The following is the complete text of an article which originally appeared in issue #62 (October 1993) of the SHADO-USECC UFO fan club COMMUNIQUE newsletter.
The UFO Documentary Video
by Marc MartinIn the previous COMMUNIQUE, I mentioned that the official Gerry Anderson fan club, Fanderson, is paying a lot of attention to UFO this year. This is being done in honor of the show's 25th "birthday", which occurred with the beginning of pre-production in 1968. A very interesting three part "Making of UFO" article is being presented on the pages of their club magazine. A free bonus for joining the club in 1993 is a booklet full of UFO pre-production sketches. But perhaps the most impressive part of this birthday celebration is a newly produced videotape devoted to the series.
"The UFO Documentary" is just that, a documentary covering the production, basic story, and reaction to our favorite series. Clocking in at just over an hour, it is filled with interviews with the show's cast, crew, and fans. It also features many film clips from the series, many behind the scenes photos, and some "previously unseen footage".
The program features an impressive number of interviews with the show's stars and creators. The interviewed stars are Ed Bishop (Ed Straker), George Sewell (Alec Freeman), Dolores Mantez (Nina Barry), and Vladek Sheybal (Dr. Jackson). The creators are executive producer Gerry Anderson, director Alan Perry, special effects supervisor Derek Meddings, production designer Bob Bell, and script editor of the aborted second season, Christopher Penfold. Also, the program is narrated by Shane Rimmer, who UFO fans will remember as the SST co-pilot in Identified.
The program also features some interviews with fans of the show, which, I'd guess were filmed sometime during the Fanderson 91 convention, judging from the buttons that are being worn. I recognized some of the names, namely Fanderson chairman Chris Bentley, and (ex?) SHADO-USECC members Pat Jenkins and Deborah Allerdice.
One of the first things you'll notice about this videotape is that the quality is much higher than you would expect from a fan club production. Even before you watch the video, you can't help but notice that the sleeve design and plastic case are of a higher quality than many of the videos you see in stores. And once you start watching, you can tell that you're in for a top notch production from the very beginning, which contains a well edited montage of scenes from the series set to music.
The documentary basically covers a number of topics that have been covered before in issues of SIG, Century 21, and Fanderson's own FAB magazine. However, on this video documentary, you get to hear these comments from the creators and the stars themselves, and at the same time get to see the scenes from the series that they are talking about. And what is most impressive about all of this is the way it is all put together, with the documentary makers covering each topic with a good mix of narration, interviews, and film clips.
And so what are these topics? Well, there are bit too many to mention here, but here's a sampling: how the idea for the series came about, problems with working with real actors which didn't occur on Anderson's previous puppet series, how the Paul Foster character was added after filming had already started, cast and fan reactions to the costumes, filming of the special effects, disappearing cast members, criticisms of the show from ITC New York, and how the canceled second season of UFO was turned into Space: 1999.
Of course, if you've read about these topics before, then some of this might be a bit repetitive. However, I think that you'll still be impressed by the new presentation. And if you haven't read about these things before, then you'll probably find it all very fascinating.
From the topics listed above, you might have noticed that I didn't mention anything about detailed descriptions of UFO's characters, hardware, or plotline. That's because there aren't any. Oh sure, they do mention some very basic plot elements from the series, like there is an underground SHADO base and there are some pesky aliens, but for the most part, this documentary is strictly devoted to how the series was made.
Probably one of the more interesting things about the documentary is seeing what the cast looks like today, more than 20 years after the episodes were filmed. Well, not surprisingly, they all look a lot older! But other than that, Ed Bishop, George Sewell, and Vladek Sheybal (filmed shortly before his death) are all still easily recognizable. However, I don't think I would have recognized Dolores Mantez if they hadn't already mentioned who she was. Perhaps if she was wearing that purple wig...
Another interesting thing is the various stories the cast and crew have to tell about the making of the series. Derek Meddings describes what a pain it was to get the UFO's to spin just right, Alan Perry describes his shock when Ed Bishop actually hit Mike Billington during the filming of Kill Straker, George Sewell tells about how he couldn't stand wearing his turtleneck outfits, and Gerry Anderson discusses how ITC New York heavily criticized him for dealing with topics like marriage in a science fiction series.
