A Snurcher's Guide to Farscape

Burbank 2001: Day 3

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Event Schedule:

Q&A with Kemper

Claudia Black

Ben Browder

DVD Commentary on Green Eyed Monster

Full Weekend Schedule

1. Q&A (David Kemper, Richard Manning, Andrew Prowse)

[Kemper was scheduled for a half-hour Q&A, but after twelve plane flights in the past fourteen days, he was having some serious sinus problems, and was one hurtin' puppy. He started off the session, then turned it over to Manning and Prowse and went in search of meds and a place to lie down.]

Kemper inquired of the audience if anyone had named a pet or a child after Farscape. No one confessed to naming a child for the show, but there were many, many pets, some computers, and a car. Favorite Kemper comment: "A gerbil named Chiana -- that works!"

Kemper: "We've had characters that were all CGI -- you just didn't notice because they were Good."

[Kemper retired here]

Manning: Kemper is the fountainhead, and ideas spring forth from there. But they all bring their own ideas to the party, and the network from very early on has pushed them to make the show outrageous, to push the edges.

Prowse: what we've seen so far is the military wing of the Scarrans. You may see another wing of the Scarrans at some point...or they may forget about them and introduce some other race.

What does Moya eat? Manning: Blancmange. Space plankton.

Coming up with character names is hard; Manning says he steals them from some places (old Trek scripts he'd written, for example), and in other cases takes names and rearranges them, swapping parts or letters around. They argue about names in the Writers Room, and we'd be surprised at how passionate some of the arguments are. Prowse: "names are totally subjective".

A member of the audience: My friend wants to know when Zhaan is coming back.
Manning: "So do we."
[a few moments later, a fan in perfect Delvian makeup and costume came to the mike]
Manning: "And there she is!"

Naturally, someone just HAD to ask, which Crichton was the original and which was the copy. The audience groaned, the panel sighed and said "equal and original", and then Manning commented, "A difference which makes no difference, is no difference."

To do a movie and do it right, it would have to be HUGE, and right now just doing the series is hard enough. However, it's on everyone's mind.

Audience member: "Why is Farscape the only science fiction show without any robots on it?"
Manning: "How do you know? Did you know Zhaan was a plant?"

Prowse: he works with Animal Logic every day, and "it's one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life."

They don't shoot scenes in sequence. They get 4-5 minutes of footage a day, and they film for 10 hours a day.

With regard to scene composition, there's at least one widescreen shot in each of the episodes that Prowse directs.

Prowse: they deliberately make the episodes so that you pick up on additional things with each additional viewing; they try to really pack things into each scene, to make each episode extremely rich.

Is Chiana's precognition a result of the Rider? "Well, it's a good theory."

Prowse: "Someone said the other day that all the cute lines are Ben ad libbing. They are."

All those little pet names for Rygel just kind of pop up during production -- it's hard to say who came up with which one.

Lil Taylor serves as the continuity police in the script department; there are addition production folks on set checking continuity during filming.

The Qualta Blade prop is actually rather fragile. In DNA Mad Scientist, the first time Anthony swung the Qualta at Pilot's arm, the blade shattered (Anthony reportedly said, like a small child, "I broke my swo-ord..."). Hence, no more sword fighting on the show.


2. Claudia Black

While introducing her, Kemper said that Claudia was invited to join the writers in breaking stories for the first half of the season.

As soon as Claudia came out on stage and Kemper disappeared behind the curtain, she called back to him to go to the hospital -- he was clearly not well.

Nine Network Australia invited the cast to the promo party for their 2001 programming. The door matron stopped her, didn't recognize her name, and said she wasn't on The List. Eventually it occurred to them that Claudia was "talent" (Claudia corrected them: "CAST."[1]) and they let her in. Gigi was running around all night, looking for their names written on stars on the floor[2]; Claudia did a hysterical Gigi impression, running around the stage saying "Wheeeeeeee!". Towards the end of the party Claudia finally told her, "Sweetheart, I don't think we're there", and Gigi said, "Oh, okay... Wheeeeeeeeee, free alcohol!"

