The Great Escape

Brian Henson charts the birth and development of the small screen Sci-Fi sensation that is Farscape

By David Bassom

Farscape's Scorpius and Crichton

Interview - Brian Henson

Selected from Starburst Special #47 Also in this issue:

You could say that Brian Henson was Farscape’s original Pilot. After all, it was his desire to produce the Jim Henson Company’s first weekly Sci-Fi series which originally drove the show’s creation. And it was Brian Henson who beat the odds and finally steered Farscape onto the screen in 1999, following a five-year search for a backer.

“This one was such a big gamble for us,” says Henson of his company’s involvement with Farscape. “We developed it for about five years before we eventually financed it and it was always one of those enormous risks for the company. It had to be a hit. So I’m thrilled that it’s developing such a big following. It’s terrific for us.

“I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t a hit,” he admits. “It was an enormous gamble for us, but I don’t think we’re losing.”

Creature comforts

Henson first began to pursue the idea of producing a weekly Sci-Fi series in 1993. At the time, the Emmy Award-winning producer-director had just assumed the Presidency of the family business following the death of his father, the legendary Muppet creator Jim Henson. During the genesis of the project, Henson felt that a Sci-Fi vehicle would not only provide an ideal showcase for the famed animatronics and prosthetics of the Henson Creature Shop, but would also allow the Jim Henson Company to produce an adult-oriented offering that was more in keeping with its edgy Fantasy movie The Dark Crystal than its popular kids’ show, Sesame Street.

“I wanted to deliver the most imaginative adult show on air today,” reveals Henson. “That kind of led us into the direction of making sure the aliens were a lot more daring in design and concept than other television Science Fiction franchises. It meant that we would turn the emotionality of all the characters way up so that they had strong personalities, because that’s what you need for an animatronic character or a heavy make-up character to really resonate.

"Other Science Fiction franchises work on a very subtle tone emotionally, but we wanted to work on a very dialled up tone emotionally.

“Corporately, what I wanted to do was take what the Creature Shop in London has been doing for features for 20 years to television. I wanted to produce television at a feature standard.”

Fox Hunting

When Henson and Rockne S O’Bannon presented their ideas to America’s Fox network in the winter of 1993, the channel initially earmarked the peoject then called ‘Space Chase’ for development. But after financing the writing of four additional scripts, Fox ultimately balked at the project’s hefty price tag and its need for a multiple episode order, and commissioned another Sci-Fi series, the short-lived Space: Above and Beyond, instead.

After a further four years of solid pitching, Henson’s project was finally given the green light at the start of 1998 by the American Sci-Fi Channel, who commissioned the show in association with the Nine Network and Hallmark Entertainment. Now retitled Farscape, the series began filming on 25 September 1998 in cost-effective Sydney, Australia. During the show’s early days, Henson was on hand to personally supervise its production and also helped set the tone of the series by directing the Season One bug-filled episode, Exodus from Genesis.

“I think it took a few episodes for the show to really settle and know what it was,” he admits. “The first few episodes are fantastic when you figure that we were trying to make an extremely ambitious weekly television series that no one else in the world would probably do because they would say it was insanity – and to a degree it was! “I do think it took a while for all the actors and the directors to feel comfortable in that world, and for the writers to feel comfortable writing in that world...”

Images © The Henson Company / Sci-Fi / Visual Imagination
Feature © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction

Starbytes

At their very first convention, Farscape's stars revealed their innermost thoughts on the show

Featured below:
Ben Browder (John Crichton)

Ben Browder as himself!

By Judy Sloane at the Airport Hilton in Burbank, California

Last summer, Creation Entertainment organized and hosted a truly momentous event - the world's very first Farscape convention. It was impossible to discern who was most excited about the gathering: the actors, who all flew in from Australia, or the loyal and devoted fans who travelled from all over the US to attend...

Similarly featured in this issue:
Claudia Black (Aeryn Sun),
Virginia Hey (Zhaan),
Anthony Simcoe (Ka D'Argo)
Gigi Edgley (Chiana)
Wayne Pygram (Scorpius)
Lani Tapu (Crais)


About Ben's audition for Farscape

If you can bleed for an audition, then you can get the job. Suddenly my nose was bleeding. They wanted me to lie down on the executive’s couch, but I thought bleeding on his couch was not going to get me the job. So I went outside, and it took fifteen minutes to stop the flow of the blood. I think the fact that I was able to recover from that, and that I could bleed on camera, the producers thought, ‘This is John Crichton!’

About hitting Rygel!

In episode five, Crichton is flashing back and forth in Time and he arrives in a sequence where Rygel is choking on a bit of food. I said, ‘Is it alright if I hit the puppet?’ Brian (Henson) wasn’t around so it was safe! So I hit Rygel and it was a really great moment, because I nailed the puppet!

About John Crichton

I think most of us can imagine ourselves as John Crichton. What do you do when you’re stuck at the other end of the Universe, with no clue what’s going on? John’s charting unfamiliar territory, trying to survive and make a life, and that’s what everybody does. It’s a very scary world.

About Out Of Their Minds

I think Claudia Black was definitely the best Crichton. I wanted to do Chiana! I think the whole cast did an amazing job, considering the fact that we shoot these shows in a week. The rehearsal is literally done during the blocking. When you consider the timeframe, and what is required of the cast, I think we have a remarkable cast.

Also featured in this issue:
Sean Masterson on the strings he's pulled to get the job done as Pilot's lead puppeteer...

 
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"The show will keep bending and twisting in ways that nobody expects..." says Brian Henson in the full version of this feature. Get it when you buy Starburst Special #47