For a writer trying to avoid comparisons with Star Trek, Rockne S. O’Bannon’s original vision to have Darwin the Dolphin already established on the SeaQuest like ‘Spock on the Enterprise’ doesn’t seem to help the cause.
In the continuation of Joe Nazzaro’s conversation with the SeaQuest creator in Starburst #188 however, we learn this was the least of his problems back in the day, and that many of his ideas went adrift thanks to studio nervousness and the inevitable pressure caused by maintaining the quality of a ‘Television Event’.
Indeed, O’Bannon’s insights about TV series slow-burn popularity is still as valid today as it ever was, and the burden of expectation generated by the name ‘Spielberg’ had made it nigh-on impossible to overcome (just as it had with his small screen debut Amazing Stories years earlier. )
Apart from the further explorations of the characters, however, its interesting to read the original plans for what became the isolated episode ‘The Stinger’ where O’Bannon confirms the intention was to have the ‘undersea motorcycles’ deployed like the Colonial Vipers in Battlestar Galactica (a concept later resurrected as the Specter Squadron in SeaQuest 2032).
Whatever grand ambitions O’Bannon had for the future of the show were swallowed by the knee-jerk reaction to ratings and the ushering in of new producers to fix what probably wasn’t broken. The audience was not to be fooled, however, and in a useful comparison to Star Trek, (for once) pointed out the Next Generation’s first season was inconsistent at best and that patience could be rewarded. As if that wasn’t enough, William Shatner himself would guest star in the first season episode ‘Hide & Seek’ (bottom pic) only further highlighting the similarities.
With O’ Bannon’s premature departure SeaQuest was deprived of its creative source way too early and soon meandered off course as a consequence. Far from ‘letting imaginations run wild’ as advised, ‘unfulfilled potential’ would become words that were not only synonymous with SeaQuest at the time, but would sadly define it for decades to follow…
Award-winning costume designer Ingrid Price has been dressing for prime-time since the early ’80’s. Chances are you’ve seen her work on many of the most popular and enduring shows on television, with no less than eight seasons of Law & Order: Criminal Intent to her credit alongside such contemporary fare as Nurse Jackie and The Mysteries Of Laura.
Delve deeper into Ms. Price resume, however, and you’ll discover that after Wardrobe Supervisor duties for the big screen on such notable projects as Single White Female, Mississippi Burning and The Godfather Pt. III, one of her first big, solo assignments was for a little science-fiction show forging ahead with its second season after a problematic first.
So it is with considerable delight that, for the first time anywhere, the SeaQuest Vault presents an exclusive conversation with the lady herself, where the full extent of her vision and contribution to the series can finally be revealed, illustrated by way of original Continuity Polaroids from the SQV Collection…
SQV: Ms. Price – Thank you very much for speaking with the SeaQuest Vault! – can you tell us where and when you first heard the word ‘SeaQuest’ and how you came aboard?
The first time I heard about SeaQuest was when I got a call from producer David Burke asking about my availability for a futuristic series onboard a submarine to be filmed in Orlando, Florida. Previously, I had worked for David as the costume designer for a series he created in New York City, called Tribeca. Although it had a terrific cast and crew, that show wasn’t picked up for another season. So, I went off to West Virginia to design costumes for Lassie: Best Friends are Forever for Paramount Studios. I was delighted that David thought of me as he assembled his new crew for season 2 of SeaQuest, especially since Lassie had just wrapped and the timing was perfect. I really enjoyed working with David, plus I was excited to take on the challenge of updating and enhancing the look of the SeaQuest characters. But first, I had to do a bit of “catching up” by watching season 1!
SQV:Can you remember your brief for the season ahead and what part of the process were you looking forward to tackling most?
I knew that the producers wanted season 2 to be more dynamic, more visually exciting, more “fantasy/sci-fi”, and just “more” in general. Moving to Orlando offered a tax break, plentiful local crew, and a spacious studio on the Universal property there. Therefore, there was some money left in the budget for me and Vaughan Edwards (the production designer) to make changes in the costumes and sets, respectively. We were like kids in a candy shop – there were opportunities to stretch our design muscles, and we plunged right in.
SQV:Could you describe a typical day at the studio and your approach to the overall look of the show?