[1] On cast members being referred to as "Talent" in Australia: For those who have talent, it's an insult to be called that. For those who don't, it's overcomplimentary.

[2] "Were it not for you guys, there would be no stars at our feet."

When a casting agent approached her about auditioning for the show (back in its "Space Chase" days) the two things that stuck out for her were Rygel and the concept of a living ship. The project went on hold before she even got to test for it. When she was auditioning for Pitch Black, they called back and told her they thought the Space Chase role would be cast abroad, but they had her put down a little tape anyway. A while later, they asked her to come in and read opposite the men for their auditions, just as someone for the men to bounce their lines off of (rather than an audition herself). She went back to Pitch Black for a bit, but she clearly had made an impression, because the agent called and asked her to come down and read opposite the guy for the lead. It was at this point that the well-known story of running lines with Ben occurred.

About her guest role on Water Rats (an Australian show about a police division with jurisdiction over waterways): she played a widow suspected of offing her husband, and her lines included a specific reference to male anatomy. This clip wound up being used in the promotional ads for the episode, and was run extensively. So all her friends rang her up to tell her, "I heard you say the word penis on national television nine times today!"

What is a drannit? "I'm going to leave that up to your imagination."

It's so easy to giggle on the set of Farscape, they don't need any motivation for the funny bits.

At one point, a cell phone rang in the audience. Claudia immediately called out, "Phones off!" several times, to great cheering from the crowd. On set, cell phones ringing mean extra lines to be redone in ADR.

She was in a shop the other day, and was shocked when a store clerk asked if she was on Farscape -- it's so unusual for her to be recognized.

Someone in Mexico turned to her and said, "You know, you look so much like Claudia Black." He said the only thing that gave her away (as NOT being Claudia!!!) was her legs; Claudia was going "when have I shown my legs on Farscape?"...

"There's just no way we could make the show for any other network than SciFi -- it's just too brave."

How would she feel about being cloned (personally, as Claudia, not in character as Aeryn)? One Claudia would be dedicated to being spiritual and a completely good person...and one would be completely different...

They wanted to do some publicity photos with Claudia and Gigi in a gym; neither of them goes anywhere near a gym or is familiar with gym equipment. Claudia said no, take us to a restaurant and feed us. "I'm a bit peckish" was the catch-cry of the vacation in Mexico -- she and Gigi spent every day stuffing their faces.

The actors all know the episodes by number rather than name because the scripts don't always have names on them yet, when the actors are working on filming.

Regarding Infinite Possibilities Part 2: "I can't talk about that scene." It was clearly an emotionally difficult scene to shoot for her. The script where John tells Aeryn about the radiation broke her heart on set. She was almost in tears, watching it on the monitor with Ben, and it still gives her chills now talking about it.

Scenes with Ben in The Choice were lovely because they were sort of mystical and more lovely to do. The scene she loves is the tag, where Aeryn turns to John and says no, you have to go now. Part of her is clear and calm and healthy, and telling him to go so that she can move on. The other half is in denial about how she can survive and wondering how she can go on, and reverting to Peacekeeper mode because it's the only thing she knows.

When she came Stateside, she caught some of the reruns on SciFi from season one, and "I wanted to diiiieeeee". During the first season, she considered Aeryn damaged goods. Aeryn is disfunctional person who just hasn't had love. But Aeryn now is a positive role model, because she made a choice (in sedasons 2 and 3) to yield and learn what love is, to make herself available to loss and pain and joy.

How do you get Aeryn to be alien but accessible to humans? They originally had another woman in mind for the role and she was a lot younger. During her audition process, a number of people told her to make Aeryn very weird and alien, but Andrew Prowse told her no, make her human, so that we'll empathize with her.

