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Battlestar Galactica Production Notes
Written by Marcel Damen   
Sunday, 11 January 2009

Marcel Damen recently dug up these Battlestar Galactica Production Notes. They were written at the time they were filming the pilot and nothing was aired on televison yet. It shows some interesting insight on the making of the Battlestar Galactica 1978 series.

The battlestar, Galactica, a space ship more than a mile long, with a cruising speed measured in light seconds, skims through a distant starfield. Behind it trails an in­credible convoy of flying craft -- airbuses, rocket-powered taxis, inter-planetary tramp steamers and commuter space shuttles.

They are fleeing the destruction of the human race by metallic creatures called Cylons. The twelve colonies of mankind have been blown to radioactive dust. But ancient writings reveal the existence of a thirteenth colony -- in another galaxy -- with a life form which parallels their own.

Its name is Earth and it is their only hope of survival. That's the imaginative concept of Battlestar Galactica, Universal's excursion into other worlds, starring Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene, with guest stars Ray Milland, Lew Ayres and Jane Seymour. Written by executive producer Glen A. Larson and directed by Richard Colla. It was produced by Academy Award-Winning special effects creator John Dykstra and Leslie Stevens.

In conceiving Battlestar Galactica, said Larson, he did not commit himself to any time frame.

"The exodus in space could be happening now or a million years from now," he explained. "Or perhaps these people reach­ed Earth a long time ago and became our ancestors."

One of the screen's most prolific writers, whose imagina­tion spawned such hit TV series as Alias Smith and Jones, Switch and Quincy, Larson admits to a lifelong fascination with primitive mysteries.

"In terms of the architecture of the time, the Pyramids shouldn't exist," he pointed out. "But they do. So the question is... who built them? Who designed the fantastic high­ways off of the island of Bimini, leading into the sea? Why is it that so many different cultures share the same legends, like the lost city of Atlantis?

"Our story only hints at one possible answer. But it's fun to think about..."

In many ways, Larson continued, the "world" of Battlestar Galactica parallels our own. In others, it is wildly different. The Cylon warriors, for example, are encased in gleaming chrome, except for an eye-level aperture through which a narrow beam of red light pulsates back and forth. During the harrowing escape, the humans land on a nuclear planet, where an intelligent race of creatures operate an underground gambling den in which no one ever loses. ("I think I came up with that idea after a rough weekend in Las Vegas," Larson admits.)

As for the Galactica itself, Larson conceived it as "a city in space, ten times larger than the largest aircraft carrier known today, armed with weapons which haven't -- and won't be -- invented for thousands of years."

To execute that vision, the interior of the Galactica was constructed in several vast sound stages at Universal Studios. Most spectacular was the space ship's bridge, its electronic control center.

There, the Tektronix company installed $3 million worth of actual computers and a small army of technicians to run them. Boeing Aircraft, American Airlines and Collins Radio contributed additional equipment including flight simulators which, Larson says, "are one generation beyond the 'hardware' in NASA's space shuttle."

"When the Galactica is attacked by bat-winged Cylon war­ships and launches its own turbo-thrusters to strike back, the combat strategy is computer-controlled. Every knob, dial and tele-light screen really works. The effect is dazzling."

 

SFX Supervisor John Dykstra and the battlestar Galactica model

SFX Supervisor John Dykstra and the battlestar Galactica model

 

At a workshop in Van Nuys, California, several miles from the studio, John Dykstra and his special effects team also turned the Galactica into three-dimensional reality. Their version was a $50,000 scale model -- with thousands of working parts, flicker­ing lights and suspended pods from which jet fighters would appear to zoom into battle.

Squinting through apertures in the hull, one could see tiny murals of its "launching bays." "Designing them," said Dykstra, "was like painting a picture on the head of a pin."

To "launch" the Galactica -- and hundreds of other futuristic craft -- into the cosmos, Dykstra photographed them with a manoeuvrable new camera of his own design, mounted on narrow-gauge tracks. The camera can make a stationary object seem to soar, spin, loop or dive.

Building a fleet of inter-stellar vehicles, from concepts by Glen Larson in tandem with artists, Ralph McQuarry and Joe Johnston, was "painstaking work," Dykstra recalls. Even more challenging was blending them with the movie's live action scenes.

"There are several ways to turn that trick," he explained, "from blue screen matting to sodium vapor photography. But to understand them takes an advanced knowledge of subjects like optics and quantum physics.

"Blue screen matting, for instance, is a form of something we've all seen on television. A commentator will be seated in front of a blue wall. Suddenly, the wall will disappear and film footage of a news event will take its place."

Why?

"That's where it gets complicated," he replied. "But here's one clue. You'll notice that the newscaster never wears a blue suit. If he did, he would also disappear."

For costume designer Jean Pierre Dorleac, Battlestar Galactica was a different, but no less dramatic challenge. Taking Larson's hint that perhaps the inter-stellar refugees finally did reach Earth, he garbed them in styles suggested by ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology. More difficult were the Cylon warriors, whose chromium covering was vividly described in the script.

