Last week you got a chance to ask the team behind Space Command about their project and all things sci-fi. Marc Zicree, Doug Drexler, David Raiklen, and Neil Johnson were nice enough to put down the blasters and answer a handful of your best questions. David even answered one of his own! Read below to see what they had to say.Opinion on the State of Sci-Fi in Film?
To each of you, what is your opinion on the current state of science fiction in today's films? Obviously, there's been an increase in all film categories with more movies coming out but what do you like and dislike about films in this era? Care to comment the remake of Total Recall? Or 3D in blockbusters like Avatar?
Marc: I think there are some very strong directors working in science fiction films, such as Ridley Scott and James Cameron, and although you can fault some of their recent films they’re pushing the technological envelope in ways that make it easier and easier for considerably lower budgeted filmmakers to provide amazing special effects and production values. I’m very pleased science fiction is consistently popular as a genre and happy to learn from my brother writers, producers, directors and actors.
Neil: I am very happy that Sci-Fi is currently becoming cool again It all goes in waves and it seems Sci-Fi is back in for the moment That being said, for me personally, this is all I ever think about day and night. My head is always in the stars. Remake movies to me is cowardice on behalf of people who finance films (and who can blame them- I myself am guilty also). To be original seems to be a hard thing to ask for.
David: I love that there are science fiction elements in popular films. Science Fiction and Fantasy always have an overlap, and have led the box office for years. The mix usually favors fantasy for story, sci-fi for design. In fact, you can add superhero films into the mix, they also have sci-fi and fantasy elements. I like a bit more science in my science fiction than most film/tv today. 3D is here to stay, and can become a story telling technique, like in Hugo.
Doug: I think the best science fiction isn't for everyone. Growing up, I remember that I took a certain pride that the mass market did not appreciate it. It was a private club. If you enjoyed it, you were weird. The fact that you enjoyed it said something about you. You were unusual, and did not follow the crowd. A story that Gene Roddenberry told was how his father apologized to the neighbors the night Star Trek premiered. That's cool.
The era of the science fiction blockbuster began with Star Wars. I think that SW hurt as much as helped. When something is that big, people who have a disdain for the genre become interested for the wrong reasons, which brings with it it's own problems. It also results in the genre being squeezed into a narrow mold.
I think that 3D is as inevitable as sound was, and then color. To see a top flight film maker like Martin Scorcese employing 3D , you realize that this time it's here to stay, and has become a legitimate film making tool.
Ultimately a lot of good science fiction films have gotten made in spite of mass market acceptance, so I wouldn't say that I am complaining, I'm simply observing.
by Anonymous Coward
Of all the things that have to be done to make a good movie (Script, acting, cinematography...), when it comes to Science Fiction, probably the most important is creating a consistent universe. How did you go about trying to do that - did you consciously set down an write a "Bible" or did you just wing it?
Marc: Having written for many science fiction shows, including Star Trek – The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, Sliders and so on, I feel it’s vital to have a sense of the universe you’re writing in and where you’re going. With Magic Time – which started as a two-hour pilot and grew into three novels (with a fourth down the road) – I had to really know what I was up to. In terms of Space Command, before we ever announced the project I had already written a series bible with background on the history and major characters, outlined the first three films, planned the fourth and had written most of the first two-hour script. Space Command is an epic story that spans many years, and it’s imperative I treat that responsibility with respect. As you write, inspiration can definitely come and you can find marvelous surprises, but many shows suffer because the writers have no idea where they’re going.
Neil: It is all about creating a bible. We must be solid about what has come before and where things are going, otherwise it can end up in a fuddle after a few films (or TV show episodes). Recent TV shows that have been great, but suffered from terrible conclusions probably didn't have a strong enough story bible. That being said, a bible should evolve and change once you have a few films or episodes under your belt even Star Wars "evolved" into what we have now
David: Marc is a genius at writing Bibles, it really makes all the difference to have a coherent story arc that spans episodes. The most important thing is characters that we actually care about. But the Universe they live in gives us room to expand and explore without contradicting the early stories. And provides room for novels, games, even fan films to join in. Bible and transmedia go hand in hand. So the story grows, but stays true to a vision.
Doug: Marc has written a bible based on our discussions, our likes and dislikes. There is always a certain amount of "winging it", and that is part of the fun. Just like life, your universe evolves and grows on it's own. At least you hope so. I think that in order to be great, that's a prime ingredient. That's what one means when they say something has taken on a life of it's own. That's really exciting.
How do you sustain it?
What is your sustainable funding and distribution model, and do you see any potential interaction with commercial spaceflight endeavors?
