By Anna L. Kaplan
FARSCAPE takes risks. FARSCAPE refuses to be pinned down to one style or one way of doing things. Executive producer David Kemper decided long before starting season three that he wanted to do an episode of FARSCAPE mixing live-action with cartoons. It took a long time, and all of his personal conviction and powers of persuasion to bring the episode “Revenging Angel” to the small screen. Although he understood the fact that a cartoon episode could be viewed as both a financial and creative risk, he was undeterred.
Director Andrew Prowse got involved early on, and he and Kemper spent a lot of time working together on the project. Recalled Kemper, “‘Revenging Angel’ was a year and a half in the making. Andrew Prowse and I did it. It was the most ambitious thing I have ever done in my career. I presented it in April of 2000. Everyone said no. The Henson [Company] said no. The network was nervous. The producers here were nervous. We kept saying, ‘We can do it, and we can do it on budget.’ The history of this show in a nutshell is that every time we want to do something new and different a lot of people are really scared and say no.”
He added, “You can’t tell people what ‘Revenging Angel’ is going to look like. You say, ‘We are going to do an episode with some cartoons in it.’ Some people see kid’s cartoons, and other people see THE SIMPSONS, and other people see Warner Brothers. But you can’t explain to people the visions in your head. They go, ‘But cartoons are expensive.’ They don’t understand. Andrew and I knew we could do it. That’s why it’s my favorite episode. Not because it’s genius, which I think part of it is, inspired, but because it represents the triumph of the filmmakers putting something inventive and creative before an audience, and doing it on budget, while everyone around you is saying, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t get it. I don’t think it can be done.’ ‘Revenging Angel’ for me, personally, was the show that kept me going. That kept Andrew and I, and ultimately Ben [Browder], engaged, because we were going to do it, damn it.”
Recalled Prowse, “When David first pitched the idea, I thought, ‘How are you going to pull this one off?’ I think he thought the same thing. But he had wanted to do it for whatever reason, probably because he is completely perverse and just wanted to. Everybody said, ‘This isn’t going to work. Don’t do it.’ There were arguments from everybody about doing this show. We had to make it work. It had to work, or we were going to have a lot of egg on our faces. It did. I am delighted with it.”
Kemper had to write the scenes meant for animation long before he wrote the script for the episode. He laughed, “I remember I was supposed to be on a two-day, three-day vacation, December 29th, 2000 to January 2nd, 2001. My wife and I were up the coast of Australia. I was in a hotel room, in a fancy resort, and she said, ‘Let’s go to dinner,’ and I said, ‘No.’ I sat down at the window with my computer, writing, because we had to go and make the cartoons. I had to write the cartoon elements, with an idea of knowing what I was going to do, and then I had to go back and write the script to fit.”
They decided on Chuck Jones-style animation, with D’Argo acting something like Wile E. Coyote and Crichton as the Road Runner. Recalled Prowse, “David and I, I think, watched everything that Chuck Jones ever made. I did a bit of reading about him and how Wile E. Coyote ever got to that point. We knew what we wanted to do. You are talking blind to some animators. ‘We want you to make a story like this. We want you to do these old gags, in a Warner Brothers style.’ But you don’t know what you are going to get. You have no idea. The thing about animation is, you do a storyline, and then they do a couple of rough sketches. I re-directed some of the rough sketches. Eventually you get back black-and-white key frames. You just get back the pictures. You go, ‘Now what?’ You don’t see anything until very late in the process when it’s almost too late. I kept feeling like we were making irrevocable decisions way up front about what it was going to look like. You look at a drawing and you are defining D’Argo, and he is going to look like that forever. How do you do cartoon Crichton? Somebody like Ben is really hard to make into a cartoon. But you are locking down those decisions and you are going to be stuck with them. So we were very nervous about it, and we shot a lot of other material that was there just in case the cartoons didn’t work. I probably worked harder on that than any other ep I’ve done, including the premiere.”
Kemper continued, “Andrew and I had to make this one go for a long time before it got to anyone else. He and I were sitting there in the cartoon shop picking the colors of what D’Argo’s robe would look like, and what the backgrounds would look like. It turned into something great because we realized we could do it.”
Not only would this be mixed media, it was both comedy and drama. Explained Kemper, “It was intended to be a comedy, set against the backdrop of some really serious stuff. It was a no-brainer that Anthony Simcoe was going to play the comedy. That was our comic foil. He had to be the comedian, because he is so startlingly good at it.”
In the story, an angry D’Argo shoves John, who hits his head, goes unconscious, and dies. While in a coma, in his head he is talking to the Scorpie clone, being chased by D’Argo, and trying to keep himself alive. He is also turning into cartoon Crichton who is chased by cartoon D’Argo.
