personal website and of course take it off of, take it down from Kindle, and then they put it back up as part of their release schedule.
Were you ever ... I mean, of course that’s like one of those sort of dream moments of a would-be author.
At the same time, I’m curious, were you ever concerned about, “Well, I kind of have this built-in audience here and I don’t want to upset them.” Was there ever ...
Oh, no. Oh, hell no. No, no, no.
Screw these guys, right?
No, not screw those guys. Those are my core readers. In fact, a lot of those guys turned around and bought, even though they’d already finished the story, they turned around and bought the $1 version on Kindle just because ... I would frequently get email from people saying like, “Hey, I want to donate, you know, you should have a donate button.”
And I’m like, “I don’t need a donate button. I’m a computer programmer, I make a good salary, I’m fine,” and so a lot of my readers saw this as an avenue by which they could donate, they’re like, “Okay, I’ll buy a copy of the book.” So no, those core readers are almost certainly a big part of the reason why it initially started to get up in the ratings in Amazon and then kind of worked out from there. But no, it had been my dream my whole life to be a published author through a traditional publisher, so yeah, zero hesitation.
Of course, and that got you even more distribution beyond just Amazon.
It’s interesting. I think what you’re describing in terms of your core community, how they want to support you, that seems to be sort of what’s going on in the internet in general lately in all kinds of ways. There’s Patreon, there’s Kickstarter, there’s all kinds of ways to give money to artists or people who you think should be supported in some way. To what degree do you see this as just the future of everything, the future of web-based publishing, or anything that wants to get off the ground?
I think it’s good on the small scale and it helps out people who are doing small-scale things, but if you want to talk about something that’s large, that’s scalable, you can’t ... I mean, you couldn’t have something like this for a large company that employs 50 people or something like that. You can do it for someone who’s like, “Hey, I make these cool sculptures,” or whatever, and people will be like, “Oh, make more sculptures.” You can do that. But with very, very few exceptions, I don’t think you can have an economy where people derive their income solely through donations.
You need the big infrastructure to work it out?
Well, not only that, but ultimately it has to be like, “Look, if I’m going to do this thing, I would need you to pay me, and I need that to be guaranteed. I can’t just do the thing and hope you give me money, because I’ve got kids to feed.”
And Amazon can do that, and Crown Publishing can do that, exactly, right.
Yeah, no, and the traditional publishing route ... What you really get out of traditional publishing that people often overlook is the tremendous publicity and marketing engine and placement at getting your book in all the bookstores and things like that. That’s a thing. I don’t know how to do that, I can’t do that myself. I mean yes, they create the physical copies of the book, but distribution, and still, again, publicity and marketing, they’re fantastic, Crown is fantastic at that, and I wouldn’t even know where to start.
There’s a stark difference between how you put “The Martian” together and how you put “Artemis” together. “Artemis” wasn’t a free serial on your website, it wasn’t eventually Kindle bound, it was destined for print.
There is an Audible version as well, apparently?
Yeah, simultaneous releasing. Everything came out November 14th. I’m not sure when this will be aired.
It should be soon after.
But yeah, simultaneous release with the lovely and talented Rosario Dawson.
She’s voicing the ...
Is the narrator of the audiobook, and she did a fantastic job.
You have all this new infrastructure behind you on your second book.
Yeah, it’s awesome.
There’s an anticipation of like, okay, when’s your next book, Andy? Doing it that way wholesale as opposed to in the serial installments when you did” The Martian,” what was the difference just in the ... How did it feel different in terms of how you put it together?
Well, there are a few major differences. One of them was ... Well, one thing that I really enjoyed about working on “The Martian” was that I would get lots of feedback every chapter, right, so I’d post a chapter online and I’d get like hundreds of emails from readers saying like, “Hey, that was awesome,” yeah.
What happens next and what’s going to happen with ...
Yeah, right, and that really helps motivate me. That’s like, it’s exciting to me, and it’s like yes, I’ve got an audience, it’s cool. For “Artemis,” I’m just, I was by myself. I would give chapters to my editor and my agent to give me feedback on them just to make sure I’m not going completely off the map, but it wasn’t as exciting, it wasn’t as much of a thrill ride to have people constantly telling me I’m awesome, giving me that glorious external validation that I crave, right?
But one good thing about it was that “Artemis” was a much more complicated story, and it was more difficult for me to write, and so I had to go back and make changes to things like seven chapters ago to keep things working correctly. It would have been very difficult to do that in a serial.
