The Gemini Apes

 

Comment & Background from Dirk Maggs on The Gemini Apes

 

How The Gemini Apes Really Came Back From The Dead

 

The idea for The Gemini Apes came to me about ten years ago when I was writing the docu-drama Superman On Trial for BBC Radio 4. Upon finding the infant Superman sealed up in the capsule from Krypton, Midwest farmer Jonathan Kent assumes this must be a NASA experiment gone wrong - I heard they wuz sendin’ up monkeys and dogs... (but surely not children...)

It occurred to me that the idea of laboratory animals returning to Earth after an experimental mission, animals who perhaps had developed great intelligence or special skills, animals on a mission to save their fellow lab animals, might make an interesting story.

Three years later in 1991 I wrote a very brief treatment (The Apes From Space) outlining the chimps’ launch into space, their being marooned for decades in an experimental form of frozen animation, their accidental salvation just as the capsule is about to break up. At that time I harbored ambitions to write a film; this was where I saw the project headed. Touting the treatment around it got me an agent, and in turn several producers read it and liked it, but all agreed it wasn’t British or cheap enough to be made as a film or TV show in this country. At that time I had no solid LA contacts and no idea how to get them.

With my radio career keeping me busy Apes got sidelined till I left the BBC in 1995 and took stock. I decided I would write a fuller treatment of the story (now retitled Gemini). By now I had the idea that the Apes didn’t just come back with increased intelligence; the came back with something we needed. Something we’d have to kill them to get. They would become hunted animals. Also that they weren’t simply on a right-on mission to liberate lab specimens.

Their skills included an ability to see uses for discarded technology that we humans have missed; by dropping them into an automobile dump I’d set them down in an environment where their inventive impulse could be given free rein. Finally, they should not be cute or friendly; they would be feisty, independent and suspicious of humans.

I finished the new treatment - more a novella really - in 1996, just before starting work on Independence Day UK for Radio 1. Having made contact with the movie producer Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Godzilla) I thought I’d ask him to read The Gemini Apes. He told me to send it over, which I duly did, to his agents CAA, signing all the usual disclaimers as they requested. I figured there wasn’t too huge a risk of somebody ripping off the story.

After six months I contacted CAA to find out if Dean ever read the story. No, they said, Mr. Devlin went straight into work on Godzilla after Independence Day, he didn’t have time. I asked for the treatment back, and decided to send it to John Landis (American Werewolf creator) once we’d finished making An American Werewolf for Radio 1

By now it was late 1997. I was reading SFX magazine, the laddish sci-fi monthly. In the back of my mind over the years I have - of course - every writers’ nightmare; someone else thinks of the same story and makes it into a film or a book or a comic strip. Suddenly the nightmare came to life. In the Production Hell section of SFX magazine (devoted to ANY sci-fi movie announced, whether in production or not), I read the following:

 

 

Mercury Effect

 

(Jerry Weintraub Productions) Warner Brothers have paid $200,000 (against ($450,000) for Alexander Torres’ spec script about an FBI investigation into two intelligent chimps who were once part of the Mercury 6 space programme of 35 years ago. The chimps have returned to a small town on Earth where they are planning to begin a global crusade to transform the human and animal kingdoms. It’s already being described as Jumanji meets Men In Black.

It was a hammer blow. The story sounded so close. Had it been the most awful kind of coincidence? Could this guy have somehow picked up a copy of my treatment? Aggrieved writers claiming foul are two a penny in Hollywood - and I had signed a disclaimer when I sent it to a top Agency there. Besides, I had no proof I’d been ripped off.

 

 

Dirk Maggs Added This 12.04.2002

 

Serendipity

 

I had an interesting communication regarding THE MERCURY EFFECT, you may recall the movie idea which I though was VERY close to THE GEMINI APES. Basically the email was from a buddy of the screenwriter concerned, who swore that there was no connection between the two. Seems the long arm of coincidence REALLY was the culprit there.