On the background between Aeryn and Crais: "Lani wanted more work, he's not stupid." So he came up to Claudia and said, maybe we were lovers. Claudia said no, maybe he was her superior and they just had some sort of background. That opened the door to The Way We Weren't. Claudia's comment on Velorek in his final scene: "See, I knew it, I told you you were special...now I'm going to get killed!"


3. Ben Browder

[Kemper almost got choked up during Ben's introduction. The two men clearly have become close friends.]

Ben started his appearance by thanking several specific "unsung heros" on the show. For each name he mentioned, he winged a card out into the audience. One card wound up going too high and staying there (in a ceiling light fixture, I think); Ben said something along the lines of, "dang, and it's a signed card, too...". (We took bets on who would be first to haul out a ladder to retrieve it.)

On Andrew Prowse: the use of the National Anthem in Liars, Guns & Money was Prowse's fault -- Ben was goofing around in rehearsal, trying to find a good way to end that scene, and Prowse said "That's It!"

On Peter Andrikades: he came onto the show to direct The Flax, and Ben and Claudia spent three days on the pod. Ben thought Peter hated them, because he never said anything to Ben or Claudia, then or on any other episode he's directed -- but the resulting episodes are good stuff.

"If you end up bleeding, it's a Farscape motif."

Ben Thompkins (aged 22) was his stand-in this year, and came up with "astroboy". Any shots that just show the edge of his leg or a similar camera angle, that's Ben Thompkins; Browder is usually off on one of the other sets, filming different scenes. There were seven Bens on set this year; if you called out "Ben!", seven people would pop up saying "What?". "I hate it when they call you by your character name, but I've given up -- just call me John."

Angus Robertson works on Ben's ADR; he's the one who came up with putting Ride of Valkyries into the Superhero scene in Crackers Don't Matter.

'Lord' Playfer (sp?) is the prop handler, who keeps track of Winona for Ben.

Michael "Bubba" Faranda (Assistant Director) gives him a lot of the more outrageous stuff, including the "Can I get a 'Hell, yeah'?" line from Season of Death.

Jeremiah Crichton, as an episode, was the major turning point for John Crichton, where he had three months to really think about things and 'get his bitching done'.

Someone from the audience brought him a diet Mt. Dew: "You can't get this in Australia, it's contraband!"

The Scorpy makeup is weird; he walks around set and everyone says "Hey, Wayne." Everyone backs away when he walks by. Ben joked that "Wayne doesn't actually stand like that in real life -- it's the codpiece!"

"I steal from everybody in every other sentence. There's no pride involved in making Farscape; it's whatever works."

On Claudia in Icarus Abides: the Crichton death scene she played so beautifully, take after take. When you cry a lot, you get sniffly; she gave him the kiss, and when she pulled back there was this line of snot. Claudia said "I'm so sorry!"; Ben said "That was Great!"

On Scratch 'N Sniff: "I never wear fishnets. That was confusing. Especially when your wife is in there going 'COOOOOL!' and Anthony is between your legs." They had to duct tape the fishnets to his legs: "The things women do! It was uncomfortable."

Ben loves rollercoasters, and it never occurred to him that Wayne wouldn't, too. He painted a pretty vivid image of Scorpy in his racing suit, running away from the coaster, pulling out his teeth appliance, and leaning over the bucket...

A fan requested a hug. Ben: "You get a choice: you get a hug or you get a question." Audience: "Hug!" Ben cracked up.

He did a bit of "Old Crichton" a la The Locket -- funny stuff.

On what he might like to do besides science fiction: "Besides Science Fiction? Is there anything other than Science Fiction?"

"I would consider making a movie for Farscape whether it [the tv show] continues seven years or not. I think Farscape would lend itself well to the big screen."

"Don't wanna do Hamlet, he's too moody." (He did fess up to using Shakespearian elements in Green Eyed Monster, however.)

"To be perfectly honest, I'm happy in science fiction, but I'd consider anything that came along."

He had the goatee all grown this summer, but he shaved it before the Con.

