20 - 28 minutes readRX interviews…. STEVEN L. SEARS!

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Mary: I would like to thanks Mr. Sears a lot for being so attentive and considerate with our questions! 

Steven: First, let me thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. I apologize for how long it’s taken me to get through them, but I’ve been pretty busy for a while. Not to mention that we had yet another Xena convention here in L.A. and that takes a lot out of me!

I haven’t had a chance to go through and correct typos and such, so I apologize for the ones that are there (and I know they are!).  I also know that you will most likely be translating into Portuguese or Spanish, so hopefully the meaning or any English idioms will survive the translations.

With that, here are my answers: “


1 – One thing every fan have realized about you Steven, is how much you care about the show, how much you remember about the show after all these years. You are probably the biggest “xenite” among the XENA writers. So let me ask you, what does “Xena Warrior Princess” mean to you after all these years, not just writing stories for the show, but attending Xena Conventions and being part of Xenaverse?

I’ve worked on many different shows.  Some people think that my career began with Xena, but it didn’t.  I’d been working as a writer in Television for over ten years when Xena came along.  And every series is different. 

But the biggest thing about Xena, the thing that separates it from all the other series I’ve worked on, is the fans.  And though other series have had fans, I’ve never worked on a series that had such a devoted fan base as Xena. 

Xena fans appreciate the series; they appreciate the writing, the acting, the directing, the production and they recognize that there are actual people who brought that all about.  Most fans just pay attention to the actors and think the series begins and ends with them.   There is no way Xena would have been anywhere near the success it was without Lucy and Renee, but Xena fans understand it wouldn’t have been a success without everyone else working behind the scenes.  Those of use who produced the show appreciate the fact that WE are appreciated.

I enjoy the fans, I enjoy hanging out with them, I enjoy listening to them.  The vast majority of our fans are interesting, intelligent people who share a passion.  They come from all walks of life; all ages, all races; and you can find them worldwide.  I just enjoy their company! 


2 – A general impression we fans have – at least here in Brazil -, is that one of the characters you most care about is Gabrielle. What do you think about the character and her evolution through the show?


Early on, I attached myself to Gabrielle as I thought she was more than a side-kick.  Instead of her standing on the sidelines, I thought she should be her own character with equal participation in the series.  Yes, it was called Xena and it would always revolve around her, but Gabrielle, in my mind, was the most important component to Xena’s journey.  Just before Xena actually saw Gabrielle, she was ready to give it all up.  Xena was burying her weapons which, considering how many people wanted her dead, was her way of giving up on life.  But when she saw Gabrielle, and saw how Gabrielle was standing up to Draco’s men, something sparked in her and brought out that part of her that had long since been buried.  The part that could make a difference for good instead of evil.

I’m happy that I was an important part of Gabrielle’s evolution.  For me, Gabrielle’s journey was the heroic journey.  She voluntarily chose to walk from the light (her safe and secure home) into the dark (the evil of Xena’s world).  At first, it was because she was attracted to Xena and awed by her.  But, later, it was because she knew she was on a path to something.  She had to explore it.  She was part of a Greater Good and realized she had to play it out.

Up to the point that I left the show (midway through the fifth season) I was very happy with Gabrielle’s growth.  She had gone from simple peasant girl to somewhat of a warrior herself, but a warrior with a sense of right and wrong.  After I left, well, I can’t say too much about that because I truly haven’t seen any episodes since I left the series.


3 – What are your impressions about the new TV show, “Legend of the Seeker”? Do you think it will reach the same success as Xena had?

It’s still too early to say, but I don’t think it will reach the success of Xena.  And that doesn’t mean that it will fail.  Understand, very VERY few series have the kind of success Xena had.  The odds are just too much against it.  Xena has become a part of our pop culture.  Anytime you hear anything referenced as “Warrior Princess” or some variation, that was a result of Xena.

