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Escape into Worlds Beyond Belief

Children of the Night, Collector's Edition, Number 3 - (Year unknown)

SPACE: 1999 - Escape into Worlds Beyond Belief
by John N. Park
Article source provided by: Janet Schill


Our 1999 article was written by our English correspondent John N. Park. John also interviewed Brian Johnson, special effects director of 1999. This interview can be found in the first issue of Cyclops (our sister magazine). John is a journalist. His favourite actor is Peter Cushing.

It was quite incredible really. At 10 am I was in the heart of London, and within 60 minutes I was walking round Moonbase Alpha. The answer wasn't with space-age science. Most of the help came from Davidson Dalling Associates and Pinewood Studios. And for two days I spent my time in studio "M" watching an episode from the second series of Space: 1999 being filmed.

There are a few changes on the way for the show's second season. Professor Victor Bergman- played by Barry Morse- has left the series. But in comes Catherine Schell, star of the hilariously funny motion picture The Return of the Pink Panther with the zany Peter Sellers.

Of course when you see her you'll probably not recognize her. For she plays Maya, an alien who joins the Alphans in their quest for a planet to colonize. She's what you might call a female Mr. Spock- but a bit more beautiful. Her distinct appearance will give the show a more definite extra-terrestrial feeling.

Fred Freiberger- producer of Star Trek's third season- steps in to take the honours as producer of Space: 1999. And leading the production is Executive Producer, Gerry Anderson.

I was present on the set during the filming of One Second of Humanity [One Moment of Humanity] with guest stars Billie Whitelaw and Leigh Lawson. In one sequence the script calls for Dr. Helena Russell, again played by the beautiful Barbara Bain, to dance with one of the inhabitants of the planet Vegan [Vega]. Lionel Blair was called in to chore[o]graph the routine, not the scene you normally expect to see in a sci-fi series. But Space: 1999 is a normal series, and that's why it's so successful.

In another scene, Tony Anholt, playing an Alphan, is asked by one of the Vegans to eat a piece of fruit. It looks normal but is supposed to taste bad. At the insistence of Dr. Russell the Alphan puts on a brave face, and describes the fruit as different. Before the scene was shot I saw a crew member sprinkling salt over the fruit- probably in the interests of "realism." Who says an actor's life is an easy one?

It was a hectic two day schedule for myself, but I managed to interview Gerry Anderson, and stars of the series Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.

The special effects team from nearby Bray Studios, Hammer's old home, were at the studios for a two day shooting schedule. They were led by Brian Johnson and Nicky Allder (for more special effects information on Space: 1999, see our sister magazine, Cyclops). And their task was as usual, most unusual. The script dictated that an insect be filmed making its way under a force-field protecting the alien's nerve centre. That just happened to be a masterpiece of Perspex, plastic and polystyrene.

The sequence sounds simple enough, but it created a few problems. One major headache was trying to find the correct camera position to shot the insect a few inches from the floor. Eventually a number of wooden blocks helped solve the problem, and lift the small camera dolly. After some trial and error the shot was filmed. Phew!

Maya was connected with that sequence, and another one involving a brightly coloured friendly macaw. But I'll let Gerry Anderson explain Catherine Schell's role in the series.

I interviewed Mr. Anderson in his private office, attached to sound stages "L" and "M" on the Pinewood complex.

INTERVIEW WITH GERRY ANDERSON

COTN: How did the programme originate?

GERRY ANDERSON: The programme was originally devised by Sylvia Anderson and myself- that was the original format. In the second season we are affecting certain changes. The first series, in my view, was very spectacular with lots of fantastic science fiction sets and model work. Now the emphasis is being put on the people, the humanity and the stories. One of the biggest changes is the introduction of Maya. Maya is an alien who is introduced in the first episode of series two. She is found on the Psychon planet and she has the gift of molecular restructuring and can change herself into anything living, animals or plants. This, I think, will greatly enhance the new stories.