On Die Me Dichotomy: "Claude's got great hair, and I couldn't stop playing with it." Rowan worked in the flipping of the knife over Aeryn's coffin, to leave the audience momentarily unsure of John's intentions. Ben was just trying not to stab Claudia in the eye.

The heart and core of John Crichton that Ben tries to keep coming back to: "It's about love and it's about hope, his friends and the people around him. Otherwise, as dangerous as the world is, it would spiral out of control."

On the current state of the John/Aeryn relationship: "Man, I'm upset that he's [John-T] dead. What am I gonna do now, man, I can't even talk to her! Kemper!!!"

"The guy in the green shirt. The guy you didn't like. I don't like him, man."

"Okay, let me clear this up right now. Two Crichtons, equal and original!!!! Either that, or clones really do make the man." [audience groans]

On whether John and Aeryn will be platonic or romantic going forward: "I honestly don't know the answer to that question." (Ben makes a Pinnochio gesture with his nose)

"You know that secret scene? I can do my whole part in it right now." Ben stands perfectly still, blinking once or twice, hands at his sides. "That's it!"

On Andrew Prowse: first time he met him, they'd been working together for a week, rehearsing. "Andrew's got a school of acting in his head and he's driving me nuts. He's scary -- he's big and he's blunt. He doesn't like something: 'that sucks!'. [I finally said to him] What is it about you that makes me want to hit you? He balls up his fist -- which is the size of frying pan. He still hasn't hit me back yet, but he will one day. Maybe later!"

"Doing Farscape is too damn interesting and all-engrossing to be giving up anytime soon."

What is stardom like? He's never in a place in Oz where he wonders if he's being recognized. For ten months a year they're down there working; then they come here and they bask in it: "Wow, people actually watch the show!!!"

"Everything is about story, it's about the script, it's about characters."

"One John Crichton they [the viewing audience] loved, the other they weren't sure about -- and they're the same actor!"

"It's not about the actor, it's about the story, the show, the work."

On participating in both theater and football in college: he's sitting in his room pulling tights on, while football players walk in saying, Ben, what're you doing?!?

Question: "Are you considering directing?"
Answer: [clears throat rather prominently] "...as soon as I can take Prowsie in a fight." Right now it would mean taking one of the regular director's jobs, and he's not keen to do that.

When a fan asked how he felt about being a role model, now that he's toting a gun every week and pointing it with reckless abandon: "There's a line in an upcoming episode which addresses this issue. Ben thinks it would be unrealistic, and that John Crichton would be an idiot, if he did NOT pick up a gun when he leaves the ship, given the circumstances under which he's living.

He's called Rygel sparky, spanky, buckwheat, guido, and other names -- but Dominar on only one occasion. He figured John would think 'go out gracious if you're gonna die', and that's why he used Dominar in Icarus Abides.

Biggest difference twixt Ben and John: "I'm here and he's there. Someone writes John Crichton's life, and I live mine. We're not the same person."

To the audience: "You guys getting tired of hearing how good you are? You guys are what we make the show for."


4. Commentary on GEM (Lani Tupu, Tony Tilse, Claudia Black, Ben Browder, David Kemper)

Technical difficulties prevented the live DVD commentary on Green Eyed Monster which they had planned to do, but the panel rolled gracefully with the punches and just pulled their chairs over to do more Q&A. Kemper pointed out that this was a model of what making the show is like -- they plan something, discover at the last minute that it won't work, and immediately come up with an alternate plan.

Ben on the same theme: "That schedule you just handed me is really pretty, but come Tuesday it will be meaningless." They always have a Waterloo: "you can't go forward or back, you're like Napoleon stuck in the mud." So they go sideways.

Claudia on the same theme: the call sheet lists all the scenes they're supposed to shoot that day and who's in them, etc. But they get to a point where they just say "roll film on the call sheet, and then we can say we shot it".

Kemper: Claudia and Ben beat the crap out of him for the season ender -- he wrote about the experience for his column in issue #3 of the Farscape magazine.

