Space Command creator Marc Zicree discusses the state of science fiction today and what it’s like working with people like Robert Picardo, Mira Furlan, Doug Jones and Bill Mumy.
If you’re a science fiction fan, no doubt you’ve been keeping up with Space Command, the Kickstarted project created by Marc Zicree (Sliders). The project is for a series of original films featuring genre actors like Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager), Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth), Mira Furlan (Babylon 5) and Bill Mumy (Lost In Space).
Space Command, which will be putting in an appearance at this year’s San Diego Comic Con tells the story of the United Planet’s Space Command, a group of scientists, soldiers and explorers setting out to explore our solar system for future human colonization.
In a recent interview, Space Command creator Marc Zicree discussed the movie series, along with why he’s making it and what it’s like to work with all those great actors.
FGC: What was your inspiration for Space Command?
MZ: I grew up with the original Star Trek, Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, and also during the manned missions that resulted in the landing on the Moon. All of these presented the notion that daring, courage, nobility, compassion, loyalty and a view of mankind that included tearing down boundaries and having a larger vision were not pipe dreams or seeing the world through rose-colored glasses but rather concrete and vital realities that could make our world a better place and potentially save our species.
I should also mention a number of writers whose lives and works formed my sensibility and encouraged me to aim high – Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana and Richard Matheson among them. Rod was gone by the time I wrote The Twilight Zone Companion, but the others all became friends and mentors to varying degrees. I was very close to Ray Bradbury in particular, and found him endlessly encouraging and enlightening. Down in his basement office over his typewriter he had the motto, “Don’t think – DO!” I think that’s good advice for any writer.
Having these core beliefs and realizing my work as a writer could actually stand for something and inspire people as I had been inspired led to my working on some great shows (Star Trek – The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Sliders, etc.) and creating a number of stories I’m very proud of.
In recent years, however, I’d noticed that TV drama in general and science fiction in particular had taken a turn toward dark, despairing content. And much as I found some of these shows (and films, too) entertaining, even of very high quality – such as Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica – I thought there was room for a different kind of science fiction story, one that would offer a hopeful vision of the future.
Beyond this, I’d realized that a lot of the science fiction I’d read as a kid by Bradbury, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and company was essentially set in a shared universe with shared assumptions about the future – that we’d continue on from a Moon landing to a lunar base, manned missions to Mars, colonization and commercial exploitation of the outer moons and planets, and then development of faster-than-light drive and outward to the stars. The one thing science fiction never predicted was that we’d land on the Moon… and then stop.
Some time back, I also became aware of Space Patrol, a marvelous 1950s live TV show that had a wonderful spirit of adventure. I watched some kinescopes of the show and really admired it. I actually got to have lunch with Ed Kemmer, the star of the show, a few years before his death. Kemmer was a pilot in World War II and a real-life hero, and that quality came through in his performance as Commander Buzz Corry. (I actually named Captain Jack Kemmer, hero of our first Space Command film, after Ed Kemmer, just as I’d named Lianna Kemmer after Ed in the Babylon 5 episode I wrote.)
All of the above factors came together to inspire me to create Space Command, which I decided would have a slight retro feel in terms of visual design but look forward to where I thought manned exploration and colonization of space could take us, moving forward through the next two centuries.
We’ve started filming Space Command: Redemption, the first of our Space Command adventures. Everything I envisioned and hoped for is coming wonderfully to fruition.
FGC: You have some sci-fi heavy hitters in the cast with Robert Picardo, Mira Furlan, Doug Jones and Bill Mumy. What was the casting process like and what is it like to work with such recognizable science fiction actors?
MZ: I love working with talented actors and view them as my collaborators, so it’s pure joy. In terms of casting, one of the advantages of working without a studio or network (a deliberate choice at this stage) is that I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. So in the case of Bob, Mira, Doug and Bill, I just reached out to them and asked if they wanted to be part of this. I was very gratified that they all said yes.
In terms of Bill and Mira, we’d worked together on Babylon 5 (I’d actually known Bill since I was seven, when he was on Lost in Space, and I’d interviewed him when I wrote The Twilight Zone Companion, as he’d starred in classic episodes of that show).
Bob Picardo and I hadn’t worked together — though I wrote for TNG and DS9 — but of course I was a huge fan of his work, especially as the holographic doctor on Voyager. He very much liked the job I’d done as co-writer, director and producer of Star Trek New Voyages “World Enough and Time” starring George Takei, which was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards (which you can watch in its entirety at http://vimeo.com/20932829). We met over pizza in the Valley and he told me he wanted to work with me. I wrote the role of Yusef Sekander in Space Command specifically for Bob. And he’s done an incredible job.