And we’ll take a break. Here’s Peter with a word from our sponsor.
You go through a lot of things in “Artemis” in terms of the science, right?
Living in 1/6th gravity, in vacuum, and that sort of thing, but metallurgy, and chemistry, and ...
Welding, exactly. So did that get in the way at some point or do you really feed off of having that kind of deep background in how this thing actually works?
Oh, I love doing the research, I just can’t get enough of it. In fact, usually I have to go like, “All right, that’s enough, you’ve gone far enough down the old rabbit hole.”
“Let’s get back to the story,” right?
I have to get back to ... Well, and I only ... I have to be really stingy with what I tell the reader. I’m like, okay, the reader doesn’t want to read a 20-page treatise on the FFC Cambridge Process and how to do anorthite reduction into its base elements. They don’t want that — or maybe one or two people do, but most of them don’t — so I have to just say like, “Okay, only tell them the scientific background on things that are plot relevant,” and sometimes that’s hard, because it took me a long time to write this book, it should take you a long time to read it. That’s sometimes the feeling.
I certainly noticed that in the parts of the book where you really started to dig deep into this stuff. It isn’t just a personal thing, it actually drives the plot, it actually creates the contours of what you can and cannot do in the storyline.
Right. I started by designing the whole ... I had designed the whole city and worked out all the science and technology for it before I made any characters or storyline. One of the reasons I did that was because I didn’t want to warp the reality such that it was convenient for the plot. I started by saying, “This is the most realistic way to make a city on the moon. The plot and characters have to fit within that.”
I’ve read before that a lot of your sci-fi inspirations — Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, I grew up with these authors as well, I think they’re brilliant. “The Foundation Series” is one of my favorites of all-time.
But these are very out-there sci-fi, this is like ... This is very classic in a sense that — let’s skip past the mechanics of this for a second — you can travel in space, and they might get into weird mechanics about that, but for the most part it’s sort of decided this is happening. “The Martian,” “Artemis,” I can certainly see hints of all these kinds of things as inspiration, but you sort of forged your own idea of what sci-fi is.
I guess, yeah. I mean I like very scientifically accurate sci-fi. I want to not break the physical ... I don’t want to break the laws of physics. A lot of those juveniles, like things by Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke, didn’t violate any of those rules, they’re like, you have something like a ... what was it, the twin paradox, I think, was one of Heinlein’s?
And they’re traveling in a ship, but it can’t go faster than light. They’re traveling at relativistic speeds, and experiencing time dilation, and they do all that. Although actually at the end, they do figure out faster-than-light travel.
They do faster-than-light travel and time dilation is solved that way.
Yeah, I know, that’s always an issue with faster than light.
Right, well, and what was interesting is they had instant communication in that, that’s what the mental, the twins, but that people studying that instant communication in the book is how they figured out how to do faster-than-light travel. So there’s this one little violation of physics and then Heinlein had them explore it just like real scientists would, they’d be like, “Well, wait a minute.”
Right, and then they solved, yeah.
And then they solved it, yeah.
Exactly. No, I love that aspect of it as well. I guess what’s interesting about “Artemis” in particular, the feeling that I got a lot from the book is, I mean there is definitely sort of a cyberpunk kind of vibe to it.
I don’t know how much of that was intentional or not, but in terms of ... I guess what I’m talking about is, you do all along the economics of what a society is like like that, but the economy of the future, or how machines, or man-made situations, like how that drives progress, which is a lot of what cyberpunk deals with. I guess it’s what academics call postmodernism. How conscious was that? Was that an influence in any way?
I mean, certainly I would never have described “Artemi”s as cyberpunk. Maybe we have different definitions. To me, cyberpunk means like implants and like stuff like that, and there’s none of that in “Artemis,” but ...
No, it’s very kind of clean, I guess, you’ve got Gizmos, you’ve got people with their devices, basically.
Yeah, I mean technology like we have now.
Right, but how much of that still drives the plot, and not just that, but through the economics of living in a situation like that?
Yeah, I honestly believe that economics drives pretty much everything in the world one way or another, and so that was the first thing I had to do was work out what is the economic foundation of a city on the moon, like why would you do it at all? You don’t get a city full of people moving somewhere without there being some economic reason, and in “Artemis” the answer is tourism. The price of getting to low earth orbit and by extension to the moon is low enough that middle-class people can afford like a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the moon, and so Artemis is a remote tourist destination.
