Interview: Ron Moore and Ben McGinnis Discuss the New AR App, For All Mankind: Time Capsule, with Journalists

For All Mankind: Time CapsuleToday, Apple held a press junket with creator and executive producer Ron Moore and executive producer Ben McGinnis to talk about the new augmented reality app For All Mankind: Time Capsule, released today, which brings the world of the series right into your home. Through the app you can uncover memories from Danny Stevens (Casey Johnson) and his parents, astronauts Gordo (Michael Dorman) and Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones), through keepsakes of Danny’s that will give you insight to the events that took place between seasons one and two.

Below is the transcript of the round table discussion in which SciFi Vision took part. Be sure to also check out the official press release and video preview if you haven’t already. The ten-episode second season premieres on Apple TV+ Friday, February 19th.

With regards to the storyline that's in the app, how much of this was drawn from what you already had written out for the show, and how much did you create specifically for this app?

BEN McGINNIS: I think the story of Danny's romance, his first love and then eventual breakup, is pretty much exclusive to this to this experience, but just in general, so many details that come up about the characters and the larger world of For All Mankind that just don't have the time or the space to get them in the episode. So, we always talked about expanding the story beyond the episodes and that AR and VR would be a great medium for that. There're lots of great hints and Easter eggs in there. There're callbacks to season one as well as stuff looking forward into season two.

This is a specific moment in 1980 and it's specific to the Stevens’ home. So, we're saying these are objects that are in their home at this moment in time, and yes, they are specific to Danny and his first love.

So, in terms of hints and stuff for season two, there're hints at the technology, how that's advancing on the Apple II computer. We have digital mail, which is like an early version of email in our world. There's a newscast where you get hints at how the history is changing, and you also get some some character hints as well with Gordo's and Tracy's careers and where they are.

QUESTION: Was there any particular thing that inspired this as an idea for season two? Was this something you had planned to do for season one or just something that came about naturally?

RON MOORE: We've been talking amongst ourselves about the potential of AR and even VR as storytelling devices for several years. So, really, when the project came up, it was just a great opportunity to meld those ideas together and to really be able to exploit it for the first time. A lot of the things that are in the AR experience, like Ben was saying, are things that come directly out of the show. Some things were created specifically for this experience and some things were just expansions on ideas that had been kicked around in the writers’ room in one way or the other. But I'd say our interest in the technology and our interest in this aspect of storytelling predates even season one. It was something we've been we've been talking about doing just in general about how to how to produce a television show in a new and interesting way.

BEN McGINNIS: Yeah, and it was a natural pairing with Apple and being able to utilize their technology. I'm a little bit of a tech geek myself, and I like to say that Apple keynote presentations, whenever they're announcing the latest products, are like my Super Bowl. So, it was so cool to get to work with him on this, and AR seemed like the right medium to do it, just because you've already got a billion devices that can access this experience, a billion Apple devices all over the world that are ready to go and can download this app and experience it.

QUESTION: So, this is kind of an in between season one and season two thing. Should we expect to see more based on season two or more experiences like this in the future?

BEN McGINNIS: I think we'll have to see. We had a great time creating this experience with the AR team at Apple, and we'd love to do more. We're excited to get this one out here and see how it's received.

QUESTION: Since the story of the app is kind of filling in what happens in the time skip between season one and season two, I just wanted to ask you, from a storytelling perspective, why did you want to do a ten-year time jump between season one and season two?

RON MOORE: It was kind of baked into the premise when we first conceived the show. The space program that we didn't get was a core concept to For All Mankind, and in order to really tell that story, it had to be multi-year, multi-decades to really watch as we go from the Apollos to the shuttle to Mars and beyond. So, right away, we were telling a story that was going to take place over many decades. We just decided early on as a writing group that, okay, the structure of the show would be every season we would jump ahead roughly 10 years or so. So, we always knew we were going to go into the 80s for the second season, and that just brought up a lot of fun things, everything from music and pop culture to serious geopolitical things like the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Reagan administration, the militarization of space, and it sort of became the language of the show. So, as we go into the future, we'll continue that kind of format to keep jumping ahead about ten years.

QUESTION: We saw the Apple II; we saw VCR, Betamax. What were some of the more fun things for you guys to visualize and play with?

BEN McGINNIS: Obviously, the Apple II is great. I love the Crater Quest game that the the AR team created, and obviously that's a nod to Molly in season one, rappelling down the crater and finding ice on the moon. I also really like the mix tape; I think it's great for getting across the story and developing that story of the relationship between Danny and Lisa. And it's fun to play around with the Walkman and also hear some classic songs by iconic artists. So, it really adds a lot of fun to the experience.

SCIFI VISION: Could you talk a bit about how you decided, not necessarily with the computer and those tech things you needed, but how you decided what objects to actually put inside the box?

