This page and the ones that follow describe my experiences at Farscape conventions and my growing connection to the series, the folks who put it together and the people who share my addiction. I didn't mean to become a fanatic Scaper; it just happened. It could happen to you if you're not careful.
Growing up is a mixed bag. On the one hand you get perspective; on the other, you lose your younger self's ability to jump into causes and fascinations with abandon. Being Trek-obsessed was, I thought, an aberration of youth. The more mature me wouldn't get so worked up about anything as ephemeral as a television series.
And so it seemed to be. Trek series came and went. I enjoyed some, tolerated others and generally got on with life. People recommended Babylon Five; I thought it was overwritten, too focused on plot at the expense of character and way too self-important for my taste. And then a well meaning friend introduced me to Farscape, sending me tapes of the first dozen episodes. I let them sit for weeks, exasperating said friend with my lack of interest. And then, during a bout of flu and with nothing more interesting to do, I started watching.
At first I wasn't sure what to make of it. Weird characters, a lot of yelling and general hostility, interesting visuals, weird creatures, some of which came from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. And way too many puns and silly cultural references and the kind of banter that was old when Tracy and Hepburn were doing it.
And at some point along the way I got hooked. I was fascinated by these people, not just in the way you get when you're being entertained by folks who know what they're doing, but really fascinated with what they put on the screen and what they were doing. I found myself thinking about the show, talking about it and genuinely looking forward to the next set of episodes.
Which might have been the end of the story. Except... that same friend told me about a Farscape convention that was to be held in August of 2000 in Beautiful Downtown Burbank. We went, we sat so far in the back we could barely see that there were people down there, we had a wonderful time. And we plotted to get it right next year, should these people be foolish enough to drag their entire cast from the production's home in Australia for another encounter with the fans.
What follows are a few pictures from the second Farscape convention, held over Labor Day weekend, 2001. They are a very small part of the almost two hundred pictures I took over three days. And if I've done a really good job, they will give you a tiny hint of the fun to be had when a group of enthusiastic and creative people spend time with their devoted and only slightly loony admirers.
The best part of a convention is the chance to meet the people behind all the makeup and the prosthetics and cool effects. Of course, you run the risk of being disappointed. After all, how many actors are half as interesting as the characters they play? That's not a problem here. I don't know why. Perhaps it's the nature of an Australian production, that you don't get the egos we associate with Hollywood. But whatever the reason, my major impression of the cast of Farscape is they'd be a great bunch to talk to over a pint. (Just don't make it Foster's; that's Australian for swill, mate.)
Let's start with the biggest surprise in the cast: Anthony Simcoe, betentacled Luxan warrior Ka D'Argo. Picture D'Argo and you think: Big guy. Deep voice. Slow and deliberate manner. Until he's riled; then all hell breaks loose. None of which describes the guy inside the suit. Okay, sure, he's big. But he's also warm and funny and almost incapable of standing still for more than a few seconds. With a high pitched Aussie twang that's as far from D'Argo's American tones as you get. And a penchant for ad libs that makes me wonder how anybody keeps a straight face on the set.
And then there's Gigi
Edgley, the adorable young blonde creature who plays an
adorable if not exactly trustworthy young white-haired, grey
skinned Nebari named Chiana. Of all the cast members, Gigi
seemed the least comfortable as the center of attention. At
times I thought she was going to vibrate herself right off the
stage! I guess I should remember how weird this whole fandom
thing is to normal people. Even the ones who go to work with
white hair and grey skin.
Farscape has been either very lucky or very clever in its choice of villains. Lani Tupu's Captain Crais was intensity and malevalence personified. It was hard to imagine a more implacable foe. And then we meet Wayne Pygram's Scorpius, a creature out of your worst nightmares. And yet... Crais moves from enemy to a not-entirely-trusted ally. And Scorpius inadvertently provides John Crichton with an ally as Harvey, the Scorpy clone who sits in his head and gives occasionally sage advice. It's a tribute to these two actors that we believe them in all their incarnations.