As they were beginning to plan the episode, Ben said, "I wanna do a show for Claud and Lani."

Claudia re Ben: "He always talks about me saving his ass; I just spend all my time looking at it."

They were able to shoot real drama, since there were no prosthetics in the major roles for this episode. Stark and Rygel had only a minimal presence.

The working title was 'Das Budong'.

Claudia on making changes to lines Ben wrote: "Okay, I'll just change it on set when he's in a good mood, someone get Ben a diet coke..."

Tony Tilse: Ben made up the term "Tilse-vision", for when Aeryn and Talyn were connected. They shot that effect with handicams, little handheld cameras. They just ran around set with them, having fun.

Kemper: Ben brought in a story with John being vulnerable, outnumbered, one human to two Peacekeepers

Ben: "Wasn't Lani great, in Green Eyed Monster?"

Of all the scenes in that episode, Lani loves most John's long walk down the corridor, after watching the faked recording chip.

Tony Tilse likes to sneak on-set to snurch a camera, four episodes later, in order to shoot "one more take! one more take!" pickup shots.

They all gave Ben hell about the script, simply to tease him. Kemper even called Claudia one day at home, and asked her to one day on the set say, "who wrote this shit???"

Regarding the scene Talyn faked to freak out John: in Australia, contracts are very specifically written with clauses about what an actor will and won't do on a production. They have to be notified of exactly what a questionable scene will entail, and the actor and director have a detailed discussion of it. Claudia does not do nude scenes, so she looked at the script and told the director that since it wasn't *actually* Aeryn, "you need to get another girl". So they got a stand-in -- except no one told her she was there specifically to do a nude scene. Tony Tilse: "It's extremely uncomfortable, if you've ever tried to talk someone into taking their clothes off." The actress said okay, however, and so she and Lani carefully negotiated exactly how the scene would be played. It was a closed set, but the head of the bed was a mirrored surface, letting everyone see her front, so they stuck duct tape across her chest (!!!). On this day, of all days, Lani's wife and daughter were visiting the set; obviously, he didn't want them on the set, so Claudia nabbed 'em in the hallway and took them down the hall for a cup of tea...

The name of the Tac-5 torpedo in GEM was a riff on "Take 5", to which Ben was listening as he wrote the script.

The special effects crew made the torpedos so that they actually fired. Everyone on set was wearing protective gear and standing behind plexiglass, and Claudia's looking at the torpedo and thinking, "I'm on the wrong side of that wall..."

The torpedo was sooo heavy, five seconds was like two hours; they had to block it so that Ben could help Claudia support it.

On other episodes -

Aeryn's night vision in Liars, Guns & Money was also done with Tilse-vision. The pyrotechnic folks always want to blow stuff up; Tilse is going, "hey, the sets are made of plywood and styrofoam -- we'd die in five minutes if there were a fire." For the big shootout scene, they shut off all the studio lights, to shoot in the dark. The three actors couldn't see, and there were several injuries (Grip, Claudia). While shooting the second sequence, John Adam (Bekhesh) whacked Claudia right in the face, and she wound up sitting on the side of the set with a diet coke on her eye.

A pickup scene was proposed for Throne For A Loss: Aeryn & D'Argo standing by a lake, Aeryn sees 6-8 armored soldiers on the other side of it, she takes off her clothes, swims across the lake, takes out the soldiers naked, swims back, and walks off. Needless to say, this scene was not shot -- but while Claudia was describing it, Ben was slouching down in his seat, covering part of his face, and the clear implication was that he had written that bit.

When Claudia unzipped her costume in Out of Their Minds, she thought, what would Ben say? The first thing that came to mind was "ooohhhh, Mama!" [Ben tries to look innocent.]

Ben: "[maybe we need] a panel on the sex in Farscape..."

Ben on Meltdown: "That script has never been anywhere near my house, the rushes have never been anywhere near my house. I still haven't recovered from that episode."