COTN: How did Maya arrive on Moonbase Alpha, and how did the Alphans make contact with her planet?

GERRY ANDERSON: The moon people come across the planet Psychon which is made up mainly of volcanic ash and active volcanoes. They decide there couldn't possibly be any life form, but when they take a closer look they find the few remaining people on the planet are living underground in burnt out volcanoes. This is the only place they can live because of the high temperatures. These people have the ability to rearrange molecules and therefore transform themselves into other things. Like many things, this wonderful discovery is not being used the right way. The Alphans are kept on the planet, and it's in their effort to get away that they finally have to destroy the planet. Maya is the only survivor, and she is taken back to Moonbase Alpha.

COTN: Why did you pick Catherine Schell to play Maya?

GERRY ANDERSON: If you want a beautiful girl who can act and genuinely likes science fiction...and is prepared to wear weird makeup...and is the star of The Return of the Pink Panther...and is available, you have a hell of a job on your hands, and really we were very lucky to get her.

COTN: Do you see her helping the Alphans?

GERRY ANDERSON: Yes, very much so, she becomes part of the Alphan base. In fact she becomes a science officer.

COTN: Why do you think the programme has been so successful?

GERRY ANDERSON: It is a very difficult question to answer. I don't mean this in any derogatory sense, but when I was last in the States I spoke to an American producer who said most of their time was spent trying to think of how to make another copy show. Our show is unusual. It also has production qualities that one can't normally afford to put into television.

COTN: Do you do much location shooting?

GERRY ANDERSON: We have one show coming up in about three weeks time involving location shooting. But I think the answer is out of 24 episodes, probably a maximum of three days are spent outside.

COTN: Is that because you have to transform an Earth-type situation?

GERRY ANDERSON: I think it's because the only time we can go on location is when we have a story which presents us with either Earth itself, or an Earth-type planet. This doesn't happen too often.

COTN: Are there any major problems coordinating live action at Pinewood and model special effects at Bray Studios?

GERRY ANDERSON: Yes, enormous problems. This is something I could talk on for an awful long time. First of all, take a writer who has no technical knowledge on how effects are produced, and what effects are extremely difficult and expensive. The writer has to concentrate on the storyline, then we have to ensure that the story can be turned into film. A considerable amount of work has to be done in order to ensure a good story can be physically produced for the screen. The special effects unit working in a smaller studio which is much more suitable for their work, are some distance away. When you read a description in a script about say, an alien space ship, there has to be a lot of liaison because we see the model, and then cut inside to Pinewood. The size of sets and the shape of the sets have to tie into the model. There is a considerable problem.

COTN: You have the basic Moonbase Alpha set. Does budget allow the construction of an additional set per episode?

GERRY ANDERSON: Normally we make a number of additional sets. Moonbase Alpha is of modular construction- it's like a giant jigsaw puzzle which can be taken apart and re-erected in all different shapes. Corridors can be turned into rooms. Rooms can be any kind of size you want by using all kinds of room dividers, window pieces, and bulkhead doors. Moonbase Alpha can go on forever. We usually have a planet's surface and probably two or three other sets in addition to Alpha on each episode.

COTN: How scientifically accurate is Space: 1999?

GERRY ANDERSON: This is a very touchy area. I think one can have a scientific advisor, and then the show is scientifically accurate. But it also, in my experience, inhibits the writers. I'm not saying this is correct, but in my view, an inaccuracy here and there is worthwhile if the writers are liberated and therefore able to write just what they want. For the odd mistake I think one gets a greater reward than being too careful.

COTN: Do writers have to research scripts scientifically- such as using the correct terminology?

GERRY ANDERSON: Where we have any kind of an area where we can be challenged we do take scientific advice, but only specifically in that area. We don't hand each script in for thorough voting. If we have a term, or anything that we feel should be scientifically correct, we just check that one point.

