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Battling Battlestars

Two rival projects try to revive television's BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA as a feature film.

By John Thonen     October 26, 1999

It's been over 20 years since ABC canceled Universal Studios' TV series, BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA. The show told the adventures of a band of intergalactic wanderers, survivors of a decimated outer space civilization, battling the evil, robotic cylons while searching for their lost brethren on a legendary world known as Earth. Lasting only one season, it seemed a tale destined for obscurity. But today, in an increasingly fierce conflict, two rival Battlestars are again at war. Not in space this time, but in the rarefied firmament of Hollywood. There are no laser laden Viper-Cylon Raider skirmishes, but rather a war of words between two announced GALACTICA revival projects.

The two opposing camps in this intergalactic fray could hardly be more different. On one side is Richard Hatch, the popular '70s TV star who played Captain Apollo in the series. Hatch, largely absent from the entertainment business for a decade, has led a loose knit, unpaid, confederation of BATTLESTAR fans and low-budget industry independents in the creation of a four-minute promotional trailer they hope will pique Universal's interest in a revival project.

Opposing Hatch's BATTLESTAR is Todd Moyer, a former president of Dark Horse comics, with producer or co-producer credits on a string of major science fiction productions, including BARB WIRE and WING COMMANDER. Moyer, who owns a state-of-the-art CGI effects company, is connected to sizable foreign financial backing and is partnered with Glen Larson, creator of the original series. The well connected Moyer and his industry insider companions are clearly everything Hatch and his contingent are not. No battle that Captain Apollo ever fought seemed as stacked against him as this one, but like his space-faring alter ego, Hatch is not afraid of a challenge.

'There are so many reasons to not do something' Richard Hatch explained recently. 'But life really only becomes exciting and passionate when you are living on the edge.' For Hatch, that edge involved maxing his personal credit cards and mortgaging his home to raise the capital for an intensive 5-day shooting schedule to film the promotional trailer, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE SECOND COMING. Hatch freely admits that he has no legal rights to the GALACTICA concept or characters. But after several frustrating years trying to convince Universal of the viability of a revival project, he found them at least willing to turn their heads while he made and exhibited a strictly non-commercial trailer as a promotional tool.

The trailer resumes the tale, albeit 20 years later, of the 'ragtag fleet' of survivors, and features, in addition to Hatch, series' stalwarts John Colicos (Count Baltar), Terry Carter (Col. Tigh), Jack Stauffer (Bojay), and Richard Lynch (Xavier), along with new cast members. Blessedly absent is the Daggit, a much reviled robotic dog on the original show, but more conspicuous in their absence are such major series cast members as Dirk Benedict (Starbuck), Anne Lockhart (Sheba), and Laurette Spang (Cassiopea). 'I tried to get everyone involved,' Hatch said, 'but some were busy or lived too far away. Others felt they had too close a ties to Glen Larson, that they'd be betraying their allegiance to him.' It would seem these obstacles had lessened when these remaining original cast members recently reunited, for the first time since 1979, for a sci-fi convention. There, all expressed a willingness to join with Hatch if his trailer, which has been receiving consistent standing ovations at the conventions, should spark interest in a feature film or new series.

Production of the SECOND COMING trailer was indirectly caused by a science fiction convention appearance Hatch made several years ago, which caused him to re-evaluate the show's place in the pop culture pantheon. 'I was invited to this STAR TREK Grand Slam convention in Pasadena,' he recalled. 'I hadn't done a convention in about 10 years, and hadn't done many even then. I was really unsure about it. I didn't think anyone would really care that I was there. I wasn't even sure anyone would remember me. Instead, I found this incredible line of people, all waiting to see me or to ask me a question about the show.'

Once aware that a sizable fan following existed for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, much of it a younger audience aroused by the SciFi Channel's constant play of the old series, Hatch began to pursue the idea of a revival, but his dealings with Universal Studios were frustrating at best. 'Universal was a series of compartments that really didn't talk to each other. You could talk to one group and no one else would know about it and nothing would ever make its way to the core of the company where the real decisions were being made. It was like working in a maze.'

During this period, Hatch became a perennial at fan conventions, where he earned a reputation as likable, easy to work with, and refreshingly free of ego. That reputation made its way to Johnnie J. Young, a producer of low-budget, direct-to-video fare who was looking for a 'name actor' to brighten up a pair of films he was planning to produce. Hatch signed on for Young's IRON THUNDER, an action-packed science fiction tale of a mentally unhinged pilot in a futuristic tank; and UNSEEN, a horror hybrid of THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE and PREDATOR. both directed by frequent Young collaborator, Jay Woelfel.

Woelfel recalled that he was puzzled about Hatch's involvement in the films. 'He hadn't done any real acting in some time, and I couldn't figure out why he'd chosen us. I kind of wondeR now if he was really interested in seeing how things were accomplished for very little money and without a giant crew. It's not like I gave him lessons in low-budget filmmaking, but I could tell that he was paying attention.'

Indeed Hatch was, and he was impressed by the results. The once and future Captain Apollo would soon enlist Young, and later Woelfel (as co-director with Hatch), to help on the promo-trailer idea.