And I love that it’s not necessarily a big first-world nation that sets it up, it’s this really interesting, intricate way of getting into a smaller country. I won’t reveal necessarily here, but it’s worth taking a look at. I love the caper plot, I thought it was really interesting, it was compelling. It feels almost like it was tailor made for a feature film. Was that part of the impetus for that?
It wasn’t intentional. When I’m writing a book, I’m not going like ... I’m not trying to write it as a spec for a movie, I’m just writing a book. Although a lot of my influences are from cinema and television, and so probably I tend to think along those lines in terms of plot structure and stuff, so there may be some of that subconsciously, but I’m just trying to write a book here, not ...
You want a good story.
Yeah, I want a good story. I don’t want an elaborate movie pitch.
Well, so the film rights have been picked up for this book, right?
They have, yeah. Fox bought the film rights and they’ve attached Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the directing duo, to direct, and those two right now are kind of narrowing down the candidates for screenplay writer to do the adaptation.
How were you involved in “The Martian” filming? Were you around set at all?
My only job on that was to cash the check, and I did that really well.
Yeah, that’s not easy.
I had no authority or say. I had no responsibilities for “The Martian.” I also, I didn’t go to the set, because they shot it in Budapest and Jordan, and I’m afraid to fly.
I have heard that.
Yeah, now, and you’re wondering how I got from my home in Sunnyvale to here in New York City.
We’re in downtown Manhattan here, exactly.
Valium, lots of it.
There you go, that solves a lot of issues.
Yeah, well, and for the record, prescribed by a doctor and not just some guy on the street.
Also, I mean look, writers on a movie set, there isn’t much to do.
Yeah, no, it’s just ... Yeah, like priest on a honeymoon, it’s just ...
Well, so given all of that, how did you ... This is your baby, this is your project, they turn it into a film and it sort of goes out of your hands. I know this is not uncommon these days with big books like this. How did you feel about it? What was the experience like seeing it?
Oh, well, so I never had ... With “The Martian” I never had an opportunity ... Are we talking about “The Martian” or Artemis on this one?
Let’s start with “The Martian” first.
I never had an opportunity to feel nervous, because although I didn’t have any say in anything, Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay, chose to involve me, and so he was on the phone with me very frequently asking usually technical questions, and he’d send me revisions of the script to get my feedback and just to see what I thought. I saw that he’d done such an excellent job on the screenplay, I never got to the point where I had to be worried about anything, and then the execution was like flawless. I mean Ridley Scott, Matt Damon? It was unbelievably good.
It was a very well done film.
In “Artemis,” it’s like I’m not sure to what extent the eventual screenplay writer will choose to include me. Whoever they are, I’d be happy to be a resource for them, but other than that, I’d just say like, “Hey, I’d love to see the revisions as they go by.”
One thing that’s particularly interesting about “Artemis” is the female protagonist, right? First of all, it’s a female protagonist as opposed to a male protagonist, which is ... A lot of sci-fi is driven by male characters a lot of times, but also this character hails from Saudi Arabia, she’s not a white guy from Minnesota or something.
Yeah, so how did I end up doing this?
Yeah, how did you come to that?
Well, I didn’t sit down and go like, “I’m going to be inclusive.” That’s not how that worked out. What happened was my original plot — remember I said I designed the whole city before I came up with plots or character ideas — so the first plot that I outlined was completely different than what the book is now, and it had different main characters, different everything, and I had a need of kind of a likable smuggler character for two or three scenes, like this very, very tertiary character, and so that’s when I created Jazz.
Jazz is the main character, right?
I’m sorry. Yeah, Jazz, Jasmine Bashara is the main character. And I said, “Well, Artemis is a very international city.” It’s one of those things, it’s almost like the Old West, it’s like if you can afford to get here, you can live here. There’s no immigration rules or anything. And so I said, “Well, what’s a country I haven’t used yet? Oh, Saudi Arabia, and I’ll make her a woman, just why not?” And so that was really kind of the invention of Jazz, and I’m like, “All right, she’s this likable, probably smart ass, and that’s it.”
Well, anyway, unrelated to her, that story didn’t really work, the story that I’d come up with for it, I’m like, “Eh, this is not working, I don’t like it,” so I ditched that and I came up with a second, a different story idea to take place in the city. In that story, Jazz was more prominent, but still definitely a secondary character.
Oh, that’s interesting.