COTN: How many writers do you have on Space: 1999?

GERRY ANDERSON: About 14 writers have worked on this show.

COTN: Twenty-four episodes are being filmed. Do you have 24 scripts?

GERRY ANDERSON: We have 24 scripts in work, believe it or not. I say believe it or not because that's very unusual. We are usually living from hand to mouth on scripts. At this precise moment we have two completed scripts in hand, six in first draft, and all the other scripts are placed.

COTN: How many drafts do you go through before you have a shooting script?

GERRY ANDERSON: We start off with a story outline, and then we move into first draft and second draft. The writer then does what we call the final polish. But it isn't quite as simple as that because internally we do a lot of work after the script is completed, generally speaking. The writing would continue another three weeks. One is constantly polishing and improving.

COTN: Are your writers specifically sci-fi writers?

GERRY ANDERSON: They're either sci-fi writers or people who believe they can write science fiction. It is a bit limiting to only take sci-fi writers. Provided a man can write a damn good story, we'll reject the science fiction notion if need be.

COTN: Are shots plotted out rigidly on the script beforehand, or do you improvise on the set?

GERRY ANDERSON: We do improvise on the set, but only in terms of staging. The scripts have to be pretty well adhered to.

COTN: Are you able to pull props out of a store room, or do you have to make them for the series?

GERRY ANDERSON: If it were a conventional series we would be able to pull out props from the prop room. But on this series pretty well everything has to be made. You can't go to the prop room and say "Can I have a ray gun or a laser gun, or do you happen to have a model space ship in stock?" Even a chair has to be something unusual to be acceptable.

COTN: The show uses a lot of special effects sounds. How do you produce them. For instance, how do you create the sound of a monster?

GERRY ANDERSON: We are faced with this question literally every two weeks, when a new show comes out --- be it space craft or a monster. We look at the monster on the screen and try to visualize what sound it would make. We find a great deal of difficulty trying to describe a sound. You can hear a sound in your head, but to convey what you imagine to another person is extremely difficult. If you want the monster to [be] frightening, you immediately associate it with a sound that would frighten people- which may be a scream. How do you make a scream sound like a monster? You record it and slow it down. Now it still sounds human, so you use three screams, some groans slowed down and superimposed, and then play around in a theatre until it sounds like a monster.

COTN: You must really be interested in science-fiction, looking at your previous productions such as UFO, Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL5.

GERRY ANDERSON: I am interested in science fiction now. Every time we produce a science fiction show we are asked to produce another one. I don't think we intended to make science fiction shows- it just happened.

INTERVIEW WITH BARBARA BAIN

I was able to speak to Barbara Bain during breaks in filming, and I asked what attracted her to the role of Dr. Helena Russell and the television series.

BARBARA BAIN: The whole concept of the series was particularly exciting. All the things that were offered to us in relation to television were exceedingly repetitious. This was the first thing that had absolutely different possibilities. It had the excitement and enthusiasm of Gerry Anderson and the people involved. And it had great accessibility in terms of budget to do a really good show.

COTN: What's it like working on a British set?

BARBARA BAIN: It's basically very much the same as working on any set. Good technicians and good people have the same feeling anywhere. If I can quote Bob Hope, when he was asked the question, he said "its Paramount with tea." The fellas are marvelous, each in their own craft are exceedingly skilled. It's like a top Hollywood crew which is the best compliment I could give anybody. Plus, we have this extraordinary gift of the special effects unit over at Bray. It's unbelievable what they can do. We see what they do in our daily rushes.

COTN: Have you any plans to stay in this country?

BARBARA BAIN: I would like to. In relation to staying here there's always the complication of such things as work permits, etc. I would be very happy living here. I could easily stay here forever. I even like the weather.

COTN: How did you arrive at the characterization of Dr. Russell?