Seeker is a different story and told differently.  When we did Xena, we were very careful to correct people when they called us a “Sword and Sorcery” series.  We were sword, but definitely not sorcery (we had gods, but not magic).  However, Seeker is a true Sword and Sorcery series.  It doesn’t have the sense of humor Xena had, it’s much much more dramatic, and it has a different tone.  And, one thing other that Xena had was that it touched an empowerment chord among so many people.  Seeker has yet to do that.  And, in fact, Seeker may not be the kind of series that CAN do that.

Still, it has a great look.  I wish it success because I know so many people associate with it.


4 – The years have passed by and the hope (no pun intended) for a Xena Movie are not so strong anymore. If the studio decided to make a movie in 2009 and you were the chosen one to write it’s script, would you choose to write a story with Xena coming back to life or another story not connected with the AFIN events?


First, let me say that I’ve never been approached by anyone in regards to a Xena movie.  Not as a writer, producer or participant.  I’m not complaining, I’m just clarifying that I know just as little as anyone else about it. 

IF I was asked to write a script for a Xena movie, it would really depend on who was producing it and what they wanted.  But if it was left to me, I would pick up after AFIN and continue the mythology.  It’s not like we haven’t brought Xena back from the dead before, you know.  I have not seen AFIN so I can only go on what fans have told me.  But, according to what I have heard, there are still many unanswered questions and hanging threads.  If that’s true, then there is an opportunity to find yet another story to tell.


5 – What’s your favorite season of XENA and why?

Okay, best to understand that I don’t answer “favorite” questions.  It’s not that I have anything against them, I’m just not wired to think of things as “favorite”.  It really depends on my mood at any moment and what you mean by favorite.  People have asked me what my favorite episode is and I can’t answer that.  They all are my favorites depending on what you want to focus in on.  And even then.  So I could say first season because we were still exploring.  I could say third season because we took it in a direction most series wouldn’t dare touch.  But let’s just say I enjoyed all the seasons for different reasons.


 “…what Xena and Gabrielle were to each other isn’t just exclusive to fiction.”

6 – There’s all this thing about ubers and reincarnations of Xena and Gabrielle. Well, let’s suppose a couple in other series, books or movies, characters that are the reincarnations of Xena and Gabrielle. Which ones do you think they would be? (ex. Romeo and Juliet, Mulder and Scully, Will and Grace etc.).

It’s a good question.  All of those are good examples but none of them are perfect in my mind.  So I’ll go more philosophical and say that it’s Marilyn and Amanda.  Or George and Thomas.  Or Julie and Daniel.  It’s the regular person.  It’s not fictional people, it’s the day to day people I see who find a friend that is more than a friend.  It could be you and your best friend.  And that best friend could be your lover.  I’d like to think of it that way; that what Xena and Gabrielle were to each other isn’t just exclusive to fiction.


7 – And now, something all Brazilian fandom wants to know: would you attend a Xena Con in Brazil?

Well…..yeah.  I’d love to!  I’ve always wanted to visit Brazil and I ALWAYS like to meet fans and friends.  One thing I’ve always said about Xena is that wherever I travel in the world, as long as there is a television set in the country, I’ll have a friend there.  Brazil would be wonderful.  Anyone willing to take me around and show me the sights?


8 – What did you mean about “Them Bones, Them Bones” from Fifth Season? Does it have anything to do with Alice in Chains’ song?

The source of the title precedes Alice in Chains by many many years.  First, let me say that the final version of the episode “Them Bones” was a rewrite of my story.  I was already on my way off to my new series, so I wrote the story and it was taken by the Xena staff and, as was usual, rewritten for the series.  If I had been actively working on staff at that time (as I had been from the first season till then) I would have done all my own rewrites.  But I was already gone, so others handled it.  I’ve not seen the episode and I only read the rewritten script when it was sent to me.  So all I can respond to is the title.  The title came from the old old folksong called “Dem Bones” which described how the various bones connected to each other.  As a skeleton was going to be significant in the episode, the title seemed like a good one.  Although, to be honest, I can’t remember if I came up with the title or someone else on the staff did.