Neil: Distribution methods have changed dramatically in the last 6 years. Blu ray was unheard of a while ago, and Video On Demand was not anything to worry about. My last film, Alien Armageddon was the number 1 Independent film on Video On Demand in it's first month or release. My first film, back in the 90's went to number 7 in the Blockbuster Top Ten in the UK(on VHS). These days, that film would probably not even get released. As far as spaceflight endeavors? We have a responsibility as film makers to inspire a future generation of spacefarers. Most people at NASA were inspired by Star Trek now. who is left. We hope to take up the torch and inspire a new generation of astronauts and scientists
David: I'm no expert on intellectual property business models. Neil is great at this. But I do see that creators have to adapt to changing technology, without getting hurt by unforeseen or unintended consequences. For example, downloads made it tricky to earn a living, though it does offer freedom to those who can mount a successful marketing campaign and create a large fan following. Commercial spaceflight may fit in the picture. Science Fiction helped make spaceflight possible, and can inspire people to go into Space for exploration and fun. Maybe science fiction is a place to show spaceflight ads. The rise of private space ventures is great. But public programs are important too. It's benefits mankind.
Doug: This new age of Internet funding and distribution is largely unexplored. I think the studios have no idea how to use it yet. Their power has always been based on having control of the technology, and the distribution of films, and that model is being shattered. Today, anyone on the street has the potential to reach a massive audience.
Being able to instantly interact with the audience is also changing the way films are funded. We've seen a version of that happening for many years in public television. It can result in more sophisticated fare, because you can appeal to a niche audience. We saw that in television of the 1950s when TV was only available to the well to do, who had more sophisticated tastes. Beacause of this, New York was a hotbed of sophisticated live drama, which gave birth to writers like Paddy Cheyevsky, and Rod Serling.
Is it sustainable? That is yet to be discovered. We've had a modest success raising money for Space Command. Actually better than we expected. I suppose that if enough people like what we do, and we are unique enough to keep folks coming back to fund us, we'll be able to continue creating.
Will it follow recent trends?
I've noticed that scifi shows these days tends to come in two categories: those that make fun of themselves to be funny and those that try to be realistic by being dark and miserable. Will Space Command conform to these recent trends? Or will we finally see a return to a plot that doesn't toy with the viewers emotions?
Neil: We don't want to be bland emotionally, however, being dark and miserable is now a trend of the mid 2000's, and this time has passed. There is enough to be miserable about, and we want to bring back, hope, adventure, and excitement. It's all about real people striving to do heroic things
David: Dystopian stories have been around forever. It's easier to make a dark, miserable future, you just think "what if things go wrong". People striving to be their best, and succeeding, can be very dramatic and entertaining. But it won't be easy to get there. We respect the audience, you guys are smart, we'll give you smart, fun adventures that you can believe in.
Doug: We love funny, but we aren't planning to do outright comedy. "Dark and edgy"... not really our thing. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "toying" with viewers emotions. Naturally you always want to engage peoples emotions. As far as toyed with... I feel toyed with when plotlines are left unresolved, a promising show is cancelled before it's given a chance to find it's audience, and wrestling and ghosthunters displace science fiction on a science fiction network.
Could fans support their favourite shows?
In your case you put together a proposal for a film and found the funding for it, but do you think this sort of technique could be used to fund existing franchises that are in danger of being cancelled? Personally I would love to have been able to fund another series or movie of Stargate Universe. Would it be best for the fans to start such an effort, or should it come from the producers of the show? It might be a hard sell if the fans were just asking for another series without any hint of what it might contain, which could only come from the producers.
Neil: having an great fan community worked back in the days of Star Trek to helps more seasons, but recently with Serenity, it was very disappointing that the network people just don't get it. Also with Stargate Universe what a fascinating show! I think it all has to do with the advertising dollar and the cost per minute. Reality TV does well initially and is cheap to produce, but who feels like sitting through a reality show from the mid 90's on DVD these days? But Star Trek, Next Generation is getting a whole new HD remaster for Blu ray, and the Twilight Zone still as cool as the day it aired. Most people think of the initial dollar and don't go past this, but in 20 years time, we will still all be watching reruns of Star Trek and Galactica, while other, cheaper shows will be forgotten. I think the producers are often just puppets to the people who hold the real dollar value that is why we are into kickstarter cutting out the middle men and bringing it all to the people.
David: There just aren't many science fiction fans among executives at the companies that control the rights to science fiction shows like Stargate, or Firefly. Even if there were, they have to show a big audience. If there's a big enough fan following to get the attention of the studio, or one of the very top creators insists, there could be a new movie or series. It took decades to get Star Trek back on air. We made a great classic Star Trek episode "World Enough and Time", check it out. Maybe Stargate could do the same. The future is with creator owned series, that can find alternative ways to get made and seen. Isaac Asimov said that he wouldn't trade his fans for those of a bigger selling author. His fans were smart and loyal! Kickstarter is the new way for people to support shows.
Doug: That may be difficult to do that within the studio system, where they spend as much on lunch as we do to make an entire episode. A single hour episode from the studio can cost as much as three million dollars. We're hoping we can raise 200k by the time the Kickstarter project is done. On the other hand, we're certain that we can make it look like a million.
What themes will be dealt with?
What is the premise of your story? What universal human themes will you deal with? What questions are you asking about life, the universe, and everything? And how is the setting 'in spaaaace!' going to help you ask these questions? I've read that some notable sci-fi writers are providing inspiration for the show, so I'd love to hear what sort of message your show will ultimately turn that inspiration into.