"Dorelac did the job so brilliantly, it became a night­mare for the cinematographer, Ben Colman," Larson explained. "The chrome reflected every light on the set; it was practic­ally blinding. But the effect was too scary to give up."

Despite the profusion of electronic gadgetry aboard the Galactica, Larson believes it's the "human element" that will make it "fly" with movie audiences.

"The most dazzling sets and props in the world aren't worth a damn if you don't tell an interesting story about entertaining characters," he insisted. "The Galactica's corner of the universe may be a billion light years from our own. But it's an environment for every human characteristic -- greed, lust, humor, self-sacrifice, fear, and maybe, most of all, heroism.

The latter quality is exemplified by Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, whose bravery in battle is set off against his tender romance with Jane Seymour, who portrays an inter-stellar news­caster ("a kind of outer space Barbara Walters," as she descri­bes herself).

The character is a far cry from Hatch's running role as an unorthodox cop on the TV series, The Streets of San Fran­cisco. But it typifies the variety in his fast-rising career, which has included an Obie award (off Broadway's highest acting honor) for Love Me, Love My Children; major TV specials like The Last of the Belles and Search for the Stars (for which Hatch became an accomplished trapeze artist), and one of the title roles in Jan and Dean.

A far different space hero is Lt. Starbuck, played by Dirk Benedict who describes the character as the "worst of the good guys." a light hearted skirt-chasing, gambling, cigar-smoking turbo-thruster star fighter who seldom does anything in moderation, Starbuck turns serious only when he is in aerial combat Benedict starred opposite Gloria Swanson, on Broadway, in Butter­flies Are Free, followed by starring roles in motion pictures including Sssssss, in which he was transformed into a king cobra, and W, in which he menaced English actress-model, Twiggy.

The commander of the Galactica, who plots the escape from the Cylons and the quest for Earth, is Lorne Greene, the West's most famous pater familias, via fourteen years of Bonanza. Since that series ended, Greene has co-starred in Universal's Earthquake and such acclaimed television specials as The Money Changers, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald and the recent two-part, four-hour production of The Bastard.

 

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

 

As Commander Adama, he is again a family man, whose three children -- Apollo (Richard Hatch), Athena (Maren Jensen) and Zac (Rick Springfield) -- serve as members of the space ship's cadre.

Heading an impressive line-up of guest stars is Ray Milland as Sire Uri, a wealthy elder who personifies several of humanity's less admirable traits. After hoarding food, intended for the vessel's starving refugees, he attempts to appease the Cylons -- leading to the near-destruction of the Galactica. Milland, born Anthony Truscott-Jones in Neath, Wales, was one of Hollywood's most sophisticated young leading men during the 1930s, starring in Beau Gests, The Major and the Minor and scores of other hits. Then came The Lost Weekend for which he won an Academy Award as an alcoholic writer. Recent performances have included the distraught father in Love Story, as well as in it's forthcoming sequel.

Another acclaimed actor, whose career dates back to the early 1930s, is Lew Ayres, co-starred in Battlestar Galactica as the President of the twelve colonies of mankind. A gentle, well-meaning man, he is duped by the Cylons into a "peace con­ference" which serves as a ruse for their nuclear attack. It was in 1930 that Ayres created one of the most memorable roles in motion picture history, the war-weary soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front. As Dr. Kildare, he starred in nine motion pictures with a hospital setting, then co-starred opposite Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda (the role for which she won an Academy Award). Battlestar Galactica marks the second time that Ayres has been considered "presidential timber." He portrayed an American President, trapped in a struggle for power, in Advise and Consent.

Jane Seymour portrays Serina, an inter-planetary news­caster, rescued from the devastated planet of Caprica by Adama and his crew. When Apollo communicates with her shocked and listless son -- with the help of a dog-like robot -- she falls in love with the young flyer. One of Britain's most beautiful young classical actresses, Ms. Seymour won the prize role as James Bond's doomed lover, in Live and Let Die, then co-starred in Young Winston and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Others in the inter-stellar cast include Herb Jefferson, Jr., Maren Jensen, Tony Swartz, Noah Hathaway, Terry Carter, Wilfrid Hyde-White, John Colicos, Laurette Spang and John Fink.

Lorne Greene described the actors' approach to the other­worldly experience of filming Battlestar Galactica in these words: "It's mind-boggling. when you walk on the set in the morning, it's like entering another dimension. The only ques­tion is, 'What new wonders will surround us today?' We're rarely disappointed."

Executive producer and writer Larson puts it another way. "This movie is one great big toy," he said. "And we're all having fun playing with it."

Universal's Battlestar Galactica, a Glen A. Larson Production, was produced by John Dykstra and Leslie Stevens, directed by Richard A. Colla and written by Glen A. Larson. Starred are Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and Lorne Greene. Also starred are Herb Jefferson, Jr., Maren Jensen, Tony Swartz, Noah Hathaway and Terry Carter. Guest stars are Ray Milland, Lew Ayres, Wilfrid Hyde-White, John Colicos, Laurette Spang, John Fink and Jane Seymour.

 
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