As for Doug, I thought he was one of a kind, and was blown away by Pan’s Labyrinth and so many of his other films. Recently, I wrote a book with Guillermo del Toro entitled Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and we spent a good deal of time praising Doug to the skies. When I won the Saturn Award in 2008, I ran into Doug at the ceremony and introduced myself. This led to a friendship, and I fashioned the role of Dor Neven the Synthetic with only one actor I thought could possibly play it. Doug is soulful, intense, a huge talent. I feel blessed to have him aboard – as I do with the rest of my cast.
Moving forward on Space Command on the other five films, I intend to use numerous science fiction actors who are simply terrific, including Armin Shimerman, Ethan Phillips, Dean Haglund and many others. There are so many great actors and actresses working in the genre. Sadly, many of them are under-utilized by a studio and network corporate structure that fails to value them appropriately. But we fans know gold when we see it.
In terms of the other roles, another fun notion I had was to have a worldwide Talent Search for two of the lead roles, Captain Kemmer and Cadet Bradbury. Anyone anywhere in the world could download scenes, shoot their own video audition and send it to us. We got 7,000 inquiries and 1,200 videos!
From those, we winnowed it down to about forty finalists, who came to L.A. for in-person screen tests. In the end, we cast Ethan McDowell of Wyoming as Jack Kemmer and Bryan McClure of Iowa as Cadet Bradbury.
There were so many great candidates, we ended up casting a number of our leads from those videos, including Sara Maraffino as Capt. Lorraine Essex, Aaron Gaffey as Capt. Matt Kemmer (Jack’s great-grandson, who stars in our fourth Space Command film), and Coley Mustafa Speaks and Elle Sonnet as Edge and Fallon, two Synthetics who follow Dor Neven.
FGC: Space Command is set to be a series of movies. How many movies are you planning? Will each movie be a separate contained story or can we expect cliffhangers?
MZ: Initially, we’re planning six Space Command features that cover a 150-year span over five generations of three families as we go out into space and leap to the stars. So far, I’ve written the first four films (with my collaborators Elaine Zicree, Richard Kim, Michael Reaves and Mark Haynes) and started writing the fifth, with the six in outline.
Each film tells a self-contained story, but the films connect chronologically to form a larger epic story. In addition, while most of the characters age and die (the uber-story continuing from father to son to grandson and so on), two of our characters – one a Synthetic, the other a genetically-altered human — are extremely long-lived and are viewpoint characters over the entire span.
Beyond that, we plan to keep going, creating many more Space Command films and even doing novels, graphic novels, games and even radio plays. It’s a big universe.
FGC: The Kickstarter campaign for Space Command not only met its goal quickly but went way over it. What was your initial response when the film was funded in just three days?
MZ: I’d never gone directly to my audience to fund my work, so I was thrilled. I’ve always trusted my audience far more than the studio and network executives. So it was good to see I was on the same wavelength as they were. We all wanted to see this story.
In terms of funding the film, I quickly saw that if we were to achieve the quality we all wanted, we’d need a higher budget and more funds. I’ve been very gratified that the fans of Space Command have been willing to invest in the film even beyond what they pledged during the Kickstarter campaign. It’s a great time to be making this project.
FGC: What challenges are you facing while making and shooting the film and how are you overcoming them?
MZ: We have our own studio now, so it’s really exciting to walk into the building and see spaceship flight decks, asteroid mining colonies, Marsport and more. Really a dream come true – especially to a fan boy like me.
Taking on a project of this size is a huge job, and every day I’m tasked to aim high and figure out how to deliver something remarkable. But then, I’ve always liked challenges.
I’ve got a great cast and crew, and the fans have been reaching out in any number of ways. I’m grateful every single day.
Additionally, having worked on so many shows for so many years, I’ve developed friendships with brilliant men and women who are at the top of their field, friends such as Iain McCaig, who designed Darth Maul and Queen Amidala and who’s our Space Command character designer. They just want to do great work, and I’m honored to have them part of this project. It makes it really shine.
The biggest challenge is to create the quality of a network show without millions of dollars. So I have to keep reaching out to friends, fans and backers who want to underwrite us, to make sure we have the funds on hand to get to the finish line.
Luckily, I’ve found that authenticity and enthusiasm on my part bring wonderful folks from around the world wanting to help and be part of this. Not to mention the Air Force (the real Space Command) reaching out to us to provide advice, access and much more.
So I’d say the best part of all is that people from around the world are helping me create my imaginary universe, which I can share with them to enjoy.
And if I do my job right, Space Command will continue to entertain and inspire for many generations to come.