About a week ago, I was offered the opportunity to interview Marc Zicree, the writer, director and producer of the upcoming film franchise, Space Command. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to find out about this exciting project! Below is a transcript of our interview I wrote up.
How did you come up with the idea to make your own sci-fi film franchise?
Uhh, megalomania mainly. It was basically that ever since I was a kid, I watched Star Trek and Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Those are the three shows that made me want to be a writer and rather than making Star Trek, I wanted to create my own science fiction show and rose up in television up to executive producer with that in mind. And when I did the Star Trek: New Voyages episodes and I saw that I could make something of the level of quality of a network show without a studio or network for a tiny fraction of the cost with no loss of quality, I realized I didn’t need a studio or network to create the science fiction epic that I had in mind. So it became a direct conversation between me and the audience which was fine with me.
That’s great. How many films do you hope to make?
Well, we’re starting with 4 full length films and 3 half hour storylines but it can be on going. It is a big, big story so our hope is to do much more than that actually.
Do you plan to make them stand alone stories set in the Space Command universe or will it be a long, over-arching story?
Well, they will be self-contained where if you just watch one, it’ll have a beginning, middle and end that’ll be satisfying but yes, there is a larger arc and a big, big history. I mean, it follows 2 families over several generations as we go out into space and colonize our solar system and leap to the stars. But we are jumping around in the timeframe so some of our stories are further along the timeframe as we are moving between star systems with the faster-than-light drive and some of them are early in that timeframe when we’re just slower-than-light and just colonizing mars and terra-forming it and all that stuff so it is sort of the best of both worlds. You get to see them go from the solar system and out to the stars and no one had really ever done this in film or TV before so I’m thrilled about that, its gonna be great.
You have written for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5 and Sliders, along with several other shows. How has the experience of working on all those other shows helped or prepared you to make your own film franchise?
Well, the great thing about all of those shows was that they challenge you to do something fresh and original that you have never seen, I mean this is the lesson I took from shows that I watched as a kid. You’ve watched “City On The Edge of Forever” on Star Trek (The Original Series) or any of those great Twilight Zone episodes and they were things that you had never seen before. They were totally fresh, they were commenting on real life in a really profound way and so when I was working on The Next Generation or DS9 or Sliders or any of the shows I’ve worked on, the challenge for me was always to come up with something I had never seen before that was truthful and entertaining. Fortunately, I’ve been able to a lot of times, whether it was with “Far Beyond The Stars” (a DS9 episode he made the story for) and so forth and I’m glad that I’m able to pull off what I attempt. So in terms of Space Command, I’m bringing everything I’ve learned from all those shows to this, this is sort of the culmination of everything I’ve learned over all these years on all these shows.
I saw that you wrote that Space Command is classic, hopeful science fiction. I’m sure you have noticed that we are seeing less and less of this in favour of gritty, post-apocalyptic science fiction. Why do you think this is?
I think that it is an easy out. It is a lot of fun to destroy the world. I mean, I’ve written post-apocalyptic things too and it is great fun to tear everything down and have people struggle in the wreckage but there isn’t that much you can take away from this. Certainly nothing hopeful and I think it leaves you with this feeling of ‘why bother, everything is going downhill anyway’ and whereas with Star Trek: The Original Series, a lot of people became astronauts and scientists and created lives of reaching out to others and making the world a better place. I’m certainly not this sweety sweety person where I’m singing this song of false hopefulness. I think it is valid and so when I realized that no one was doing that kind of show anymore, I thought well it was time to do that because I certainly believe in that and I think it is important. So, it’s not that I don’t like Battlestar Galactica, I thought that was terrific and Prometheus too has a very dark vision but it is beautiful to look at but I think there’s room for something where people can be inspired again.
As a follow up, why do you think there is very little quality science fiction on TV right now?
