Voyage Trekkers on the silver screen!
If all goes well, the end of 2015 will bring to the big screen the newest chapter in a saga of galaxy-spanning scale, valorous heroes and despicable villains in a struggle for peace, justice, and survival.
Yes, Voyage Trekkers is coming to the silver screen. Creators Nathan Blackwell and Craig Curtis and the rest of the creative team at Squishy Studios are hard at work on a full-length film featuring the misadventures of the failure-prone crew of the GSV Remarkable.
“We’re designing some costumes, working on props, more ray guns, another robot that’s going to appear in the movie, kind of similar to I.N.F.O., constructed so it goes on someone and looks cool but doesn’t kill the person inside,” Blackwell said. “Sci fi fans are going to see a lot of stuff they’re going to like. One of the main sets, probably the most ambitious, is probably a Star Wars-style cantina, a space bar.”
The film will join the comedy sci-fi web series’ existing two seasons. Twenty episodes, each about 5-10 minutes long, tell tales of the Galactic Union’s scrappiest (or just plain “crappiest”) starship. Like when Commander Powell and Dr. Rena almost rescue Captain Jack Sunstrike from the clutches of evil lizard men. And those times the crew very nearly secures favorable interplanetary trade deals. And of course when the captain gets commendably close to bedding a beautiful alien princess.
But with the Galactic Union locked in civil war, the time for cinematic glory is now!
“If there were big things happening, our characters would probably be stationed farthest from it. It comes from the desire to want to be involved that really kind of gets the story rolling, their desperation, wanting to make a name for themselves,” Blackwell said “That’s really a lot of what the movie’s about.”
That’s the way it is for the indie filmmakers, too.
“It’s like we’re laying down the track right when the train comes,” the director said. “The major kind of hurdle is all the sets we have to do and where to build them, getting the space.”
How did the civil-war idea for the movie come about, he was asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Blackwell, sounding more than a little like Lt. Commander Powell, as performed by Nathan’s brother Logan Blackwell. “It just seems like we wanted to kind of shake up the idea that the galaxy is a rigid, formal thing. We wanted it to kind of be a surprise for those who expect a parallel to Star Trek.”
More than Star Trek
From its name to the starship design, uniforms, Captain’s Blog, and ray guns, the series is heavy on Star Trek. But Voyage Trekkers has always been more than that.
Arch nemesis General Kang has more than a little Ming the Merciless in him, introduced as he was via black-and-white video monitor. Then in season two, Sunstrike and Kang face off wielding lightsaber-ish laser swords.
“Our influences are all over the place,” Nathan Blackwell said. “I like the mix of comedy and adventure, those are my two favorite genres. It maybe started with Raiders of the Lost Ark. It can be sci fi, it can be some other type of adventure or story. That’s just what I find my natural instinct going for.”
Blackwell, 38, has been into sci fi and storytelling through film his entire life.
“When you’re young like that you’re just soaking stuff up like a sponge. Every 6-9 months I’d go down another rabbit hole after a show or some kind of thing,” he said.
“I was basically into everything – Star Trek the Next Generation, Star Wars, those are the main core ones. Anything else I could get my hands on. I watched Doctor Who on PBS when I was little, the Tom Baker and Peter Davison era (the fourth and fifth Doctors in the 70s and 80s). I didn’t know anyone else who watched it – made me feel kind of weird. It was just so strange and foreign, it was so British.”
Nowadays he really likes the work of Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
“I really like his energetic style of comedy. There are certain aspects of that I want to emulate in my writing,” Blackwell said. “The characters are in ridiculous situations and events, but they still feel like people, like they’re real, you know, and that’s what I like. One of the things is you have to make sure the characters have some kind of self respect so you can constantly chip it away.”
Such writing is evident in Voyage Trekker’s four-part season-two story “Revenge of the Lizard Men.” The show features a serious moment when Captain Sunstrike, after accidentally but hilariously vaporizing a cargo ship, decides to travel to the ship’s planet to take personal responsibility.
“That was definitely us kind of testing the waters of where we wanted to take the story,” Blackwell said. “We wanted to show it wasn’t just silliness. We were trying to invest in the characters, and the characters could hold up to it.”
Adam Rini as Captain Sunstrike and Gabrielle Van Buren as Doctor Rena really stepped up, the director said.
“I thought they did great. They are capable of a lot more than what we’ve seen,” he said.
Challenges of filmmaking
A “Voyage Trekkers the Movie” Indiegogo campaign to raise $10,000 in June 2014 was successful, raising $14,678 total. But…
“Indiegogo is enough to get us going,” Blackwell said. “It’s cool that we met our goal and went a little farther than that. That will help kickstart it, seed money to get the movie put together.”