But my personal favorites are Ed Bishop's story about how Sylvia Anderson went and bought him a necktie because she couldn't stand the bow tie he was wearing, and Gerry Anderson's comment about how he was completely unaware at the time that there were some episodes that dealt with taking drugs. Makes you wonder what he thought was going on in The Long Sleep, doesn't it?
The occasional comments tossed in from the fans is a nice touch, and it accurately conveys the general liking of the show that we UFO fans have, and the disappointment that it was canceled so soon. Deborah Allerdice is also used in several places to describe "the American point of view".
Okay, enough about the interviews -- how about those behind the scenes photos and "previously unseen footage"? Well, this was the stuff that I was most looking forward to, but I guess I had my hopes up too high. There are quite a few production photos and drawings scattered throughout the documentary, but since these are only briefly flashed on the screen, they don't really leave much of an impression. I think perhaps that this kind of stuff would have been more interesting on the printed page than on video.
As for the "previously unseen footage", this was particularly disappointing, as I was hoping for maybe a deleted scene or an outtake during the live action shooting, but instead, almost all of this footage is test shots and outtakes during the filming of the UFO's themselves. While one of these shots is pretty amusing, and there are a few other brief shots here and there, I was hoping for a bit more. I think perhaps that if the advertising hadn't called as much attention to this, I would have instead found these shots a rather pleasant surprise.
And speaking of disappointments, there were a few other things that disappointed me about this otherwise excellent production. While the number of cast and crew interviews is certainly very impressive, I felt that it would have been nice to see and hear from Sylvia Anderson, perhaps with a rousing discussion about purple wigs. And of course it would have also been nice to hear from Michael Billington and Gabrielle Drake.
Also, another area that I felt was overlooked was the filming of the special effects. Other than Derek Meddings brief discussion on how the UFO models were made to spin, this potentially interesting subject was completely ignored.
Another noticeable omission was any mention of Barry Gray and his excellent music for UFO. Even the newly produced music for the documentary didn't seem to have any connection with the series, and thus seemed quite out of place. I personally think it would have worked better if they had simply pulled out the old recordings of the original UFO music, and used those instead.
Another thing that bothered me near the end of the documentary was all of the "American bashing" during the discussion of UFO's cancellation. Now I realize that the cancellation of UFO's second season by Lew Grade was due to panic about falling ratings in the United States, but I think the documentary unfairly places too much of the blame on "the Americans", and not enough on ITC or Lew Grade.
Also, Deborah Allerdice makes an interesting comment here about how awful the scheduling was during UFO's initial broadcast in the States. Well, I don't know where she was living at the time, but my local station scheduled it quite well, and I understand that it was also given a very good and consistent time slot in the two most important markets, New York and Los Angeles. But the producers made good use of this quote in it's case against "the Americans".
And another thing that was sort of disappointing, but is more likely the fault of ITC than the makers of this documentary -- practically every film clip from the series is time-compressed! Now, I have mentioned before how UFO has had a problem with time-compression on home video: some of the American T.H.E. tapes and laserdiscs are, and the only two episodes I've seen from the British Polygram tapes are. So I guess it should come as no major shock that this documentary has the very same problem.
Although the time-compression is annoying, I can at least understand how it could happen in England, where they use the PAL video format. You see, UFO was filmed on 35mm film, which has 24 frames per second. The PAL video format has 25 frames per second. So if you translate one frame of film to one frame of videotape, you've got an episode that is running slightly too fast. However, you would think that they could have compensated for the difference somehow. After all, the NTSC format used in the United States and Japan is 30 frames per second, and yet the Japanese UFO laserdiscs managed to present all the episodes at the right speed.
Oh, and by the way, the rest of the documentary is at the correct speed. It's just the clips from the series that are running too fast. You know, after seeing the British Polygram tape and now this documentary, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone in England has ever seen an episode of UFO played at the correct speed?!?
So if all of these criticisms haven't scared you off, and I don't see why they should, you're probably wondering how you can get this videotape, right? Well, unfortunately, this video is "not available in stores". The only place you can buy it from is Fanderson Sales, and to do that, you first have to be a member of Fanderson.
