Brian Henson, executive producer of the Sci-Fi Channel's top-rated original series FARSCAPE, cannot yet definitively answer questions about the show's renewal for a fourth and fifth season. However, he has obviously given much thought not only to future television seasons, but [also] to the possibility of a feature film, and seems to believe that a FARSCAPE movie may actually happen.
"It's hard, because the show takes such radical turns and twists," explains Henson. "I have to work with [executive producer] David Kemper and [creator] Rockne O'Bannon on the feature. We think we have worked it out, so that we could shoot a feature next year. There are so many things that could go wrong between now and then. But if everything goes well, I think we could shoot a feature next year.
"But it's not like I am announcing that we are going to shoot a feature next year," Henson emphasizes. "That's the intention. If everything goes well, we'd be able to do it between two seasons."
Henson explains that he would like the film to air during FARSCAPE's fifth season.
"I'd like to be able to air the movie before the fifth season has finished airing," Henson says. "We would be working together with Sci-Fi. They would put the show to sleep for a few months, or just play repeats, up until the movie. After the movie, they'd come right in with new episodes."
Henson thinks this strategy would benefit everyone, including the Sci-Fi Channel and USA Networks.
"They would hopefully quadruple the ratings on their network," says Henson, laughing. "It can all work, business-wise. Even though traditionally everybody will make a movie after they finish a series, after it's done as television, I think we'd like to try and do it together."
Just as Henson has put thought into a FARSCAPE movie and making such a project work, he spent years trying to sell the initial television series with creator O'Bannon. They started pitching the show in 1993 to television networks and executives.
"Rockne was writing, and I was running, and we were co-executive producers," recalls Henson. "It was definitely the team. We always pitched together. But I was in most of the follow-up. I mean I probably was more the salesman. I was harassing people harder."
Why didn't Henson give up?
"If something is a good idea, I don't ever give up on it," he says. "There is no point. You wonder, 'Why didn't you go back to that great stuff that you couldn't get to go four years ago, and try it now?' Everybody is always worried, 'That was a four-year-ago idea. It can't possibly be relevant anymore.' In my world, most everything is fantasy of some sort, so the ideas don't actually date themselves. In my arena, it doesn't really happen."
Henson's arena, of course, is the world of puppetry and the visual magic of The Jim Henson Company. Pilot and Rygel, puppets that are main characters on FARSCAPE, were developed under his guidance. He was in Australia as the first season of FARSCAPE got under way, and helped the directors and the company get used to working with puppets.
Henson directed "Exodus From Genesis" in season one. In that episode, Rygel negotiated with the queen of the Draks, and even walked, something rarely seen in the show because of cost.
"When he was standing still it was a puppet, but when he was walking it was CGI," explains Henson. "You have to do it to learn, and it was too expensive."
Rygel got a makeover for season two, when puppeteer John Eccleston who performed Rygel on set left the production. Jonathan Hardy has always provided Rygel's voice.
"In the first season, we had an extremely experienced puppeteer as the head performer," says Henson. "The way we changed Rygel for second season was actually to make him a little easier to perform, but it takes one more person. Mostly, I've just got to make sure that they get better at performing him. Sometimes when he is floating around on his throne he's CG. We have always talked about perhaps using more of him in a CGI version. Maybe we will do that."
Pilot, on the other hand, is still performed by a small army of puppeteers and voiced by Lani Tupu, who also plays Crais.
"Pilot has always worked the same way," says Henson. "That's a beautiful animatronic. It was beautifully built; beautifully designed. He's as good as animatronics can get."
Beyond concerns about the puppets on the show, Henson is very proud of the entire FARSCAPE achievement.
"I guess I am proud that it is so ambitious," he says. "It's easily the most ambitious show made today for television. I love the fact that each episode plays like a movie. The television experience of watching FARSCAPE is more like the experience that you feel when you are watching a movie channel on television than it is watching a normal television programming channel.
"What I always wanted to do with the series was bring movie techniques to television," Henson adds. "I think that not only does the show deliver that in terms of production design and effects and creatures and makeup, but also in terms of the stories and the way they are playing. The stories and the narratives are big and feel like movies, and I love that. We really are delivering a movie a week. A science fiction/fantasy movie every week is a pretty impressive thing."
Henson laughs at the dilemma he has made for himself.
"It makes it hard to figure out how to make a movie, though, because what do you change?" he asks. "What do you change to make a movie, when really the series is an hour-long movie every week?"
Henson and fans everywhere certainly hopes to get the chance to really find out what it takes to make a FARSCAPE movie.