Said Prowse, “There are just some eps you do, and you are so far out of your own comfort zone that you wake up at 2 in the morning and go, ‘Did I shoot that scene right?’ It was one of those. You’ve got comedy, you’ve got drama, but it’s in a different context. It’s with characters that are not in the reality of the show. The reality is that Crichton is dead at the time. You’ve got Crichton playing outside the reality of the show. You’ve got Scorpius playing outside the reality of the show. Where do you pitch all this stuff? You’ve got D’Argo being a live cartoon character. How do you play him? In fact, Anthony and I had a number of almost-fights about where do you pitch it. He wanted to pitch it much more clowny. He loves clowning. He’s trained in clowning. I wanted to make it much more real, because I thought the context would probably do it all.”
Simcoe remembered the disagreement well. He said, “Andrew and I had a little to-do on the first day of shooting. I thought it should be played one way the whole ep. He really wanted it going in a different direction. In the end we had a really fantastic, comfortable compromise, because Andrew and I love working with each other. But we both had to make a brave choice. It’s not like walking into a normal scene, working out your given circumstances and your objectives, and plowing through it as realistically and interestingly and dynamically as you can. There is a whole other level of style that normally doesn’t come into play when you are working on FARSCAPE. So to establish that and keep it consistent and make it play throughout just one episode, to be instantly recognizable of a style so the audience will go along with it, and to play for forty-five minutes, and then let go of it, is a really difficult thing to do. I don’t know whether or not people will appreciate how hard that ep was to make.”
Browder, as Crichton, also played both live action hallucination and cartoon versions of himself, as well as the regular John Crichton. He recalled, “I thought it was an incredibly bold thing to do. It was a huge challenge for Prowse, and a challenge for all of us. It takes place in three realms. It takes place in cartoon land, in Crichton’s head, and then in reality. How you differentiate those worlds visually was very difficult for Prowse. But also, performance-wise, I am playing across from cartoons, and I know that I am going into cartoon land, so it was interesting trying to pitch the performance at a place that grounded the episode. I tried to pitch it in such a way that it was like I was doing Uber-Real acting. I fell into the low-key, Hollywood, leading-man, super-method. I took it really back. I had to pitch the entire performance in that vein to counterpoint the fact that it’s cartoons, to counterpoint the madness and chaos. You’ve got D’Argo and Jool, and Chiana who are all in prosthetics running around. Most of the performance in between is the bit where with Scorpie, but the critical bits have to be really real, to counterpoint the zany nature of the episode. I like that ep. Whether it works or not, whether you pull it off, that’s the scary thing when you are doing it. You don’t know if it succeeded with the level of performance. You don’t know whether you succeeded in balancing those things out.”
For the animation, the actors recorded something like a temp track, and then re-voiced their characters to the finished cartoons. The animation was done by Yoram Gross EM-TV, an Australian animation company. Post-production supervisor Deborah Peart actually edited the episode. Peart said, “Andrew and I had great fun. It is a great story, lots of layers to it, a lot going on so it was quite a challenge. Apart from all the live action we also had the animation sequences as well, that go through a lot of stages. It was new territory for most of us dealing with the animation elements. Understanding the ins and outs of the animation process was another hurdle many of us had to overcome.”
Guy Gross provided the music for “Revenging Angel.” And yes, he is related to the people who did the animation. For his work on “Revenging Angel,” he won a Screen Music Award from the Australian Guild of Screen Composers for “Best Music for an Animation.” He said, “It was terrific fun to score. I have a history of scoring animation. My family run an animation studio (that co-incidentally did the animation for the ep) so it’s kind of in the blood. But having done it, I’ve got to take my hat off to Carl Stalling, who scored most of the Warner Brothers cartoons. The man was a genius.”
When all was said and done, both Prowse and Kemper felt relieved and proud. Said Prowse, “What made it gratifying when it came off, was the fact that we’d agonized so much about it. When it comes of you go, ‘Relief.’ Sigh of relief. You think, ‘I was right. I got it right.’ That’s fantastic.”
Added Kemper, “‘Revenging Angel,’ – I’m most proud of that of probably anything I have ever done. It was 44 minutes of quality entertainment there, I think. I am most proud of it for me because of what it represents, and I know Andrew is too. When the DVD comes out for that one, Andrew and I will do the commentary. Andrew and I will be on there explaining some of the things that people would never know otherwise.”
Copyright 2002 by Anna L. Kaplan. An edited version of this article
originally appeared in the June 2002 issue of Cinefantastique (Volume 34, Number 3-4). Other
articles from this issue can be found in the Archives June 2002.