Lee Pace in Foundation

Foundation Showrunner David S. Goyer on creating his epic Apple TV+ adventure

Based on Isaac Asimov’s novel series of the same name, Apple TV+‘s Foundation is a centuries-spanning tale about people from all walks of life. The new sci-fi series, set in the future, follows Professor Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) and his loyal followers as they attempt to preserve their culture as the galaxy collapses around them. Fans of the book will be familiar with Seldon and his theories of psychohistory. But for new audiences unfamiliar with the setting, Gaal Dornick’s (Lou Llobell) character will help navigate the new worlds on the show. The series also stars Lee Pace, Terrence Mann and Leah Harvey.

Creator and showrunner David S. Goyer had an incredibly clear vision for the series when he pitched its development to Apple but getting that vision on screen wasn’t easy. We spoke to him about the challenges of creating this massive universe and what we can expect from future seasons. Read on for more:

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels are the most influential Science Fiction novels of all time. What made you want to take on the responsibility of tackling this award-winning piece?
First of all, I’m a fan. The books are important to me personally. I like the challenge of it. I think they’re even more topical now than they were when Asimov was writing them. I think it’s a message, fundamentally a message of hope. It’s a message of faith in humanity and human ingenuity. And I just felt like that was a message that the world could use right now. And I wanted to be a part of transmitting that message.

You have a Foundation paperback book that you dad gave you and it’s filled with highlights and post-it notes? Can you talk about your first encounter with the novel as a kid?
Well, I had a complicated relationship with my dad, he gave me a copy of the trilogy on my 13th birthday, said it was greatest science fiction work ever written. He was a fan of science fiction. At the time, I didn’t want to hear that kind of recommendation. So I didn’t read it. I took it out when I was about 25. I’m not sure that I fully grasped it. I read it again after I was 40 and after I’d become a father, and then I finally got it. I finally saw what was so revolutionary about what Asimov had done. And I think being a father was a big part of that, because the stories are so much about what are we willing to sacrifice for tomorrow and I don’t think that’s something I was really thinking about before I was father.

Foundation stems from source material that has long been considered highly difficult to adapt. What was your approach to turning this into a 10-episode series? When you first pitched it to Apple, did they actually ask you to pitch in one line?
Yeah, yeah, sort of as a joke. I mean, the truth is the pitch took about two hours. But they were curious if I had to condense it into a single sentence or two, could I do it. I think previous adaptations, most attempts, they were trying to condense everything down into a single movie, or maybe a couple of movies. I think with the possibility of doing it as a streaming show for once we were looking at the prospect of expanding it, instead of contracting it. The story takes place over 1000 years. It’s a big undertaking. But my main way in was just emotional. It’s really a mirror about what’s happening today. It’s not really about the future. It’s what’s happening today. And I want people that have never read the books to be transported by it. I want people who don’t consider themselves fans of science fiction, to see themselves in it. And so Gail was the key. She’s the point of view character for the audience. She doesn’t know anything about the Empire or psycho history. She’s never been off planet before or traveled through space. So with Gaal, she’s sort of the audience’s eyes and ears and that was the path in for me.

Do you have a map of what all the seasons could look like?
I do. I do. And fair enough, Apple asked me that question. They wanted to make sure that I was not vamping and that I was writing towards something. I do have an endpoint in mind. Even though Asimov himself never got to the end of the 1000 year story. I know all the big plot moves over the course of potentially eight seasons. It doesn’t mean we can’t adjust as we go along. But at least we’re riding towards something.

With the large scale and complexity of a series like this, what moment tested you the most, either creatively or professionally?
Wow, that’s a really good question. You know, it was really important to me that we film as much of this as possible on location in the real environments, that it wasn’t all just a bunch of scenes taking place in front of a green screen. I think that worked for the show, but there’s no question that it was physically hard to make. We were on the side of a dormant volcano in Iceland and 80 mile an hour winds, we were on open water and underwater in the ocean, we were in a sandstorm in the Canary Islands. It sounded great at the time, like ‘Let’s film all of this on location.’ But there were definitely moments where it was physically, just really challenging. But I also think it looks amazing on screen.

Definitely, it adds to the authenticity knowing that it’s not just a green screen but on location. Did you always plan on directing the last episode of season 1?
Yeah, the plan was, I was always going to direct the season finale. And it was for two reasons. One is the showrunner. I have to be there to prep the other directors. I’m kind of the emotional through line between the whole thing. We filmed it all out of order across all these different countries. So at any given moment, I had to be there to remind the actors, okay, this is what was happening in the scene before that we might have shot a year ago in another country or the directors. And in order to land the plane, and hopefully reach a really satisfying conclusion for the season, I thought it was important that I be the one that sort of brings it home emotionally. There’s so many things that we set up in the beginning of the season that pay off at the very end, and I just wanted to make sure that we stuck the landing.

You have adapted a lot of major characters, and have worked in the Star Wars universe, and on Batman and Superman. Do you think working on those franchises helped you prepare you to tackle something like this?
Absolutely. It’s a really daunting task. But I’ve got a process that I go through where I kind of identify what the key elements are. The thing that the ideas that I call that are sticky, that you keep coming back to again and again and again. And so I re-read the books before we started and on a legal pad, I wrote down the eight to 10 things that I thought made foundation foundation. And I talked to the Asimov estate and I said, ‘Am I on the right track?’ Do you think these are the important elements? And they said, ‘You’re absolutely on the right track.’ And I said, ‘Okay, these are the cardinal rules, these are the things that we’re going to keep in there no matter what.’ And then since the trilogy was written originally 70 years ago, and was reflecting post World War Two society, I knew that I had had to adapt some things and have it reflect today’s society. That was the starting point.

Since you pitched it to Apple in one line as a joke, I have to ask you to pitch it in one line to audiences—those who have  read the novels as well as newbies.
It’s an epic adventure; it’s probably the biggest adventure that’s ever been portrayed on television before and it’s all about sacrifice and hope and you don’t have to be a fan of science fiction. You just have to love an incredible adventure story.

I love that. Well, thank you so much, David, and looking forward to more seasons!
Thank you!

Foundation is streaming now on Apple TV+. New episodes drop every Friday.