Well, I think most of the executives, they’re not science fiction fans for one thing but also, with science fiction, you have to have someone at the top of the food chain; the showrunner who is a visionary. Whether it is Rockne O’Bannon or John Krasinski or JJ [Abrams] or Damon Lindelof or Ron Moore, you have to have somebody who gets it and will fight like crazy to get that vision through the studio ranks to the audience. You’re lucky if that happens; most people are crushed by that process and they don’t get their vision out to the public. So that’s again why I love Kickstarter, I don’t need to fight that battle. I’ve fought that battle many times but I don’t have to in this case. It’s a direct conversation between me and the audience and I like that.
If you consider the general attitude of the main characters in Sci-Fi such as Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, you’ll find many to be serious with very little humour, whereas in the Stargate series, characters are more ‘down to earth’ with many instances of subtle humour. Where do you see Space Command falling on this scale?
Well the stories are serious and dramatic but some of the characters have senses of humour. There’s a character that Ethan Phillips from Star Trek: Voyager is going to be playing. It is a character named Phenulus and he’s an alien shapeshifter but he comes from a race of pessimists so he’s extremely confident in what he does and he usually pulls things off but he’s always sure that nothing’s going to work which is very funny. It doesn’t stop him from trying but it makes him rather amusing to hang out with. Of course, Ethan Phillips is a wonderful comedic actor so I cast him in that role. So there will be moments of humour with the various characters but never at the sacrifice of the storyline.
Will the series be sure to include strong and believable female characters?
Yes. I’m actually married to a very strong, believable female character so I’m in favour of them. And in my life, I’ve noticed usually when the chips are down and someone is going to go hysterical, its usually going to be a man and the woman is going to be the one who is strong and making sure we all get to the finish line so I’m in favour of strong, female characters. So Christina Moses and Katherine McEwan a number of the other actresses that we’re casting are very strong characters and will certainly be as strong as the male characters, to say the least.
Will the series attempt to tackle any major issues like the top sci-fi shows of old used to, like race, gender equality, matters of spirituality, philosophy, etc.?
Yes, we will be. It is going to be addressing all the major issues of life and death and everything in between. It is interesting because the character most on a spiritual quest is Dor Neven and he is what we call a synthetic or android and he has a vision that leads him on a spiritual quest so I thought it would be very interesting to have a non-human character be the most spiritual. I’m also in talks right now with an actor from Blade Runner and Big Trouble in Little China named James Hong and I hope he comes aboard because I have in mind a very interesting role for him that will deal with some of those issues as well.
So you will be at Comic-Con this week. Do you have anything special planned?
Well, we’re doing a big panel on Friday night in room 5AB at 8:30 so we’re going to be showing a new trailer with incredible new footage and Ian McCaig, who designed Darth Maul and Queen Amidala, is our character designer. He’s going to be unveiling designs for all of our characters for the first time at Comic-Con on the big screen. And we’re doing 3 signings over Thursday, Friday and Saturday with Space Command images by Ian McCaig, a poster by Ian McCaig and a poster by Doug Drexler who was the effects guy on Galactica and all the Star Trek series’ and these are all really cool images. Also, were going to have a drawing at our panel where one lucky fan will have Ian McCaig design him on stage over the course of the panel as an alien who will then be in the movie. So that’s going to be really, really fun. I can’t wait to see that happen.
One final question. As someone who has had a tremendous amount of success with this, what advice would you give anyone interested in writing science-fiction?
First of all, make note of who’s doing the work you most admire. For instance, when I was growing up, it was Rod Sterling and Charles Beaumont and George Cleighton Johnson and Richard Matheson and Harlen Ellison and DC Fontana and Theodore Sturgeon and on and on. And I made a point as soon as I was in my teens to seek these people out and make friends with them and be mentored by them. Ray Bradbury was a very good friend and mentor over the last 15 years and science fiction conventions allow you as an aspiring writer and a fan to meet the people you admire and they are very approachable if you just treat them with respect as you would anybody. So get those people as mentors, learn your craft and just keep writing and don’t let anything stop you. That’s the main thing, just be unstoppable and come to everything with a good heart and a creative mind.
Great and thanks for your time! Good luck with Space Command, it looks amazing and have fun at Comic-con!