'Nightflyers' creator Jeff Buhler on what sets the series adaptation apart: You can't kill all the characters together

Based on the novella of the same name written by George R. R. Martin, Buhler's series follows the story of the titular spaceship set in the Earth's near future

                            'Nightflyers' creator Jeff Buhler on what sets the series adaptation apart: You can't kill all the characters together

A wonderful thing about recreating an author's work for the screen the creative license of the creator being allowed to represent the same story, but from their own, personal vision. Granted, there is always ample scope for comparison between the on-screen feature and the original, but in SyFy's new space horror, 'Nightflyers,' creator Jeff Buhler was able to find that balance effortlessly. 

Based on the novella of the same name written by George R. R. Martin, Buhler's series follows the story of the titular spaceship set in the Earth's near future, where a group of experts is out on a mission to seek alien life, in the hopes of having them help humanity survive back on our planet. Significant changes abound Buhler's adaptation. The creator had some interesting insight to share. Here are some excerpts of his conversation with Meaww.

What urged you to recreate George R R Martin's novella? Was it always on the cards?

I worked with two producers on a remake of Jacob's Ladder, which is also a mind-bending fun psychological thriller and those two have rights to the novella and asked me if I'd ever read it. I was familiar with George's work, even though I had never read 'Nightflyers'. But I'm a huge fan of space horror, the original 'Aliens' movie sort changed my life when I was a kid.

So, when this book landed in my hands, I read it and was just absolutely blown away with how cool the world was. It was just way ahead of its time, and since it came out, we have also seen a lot of knockoffs. But this felt like it was sort of at the beginning of all of that, and I wanted to go back and sort of revisit how George conceived the things and then add a little bit of a contemporary mindset to it.

Along those lines of a new age mindset, would you say there are also other significant differences between the book and the plot? If you were to point out something significantly different in your version of the story, what would it be?

Of course, the contemporary mindset very specifically. I mean, we changed the timeline. The novella takes place in George's Thousand Worlds universe, which is a future history he has written with many stories. It's a universe that exists a few hundred centuries from now. Earth's there, and there are other planets that humans have colonized and inhabited, and everything has undergone various forms of evolution and evolved into different societies.

It's a world full of several different alien races and in terms of science fiction ideas. But in the TV series, the big shift I pulled off is bringing the setting to a time nearer to our world's future. So, the series takes place 75 years from now, where all the problems we see developing on earth have sort of reached a boiling point. So we, as a species, are facing the dilemma of whether we try to colonize other planets or do we try to fix our home? And is it possible that the aliens hold all the answers?


How did Martin react to that?

When I told George about the big shift, he said, "Oh, well you basically then just erased 999 of my 1000 world." And I said no, not really. They're still out there, we just haven't discovered them yet. So the metaphor I'd use for the shift in time is sort of like opening the door to that thousand worlds of George, as opposed to jumping into a universe where everybody knows about all different races, and planets. The drive of this whole journey (in the show) is the first point of contact for humans with another lifeform and it opens a ton of mysteries - which is another part of the book that really struck me.

Would you say working with SyFy and the current streaming environment led to the making of some of the changes that you made in the series version of the story? 

Well, you know it's funny because the way that SyFy has released the show, we didn't even know that was the plan back when we started planning the show. We approached everything from a creative standpoint and didn't think about how it would be consumed. Now, we knew that it would eventually be available internationally on Netflix because they and SyFy are partners, so we were very cognizant of the fact that some consumers would be binging, while some would be watching one episode at a time.

Also that, hopefully, people would be discovering the show through word of mouth, and might also come to it after had been released. So, once you're aware of all of those things when designing a story, you really just need to focus on the characters, world, and the themes, and not worry so much about the end result.


So what would you say makes the 'Nightflyers' story so suitable for a series? Why not a movie?

Originally, we did try to develop the story as a feature film and what happened is, to fit that entire journey into a movie, I felt like you'd have to stick to the structure. There was a feature film made in 1987, which followed the very similar structure. You meet a bunch of people on a spaceship and they die one by one, and at the end, you reveal a mystery. But we didn't want to do that same formula again. 

The other element to it is that the world itself is so rich, and there were so many opportunities for us to develop new ideas within the story pieces that George put into place. So, we very quickly realized that there was much too much to materialize, and the story was too broad to try to shorten it. We started thinking about it as an ongoing series where you have to keep people alive. You can't kill all of them together.

Is that what inspired the particularly climactic, gory horror we saw right in the opening scene of the pilot?

There would be no other reason than wanting to hook your audience. We wanted to tell our audience that what's going on is definitely not Space Opera, with things suddenly getting very bloody. That tends to irritate audiences where they're like, "Oh, I thought I was signing up for a science fiction show, and then all of a sudden it became a horror movie." I wanted to make sure that we told it up-front and that we were honest with our audience, that this is horror at its heart and then it lives in a science fiction world. That was important.

The other reason is that of the popularity of 'Game of Thrones' (the HBO show based on George's book 'The Songs of Fire and Ice'.) It has become one of the things that people easily see as the hallmark of his work, where it's so easy to predict a character's future based on their likeability. I wanted to avoid having people start guessing who was going to be the most important character, that would get knocked off. People have experienced 'Game of Thrones', so they are anticipating that, and I just decided to put it right in the front and say here's the answer to your question.

Buhler also teased a potential second season for the absolutely riveting show that has fans hooked worldwide. But for those absolutely unaware of the mysteries and horrors of the Thousand Worlds through Buhler's eyes, the first edition of the series is available for streaming online on SyFy!