Doug: Marc is in the midst of writing the first episode, and I haven't gotten in his way. I don't want to disturb that flow.
Once I read the script, Marc may become uncomfortable when my guys and I begin to suggest different ways to approach things, but I've always found Marc to be open. Our department is on a slightly different wavelength, and we will almost certainly suggest avenues that Marc will not have thought of. I think that Galactica benefited by including the VFX department in story. We eat, drink and sleep science fiction from another region, and our accent can be pretty sexy.
Why "spaaaace!"? Human beings are at their most interesting, and discover more about themselves when they hang their asses on the line. Life is more delicious when we are frightened, but go on in spite of it. The thrilling uncertainty that comes with the frontier is wasabi, and you know what that's about.
What Science Fiction or Fantasy are you reading?
Is reading SFF is a factor in the SFF Movie Industry producers such as yourselves? If so, what Science Fiction or Fantasy are you reading right now? Or What has been, so far, your favorite SFF book? And (Or) who is your favorite SFF author? Thanks for the great memories of watching your stuff the first time.
Neil: I am a big Star Wars fan, but this will NOT be Star Wars flavored. HG Wells is my all time favorite, as well as Arthur C. Clark, Asimov, Ray Bradbury (I daily mourn their loss) and more recently I am into Stephen Baxter. His novel The Time Ships is an official sequel to The Time Machine, and I truly love it. have read it six times.
David: Wells, Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Silverberg, Niven, Kress, King(he counts in SF), Baxter, and Zicree. There's so many great stories, brilliant bits. Here's an example: “It's only necessary to believe that somewhere there's something worthy of belief” - Alfred Bester
Doug: Reading science fiction, IMO, is very important. I have to admit that I don't get to do as much recreational reading as I used to, because I am so consistently employed in a business that is way beyond 9 to 5, and that is all consuming. I have no free time. My favorite authors are Bradbury, Ellison, Asimov, Burroughs, Heinlein, Serling, Feldstein\Gaines and Wells. I would have turned out a different person without them.
Hard sci fi or Soft sci fi?
Hard sci fi or Soft sci fi? There are no hard sci fi movies, at least from the past 20 years, or at least soft sci fi outnumbers hard sci fi by about 200 to 1. In books I'd dare say the ratios approach 50:50 or at least not as intensely skewed.
Your kickstarter page lists Asimov and Clarke as partial inspiration implies hard sci fi, yet also has PR stuff about how people "like the look" which implies ultra-soft sci fi.
Neil: Personally I like hard Sci-Fi, and also stuff like Dune which is strong in character and history. For the people to enjoy your show, there must be some character, life and humanity, but hard Sci-Fi is where it's at!!!
David: When I started reading science fiction, I first understood hard scifi. Then soft sci fi. Now I like both styles blended. In the 50s it was mostly hard sci fi, and that's the look you see in Space Command. We consult NASA and JPL people to get it right!
Doug: Hard sci fi doesn't fly well in the age of blockbusters and mass market. That's part of the reason for our striking out on our own. People enjoy both blends, and we will certainly be pouring both. We aren't mass market, so we will have greater freedom to explore. Hopefully we will be given the opportunity to do so by you folks out there.
Will there be a way to volunteer new ideas? For example... new alien species, planets, technologies, etc.
There might be some great new concepts "out there" by people who are not involved with the movie industry.
Neil: In my opinion, this will come to pass. YOU are our audience, and we want to listen. in the same way that Star Trek used to take material from unsolicited sources (fans, etc), we want to be open to these ideas. How this will happen is yet to be determined, because this production method is an evolving model. That being said, we have some amazing writers onboard who REALLY care, and they can write!
David: We're open to ideas, and you can actually get a planet named for you as a reward. Fan art is already appearing, and fan films will happen too. This is an interactive process, and we really do read all the mail.
Doug: Absolutely, in fact this process has already begun on our Facebook page.
Will there be auditions?
If one were interested in acting on the show, how could he or she get involved?
Neil: We have a talent search for 2 roles in the film series starting right now checkout the webpage.
David: What Neil said!
Doug: Yes. Check our Kickstarter and Facebook page for details about our talent search.
Comment on how "Hollywood accounting" and "kickstarter accounting" interact with each other, if at all.
Neil: As someone who has been screwed by Hollywood accounting, I think that is a problem in all large organizations. We endeavor to put as much money onto the screen as possible. PLUS, what may not be known, but we ourselves are investing a great deal of our own money into this. We are putting our money where our mouths are. We don't want to waste anything. We are risking all we have for Space Command.
David: The idea here is to forgo the Hollywood model and be transparent as possible.
How are you scoring this?
David: I'm glad you asked a music question! (or was that me?) We're going to blend live orchestra and state of the art electronics. We believe in having the greatest musicians in the world performing together to create a unique sound and emotion for this series. And there will be melody. A theme that you can hum to liven your day. There will be tips of the hat to classic scores like Day The Earth Stood Still and Twilight Zone, and lots of fun bits for soundtrack fans. We're inventing a new instrument to be part of our universe.