Continuum creator Simon Barry had been working in Los Angeles for years – pitching pilots, getting hired to write them, but failing to get a series produced – when he was asked if he had any ideas to pitch to Shaw Media back home in Canada.
He did. He had been preparing to offer his Continuum concept in the United States, but did not get around to it because he got another writing job. Shaw loved it, and Continuum premiered in the spring of 2012 to record ratings for Showcase, and was picked up by the science-fiction TV channel Syfy in the United States. It now airs in 133 countries.
The premise: A group of terrorists about to be executed in 2077 escape by time-travelling to 2012, inadvertently bringing police officer Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) with them. Stuck in the past, she manages to join up with the police to track down the Liber8 terrorists, who are trying to alter history to stop the corporate takeover of government. In her desperate effort to return to her family in the future, Kiera is helped by a young genius, Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), who in 2077 is one of the captains of industry controlling the world.
The show is shot in Vancouver, and the city plays itself – present day and in 2077.
Season 3 premieres on Showcase on Sunday night.
How did you come up with the idea for Continuum?
The original inspiration was, I was stuck in traffic and I wished I had a futuristic flying car so I could get around the traffic jam in front of me. And that just made me switch my brain into thinking about the future and how I wanted to find a way to tell a story about the future – but, more importantly, about the future with the perspective of the present.
Were you always interested in science fiction?
As a fan, yes. Professionally, I hadn't had a chance to write anything really science-fiction based for about 15 years; I think I had written one movie for Dreamworks that never got made, which was sort of overtly science fiction. But pretty much everything else I'd written was in the spy genre or police thriller or even sort of crime, the criminal world. Science fiction was probably one of the reasons I got into writing and film making as a young person, because I grew up [as part of] the Star Wars generation and it had a profound effect on me.
Was it difficult to get approval to set the story in Vancouver?
We never called attention to it. We sort of thought we could get away with it until somebody noticed. And as it turned out, nobody noticed, so we went with it. It turned out to be a good creative choice, because I always thought that, in the future, as the economies turned towards technology, that the West Coast could become more of a dominant force in finance and technology. You look at Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest and you see an over-abundance of massive technology companies that in 60 years might be the General Motors and the General Electric of the end of the next century. We had an opportunity to use Vancouver as not just a convenient setting because myself and the producers and everyone else in the crew lives here, but also it would fit into the structure of the future that myself and the writers had laid out.
How did you and your team go about imagining Vancouver in 2077?
We realized that when you look at the skyline of a city that has a history, you don't see the year you're living in, you see the last 100 years in front of you; you see the evolution of it. We wanted to tell the story of the evolution from present day to 2077 in terms of architecture, in terms of the stories that would have designed the redevelopment of the city – whether it be economic prosperity or depression, whether it be civil unrest, whether it would be ocean levels rising. Just see if we can just create something that doesn't look like it's all new. A lot of times, when you see science fiction and it presents a future, you see a uniformity of modern buildings and flying cars, and I didn't want that. I wanted something that felt like it was under construction, always.
Do you feel that the show has benefited from the rich science-fiction history of Vancouver's production community?
From a technical and crafts person point of view, absolutely. We have decades of experience on this show; people who have been involved in some of the best science fiction that's been shot here, for sure. I think we benefit from a community of science fiction fans who also recognize that Vancouver has put out some great sci-fi and they have invited us into their fold, and in a way we've inherited a lot of those fans.
There is a lot of grey area in the series. Is Liber8 a terrorist organization or engaged in a worthy fight?
It's easy to make terrorists simplified bad guys. It's harder to win over an audience to their side. I think we tend to make decisions that are based on the simplification of ideas as opposed to the complexity of an idea, and that can be a very dangerous thing and it also, I think, negates the very complex dimension of what is driving people who want to effect change. Whether they are non-violent or violent, whether they are using political methods or just literature and art, there's always, it seems, two sides, and in television, what we're trying to do is stimulate drama, and drama is really based in conflict. And for me, that's satisfying, because it feels like, even though the show is science fiction, in a way it allows us to comment on things in an overt way without seeming to be overt, because we love that we can poke at our present day world through the filter of a universe where time travel is possible.
What can you tell us about Season 3?
We're really trying to drive the stakes of our characters into a more immediate personal place rather than having them be driven by outside plot machinations. We've set the tone for Season 3 with an act of defiance at the end of Season 2, where Alec Sadler – who up to this point has been Kiera's most trustworthy ally – betrays her by travelling back in time to save the girl he loves. That ends up being a very strategic act, and the characters have to deal with the consequences in a variety of ways.
The story is so complex; there must be a million directions you can go off in.
That is the challenge – to not go off in a million directions; we try to keep it down to half a million. We are constantly trying to push the envelope of scope and of storytelling and of mythology, and at the same time keeping everything organized.
Do you have an idea of how many seasons you need for this story to unfold?
I had always thought that seven to 10 would be ideal, and, of course, my accountant agrees. But the truth is, I felt like we would be lucky if we got five years. I hoped for seven and I would be thrilled to death with 10. It's rare for a series like this to go beyond that. So I'm being pragmatic with my prediction. But I think if I get a chance to tell a story that lasts for at least five years, I can finish with the way I imagined at the beginning, but I can certainly find many, many sub-stories and other adventures if it goes beyond five years.
This interview has been condensed and edited.