There’s no copyright on an idea. In disgust I threw The Gemini Apes into a drawer. It was dead. But I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that it deserved some kind of chance. So in 1998 I set myself a Summer Task - to write a movie script of The Gemini Apes. Maybe I could sell it to a low-budget company in the States. Maybe an animation company. But it was too good to let die without making a final effort. And, as fate would have it, The Gemini Apes film script was only just completed when I had a conversation with James Boyle (Controller Radio 4). A gap had opened in the schedules on Christmas Day 1998. Could I think of something to replace it with?

 

 

Fact & Fiction

 

Once I’d written the final version of The Gemini Apes I made sure to tell everybody that it was a space age Fairy Tale. I had some knowledge of NASA and did some research into antibiotic-resistant disease to make sure the premise behind it was roughly sound, but it would be untrue to suggest I spent months of research gathering detailed notes. To me, the moral premise was more interesting - and the entertainment factor much more important. Like the basis of the original Star Trek technology - who cares how a Transporter works? It keeps the story moving right along.

 

Bonobos Ape

Bonobos Ape

 

This scatter-gun approach was - I’m embarrassed to admit - particularly true as regards my choice of Bonobos rather than Chimpanzees as the Apes in question. It hinged on the idea that I thought the apes should be really cute but rebuff all human advances. Thus physically they would embody the desirability (as cuddle objects) for kids that their immune systems (in the story) had for the scientists. Thus when I looked up Chimpanzees in the dictionary and found there was a species in the same Genus called a Pygmy Chimpanzee, or Bonobo, it sounded like this would be a very cute animal.

The funny part is that this assumption was my Least accurate. Bonobos are NOT on average the most attractive chimpanzee. But they are more peaceful, more loving and more intelligent than the average chimp. Or so I discovered when somebody put me in touch with a leading Bonobo Expert working at University College London - DR Amy Parish.

I asked Amy to read the script and give me some advice on aspects which could be made more accurate about Bonobo behavior. Her notes astounded me. Several key elements of the story I had invented for the purposes of dramatic structure turned out to be closely mirrored in real life. In our first conversation Amy told me that only week before she had been at a conference in Boston (Mass.), And had been approached by the representative a Pharmaceuticals company with a view to providing them with 300 Bonobos for human organ transplantation research! All this despite treaties forbidding traffic in these animals. Professor Drake lives! And there was much more. The issue of the proper treatment of the real Space Program chimps And their descendants. The problems of returning animals to the wild. The synchronicity became uncanny. Out of the blue while we were in post production came a Horizon documentary:

"HORIZON, Thursday 1st October 1998, 9.25pm, BBC-2:

 

 

Chimps on Death Row

 

From tests in the 1950s to develop aircraft ejector seats to scientific research into vaccines, chimpanzees have been chosen as subjects because oftheir similarity to humans. But what should be done with them once the animals are no longer needed?

"I now believe we have no actual right to use animals but I still can't deny that we have a need to use them." It's this quote from a scientist that tops And tails a programme that both charts the way humans have used chimpanzees And our changing attitude towards them.

Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. They share 98.6% of our DNA And can feel emotions just like us. But this very proximity to us has brought them untold misery. During the past 40 years chimps have been usedas live crash-test dummies during the space race And have been experimented on in many bio-medical research programmes, including hepatitis And HIV. But now that these chimps have served their useful purpose for humans, what should be their fate?"

But the Horizon documentary was just the tip of the iceberg - it seemed that I’d hit upon issues in the news from all over the world:

"NEW ZEALAND LOBBY WANTS HUMAN RIGHTS FOR APES"

By Rodney Joyce Friday October 30 1998 11:17 AM EDT

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Great apes may soon have some of the rights previously reserved only for humans, if a group of New Zealand scientists And activists succeed. They have asked the New Zealand parliament to grant the right to life to man's closest relations -- chimpanzees, bonobos (a species of African pygmy ape), gorillas And orangutans.