As for the actors themselves, why is it that
people who play bad guys are often so nice in real life? Lani
led the audience in screaming exercises (my voice still hasn't
returned three days later). And Wayne's stories about his first
and, God willing, last experience on a roller coaster will make
it just the tiniest bit harder to be terrified by Scorpius.
Master villains just don't blow chunks at amusement parks!
Casting changes are always risky, although Farscape is particularly fond of going where no show has gone before. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.) So when original cast member Virginia Hey's decision to leave the show led to the death of our beloved Zhaan character, the producers decided to go a different way with her replacement. The result was Jool, a whining, self-important and hopelessly incompetent alien with red hair, a ridged scalp and a scream that turns metal (and not a few viewers) into scrap.
Clearly the folks on the show knew the decision wasn't entirely popular with the fans. So in introducing new cast member Tammy McIntosh to her first convention audience, exec producer David Kemper built her up in a way that suggests he thought she'd get booed off the stage.
He needn't have worried. First because Farscape fans have better
manners than that (yes, it's true!), but mostly because it took
Tammy about five seconds to wrap the entire crowd around her
little finger. It isn't just because she's blonde, beautiful
and has a smile that could light Grand Central Station, although
all of that is certainly true. Tammy has such a warm and
disarming manner that you feel like she's honored to meet you!
And it probably didn't hurt that when questioned about her
character, she expressed the same kinds of feelings as the fans.
Jool's a whiner, a spoiled child who tries to kill herself when
things start to get tough and can't figure out which end of the
gun is which. But she'll learn; already she's starting to
become useful. And now that I've met the actress I'll be a lot
more forgiving of the character. Now if we could only do
something about all the screaming...
I don't watch SF programs for the science; for all I care they can make it up. Heck, more often than not that's exactly what they do. What does matter to me is the what and the why. And the more it happens to people I care about the more I want to see it come together. Which is why Farscape works for me and Voyager and Babylon Five didn't. And at the core of Farscape there is the growing and complex relationship between Earthling astronaut John Crichton and Sebacian Peacekeeper (and if that isn't a euphemism for stormtrooper, what is?) Aeryn Sun. It's plain to see what fascinates John about Aeryn; what she sees in him is rather more of a mystery. (Hey, I'm just kidding! Put down the pulse rifle!)
Claudia Black isn't Aeryn, of course. Aeryn is tough, physical
and direct; she's Schwarzenegger with a better profile and a
different funny accent. Claudia is more reserved, gracious with
the fans but not nearly as comfortable with the adulation as her
coworkers. Still, she puts it all on the screen. And at least
they do share that incredible smile.
Which just leaves Ben Browder as John Crichton: astronaut, wiseacre and interstellar punching bag. Ben was a big surprise at the first convention, imitating Tim Allen's turn in GalaxyQuest and throwing one liners and cue cards at the crowd with equal facility. If Crichton seems equally divided between galaxy-saving hero and hero's wisecracking sidekick, it's clear which side Ben falls on. This is a warm, charming and funny guy who isn't afraid to break through the invisible wall and get in close with the fans. Especially some fans; the little Jool knockoff at right asked for a hug and our hero was only too quick to oblige. To a collective "awwwww" from the audience, half of whom were clearly wishing they could make the same request.
I guess it's the lady on the right who helps keep Ben sane, or at least as sane as he ever gets. That's Francesca Buller, Ben's wife, who has played three different roles on the show thus far, with a fourth promised for next season. I could make some casting couch joke here about how she gets all these parts. But suffice it to say that Ms. Buller's marriage to the star isn't the only reason she keeps getting these assignments. And you'd think that with her connections she could get a role that actually lets us see her face!