9 – We, Xenites to the bones, know deep in our hearts how we feel about the show, that is not a simple one, it’s an inside universe of our own. Can you explain if you felt or still feel about XENA this same strange and amazing way, the special emotion we got watching and living Xena’s adventures? How can you explain that?

I can state without any qualifications that I don’t feel the same way that the fans do toward the show.  Neither does anyone else who was connected with making the show.  It just has to do with the fact that we are so close to the show, so close to the making of it, that we can’t possibly feel the same way you do.

Put it this way: Let’s say you went to a magic show and the magician was so incredibly good that you were just completely blown away with his performance.  It affected you.  However, now consider the magician’s point of view.  Or that of his assistant.  They know how the illusions were made.  They also know all the OTHER choices they COULD have made to perform their magic.  They can’t be blown away or affected by it.  Their point of view and their reason for attachment to the magic show is different from the audience.

HOWEVER… what the magician is affected by is the response of the audience.  Same with me and the rest of us on the show.  The fan’s response gives us a sense of awe, satisfaction, appreciation, and thrill that you, the fan, will never understand.   Filmmakers, no matter who they are, try to put something of themselves in their work.  And something of their philosophies in their work.  The fact that Xena fans saw that and appreciated it was thrilling to us.  Still is.  We made you laugh, we made you cry, we made you feel and, more importantly, we made you feel connected to our series.  I can’t possibly describe how fulfilling that is. 

Every time I get a letter from someone describing how Xena has affected their lives for the better, I can’t help but feel that all over again.


10 – Did any of the actors oppose to their character’s storyline throughout the show?

Hmmm….. not that I really remember.  I mean there were comments here and there, but no one actually said that they had a huge problem with something.  I remember giving Danielle the choice of whether Ephiny died or was seriously wounded in Endgame, and she decided to go with the death because she didn’t feel her character had potential to grow (and, from her perspective, she wasn’t wrong in that thought).  But other than that, no.  Probably a better question for Rob Tapert since he got more of their response than I did.


11 – How did you use to get inspired while writing the scripts down?

Not sure what you mean.  Do you mean where did I get the ideas for stories or what did I use to keep me going during the writing process?  For the first question, I got my ideas from everywhere.  Life, news, notions, it’s just my way of looking at the world.  I can’t see things without asking a question about what I take for granted.  And, sometimes, it was Rob asking me to come up with a story about a specific thing.  For example, I had an idea I’d wanted to write about an orphaned child whose mother comes back to claim him even though she promised never to do that.  One day Rob said he’d played with the idea of Xena having a lost son.  I grabbed it and merged the ideas, creating “Orphan of War”.

Now as to being inspired WHILE writing the script, well, I’m a writer, so it’s what I do.  I don’t need to keep my inspiration going, it’s always there.  I do like to listen to music when I write.  In fact, Joe LoDuca’s music is a great background to my writing, even now.


12 – There’s any XENA’s episode you wrote which you dislike the most? Could you name one you were really proud of?

Again, this is like a “favorite” question.  I’m proud of all of them for various reasons.  And I have problems with all of them for various reasons.  Truly, the answer is that I am most proud of the ones that affected you the most in a positive way.


13 – Would you go on and try out more “taboo” issues if you were writing XENA in the present moment?

Sure.  One thing that Rob always impressed upon us was risk-taking.  No matter how bizarre the idea was, we’d explore it as a possible episode.  Some didn’t make it, most of them did.


14 – In the episode “Between the Lines”, we had Gabrielle’s style changing drastically, the whole path choice approach and the pre-confirmation of their death. Were you preparing the way for an impending Big Finale or spicing things up for a probable 5th season?