 

Bonobos Ape

 

The Great Ape Project of New Zealand argues that the apes are genetically very close to humans And part of the same animal family. "There's now a mountain of evidence that the great apes are as intelligent as young human children, And very similar in their emotional And cognitive development,'' theoretical biologist David Penny, from Massey University, said in a statement on Friday.

"Several countries have active campaigns for hominid rights but there isresistance from vested interests such as research labs''. The group said a submission in support of its proposal had been lodged byan expert on chimpanzee behavior, DR Roger Fouts of the Chimpanzee Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University. Fouts campaigns for primate rights And CO-founded, with fellow scientist Jane Goodall, a sanctuary for chimpanzees retired from the U.S. Air Force.

Last year he wrote a book, `"Next of Kin,'' about a chimpanzee called Booeeto which he taught American Sign Language, but lost contact with after the ape was used for biomedical research And contracted Hepatitis C. When the pair were reunited in front of television cameras 13 years later, Booee still recognized Fouts And started a sign-language conversation.

Following the screening of the encounter on US television, unsolicited public donations enabled Booee And eight other chimps to be purchased And retired to a sanctuary.Another chimpanzee taught sign-language by Fouts passed its knowledge on to young chimpanzees, while another is said to enjoy drinking Chablis And watching television."

It became clear that The Gemini Apes had implications far beyond the little moral fable I’d originally set out to relate. But at its heart the piece remains first And foremost an Entertainment in the tradition of Frank Capra rather than David Attenborough. I was just very grateful to see it rise phoenix-like after crashing And burning on so may occasions!

 

 

So How Did it Work Out?

 

Well ... not bad. I still think the story would work best as a visual exercise but there was a positive response from those listeners who did manage to hear it after the excesses of their Christmas Dinner, And Gillian reynolds of the Telegraph reported:

"(Regarding The Gemini Apes), Radio 4's somewhat bizarre choice of play for Christmas afternoon. I don't know what you were doing between 2.15 And 3. 45 p.m. that day (I was firing down the food And drink myself, more legless than wireless) but it seems a very odd time to put on a highly crafted sci-fi morality tale. Twin chimps bred for space exploration return, (unexpectedly, their mission having been written off) to earth in America. They land on a car dump near a site where animals are being bred for experimental use. Not only have they stayed young after forty years (cryogenics, you know) but they have learned to talk, to make things, (like a dune buggy from auto parts,) And to act independently (they start freeing the lab animals.) What they now also have is tissue which can provide the basis of cross species immunology so, naturally, the big bad research scientist (Christopher Lee, in fine form) wants to kill them to make him a fortune.

Written, directed And produced by Dirk Maggs (who also used to be on the BBC staff but is now an independent) it was big, bright, bold, highly original And beautifully done. In the new bi-medial empire of the BBC it ought to be snatched up at once And made into a movie. In the little old world of Radio 4 it certainly burned up the airwaves with its plotlines And genuine moral dilemmas (what joy to be whisked several thousand miles away from Notting Hill Gate) but I wonder how many people will have stayed with it in this slot on that day. "

Gillian Reynolds Daily Telegraph

... well, it may never be made into a movie but at least it saw the light of a Christmas Day!

 

Dirk Maggs

February 2001

 

 

This is version one of the above with some big changes (David Williams)

HOW THE GEMINI APES REALLY CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD

by Dirk Maggs, Writer/Producer, THE GEMINI APES

 

The idea for The Gemini Apes came to me about ten years ago when I was writing the docudrama Superman On Trial for BBC Radio 4. Upon finding the infant Superman sealed up in the capsule from Krypton, Midwest farmer Jonathan Kent assumes this must be a NASA experiment gone wrong - I heard they wuz sendin’ up monkeys and dogs... (but surely not children...). It occurred to me that the idea of laboratory animals returning to Earth after an experimental mission, animals who perhaps had developed great intelligence or special skills, animals on a mission to save their fellow lab animals, might make an interesting story.