There is no such thing as “typical” in TV or film production, which is of course what makes it fun or frustrating, depending on what kind of day you’re having! We worked on the extensive sets on the soundstages, but also did location work in the areas around Orlando and Tampa. Some memorable days included visits to Weeki Wachee Springs for underwater photography, and shooting at the Frank Lloyd Wright – designed buildings at the Southern College in Lakeland. My job was to be one step ahead of the shooting crew, making sure that the costumes we needed for the scenes coming up were ready to go. I got the scripts ahead of time so I could determine what items we’d need to find, rent, buy, or build. Then it was a matter of fitting the actors, including the guest stars, day players, and background actors. I love doing research, and each episode offered opportunities to explore different “worlds”.
SQV:The crew uniforms for season 1 were met with some criticism for being somewhat generic – did the Producers mission to make the show ‘younger and sexier’ have much influence on your designs?
I thought costume designer Michael T. Boyd did a great job with the resources available to him on Season 1. He embellished black flightsuits with the UEO insignia, which was a sensible approach given the no doubt limited budget of a fledgling new show. When I took over on season 2, I was given more latitude and the budget to make changes. My first priority was to develop a seasuit that fit well; after all, the producers had chosen athletic, great-looking actors so why not emphasize that? I also wanted to indicate “the future” in a more timeless way… which meant making subtle tweaks to conventional uniforms and civilian clothing that would take the look out of the 1990’s and into a forward, yet indefinable, era.
SQV:The upgraded ‘Seasuit’ was the most enduring of your creations – How did you develop the functionality of the uniform and was there any consultation with the real-world Navy?
Developing the new seasuit was the kind of challenge we costume designers live for! I started by researching the then-current US Navy uniforms. I wanted to root the new design in reality, so I closely examined details and thought about functionality and ease-of-use. I also thought about how I could give the seasuits more texture, interest, and depth on camera. The black flightsuits from season 1 went kind of flat on camera, and I really wanted our new seasuits to absorb and reflect the light in more interesting ways.
I decided to use 100% cotton navy blue fabric, so that the seasuits could be aged and faded a bit to give them the look of having been lived in. I was heavily influenced by the approach taken with uniforms of the future on the Alien films; when the first one came out in 1979, the idea of showing clothing of the future as worn-in and well-used was revolutionary. I think Alien 3 had come out in the early 1990s and I thought, “yeah, wow, this look still works!”. And I knew the blue colour would look amazing in Vaughan’s expanded bridge set.
I added a lot of functional details. The shoulders were padded like a shooting jacket… the functionality being that the characters could carry heavy gear or weaponry with ease. The secret reason was to give everyone broader shoulders. I devised the nylon webbing straps with buckles so that the crew could choose to attach ballistic vests or utility vests with multiple pockets or reflective vests – whatever they needed – by simply buckling them in place. When there was no vest in use, the straps gave the uniforms more texture. The sleeves also have buckles, so they could be rolled up and secured just like the US military camo jackets do…
(Images: Mark Bradley)
I had the seasuits built at the neighbouring Disney costume shop – which was wild because we were a Universal TV show! For the principal actors, the top and bottom were constructed separately and then fitted to each actor before being seamed together. That way, I could get an exact fit, thus avoiding the “potato-sack” pitfall of off-the-rack flightsuits. For the women, the tailors and I made sure the seams and darts really fit the contours of the body. I layered tank tops underneath so they could unzip a bit and look sexy but still strong and professional. The producers were happy with the “younger, sexier” look, but I knew the secret was in the fit.
I should also mention that I developed a “shorts” version of the seasuit, which was nice and cool to wear in the Florida heat and looked great on the athletic young background actors. There are not many in existence because Roy Scheider felt that they looked less professional than the full-length versions, and asked that we not use them… he had significant input and we respected his point of view, so they were retired after just a few outings. They are cute, though!
There’s an interesting coda to the seasuit story. I had already left Orlando and moved on to another project when I got a phone call out of the blue from someone associated with uniform development for the US Navy. She was very keen to know all about the seasuits, and we talked at length about materials, construction details, and purpose-driven design. It was extraordinary to know that someone from the actual US Navy was not only watching the show, but also genuinely thinking about whether to incorporate some of our uniform design into the real thing. Does life imitate art? Sometimes, it does!
SQV:The crew also switched to O’ Neill wetsuits for the second season onwards – were these store-bought items and how was the selection determined?
We worked directly with O’Neill. They were great design partners and very accommodating to the look and feel of the show. I appreciated their product and contribution very much. A lot of their work is hidden, by the way, because we also purchased wetsuits for the camera crew and nude-coloured wetsuits to be worn under actor’s outer clothes if they were to be submerged in them (an old trick). We purchased a lot, and agreed to show their label on camera, so they gave us a significant discount and very rapid turnaround on orders. A mutually beneficial partnership all round.