That story also didn’t really seem to work for me, but it was getting better, but I thought like, “Huh, Jazz is actually pretty interesting. So what if I wrote a crime story? What if I revolved it around this smuggler character who’s kind of funny and stuff like that? I think I could sink my teeth into that.” So that’s where I came up with what “Artemis” is, the version that you have before you.
The crime caper, right.
The crime caper. And by that time Jazz was so cemented in my mind as a Saudi woman that my imagination would have just rebelled if I’d tried to make her something I’m more familiar with, so I’m like, “Well, okay, I’m going to get right down in there too.” It’s a first-person narrative, you’re right there in her brain with her, and that’s, yeah.
So, you’re a white guy from California and the protagonist is a woman from Saudi Arabia. How did you make this leap?
Well, the cultural thing is easy, like her culture is Artemis, she’s ...
Displaced, right, it’s somewhere else.
It’s ... you can go, you’re made anew there, that’s sort of a lot of the premise of living on the moon.
Well, yeah, and also she’s lived on the moon since she was 6 years old, so she’s culturally ... Saudi culture is not a big part of her life. Her father is much more old country because he was an adult when he moved there, but she’s much more just the culture of Artemis itself. That was easy because I could make up that culture and ascribe those morals and beliefs to her, and so that’s no problem.
The biggest challenge, though, is ... Oh, and also in this future I just, there’s like, at least within Artemis there is like no sexism or racism for her to deal with.
It’s more a function of do you have money or do you not have money.
Right. And I presume ... Humans are humans, so there’s presumably sexism and racism within the city even in that era, but it’s not an issue during this story. The biggest challenge, the biggest deviance from my own brain is that this is a woman, and however equal men and women are intellectually, we still look at things differently, and so I had to, I gave it my best shot, and I gave the manuscript to every woman in my circle of trust who I could trust to not just throw it up on the Pirate Bay, right?
My editor’s a man, but his boss is a woman, and his assistant is a woman, and the copy editor was a woman, and when she was copy editing, I was saying like, “Please, also give me feedback on the believability of the female lines.” I gave a copy to my mom, I gave a copy to my girlfriend, people that I could trust to give me feedback on it and point out the parts where it’s like, “Eh, this is really how a guy would do things, not how a woman would do things.”
Oh, so they actually had some influence over how this all turned out?
Oh, for sure, and I made changes based on it, yeah.
Hold that thought, we’re going to take another break, and here’s Peter.
Thanks, Peter, and we’re back. The success of “The Martian,” the success of both the film and the book, landed you other things. You are also a producer of a TV series for CBS about next-generation NASA astronauts, what was it called?
That was called “Mission Control.” We shot a pilot for it and unfortunately CBS decided not to pick it up for a series.
I like the idea behind it, but TV is like that, right, there’s all kinds of ...
That’s TV, yeah, it’s ...
That’s great that you even got a pilot going in the first place.
Yeah, and it was a really cool experience, too, to be there for a production.
But you were the writer on that, is that right?
I was one of the writers.
One of the writers.
Well, I was an executive producer, a series creator, and one of the writers in the writer’s room. I wrote a pilot and then we got a bunch of writers together to basically rewrite the pilot to make it more what the network wanted and so on. It’s a big complicated process, but I was there for the shooting, I mean, I was there for the production itself.
Writers for TV tend to have more power than they do on film.
The showrunners do, yeah.
Exactly, right, yeah.
I was not the showrunner, to be clear.
You’re not the showrunner, but that’s sort of like the track for a lot of these guys is they start out as writers or part of a writing room.
Kind of, yeah. In a movie the director is the dictator, in a TV show the showrunner is the dictator.
The showrunner. Is that something you feel like you want to do more of in the future, like the experience of writing for a TV serial?
I would, I would like to do that, because I like the infinite canvas of television. When I say TV, I’m including streaming services, Netflix, that sort of thing, just video entertainment. It’s awesome, because in a movie, if you’re writing a movie you’ve got 90 to 120 minutes to establish characters, establish a plot, have the conflict, have a resolution, and then an epilogue, and you’re done. But if it’s a TV show, even if it’s like a 10-episode Netflix show, you’ve got 10 hours to tell your story.
You can be really expansive, right?
Yeah, and you can go off in directions, you can follow up on secondary characters, you can get justice for Barb, and so on.
So there was a little bit of controversy around the casting of that show in particular. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you had ...