Three years later in 1991 I wrote a very brief treatment (The Apes From Space) outlining the chimps’ launch into space, their being marooned for decades in an experimental form of frozen animation, their accidental salvation just as the capsule is about to break up. At that time I harboured ambitions to write a film; this was where I saw the project headed. Touting the treatment around it got me an agent, and in turn several producers read it and liked it, but all agreed it wasn’t British or cheap enough to be made as a film or TV show in this country. At that time I had no solid LA contacts and no idea how to get them.

With my radio career keeping me busy Apes got sidelined till I left the BBC in 1995 and took stock. I decided I would write a fuller treatment of the story (now retitled Gemini). By now I had the idea that the Apes didn’t just come back with increased intelligence; the came back with something we needed. Something we’d have to kill them to get. They would become hunted animals. Also that they weren’t simply on some acne-pocked balaclava-hat mission to liberate lab specimens. Their skills included an ability to see uses for discarded technology that we humans have missed; by dropping them into an automobile dump I’d set them down in an environment where their inventive impulse could be given free rein. Finally, they should NOT be cute or friendly; they would be feisty, independent and suspicious of humans.

I finished the new 70-page treatment - more a novella really - in 1996, just before starting work on INDEPENDENCE DAY UK for Radio 1. Having made contact with the movie producer Dean Devlin (INDEPENDENCE DAY, GODZILLA) I thought I’d ask him to read THE GEMINI APES. He told me to send it over, which I duly did, to his agents CAA, signing all the usual disclaimers as they requested. I figured there wasn’t too huge a risk of somebody ripping off the story. Anyway I was going to send it out to a whole lot of other people - I had other movie-related projects in the pipeline. In fact stuff like An American Werewolf In London and an abortive Aliens radio drama kept me so busy I did nothing of the kind.

After six months I contacted CAA to find out if Dean ever read the story. "No", they said, "Mr Devlin went straight into work on Godzilla after Independence Day, he didn’t have time". I asked for the treatment back, and resolved to send it to John Landis (American Werewolf creator) once we’d finished making An American Werewolf for Radio 1 ...

Time slips by. It’s late 1997. I am reading SFX magazine, the slightly laddish scifi monthly. In the back of my mind over the years I have - of course - every writers’ nightmare; someone else thinks of the same story and makes it into a film or a book or a comic strip. AND I really did have a number of scares including the release in the early 90s of a Matthew Broderick feature film about space program chimps (which turned out to be a much less interesting story) and a TV animation series Captain Simian And The Space Monkeys (which turned out to be the usual no-brainer pap). But suddenly all my worst nightmares DID come to life. In the Production Hell section of SFX magazine (devoted to ANY scifi movie announced, whether in production or not), I read the following:

 

Mercury Effect

(Jerry Weintraub Productions)

 

Warner Brothers have paid $200,000 (against ($450,000) for Alexander Torres’ spec script about an FBI investigation into two intelligent chimps who were once part of the Mercury 6 space programme of 35 years ago. The chimps have returned to a small town on Earth where they are planning to begin a global crusade to transform the human and animal kingdoms. It’s already being described as Jumanji meets Men In Black.

It was a hammer blow. The story sounded so close. Had it been the most awful kind of coincidence? Could this guy have been in the CAA office and picked up my treatment? How on earth could I find out? I contacted the agency, but to no avail. Aggrieved writers claiming foul were two a penny - and I HAD signed a disclaimer indemnifying the Agency against coincidence of themes or stories. Besides, I had no proof I’d been ripped off. There’s no copyright on an idea.

In disgust I threw THE GEMINI APES into a drawer. It was dead. And I was having problems in other areas. Commissions for my specialised field Audio Movies had gone from bad in 1997 to worse in 1998. My original mentor at Radio 1, Matthew Bannister, had moved on, and the network was preoccupied with restoring music programming ratings after Chris Evans’ departure.

