[ Tom DeSanto's interview in Cinéfantastique December 2003 / January 2004 ]

Tom DeSanto remembers his BSG project

by Steven Simak

X-Men producer Tom DeSanto always loved Battlestar Galactica and had pursued the TV rights for close to four years without success. He was also keenly aware that both Hatch and Larson had mounted unsuccessful attempts at reviving the series. That all changed during an auspicious flight to New York with X-Men director Bryan Singer to promote the film. "Bryan saw I had the Galactica DVD with me, and we got to talking about the show," recalls DeSanto. "And that was how we partnered on it."

With Singer committed to directing the project and the huge success of X-Men behind them, doors suddenly swung open. DeSanto and Singer pitched the ambitious revival to Studios USA as a continuation of the original series. "I think there was a little bit of disbelief at first," DeSanto says. "It was a little like, 'You want to do what?' A lot of people were not familiar with Galactica. It was similar to X-Men; it was a sleeping giant."

DeSanto and Singer received the green light to produce a two-hour TV movie for Fox, to be broadcast in May 2002. As with the current Sci-Fi Channel production, it was hoped that the premiere would serve as a backdoor pilot for a continuing series. Writing team Dan Angel and Billy Brown (X-Files, Goosebumps) were brought in to flesh out DeSanto's concept for the premiere episode. Several visual-effects houses, including Foundation Imaging, Eden FX and the Orphanage, began work. The producers rented a massive abandoned Sears warehouse in Vancouver, where set construction began.

"We built the skeletons of two Vipers and started building the bridge set," DeSanto says. "It was going to be a true rendition of the bridge, only we were going to make it a bit larger."

The DeSanto-Singer production was set 25 years after the events of the 1978 pilot. Adama has passed. Apollo, captured by the Cylons 20 years earlier, is presumed dead, and Boxey has assumed command of the Galactica. The Cylons, silent for close to two decades, have apparently abandoned their pursuit of the Colonists. Weary from their search for Earth, the fleet establishes a new colony in a secure asteroid field. Not unexpectedly, the Cylons return and launch a massive assault.

In typical "Locutus of Borg" fashion, Apollo -- controlled by Cylon technology -- re-emerges to threaten the Colonials. Describing the finale, DeSanto says, "In the final shot, you go through the clouds, and you actually see the Cylon planet for the first time. It's this massive, mechanized society, and you go in through the 'Chamber of Rule' as we called it. You hear these voices talking, and you come across wave after wave of Cylons. Then you come through the shadows and you see human faces and the last face you see was Richard Hatch. It was Apollo, and as you push in on his face, in the middle of his pupil you saw a little red Cylon eye." Although updated to reflect the passage of time, the technology, spacecraft and sets for the remake remained faithful to the 1978 originals.

DeSanto also hoped to bring back key actors, including Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict, to reprise their roles in combination with new cast members. "There was communication and meetings between me and Tom talking about possibilities, but it was very general," Hatch recalls. "I think Tom genuinely wanted to use some of the original actors."

Actress Anne Lockhart recalls a conversation she had with DeSanto about reprising her role as ace-fighter pilot Sheba if the remake went to series. "Sheba was not in the pilot, but she was going to show up," Lockhart explains. "She has been lost for 20 years and is now commander of the Pegasus. I think it would have been wonderful. Apollo could have played both sides of the coin. How wonderful for him to play a bad guy, and here comes this woman he loved when he was a good guy."

DeSanto also had a series of meetings with Larson, who joined the production as a consul. "He just wanted to make sure that his child wasn't being raised by a pack of wolves," DeSanto says. "He didn't want it to be something that was being turned out to exploit its name."

Budgeted at more than $10 million, principal photography was scheduled for three months: November 2001 to January 2002. Postproduction would continue through the spring, with Galactica scheduled to debut on Fox in May 2002. After directing the pilot, Singer would immediately begin pre-production on X2: X-Men United, which was scheduled to being shooting in May as well.

But as with the rest of the world, Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything. "It was devastating," DeSanto recalls. "No one was able to function. It was difficult to focus, and we lost about a month, and that caused the schedule to shift."

With Galactica falling behind schedule and principal photography for X2 rapidly approach, Singer had no choice but to abandon the project and begin work on X2. Hoping to save Galactica, DeSanto attempted to attach a director to the project. Several, including Stephen Hopkins, Gary Fleder and Brian Henson, were brought in. Sans Singer, however, Fox withdrew support and production shut down.

Rumors also circulated that Fox had shelved Galactica in favor of Joss Whedon's Firefly. DeSanto responds, "Some people came up to me and said Joss had wanted to do Firefly, and Fox realized they couldn't do both sci-fi shows, so they had to sort of pick a child. But those were just rumors. I know the history of it, and it was just Brian's availability."

Although still contractually attached to the new Galactica as a consulting producer, DeSanto has no direct involvement in it. "Studios USA had approached me and said they'd like to continue. Then they decided to go in a different direction, which wasn't a continuation. It was something that wasn't in sync with the vision I had for the show."

Disappointed that he was unable to bring his plans to fruition, DeSanto adds, "I love the show. I was trying to fight to bring the show back and stay true to its memory and stay true to Glen and the great actors who worked on it. When you talk about Galactica, people's faces always light up. Galactica was great middle-America science fiction."