Just like a Terminator coming from the future to kill you, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles excelled in catching us off guard. You might have thought you knew what an ongoing television series based on the first two Terminator movies was, but then you'd be surprised.
Case in point: You'd never expect a Terminator show to feature a running gag about a low-budget fantasy epic about a barbarian who controls animals, loosely based on the Beastmaster films. And yet, there it was: the awesome Beastwizard. Just how did this come to be? We talked to writers Zack Stentz and Ashley Edward Miller, and gathered the complete Chronicles of Beastwizard!
Update: Now with comments from Beastwizard himself, Garret Dillahunt!
Where did Beastwizard come from?
Zack Stentz: The prehistory of Beastwizard came from a thought experiment the T:SCC writing staff did. Unlike the Terminator movies, on our show our characters actually had to live with the consequences of Terminator mayhem. Which got us thinking: what would happen in the real world if a struggling actor in L.A. suddenly went berserk and killed a dozen elite FBI agents before being taken out himself (the cover story for the Terminator Cromartie's swimming pool rampage in the season one finale "What He Beheld.")? We realized that not only it would be a huge story in the media, but there would probably be ghoulish interest by many in the late George Laszlo's (our hapless actor who was killed and replaced by Cromartie in an earlier episode) work. It sounds silly, but it's part and parcel of the way the show's creator Josh Friedman was committed to fleshing out the implications and emotional reality of our strange little universe.
At which point the witty John Enbom, who'd later go on to co-create and run the wonderful series Party Down, blurted out "What, so would we see him running around in a rabbit-skin loincloth and ferrets in Beastwizard VII?" No sooner had he uttered the phrase than the rest of us realized, yeah, actually we would. It became a running joke among the writers, and we went so far as to rent the original Beast Master (the obvious inspiration) and watch it during lunch, ostensibly for "research" but mainly because it's actually a delightful little movie. I'm an unapologetic fan of silly 80s swords and sorcery movies that had more imagination than money and set out to create lost worlds of myth and magic in a dusty ravine in Simi Valley.
So when John Wirth sat down to write the season two episode "The Mousetrap," he and Josh thought that a good way to keep Cromartie and his backstory front and center would be to reference the strange posthumous notoriety of George Lazlo. And luckily, that meant seeing some snippets from Beastwizard VII itself. Wirth knew of my unhealthy love of low-budget retro fantasy, so asked me to knock out a couple of scenes for him. The first was a riff on a dimly remembered scene of Marc Singer using his panther friend (actually a tiger painted black, but with the stripes still visible underneath!) to help him mack on Tanya Roberts, and the second was a basic confrontation between the Beastwizard and his evil nemesis, Seth. The line of dialogue about how the hero and villain are actually brothers was an homage to the shocking third act reveals that are a staple of the genre.
Ashley Edward Miller: Am I crazy, or did that scene between the Beastwizard and Seth eventually become the third act of Thor? Because damn.
The history of the Beastwizard movies
Stentz: In our imagined history of the Beastwizard franchise, the movies started with real theatrical releases and a semi-legit lead like Billy Zane, then progressively had their budgets slashed and the main character played by more of a Richard Grieco, with Beastwizard VII being both the franchise's last gasp and poor George Laszlo's big break. (In the wake of its new notoriety, there would probably be a Platinum Dunes remake in the works by now, with Jensen Ackles or Tom Welling being fitted for the loincloth.)
Filming the Beastwizard scenes
Stentz: Filming the two scenes was about half a day's work on a tiny section of the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank called the Warner lagoon (we actually called out "Warner Brothers jungle" as the location in the script.) The entire space is about a fifth the size of a football field, but through the magic of Hollywood has been everything from the jungles of Nicaragua in another T:SCC episode to the exterior of Sookie Stackhouse's restaurant in True Blood.
A big concern prior to filming was frankly what Garret Dillahunt would look like in a loincloth. He's obviously a big guy, but we'd only seen him in the suits he wore as his character impersonated an FBI agent. So everyone was pleasantly surprised (some more so than others) when he walked on set to reveal an impressively ripped physique. The makeup ladies for months afterward would recall "body painting Garret" as one of their favorite days at work.
Garret Dillahunt: The Beastwizard experience did mark my first foray into spray tanning. Can't say I loved it. I think my favorite part is the bright red fingernail polish and huge hair on my jungle girlfriend. Marc Singer, by the by, is a fellow UW alum. Something in the Pacific Northwest that grows good Beasty-Barbarians.
Beastwizard: The Continuation?
Dillahunt: I know there were loose plans made to shoot a few webisodes of the Beast Wizard series for TSCC fans to watch on Youtube, but unfortunately we never had the time.
Stentz: We talked quite a bit about revisiting Beastwizard later in the season. At one point we discussed the idea of seeing some hipster ironically wearing a George Laszlo t-shirt, a la the cult of Manson. And when Ash and I wrote the episode "The Good Wound," we went so far as to write several more scenes from Beastwizard VII, with the intention of interspersing them throughout the episode to comment on the main story, a bit like how the "Tales from the Black Freighter" story was used in Watchmen.
We went hog wild with them, using every low-budget fantasy trick in the book, from eagle POV cams to seductive enchantresses in the woods to the Beastwizard killing the same two extras over and over again to simulate a larger battle. We even wrote a cameo for Brian Austin Green and Megan Fox's real life pet ferret, Baron, who was a frequent visitor to the T:SCC set. But the scenes ended up putting the episode far over time and budget, so they were never shot.
In the end, we all reluctantly concluded that it was better to leave the audience wanting more than to run the Beastwizard joke into the ground. Though if you look closely, you'll notice John Connor identifying the "man in the basement" of the Zeira Corp. by showing young Savannah Weaver a picture of the Beastwizard himself.
The Beastwizard's ultimate prize!
Stentz: Probably my fondest memory of the Beastwizard was the day our executive producers gave out a wonderful crew gift— baseball jerseys emblazoned with the Beastwizard VII logo and a photo of rabbit pelt-wearing Garret and his lovely princess, as if they were crew shirts from the actual movie. As the crew lined up eagerly for free swag as crews are wont to do, it was hilarious watching the facial expressions as they first laid eyes on the shirts. The ones who were in on the joke grinned and laugh, while more than a few Teamsters and grips shuddered and declared "there's no way I'm wearing THAT." As for myself, I still wear the Beastwizard with pride.
Miller: I still use my Beastwizard mousepad. It is now as ratty as Lazlo's loincloth.
Dillahunt: Lots of photos were snapped of me carrying various A.D.s and makeup people. I think Christmas cards were made. TSCC was a serious show, and it was a lot of fun for all of us to let our hair down (waaaay down) and laugh a bit.