BARBARA BAIN: She is basically rooted in me, although I have a total lack of any medical skills. Then there is an extension of my own fascination with the possibilities of what medicine might be like in the future. I have also had lots of talks with writers to further define the character, particularly this season. We were less able to expand that area last year. Now we are trying to pull in, along with everything else, a more specific relationship with Martin and I.

COTN: Why do you think the pair are moving closer together?

BARBARA BAIN: Generally the last series' scripts highlighted a danger we would have to focus on and deal with. You can't make funny jokes when somebody is dying in your intensive care unit. We are trying to find places aside of those moments to pull in humour and relationships with the people. And so far I think we have been very successful.

COTN: How do you think Maya is going to affect the series?

BARBARA BAIN: I think she is a fascinating character. It can very well catch on. She has a fantasy element that should appeal to everyone. I think she can be a very exciting contribution.

COTN: Do you ever see the Alphans colonising a world?

BARBARA BAIN: That's our underlying hope. I don't know if we ever will.

COTN: What's your favourite episode of the last series?

BARBARA BAIN: I liked War Games very much. It was rich in concept. There are a lot of episodes and it's hard to pick them out. They all have something interesting.

INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN LANDAU:

Martin Landau and his wife, Barbara Bain, were quick to see the possibilities of Space: 1999. A large budget and unlimited storylines clinched the deal. And after consultation with Executive Producer Gerry Anderson and ITC, the pair flew to England from California and started on the series at Pinewood Studios. The two, undoubtedly, helped by a top-flight production team, have helped the show become one of America's top science fiction programmes. It was during filming of the second series that I talked to Martin Landau- the super efficient Commander John Koenig- and he told me the second season was going to be better than the first.

MARTIN LANDAU: When you embark on something as progressive as a space show there are always problems. On Hawaii Five O it took them 13 shows to get a fix on what they were doing. Already this year we have three shows which are far superior to any of the 24 we did last year- and I think that is a healthy kind of evolution. I think it's getting better. We are incorporating much more humanity, much more humour, and richer stories. In one story we have a living rock which is like a sponge. It takes in water and has a consciousness. The stories vary. No two episodes are alike. There is almost an anthropological feel to the stories. Unlike a contemporary show- if you're a cop in a series you know what you'll run into- from week to week, we don't know what we'll meet. We have no business being out there. Technologically and emotionally we shouldn't be deep in space. It was an accident that caused us to go. We wouldn't be able to get there if we wanted to.

COTN: How long does it take to film and rehearse a show?

MARTIN LANDAU: We rehearse a sequence before we shoot it. We also shoot out of sequence and often don't see some of the effects until after we respond to them.

COTN: When does your day start?

MARTIN LANDAU: My day generally starts at the studios about 7:30, and I'm usually in front of the cameras by 8:30. We work 'til about 5:30, and sometimes 'til 8:30. It's a shorter day than we have in the States. On Mission: Impossible we sometimes worked 12 or 13 hours. As a result it takes more days to shoot here. Last year we got it down to 11 days a segment; hopefully this year we'll be able to do it in ten.

COTN: Is it more demanding than feature film work or working in the theatre?

MARTIN LANDAU: It is. In 15 months filming last time around I had three days off. There was no way to shoot around it. It's rare I'm not in a sequence. Interestingly, I've just come back from a two day break- that's never happened before. It was only because there was a very complicated sequence which I came into at the end. There's a lot of work to be done in terms of learning words and trying to motivate. To bring reality to Space is difficult. It can become comic-strippy which is a danger.

COTN: Do you see Koenig becoming romantically involved with Dr. Russell?

MARTIN LANDAU: Yes- much more. There was an indication of it, but because of the nature of the scripts last year there was very little room for it. We are including it now in the basic concept of the show.

COTN: In one episode, Moonbase Alpha travels through a black sun, and you aged. How long did that makeup take to apply?

MARTIN LANDAU: We put it on several days because we shot out of sequence. There were times I had it on and times I didn't. It was a two-and-a-half to three hour makeup job.

