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FARSCAPE's Creator: Rockne O'Bannon
Expanding the mythos of a show running wild with abandon.
By Anna L. Kaplan
September 11, 2000
FARSCAPE creator Rockne S. O'Bannon, still very involved as an executive consultant during the series second season, says, 'The show is really working with abandon now, which is the way it should be. It just swings from the emotional and the romantic side, and then goes to the other side and outrageous humora lot of stuff that in the first season, we would have been scared to death to do.'
A case in point is 'Out Of Their Minds,' which could not have been done when FARSCAPE was in its early days. Directed by Ian Watson, the story involves an attack on Moya that causes crewmembers to switch bodies. Recalls O'Bannon, 'David Kemper and I, when the show got picked up, sat down and came up with a bunch of ideas of what we should do. The first season we were looking at it, going, 'Is this the time?' We thought, 'No, people don't really know the characters well enough yet, and the actors don't know each other well enough.' It didn't gel. Last summer, we had Mike Cassutt in, a freelancer who both David and I know really well, and ended up throwing ideas back and forth. I said, 'What about that one? Is it time to do that?' It was perfect, because the cast all had so much fun with it.'
O'Bannon praises everyone involved with making FARSCAPE, including, of course, the actors, and especially Ben Browder as John Crichton. He says, 'The whole show is about audacity. The actors are really going to put themselves out there. They really take chances, too, Ben in particular. Look at 'Crackers Don't Matter.'' The scene to which O'Bannon is referring occurs when Crichton, dressed as some sort of insane super-hero with vomit on his face, and a heat-protective cape and hat, goes in to rescue the rest of the gang from a paranoia-inducing alien. O'Bannon continues, 'When he is sitting there with the stuff on, he was nervous about it. They did a couple of different takes, variations of it, but he was willing. He never said, 'I don't want to do it because I don't want to have it on film in case it's rotten and then you guys use that take.' He did it. When he does it, he does it with abandon.'
Regarding Browder's skill as an actor, O'Bannon adds, 'There are scenes in the last episode of last season, where he's packing up stuff. Rygel is kind of half-assed asking for his possessions. There is a wonderful casualness about the way he is saying, 'You're a material guy. You want my possessions, you are welcome to them.' It was phenomenal. Him playing with the DRD when he is doing one of the notes to his father is very smart stuff. I know that sort of thing was his suggestionhow to interact with the mechanical thing in front of him. That was something else he discovered early on in terms of dealing with the puppets. He discovered second or third episode, if you get your hands on Rygel in particular, it forces a reality to it, in particular for the puppeteers, because they have to react to the physical touch.'
All the actors have learned to work with the puppeteers and the puppets. Says O'Bannon, 'Gigi [Edgley, Chiana] was saying, 'You are supposed to be standing like you are just standing there, but you've got your legs spread as far as you possibly can. You've got two guys under there, because you're up against Rygel.' It's wherever they need to be. I guess when the puppets are working, they are like real people. Last year, with John Eccleston doing Rygelhe's an actor, even though we ended up not using his voice. It was a real good first year, because it gave everybody a chance to really interact with him.'
O'Bannon describes the scenes being filmed with actors in prosthetics and makeups, puppeteers, and puppets, all in a days work on the FARSCAPE sets. 'It's quite a circus. Someone was asking Virginia about the shaved head. It's quite a commitment for an actress to actually shave her head. It is an incredible place to go for an actress, but she's willing to do that in the same way that The Henson Company is willing to take a flyer on a show with animatronics and makeup, that sort of thing. We don't have just the bridge-of-the-nose makeup; it's really, incredibly elaborate makeup. To have animatronic characters and creatures, as regular characters, is a tremendous leap of faith. Then to have as many animatronic guest stars as we do, where you know you are going to have to loop all of the dialogue, and voice it later, again is an additional expense. That's not something that you would necessarily have to do if you had a regular actor there with a bridge of the nose. But if you've got some big animatronic villain, you know that you are going to have to pay someone else other than who you are paying to do the puppet thing to voice it later on. That's a financial commitment that Henson's is willing to make, just to make the show better. You could arguably obviously do this premise, simpler, in a much simpler way. But it wouldn't be the show.'
O'Bannon handed the reigns for the day-to-day running of FARSCAPE to executive producer David Kemper after season one. Says O'Bannon, 'David and I have this conversation all the time. We look at each other, like, 'How did we luck out?' It's the old Orson Welles thing. Film is the greatest train set of all time. Of all the great train sets, this is the greatest train set for people who work in television, because it has all the toys, all these aspects. There is no limit. You can do the weirdest stuff, and the weirder the better. Wait until you see the second half of the seasonthere is some wild stuff.'
While much can be done on the FARSCAPE sets, there are limitations, and O'Bannon is hoping the FARSCAPE novels being written can break out of those limitations. The first two are expected toward the end of this year. He says, 'That was one of the big marching orders I gave to the two guys who've written the first two. I said, 'We are very proud of the TV series. As expansive as it is, it's still a TV series, and we are still limited, obviously, in a lot of the scope of what we can do. In the books, I really would love for us not to simply do stories that could be done on the show in any regard. Let's really push, give it as much scale as possible, and do things about exploding worlds, and locations.' One of the guys had come up with two or three stories that all took place on Moya, and I said, 'That's terrific, but in terms of scale, we can do that on the television series. Let's go down and have stadiums filled with cheering crowds, the sort of scale that we can't do, but in a book you can expand it.''
He continues to give glimpses of a possible future FARSCAPE feature film, saying, 'In our early conversations about FARSCAPE features, it's the same thing: What can we do to maintain the tone, integrity, and the continuity of the series, but really create something that has the potential to be a feature film, or a feature film series, that isn't dependent in any way on the television series?'
As for the television series, viewers have seen about two thirds of the second season, with two new episodes airing in September and the rest scheduled for the beginning of 2001. Season three is expected to start in March of 2001. Summarizes O'Bannon, 'The first year was settling in and getting it to where everybody was comfortable and understood what the show could be and should be. In the second season, there was a bumpy transition at the beginning, because I had stepped back from a day-to-day, hands-on role, to consulting. They are trying to find other players to fill that in. Now David is pretty comfortable with the staff that has shaken out. In the third season, it's David, Ricky [Manning], Justin Monjo, and I am going to do some scripts for them, too. So the four of us will write a lot of the show, and then we've got some Australian folks on staff as well. David is feeling, I think, really strong as we get into the third season. He knows who the core group is. He's got the guys who can do it.'
O'Bannon adds, 'What's fun for me, as we go into a third season which is very rare for a series on a regular network, is to expand the mythos of the show, the threads of it. It's fun to follow those threads.'