However, one bit of good news is that the tape is available from Fanderson in the PAL, NTSC, and SECAM formats, which means that at least in the US, you won't have to buy a PAL tape, and then get it converted to NTSC to watch it. I ordered the NTSC version, and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was absolutely no compromise in picture or sound quality due to this originally being a PAL production. Heck, it's even in VHS Hi-Fi! Fanderson's previous "Making of Space: 1999" video did have some PAL artifacts in the NTSC version and was not in Hi-Fi, but fortunately they're using much better conversion equipment for the UFO tape.
So how much is this all going to cost? Well, I was afraid you were going to ask that! If you live in England, the cost probably isn't too bad, but if you live in the U.S. like I do, it is pretty darn expensive. The cost for the NTSC version of the tape is 25.50 pounds, which includes shipping to the United States. This is about $38 with August 1993 exchange rates. And the cost of a one year's membership to Fanderson is 15 pounds, which is about $23. And since Fanderson does not accept credit cards, you're going to have to pay for converting your dollars into pounds, which can add $3 to $12 to the cost. And unfortunately, you can't join the club and buy the tape at the same time, so you'll have to have your money exchanged twice. So, at a minimum, you're looking at around $67!
However, if that doesn't bother you, send a self addressed envelope and two International Reply Coupons to Fanderson, P.O. Box 93, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 1XJ, England, and they will send you a membership application.
And if all you really want is the tape, and not the Fanderson membership, I think that Helen might be willing to buy some copies of the video for SHADO-USECC club members with her Fanderson membership. Then all you have to worry about is the cost of the tape, plus whatever it costs Helen to exchange money and pay the postage to send it to you. I'd guess that it would probably cost in the neighborhood of $45 to do it that way, which is a significant savings, but still rather expensive.
So, it is worth it? Well, that's really up to you. I'm pretty happy with the tape, but I'm not sure that many fans can justify paying that much money for a one hour video. It is a shame that Fanderson has chosen to make this an exclusive product, because that means it is a real hassle to get and very expensive for fans living outside England.
On the other hand, I can see how having these sorts of exclusive products probably helps Fanderson's membership numbers, so from their point of view, it is probably a good idea. And of course, when you really get right down to it, I find it rather amazing that a "Making of UFO" documentary even exists at all, at any price. So from that perspective, all I have to say is "Thank You, Fanderson!".
And if you do buy the tape, you should probably peel off the label on the top of the videocassette before playing it. Why? Well, they're not glued on very well, and both Helen's and my label have already come off by themselves. Unfortunately, they tend to come off while the tape is being ejected, and Helen's tape got stuck in her VCR, requiring her to take it to the shop!
And since I realize that many of you don't live in the United States, here are Fanderson's world-wide prices for club membership and the UFO Documentary video, all listed in British pounds Sterling:Fanderson membership: UK: 11 pounds, Europe: 13, Canada/US: 15, Australia/Japan/New Zealand: 17 UFO Documentary video: PAL VHS Hi-Fi Stereo: UK: 15.99 pounds, Europe: 18.20, Elsewhere 20.49 NTSC/SECAM/Beta: UK: 21.00 pounds, Europe: 23.30, Elsewhere: 25.50
Fanderson Presents a Kindred Production
The UFO Documentary
Featuring Gerry Anderson, Bob Bell, Ed Bishop, Dolores Mantez,
Derek Meddings, Christopher Penfold, Alan Perry, George Sewell,
and Vladek Sheybal.
Narrated by Shane Rimmer.
Written by Trevor Ellis, Tim Mallett, and Glen Pearce.
Additional material by Chris Bentley, Richard Dunford,
Roger Rice, and Juli Read.
Music by Tim Newham and Paul Westerman.
Production Supervisors Chris Bentley and Roger Rice.
Produced and Directed by Tim Mallett and Glen Pearce.
1993, 62 minutes, Color, Hi-Fi Stereo.
This article is 6 pages long and featured these 5 photos:
- full page B&W photo of the front cover of the video.
- 1/2 page B&W photo of Ed Bishop as he appears in the video.
- 1/2 page B&W photo of George Sewell as he appears in the video.
- 1/2 page B&W photo of Dolores Mantez as he appears in the video.
- 1/2 page B&W photo of Vladek Sheybal as he appears in the video.