Diana Gabaldon on the Outlander TV Series

A week ago we shared Part I of Diana’s interview where she shared her writing process. On Travel Tuesday you got to follow my adventure touring the STARZ Outlander filming locations courtesy of Viator. Today we learn more about the STARZ TV series from Diana and find out what it was like working with Ron Moore and the team.

GTL: The TV series. How involved were you in the process? We see your name come across the screen as a consultant. What does that entail?

DG: It’s interesting. I was made a consultant as a term of the contract. As my agent said at the time, a consultant means anything or nothing. Most production teams would like you to stay well away from them. Now, if for some reason you hit it off, or you have something that they value, then they might ask you to do something.

Anyways, Ron Moore and his production partner Meryl came up to my house and spent two days with me before they took Outlander to the cable networks to pitch. We talked about characters, storylines and backstories. They asked if there was anything that I hadn’t published that might help them with this. We talked about where storylines went in the future books. We hit it off very well and I explained to them that I do in fact know what visual adaptation means, because I used to write comic book stories. I’ve written a graphic novel and I know that how you tell a story in pictures is different than you do in text.

They were sharing with me their ideas for adaptation. Ron was saying that the first book is rather slow starting, but that’s okay because the prose will carry you along into the more exciting stuff. He said you couldn’t do that in a show. It has to be visually riveting from the first moment or the viewer will change the channel. Ron said that what he’d like to do is start it with Claire and show her in a situation that is so quintessentially her that we will grasp her essence immediately. He proposed a two minute visual prologue set in WWII where we will see her as a nurse in the combat hospital, saving lives and staunching blood and the viewer will realize exactly what Claire is made of without having to say anything more about her backstory. We’ll find out more as we need to. I agreed that it was a great idea. We got along very well and respect each other’s process.

To begin with, as they got things going and up to speed they were very busy, but also very courteous about updating me. They sent me the audition tapes for Sam Heughan and Tobias, then later for Catriona. I was thinking, that’s great, terrific! I asked later what would they have done if I didn’t like them? They said, well, we hadn’t thought that far! We were just crossing our fingers and hoping you would. Well, I did.

GTL: You and Ron seem very connected on things and in agreement.

DG: Yes, we do very well together. They weren’t sure how good I would be with their changes – it’s an adaptation – but, they showed me their original outlines. Early in the process I went to New York at STARZ request to do a big fan event, where I met Ron again. It was the first time I’d seen him since our original meeting. It went great. We were in the cab on the way to the event and he was explaining some more of his ideas to me and he was telling me about episode eight which is where Jamie and Claire come together. Ron talked about Frank’s search for Claire and how he wanted to play up Frank so that we would feel the desperation of her choice when she finally has to make it. The book is all told in the first person, so we have to intuit this.

I said that it sounded great. He asked more little details, for example he asked whether it was important or not that the flowers at the beginning are forget me not’s. I said yes and told him why. When we got there, we were waiting around backstage with Carmi Zlotnik who was the head of production for STARZ and who was introducing the event. Anyways, Carmi asked if I’d like to see some of the footage, she had some on her laptop. I said of course I would, and so we were sitting on this ratty old sofa back there and Carmi opens his laptop, I’m watching it with Ron sitting next to me. He sniffs and I look over and he’s actually tearing up because he is so moved at watching me see the footage. At that point they realized how much I enjoyed the footage so they started sending me more, as they felt more comfortable with me. By the third or fourth episode they began to show me the rough scripts, inviting comments, which I would give very sparingly – I wanted them to keep showing me stuff. The scripts are very good, the writers are excellent. Once in a while there will be something that I notice is going to cause a slight problem down the road plot-wise, or if something can’t be done due to backstory. There was one scene about the return to Lallybroch where Jamie is telling Claire about his father and explaining that this place came down to him through generations. I had to explain that no, it didn’t, because Brian was a bastard. He built this place himself. It was really nothing to change; it was just something that they didn’t know.

Diana Gabaldon Interview

Photo taken at the Black Kirk STARZ filming location in Scotland

There was another earlier script during the “Rant” episode where Claire wanders away from the [men] and finds her way to a group of village women. In the original scene, which worked very well, the writer had them in a village like Inverness or Cullross with the cobbled streets and the stuccoed houses. She had Claire walking down the street, see a vase in a window and stop to look at it. The woman of the house came out, they got into conversation and the woman gave her the vase. The woman invited Claire into her house where the family were all sitting around playing cards and drinking tea. I wrote back and had to suggest they check the scene with their historian, knowing full well that it could have happened in London in 1935 but it couldn’t have happened in the Highlands in 1743 and this is why not. Aside from the fact that in the 1920s they thought playing cards was a mortal sin and women wouldn’t have played cards anywhere except London, they didn’t have tea for the most parts. They didn’t have those kinds of houses or roads; it would have been a little hamlet with thatched roofs, but also women worked from dawn to dusk. It was a very hard scrabble for life. Everybody worked nonstop and they were not idly socializing. What they would have been doing was milking the goats, gathering hay, or possibly digging their vegetable gardens. I suggested that if the writers wanted a communal activity I’d recommend wool waulking, which is where they get together and squish the padding.

GTL: The urine was a bit much for me.

DG: Historically accurate, though. It’s what they would use to set the dye. I also explained that there are traditional wool waulking songs that could look very cinematic. They were very obliging and went to find the Newtonmore Museum of Highland Life, which was where they filmed the scene with re-enactors. So, I do have the odd suggestion that they appreciate, but I am very careful about what I say.

GTL: Did you enjoy your acting experience? You had a very good Scottish accent. Did they give you any vocal coaching?

DG: Thanks. Oh yeah it was a lot of fun. I’ve written it for a very long time, so I kind of know how it goes, but they gave me a half hour with their dialect coach, Carol Ann Crawford to go over the phonetics and the pronunciation. My younger daughter married a nice young Scotsman, and [after filming the scene] we were walking off to dinner as I was explaining the experience. My daughter asked what my line was, I repeated it for her and my Scottish son-in-law looks at me startled and says, “That’s actually good!”

Diana Gabaldon Interview

GTL: When you get a compliment from a local, you know you have it. I’ve watched the STARZ interview for the premiere and my favourite line of yours by far was “My God man, you have one fine ass!” I think you won over women around the world with that.

DG: Yeah, well he had warning. Sam and I have been friends, pretty much from the beginning. We tweet back and forth and do email. At one point he was telling me that they had to go back and re-film part of the wedding because Ron didn’t think it looked romantic enough. Sam had told me before that this was the most tedious filming he had ever done. It just went on and on and everyone was freezing to death. He told me when they were finally done with the reshoot and told me he hoped it looked all right. I had been getting the dailies so had seen it; I assured him it looked fine. They’d also sent me the rough cut of the wedding night. They don’t send me what they call “closed set” stuff, but I do see the part of it that they decide to use. Anyways, I did tell him that yes, the scene looked good, but that honesty compelled me to add that he has one fine ass. He laughed and said thank you. I’m sure he was okay with it. Sam rolls with the punches and is used to me throwing hot potatoes at him in public.

 Again, huge thanks to Diana for participating in this interview! 

If you want to experience a little of Outlander for yourself, I highly recommend taking part in the Outlander TV Locations Tour. It made my fan-loving day!

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