COTN: Do you watch the show on television?

MARTIN LANDAU: Yes, I do. I generally see the episodes in a projection room under large conditions. It's interesting because the show looks better on the big screen- the bigger the better. Most television shows don't generally look as good when they are blown up. I like to see it in colour and I also like to see it in black and white on television, because I like to know what most people have seen. Seeing it under ideal conditions and seeing it under practical conditions are very different. As a result, we are using more close-ups this year to get into people a little more directly. Some intimate things are often lost when the shot is too wide a shot.

COTN: What is your favourite episode from last series?

MARTIN LANDAU: I have a few. I liked the ice show which was called Death's Other Dominion. I liked the show with Anthony Valentine [War Games], I though it was well put together. There are a few others but overall I think those were good science fiction and they had a good melding of qualities.

COTN: Why do you think the show is such a success?

MARTIN LANDAU: Western shows have had their time, and police shows are very popular now, but people need something new. The form science fiction allows you to do a lot of things you can't do in any other kind of shape. There are certain ideas a writer can have that cannot possibly work in terms of a contemporary show. There can be great writing and some wonderful shows in the police format, but in terms of just letting your mind take off, science fiction is the medium. There's no place you can't go, and nothing you can't touch. It's not like being in New York every week. The look of the set is different, the feel of the people and the tone of the piece. The rhythm of the piece can be different from episode to episode. You can have a horror story, a ghost story, a story of relationship, a story that's exotic, and in a different way, a down to earth war story.

COTN: Do you watch film science fiction?

MARTIN LANDAU: Every chance I get. At the time I liked The Day the Earth Stood Still. I like Fantastic Voyage which is different. I thought it was a different and very well produced film. Things to Come with Raymond Massey was an incredible production. Science fiction, from a philosophical point of view, allows you to say alot about things. Analogies can be drawn.

COTN: Do you see science fiction being a big success on television?

MARTIN LANDAU: One of the problems is expense- this is a very expensive series. If you look at Star Trek it was rich in people and concepts. I don't think it was that rich in production comparatively, with relation to special effects and all. But even though it didn't have as much production, it cost much more than an ordinary hour series. They had to build, and building costs money. If you are doing a period piece or a piece in the '20s or '30s, the additional expense is automatic because you can't shoot modern facades of buildings. You can't dress the people the way they ordinarily dress. When you get into science-fiction, you have those problems and more. You have to start from scratch and the expense is manifold. To get this kind of production in television is unbelievable.

COTN: Do you like working in England.

MARTIN LANDAU: I do very much. It's a happy set to work on. It's very pleasant working and living in the country.

COTN: Was there much of a break between shooting series one and series two?

MARTIN LANDAU: We had about a year off, and we went back to the States for about seven months. We took a holiday in Europe, and I also did a picture in Montreal. It's a contemporary chase film and the working title is Johnny Satan.

COTN: What do you do in your spare time?

MARTIN LANDAU: I take pictures, I paint, and I write. I'm going to direct a movie which I wrote two years ago, and I've got two major American stars committed. I was going to do it if we hadn't done a second series. I picked it up about two months before we finished production last time and gave it to a couple of men to read. They flipped over it. Then I sent a copy to Jack Nicholson in the States who was shooting [One Flew Over the] Cuckoo's Nest at the time. He called me to tell me he didn't have time to read it. Ten days later he called again and said it was the best contemporary script he had read in five years. It's a very personal story about people. You can't categorize it at all, and that's what I like about it.


And that was that. I'd spent two days watching and talking, and it was time to leave. As the technicians filed out of studio "M" the set darkened. Instead of an alien planet it returned to its original form- a carpenter's creation. A dream came to an end... but not for long. I started my 300 mile overnight journey home. But I knew as soon as the morning dawned the magic would return, and filming starts.


Space: 1999 copyright ITV Studios Global Entertainment
Thanks to Robert Ruiz