In “BTL”, I was exploring where I thought the characters would go in future incarnations of their characters.  The idea of reincarnation is that you have many lifetimes to reach ultimate fulfillment.  If you improve in one lifetime, you progress in the next one.  If you don’t, you fall back in the next one.  I wanted to show where Xena and Gabrielle would be assuming they were both progressing toward their fulfillment.  But, more importantly, I wanted to show that these two souls were intertwined for eternity.  No matter who they were in progressive lives, they were always connected and coming together.  Gabrielle’s progression was as a truly charismatic, kind and strong ruler.  Xena’s was as a pacifistic, realistic peacemaker.  Alti, on the other hand, had not progressed in her many incarnations and was just as evil as she had been generations ago.
The Finale and the fifth season weren’t really thoughts during my creation of the story.  But they both had to include elements I had created in BTL.


15 – Can you tell us about a tough experience or a ticklish situation back in those days?

Hmmm… not sure what you mean.  Nothing that really stands out.  I mean, it was a long stretch of time, with many experiences, but I can’t say there was any time when there was a particularly remarkable situation to deal with.  As I’ve said, I had dealt with TV production for eleven years before Xena.  There was little I hadn’t seen or dealt with already.

There was a situation dealing with a fan-run convention, though.  This convention was not licensed by Universal Studios, but it managed to get a lot of us to appear (Kevin Smith and Karl Urban’s first U.S. appearances, for example).  Up until that time, Universal had looked the other way when Fans wanted to have Xenafests (which was when several Xena fans got together at a restaurant, for example, and watched videos).  This was important because other studios, at that time, were sending cease and desist letters, threatening legal action if fans did anything like that.  But Universal was allowing it to happen for Xena fans.  However, this particular convention wanted to make a presentation of Xena items to the local Planet Hollywood restaurant (a restaurant with a TV/Film theme and museum).  Some of the guest actors would be the ones actually making the presentations.  Suddenly, Universal lawyers were getting involved threatening legal action. 

I was caught in the middle because I was a producer working for Universal but I was also a guest.  So, I contacted the studio lawyers and they explained to me that they didn’t want to shut down the convention; in fact they wanted it to go on.  What the problem was was that the presentation would, in fact, give the impression that Universal was involved in this convention and supported it.  That would create problems for the Studio.  Now, Universal had every legal right to shut down the convention completely, but that’s not what they wanted to do.  I give them full credit for being smart enough to realize it would only hurt the fans.  They just didn’t want the presentation to be made to Planet Hollywood.  I agreed with them and talked to the convention organizers.  One of them wasn’t happy with it and wanted to fight it, but in the end, the presentation was canceled and the convention when on as scheduled.  Again, I have to say that Universal handled themselves in a very good and considerate manner.

16 – If the other producers would get reunited to make some extra episodes of the show, would you collaborate?

Sure.  When do we start?

17 – Which aspect in the show calls your attention the most?

I’m not sure what you mean, so I can’t really answer that one.


18 – In your opinion, what is the main reason that XWP still makes so much success among people, bringing fans each day?

I think that many people are still attracted to the action, that’s a given. There are those who are also attracted to the sexuality of the leads and characters, that’s normal.  However, I think the long term reason these people become real fans is because the series was, at it’s core, about the relationship between two characters and the human stories they became involved with.  Character stories are timeless, people connect with them.  When we see action heroes, we tend to fantasize that we are like them.  But when we see stories about real people relating to each other with the joys and difficulties that we all experience, we connect to them.

And there’s also the fact that, I think, many can see the fun we actually had in making the episodes.  I mean, we’d do one episode dealing with very serious issues, then do a complete comedy where we just wanted to throw logic to the winds and have fun.  I think the audience appreciated that.  They still do. 


19– If you could rewrite AFIN, how would it be?

I’ve been asked this many times.  First, let me say that I was not there when it was discussed or plotted.  Also, I have not seen the episode, I’ve only heard fans talking about it.  I can’t question or second guess anything in the episode.  At the end of the day, Rob did what he felt was best for the series and, since without him there wouldn’t have been a Xena series, it’s hard to criticize him for his choices. 