BEN McGINNIS: It tied into what was best to tell that story of that relationship, but also what's interactive and fun to play around with. So, we're at the forefront of telling stories in this technology, so there was a little bit of trial and error about what's best and where we are creating that language. One of the things I really like as well is the paper fortune teller, just because it is so interactive, and you can go back to it multiple times and piece together different parts of the story.

QUESTION: Since the Apple II is so prominently featured in the app, and this is an Apple show, is there an opportunity to tell a divergent history of Apple where we get Lisa instead of the Macintosh?

RON MOORE: [laughs] These things were discussed, but we're not going down that road.

QUESTION: How do you think it changes the audience experience to be able to see what happened during the ten years or get hints to what's happened during the ten years to this app, versus going into the second season cold and not really having that filled in backstory?

RON MOORE: I think you can do either one. I mean, certainly it's not necessary to do this in order to enjoy the second season, but I think it does kind of tee it up in an interesting way. And I think it's more fun if you're a fan of the show, and you're interested in the world of For All Mankind. It's sort of a tantalizing prospect. "Oh, what's been going on? What are they about to do?"

We definitely talk about a lot of the events that occurred in the ten-year jump on the show itself. So, there is a bit of a catch up at the beginning, and events are referred to over the course of the season. So, we do kind of fill in a lot of it, but you can only do so much in the show, because we are telling a story; we've got character and so on. So, AR provides you an opportunity to go deeper.

If you're a fan of anything, if it's For All Mankind, or it's Dickinson, there's a part of you that just wants to know more, that just wants to know a little bit more than what the TV show is telling you, wants to see what's behind that door or what that message could have been or what else is going on in the lives of the characters. So, for a fan, it just provides a way to immerse themselves in that universe another step.

BEN McGINNIS: Yeah, and even if you're not a fan of the show, or you're just curious about AR, I think it does have a story that everybody can relate to and hopefully will be a fun experience for anyone to enjoy.

QUESTION: How can anyone not be a fan of the show? Oh, gosh. Were there any particular objects or songs that you knew in creating this experience you wanted to include?

BEN McGINNIS: Well, the songs were a little tricky. Those were kind of coming together last minute, because it depended on what we could get the rights to and licensing, but, obviously, [we were] trying to find specific ones that tied into the story of the first kiss, the first dance. Then we also have Jeff Russo, our great composer on the show; his score is kind of underneath the whole thing. So, it was really just about what would best immerse you in the world of For All Mankind.

RON MOORE: I think, for me, I think I always knew that I wanted the newscasts in particular to be part of this, because the newscasts are something that I love in the show, and we've shot a lot of them, and inevitably they would get pared down and pared down. You couldn't really spend time. Just for me, personally, I find that aspect of the alternate history really fascinating, to see newscasts of the period done in an alternate way. So, I always wanted to include that in whatever format we were playing around with in the AR experience.

QUESTION: I think we saw in one of the first segments of the app, you see Danny's notebook from social studies that kind of has a timeline of the space race. I'm just curious, is that similar to some kind of master doc or master timeline that you guys as writers of the show have outlining what did still happen and what didn't? We get a little taste of that at the beginning of the season, but just curious.

RON MOORE: Yeah, I mean, one of the very first things I wrote up for the show was a master alternate timeline that took up pages, and we've been embroidering on that ever since. It's continually updated in the writers’ room and in the show bible. It was sort of fundamental. I thought, “If you're telling an alternate history piece like this, well, what is the timeline? What is the sequence of events?” And the history aficionado in me geeked out on the fun of, "Okay, well, let's make a whole alternate history of the late 20th century."

BEN McGINNIS: There're so many details like that tucked into every nook and cranny of this app, and so I hope people really spend a lot of time with it and come back to it and can find all that stuff in there.

QUESTION: How was it working with the cast members, especially the new cast members for season two, into recording content for this app?

BEN McGINNIS: They were great and excited to do it, and we were happy to have them.

RON MOORE: I think they were interested in something outside their normal job. It's like, "Oh, here's a new thing that we're working on. You want to play around with this?" They were intrigued by the concept and were sort of like, "Oh, this is kind of interesting, kind of cool, and getting to do something new and different." So yeah, I think there was a sense of everyone being on the edge of something new, and the cutting edge technology, I think, stirred everyone's creative juices.

SCIFI VISION: You chose to focus on Danny Stevens and the Stevens family, but I'm assuming that through maybe the notebook, we're still going to get updates on the other characters as well, or is mostly the whole story focused on that family?

BEN McGINNIS: Yeah, it's mostly just the Stevens and then those hints and clues about what's going on in the larger world.

QUESTION: Since we do have the one little reference to Shane in the demo, will we get any more information on the fallout from that, or is that going to be just a series thing?

BEN McGINNIS: Yes, Shane does come up in in the AR experience. Obviously, he was friends with Danny, and they had a close relationship, and then it ties into actually how he and Lisa met. But coming into the series, that's something that will be carried forward with the characters even though it's ten years later.

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