Oh, on “Mission Control”?
Yes, for “Mission Control” I think you had written the ... The main characters were fairly diverse, but in the actual casting it didn’t turn out that way. Talk about that. What was that situation?
Well, the casting, basically it was a really rough pilot season. There were I think something like, without exaggeration, I think there were like 400 pilots made by various entities across, in the country, just in the U.S. You would think people have this vision of Hollywood of like, okay, the struggling actor, and the big production, stuff like that. The model has changed. All the rules have gone out the window now that there’s so many sources that create content, so you’ve got ...
It’s no longer just the networks. Now you’ve got like Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Hulu, you’ve got Amazon. Everybody is making original productions, so there’s a whole lot more demand for the performers than there ever was in the past, so now it’s no longer a buyer’s market, it’s a seller’s market. The performers are more ... It’s harder to get good performers than it is ... If you’re a name, if you’ve got a name, if you’re a known actor or actress, you will have probably ...
You are in so much demand now.
You’re in so much demand now, and so we tried to get people who were the right ethnicities for those roles, and they were just taken, like they had already signed onto other things, and also a lot of performers are just now ... Also, again, because it’s sort of a seller’s market now, they can do things like, they’ll say like, “Well, I’m interested in the show, but I’m not willing to do a 22-episode season, so I’m only willing to ...”
“I can’t commit for that,” right.
“I’m not willing ...” And it’s in their best interest, because a 22-episode season is like, that’s what you do all year, but if they say, “But if you’re willing to do a 10- or 12-episode season like the streamers do, then that frees up half of my time to go pursue movie gigs,” and so that works for them. But we have, CBS is like, “This has to be a 22-episode season,” and so we lost a lot of interest there. It was a very difficult and painful casting process, and we did get good performers, but we did not get the ethnicities that we were shooting for.
But you guys tried at first though?
I think there were two main leads with an African-American male lead, was that the original idea as you had written it?
The original idea was, yeah, an African-American male lead, the character of Stevenson who was the commander of the space station was originally slated to be African-American, and the flight director who’s the person in charge of mission control was originally going to be a Latino-American woman.
I love it, a white guy from California loves to get into these ethnic ...
Well, I’m not trying to make, it’s not a ...
I can see that you’re not purposefully trying.
I think it just seems like it’s some natural thing that you’re coming up with.
I don’t know, I guess I just ... It’s weird, when I’m coming up with characters they just kind of form in my head and they are what they are, and then I can’t change it. My imagination really doesn’t want me to change it.
Actually, so let’s jump back a second to “Artemis” and potential filming of it. It’s a really cool protagonist main character. Are you concerned about how that might be cast?
Actually, no, it is very clear that the studio is not messing around on this one.
They want to hew it as closely as they can to what you’ve written?
They, absolutely, yeah, they’re ... and in fact even to the point of they’re saying like, “Well, you know ...” they may end up having to, well, what they call a discovery, in other words you’ll have to get a lead that isn’t as well known, and then get the star power in the other characters if necessary. But there’s been so much backlash now in Hollywood for whitewashing characters that I think they’re taking it very seriously, or at least in the case of “Artemis” what I’m hearing ... Bear in mind, I’m a complete outsider to this process.
But what I’m hearing is they are very seriously ... They’re not messing around, they really, really want to get someone who’s at least the right kind of complexion to play a Saudi lead. It doesn’t have to be someone from Saudi Arabia, but there is actually a large pool of talent that are about the right complexion. You’ve got like people who are Arabs or Persians, and then you’ve also got Bollywood, right, and that’s a big pool of performers, and then you’ve got South Americans also, like ...
There is potentially a lot you can get.
There’s a large pool of potential performers. The trickier part is actually finding an actor who’s — actress — who’s young enough to pass for Jazz, but at the same time has the gravitas and name recognition to draw people into the theaters. There’s a whole bunch of business decisions involved, of course.
That seems to be how a lot of ... Of course, how films get greenlit is you have to get a big star to attach, and then the money comes in.
That’s part of it, yeah.
Yeah, exactly, so that’s always a tough, there’s a catch-22.
But there’s lots of characters in “Artemis,” so maybe we could get big stars in the other roles.
In these other roles, right. No, that’s a good point. Okay, so towards the end of this I want to get now to the tough questions. When will humans live on the moon?