SQV:As the series progressed, what were the challenges you faced creating wardrobe for the various guest-stars and adversaries of the week? The ‘Daggers’ for example were pretty iconic…
Oh, those Daggers! For the first episode of season 2, the Hair, Makeup, and Costume crews worked together to create an entire prison colony of engineered humans; powerful and savage. We distressed a huge amount of clothing, aging it, dyeing it, shredding edges and painting on sweat stains. It was messy work, but fun.
Another interesting group of background actors and guest stars was the colony in Sympathy for the Deep. For that group, I researched Zen retreats and yoga groups to create a seemingly peaceful, harmonious utopian community gone berserk.
SQV:How did you find working with the cast in terms of costume? Were there any preferences an actor had that you would have to adapt to? Were there any fun stories from the set you can recall?
The cast was fantastic to work with. I enjoyed Roy very much. I knew he wasn’t always in agreement with the storylines, but he was an absolute pro through and through. He was thoughtful and precise in fittings and I thought he looked very good on camera. The turtleneck was his idea; he simply liked it and I thought it was a nice alternative to the typical collared shirt seen in most uniforms. I’ve worked with Roy on other shows since then, and he was always a consummate professional; taking the work seriously and giving his all. He is missed.
Jonathan Brandis was really just a kid when we worked together on SeaQuest. He was so happy when the producers decided to let his character wear civilian clothes more. The 1990s was the age of “grunge”, so that’s where we went with his look. To this day, if you google “grunge”, you’ll see an image of Jonathan in a SeaQuest outfit. It wasn’t futuristic, but it’s aged well, I think. Jonathan was the actor most likely to have candy squirrelled away in the pockets of his costume at the end of a shooting day. His death just ten years later was a great loss.
In the episode Vapors, the entire DeLuise clan were written into the storyline. We had father Don, and three sons Michael, David, and Peter on set… I don’t have a specific story, but I remember how much fun they had together and how much energy they brought to the work. It was amazing to see so much talent concentrated in one family.
SQV:Season 3 brought on many changes, not least the introduction of a new Captain. What were your thoughts on this and did you have to modify your style in any way for SeaQuest 2032?
I asked the producers if I could hand the show off to my incredibly talented team in season 2, because I wanted to get home to NYC! I don’t know how Emae Villalobos or Andrea Mol, the costume designers who followed me, felt about the changes. They are both consummate professionals and gifted designers, so my hunch is that they handled the changes with their usual energy and ingenuity.
SQV:Looking back, what was your favourite creation and what, if anything would you have changed? How did you feel when the show was eventually cancelled?
It’s always sad when a show is cancelled, because we’ll never know where it could have gone…
I wouldn’t have changed a thing, actually. The producers and writers, the cast, and the amazing crew were all a pleasure to work with and I’m forever honoured to be part of the experience.
Besides the seasuits, my favourite creation was the ancient Greek helmet in Lostland. We shot the Greek sailor in full regalia against greenscreen and I just loved that costume. I also loved creating Micanopy in The Fear That Follows. He was an amalgamation of indigenous people from Florida, with Seminole influence and shamanistic qualities. I think that was the only costume sketch I kept from the entire series.
I’d love to quote one of the directors on SeaQuest season 2… Jesus Treviño directed often on the show, and his calm and inspiring presence was always welcome on set. Sometimes the scripts are challenging, or circumstances are difficult, or things just don’t go as planned. But Jesus always said, “If you can’t get out of it… get into it.” And those words have stayed with me my whole career.
“Get into it”. Embrace the project and do everything you can to help bring it to life! The producers, cast and crew of SeaQuest DSV lived by those words, and I’m so glad the show continues to intrigue viewers after all these years…
The evolution of SeaQuest through vintage print media continues with the candid insights of show creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, who infamously jumped ship after submitting the pilot script. While the SQV will feature several of O’Bannon’s accounts in future posts, this cover story from Starburst #187 is as good a place as any to chart the show’s troubled course with a great interview by Joe Nazzaro.
At the time of publishing (March 1994) SeaQuest had been inexplicably pulled from the schedules in the UK, only serving to further alienate its audience . Thankfully, the coverage here meant the show didn’t disappear off the radar completely and those wishing to catch upon episodes would benefit from the thin critique of David Bassom’s episode guide until the remainder of the first season aired…