The way I had always envisioned the ending was with a huge coming together of the armies of the world.  We had often referenced a battle of Corinth where the world changed; the Centaur and Amazon nations were fragmented, for example.  When Xena truly became the Destroyer of Nations.  So I had envisioned another such battle except this time for the future of the world.  At the heart of it, Xena would realize that the world need a Light to take them into the new world of peace and goodness. And that light was Gabrielle.  Therefore Xena would still have died, but would have died giving her last breath to insure that Gabrielle would take her place on the throne as the new Light.  In the final scene, I had always pictured Gabrielle literally on a Throne as the leaders of the nations bowed before her.  But, behind her, in a ghostly image, you would see Xena, her hand resting on Gabrielle’s shoulder, letting us know that her spirit would always be there for her.

That’s how I would have approached it.  So I, also, would have had Xena die.  But the reasons around it would have been different.

Is my idea better?  No.  It wasn’t done.  In fact, I never spoke to anyone about it while I was there.  AFIN is what Rob and RJ chose to do and I stand by that ending as the legitimate ending of the series, no matter what I would have done.

20 – Do you believe that a Seventh Season with other actresses in the main cast would be accepted by the fans?

Yes and no.  It would be, but understand that Xena has taken on a certain mystique because of the time between now and when it ended.  In many ways, it would be very difficult to live up to the old Xena series.  Keep in mind that much of Xena was NOT accepted by many of the fans even when we were on the air.  The series made a lot of changes and many fans left the show because they didn’t like the choices.  I will say that we would certainly get a lot of people to tune in for the first few episodes.  After that, no one knows.

21 – There is an eternal dispute among subtexters and non-subtexters about Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship, where there is no really strong arguments that can confirm one or another version. It is possible to, someday, establish a common sense about this relationship?

No.  Subtext and non-Subtext are not reconcilable.  The reason we have those two camps right now is because we walked a careful line between the two concepts without committing to one or the other.  Their relationship really does reflect what the individual fan wants to believe.  Now if you’re asking whether the question will every definitively be answered, not as long as there is no movie or continuing series.  Everyone has their interpretation and that’s a good thing.

22 – Which episode, in your opinion, represents in a general field, everything that XENA wanted to pass to the fans?

All of them.  (See? I told you I can’t answer those questions).  Just look at the entire series as being everything we wanted to pass on to the fans.

23 – If you could change something in some episode, which episode would it be and what would you change?

*sigh* See, these are the kinds of questions that I can’t really answer.  The process of turning a story into an episode involves so much change in the first place that I could go through each episode and tell you all the choices that weren’t made, all the compromises that had to be made, all the things that I wanted that were discarded, it’s just a natural part of the process.  I didn’t always get my way, neither did RJ or Rob.  Or any of us.  So, yes, I would change something in every episode.  But the audience never sees those choices, you only see the result of our choices.



24 – If you would synthesize XWP and the whole fandom in a sentence, what would it be?

A dysfunctional yet devoted family.


25 – Your point of view about the show, about the characters, surely changed a lot. In a certain way because they evolved a lot. Could you say in what manners this have changed for you? What was the way you saw the Xena and the Gabrielle on the First Season and how you become to see them as time was going forward? In what aspects it influenced you on your writing?


The characters were allowed to progress and change significantly from the first season.  I mean, the Gabrielle of Dreamworker is a far cry from the Gabrielle in Fallen Angel.  Now that doesn’t seem like that big a deal but you have to understand that until Xena came along, TV series were not allowed to significantly change their characters.  Yes, there was always a small character arc, but no where as drastic as what happened to Xena and Gabrielle.  The Networks didn’t want it because they wanted to be able to re-air the episodes in any order they wanted.  Well, that was hard to do with Xena because the characters showed such remarkable growth.


I’ve always been a fan of doing this and have been frustrated by the restrictions for most of my career (most people forget I had a very successful career even before Xena).  So I can’t say it affected my writing, but the change in attitude within the TV industry has allowed me to write the way I always wanted to.  To create characters who will change and evolve as time goes on.  To actually serialize a series (meaning that the series has to be viewed in a linear fashion, from beginning to end, just like reading a novel).