Thus when the incoming Radio 4 Controller, James Boyle, contacted me shortly after he arrived to ask if I’d like to make my kind of radio drama for him, I was only too happy to agree. Then came an awful hiatus - nearly a year - when there was a moratorium on commissions while he sorted out the network. After nearly 18 months I finally got two commissions - one for a scifi dramatisation (VOYAGE by Stephen Baxter, which happens on Radio 4 next April) and two for comedy series. But it would be a long wait before either saw the light of day.

In order to try and maintain perspective, I set myself a Summer Task - to write a movie script of THE GEMINI APES. Maybe I could sell it to a low-budget company in the States. Maybe an animation company. But it was too good to let die without making a final effort. And, as a Film Course lecturer once beat into me (and several other wannabe movie makers), a Movie Script is a Saleable Commodity, whereas a Treatment is just an Idea Written Down.

THE GEMINI APES film script was only just completed when James Boyle called me. A gap had opened in the schedules on Christmas Day. Could I think of something to replace it with? He needed an answer in 24 hours.

I know the solution to this challenge is obvious with hindsight, but I actually spent an hour wondering what programme idea I could propose to save the slot! For me THE GEMINI APES was - and is - a movie idea. A movie script, even. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to offer it as an audio movie. It was maybe the last best hope for the idea - and if anyone was going to make it the way it should be heard, that person had to be me. So I offered it - and James Boyle bought it.

Casting

 

When the original idea for APES came to me I was working with some wonderful North American actors who live in London, and their personalities originally informed the piece. Ricky, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who wants to be a veterinarian was (in my mind) Alan Marriott, a young Canadian I’d met on an improvisational pilot show. Nadia, the Russian Scientist-in-exile was a chance for Lorelei King to return to her ethnic roots (and show off her gift for accent). The old couple who run the auto dump, (inspired by my godparents) became Rusty and Mollie. Real-life husband and wife Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross were perfectly attuned to play them. Garrick is an old friend who recently found himself the centre of much fan attention when the Special Edition of STAR WARS was re-released, as his character, Biggs Darklighter, had a whole scene restored from the cutting room floor (he had also played Jonathan Kent in my radio Superman, uttering the inspirational line about monkeys and dogs...). The villain of the piece - also a Superman contact - had to be Lex Luthor - William Hootkins. So originally I wrote the story with these actors inhabiting the roles. It helped me focus on the dialogue.

Come the chance through James Boyle of actually fleshing out the characters and I realised I could actually ask these actors to play their ghostly alter egos. But James Boyle had a problem with a lack of British characters in the show. A compromise was to give Nadia the Russian Scientist a British voice. This left me with the task of finding Lorelei an alternative part in the show. There was one obvious choice - the REAL leading lady. But would Lorelei want the part? Because the real leading lady in THE GEMINI APES is a Bonobo Chimpanzee! Thankfully Lorelei saw it as a challenge and said yes.

Bill Hootkins was occupied with shooting a Warren Beatty movie in New York and it became clear he would not be back in UK in time for the recordings - especially after the truck containing all the exposed negative for a week’s shooting was stolen! Thus I had to find a new villain and a new (human) leading lady. I had always thought of the film star Christopher Lee as a good alternative Drake. I had been introduced to him by John Landis when we were setting up An American Werewolf a couple of years ago, and Christopher’s presence and vocal integrity were undiminished. Christopher read the movie script of The Gemini Apes, liked it and jumped aboard. Now all I needed was the British female voice.