Almost from the outset, the project began to take on a life of its own, rapidly growing in complexity and scope beyond anything Hatch had initially envisioned. Co-producer Young said that, 'At first we were just going to shoot just enough footage to assemble a 3-5 minute presentation.' Working on a fairly tight 8-1 shooting ratio, this meant shooting approximately 30 minutes of footage. However, Hatch and girlfriend-coproducer Sophie LaPorte wrote a 28 page script (about 30 minutes of material, or about 4 hours of raw footage) drawn from one of the three Galactica books Hatch co-authored with Christopher Golden. To Young's surprise, Hatch decided to shoot all of it.

Once completed, the footage was cut down to several minutes of golden footage, and then expanded with about two minutes of CGI effects. 'I think that's what gives it the scope that has captivated audiences,' said Young. 'There's multiple locations, story elements, a lot of characters, tons of effects. It really feels like a trailer for a feature film instead of just a 4 minute short.'

The first footage shot for the trailer was done almost guerrilla-style at a sci-fi convention that series co-star John Colicos and Terry Carter were attending. Both actors were semi-retired, with Colicos living in Canada and Carter in Europe. The convention was a rare opportunity to shoot both actors in their classic roles, at a minimal cost. Of course, the execution of this cost-saving plan had its own problems, according Jay Woelfel, who had not yet joined Hatch's team but was pressed into service by Young to run sound for the shoot. 'There was a Korean wedding going on next door,' Woelfel laughed, 'so we could only record sound when their band wasn't playing.'

The trailer's actual production had more than its share of mishaps, among them the entire production nearly being shut down on the first day due to the lack of an on-set fire marshall. Then there was the night that Hatch and LaPorte were nearly arrested for breaking and entering, when they arrived at cinematographer Scott Spears' home to pick up equipment to use while he was out of town. There were also some amazing 'golden' moments, the most notable of which occurred when, during Spears absence, Academy Award nominated cinematographer Dean Cundey (JURASSIC PARK, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) stepped in for a day. Cundey brought his own 35mm camera and a large supply of film stock, along with a level of generosity and professionalism that amazed all.

Director Jay Woelfel recalled that, 'Cundey worked the same day as the rest of us, 8 AM to 2 AM, and then he stayed around to help roll up the cables. He was just a spectacular guy.'

Since Hatch only had the funds for equipment and film stock, he relied heavily on a variety of fans to provide much of the manpower needed to pull off the project. Johnnie J. Young recalled that this technique had its problems. 'There was a core team of professionals, but there were a lot of non-professionals. A film set can actually be a pretty boring place and they tended to wander off, or just start goofing around. There were times when it was a challenge.' Woelfel agreed that the fans involved in the production presented their own set of problems, but also noted that, 'Many were incredibly dedicated. If they didn't have the knowledge, then they put in the time to get it to work.' No where was this more evident than in the post-production process, when the trailer's numerous effects sequence were designed.

Initially, Hatch had planned on in camera effects from Brick (Apollo 13) Price and CGI work from Foundation Imaging, both working for free in hopes of being involved in any future project the trailer might yield. However Foundation Imaging landed a major effects job (MUPPETS IN SPACE) and had to back out after completing only a portion of the needed footage. Co-producer Young admits he had his doubts when Hatch announced that he knew several fans, Ken Thomson, Mike McAdams, James Betteridge, who could execute the complex effects sequences. 'I was pretty skeptical, but they did top-notch work. In some ways they were better than a regular effects house because Richard kept pushing the envelope, wanting more or better effects scenes. Most companies, who were working for free, would just tell you, no, that's the sequence and it's good enough. These guys would just listen to the criticisms and suggestions and then go and make it better.'

While Moyer's clout in the film industry would seem to give him the upper hand, there has been little visible action from that side of the conflict. The project's website hasn't been updated since May of 1999 and the announced start date of the production has been pushed back twice, and is now listed only as 'sometime in early 2000.' There have also been conflicting press releases and interview statements from the Moyer camp. An early 1999 press release said that the project would deal with a peripheral series character, Commander Cain, and his search for the Galactica. This led to much speculation that Moyer and Larson had, at best, limited rights to the GALACTICA story and characters. Michael Abbot, of No Prisoners development department, denied this, saying: 'We aren't doing a film solely about Commander Cain. And we are not doing a GALACTICA film without the Galactica.' In early October, announced project collaborator Glen Larson made a statement that suggested their entire film concept might be up in the air. Larson said that a 50-minute presentation in the IMAX format seemed the most attractive option at this point. It's hard not to see all these conflicting facts and announcements as indicative that the Moyer project is at best, somewhat directionless, and at worst, genuinely floundering.

Meanwhile, Hatch continues to try and get Universal to commit to his plans and to drum up support throughout the fan community. He also says that no matter what the final results, the journey he has taken, and the people who took it with him, have been ample reward for his efforts. 'There were literally people who laughed in our faces at the start,' Hatch continued. 'They told us it was impossible to do this without a studio or major backer and that it would look like some high school production. Then, to sit in the dark for 5 minutes, waiting for that first crowd response and have them stand and cheer, give a standing ovation that's longer than the trailer is--no one person could ever have done this. It took a team.'

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