26 – You have always written episodes giving much eminence to Gabrielle’s character and how she was important to Xena’s character. What have called your attention the most in this character? Do you identifies yourself with her in some aspect? Why to always give eminence to her?

I love the psychology involved with Gabrielle’s awakening to the world around her.  There is something very childlike about her beginnings, and her growth reflects much of the growth we are all faced with in one way or another.  When we are children, we are told fantasy tales where choices are easy, good and bad are obvious, and happy endings are inevitable.  As we grow older, we are slapped in the face with reality.  Different people handle it differently.  But that is normal in the growth from childhood to adult.  Gabrielle was an adult when she left her village.  But her expectations about the world still relied on the fantasy stories she heard and told.   How she dealt with that made her the true hero in my mind.  She could have run back home at the first sign of danger, but she didn’t.  Look at the song “War/Peace” in The Bitter Suite.  What Gabrielle goes through at the beginning of that song describes the fantasy safety of staying at home.  Everything is perfect, every day, every day, if a bit boring.  That was where she came from.  But she chose not to stay there.  I wanted to chart her course into the real world.


 27 – Nowadays, do you regret writing some of the episodes? Is there any you definitely would delete from the series? If there is a yes, which one? Why? And what episode you liked the most to have written and why?

Another of those questions.  Can’t answer it.  Again, not because I won’t, but because I just can’t.  The series is what it is and I think it worked pretty well as it came out.  There are fans who, I’m sure, can answer that question and I’m sure their answers are absolutely correct… for them.

As for which episode I would have liked to have written most, I would say all of them.  And, since I did have a hand in all of them, I’m satisfied and proud with what the other writers did.


28 – What was the best thing that happened to you in the time you were working at the show?

 So many things.  Heck, financially it was great.  Creatively it was great.  But the best thing long term to have come out of it is that I have friends all over the world.  So the best thing that happened to me?  You.  The fans.


29 – How it was working with Lucy Lawless and Renée O’Connor? How often did they make their suggestions about the script?

 Lucy and Renee are great (did you expect any other answer? They are).  They come from different styles of acting, but the chemistry was right there for all to see.  It helped that they were also good friends from day one.

As far as how often they made suggestions to the scripts, not often at all.  They seemed to like the material we were giving them and we enjoyed seeing what they would do with it.  It was an upward spiral where we all tried to do better because we saw the quality of what we all brought to it.  So the suggestions they had weren’t that common and the ones they did make were almost always non-critical.  Just suggestion on how to make things better from their point of view.  We’d take their suggestions into consideration, just as we did from everyone involved in the show, and if they were good ones, we used them.

I do remember one time, during the filming of The Price, when Lucy called me from the set and had a question about the Horde warriors calling out for kaltaka (water).  She said “We’re filming next to a lake, there’s water all over the place!”  I laughed and told her that the Horde that were crying out had gut-wounds, which meant they were losing blood and fluids.  There have been many cases in history of wounded crying out for water during thunderstorms. It had little to do with just being thirsty.  When I explained that, she said “Ah, gotcha!” and that was that.

Again, that might be a good question for Rob as he was mostly working directly with Lucy and Renee.


30 – What was the moment you felt more emotional involved as a spectator?

Many times, but the one moment that always stays with me was in the Greater Good when Gabrielle takes her anger, frustration and grief by battering he staff against the tree.  I wrote that scene and many in the office didn’t like it, they said the audience wouldn’t get it.  I remember saying “Renee will get it and that’s what counts.”  She did and the result was wonderful.


 31 – Have you and the other producers any idea how you have influenced people around the world with the show?

Yes and no.  We understand it just by the fact that we have so many fans who tell us how they have been influenced and their lives have changed.  But, again like the magician, we can’t feel it like you can.  It’s a bit overwhelming for me, to be honest.  I’ve had so many people write me or come up to me and talk about how it’s changed their lives and I’m embarrassed and proud at the same time.


Pictures from: www.pondalee.com ( Pondalee Productions)


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