I’d asked my old friend Gary Martin, (Judge Dredd in my Radio 1 series) an actor with a truly amazing vocal range, to play the male bonobo, Jojo, and the gorilla, Brewster. Gary knew I was looking for somebody special and suggested an actress called Katherine Shannon. I’d not heard of her but I’d heard of a role she provided the voice for - Lara Croft, the virtual heroine of the best selling TOMB RAIDER computer games. Kate’s agent provided a voice tape and I knew we had found our Nadia. Other cast members were Rupert Degas, a vocally brilliant actor and film producer and fellow movie enthusiast who I’d met a few months earlier, Nic Colicos, a leading actor in many Andrew Lloyd Webber musical successes (and son of the actor John Colicos, a distinguished Hollywood veteran), and Simon Treves, an old friend from BBC days who has played key parts in several of my previous series. So I had a great cast - and all of three weeks in which to rewrite the whole script for radio!

 

Fact & Fiction

 

Once I’d written the final version of THE GEMINI APES I made sure to tell everybody that it was a space age Fairy Tale. I had some knowledge of NASA and did some research into antibiotic-resistant disease to make sure the premise behind it was roughly sound, but it would be untrue to suggest I spent months of research gathering detailed notes. To me, the moral premise was more interesting - and the entertainment factor much more important. Like the basis of the original Star Trek technology - who cares how a Transporter works? It keeps the story moving right along.

This scattergun approach was - I’m embarassed to admit - particularly true as regards my choice of Bonobos rather than Chimpanzees as the Apes in question. It hinged on the idea that I thought the apes should be really cute but rebuff all human advances. Thus physically they would embody the desirability (as cuddle objects) for kids that their immune systems (in the story) had for the scientists. Thus when I looked up Chimpanzees in the dictionary and found there was a species in the same Genus called a Pygmy Chimpanzee, or Bonobo, it sounded like this would be a very cute animal. The funny part is that this assumption was my LEAST accurate. Bonobos are NOT on average the most attractive chimpanzee. But they ARE more peaceful, more loving and more intelligent than the average chimp. Or so I discovered when somebody put me in touch with a leading Bonobo Expert working at University College London - Dr Amy Parish.

I asked Amy to read the script and give me some advice on aspects that could be made more accurate about Bonobo behaviour. Her notes astounded me. Several key elements of the story I had invented for the purposes of dramatic structure turned out to be closely mirrored in real life! In our first conversation Amy told me that only week before she had been at a conference in Boston (Mass.), and had been approached by the representative a Pharmaceuticals company with a view to providing them with 300 Bonobos for human organ transplantation research! All this DESPITE treaties forbidding traffic in these animals! Professor Drake lives! And there was much more: The issue of the proper treatment of the REAL Space Program chimps and their descendants. The problems of returning animals to the wild. The synchronicity became uncanny. Out of the blue while we were in post production came a Horizon documentary:

HORIZON, Thurs 1 October 1998, 9.25pm, BBC-2:

 

"Chimps on Death Row"

 

From tests in the 1950s to develop aircraft ejector seats to scientific research into vaccines, chimpanzees have been chosen as subjects because of their similarity to humans. But what should be done with them once the animals are no longer needed?

"I now believe we have no actual right to use animals but I still can't deny that we have a need to use them." It's this quote from a scientist that tops and tails a programme that both charts the way humans have used chimpanzees and our changing attitude towards them.

Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. They share 98.6% of our DNA and can feel emotions just like us. But this very proximity to us has brought them untold misery. During the past 40 years chimps have been used as live crash-test dummies during the space race and have been experimented on in many bio-medical research programmes, including hepatitis and HIV. But now that these chimps have served their useful purpose for humans, what should be their fate?

It became clear that THE GEMINI APES had implications far beyond the little moral fable I’d originally set out to relate. But at its heart the piece remains first and foremost an Entertainment in the tradition of Frank Capra rather than David Attenborough. I’m just very grateful to see it rise phoenix-like after crashing and burning on so may occasions!

 

Will There be a Sequel?

 

The story is ready to move on to the next stage - it depends on whether there’s an appetite for it. I really hope so. I too want to find out what happens next!

Dirk Maggs 5th December 1998

 

 

Other Items

The Gemini Apes Radio Play

The Gemini Apes Timeline

 

 

 

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