Well, I went ahead and made my prediction in the 2060s for the beginning of construction of Artemis. “Artemis” takes place in the 2080s, so I gave us about 50 years to get to the point where we’ve driven commercial space travel, the price is down far enough that there could be a legitimate tourist industry.
You’ve actually, it’s out there in the book, this is your prediction for how and if it could happen?
Yeah, it’s my prediction of what could happen, and I actually wrote a paper about the economics of the commercial space industry, where it could go if they end up being as efficient as the commercial airline industry, and that’s on Business Insider, so they ... I think it’s on www.BusinessInsider.com.
We’ll look that up. Well, so I mean there are a lot of private enterprises now working on this idea. There’s Elon Musk with SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin. Is it going to be from one of these guys?
And some old-guard companies like Boeing are also not messing around on this, they’re working hard on it as well. Yeah, I think the best thing that can happen for commercial space travel is competition. My personal opinion is that I think NASA and, well, it’d be nice if all the space agencies did it, but I would like NASA to get completely out of the business of making boosters at all. I would like them to concentrate on space stations, spacecraft, manned missions, unmanned missions, whatever, but not the getting into orbit part, just the stuff that happens after it’s in orbit.
Because the getting into orbit part is solved, that we know how that works?
Well, it can be outsourced to companies based on bids, and then those companies would compete to have lower and lower prices, and that’s where you get the beginning of the technological development that eventually gets us to a commercial spaceflight industry that has appeal to the middle class.
And that’s what’s going to drive it.
If it’s something that’s ultimately affordable for the middle class, then you’d actually have an industry coming out of that.
Yeah, if you could go into space, if you could spend a few days in a space hotel for like $10,000 in modern-day money, a lot of people would do that, but that’s like out of the question right now.
That’s like a honeymoon vacation or something, or a ...
Well, I mean it’s out of the question right now to go into space for that much money; it costs tens of millions.
But if they drove it down to where middle-class people could afford it, then I believe you’d have that industry. As an example, I’ll say one of the greatest things in my opinion that has ever happened to the aeronautical industry is the vitriolic competition between Boeing and Airbus. Boeing and Airbus are two airline manufacturers, they’re in different countries, so that means they can’t screw with each other by just having lobbyists and trying to make policy that favors one or the other, they have to actually compete, and if you look at the advances in aircraft technology over the last 50 years, it’s phenomenal.
Because of this competition, whereas before there wasn’t as much?
Right. Now look at the advances in spacecraft technology in the last 50 years.
You’re from Silicon Valley, you grew up in Silicon Valley, you live there now, you’ve seen firsthand the power of someone like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, what Apple has wrought, Mark Zuckerberg. And a big part of “Artemis” is, as we talked about earlier, the economics of what it means to live on the moon and how that’s motivated, how it’s driven.
In the future, are we just going to be working for these guys in Silicon Valley? Are they basically just going to be taking over the world? You’ve been beneficiary of part of that infrastructure, or this emerging infrastructure, and space travel could come from Elon and/or Jeff, so what’s the future of that?
Well, I don’t buy into the idea that it would be a monopolistic ownership of space travel. Now, in this story, in “Artemis,” there is a single company that owns Artemis itself and they rent out space in it, but the companies that operate within Artemis are their own things. We’re in a big building here in Manhattan, some entity owns that, but all of the individual companies in here are their own entities renting space in the building, right? It’s the same concept.
In other words, if that’s going to work there will have to be competition?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. If you don’t have competition then you just don’t have advancement or development.
Before we wrap up, what’s next? What are you working on right now?
Well, right this moment I’m poking at ideas for, and I’ve written a little bit on it, for a sequel to “Artemis.”
Yeah, it’s actually a different main character than Jazz, so it takes place in the same setting, but it’s not a direct sequel, and I would love to do that. I would love to write lots of stories that take place there, but I’m not going to dive too deep into it until I see how well “Artemis” is received.
Is that something that ... It seems to make sense for, I don’t know, we talked earlier about TV as sort of an expansive medium. Could that be something that lands at like a Netflix or an Amazon Studios or something?
Well, Fox owns the film rights.
That’s right, of course.
So it would have to be Fox.
It would have to be Fox, all right.
If they wanted to, and actually the way things work, the movie side of a company and the TV side are usually very, very different entities, so it belongs to Fox Features, so it’s very unlikely it would end up being a TV show.
All right, so maybe another movie?
Maybe another movie, yes.
Maybe a sequel of that, yeah.
Andy, thanks so much.
Thank you for having me.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.