In spite of all the gushing verbiage you just had to wade through, I know there's a lot more to Farscape than the actors. And so it is with a convention. And although series creator Rockne O'Bannon couldn't make it to the second con, exec producers Brian Henson (son of beloved Muppet creator, Jim) and David Kemper were both on hand. Farscape is clearly a labor of love for these guys; Brian spent years trying to get a studio to give the show a chance, while David insisted his agent write an escape clause into every contract so he could do Farscape if anybody was smart enough to buy it. David is also the guy who sees enough value in the fans to make the con happen every year and bring everybody along.
A lot of the fun of the con came in the form of various
panels. At right is the director's panel; from left to right
we have the ubiquitous David Kemper (only a medical emergency
could keep him away), Andrew Prowse, Tony Tilse and Ricky
Manning, he of the blinding wardrobe. You don't appreciate the
complexity or the sheer "let's put on a show" attitude of
Farscape until you listen these guys talk about what it takes to
get their daily four and a half minutes of film in the can.
Here's a writer's panel, with David, Ricky (in yet another of
his magnificent shirts), Andrew and, between Ricky and Andrew,
new addition to the staff Carleton Eastlake. One of the
questions to the panel concerned John Crichton's
references and the funny names he uses to refer to Dominar
Rigel. Were they in the script or did they consult with Ben to
come up with them? "We don't talk to Ben," explained Ricky
Manning. Which prompted Ben to make an unscheduled appearance,
bring his own chair onstage and join the panel. That's
certainly fair; Ben's first script was made into an excellent
season three episode. But it also shows the loose and friendly
nature of the company. Somehow I don't expect Shatner to do
something like that.
You can't accuse Farscape of shying away from an insane risk. The episode called Revenging Angel is an extreme example. D'Argo's anger with Crichton gets out of control and puts him into a coma. The unconscious John's thoughts of revenge take the form of a Roadrunner cartoon, with an animated D'Argo in the role of Wyle E. Coyote. The animation for this episode went into production a year before the live action, with regular changes to the script as new episodes were written and the characters' lives changed. And the live action was filmed before the director could see the animation and have even a clue about whether any of it would work!
Here we have Wayne, Gigi, Tammy and director Andrew Prowse
discussing the episode. Wayne appeared both live and animated;
for some reason the cartoon Scorpy looked more like a monkey
than a whatever-it-is-Scorpy-is. Gigi and Tammy were there to
talk about the live parts of the episode and in particular about
some rather complex simultaneous dialogue. The panel ended with
the playing of some of the best cartoon action, followed by
D'Argo on the receiving end of the revenge he so richly deserved.
Which led Tammy to get into her most comfortable
Another panel discussed Green Eyed Monster, Ben's first writing
credit on the show. The plan was to play the episode on the big
screen, with Lani, Tony, Claudia, Ben and David providing
DVD-style commentary. Plans, unfortunately, often get
frustrated; the tape they brought was unplayable. So instead we
got an impromptu commentary, with Ben explaining why he wrote a
nude scene for Claudia and Lani, Claudia explaining that she
wouldn't do the nude scene and Tony and Lani discussing the fun
of bringing in a guest actress who wasn't entirely enthused
about the process. So we didn't see the episode. But a good
time was had nonetheless.
The con included a couple of special events for those of us who
bought the expensive package. The second and better of the two
was a charity breakfast where, once we'd eaten and all the sharp
implements were safely out of reach, we were joined by the cast.
This was the real opportunity to get up close and personal, to
shake hands and have our pictures taken with all the beautiful
people. And to be amazed with how tirelessly friendly they
could all be. Especially Ben, who seemed to enjoy taking
pictures of the fans nearly as much as we did taking shots of
Sadly, I missed personal photo ops with Ben and Wayne. But I
guess I won't feel too bad. After all, I did have close
Tammy. And if I weren't
already a little in love with Tammy after her presentation,
well, let's just say that sharing an embrace with Joolushko
Tunai Fenta Hovalis doesn't entirely suck.
|Take me home:||
|Farscape: a year later|
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California