For full financing, they’re pursuing traditional investor routes. One way to attract investors is to cast a Star Trek alum in the role of Captain Reginald Sunstrike, Jack’s much more successful, capable, and popular older brother. The character was previously spoken of, much to Jack’s chagrin, but is yet to be seen.
“It would be cool to get someone immediately recognizable – it would help promote the movie,” Blackwell said. “Even if we don’t, a couple small Star Trek cameos peppered in would give us some street cred with the Star Trek fans, extra juice when we sell the movie.”
If things fall into place as hoped, shooting will be in June and July.
“Not the best time in Phoenix to shoot,” Blackwell admitted. “That’s the best case scenario, with the costumes and props we have to do, and the need to balance people’s availability. No one is doing this full time.”
The movie would be the first opportunity the filmmakers could actually pay people to work on it, Blackwell mused.
“Wouldn’t be able pay what they’re worth but even if we could pay an insultingly low level, it would be an improvement,” he said. “For the web series, if I paid myself just minimum wage on the work I did in terms of writing, producing, and editing, and then the marketing, that would have exceeded the amount of money that we raised in Indiegogo. Not that I’ve thought about this…”
Everyone on the cast and crew donates tons of time and elbow grease to production and promotion of the project with little chance of making money back. The filmmaker laughed when asked if it was worth it.
“We don’t make movies for the quality of life,” he explained. “We like to make stuff. You’ve got to do this for larger reasons – to make movies, to tell stories, to hopefully segue into building a career.”
Technology advances in moviemaking are definitely a double edge sword, he said.
“With all the equipment being much more accessible and much cheaper, you can get your work out to anyone,” he said. “The problem is that there’s so much content out there for you to compete with. Now more than ever your biggest obstacle is not to actually finish it but to fight obscurity. So much of doing a web series is the marketing, getting the word out there, getting people to see it.”
Taking the plunge
To pay the bills, Blackwell is also a video freelancer, making training videos and other corporate projects.
“I’m self-employed, kind of like a bank robber, going from job to job, always hoping something will turn up,” he said. “It’s a feast or famine situation, too much work and then not enough work. Usually I’ll be doing training videos, not boring stuff like ‘here’s how you use the copier,’ but videos they’ll use for human resources, re-creations of scenarios.”
He applies what he learned in filmmaking to the projects to make them better, he said.
“We’ve all seen a lot of these videos done poorly, there’s no life to them,” he said. “What I try to do is try to make them interesting and dramatic and as real as possible, so hopefully there’ll be more engagement. They don’t pay me more for doing that but…”
He’s been doing that since 2010, about when he also started working on Voyage Trekkers.
“I had reached the point of being sick of unrelated jobs,” he said. “I was finally getting enough work and confident enough so I could continue getting stuff like that and be self employed. It was definitely a long time coming before pull the trigger.”
Previous part-time jobs, none of which had much to do with making movies, included work at a TV station, IMAX theater as a projectionist, and the local zoo.
“I did nine different things there but it wasn’t for me,” he said. “It was a fun job. I really liked the people and the organization but had to move on and invest in my own future.”
By that time, he had been making movies as a hobby for more than 20 years.
“We’d make rip offs of things we liked, Saturday Night Live, Indiana Jones, whatever we were into at the time,” he said. “We had to kind of shake those out of our system and then we could start telling original stories.”
He transferred to a video production magnet high school, turning his attention to stories mostly in the sci fi genre.
“For some people, it comes down to sci fi or fantasy, and I went with sci fi,” he said. “It’s awesome. I always like the high level of imagination in it, the world building, the different characters, the starships.”
More films are in the works for after this one. The next one probably won’t be Voyage Trekkers, though.
“Probably something similar but a little off in the other direction,” he said. “It depends on how well we do with Voyage Trekkers. You can’t plan for lightning to strike.”
Ultimately, the point is to build a film career one brick at a time, he said.
“If you can only make a $5,000 movie, then you make a $5,000 movie, and hopefully next time, you can make a $6,000 or a $10,000 movie,” he said. “Next time we’ll know what we’re doing. This time we’re learning what to do.”
Squishy Studios and Executive Producer Tray Goodman’s Goodman Creative Minds Media are based in Phoenix, Arizona. Voyage Trekkers Season One premiered in July 2011, and Season Two in May 2013.
Check out www.voyagetrekkers.com, and look for Voyage Trekkers the Movie in late 2015 or early 2016. And that Star Wars thing. That’ll be out too.
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